Sociable Serviceable

Australian writer, Gay Bilson, who in introducing a section of Plenty: Digressions on food quotes Octavio Paz.

Octavio Paz, in an essay in his collection Convergences, wrote about 'seeing and using'. He suggested that craftsmanship 'in its perpetual movement back and forth between beauty and utility, pleasure and service ... teaches us lessons in sociability'. He wrote of the 'rationality' of industrial design, the impersonal uniformity. The handmade bowl is, by his definition, already sociable. So too is food prepared with discrimination and offered at the domestic table.

Note that the origin of the object does not determine its being imbued with the sociable. Use does. Industry is quite capable of producing the mock-handmade.

And so for day 107

Prosthetic Idols

Martin Buber in Tales of the Hasidim: The Early Masters, translated by Olga Marx (New York: Schocken Books, 1947) relays this story of and about the Baal Shem Tov.

The Jug

Once the Baal Shem said to his disciples: "Just as the strength of the root is in the leaf, so the strength of man is in every utensil he makes, and his character and behavior can be gauged from what he has made." Just then his glance fell on a fine beer jug standing in front of him. He pointed to it and continued: "Can't you see from this jug that the man who made it had no feet?"

When the Baal Shem had finished speaking, one of his disciples happened to pick up the jug to set it on the bench. But the moment it stood there it crumbled to bits.

The easy gloss is to read the tale as a reflection on the prosthetic thesis (our tools are projections of our bodies).

Another soon to be easier gloss is ecological in its outlook and hears the "every" and understands that given the proper attention the fate of one is wrapped in the fate of all. And the fate of all is the end.

And so for day 106

Of Dandies

Jean-Paul Daoust's suite of prose poems Du dandysme contains a line sublime in its conveying of lassitude.

Le dandy est une diva dans l'opéra d'une vie inutile.

Easy enough to translate the beginning: "The Dandy is a diva" but the prepositions prove tricky and the temptation is is to resort to nouns posing as adjectives: "The Dandy is an opera diva" but how to approach the vowels of the end if not by recourse again to the noun as adjective: "The Dandy is a life opera diva" and so is almost reached that divine note of being condemned to no utilitarian purpose.

The Dandy is a purposeless life opera diva.

In the next line "Which seems essential" — either diva or life is meant: "Qui semble essentielle." And so the close reading via translation finds me asking after appearances.

And so for day 105

Foreign Eloquences

Perplexed by a passage in the Douglas Ainslie translation of Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly I look at the French Du Dandyism

Il resta, il est vrai, incorrect et Anglais dans notre langue, comme toutes ces bouches accoutumées à mâcher le caillou saxon et à parler au bord des mers


It is true that he remained English and incorrect when speaking our language, like all those that are accustomed to chew the Saxon pebble and to speak on the sea shore

Revised to strengthen the allusion to Demosthenes and to carry over the synecdoche:

He remained, truly, unidiomatic and English in our language, as are all mouths filled with Saxon pebbles and used to addressing the waves

There is it seems a greater distance between "chewing" and "swallowing" in French. And chewing involves the tongue muscle to a degree that one would not risk chipping a tooth. Hence the need in English for the expression "to chew on".

And so for day 104


Brenda Carr’s essay in Tessera Volume 9 is blessed with a typo.

Marlatt and Warland’s Double Negative situates itself at the intersection of the possible meanings for the word ‘negative.’ making the term vitually reversible.

"Vitually", a term marked by the possible, the virtual, and the vital, the alive and thriving. Vitrious victory.

And so for day 103

Shaping pace

Like garden work there are moments to cling to, to be taken up by, one such is from a 1909 winter:

I too write in haste, just before dressing to go out. I will only add here I have blind faith in my power of making sentences presentable, so that I leave bald patches gaily, to furbish up next winter

Congenial Spirits: The Selected Letters of Virginia Woolf edited by Joanne Trautmann Banks (Toronto: Lester and Orpen Dennys Ltd., 1989) p. 51 Letter No. 471.

Faith in the power to make sentences presentable. And joy in that faith. The words will come to the appropriate spot at the appropriate time like garden work

And so for day 102


A hand for memory...

Mapped to the hand according to distance from object of perception (length of digit as bar in graph)

thumb = touch

index = smell

middle = sight

ring = hearing

pinky = taste

we depart from the classical gradation [sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste] and inhabit a basic universe of mechanical arts. Experience how touch reaches out for the others. How difficult it is for taste and sight to "touch" with hearing in the way and how simply their interaction becomes when each meets at the thumb.

The classical gradation laid out degrees of incorporation. The hand map to the senses enlightens the play of embodiment. Codes a set of mudras.

I like to think of 101 as binary for decimal five and the number of many an introductory course.

And so for day 101


Paul Goodman somewhere observed:

Since people's personalities are very much their verbal patterns, communication feels like physical aggression or seduction.

It is tempting to transcode this into the language of push and pull but that "or" is not exclusive. Ouch. Yum.

And so for day 100


Lines gleaned from Paul Monette's 1987 introduction to Love Alone, a collection of elegies in honour of his lover Roger Horowitz

if only a fragment remained in the future, to fade in the sulfurous rain, it would say how much I loved and how terrible was the calamity

we will not be bowed down or erased by this

pity us not

and then translated with a reading of "calumny" for "calamity"

si seulement la trace d'un geste parvient à évader l'érosion sous les pluies acides, elle indiquerait la grandeur de cet amour et la terrible calomnie ...

nous subirons ni abaissements ni suppressions

soyez sans pitié

Notice the migration of the theme of resistance and its inscription in a survival of suppression figured as an escape from erosion.

And so for day 99


Gay Bilson in Plenty: Digressions on Food recalling the closing of a restaurant after 18 years of operating it. Her reaction to a "gesture"

The timing was perfect and we were taken by surprise, but I was faking it. Oh, the tears were there all right, but it was more that the moment seemed to ask for them. Milan Kundera has suggested that watching oneself cry, as I was, might be a definition of kitsch. In Immortality he writes, 'As soon as we want to feel, feeling is no longer feeling but an imitation of feeling . . . This is not to say that a person who imitates feeling does not feel.'

It is worth pausing to consider the vector. An act of will leads to imitation. As well, worth pondering the agency of the willing and the sensing. The what is what changes. The person feels. The person wills. The person remains. The actions are unchanged. That which is held between the person and the action is mutable.

The recalled scene and its mise-en-scene sets the stage for some comparative musings about menu planning and the order of courses — contrasting a Euro-influenced dinner with an Asian feast: one ending with sweets; the other, broth. One with a main course, the other with all laid out at once.

Am I not me using chopsticks? With a fork in hand I think differently, I suppose. Eating with our fingers gives relish to our words.

And so for day 98

Read Carefully

Rick Bebout in a passage from Promiscuous Affections about the passing of Michael Wade

All the fear we have of the dying comes, I think, from the idea that we need arcane and mysterious skills when in fact we need simple, natural ones, and the sureness that we can use them.

"fear of the dying" not "fear of death"

His statement comes at the end of describing the calm care and touching of the still-warm but gone.

And so for day 97

While waiting

A friend now lives part of the year in Portugal and so on a whim I picked a small pocket bilingual dictionary. Opening the little book at random I found a word that set me adrift.

In Portuguese godo means "pebble". It also means "Goth". I was reminded of Beckett's novels where there are some waiting (and licking) games with pebbles. And I wonder what relation there might be with the title of a play. None likely. But the waiting is permitting an attending to other intertexts: Waiting for the Barbarians and "a kind of solution".

Like the pills one swallows on a daily basis.

And so for day 96


Metafiction impells verification.

Fiction that incorporates truth value testing is like running an experiment.

Such writing plays with the sometimes subtle difference between supposition and description.

Ascriptions that are particular:

The cat on the mat.

"The cat on the mat" he said.

To get at the truth of the statement the passage is through the teller.

And so for day 95

Trajectories and types

Thanks to Anne Galloway (Purse Lips Square Jaw) I was brought to thinking about a drive to neologistic invention less as a competition between creators for the supremacy of their creations and more as a dizzying display of diversity.

Equally useful is to consider the distinction between play (paidia) and game (ludus). One could read [X] as a player in a competitive game (glory for the neologism that sticks) or an invoker of vertigo and simulation to bridge the va-et-vient between free play and structured game.

Useful to remember the four categories of game (agon, alea, mimicry, and ilinx) that Callois proposes and figure upon their recombinant possiblities. Sometimes there is only an imitation of a competition.

And so for day 94

Typologies and trajectories

There are connected but different ways to approach discussing the effects of media, ways that make explicit as possible what media are:

  • media as prop

  • media as stage

  • media as puppet

Relays for fetish, space and mask. Note the order: an object exterior to the self but within reach; a circumscribed area; a barrier and screen that both hides and projects. An evolution is implied here. An object is imbued with power; a space is drawn to channel the imbued power; retransmission occurs.

Regeneration implies a materiality of practices.

And so for day 93


"Being Among Words" Interview with Denis Donoghue in _The Pure Good of Theory_ Blackwell, 1992 p. 96

The only real justification for literature is that it provides us with ways of imagining what it would be like to be different. That's the basis of sympathies and recognitions. You could say, of course, can't we be sympathetic simply by virtue of the fact that we are human, that we are born and that we will die. But that is too abstract. One of the great things about literature is that the different moods and recognitions are given a kind of notional validity in the poems.

My comment: including ways we differently perceive and come to understand sameness. I always have difficulty in fathoming the "too abstract" for does it not pass through the extractable before taking a form to be communicated? The difficult part of living is the constant sifting. No, not the sifting but giving validity to the sifting. Not what passes through. Not what remains. But to the activity of sifting: playing with the extractable with all the resources of abstraction. A concentration so pure that it is open to distraction.

And so for day 92


Snowdrops spotted in the back garden by DWR. And a composition in his honour:

tap drop running
bucket sap tipping
kettle thickening
bottlefuls and bottlefuls
of maple guile

It is like a little haiku that ran away on the wings of a memory of sipping delicious sugar maple sap and lapping more and more of the stuff.

And so for day 91

Memento Mori

Brillat-Savarin in the translation by M.F.K. Fisher pauses in the description of a turkey hunt to describe walking in the woods:

I wandered through it with delight, observing the benefits and the ravages of time, which both creates and destroys, and I amused myself by following every period in the life of an oak tree, from the moment it emerges two-leaved from the earth until that one when nothing is left of it but a long black smudge which is its heart's dust.

I like how he begins slightly past the acorn and ends beyond the stump. Undercuts the utilitarian.

And so for day 90


There is a game issued as "jobware" by Ryan Koopmans called Chrysanthemum (copyright 1993) for play under the classic macintosh system. Ikebana meets Tetris. I hope that Ryan's talents were picked up by a worthy employer. The game has a sound track that can be turned on or off, the presence of which can affect the rhythm of play. And there are many other fine features to vary play throughout its twenty levels. You can pause play to admire the exquisite formations. Or you can race on.

And so for day 89


Juxtaposing slips from bookmarkers with messages that seem like responses to unasked questions:

The index is a probe

Homeopathic method — constant but little doses

Almost as if the lapidary prose was meant to tesselate.

And so for day 88

Alerted States

A notebook entry from 10/12/00 references some posting read on a discussion list:

Basically the old line that F2F [face-to-face] is better than online because [there are] more cues in the physical interaction that therefore can guide the social / pedagogical interaction. Of course information overload can occur with an abundance of cues. Tempted to retort that behind a desire to maintain the hegemony of F2F instruction is a "pedagogy of cruelty" — saturated semiosis . a desire for the cultivation of the heightened experience — a devouring [arrow pointing right] gives new meaning to the expression "carnal knowledge" [arrow pointing right] a devouring of the other — a demand that the moment of interpellation be matched by a moment of reciprocation [arrow pointing right] not all pedagogy, not all successful pedagogy depends upon a being there together — it's not a religious right rite or a moment of ecstatic fusion (not all sex is reciprocal and not all sex is orgasm-centred, BTW)

redolence versus salience

This now reads as an oddly baroque plea for minimalism or at least a place for some little bit of minimalism ...

And so for day 87

Almost Alpha

An encyclopedia wolf entry pacified with passives:

  • In spring and summer wolves are solitary or in pairs, in the autumn in families, and in the winter in packs

  • When it sees itself captured its courage and ferocity are forsaken

  • A door will not be passed through if a wall can be lept

  • Carrion will be devoured with avidity

  • Weaker or injured members of the species will be devoured

  • Unfamiliar objects are regarded with suspicion

  • Upon capture or perception thereof, courage and ferocity are at once forsaken

  • In a single night 25 to 40 miles will be covered

  • Packs in winter, families in autumn, solitary or paired for spring and summer

And the motto of Wolf Cubs in Canada is "Do Your Best", a prelude to the "Be Prepared" of Boy Scouts.

And so for day 86


In the middle, straddling two columns of text, the editors chose one key attention grabbing sentence from a review by Michael Lynch of the film Beautiful Dreamers. Now further in time from 17.04.90 its Globe and Mail appearance it is a tribute to the author.

Audiences want to grapple with history, not be be lulled by it.

"Putting Whitman back in the closet" is the title of the piece.

And so for day 85


In our household books move and arrive arrested in some interesting configurations: Susan Stewart's On Longing underneath Wendell Berry's Home Economics and both bearing well under the weight of the two volume C.K. Scott Moncrieff translations of Proust's Recherche.

Sometimes the magic is comparative and relies less on the titles and associations. That sort of magic comes from finding the passages noted in one book providing an echo of passages in the other: the copy of Lewis White Beck's translation of Kant's Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals has a slip drawing attention to the idea of happiness being an absolute and thus escaping the will of an empirical finite being to form a definite concept of happiness. And how the passage in question reads so very much like the "catastrophize" neologism encountered by the recovering protagonist of Nervous System by Jan Lars Jensen.

A Beck-rendered sentence from Kant to explain the human predicament: "If he wills a long life, who guarantees that it will not be long misery?" alongside Jensen's description of months-long "doomsday postulating".

And just the day before yesterday one nice turn of phrase found in Bronwen Price's "Verse, Voice, and Body: the retirement mode and women's poetry 1680-1723" in Early Modern Literary Studies (January 2007) — "protean impulses of melancholy".

As children, the appellation "spoil sport" conferred a certain sense of power. Often it meant saving imagination from deceivers, recognizing what is for what could be. Deceivers eager for one particular could be shut down possibilities. Knowing the end of a story does not preclude not knowing how to tell the story. Children as great melancholics? The sad child is a theatrical marvel.

And so for day 84

Sound layers

I've experienced Tomatis effects by which I mean the contribution that earphones can make in civilizing computer use, that is allow for two or triple sound layers to sculpt the immersive experience. You are invited to test or demo for yourself with reference to this passage from Pierre Sollier from an article about Dr. Alfred Tomatis (copyright 2001-2005):

Sounds that reach the ear are modulated by the middle ear. Some sounds are amplified, some are muffled into the background. The ear acts like a "gate-keeper". This gives us the ability to focus on what is important [...] Sounds that are captured by the bones go directly into the inner-ear, without passing through the middle ear, the gate keeper. So, background noise and the voice of the teacher are as loud, making it impossible to really focus.

It may not be possible to focus but it is possible to concentrate. One's own inner "silence" à la John Cage can be surrounded by an envelope of noise. Sound as barrier.

And so for day 83

Birthday (mine)

Thinking of Chris Bearchell who passed away last month at the age of 53. Having read the obituary pieces in the gay and alternative press, I turned to personal recollections of having been a frequent guest at the Walnut Street house and remembering our last exchange of email about our love of science fiction and the food we shared.

I had already come to the decision to attempt a year without buying books (more use of libraries and more nose in the unread volumes that have piled up) before I heard of Chris's death. There's a fair bit of science fiction in that pile up.

And it is from Chris that I learnt the trick of using cutting boards as plates. Certainly gave her kitchen an air of distinction.

And so for day 82


Imagine a 6 day week and 60 weeks in a year.

All in support of the four day work week.

Great for scheduling: shifts in 4, 8 and 12 hours with sufficient down time between.

60 gives five weeks to each month.

Gives a whole bunch of days for a big festival every leap year.

A truly civic calendar to replace the partisan Gregorian. Imagine. 24/6

And so for day 81


Peter Levitt in the preface to Thich Nhat Hahn The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra writes of the importance of bells.

With that in mind, when the bell was invited to sound we would put down our garden tools, our hammers, our paint brushes or pen, and come back to ourselves for a moment, breathing with a natural serenity, smiling a sort of half smile to ourselves and all those around us [...] It is truly remarkable how deeply the sound of a bell can ring inside a person. After this pause we resumed our activity with renewed energy, perhaps even a little more attentively, a little more aware.

I like the figure of inviting the bell to sound. It reminds me that timers can be set for such reminders. (In the i-Apple world the clock can be set to call out the quarter hour.) Being in the space where machines are timed to activate and in their activation make noise allows one to compare the clock with the quality of light and thereby be responsive to multiple cycles.

And so for day 80


To repair the damage, an invitation for wise investment. Usury extinguished. Retardation delayed. Bonds for reparations. Interest modest.

And so for day 79


A friend sent a clipping in the mail of a Toronto Star article from the Endnotes section (Back stories, final thoughts, weird findings) D12 (Sunday, February 25, 2007). Christian Cotroneo's article on Donald Crowdis who at the age of 93 is writing about his approaching demise on a blog concludes with a consideration of habit

"Habit is such a thing. . ." he says, "She's not there. I don't expect her to come back. [She is is 92 years old and his wife and is in a nursing home. They have been married for some 70 years.] Am I used to it? No."

Are we ever used to every it?

Adrian Mackenzie in "Transduction: invention, innovation and collective life" writes

Technological change is consistently and emphatically represented in the form of new artefacts or objects, rather than practices, arrangements and ensembles.

Are we ever out of the practice of saying good bye and good bye?

"Practice" and being "used to": not the same. However when folded into living they approach each other: getting used to practice.

And so for day 78