Friday, April 24, 2009

Nature's Ching, Parts 1 & 2 (a manifesto in progress)

Over the next couple months I plan to post parts of this essay in progress to spur conversation and receive feedback. I’ll humbly submit its completed form as my “theory of everything.”

I confess to being an autodidact, having only a bachelor’s degree in English, an associate’s in Communication/Media Arts, and enough teaching credits to qualify for a degree in Secondary Education/English [if I wanted to bother]. Notice there’s no science or philosophy degrees. No advanced degrees. I finished formal education forever at age 37. I was not a particularly good student and could only hack the school routine for one year at a time with years off in-between.

So it could very well be I’m blowing smoke, that I don’t know what I’m talking about. So let’s find out. Am I on to something? Let me know.

I apologize for the rough form and lack of links, etc., but this is only a rough draft. Hope you find it stimulating…a useful fiction, perhaps.

An American Reader/Writer Sutra
The Secret to Being a Braver, Happier, Freer & More Flexible Adult via Fiction, etc.
March 9, 2008


I am quite willing to give up the goal of getting things right, and to substitute that [with] enlarging our repertoire of individual and cultural self-descriptions. The point of philosophy, on this view, is not to find out what anything is “really” like, but to help us grow up—to make us happier, freer, and more flexible.
Richard Rorty, Philosophy As Cultural Politics

What do most Americans need more these days than to grow up, think and act freely and be less rigid, to bravely assert themselves in the face of systemic crises?

We’ve become a nation of obese tween-headed nerds, runty capitalists and mean-spirited gun-toting redneck religious fanatics, special interest groups and corporate persons, at least according to the trademarks and logos we use to describe ourselves (notice that not all of us are biological entities—namely corporations).
Much has been written about how we got here (among my favorites on this subject are Joe Bageant, Thom Hartmann, Gore Vidal and Howard Zinn), but little has been offered about how to find our way out of this mess.

Nature’s Ching is my attempt to help recalibrate American thinking so it can better cope with these dangerous, even apocalyptic, which is revelationary times. My aim is not to suggest what to think so much as how one might think. My focus is on process, fluidity and change as opposed to outcomes. The ends will take care of themselves if we focus on the means, excepting unforeseen events, of course, which require reflexive action. Randomness makes things interesting, a challenge…enabling obstacles.

Machiavelli seems irrelevant idiocy in this imagined context, this novel sentience we call reality…


I’ve had Elizabeth Wright’s Psychoanalytic Criticism: Theory in Practice in my possession for about 12 years, probably having stolen it somehow, I don’t remember exactly, from the Center for Psychological Study of the Arts at SUNY Buffalo. I can’t believe it took so long to get to, but now that I have I’ve found it very interesting and useful.

Although I’d read individual essays by most of the theorists Wright discusses, I had never read anything that wove their ideas into a big picture like Theory in Practice. And what’s more, she connects these dots in a very similar and more concrete way than my own understanding and thoughts on the subject. In particular, her analyses of Freud, Derrida, Foucault, Barthes, and Deleuze and Guattari are analogous to my own ideas about Nature’s fictional processes. I add Raymond Federman to this constellation as it was his work and teaching that largely freed my mind enough to begin perceiving things this way. The common ground among us, I think, is the perception that human reality is fiction since it is imagination which is most essential to the human mind’s adequate dealings with psychic reality and external actualities. In other words, if a human being is to exist in a world that makes sense, it must make something up that makes It make sense.

My imaginings about Nature’s fictional processes are a hodge-podge of evolution, string and chaos theories; quantum physics; cognitive science; linguistics; deep/spiritual ecology; existentialism; Taoism and a fair share of life experience.

I’m by no means an expert on any of these subjects, including life, nor am I an –ist of any kind. I’ve only been creatively titillated by a few books and some people, and the ideas I perceived while reading/writing them. That’s all. I’m professing nothing but my own way of approaching fiction, that is Nature or Life in general and human life in particular, as I’ve observed it and experienced myself at work within Nature.

The ideas:


Evolutionary theories are those that attempt to describe the multidimensional grammar which, over time, produces complex systems. These valid speculations share a specific scientific focus on the emergence and development of Life from the atom to the Eukaryote to Gaia this very minute, applying chaos theory to biology and studying the effectual narratives of randomness over time. There are all kinds of competing theories, including Intelligent Design (which childishly replaces randomness with God’s mysterious, unfathomable intent, which is analogous to a baby consciously “intending” the development of its genitalia or skin color), some of which are fascinating and others, well, less so. What my favorites have in common is the concept of cognitive (not necessarily conscious, yet communicative as in stimulus-response) equilibrium among autonomous functioning entities which are forming, and being formed by, the ecosystem over time.

Life responds to systemic requirements and growing complexity, temporarily sustaining Itself against the second law of thermodynamics, which is entropy, and that leads to individual death and eventually the general extinction of a type. Evolutionary scientists track Life’s survival processes and Its ever-changing productions over time.

Literary texts emerge from cognitive evolution, which is a localized creative awareness. Languaging is their most essential process. They exist as products of reading/writing and might even be considered “alive” in that they are taking part in the evolution of Life as long as they are being written/read. While actively engaged by reader/writers texts maintain their fluidity, serving as flexible permeable membranes between one consciousness and another, evolving an ever more complex we/oui: Systemic cognition.

Who could possibly say that literature isn’t necessary if human evolution isn’t at least partially cognitive?

String Theory

Recursive symmetry across scale, which is wonderfully projected in the arabesque, is this theory’s central image (at least in my mind). Basically, string theory suggests a common mechanism (a kind of coaxial esemplasy—see Barth, Further Fridays) is at work in each dimension allowing for an apparently coherent pattern to evolve that can be perceived by the human mind.

For instance, consider climate. You have a global climate that seems to operate according to chaos theory, physics and thermodynamics, etc. It manifests itself in ever-changing weather patterns emerging via various feedback loops. Then you have hemispheric, regional, local on down to microclimates, manifested by various parts of your own yard, in which some parts are shaded more than others, while some are lower and get more moisture, etc. Each dimension, or scale, has its own feedback loops functioning to maintain equilibrium amid the chaos, and there are also feedback loops across scale as illustrated by the “butterfly effect,” where changes in the conditions of a microclimate due to the shifting variables of a butterfly flapping its wings, to the hemispheric scale of hurricanes and the global scale of altered weather patterns, which in turn has effects that trickle down to that pricker bush behind your garage.

Now consider how, as the human mind has evolved, its imagination and potential of perception has expanded into increasingly larger and smaller scales, as if perception were a simultaneous ripple effect inward and outward. At one time we were mentally stuck on the pricker bush scale. The fact that human beings have exited Earth and entered space and looked back at Earth, that human beings have, in their struggle to survive, examined the depths inside the atom Plato could have scarcely imagined, reveals that Earth itself has also done so. When you or I look at a photograph of Earth from the moon, the Earthling looks with us and sees Itself. The biological system has reached a level of complexity where it is experiencing the first glimmers of sentience, or global consciousness.

In theory, this planetary consciousness is an aspect of cosmic psychignition, which is working in each dimension to the infinite macro and infinite micro scales to perceive Itself as a unifying, universal order.

Supersymmetry is the grail of string theory, addressing this vision of multidimensional feedback loops that also include quantum mechanics. The “string” is the feedback loop, fascia, membrane stitching/joining these dimensions together as they flow through time (or as time vibrates them in its passing). The ultimate particle has been replaced by the image of a vibrating string whose pitch varies and harmonizes with the pitch variances and harmonizations of other strings, which ravel together forming an infinitely large string and infinitely small string harmonizing one to the other. It’s the difference between music and noise, language and gibberish. It’s a unifying theory, a titillating big picture and useful fiction.

Chaos theory

Complex systems arise from a simple set of initial conditions (a continuous stream of incidents emerging from a few basic rules). Again, as in string theory, weather patterns are the best known example of chaos, but it’s much more than that. The best book for laymen like me on this subject seems to be Chaos: Making A New Science by James Gleick.

An amazing illustration of this theory is Michael Barnsley’s “chaos game,” which Gleick lays out in his book, writing how Barnsley, when considering:

…the patterns generated by living organisms…turned to randomness as the basis for a new technique of modeling natural shapes…he called it “the global construction of fractals by means of iterated function systems.” When he talked about it, however, he called it the “chaos game.”

To play the chaos game…You choose a starting point somewhere on [a sheet of] paper. It does not matter where. You invent two rules, a heads rule and a tails rule. A rule tells you how to take one point to another: “Move two inches to the north-east [for heads],” or “Move 25 percent closer to the center [for tails].” Now you start flipping the coin and marking points, using the heads rule when the coin comes up heads and the tails rule when it comes up tails. If you throw away the first fifty points, like a blackjack dealer burying the first few cards in a new deal, you will find the chaos game producing not a random field of dots but a shape, revealed with greater and greater sharpness as the game goes on.

Barnsley’s essential insight was this: Julia sets and other fractal shapes, though properly viewed as the outcome of a deterministic process, had a second, equally valid existence as the limit of a random process. By analogy, he suggested, one could imagine a map of Great Britain drawn in chalk on the floor of a room. A surveyor with standard tools would find it complicated to measure the area of these awkward shapes, with fractal coastlines, after all. But suppose you throw grains of rice up into the air one by one, allowing them to fall randomly to the floor and counting the grains that land inside the map [think Gravity’s Rainbow, Jackson Pollack]. As time goes on, the result begins to approach the area of the shapes—as the limit of a random process. In dynamical terms, Barnsley’s shapes proved to be attractors

When I played the game, if memory serves right, after the first dozen or so coin tosses on my sheet of paper a fractal shape began to emerge, and then every time I did it, at about the 23rd toss, the shape was completed, the point didn’t move in two perceived dimensions any more, but only one dimension or segment. A piece of coastline at one scale appears straight, but from another aspect has many angles.
The point is you have the initial conditions, a two-sided coin and a toss, adding the element of chance or randomness. As the results are charted, you see a pattern of increasing two-dimensional complexity until it reaches a perceptual limit in that aspect and apparently simplifies into one-dimensional static. However, this is an illusion. Magnification of the process would reveal only greater complexities as more conditions involve themselves initially. Perception, therefore, is the only limitation for a random process.

The implications for reading/writing are that if one begins the process with a few basic rules for this “game” of random limits, various meanings will arise from the text, increasing its complexity, until at some point meaning collapses into an apparently ineffable singularity, what we perceive as the individual human aspect of Life Itself.

The movement toward a visible spectacle proportionate to scale, by the way, is provocatively described as being lured by some “strange attractor,” which might be similar to black holes in the physical “dimension” and “death” within the organic aspect, which is opposed by the “life force” or desire/eros for a while, right here, right now…Or it may be akin to some Platonic ideal, reverberating with the Myth of Ur in Book X of The Republic.

But nonetheless, this strange attraction to a particular singularity is always ineffable to the individual human being with regards to itself and that aspect of itself it perceives in others.

Quantum Physics

The particle-wavelength paradox and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle are the key concepts here, at least for me.

This paradox, in my opinion, is wonderfully illustrated by Thich Nhat Hanh, in Cultivating the Mind of Love: The Practice of Looking Deeply in the Mahayana Buddhist Tradition:

When we look at the vast ocean, we see many waves. We may describe them as high or low, big or small, vigorous or less vigorous, but these terms cannot be applied to water. From the standpoint of the wave, there is birth and there is death, but these are just signs. The wave is, at the same time, water. If we take away the water, the wave cannot be; and if we remove the waves, there will be no water. Wave is water and water is wave. They belong to different levels of being. We cannot compare the two. The words and concepts that are ascribed to the wave cannot be ascribed to the water. (110)

The ocean is water and wave, but one cannot say the ocean is wave or the ocean is water. The wave is the particular aspect of the ocean as it is perceived by the human mind in a particular place and time; whereas the water is that wave’s length and pattern as it actualizes itself across space-time. In other words, water is a wave’s beingness. We perceive one or the other according to our mode of seeing and being. We essentially find what we’re looking for, and we can only look according to the parameters Nature has evolved for us to look with—our mechanisms of seeing.

Yet despite the fact we find what we’re looking for and only what we’re capable of perceiving, randomness makes sure that no two things we perceive are exactly alike. They share recursive symmetries in their relationships with us, but they are autonomous objects and we can never be fully certain of anything about them. Often enough, we’ll set out looking for a “particle” and end up perceiving a “wavelength.” Nothing is certain, that is, we cannot permanently freeze the meanings of what we perceive and must avoid certainty at all costs. The observer changes the observed by observing it; the observed changes the observer by being observed. The actual nature of the relationship between observer and observed can never be really certain.

Cognitive science

The evolution of feedback loops between autonomous objects that, over time, produce ever more complex systems from which eventually emerges cognition (psychicignition—sic), then awareness, and perhaps eventually at least token sentience and, maybe even a general sentience, wherein Nature is aware of Itself becoming apparent in the processes of language. One must admit that if “we” seem to be conscious beings aware of each other as separate biological entities and that together “we” are functionaries cooperatively forming, via language, an ecosystem that, on the global scale we call Nature, then Nature is Itself composing Its own awareness. This is a psychic form of recursive symmetry across scale, functioning to maintain an equilibrium/meaning amidst the perceived chaos/confusion of Its own processes. What might begin in the center of the sun perhaps evolves randomly into a psychic-ignition as it is pulled through existence by some strange attraction (or, perhaps, existence lured through It). Either way, reading/writing, or languaging, the very processes of fiction, are essential parts of cognitive science.

In Closing the Genotype-Phenotype Gap: The New Argument, a section in a chapter called “Minds, Genes and Morals” in Owen Flanagan Jr.’s The Science of the Mind, the author describes Charles Lumsden and E.O. Wilson’s Genes, Mind and Culture: The Coevolutionary Process as claiming to be the “grail of a unifying theory of biology and the social sciences” that proposes “to close the genotype-phenotype gap by way of the mind.” Flanagan describes their argument this way:

1. Human culture is the interactive result of all the artifacts, behavior, institutions, and ideas mentally or physically deployed by some population.
2. The “perceivable features” of the integrated cultural system are called culturegens. For example, telephones, calculus, seventeenth-century English literature, Judaism, marriage, divorce, professional wrestling, international espionage, and the space program are all culturegens.
3. During socialization the culturegens are processed by what are “loosely labeled the epigenetic rules.”
4. These epigenetic rules are “the genetically determined procedures which direct the assembly of the mind.”
5. The epigenetic rules bias their owners to choose certain culturegens over others [Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle—the unsure tension between psychic reality as fiction and external actuality].
6. Collective choices in behavior and cognition “create the culture and social fabric.”
7. “Genetic variation exists in the epigenetic rules, contributing to at least part of the variance of cognitive and behavioral traits within a population.”
8. Individuals whose choices enhance their inclusive genetic fitness transmit more genes to future generations, “and as a consequence the population as a whole tends to shift toward the epigenetic rules and the forms of cognition and behavior favored by the rules. The coevolutionary circuit [comprising the individual and culture] is thus completed.”

…together [Lumsden and Wilson] support the view of the mind as being comprised of a set of genetically determined rules that favor certain interpretations of the physical world and certain social and cultural choices over others.…Primary epigenetic rules are “the more automatic processes that lead from sensory filtering to perception. Their consequences are the least subject to variation due to learning.” The secondary epigenetic rules meanwhile act on “all information displayed in the perceptual fields. They include the evaluation of perception through the process of memory, emotional response, and decision making through which individuals are predisposed to use certain culturegens instead of others.”…The primary epigenetic rules are similar to Kant’s forms of sensibility; they are the ways we necessarily construct the sensible world. Furthermore, they constrain us as much as they liberate us. (264-271)

The coevolution of culture and biology is not mere fantasy. As Stephen Jay Gould points out: “We have no evidence for biological change in brain size or structure since Homo sapiens appeared in the fossil record some fifty thousand years ago…All that we have done since then—the greatest transformation in the shortest time that our planet has experienced since its crust solidified nearly four billion years ago—is the product of cultural evolution.”

To this add the Santiago theory of cognition as described by Fritjof Capra in The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems:

Since cognition traditionally is defined as the process of knowing, we must be able to describe it in terms of an organism’s interactions with its environment. Indeed, this is what the Santiago theory does. The specific phenomenon underlying the process of cognition is structural coupling [see coaxial esemplasy, John Barth, Further Fridays, discussing the arabesque]. As we have seen, an autopoietic system undergoes continual structural changes while preserving its weblike pattern of organization. It couples to its environment structurally, in other words, through recurrent interactions, each of which triggers structural changes in the system. The living system is autonomous, however. The environment only triggers the structural changes; it does not specify or direct them.

Now, the living system not only specifies these structural changes, it also specifies which perturbations from the environment trigger them. This is the key to the Santiago theory of cognition. By specifying which perturbations from the environment trigger its changes, the system “brings forth a world,” as Maturana and Varela put it. Cognition, then, is not a representation of an independently existing world, but rather a continual bringing forth of a world through the process of living. The interactions of a living system [a biological entity] with its environment are cognitive interactions, and the process of living itself is a process of cognition. In the words of Maturana and Varela, “To live is to know.

For myself, as wise and true as I find these words, I would substitute language for life in the above statement as an addendum or modification, not as a refutation.
Therefore, I’d say language selects what is expressible and gives shape to the ineffable, or inexpressible, which is the experience of awareness. Cognition is the continuous bringing forth of awareness through the process of language. The cognitive interactions of a living system with its environment are linguistic interactions, and the process of languaging itself is a process of cognition. In other words, to language is to know.


First of all, I don’t think of language as something unique to humans. Linguistics as a field tends to focus almost solely on human communication. But what is communication actually, and what is it really?

As an actuality, communication is the sending and receiving of signifiers that represent information about specific signifieds via some common language between the sender and receiver of a message. Birds communicate with mating calls, ocean mammals use complex signals to convey complex messages. Primates read body language and facial expressions. Female mammals convey readiness to mate by emitting an odor during estrus. Actual communication is always more primal than real communication, relatively speaking.

As a reality, communication seems a perception of actual communication. Due to my being human, I’m going to focus on real human communication as opposed to actual human communication. In real human communication, metaphor and figures of speech are essential. Someone hears that someone has died, and says “Great.” This creates a split between actual communication, the literal understanding of symbols, and real communication, the figurative use of symbols. The person who responded to the news with “great” may very well have said it sarcastically, and the receiver of the real message would perceive it that way. I don’t know if real communication is unique to humankind, but I do know it is essential to our species’ existence. First and foremost, real human communication is a necessary fiction.

Now let me digress a bit to expand the subject. Take something we don’t consider to be alive like an electron. It’s an autonomous body that humans apply language to, one of its symbolic descriptors being a “negative charge.” It is called “negative” because of its perceived interaction with the contextualizing atom’s nucleus, which has a neutral but relatively “positive” charge. Of course, there are all kinds of other particles interacting to compose the particular atomic system composing our electron and nucleus. Scientists, in attempting to describe these interactions, to make sense of them and by extension themselves, apply language to what they perceive. The very fact that they’re applying language (see quantum physics) means that the atom will thus be perceived operating within some kind of linguistic system to be itself, at least according to our best sense of it.

Grammar is the imagined and thus usefully fictive communication rule book by which these systems maintain themselves, at least as we can perceive them, making their feedback loops possible. This understanding, or sensibility, however, only exists in the cognitive dimension, as one must be aware of the constant uncertainty regarding the adequacy of descriptions for what’s actually going on, as opposed to what’s really going on. What’s really going on is what we imagine, or what we think and feel is going on; and what’s actually happening is beyond that.

We evolve complex levels of diction within language by dealing with the repetitive situational randomness and complexity of our perceptions. In my opinion, the best understanding of human language is to understand its inadequacy while still appreciating the methods and dictions we develop and employ in our production of meaning, which is a recursive symmetrical part of the universal on this scale. The desire for meaning, or cognitive unity and autonomy, combined with the physical limitations of being biological entities, create patterns in harmony within the universal arabesque, and the randomness involved with the perceptions of individual organisms within this context allows for fluidity and change over time…the evolution of meaning. The more that humans produce meaning in Nature by languaging, ever-honing more precise and complex descriptions of It, the more aware Nature will become of Itself, as the perception of humans communicating among humans can be imagined as Nature communicating with Itself…or “thinking”…be-ing mind perceiving matter and energy organizing Itself.

The deeper one’s understanding of human language, the more deeply one might perceive Nature’s cognitive processes and realize we are not the world’s supreme consciousness when it comes to percipient contact with others.

Deep/Spiritual Ecology

The Earth is experienced as a living organism. Therefore, our deepest and greatest necessity as autonomously functioning sentient biological organisms is to cooperate with this system’s living body/mind/spirit, establishing feedback loops with It in all three aspects to maintain an equilibrium and context that produces pleasure from time to time. In other words, we as a species may be a superorganism functioning as an organ within possibly infinitely expanded mega-organisms currently existing, or be-ing. As individuals, we are organisms comprised of organs helping to comprise the superorganism that is our species, which is an organ helping to comprise the Earthling as It’s living now—as the Organism (relatively speaking, of course).
These dimensions seem to seam in all directions simultaneously, enriching infinity. To be deeply spiritual in the ecological sense is to perceive one’s place and function within the organic system then be it, and the only way to be it is to live in communication with Its mind and seam with it…noster with Its being. Otherwise, one’s functioning may serve another purpose.

And this, of course, is a choice for humans: to noster or not to noster?

For the “good” among us, nostering is a result of acting upon our deep-seeded desire for oneness—at-one-ment—with Nature. It is an increased awareness of ourselves as natural beings, and thus Nature becomes conscious of Itself, at least partly, in a human way, by nostering.

For the “evil” among us, not nostering is a result of acting on our superficial desire for quantity and comfort for ourselves at Nature’s expense, is an increased delusion of ourselves as chosen people, and thus Nature is equated with the subconscious wilderness that must be tamed for the sake of Empire and the Promised Land, and thus wages war against Itself, perhaps even committing suicide out of self-hatred and calling it “manifest destiny” in the suicide note it leaves behind, something it would have called “history” had it survived.

The apparently clear separation between humankind and Nature is made ambiguous by the apparent randomness of individual perceptions over time. Humankind and Nature being, in reality, useful fictions, wet surfable waves to catch on the ocean and ride for awhile…heading to shore. To perceive this separation or bifurcation, is to evolve a language that allows one a complex enough sensibility to consciously rub up against Its membrane [see “M-theory”].

Consider this from Jim Nollman’s Spiritual Ecology: A Guide to Reconnecting with Nature:

Our artists seem to have become as disaffected as the rest of us, yet they could be trying harder to reconnect [with Nature] than they are. After all, the aboriginal idea that culture is one vast poetic construct suspended in space and time, and incorporating all aspects of life within it, may still be radical to the sciences and social sciences, but not to the arts.

We need a new aesthetic of natural interconnectedness that is able to swallow up every one of us. Yet any aesthetic that actually succeeds at connecting humans to nature is going to be resisted because its driving metaphor is participation by every faction, nation and species. Thus, it must also be compelling, engaging, incredibly unifying, and gentle all at the same time—it must noster. I am you. They are us.

As noster biology may be defined as the study of interconnecting to nature, nosterart may be understood as the art of interconnecting to nature. It is an art that depicts a nature that we exist inside of, and that is simultaneously inside of us. Nosterart functions as a promotional message, an advertisement as it were, for the seventh generation. (200-201)

But there’s also a darker side. Nollman’s an angel, at least in his writing. The fact is nostering with nature can be terrifying, it’s not all a bug free picnic with your lover in the meadow. Imagination being a prerequisite for the human mind to adequately compose and confront reality necessitates the possibility that one’s perception of Nature will be founded on one’s state of mind. That perception can indeed be terrifying, as the actuality of Nature as a whole is an inhuman thing, existing prior to humans and extending way beyond us in space-time.

Thoreau knew this all too well: “Generally speaking a howling wilderness does not howl: it is the imagination of the traveler that does the howling” (Maine Woods, 288).

To be deeply spiritual in the ecological sense is to be deeply adult in the human sense…detached yet connected, involved but aloof, kind but cool, cruel but loving…having the time and gumption to work on one’s karma by being one’s dharma running with the Tao…having found the middle way and time by putting away childish things for the sake of our children, and their children, and their children’s children, & hopefully on to a seventh generation, should we get there, etc.


For me, however, existentialism isn’t so much a philosophy of social engagement as it is a descriptor for a certain feeling or sensibility, the emotional fallout and alienation resulting from the individual human being’s cognitive confrontation with an apparently meaningless or absurd modern and/or postmodern civilization.

It’s the “nausea” of one who’s derived deep meaning from Nature via a complex understanding of language confronted by the asininities of those in political-economic power, who seem to be forces of entropy, agents of that strange attraction toward death.

It is the feeling of being Eros in an age of Thanatos.

It is the human mind expressing itself… “I can’t go on, I’ll go on”…understanding that now it is up to the individual human mind, that peculiar psyche’s singular responsibility, to construct meaning from the absurd spectacle of chaotic phenomena it’s perceiving.

It is the life force rubbing its queer shoulder against the forces of oppression…

It’s being aware that you are alone amid all the togetherness, longing for the true togetherness of a lone…

It is the autonomous sensitivity of interrelatedness…a longing for the “return of the repressed.”

…to puke and get it over with.


Insist on nothing. There is a true way, a universal flow, which is described by Dharma, the grammar of the way, or Tao.

The primary text of Taoism is Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, according to which following the Way, or Tao, is like “going on a cosmic trek” (Huston Smith, 132).

The Way is the eternal and immanent, fluid autonomous unity of the universe from which everything emerges and eventually dissolves back into.

“Te” means integrity, signifying the quality of traits of an individual organism as it relates to the system as a whole.

Te concerns itself with how well an individual is functioning within the inhuman system, whether it is aiding or hampering the system’s operation.

“Ching” means scripture, or in my view, the text. Its essence is that of a texture/membrane/interstice warped by cognitive feedback loops, in which the ideas of transacting, experiencing and passing through occur.

Ching also signifies the threads or “strings” that hold manuscripts and pages together in a subjective intertextuality.

The Sanskrit word for Ching is “sutra,” which literally means “thread,” from which the English “suture,” “stitch” and “interstice” are derived.

Among my favorite lines of the Tao Te Ching are:

The Way gives birth to them and integrity nurtures them.
Matter forms them and function completes them.

For this reason,
The myriad creatures respect the Way and esteem integrity.
Respect for the Way and esteem for integrity
are by no means conferred upon them
but always occur naturally.

The Way gives birth to them,
nurtures them,
rears them,
follows them,
shelters them,
toughens them,
sustains them,
protects them.
It gives birth but does not possess,
acts but does not presume,
rears but does not control.

That is what is called “mysterious integrity.”

What it comes down to, at least for me, is that Taoism is a cognitive tool that can provide someone with an existential sensibility a means to continue surviving without “committing suicide.”

I look at it as philosophical and spiritual judo against ignorance and spiritual death, allowing for a little jouissance along the trajectory of my life.

So…Taoism is my philosophy and art is my religion. That is I think I should insist on nothing, which includes insisting on not insisting. I also feel God is best experienced in the creative process (God being Life, or more specifically, Universal Cognition), which includes science, mathematics, psychology, music, painting, drama, mythology, sociology, anthropology, the arts and humanities, etc.

The Earthling’s creative process and human thought are inseparable. They are one and the same thing.

“I” “think” “everything” “human” “is” “fiction.”

Next Part 2, “Humankind’s Fiction.”

Friday, April 17, 2009

Some Spring Cleaning

This week I’m clearing out an overflowing file of items worth sharing, beginning with this piece sent to me by John Bloomberg-Rissman [thanks John] to help us get in the mood:



Zombie-o, zombie** **(police/army-unthinking followers)

Zombie no go go, unless you tell am to go
*[CHORUS] ZOMBIE *(after each line)
Zombie no go stop, unless you tell am to stop
Zombie no go turn, unless you tell am to turn
Zombie no go think, unless you tell am to think

Zombie-o, zombie
*[CHORUS] ZOMBIE-O, ZOMBIE (2X) *(repeat last 2 stanzas)

Tell am to go straight-- Joro, Jara, Joro
No break, no job, no sense-- Joro, Jara, Joro
Tell am to go kill-- Joro, Jara, Joro
No break, no job, no sense-- Joro, Jara, Joro
Tell am to go quench-- Joro, Jara, Joro
No break, no job, no sense-- Joro, Jara, Joro

Go and kill
*[CHORUS] JORO, JARA, JORO *(after each line)
Go and die
Go and quench** **(destroy)
Put am for reverse
Go and kill
Go and die
Go and quench *(3x)

Joro, Jara, Joro- O Zombie way na one way (3x)
Joro, Jara, Joro- Ooooh

*[CHORUS] ZOMBIE *(in time- average every 2-3 words)
Quick march
Slow march
Left turn
Right turn
About turn
Double time
Open your hat
Stand at ease
Fall in
Fall out
Fall down
Get ready *(2x)

Or-der *(Repeat 3x from "Attention")

*[CHORUS] ZOMBIE (repeat on ‘1’ of each measure as desired)


The Seagulls Inside My Head By Dan Green

What this hybrid point of view allows Robbe-Grillet to do most thoroughly, however, is to create an intimately "realistic" world that both mirrors the narrator's own fixated absorption in detail--his "perpetual interrogation"--and uses that absorption to "invent" scenes and circumstances of dense realistic detail. So dedicated is Robbe-Grillet to the invention of these scenes that he repeats many of them, enlisting his narrator in a repetition and return to specific details and events--the remains of a centipede killed while walking across a wall, workers fixing a bridge, etc.--as if making sure they have been surveyed for all of the attributes they can be made to reveal. The ultimate effect is of a scrupulously observed, enclosed world that is wholly imaginary, constituted through the writer's determination to invoke it in his words, and thus also wholly real.

Swann in Love By Dan Beachy-Quick, Octopus Magazine #11

Kent Johnson: Homage to the Last Avant-Garde, Reviewed By Peter Davis

Kent Johnson’s a complex guy. I know some people don’t like him. I know some people really don’t like him. I also know that there are people like myself who, to use a phrase that Linh Dinh uses in a blurb on the back of Johnson’s new book, are “in awe” of Kent Johnson. Actually, I bet even some of those who dislike him are in awe of him, even if it’s only in a sort of open-mouthed, wide-eyed shock. That there’s such a gap between his admirers and detractors is no surprise when you read Johnson’s work, and Homage to the Last Avant-Garde is no exception.


Being Broke By William Rivers Pitt

Being broke means knowing about Coinstar machines and where the closest one is. Usually they're in the back corner of the local supermarket, right between the bank machine you can't get money from because your account is overdrawn and the counter where they sell the scratch tickets you're not quite desperate enough to try just yet.

The Big Takeover: The global economic crisis isn't about money - it's about power. How Wall Street insiders are using the bailout to stage a revolution By MATT TAIBBI

The mistake most people make in looking at the financial crisis is thinking of it in terms of money, a habit that might lead you to look at the unfolding mess as a huge bonus-killing downer for the Wall Street class. But if you look at it in purely Machiavellian terms, what you see is a colossal power grab that threatens to turn the federal government into a kind of giant Enron — a huge, impenetrable black box filled with self-dealing insiders whose scheme is the securing of individual profits at the expense of an ocean of unwitting involuntary shareholders, previously known as taxpayers.

Bernanke's Financial Rescue Plan: Will the US default on its debt? By Mike Whitney
Apr 7 2009

Fed chief Ben Bernanke has embarked on the most radical and ruinous financial rescue plan in history. According to Bloomberg News, the Fed has already lent or committed $12.8 trillion trying to stabilize the financial system after the the bursting of Wall Street's speculative mega-bubble. Now Bernanke wants to dig an even bigger hole, by creating programs that will provide up to $2 trillion of credit to financial institutions that purchase toxic assets from banks or securities backed by consumer loans. The Fed's generous terms are expected to generate a flurry of speculation which will help strengthen the banking system while leaving the taxpayer to bear the losses. It is impossible to know what the long-term effects of Bernanke's excessive spending will be, but his plan has the potential to trigger hyperinflation or spark a run on the dollar.

Depression Economics: Four Options By Bradford DeLong

When an economy falls into a depression, governments can try four things to return employment to its normal level and production to its 'potential' level. Call them fiscal policy, credit policy, monetary policy and inflation.

Bernanke’s Witness Protection Program: The TALF By Mike Whitney

The TALF and the “Public-Private Partnership” are another slap in the face of the international community. They violate the spirit and the letter of the G-20 communiqué. It will be interesting to see if foreign holders of US Treasuries endure this latest insult in silence or if there’s a sudden stampede for the exits. There’s a sense that the world is getting fed up with the Fed’s financial chicanery and would like to chart a different course. Enough is enough.

London Labour and the London Poor By Henry Mayhew

This tome is considered a major source of information for William Gibson and steampunk fictionists...and describe where we may be heading back to.

Bait And Switch: The Real AIG Conspiracy By Michael Hudson

Here’s the problem with all the hoopla over the $135 million in AIG bonuses: This sum is only less than 0.1 per cent – one thousandth – of the $183 BILLION that the U.S. Treasury gave to AIG as a “pass-through” to its counterparties. This sum, over a thousand times the magnitude of the bonuses on which public attention is conveniently being focused by Wall Street promoters, did not stay with AIG. For over six months, the public media and Congressmen have been trying to find out just where this money DID go. Bloomberg brought a lawsuit to find out. Only to be met with a wall of silence…Until finally, on Sunday night, March 15, the government finally released the details. They were indeed highly embarrassing. The largest recipient turned out to be just what earlier financial reports had rumored: Paulson’s own firm, Goldman Sachs, headed the list.

Johann Hari: You Are Being Lied To About Pirates

The story of the 2009 war on piracy was best summarised by another pirate, who lived and died in the fourth century BC. He was captured and brought to Alexander the Great, who demanded to know "what he meant by keeping possession of the sea." The pirate smiled, and responded: "What you mean by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you, who do it with a great fleet, are called emperor." Once again, our great imperial fleets sail – but who is the robber?


New Work On Lateral Transfer Shows Darwin Was Wrong By John S. Wilkins

A new study into the transfer of genetic material laterally, or across taxonomic divisions, has shown that evolution does not proceed as Darwin thought, and that in fact the present theory of evolution is entirely false. Instead, it transpires that lateral genetic transfer makes new species much more like Empedocles' "random monster" theory over 2000 years ago had predicted.

Rocket Scientists Shoot Down Mosquitoes With Lasers: Humans, Butterflies Remain Unharmed; The Star Wars Connection By Robert A. Guth

A quarter-century ago, American rocket scientists proposed the "Star Wars" defense system to knock Soviet missiles from the skies with laser beams. Some of the same scientists are now aiming their lasers at another airborne threat: the mosquito…In a lab in this Seattle suburb, researchers in long white coats recently stood watching a small glass box of bugs. Every few seconds, a contraption 100 feet away shot a beam that hit the buzzing mosquitoes, one by one, with a spot of red light.


The Superior Civilization By Tim Flannery
A Review of The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies by Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson, with line drawings by Margaret C. Nelson Norton, 522 pp., $55.00

Parallels between the ants and ourselves are striking for the light they shed on the nature of everyday human experiences. Some ants get forced into low-status jobs and are prevented from becoming upwardly mobile by other members of the colony. Garbage dump workers, for example, are confined to their humble and dangerous task of removing rubbish from the nest by other ants who respond aggressively to the odors that linger on the garbage workers' bodies.


Escape From The Zombie Food Court By Joe Bageant

This financialization of our consciousness under American style capitalism has become all we know. That's why we fear its loss. Hence the bailouts of the thousands of "zombie banks," dead but still walking, thanks to the people's taxpayer offerings to the money god so that banks will not die. We believe that we dare not let corporations die. Corporations feed us. They entertain us. Corporations occupy one full half of our waking hours of our lives, through employment, either directly or indirectly. They heal us when we are sick. So it's easy to see why the corporations feel like a friendly benevolent entity in the larger American consciousness. Corporations are, of course, deathless and faceless machines, and have no soul or human emotions. That we look to them for so much makes us a corporate cult, and makes corporations a fetish of our culture. Yet to us, they are like the weather just there…All of us live together in this corporate fetish cult. We agree upon and consent to its reality, just as the Aztecs agreed upon Quetzalcoatl and the lost people of Easter Island agreed that the great stone effigies of their remote island had significance.

Evangelicals Are Good For Us Whether We Like It Or Not By John Harvin

In other words, Evangelicals are like vultures - unsightly, but a necessary part of the ecosystem. So what if I don’t like them? They fill a role. And maybe instead of rolling my eyes at my future in-laws, I should appreciate them a little more.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Singing Good Friday

There’s something about the arrival of grackles in my yard, the vernal equinox, Seder, Good Friday, Passover, Easter…blooming tulips in life’s joyous insurrection…migrating hawks molting feathers in their wake, black snow sweating over yellow grass, Osiris naked and new for all the world to see and feel and think about…all over again…thank goodness we forget I can’t remember what when we leave wherever it was we were…Iandi Saying Eye Amyou…Reborn intelligence saying Eye Amyou—nitrogen then chlorophyll or id then I now that in human-human beyond being ladder ascending descending from one step perhaps this one to another saying Eye Amyou…Iandi the tide Iandi the evening air Iandi the moonlit night Iandi the vital Amyou crying the sacred cosmos saying Eye Amyou! Eye loves your disguise! Eye savors the taste of your road dust. Eye relishes your chickpea’s flavor. Eye adores being your dog. Eye enjoys your camel’s toe. Eye delights your poet…Iandi’s passion for Eye passes through Amyou finding clarity laughter promiscuity transforming enemies fecunding friends humiliating haters liberating lovers fecunding platelets splattering dancing laughter calling back Iandi saying Eye Amyou!...I Adore Feral Things Almost to Idiocy...lunatic mugs exposing the sea while disguising its blissful gems blessing the solid fuel flying within them determining holiness, that stare in my eye while I dissolve like salt in their liquid swarm, sluicing me of my self, nowhere inside the lingo befalling this muted lily when the newborn, here meat, gets sucked from there unlike that stillness unswept from the fissure in your heart, how feelers adjust their core conditions into feasible creations—that playable song of a locomotive’s remote screeching my unfilled place—tomorrow’s voucher pledging where tonight my elusive pant becomes the glimmer of love reworking the light, insuring your incident is my apocalypse—that blankness of lacking, a delayed morning without direction in the midway human untouchable, insensitively pursuing what I have—be ing no thing why this thick trade of activity pictures demonstrations at the source when all breeds stillness, going subversive and declining to reiterate us—when that unsighted earth trembles like a vagrant in the way, buried in the town of foreigners, yielding from worthy worthlessness, muzzy but stirring, permitting terror-lips to crack open our themes, floating them away, ejaculations of pious conceit flaming Its tower, giving It the flavor of my lovability—fabricating horrors of how I was where a magic ray of skill inebriated my absurdity, making me Babel where the brilliant range of ebbing silhouettes begin with unqualified ease, sun and moon refusing to drape themselves in my enormity—this immense river sinking the raptor so loons can reside happily outside devotion with unruffled esteem, so heron and swan nests might pitch us like sails over this fairy swamp, noshing on sparrows snatched from the sky gushing over many hungry faces—odiferous oppositions free of allied malice when war, that blood-spattered bareness of bowels and brains explodes its confusion without this precise magnificent ingenuity of patience-making sacred tasks converting kingdoms of filth into privileged derelicts so destitute we’re never away, desiring this storm and drizzle of milk-laden Mars suckling Its laughing mother—that visibility when our hushed cerebral envoy crouches, occupied by teeming secrecies, silent furtive tongues syn-taxing the mute frothing boogie woogie washing this orb away by purely subsisting—unfurling the seed’s blooming emptiness…fuck unto fucking fuck unto fucking fuck…Informed By Its Wanting…blowing phlegm from your head for the shaman to cure—that nameless love dog grieving out your crying from, running toward us with my tongue out, dripping anticipation, wild reunion Expressing this longing you long to express answering your spoken prayer, being an echo that squeals this swine in your mind; that intelligent piece of pork boaring you open Birthing itself into your trifle bearing mysterious gifts dangling atop its horn; Provoking your weeping, your fragmented spiritual capacity the reckless and profuse scattering of your seeds your prodigal deadbeat wandering ignorant of Thanatos preferring the wind and rain that have always eroticized our climate that lactating earth milked by her whining child—Informed by Its wanting…a room occupied by visitors…I Am A Visitor’s Room…in which a passing wakefulness goes—A sudden guest, friendly and compelling, comes—flushing me for some new delight, a guide from beyond, doing what lovers do with love—Being that word, that sense of Romeo Juliet felt in his name—the sound that worked for her, dripping its essence on each thing absorbing it, becoming an inner meaning only she knows, poking her why Wherefore art thou becoming a ruby at sunrise, that transparent daily order ripped open by happiness, the purity of name-action a good host who keeps digging your well, knowing: Water’s there somewhere, submitting to its daily practice, knocking on the door until that window opens and you look out to see me—A shape—some uncreated love unmet—becoming the heart that’s informed us from the start, mirroring that well we face, adding sugar to the water from this jar of pouring stones Heaping a mountain to maintain my echo the way I grasp your voice, your name sound burning me into smoke from its fire, an emptiness more beautiful than life obliterating life to create life—This blind world squatting like a beggar in the road, a great soul hiding in a city of strangers, surrendering to praiseworthy emptiness, groggy but awake, letting the fear-language of our themes crack us open and float away, releasing the priest from his tower by burning it, giving him a taste of your almond cake—Where the stars rise spinning every night—blown by a bewildered god kissing his flute Breathing notes with a need that pierces us, memories of that breathing mouth, singing loud Sweeping the floor like a gatekeeper guarding a silence that won’t break And your heart-mule naked enough to get us there…

Sunday, April 5, 2009

My friends, my friends...the beer is on me!

I’d like to thank these wonderful people/blogs/sites, etc., for adding links to my blog this week:

Michael Rothenberg/Big Bridge; Christopher Higgs/Bright Stupid Confetti; B. Graham/Dogzplot; Robert Higgins/Worldwide Sawdust; Mark Fisher/k-punk; Bennett Lovett-Graff/New Haven Review; Sam Sacks/Open Letters Monthly; and Jeff Hansen.

If I missed you, or you've found something that needs correcting, please let me know.


David Meltzer and Michael Rothenberg with the fabulous Bob Malone on piano

4:30, April 12, 2009
Bird & Beckett Books & Records
653 Chenery Street, between Diamond & Castro in Glen Park, 1-1/2 blocks from Glen Park BART Station & MUNI lines 23, 26, 44, 52 & J-Church

ROCKPILE an improvisatory performance of poetry & music

Poets David Meltzer & Michael Rothenberg, together with pianist Bob Malone, will cobble together some of the raw materials that Meltzer & Rothenberg will take along on an 8-city road trip in the fall, troubadors on a meander through some sites central to the cultural upheaval that was America in the 1960s and 1970s, performing their collaboratively-assembled journal of the trip at stops along the way, with artists and musicians local to each spot.

This pre-amble workshop for the project is not to be missed!


ROCKPILE is a collaboration between David Meltzer and Big Bridge,, made possible by a grant from the Creative Work Fund, a program of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, supported by grants from The James Irvine Foundation and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. ROCKPILE is Sponsored by Allen Ginsberg's Committee on Poetry, Inc.

Also, check out this amazing YouTube performance by Bob Malone:

Experimental Nippon Fetishists Alert: Read Line and Pause by Forrest Roth

What type of reader might enjoy Forrest Roth’s experimental and innovative novella, Line and Pause?

Roland Barthes, in The Pleasures of the Text, imagines a “typology of the pleasures of reading…linking the reading neurosis to the hallucinated form of the text.”[1] He describes my default mode of pleasurable reading, the “paranoiac,” as the consumer-producer of intricate writings. This style of reading works with Line and Pause, but alone will not do for a fully pleasurable experience. For that to occur, the reader must also be something of a “fetishist,” who prefers the pleasures of the word, grammatical formulae, deconstruction [though Barthes didn’t call it that], all of which require a background knowledge, in this case, of Japanese culture, calligraphy and history.

It also seems to me the “fetishist” reader may enjoy Roth’s work more than any other Barthes’ types, as the fetishist, perhaps, seems the most likely to enjoy the spectacle seaming this minimalist yet highly complex text together.

In his essay “The Novel As Spectacle,” Italo Calvino writes: “If we know the rules of the ‘romanesque game,’ we can construct ‘artificial’ novels, born in the laboratory, and we can play at novels like playing at chess, with complete fairness, re-establishing communications between the writer, who is fully aware of the mechanisms he is using, and the reader, who goes along with the game because he, too, knows the rules and knows he can no longer have the wool pulled over his eyes.”[2]

But how well does the reader know the rules of any given text or unfolding spectacle? It seems this fundamental mystery is also an absurd necessity. The first rule seems to be admitting to yourself and others you have no idea what the actual rules are. In my case, I found myself struggling to imagine the rules at play in Line and Pause, and so found entry points into the novella’s meaning as difficult and challenging as I might finding a particular restaurant down a Kyoto sidestreet. By default I landed on Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle as a means of attempting some hold, no matter how slippery. I knew I was altering the text by reading it, warping its process by re-conceiving it in my own terms. If I am unsatisfied with my unsettled feelings upon finishing a first reading of Roth’s highly intelligent work, it is due to my numerous shortcomings as a reader, not Line and Pause’s failure to deliver “the goods” I was initially looking for. And don’t get me wrong, I totally dig this. My feelings here seem akin to those of a scientist who enjoys having his hypotheses and theories shot to hell because it means he’s learned something. No one is ever completely right. When someone, like myself [sic], who’s right the vast majority of the time [lordy, lordy] finds out they’re wrong, it’s very healthy and stimulating. These are the goods Roth delivers in Line and Pause, and I wasn’t ready for them. Surprise, surprise.

One rule I did detect or imagine occurred to me on pages 37 and 38, where it seems there might be an analogy between reading clouds and reading fiction in general or the text in particular. Roth seems to be employing an indirect self-reflexivity, or deploying a critifictional technique to give the reader some insight to the rules possibly governing the narrational prosody. Consider:

“There must always be a conscious separation between the viewer and the cloud, between the observer and the observed; otherwise, the message of the cloud-vision disintegrates and the observer acts—[crossed out] irrationally…”

And: “Clouds meeting standard meteorological criteria have image-potential. Either this image-potential is utilized by a cloudwatcher, or it is negated by simply not recognizing its existence. The primary skill of the cloudwatcher to interpret image-potential into cloud-vision is dependent on previous knowledge of the augury and the ability to recognize entry points…”

This appears like critifiction to me because it seems “a kind of narrative that contains its own theory and even its own criticism.”[3]

Each page of Line and Pause seems a chapter…seems an independent piece of flash fiction or prose poetry…You have a narrative line of dependent-independent flash fictions/prose poems in diverse fonts and sizes, so one must pause at each to digest their peculiar implications [something which seems both particle and wavelength]…Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle consistently subverts the text’s phenomenology via abstraction, and the phenomenology of abstraction via materialization… one exhaling as the other inhales, the other then exhaling as one inhales…forming internal and external clouds to read-write…So to write Forrest Roth’s Line and Pause is to “read a cloud”…or imagine constellations in the night sky critifictioning themselves into existence, or not.

Furthermore, the recursive link or recurrent feedback loop between narrator and author seems calligraphy/writing…what calligraphy and writing have in common is paper/membrane/medium …calligraphy concerns itself with actual aesthetic presentation on the page, which is like a painter’s canvas; writing concerns itself with projecting the clouds abstracted/read from the blank canvass itself. The text becomes, via line and pause, a phenomenology unto itself. One must not focus on what may or may not exist beyond the borders of the page.

Roth's narrator also seems to suggest [or at least I read p. 153 on fainting and shopping as suggesting] one reason why the modern self seems empty when contrasted with perceptions of the experiences of prior generations, differences that point toward a historically situated psychology where the pursuit of being, in this case the narrator’s, brings us back to how we imagine ourselves living:

“In the early Showa Era, the floors of the Mitsukoshi department store in Nihombashi were all lined with tatami; it may have been one of the very last department stores in Japan to do so. If one can find photos of it, they will see well-dressed ladies in formal kimono taking their sandals off at the entrance. This was likely construed as formal shopping, whereas today no one really notices the difference; shopping is now merely the means to an end, no matter where one goes. Not to mention the average contemporary woman will spend a good chunk of her lifespan walking the aisles of a store, whether she actually wants to shop or not.”

On page 206 the narrator blatantly states what might be my biggest challenge reading this novella:

“…the artist must be in control at all times, even while at rest. Before beginning, then, examine the black felt lining the worktable. Do not look beyond the edges of this felt because nothing is there.”

This artist, this narrator, seems hyper-disciplined [having a fetish for discipline and control?], writing what s/he knows rather than exploring what s/he doesn’t know via wildness, exploring the uncanny. There’s nothing loosey goosey here. It reminds me of Masuji Ono’s approach to his art in Kazuo Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World. I imagine the narrator of Line and Pause, a modern Japanese woman living a very conservative life [whether she herself really/actually is or not], could have also been on the receiving end of this criticism of Ono, the artist referred to in the title of Ishiguro’s novel:

“There’s a certain kind of artist these days…whose greatest talent lies in hiding away from the world…your knowledge of the world is like a child’s. I doubt, for instance, you could even tell me who Karl Marx was.” Ono answered: Leader of the Russian Revolution.[4] Roth has constructed a brilliant novel with a highly intelligent, seemingly aware yet uninformed narrator, a complex construction if there ever was one that seems conversant with Ishiguro’s concern about the results of too much discipline in life and art, in my opinion.

Now back to an earlier point, my default mode of reading seems paranoiac. To derive more pleasure from Line and Pause I need to find a way of becoming a fetishist, which seems as though it would require knowledge of today’s Japan, Japanese history, calligraphy, and haibun.

Short of that, my natural tastes lean toward what Barthes called “Writing aloud…[which] searches for (in a perspective of bliss)…the articulation of the body, of the tongue, not that of meaning, of language.”[5]

Like Kathy Acker and others I’ve read about, I tend to get horny when I read something extremely pleasurable. That can happen across a variety of genres…

I am currently unable to adequately fetishize Line and Pause, though I’m working on it. I think this may come down to a matter of literary sexuality…a mere “gender” difference with regards to reading-writing that probably has more to do with nurture than nature [which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a choice]. Gender, after all, is culturally defined. When the sexuality-gender type of a text matches up with the sexuality-gender type of the reader-writer, bliss occurs, or what Barthes refers to as jouissance.

What works for me, however, is how impersonal and abstract the first person narrator’s voice is, speaking in the past tense of the strictness of Japanese calligraphy, the challenges of cloud reading, the perceived boundaries of her arranged marriage, the ensuing shape of misery in the form of emptiness and absence, the abortion, the attempted suicide, and now apparently feeling a pervasive emptiness…an acute numbness saturates every line, forcing me to pause. It is both moving and chilling…an unbearable weight of lightness.

I imagine I would agree with Elizabeth Switaj’s conclusion in her Mad Hatter’s [r]eview of Line and Pause, if I knew what she was talking about:

“…a meaningful journey and an intriguing experiment in the synthesis of the western novella and Japanese haibun. The form that results from this fusion fits perfectly the content, a synthesis of metaphysical ideas and keen observation of Japanese life...”[6]

Perhaps Roth’s narrator, Kei, says it best: “Being a calligrapher appears as easy as putting ink to paper…except only the paper itself speaks in the end.”[7]

I highly recommend Line and Pause to anyone who’s turned on by Japanese culture, the ways and means of the human psyche, and innovative fiction. I’m very much looking forward to Roth’s next book, whatever form it takes…Not knowing is part of the pleasure.

1. Barthes, Roland. The Pleasure of the Text, translated by Richard Miller, Hill and Wang, NY, 1973, p. 63.
2. Calvino, Italo. The Uses of Literature, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986, pp. 194-5.
3. Federman, Raymond. Critifiction: Postmodern Essays, SUNY Press, 1993.
4. Ishiguro, Kazuo. An Aritst of the Floating World, First Vintage International Edition, 1989, pp. 171-2.
5. Ibid #1, pp. 66-7.
7. Roth, p. 126


Upon a glance, two other novels that appear to have a similar architecture:

My Life at First Try
A Novel


In this semi-autobiographical debut novel, Mark Budman chronicles the life of Alex, a boy born in Siberia in 1950. Short chapters—sometimes hilarious, sometimes sobering—chronicle Alex’s life year by year as he matures, starts a family, gets a chance to leave the Soviet Union, and then goes on to discover the rhythms, disappointments, and small pleasures of suburban life in upstate New York.
“This blazingly fast and funny ‘semi-autobiographical’ novel follows a Russian man’s comically earnest pursuit of the American dream." —Publishers Weekly
COUNTERPOINT | 978-1-58243-400-1 | Cloth | $24.00

In his most famous work, Le parti pris des choses (Often translated The Voice of Things), he meticulously described common things such as oranges, potatoes and cigarettes in a poetic voice, but with a personal style and paragraph form (prose poem) much like an essay. These poems owe much to the work of the French Renaissance poet Remy Belleau. Ponge avoided appeals to emotion and symbolism, and instead sought to minutely recreate the world of experience of everyday objects. His work is often associated with the philosophy of Phenomenology.

He described his own works as "a description-definition-literary artwork" which avoided both the drabness of a dictionary and the inadequacy of poetry.


More on Forrest Roth: Proust’s Moustache

After Birthing, Curio

Real Eisenhowers