Ungodly Zero Devilish One

Lionel Kearns.
The Daylight Press. Vancouver, B.C.
By the Light of the Silvery McLune: Media Parables, Poems, Signs, Gestures and Other Assaults on the Interface.

which is rendered on the half-title page along the vertical

The first poem in this book is called "The Birth of God" and is a concrete poem consisting of the figure 1 composed of zeros encompassed by the figure 0 composed of ones. The poem is reproduced in white on the black of the book's cover which of course gets reversed (black print on white page) inside. There is a distinct yin-yang feel to the piece. This yoking of opposites is underscored by the note at the end of the table of contents on the page facing the poem.
Note: THE BIRTH OF GOD is a mathematical mandala embodying the perfect creative/destructive principle of the mutual interpenetration and balanced interdependence of opposites: one and zero, something and nothing, substance and void, being and oblivion, positive and negative, good and bad, spirit and flesh, black and white, yin and yang, male and female, thesis and antithesis, this and that — and all possible dynamic relationships of these polarities, the simultaneous representations of which are immediately obvious in the icons of sex, childbirth and death.
Jim Andrews has created a meditation on the work of Lionel Kearns which appears to begin with a reproduction of "The Birth of God" http://vispo.com/kearns/index.htm Interestingly, Andrews uses reverse video display to construct the inner figure of the 1 out of an assembly of ones. It is not an exact reproduction of the Kearns text. It is a meditation upon it. Clicking through the animation produced by Andrews one arrives at a sierpinski triangle which with more clicking fades.

The Andrews meditation reproduces an email message addressed to the author by Nan Yake and a response from Kearns which elucidates, for me, the sexual congress in the figure (which I failed to grasp without this helpful hint).
There are other ideas that can be drawn from the poem as well. Because of its shape, the 1 suggests the male, just as the shape of the 0 suggests the female. With the 1 inside the 0 we have the idea of sexual activity, or conception. Then again, the roundness of the 0 suggests the womb, with the 1 as the embryo contained within it, giving us the idea of birth. Finally the 0 can be interpreted as a coffin which contains a body. And so we have reference to the three principal points on the wheel of existence: conception, birth, and death.

I composed this poem many years ago, long before I had given much thought to computers, or their workings. However, I have been happy to discover that the poem anticipated today's ubiquitous presence of the binary code that is the basis of digital programming (the play of 1s and 0s).
I first thought that the work was the ironic mark of an iconoclastic gesture against the false god of the computer as all-mighty gadget. I now cherish its undecidability: a 10 in decimal or a 2 in binary base [by another reading of the binary 01 we have one which is also one in decimal notation]. Representation as such. Not the thing in itself.

Yeah, and that McLune is a sure reference to the sometimes lunatic McLuhan of Wychwood Park. Exit singing %% the moon in June %%

And so for day 1295

Browsing at Brown

This description of the collections at the John Carter Brown Library from a 1968 publication is so inviting...

The Library has sought to emphasize not only the textual content of its books but also their characteristics as material objects. We have felt it important, where possible, to assemble data on the economic, legal, social and intellectual aspects of printing and publication. We like to feel that a person using the Library will find its books set among congenial companions which suggest insights and points of view leading to fresh understandings of the role which the Americas played in the history of Western civilization.
What an ingenious way of describing finding aids and allied publications as "congenial companions". The authors of Opportunities for Research in the John Carter Brown Library point out that "In addition to the basic collection [in closed stacks] described in this handbook, there are some 6,000 reference books, offprints, and reprints. This material is on open shelves." We may now in this century count among the "congenial companions" the Library's electronic publications including a wonderful series "I Found It at the JCB" (One of my favourites is the brief piece by Caroline Cox "Tuning of the Fifes: The Life of a Boy Soldier in the Eighteenth Century".)

The colophon of the 1968 handbook is a treasure too "HAEC OLIM MEMINISSE JUVABIT" — "one day, this will be pleasing to remember" — neatly drops the "perhaps" part in this quotation from Book I of Virgil's Aeneid. Pleasing it is, no perhaps about it.

And for good measure a link to another of the I Found It at the JCB items wherein Jesse Cromwell relates "coming across a slim 1662 volume by Henry Stubbe entitled The Indian Nectar, or a Discourse concerning Chocalata" and provides a recipe for An Obscenely Delicious Seventeenth-Century Hot Chocolate Recipe. Jesse's Stubbe "was an Oxford educated scholar of Latin and Greek and a physician, who lived in both England and Jamaica." My Stubbe is a chocolatier in Toronto. http://www.stubbechocolates.com/history/ And no perhaps about it, I will remember its pleasures.

And so for day 1294

Independent Observations on Interactivity

From a message with the subject heading "Good Stimulating Questions" sent to Ger Zielinski after a presentation to his class at Ryerson in March 1999.

In recapping the enter-hold-exit example I suggested that it is modelled on a narrative and that narratives have middle, beginnings, and ends that can be shifted in the telling and presenting. I also suggested that the on/off yes/no decision process is not centred in the middle but distributed throughout. [...]
Any decision point depends not only upon the history of previous decisions at that point but also the activity of other decision points. This is a rather abstract way of expressing a network model for hum eating, savouring and digestion. Of course this is just to say that microhabits come to form larger cultural patterns.
Then many years later I came across a quotation in Lori Emerson Reading Writing Interfaces: from the digital to the bookbound (2014) which quotes a 2005 interview with Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries about their piece Traveling to Utopia: With a Brief History of the Technology.
The spectator is far from powerless. She is still the one who decides whether or not she will watch the piece, or having clicked on it, whether she'll click away from it. That's the same power that she has when she considers any other art and literature. Clicking away is one of the essences of the Internet. It's no different from deleting. It's rejection, it's saying "no." That's ultimate power.
A few pages later Emerson remarks "The reader/viewer cannot fast-forward or rewind; they can only click away from the piece and end the experience altogether." There exists screen recording software that would make a re-reading or reviewing of the work controllable for fast-forward or rewind or pause. In a sense Emerson overlooks using software to reproduce a copy of the piece and then assert control over flow because she buys into a restrictive view of interactivity — interactivity is pushed to a consumer (instead of applied by a user).
[...] YHCHI's dislike of interactivity is partly derived from the emptiness of interactive features in most pieces, which may be touted as offering the reader a liberatory freedom but that in fact simply allow the reader to choose between several predetermined directions. Rather than foster the illusion that their work is an exemplar of democratic literature, they choose to accentuate the absence of freedom in their work.
A wider view of interactivity that equates it with hacking would circumvent this view of limited possibilities. Mash-ups anyone? One of my favourites was posted in 2009 and features excerpts from lectures and presentations given at UC Berkeley and includes among others the poet Robin Blaser. The poster provides a transcript (very handy for search engines) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAKAGMtZ6BM
* Advancing Integrative Psychological Research on Adaptive and Healthy Aging - Session 3: Decision Making in Aging - May 21, 2009
* David Lynch: Consciousness, Creativity and the Brain - November 6, 2005
* Memristor and Memristive Systems Symposium - November 21, 2008
* 2009 Frickey Symposium - Plendary Session 1 - April 24, 2009
* The Dawn of Creation: The First Two Billion Years - Steven Beckwith - April 23, 2008
* Lunch Poems - Robin Blaser
* Conversations with History - The rise of asia and the decline of the west - Kishore Mahbubani


good morning
good evening
i'd like to welcome all of you here today

allright, so the beginning of all this was 1997
the early universe was almost all hydrogen and helium
in this roaring extend feathered wing to feathered wing
the universe is beginning to clump up and build galaxies from scratch
like an ocean of solutions, you dive in there, and these solutions come
this was the period in which you assembled the mass into galaxies
streets, subways, window, ledges
in fact the stars only account for 1/2 a percent

gods and stars and stars or totems are not game animals
incidentally i've kind of switched on you

we don't know when it hits us, but we become seekers, we start asking questions, we start getting curious
what next, you know
you can choose where to work, you can choose to buy television sets, you can choose to travel

this all turns out to be wrong
it's very very unusual to want it if you don't like it

so you see the galaxy in the center there, that doesn't look like a spiral or an elliptical, it's kind of chaotic
what you're seeing is two phases of forms of social integration
finally you see constitutional law evolving in response to political, social, and constitutional pressure
the same people who had been unproductive you know, for 100 years plus, suddenly became very productive and very dynamic
ahh, the people, the people, merely they are flesh of my flesh

but I think it's a question with more than one context

what would you do if all the lovers of your years passed by at midnight, dressed in the flesh that they wore when you last loved them
you'd be able to see the charactaristic size of these waves in an otherwise chaotic ocean
that's, that's actually kind of profound
And all that set to music: Grace by Bobby McFerrin and Yo-Yo Ma.

And so for day 1293

Floral Gender-Bending

Vita Sackville-West. Some Flowers. Plates by Graham Rust.

The entry on Tulipa Clusiana, the Lady Tulip, ends

[...] the slim little Lady Tulip who is more like a boy.
which recalls the beginning
She is familiarly called the Lady Tulip, but actually reminds one most of a regiment of little red and white soldiers [...] I suppose her alleged femineity is due to her elegance and neatness, with her little white shirt so simply tucked inside her striped jacket, but she is really more like a slender boy, a slim little officer dressed in parti-coloured uniform of the Renaissance.
The preface by Stephen Dobell references Vita's lovers "including Virginia Woolf, who modelled her Orlando on Vita". I am put in mind of Sally Potter's film with Tilda Swinton in the title role — in one scene the hero carries tulips to central Asia from England. An inverse journey to their propagation.

The Faber and Faber (1994) issue of the screenplay omits some of the description of Orlando's arrival in Khiva (faulty printing pp, 30-31) [but does provide a still from the film]. We are lucky that the Sally Potter Archive makes accessible the relevant page
ORLANDO is sitting in a small swaying carriage on a camel. His is wearing stiff, tight, elaborate clothing that is quite unsuitable for the heat, and is sweating profusely. He is holding some now wilted and dying tulips.
As Sophie Mayer points out "In the film, Woolf's Constantinople (whose Asiatic half was the only place outside Europe that the novelist ever visited) becomes Khiva. Why? As Anna Pavord points out in her history of the flower, Uzbekistan is, in fact, famous for its valleys of wild tulips. The bulbs were brought to Europe from its native Turkey, smuggled in the bags of a Belgian diplomat in the sixteenth century." Pathway: Travelling Shots: Travel, Movement and Empire in Orlando

In the film, the fate of Orlando's tulips, an ambassadorial gift, is to fall into the hands of small female twins, who were among a cortege of children teasing and tweaking the hero in his finery. "Finally, in desperation, ORLANDO hands over the tulips and the twins run off shrieking with laughter."

And so for day 1292

One and Many

e.e. cummings

I'd rather learn from one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance
What happens here when the negation gets introduced? What does it do to the stated preference to learn how to sing from one bird? The form "I would rather X than not Y" creates a tension because the relation "rather than" implies a choice but here the alternative is not to do something which implies doing its opposite. We are left the the image of dancing stars and the lingering of bird song. The difference between learning and teaching annuls itself. See what happens with a bit of transposition to another sphere of activity (and with a fractional movement of the negation): "I'd rather read bird song / than not write star dances". We rub away the choices that e.e. cummings offers and return to the possibility of bearing with the less liked to indulge in the more liked. It's a calculus that becomes more absolute if we move the negation from verb to object as it was in the parallel construction of the lines from e.e. cummings. We get an obliteration of the twinkling: "I rather read bird song / than write no star dances".

Wonder if that one bird would be Keats's Nightingale ... another constructor of fleeting music.

And so for day 1291

Dual Duels

Would that English have a nice dual that was not first person plural which collapses the difference of the two (or more) into a collective identity. Even if there were a lexical means for referencing a dual, the verb inflexions are, well, inflexible. Just how does a dual conjugate? Some evolution of a conflation of singular and plural verb forms? isare dancedance Reduplication does nicely. Pidjin savy. gogo eateat laughlaugh

Spend time in a space.
Pronouns are invitiations to spend time in a space. A language’s set of pronouns tells much about the subjectivties it may be ready to entertain. Even more telling is the relation between the set of pronouns and the verbal inflections.

So where do the subjectivities whose time is not ...

So what dimension do the subjectivites with other temporalities occupy?

The point • first person
The line --- second person
The angle > third person

The dual.

And so for day 1290


Apocalypse in diminuendo.

      there are sounds the planet will always make, even
if there is no one to hear them.
From the last lines from the last poem in Sea Change by Jorie Graham.

And so for day 1289

Tracing Spacing

Who is GS whose initials are in tiny type at the base of this poem in praise of the American sculptor Louise Nevelson?

The title and dedication are made of bunched up letters and subsequent letters rain down in lines which with a bit of patience can be read along the horizontal.


The following lines with some reassembly give
To envision loveliness
in lines
liveliness in levels
enlivens lives
Of course my line breaks are a wee bit arbitrary. So is my stab at identifying GS — Gilbert Sorrentino? A New York connection?

And so for day 1288

It's spelt c-a-p-i-s-c-e, capeesh?

I was seized of the Italian origins of "capisce" when I recently encountered it in print. Throughout my years on earth I had thoroughly thought of it as a proper English expression with Anglo-Saxon roots for "do you understand?"


"Capisce" now takes pride of place with "arrivederci" for "later, alligator" from the 1950s tune.

"Get it? Got it. Good." from the 1955 Danny Kaye vehicle The Court Jester.

Prediction: "capisce" will likely appear in some mashup coming to you soon.


And so for day 1287

Everything is to be gained there

Phoebe Hoban in Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art reminds us that

It is significant that one of his favorite source books included a dictionary of hobo signs — and from it he took not only symbols but poetry. ("Nothing to be gained here.")
Henry Dreyfuss. Symbol Sourcebook

Greg Tate in "Nobody Loves a Genius Child: Jean Michel Basquiat, Flyboy in the Buttermilk" alerts us to the importance of the words and symbols painted by Basquiat.
In the rush to reduce the word games found in Basquiat works to mere mimicry of Cy Twombly's cursive scrawls, we've expected to forget that Basquiat comes from a people once forbidden literacy by law on the grounds that it would make for rebellious slaves. Expected to overlook as well that among those same people words are considered a crucial means to magical powers, and virtuosic wordplay pulls rank as a measure of one's personal prowess. From the perspective of this split-screen worldview, where learning carries the weight of a revolutionary act and linguistic skills are as prized as having a knockout punch, there are no such things as empty signifiers, only misapprehended ones.
Flyboy in the Buttermilk: Essays on Contemporary America pp. 238-239.
Later in this article, Tate makes the point that "Black visual culture suffers less from a lack of developed artists than a need for popular criticism, academically supported scholarship, and more adventurous collecting and exhibiting.

Run search on "Black Visual Culture".
And so for day 1286


nathalie stephens (Nathanaël).

Mirror. Book. Page. Turn.
If by chance we speak to mirrors, it is perhaps less for narcissistic reasons than out of a desire for dead time separating us from the battering voices we carry. I turn the page of a book and entire civilization harasses me. If I must accuse myself, I can only do so by drawing you with me into my minds' maze where I love of a love worthy of misanthropy.
Turn. Page. Book. Mirror.
Absence Where As (Claude Cahun and the Unopened Book) p.48

Have I here a transcription error "entire civilization harasses me" for civilizations in the plural or a dropped article for an entire civilization? Or are we true to the mirroring text? The maze one will note is the possession of a collective of minds. A trip to the library seems to be in order ... to check out page 48 and any minor mirror errors.

And so for day 1285

Lessons in Diversity

A little Hassidic Tale, a little knotwork.

p. 146

Learn from All

They asked Rabbi Mikhal: "In the Sayings of the Fathers we read: 'Who is wise?' He who learns from all men, as it is said, 'From all my teachers I have gotten understanding.' Then why does it not say: 'He who learns from every teacher'?"

Rabbi Mikhal explained: "The master who pronounced these words is intent on having it clear that we can learn not only from those whose occupation is to teach, but from every man. Even from one who is ignorant, or from one who is wicked, you can gain understanding as to how to conduct your life."
Martin Buber Tales of the Hasidim: The Early Masters trans. Olga Marx (New York: Schocken Books, 1947)
And from a signature block that my email messages once sported, a turn from me.
some threads tangle in tassels, others form the weft
I also am very fond of saying "connect sometimes by disentangling" to describe some of the analytical work that goes into assisting a client.

And so for day 1284

To Be Read to the Tune of Telemann's Cricket Symphony

A group way into an irrational number. Always approaching.

(Mar 25 15:46) From Irc: polite
(Mar 25 19:09) From Light: rude
(Apr 1 18:50) From Irc: awakening
(Apr 2 15:12) From Light: enlightenment
(Apr 2 18:49) From Yred: karma
(Apr 4 04:34) From Irc: instant
(Apr 7 18:54) From Light: coffee
(Apr 7 19:53) From Yred: cake
(Apr 9 19:43) From Light: pie
(Apr 10 15:24) From Irc: circle
(Apr 14 19:15) From Yred: pi
Part of the further fun is extracting a series. For example the contribution from IRC: polite awakening instant circle.

Mad House Talker -- telnet madhouse.dune.net 5550

Previous Run

And so for day 1283

Picks of Pics

Les Murray.
Poems the Size of Photographs

Here are excerpts presented in reverse order of their appearance in the book.

The Test

How good is their best?
And how good is their rest?
The first is a question to be asked of an artist.
Both are the questions to be asked of a culture.
I like how in such a short space the context widens.

The next is a two-line stanza from a poem made up of two-line stanzas entitled Portrait of a Felspar-Coloured Cat.
All her intelligence
is elegance.
Gentle reader, the comment about the cat could be one about the poems but our author is far too modest.

The humour of the next serves to ward off any turn to the metaphysical.
The Knockdown Question

Why does God not spare the innocent?

The answer to that is not in
the same world as the question
so you would shrink from me
in terror if I could answer it.
Where it all began.
Big Bang

If everything is receding
from eveything, we're only
seeing the backs of the stars.
Hope you liked the tour of the album. And if you have time read them bottom up to see how their wit first appeared to me.

And so for day 1282

Blossoms Scattered, Eyes Scratched

The 2005 Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology has a selection from nominated poet Fanny Howe. Her On the Ground which I continuously misquote as Open Ground by some concatenation with Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996 of Seamus Heaney. In any event I was caught by these lines

Maybe the end of the world happened long ago
A whirl as quick as Judas breaking his neck
and every sound is an echo
There is of course the end rhyme (ago - echo) and the internal rhyme (quick - break - neck). And the subtle shift in tense.

I dwell on this suggestion of what might have happened if events had not led to Judas hanging himself. The "maybe" here is picked up by a later question : can I?
Can I toss them aside
like an armful of sticks and set out as a feeling
to find Hana and Issa across the night
Never mind the referent of "them" for the moment. Let us concentrate on objects of a search: Issa could be the Japanese haiku poet but there is no poet in the tradition that readily responds to the name Hana. (We could be dealing here with pets — household felines.) We can find hana in the poetry of Issa. It is not a proper name but the word for "blossom". We are here deforming on a search of our own not quite tossing aside brain and skeleton which are the immediate referents to the notoriously slippery "them".

Why I like the blossom-connection regardless of authorial intention:
hana saku ya me wo nuwaretaru tori no naku

cherry blossoms--
chickens with eyes stitched shut
are clucking
David Lanoue highlights this poem and its translation and provides commentary in his Master Bashô, Master Buson ... and Then There’s Issa appearing in Simply Haiku Autumn 2005, vol 3 no 3.
Jean Cholley notes that in the poultry market in the Muromachi district of Edo (today's Tokyo), the eyes of the doomed birds were sewn shut to keep them immobile while being fattened in their cages (237). Issa sketches this not-pretty scene with blunt honesty. And though he utters no emotional words, one feels his heart going out to the birds who cannot see, and never again will see, the cherry blossoms.

Reference: Cholley, Jean. En village de miséreux: Choix de poèmes de Kobayashi Issa. Paris: Gallimard, 1996.
Can I now return to where the echo began to reverberate? But I have lost a world. Gone like a "single bubble in steeping tea" the meaning according to Robert Hass of Issa's name. But accessible again to more complicated readings when one considers that Judas is Greek for Judah which in Hebrew means "thanksgiving, praise". Worth pursuing? Feeling one's way across the night? Finding scattered on the ground? Inventing like a way to read with eyes stitched shut and mind wide open?

And so for day 1281

Prue and Clive (and not and)

A quick portrait of a marriage from of the verse letters in Clive James Fan Mail (1977).

I don't know what my wife's at, half the time:
Locked up with microfilms of some frail text
Once copied from a copy's copy. I'm
Dead chuffed as well as miffed to be perplexed,
Contented neither of us has annexed
The other's field. Though it's conceit-sounding,
We Jameses think each other quite astounding.
http://www.prueshaw.com/ She, a Dante scholar; he, a translator of the Divine Comedy. http://www.clivejames.com/

But linked as they have been they are no longer living under the same roof.
In the introduction to his translation, which is really a love letter to his estranged wife, James recalls the first time, long ago in Florence, that she explained to him the complex subtlety of the Paolo and Francesca episode in canto 5 of Inferno. "Though it was assembled from minutely wrought effects," he writes, "the episode really did have rhythmic sweep. Every moment danced and the dance was always moving forward."
From The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jul/05/clive-james-dante-translation
Worth remarking as we draw the curtain that Dante, moved upon hearing Francesca tell her story, faints.

And so for day 1280

Rejoicing Wit: Clever By More Than Half

Shakespeare. Love's Labour Lost.

HOLOFERNES, the pendant, celebrates the princesses hunting prowess. He does so with hilarious aplomb.

I will something affect the letter, for it argues facility.

The preyful princess pierced and prickt;
a pretty pleasing pricket;
Some say a sore; but not a sore,
till now made sore with shooting.
The dogs did yell: put L to sore,
then sorel jumps from thicket;
Or pricket sore, or else sorel;
the people fall a-hooting.
If sore be sore, then L to sore
makes fifty sores: O sore L!
Of one sore I an hundred make
by adding but one more L.
Explanatory Notes for Act 4, Scene 2 from Love's Labour's Lost. Ed. William Rolfe.
A buck of the first head. According to The Return from Parnassus, 1606 (quoted by Steevens) "a buck is the first year, a fawn; the second year, a pricket; the third year, a sorrell; the fourth year, a soare; the fifth, a buck of the first head; the sixth year, a compleat buck."
Pun by way of number, pretty Roman numerals (fifty = L and one hundred = C). But what have we here? A doubling of the L would give us not "sorell" but "sorec" — a nonsense word by our accounting. But the doubling of 50 (L) to 100 (LL) by Holofernes's could with the addition of a suffix "s" indicate the plural be "sorells" which is an anagram of "sollers" which is Latin for "clever" and just by chance the nom de plume of a French man of letters who has been much taken by Joycean language games of which Holofernes is a precursor. By the way, Philippe Sollers was born Philippe Joyaux — a gem.

And so for day 1279

Leitmotiv Cache

From a literary salon chez des amis, I walked away with a phrase in my head from Diane Enns. I mangled it a bit when I replayed it "consolation of squirrels" when it was "commiseration of squirrels".

Endowing squirrels with human sentiments enables Dickinson to show them as ideal counterparts, which in turn allows her to explore issues such as loss, the need for companionship, and loneliness. In Poem 131, in which the coming of autumn causes the feeling of an acute sense of loss, the speaker finds some comfort in the possibility that "a Squirrel may remain - / My sentiments to share" (P62, no. 131, 13-14). In the squirrel, the poet finds solace; the squirrel is not just any companion, but one capable of commiseration. Correspondingly, Dickinson herself is able to sympathize with the squirrel [...]
"Squirrels" entry by Jan Michelle Andres in All Things Dickinson: An Encyclopedia of Emily Dickinson's World edited by Wendy Martin.
Purely by the signifier "squirrel" (and the residue of "commiseration") am I led to the multi-layered opera / film Fig Trees (Libretto: John Greyson, Music: David Wall) which features an albino squirrel modelled after those creatures that inhabited the CAMH property at Queen and Ossington (which also lent their likeness as logo of a caffeine dispensary as well as White Squirrel Way). The opera Fig Trees began life as an installation at the Oakville Galleries (Exhibition dates : 19 Nov. 2003 - 25 Jan. 2004) and a handsome catalogue with accompanying soundtrack has been produced. The squirrel doesn't appear to have been a figure in the video installation at the Oakville Galleries — it of course appears in the 2009 film.

AIDS + Activism + Africa

So we squirrel away.

And so for day 1278

Minimalist Monuments

Answer: Lawren Harris.

Problem Statement: by way of John Berger on Magritte found in About Looking. Beginning with a few lines from the conclusion of Notes on Conceptualisms by Vanessa Place and Robert Fitterman:

This is the difference between Narcissus and Medusa. This is the difference between the barren and the baroque. This is the problem.
Indeed the problem morphed into a search for the "barren baroque". And so it was a turn with Berger on the readable evinced in Margritte's painting that gave us a hint, a strong hint in a parenthesis.
(I use the word readable metaphorically: his language is visual, not literary, though being a language, it signifies something other than itself.) Yet what he had to say destroyed the raison-d'être of the language he used; the point of most of his paintings depends on what is not shown, upon the event that is not taking place, upon what can disappear.
It was at a used book stall and leafing through a monograph about Bernini with copious illustrations — I came to understand that all the flowing scrollwork was the "barren baroque" because I was reading the record as it went by. Stationary as I was, I was ambulating. It was at that moment that I thought of the late Harris landscapes. Sublime. Barren. Baroque. In one space. Still. Thrusting upwards. Flick through a book of these and a similar readable flow is present and gone.

And so for day 1277

Ascribing We Will Go

Either incipit and colophon, it came to me from my friend the translator and editor Diana Kuprel. A piece of ephemera in a package produced by the St. Michael's College Press. Without attribution. Nicely set.

A border of two destinies touching upon each other almost interwoven.
Sor sup no scrip li poti 
 te er rum tor bri atur
Mor inf no rap li mori 
Which reconstructed with the overlapping bits, reads
Sorte supernorum scriptor libri potiatur
Morte infernorum raptor libri moriatur
 wrote procure joys life supernal
May he who this book the of 
 steals endure pangs death infernal
This version is care of David Harvey, University of Exeter, via personal communication to Mark Drogin (pages 90-91, Anathema!) which came to me via "Bibliomania and the Medieval Book Curse" by Sandra Anderson which paper was written for the LIS 586 - History of the Book course at the University of Alberta. It was posted to the web in March 2003 as part of a capping exercise for the completion of a Master of Library and Information Studies degree.

Still no idea what manuscript this curse/blessing comes from. I have in my searches found some variations:

Morte superborum ...
Morte reproborum ...
Morte malignorum ...

For those interested in tracing down the manuscript sources for some these intertwined inscriptions from anonymous scribes, please consult the multivolume Colophons de manuscrits occidentaux des origines au XVIe siècle. Bénédictins du Bouveret. (Fribourg, Suisse : Editions Universitaires, 1965-1982). And many happy searches beyond (such is my curse and blessing).

And so for day 1276

Carrion Call

Almost as if taken from a Parsi description of exposure in the Tower of Silence, Robert Bringhurst brings us to a new appreciation of feasting when he mediates upon the carcass of a dead fawn.

In terms of meat, there is not very much to a young fawn, but the eagles had opened her up, and the ravens had joined them. I reminded myself that being buried bit by bit in the guts of birds is at least as good as going into a hole in the ground, and that fueling an eagle's flight or the voice of a raven is as fine a resurrection as anyone, human or deer, could hope for.
"The Silence That Is Not Poetry — And The Silence That Is" E.J. Pratt Lecture, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's 14 October 2005
In this collection of thirteen talks (The Tree of Meaning), I turn to an earlier lecture that also rifts on an ecological perspective. This time in the mode of culture and its artefacts.
So the cultural floor is a killing floor, and it's littered with smithereens. Reach down and you might pick up some fragments of a Presocratic philosopher, a Zen master's wink preserved in amber, a story or two told by an aboriginal elder, or a sheaf of poems by one of the great poets who go by the name Anonymous. You'll have to sift through a lot of rubbish to find these treasures, but plenty of treasure is there: much more lying in the dust than you are likely to find in the superstructure. That's why every true intellectual alive in the present day is a garbage picker.
"Poetry and Thinking" Luther College, University of Regina, 25 January 2001
For the visually-minded garbage picker there is the example of the catadores of the Jardim Gramacho chronicled in the movies Waste Land. For the booklover, there is detritus.com, the online home of Jeff Maser, Bookseller, through whose catalogues one can idle many an hour.

And so for day 1275


It's arresting. It appears (among other places) on page 66 of The New Yorker February 7, 2005.

It is drawn and captioned by Matthew Diffee.

It's a single panel cartoon. A person sits by a begging cup holding a sign that reads "homeless". Walking by is person carrying a brief case. Below is a single word which we ascribe to the sitting person: "Hobophobe!"

Wicked on so many levels.

And so for day 1274

Found Poem and Two Pastiches

Borrowed from e.e. cummings a selection of poems

Here they are set in American-style haiku à la Kerouac

the very skillful strangeness of your smile
the sweet small clumsy feet of April came
into the ragged meadow of my soul
And now set in an Anne-Carson-like fragment from some Sappho
the very skillful strangeness of your smile

the sweet small clumsy feet of April came

into the ragged meadow of my soul
Christopher Patton at The Art of Compost reproduces under the aegis of erasure practice a page from Carson and introduces (me) to the work of Jen Brevin on Shakespeare's sonnets (Nets): "Against my love shall be, as I am now" is greyed out except for the found poem "I am / vanishing or vanished / in these black lines".

And so for day 1273

Reclaiming Bodily Fluids Under The Willows

Sky Gilbert in the poems collected in Digressions of a Naked Party Girl (ECW, 1998) lays out in many a poem exemplary safe sex practices: semen spread over bodies, condom use supplemented by retraction. But nothing captures the ethos of the times as much as the final poem "The Island of Lost Tears" which rings the changes on the themes of contagion, quarantine and the solidarity of community.

It begins with reportage.

Haven't you heard the latest news about AIDS?
You can get if from tears
O yes
You mustn't let anyone cry on you or
cry near you, in fact it's a very good idea not to let
anyone cry in the same room as you
Of course the reader girl or boy is invited to sob after having reached the titular island.
No one dies there
in the Island of Lost Tears
they simply fade into the mist
But late at night through the trees
(they have none but weeping willows)
the voices whisper the forbidden words
"Weep ... cry ... feel ... let yourself go!"
These are the ghosts of those who dared
to cry when all others had forgotten how, and they will
not be silent.
I have always thought that Tears Are Not Enough is the Northern Lights response to the implicit imperialism of We Are The World.

And so for day 1272

Casting at the Crossroads

In the show at the Art Gallery of Ontario, there is a canvas called Exhu which, after a search online for images, one comes across reproductions racked serially — like slides in a light box or more appropriately like stencilled graffiti. In the show the AGO has hung this vital piece in a corner spot but wouldn't it have been superb to be greeted by the depiction of the Orisha of the crossroads at the entrance to the show — to serve his traditional function of opening the way?

bell hooks in her essay which first appeared in Art in America on Basquiat ("Altars of Sacrifice: Re-membering Basquiat" reprinted in Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations) draws on the work of David Napier (Foreign Bodies: Performance, Art, and Symbolic Anthropology) to comment astutely on the strange being just out of range, the exotic not being completely alien. She reads this liminal position as presenting for the black male subject (and by implication others subjected to assimilation) a bind. She offers this observation on Basquiat:

For the white art world to recognize Basquiat, he had to sacrifice those parts of himself they would not be interested in or fascinated by. Black but assimilated, Basquiat claimed the space of the exotic as though it were a new frontier, waiting only to be colonized. He made of that cultural space within whiteness (the land of the exotic) a location where he would be re-membered in history even as he simultaneously created art the unsparingly interrogates such mutilation and self-distortion.
Re-membered: limbs reattached.

And with what painting would one want to end a circuit? bell hooks offers up Riding with Death. This is why:
Napier invitges us to consider possession as "truly an avant-guarde activity, in that those in trance are empowered to go to the periphery of what is and can be known, to explore the boundaries, and to return unharmed." No such spirit of possession guarded Jean-Michel Basquiat in his life. Napper [sic] reports that "people in trance do not — as performance artists in the West sometimes do — leave wounded bodies in the human world." Basquiat must go down in history as one of the wounded. Yet his art will stand as the testimony that declares with a vengeance: we are more than our pain. That is why I am most moved by the one Basquiat painting that juxtaposes the paradigm of ritual sacrifice with that of ritual recovery and return.

In entitling the show Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now's the Time there is a big risk of obliterating history, presenting the work as a motley collection, eschewing the temporal dimension opened by experiencing and reading the art. The wonder of a second and third viewing is to be able to visit with the paintings in an order that makes a sense: begin with Exhu and end with Riding with Death. One does visit with the paintings. Very much in the vein of communing with invoked spirits in a setting where one remains unharmed. But open to hurt.

And so for day 1271

Of Decal Dazzle

Duco, the automotive lacquer, Wikipedia informs us, was used by Jackson Pollock in his paintings. Why you may ask has this piqued my interest. A few lines from a poem by Clive James from his set of seven verse letters to friends published under the rubric of Fan-Mail report on the cars at the Indy 500. A particular passage from the letter to Martin Amis compares the decals on the cars to the illustrations of the Book of Kells. Duco figures in the passage.

The heart-throb Dayglo pulse and the Duco preen
Of decals filled the view with charms and spells
As densely drawn and brilliant as the Book of Kells.
In case you are wondering about the appropriateness of the comparison, allow me to quote a little from the DayGlo propaganda:
We're proud of our heritage and the role our fluorescents played in pop culture history. From the days of disco to punk rock and pop-art posters to graffiti on the Berlin wall - no matter the trend, no matter the event, DayGlo was there, making things brighter, bolder, and so much cooler!
It's that exuberance that James captures in his verse letter from Indianapolis. Some would consider reproducing the Book of Kells in DayGlo colours a Celtic nightmare. For others it would be a gorgeous culture clash.

And so for day 1270

Parsing Transcriptions

"Last Day" Timothy Liu in Say Goodnight

Empty vases left in every room
of the house. Those backyard bulbs
releasing a company of spears —
each tulip's guarded flame
a color only the gardener knows.
A company of spears / guarded flame. Praetorian images come to mind thanks to the lineation.

"The tree looks like a dog barking at heaven" is my rendition in compliance with the tradition of one sentence haiku. I went looking on line and found much variation in the lineation of various transcriptions of the Jack Kerouac poem as recited in the suite "American Haikus" and recorded on the album Blues and Haikus.
The tree looks. Like a dog. Barking at Heaven.

The tree looks like a dog, barking at heaven

The tree looks
- like a dog
Barking at Heaven

The tree looks like a dog/ barking at heaven.

The tree
looks like a dog,
barking at heaven.

( this centred version transcribed by Miray Nair )
Like different spears each providing a sport. Each marks what was heard at a given moment through a different ear. Empty vases to be filled. Whose flowers only knowing readers can imagine.

And so for day 1269


Robert Bringhurst makes a convincing case for taking up a vocation in a lecture given at the University of Victoria, British Columbia in 1998 under the title "The Vocation of Being, The Text of the Whole" available in The Tree of Meaning: Thirteen Talks.

In the beginning, a vocation isn't much. Just perhaps a nagging interest that blossoms as habitual attention. It matures into continuous, compassionate, active, multivalent curiosity. Curiosity like that has a peculiar effect. It produces, over time, a sense of intellectual responsibility. And that produces in its turn a nonconforming and nonconfining sense of identity. In other words, it is whole. A job is always a fragment. Vocation is whole.
I am with him until the division into whole and fragment. I am all for challenging alienated and alienating labour. However, if vocation is a calling, it is invariably split off from a unified identity. The call must emanate from somewhere. Aside from the topology of call and response that seems at the very least to require a fractured subject, there is something else niggling.

Let us pay careful attention to the course traced out: in the beginning, the beginning; in the end, the whole. We move from beginning to an implied end. It's not stated explicitly but there is a cycling. At the very least a generative progression (which becomes clearer later on with the introduction of a twin theme of social and biological reproduction). Even if we are not pressed into accepting some intellectual ecology whose principle axis is reproduction, we must read very carefully (with perhaps some of that lauded habitual attention) to notice that Bringhurst is not saying that vocation is the whole. It is whole in the sense of being hale and hard: healthy. But the one sentence about jobs sneaks in an echo of "the" to balance its "a fragment". You just want to reach the definite article to complete the symmetry: a fragment; the whole.

If this seems like too much work, then you probably experience reading as a job. Or listening is not habitually attentive. Oddly it is to a listening-informed reading that Bringhurst in his forward brings us to by example.
It's the elders I mostly want to listen to, and the elders are always mostly gone: Greek and Chinese poets and philosophers; Haida and Navajo mythtellers; Baghdadi and Florentine craftsmen polishing their fine syllabic inlays centuries ago. Where their voices have survived, it is because they took their own dictation or someone did it for them. Sitting down to read them, we are free to move as slowly as we please — and to travel at that speed through all the worlds they enfold. Paper is two-dimensional space, but as soon as language dances on the paper, it becomes a form of time.
Sometimes I want to hear the youth. Like Adam Gopnik on kidspeak in The New Yorker.
For the sake of economy, we have to leave a lot of information out of everything we say, and one of our special human abilities is to make that economy itself eloquent and informative. Kidspeak is a classic instance of compression in balance with concision. What sounds limited and repetitive to the outsider is, to the knowing listener, as nuanced as a Henry James passage.
Irony. In crowd. Apart.

Called to a vocation. To ask syllabic [silver?] inlay.

And so for day 1268

On Tulips, Vanitas, and Collecting

The collector speaks.

The conversation moves on to a painting she has just bought. A bunch of tulips arranged in a crystal vase, their white petals streaked with yellow and pink. One of the petals has fallen off already onto the lace-trimmed tablecloth. A dewdrop glitters on it. A vanitas painting, the dealer called it, portraying the transience of life. In the background, on the same tablecloth, one can discern the shapes of an hourglass and a crumbled piece of bread.
The narrative voice is that of Catherine the Great in Eva Stachniak's novel Empress of the Night.

I am reminded of the lovely plates in Anna Pavord's The Tulip. In particular, the reproduction of the painting by Jean Michel Picart (1600-1682) in the Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge. I learn that there are two Picart flower paintings in the Fitzwilliam and both have the motif of some petal or bloom fallen from the main bouquet to litter the tabletop. But perhaps the happiest trouvaille on the trail of tulips and vanitas is the art of Rachel Ruysch (1643-1706). Many of the paintings of massed flowers including sporty tulips attributed to Ruysch are to be found on Pinterest. One can be considered an anti-vanitas.

It has to one side of the main arrangement a little plug of primula and to the other side a nest with blue eggs. It unfortunately doesn't appear in the list of works by Rachel Ruysch that are generally accepted as autograph by the Netherlands Institute for Art History in a listing graciously located on Wikipedia. There are other paintings with nests. Which leads me to recall Gay Bilson's cookbook Plenty: Digressions on Food which has pictures of nests she has collected and of which she says in an interview with Penelope Debelle "Nests have no value and are not found at auctions. This is one of the great pleasures of collecting them."

Look at all this confusion of twigs my magpieing has assembled.

And so for day 1267

Long S of the Sun

I was taken with the fluidity and eaſe with which I could accuſstom myſelf to the long s in the Scholar Press 1969 imprint of a facsimile edition of Jonathan Swift's A Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining The English Tongue (1712). Much to my delight I discovered that Unicode has made provision in its Latin characters for the long s.

Ascertaining -- OED "to make (a thing) objectively certain, to fix"

The Proposal is addressed to the Lord Treasurer. I like the audacity of Swift in pressing his case.

However I muſt venture to affirm, that if Genius and Learning be not encouraged under your LORDSHIP'S Administration, you are the moſt inexuſable Perſon alive.
Swift quite judicious goes on by way of appeal to His Lordship's other virtues which would be defective without his support for corrections and improvements. For Swift points out that not only the Arts and Letters are to share His Lordship's influence and protection but that some future glory may emerge.
Beſides, who knows, but ſome true Genius may happen to ariſe under Your Miniſtry, exhortus ut aetherius Sol.
The Latin tag is culled from Lucretius (Book III of De Rerum Natura) and although it references the glory of the sun in surpassing the light of the stars it hints at mortality and so is befitting Swift's theme that a man's honour and reputation are entrusted to writing that must be deciphered in later ages which task of deciphering benefits from safeguarding language from the corruption induced by change and fashion and the passage of generations.
Even Epicurus went, his light of life
Run out, the man in genius who o'er-topped
The human race, extinguishing all others,
As sun, in ether arisen, all the stars

Lucretius. De Rerum Natura. William Ellery Leonard. E. P. Dutton. 1916
Or in the rendering by A.C. Stallings in the Penguin edition:
Even great Epicurus, once the light of life had run
Its course, perished, the very man whose brilliance outshone
The human race, eclipsing all, just as the burning sun,
Risen, snuffs out all the stars. So who are you to balk
And whine at death? [...]
Swift proposed the establishment of an academy. To what end in this 21st century, in this day and age of the networked expertise where the long ſ is remembered in code and other marvels assist the hunter-gatherer scholar looking for references? Consider Miscellaneous extracts and fragments, on interesting and instructive subjects chiefly from works at present out of print: including some account of the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, and eminent men connected therewith [ed.] by M. (1839)

As identified by Google Books in its digitalization, "M." is "Maria Baldwin". This is the name associated with the Harvard copy which entered the library February 14, 1931 acquired under the Charles William Eliot Fund. The metadata associated with the Google digitalization of the Bodleian copy makes no attribution.

Whatever copy one consults, under the Trinity College (Cambridge) entry one finds a paragraph devoted to Sir Isaac Newton which reads in part
Never was there a motto more applicable than two lines of Lucretius, to this great man:—
"Qui genus humanum ingenio superavit, et omnes
 Perstrinxit stellas, exortus ut aetherius sol."
Neither in the sun nor in the stars, the mystery of M. remains. Who was Maria Baldwin? All that can be ascertained is that M or Maria most likely had in mind the inscription on the pedestal of the 1755 statue of Newton in the Ante-Chapel Trinity College, Cambridge. The pedestal modestly claims on his behalf "Qui genus humanum ingenio superavit" - "Who surpassed the human race in genius". Note no space for the long s in this single line ...

And so for day 1266