Person, Body, Other

George Painter in his biography of Proust in the chapter "The Death of Saint-Loup" reports

[...] and in one of his letters of condolence to the heartbroken Mme de Pierrebourg he told her, alluding to the death of Bergotte, that in his 'third volume' she would find a discussion of 'death, or rather this discord between the survival of the person we have lost, and his apparent annihilation from the universe', which would bring her both pain and comfort.

Pain of loss enrobed in pleasing memory: a blanket view of the universe.

And so for day 260

Force of line

Jean H. Hagstrum in Eros and Vision Chapter 2 "Verbal and Visual Caricature in the Age of Dryden, Swift, and Pope" quotes from John Evelyn's Numismata

Long before Pope made the ruling passion basic to some of his portrait caricatures, Evelyn associated that idea with the line or shape of graphic art: "And now we mention Picture, since the Posture, or Stroak of one single Line, does often discover the Regnant Passion."

One thinks of Islamic calligraphy and Chinese brushwork.

And so for day 259

Sun Angler

"Morning" in The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

wonderful description of awakening...

As the sun moved up the sky, it came past the rock above and touched her hair, and she began to stir, and when the sunlight reached her eyelids, she found herself pull up from the depths of sleep like a fish, slow and heavy and resistant. But there was no arguing with the sun, and presently she moved her hand and threw her arm across her eyes and murmured [...]

Reminds one of a description of stretching in the morning to be found in the collection of narrative bits by Ursula Le Guin called Always Coming Home

And so for day 258

Question is to Authority as Answer is to ?

Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell entertains the reader with footnotes thus situating the reader as a type of scholar and thus kin to the magician protagonists of the novel (they read a lot of books, annotated books no doubt). The second note in the chapter entitled "The education of a magician" sets up an analogy whose terms are likely to criss-cross and become entangled (much like the plot in miniature).

Chaston wrote that men and fairies both contain within them a faculty of reason and a faculty of magic. In men reason is strong and magic is weak. With fairies it is the other way round: magic comes very naturally to them, but by human standards they are barely sane.

Apart from its semblance to the form of a semiotic square, it is the slippage of the term "sane" that makes the proposition enchanting.

And so for day 257

Admiration and Mires

Edmund White The Burning Library "Nabokov: Beyond Parody"

Whereas some Russian Formalists [...] argued that parody is a way of disowning the past in an act of literary warfare, in Nabokov's case we see that parody can be the fondest tribute, the deepest embrace, the invention of a tradition against which one's own originality can be discerned, a payment of past debts in order to accrue future capital.

George Painter in his biography of Proust in the chapter "Purification through Parody" presents a similar function for parody albeit inflected towards a different sentiment:

There comes a time in the ascent of a great writer when, for the sake of his own future work, he must cease to admire even his greatest predecessors from a position of inferiority. Proust was now reaching the heights from which other summits appeared level with or lower than his own. His parodies were an antidote against the toxins of admiration.

Note: an antidote against the toxins not necessarily against the admiration.

And so for day 256

Schismatrix Tricks

Bruce Sterling Schismatrix composed in 1984 [Sterling writes in the preface dated 1995 that he wrote the stories eleven years ago] could be read through the lens of the contemporary concern over contagion and the exchange of bodily fluids. Look:

She slipped arms inside his loose kimono. "Shaper," she said, "I want your genetics. All over me."

Her warm hand caressed his groin. He did what she said.

Or see:

If it weren't for the roaches, the Red Consensus would eventually smother in a moldy detritus of cast-off skin and built-up layers of sweated and exhaled effluvia. Lysine, alanine, methionine, carbamino compounds, lactic acid, sex pheromones: a constant stream of organic vapors poured invisibly, day and night, from the human body. Roaches were a vital part of the spacecraft ecosystem, cleaning up crumbs of food, licking grease.

In this fictional universe, the body can be imagined as a processor just as language can be imagined as processed.

This is the first book that I wrote on a word processor. [...] Now I could do what I liked with words — bend them, break them, jam them together, pick them apart again.


Something fizzed loudly with a leaping of white-hot sparks. Startled, Lindsay braced to fight. Paolo was holding a short white stick with flame gnawing at one end. "A candle," he said.

"Kindle?" said Lindsay. "Yes, I see."

"We play with fire," Paolo said. "Fazil and I."


And so for day 255

Bound together: Serendipity

Algol "The Magazine about Science Fiction" vol. 12 no. 2, Issue no. 24, Summer 1975.

There is a half page advertisement (page 36) from/about the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool. The ad copy reads in part:

[...] is one of 73,000 active members of Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, a co-operative farm organization that's a model of what farmers can do for themselves. Its goal is to bring stability to agriculture.

In the very same issue is an interview with Ursula K. Le Guin by Jonathan Ward where one reads in part:

When I make up futures I am playing games. I play them with all my heart and soul and put myself into it totally and yet I am not really trying to make a future that I believe in. I am content to take it as it comes. My social activism is separate from my writing. Except, perhaps, for this last book, The Dispossessed, in which being utopian, I am trying to state something which I think desirable — which is a world without authoritarianism. Where people are allowed to act spontaneously instead of always being part of a hierarchy directed from above. If more of that direction could come from below, that's what I'd like to see.

And so for day 254

From one for one

Jean H. Hagstrum Eros and Vision: the Restoration to Romanticism has a generous note to the work of an other scholar. It is a classy reference. Deserves to be quoted in full, an example of the threads spun from one scholar for another. (page 247, note 31)

John Locke, An Essay concerning Human Understanding, ed. P.H. Nidditch (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), p. 341. I believe it is valid to associate Locke's view of the mind with sensibility, but I recognize that this association rests on a more fundamental matter, Locke's use of consciousness as the criterion of personal identity. For a searching discussion of this belief, the background for it, and the reactions to it, see Christopher Fox, "Locke and the Scriblerians: the Discussion of Identity in Early Eighteenth-Century England," Eighteenth-Century Studies 16 (Fall 1982): 1-25. The Lockean definition of the self is not an easy concept to derive from his work. Observe in Essay, pp. 2, 24-25, 27, how he wavers between identifying it with substance and saying it comes and goes with consciousness. See the useful article by David P. Behan, "Locke on Persons and Personal Identity" in Canadian Journal of Philosophy 9 (1979): 53-75. For a comprehensive and persuasive study of personal identity and consciousness in the early eighteenth century, see Christopher Fox, Locke and the Scriblerians (Berkeley: University of California Press, forthcoming)

And so for day 253

Bring the babes to the wake

Peter Kline The Everyday Genius: Restoring Children's Natural Joy of Learning -- and Yours Too

Children are usually comfortable with expressions of strong emotion. When someone is crying they will give warm and affectionate attention. They know all about crying -- it is one of their main activities. Recently I conducted a forty hour workshop for adults which was also attended by a seven month old baby. From time to time during the workshop someone would cry or express intense anger. Whenever this happened, the baby would attend closely to the expression of emotion. She was fascinated, but not distressed or anxious, and there seemed to me to be a loving expression in her eyes. Once the emotion had died down, the baby's attention would wander. Babies respond directly not only to their own need to cry and rage, but other people's as well.

It seems that emotional intelligence begins with an uncanny ability to focus.

And so for day 252

From guessing to questing

Take the old Jesuit saying

Give me the child until he is seven, and I will show you the man.

and make it intersect with Brenda Laurel's finding, from interviews with over 1,000 children, that of the categories of play, the largest category for girls aged eight to twelve is narrative construction

Stories were made up about existing narratives or from whole cloth. Stories could be told, written, drawn, theatrically performed, or improvised. (Brenda Laurel, ACM Digital Library, interactions Vol 11 No 5 (2004))

and extrapolate and universalize: after seven there is the mad liberty of make believe intersecting with reality.

And so for day 251

The Nose Knows

Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass Part Two: Bulvangar

One morning there was a different smell in the air, and the ship was moving oddly, with a brisker rocking from side to side instead of plunging and soaring [...] The smell was of fish, but mixed with it come land smells too: pine resin and earth and something animal and musky, and something else that was cold and blank and wild: it might have been snow. It was the smell of the North.

Compare the smell passage with that of Explosion in a Cathedral by Alejo Carpentier translated by John Sturrock

After blowing across the land, the northerly breeze was gathering new impetus over the expanse of sea, and bringing with it those vegetal smells which the look-outs could scent high in the crow's nest, distinguishing the smell of Trinidad from that of Sierra Maestra or Cabo Cruz.

Different latitudes similar attitudes.

And so for day 250

Prix: price of the prize

George Painter rewards the faithful reader of his biography of Marcel Proust. He elevates words of consolation from their specific and local context and turns them, by citing them at the end of a chapter called "The Prize", into an emblem of the novelist's oeuvre.

'Keep what I said to you for the day when you will be able to use it,' he wrote to Porel, 'at present my words are meaningless for you, and may perhaps contradict bitter thoughts; but you will find them true, consoling and strengthening when you have made the journey from parting to memory, of which no one, alas, can spare you the cruel meanders.' [...] His words to Porel were not yet wholly true of himself.

The passage works because of the freight of grief that has accumulated. It means almost nothing decontextualized.

And so for day 249

Potent Drink

There is a fine ending to the first chapter of The Return of Martin Guerre by Natalie Zemon Davis. It underplays the ironies to come.

After an evening of banqueting, the couple was escorted to Bertrande's marriage bed. Into their room at midnight burst the young village revellers [...] carrying their "resveil." Heavily seasoned with herbs and spices, the drink would ensure the newlyweds ardent mating and a fertile marriage.

It's a marriage that produced a very long lived story, a fecundity of sorts.

Later when one considers the comment closing a later chapter one can appreciate further the imbricated ironies:

Here one can approve the cockolding of the once impotent and now faraway husband. Here Arnaud du Tilh becomes a kind of hero, a more real Martin Guerre than the hard-hearted man with the wooden leg. The tragedy is more in his unmasking than in his imposture.

And so for day 248


It is a way of approaching the world in all its hermetic glory. It is a character describing another character's writing. In Julia Kristeva's The Samurai, Olga is describing a commentary she wrote about Sinteuil's novel, Exodus.

Sinteuil saw a letter as a plastic image; a syllable as a symphony, and meaning as a torrent of sexual, political, and moral allusions.

My punctuation may be off. There may be more semicolons in there. Or less.

Overdetermined name, Exodus, for that which permits one to exit. Or rather entry into building, into a world of promise where holding a part is a passport to more. always on the way from "from" to "to". Undetermined.

And so for day 247


I have come across pieces of a project conceived back in 1997. It is no doubt inspired by the Quilt (the NAMES Project) and by the title of a line of poetry, "These waves of dying friends" from Michael Lynch.

In the comments in the HTML one finds the following remark.


And a set of simple instructions to achieve a certain look.


The visual cues to the anchors were open and closed parentheses looking ever so much like sound waves.

My initial five names were

((( Jamie Perry )))

((( John Reeves )))

((( Michael Smith )))

((( Chris Ingold )))

((( Hal Tatelman )))

The Whispers Project is now mute. Its echoes reverberate.

And so for day 246

Mirror and the Other

Poet Gwendolyn MacEwen in "The Return" has a line that would make a nice inscription around a mirror:

To perceive you is an act of faith

And so we jump landing again on skeptical ground. So we weave.

And so for day 245


Gay Bilson in Plenty: Digressions on food has a chapter that takes the title and form of a pillow book. The first of the entries plays to the ear. "Things that make one's heart beat faster"

I walked through the kitchen of a Cantonese restaurant in Hong Kong once, and heard the sound that is caused when a wok is lifted from the fire it covers. One feels the tension, the release of great passion, and now I go out of my way to pass through as many Chinese restaurant kitchens as possible. My body senses the same kind of tension in the music of Shostakovich.

To experience, to want to experience more, and a sort of transfer. It is a classic narrative move from psychoanalysis: replacements made possible by the genius of attentiveness to the texture of tension.

And so for day 244

Fork, Field and Form

R.D. Laing in the first chapter "Phantasy and Experience" in the collection of essays Self and Other takes up the 1952 work of Susan Isaacs "The nature and function of Phantasy". Aside from whatever critique Laing mounts there is a very interesting statement in the summarized argument that deserves close attention:

The earliest phantasies are experienced as sensations: later they take the form of plastic images and dramatic representations.

This could be read as a syntagm: the sensation gives rise to a plastic image which in turn gives rise to a dramatic representation. Alternatively, the "and" can be read as a disjunction and lead to a non-succesive reading. The sensation gives rise to a plastic image or to a dramatic representation.

And now to speculate: a subsequent sensation is necessary to effect either the gelling into a plastic image or the move to a dramatic representation. A set of sensations is necessary to the transformation. Indeed in rereading Isaacs, one notices that the formulation of phantasies, plural, being experienced as sensations, plural, leaves open the possibility of a single phantasy being experienced as a set of sensations. Multiple sensations would be necessary to mediate the form taking whether of a plastic image or a dramatic representation. The multiple is the entry way into the domain of the comparable: up, down, before, after, etc. That which is open to comparison is situatable.

And it is intriguing that the next statement in the listing is concerned with localization:

Phantasies have both psychic and bodily effects, e.g. in conversion symptoms, bodily qualities, character and personality, neurotic symptoms, inhibitions and sublimations.

So much drama and so many plastic poses!

And so for day 243

Not Skipping a Beat

My copy of The Normal Heart by Larry Krammer came to me second hand and with it came a message from a previous reader. One single page in the whole of the book has been marked with a fold down the whole of the page, not a tiny dog ear in the corner, a fold down the length of the page. Page 105 folded over onto to page 106. There were no other marks or folds in this copy. The page is now unfolded; a crease remains. The previous reader marked the rhetorical and dramatic centre of the play. Scene 11, Act Two. The two antagonists embrace after one delivers a speech. The speech is delivered in two parts. Part one relates the battle to fly a person with AIDS to his mother. Airline pilot having refused to take off had to be replaced with another. The tale continues: the person with AIDS displays dementia; becomes incontinent; police van meets the plane with police in protective covering that made them look like astronauts; by the time the hospital is reached the object of attention has died. The stage direction is short but interpreted as full of compassion.

NED starts toward him.

There is more, other acts of discrimination. The speech continues with the aftermath of finding an undertaker willing to handle the body.

NED crosses to BRUCE and embraces him; BRUCE puts his arms around NED.

The play ends with another embrace after another death. (Ned and his brother Ben who too have been at odds).

The back cover copy positions the play as an indictment breaking the conspiracy of silence. Yes it is that. It is also testimony. Although, it may seem to call for rage, it enacts hope. It was important then.

And now by its sheer form it gives us beauty. Again.

Beauty, Rage and Love embracing in and through Art.

And so for day 242

Forms and Shifts

Philip K. Dick Ubik (New York: Vintage Books 1969 reprint 1991 page 132) has a particular take on Plato

But why hadn't the TV set reverted instead to formless metals and plastics? those, after all, were its constituents; it had been constructed out of them, not out of an earlier radio. Perhaps this weirdly verified a discarded ancient philosophy, that of Plato's ideal objects, the universals which, in each class, were real. The form TV set had been a template imposed as a successor to other templates, like the procession of frames in a movie sequence. Prior forms, he reflected, must carry on an invisible, residual life in every object. The past is latent, is submerged, but still there, capable of rising to the surface once the later imprinting unfortunately — and against ordinary experience — vanished. The man contains — not the boy — but earlier men, he thought. History began a long time ago.

The ordinary experience of boys with movie frames admits splicing and montage. How like a template is a frame? The simile invites a bit of thinking about how a succession differs from a procession. Both do possess a quality of entities following one after the other. Yet one has room for more. The boy is not contained by the man. The boy traverses the man. The long ago may be only a frame away or even awaiting just off screen. A man is traversed and because of that is unlike a succession. The container leaks.

And so for day 241


Here is a wonderful passage about the value of practice and about the care of craft. Hermione to Harry in "The Wandmaker" chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Oh yes, if you are any wizard at all you will be able to channel your magic through almost any instrument. The best results, however, must always come where there is the strongest affinity between wizard and wand. These connections are complex. An initial attraction, and then a mutual quest for experience, the wand learning from the wizard, the wizard from the wand.

Respect for one's tools is coupled with respect for one's bodily reactions to those tools and this coupling forms the basis not only for magic but also for a growing knowledge of the affordances offered by a given technology and its deployment. The gentle imperative of respect becomes a call to be attentive to interaction and feedback.

And so for day 240


A transposition of letters. An accident. Detical. A hand-made hook which leads me to recall many years ago in my adolescence a slogan that adorned a billboard in Kapuskasing. The slogan "Keep Kap Klean" resisted translation or so it was said. Nevertheless it would be quite the trick to capture the combined effects of alliteration, monosyllables and unorthodox spelling in French. Decades later I have tried and my attempt floats about the letter "p" instead of the "k" and mutes the imperative into a pointing towards an ideal.

Kap: propre sans pareil

And so for day 239

Freedom, a non-destination non-determinative view

Xavier Tilliette Merleau-Ponty ou la mesure de l'homme in the series Philosophes de tous les temps.

I like to place this remark about perception awakened being akin to sending science in a dizzying spin

Réveiller la perception, c'est étourdir la science

with a passage several dozen pages later

Si la contingence extermine le rêve de destination bienheureuse, elle abonde de la richesse du monde, elle assure à la vie humaine le sérieux de la liberté.

Contingency as a mode of salvation, as perpetual process. Keeps perception sharp to be on the look out for the haphazard, the accidental.

And so for day 238

Situated Reading of Situations

Susan Stewart. On Longing

[T]he distance between the situation of reading and the situation of the depiction is bridged by description, the use of a field of familiar signs [...] Thus, whenever we speak of the context of reading, we see at work a doubling which undermines the authority of both the reading situation and the situation or locus of the depiction: the read is not in either world, but rather moves between them, and thereby moves between varieties of partial and transcendent vision.

And from where I read this I imagine you skipping through three situations: that of your reading, that of the rendering of what you are reading, that of the depiction brought to mind. In your hand a magnifying glass.

And so for day 237

Logo Imaginings

The logo of the American Academy of Bookbinding reminds me of the animal caricature of the wise old owl. Four squares brought into formation to form a larger square. The bottom two have a white circle on black ground (the wide eyes of the wise old owl). The top two have an isoceles triangle in black on a white ground (the feathered tufts of a horned owl). The abstraction of the feature of an owl may be a fanciful reading of a fetching design. For white read red in the colour version.

And so for day 236

Aestheticizing Techniques of Commerce

Jochen Schulte-Sasse "Afterward" to Jay Caplan. Framed Narratives: Diderot's Geneology of the Beholder.

The mechanical arts in particlar [sic] were soon to be excluded from the realm of the so-called beautiful arts because their skills turned out to be commercially exploitable in the course of the industrial revolution. For one of the structuring principles of the institutionalization of a separate aesthetic realm was the resistance of those arts delimited as "beautiful" to commercial utilization. As Martin Fontius has pointed out, the development of a generalized notion of art and the emergence of a new discipline — aesthetics — dealing with art in general coincide not just accidentally with the emergence of technology as a science and institutionalized discipline: "the monopolization of the concept of technic on the one hand corresponded to an aestheticization of the concept of art on the other."

How like an institution is a marketplace?

And so for day 235

A Rationale for Slow Reading

Geoffrey O'Brien. The Browser's Ecstasy: A Meditation on Reading.

He measures his life by sentences and chapters. He comes to feel that just as any moment of life contains the whole of it, any of these books is the whole library, any sentence the whole book. This realization affords him enormous relief. To allow himself to be lost in this reading is his salvation.

I like how the prose shifts from a contemplation of a moment containing a life to a part being a larger whole.

And so for day 234

Page Leaping

Kevin Connolly Happyland. The title poem in this collection is a set of nine parts is about the East Tremont fires in New York and one of the pieces recalls Triangle Shirtwaist fire that happened "79 years to the day" before the fire that is the subject of "Happyland". There is smart use of the white space dividing the stanzas to form effects such as this

March 25, 1911:
the day the angels fell

nine floors into heaven.

There are no further lines to the page end. That is where the words stop.

To echo Oscar Wilde on page turning, sometimes halting is the appropriate response and page conditions can contribute to that response.

And so for day 233

Page Turning

As Appendix B to More Letters of Oscar Wilde edited by Rupert Hart-Davis there is "A Reminiscence of 1898 by Wilfred Hugh Chesson" in which Wilde comments on the impact of page size on the experience of reading.

"I do not approve of the shape of the Pseudonym Library [published by Unwin]," he said. "It is too narrow. It is unjust to a good style to print it on a tiny page. Imagine turning Pater over rapidly. It is violence." [The editor kindly supplies the dimensions: "Its pages measured 6 3/4 inches down and 3 1/2 inches across."]

At first blush this seems to be about speed. Upon further consideration it is about page-centricism.

And so for day 232

Rehearsing Analogies

Sometime ago I used to have the following reflection as part of my signature block for email messages.

Wondering if...

mnemonic is to analytic
mimetic is to synthetic

Of course the underlying premise is that the discrete blocks of memory are assembled in the flow of mimesis. Mimesis is about verisimilitude. It's not about reproduction or replication. It's about look-alike rendering. This reminds me of what I say about animation: "animation is not about movement it’s about synchronisation."

And so for day 231

Tooting Tubers

The late Ingmar Bergman has a wonderful scene in Fanny and Alexander where a candle is blown out by a fart and then the screen goes black. In honour of that memory, this passage from Ridie Wilson Ghezzi's introduction to the section "Nanabush Stories from the Ojibwe" in the collection edited by Brian Swann Coming to Light: Contemporary Translations of the Native Literatures of North America

Whereas "Nanabush Eats the Artichokes" is highly entertaining, due to Nanabush's misunderstanding of the nature of the noise following close behind him, and would be even more hilarious if performed orally, it also plays the typical role of the creation myth as the item in question is an artichoke. It is difficult to tell from either the translation or the narrative in the original Ojibwe whether the narrator was referring to an actual artichoke or to some form of raw vegetable in general.

It is certainly possible for the Ojibwe to have known about artichokes. The regular artichoke, native to Italy, would have been introduced by the French long before this narrative was collected. The Ojibwe word translated as "artichoke" here is referred to in other sources as a descriptor meaning "raw." [...] Whatever vegetable was originally intended here, it is clear that the story refers to a vegetable that, when eaten, produces a great deal of flatulence!

I suspect the the vegetable in question is the Jerusalem artichoke which raw or cooked can cause flatulence. It is native to North America and likely known to the Ojibway.

And so for day 230