Discourse: what is it?

In an interview with Claude Bonnefoy, Michel Foucault gives us a view of what discourse is and what it is not. First step is to note the plural.

Les discours ne sont [pas] seulement une sorte de pellicule transparente à travers laquelle on voit les choses, ne sont pas simplement le miroir de ce qui est et de ce qu'on pense. Le discours a sa consistance propre, son épaisseur, sa densité, son fonctionnement. Les lois du discours existent comme les lois économiques. Un discours, ça existe comme un monument, ça existe comme une technique, ça existe comme un système de rapports sociaux, etc.
In English, we have kept the plural but displaced it a little onto the final iteration.
Discourse is [not] just a kind of transparent film through which one sees things, not merely the mirror of what is and what one thinks. A discourse has its own consistency, its thickness, its density, its functioning. The laws of discourse exist as economic laws. Discourses exist like monuments, exist as technics, exist as systems of social relations, etc.
Michel Foucault. Le beau danger.

And so for day 1813

Flavour Syntagms

Nelson Handel. "Frontiers of Flavour" in The Walrus June 2005

Though a science, flavour creation is to some degree a literary conceit. To understand it, you must learn to speak it trippingly on your tongue. Every act of tasting has syntax, a succession of distinct flavour sensations that unfold through time. For flavourists, each expresses itself like a well-constructed line of poetry, a series of metaphoric descriptors that attempt to limn the playful dance of experience happening in their mouths. When you eat a strawberry, you don’t apprehend strawberry, you experience a series of stimulations from sweet to sour to lemony to green to hay to sweet, green, sweet, sour, and so on. These are called flavour notes.
Slow-down appreciation releases the complexity of the succession. Interesting way in which the flavour syntagm launches memory in an almost Proustian gestation.

And so for day 1812

Strident Limpet 1998 Style

Doug Guildford

… between natural and cultural preoccupations …
Doug Guildford splits his time between his studios in downtown Toronto and on the South Shore of Nova Scotia. His practice is rooted in drawing, entrenched in print making and allows for obsessive crochet projects. “My drawing and print work wash back and forth between natural and cultural preoccupations and relate directly to my ongoing body of crocheted sculptural pieces that I refer to as Nets.” His work comes directly from time spent between the tides of the North Atlantic Ocean. Guildford believes in the essential value and the ultimate futility of work.

Open Studio (Contemporary Printmaking Centre) statement
It's the symmetry and the heavenly phallic connotations that led me to clip and save this image from Xtra! No. 362 (September 10, 1998).

And so for day 1811

Defrosting Frosty

"Thaw" by Brian Jones opens with a memorable image that is eye-popping.

Suddenly the air is careless, generous,
caressing where it gripped. On lawns
the snowmen shrink to tiny pyramids
their eyes frizzled coke roll out like tears
Stuck with an impression of cartoonish strangulation. Must be that caress that turns dangerous. Reminiscent of Browning's Porphyria's Lover.

And so for day 1810

Attracted by a Cover; Entranced by Images

I love the format of this London Magazine edition of poems by Brian Jones. The book feels mid way between a pamphlet and a chapbook but at 56 pages plus end matter it's a book in a neat compact space.

It's more than a pretty package. Take for instance these lines from "Death of a Cat"
Insisted to the last on standing
And walking with frail dignity to its water
In its usual place in the kitchen, disdaining
The saucer we had thoughtfully set near it.
Rings true for any one who has had to witness the slow decline of a pet cat. Also rings true for any one attuned to the many stories of felines and their independent nature.

Jones's line breaks recall the unsteady cat — the verses almost topple over. An impression aided in part by the long vertical format.

And so for day 1809

Mourning Impossibility

Sean Gaston. The Impossible Mourning of Jacques Derrida

That is what "literature" and the study of literature (which is so often working with the dead) does: as soon as I repeat a story or a narrative, as soon as I cite and recite, as soon as I encounter the elusive resistance of the idiom, the part becomes greater than the whole and the future of the past becomes ungovernable, unbridgeable, unfillable, inventive and the boundaries of the so-called "work of mourning" — the idealization and interiorization of the dead by the living — become untenable, unworkable and mourning becomes impossible, interminable, without rest.
Key for me here are the words "I" and "inventive". What happens in the after of the "as soon as"? I may have repeated but who listens? And then what?

Invention negates the unbridgeable. It creates a place to ford. Invention defeats monumentality. The obstacles are circumvented. This is the work of mourning that never ends. It is not a disaster. It is work. Simply work. Ongoing.

Encountering impossibility is not itself impossible. It bears repeating.

And so for day 1808

First Garden

Found a picture from the early 1980s of myself in my "first" garden. Not the first garden I have ever visited or weeded. But "my" first. I was living at 199 King Street in Kingston, Ontario, and under the shade of the trees what flourished was the zucchini patch as evidenced in the photograph. The beans fell prey to the squirrels.

That early success may explain my love of vines and climbing plants: akebia, clematis, aristolochia. Though I must admit in the small confines of the current garden on a small Toronto lot the emphasis is on the upward thrust. The lavish horizontal extension of the summer squash belongs to the past. And so we adapt.

And so for day 1807

Disappearing Act

Got you covered.

All day long
wearing a hat
that wasn't on my head.
Jack Kerouac American Haikus

And so for day 1806

Of Books and Dimensions

Spotted this on our street.

Rather fanciful to think that this particular TARDIS is indeed bigger on the inside thanks to the imaginative realms opened up by the books it houses and circulates.

I have almost begun a collection of these sites of exchange: charmed by the mighty Little Free Library and its incarnations.

And so for day 1805

Routes to Artistic Perfection: To Question, To Philosophize

In the essay on Winckelmann, he writes

Again, it is easy to indulge the commonplace metaphysical instinct. But a taste for metaphysics may be one of those things which we must renounce, if we mean to mould our lives to artistic perfection. Philosophy serves culture, not by the fancied gift of absolute or transcendental knowledge, but by suggesting questions which help one to detect the passion, and strangeness, and dramatic contrasts of life.
Walter Pater. The Renaissance.

And so for day 1804

Invitation to Invention


Create complex security questions: "If you have a security question on your account like 'What's your mother's maiden name?' make sure it's not actually your mother's maiden name because information like that is quite easy to compromise,” said Taylor Smith, a University of Waterloo Master’s student.

The name of your invisible friend might be …

Still don't quite follow the logic of compromised information whether truth or fiction it's still leakable.

And so for day 1803

On Structures Appropriate and Effective

Let The Power Fall
By Robert Fripp
As posted to Netime
By Geert Lovink

1 One can work within any structure.
2 One can work within any structure, some structures are more efficient
than others.
3 There is no structure which is universally appropriate.

19 Reciprocation between independent structures is a framework of interacting units which is itself a structure.
20 Any appropriate structure of interacting units can work within any other structure of interacting units.
21 Once this is so, some structures of interacting units are efficient than others.
The document Let the Power Fall by Robert Fripp
was included in the album of Frippertronics called "Let the Power Fall" (1981)

And so for day 1802


I've seen this quoted as "Creation Is A Constant Correcting Of Errors". That needs correcting. It is "drawing" that is the subject of this characterization and the generalization to "creation" is far more tentative…

Drawing is a constant correcting of errors. Maybe a great deal of creation is actually that. There’s not really a point when you are suddenly aware there is nothing more to correct. And if you were aware of that, that would probably be very bad.
John Berger in an interview with Newsnight's Gavin Esler in 2011

And so for day 1801

A Tale of Two Spaces

Daniel Tammet
Born on a Blue Day

On the library at Salt Lake City where he met fellow savant Kim Peek

The huge space was infused with daylight and I felt the familiar tingle of tranquility inside me. Libraries had always had the power to make me feel at peace. There were no crowds, only small pockets of individuals reading or moving from shelf to shelf or desk to desk. There was no sudden loud outburst of noise, just the gentle flicking of pages or the intimate chatter between friends and colleagues. I had never seen or been in any library quite like this before; it really seemed to me like the enchanted palace of a fairy tale.
On supermarkets
For a while we shopped each week at our local supermarket, as many people do. However, I would regularly switch off and become anxious and uncommunicative because of the size of the store, the large numbers of shoppers and the amount of stimuli around me. Supermarkets are also often overheated, which is a problem for me because my skin can become itchy and uncomfortable when I feel too warm. Then there are the flickering, fluorescent lights that hurt my eyes. The solution was to go instead to smaller, local shops, which are much more comfortable for me to use, are often less expensive to shop in and support small businesses in our community.
Would love to do an experiment that hooks up heart monitors to people passing through the built environment and plot the different heart rates in different places.

And so for day 1800

Dust Washed

Edward Thomas has a keen observant eye. This is the ending of "Tall Nettles"

This corner of the farmyard I like most:
As well as any bloom upon a flower
I like the dust on the nettles, never lost
Except to prove the sweetness of a shower.
Selected by James Reeves for Penguin's Georgian Poetry anthology.

Young nettles in springtime do make a fine potherb. Dustless.

And so for day 1799


Debbie Strange's tanka appeared in Literary Review of Canada and are also accessible on the blog Warp and Weft - Images and Words http://debbiemstrange.blogspot.ca/2016/11/the-literary-review-of-canada-november.html

Vanishing Point

the last
grain elevator
our little town sinks
further into dust

we leave
wild blanketflowers
on your grave
hoping deer will come
to keep you warm

trees stand
against the horizon
so far
and few between
but, oh, this prairie sky
I would reverse some lines and reorder the tanka:
so far
and few between
trees stand
against the horizon
vanishing point

our little town sinks
further into dust
the last
grain elevator

hoping deer will come
to keep you warm
we leave
wild blanketflowers
on your grave

but, oh, this prairie sky
This all began with thinking about the place of the arresting image of the demolished grain elevator and then the replacing carried on and on out to a vanishing point… still lost in the grandeur of the sky.

And so for day 1798

Shapely Sentence Quiz

Walter Pater in The Renaissance provides this neatly balanced assertion.

He is before all things a poetical painter, blending the charm of story and sentiment, the medium of the art of poetry, with the charm of line and color, the medium of abstract painting.
This is about:

A) Botticelli

B) Da Vinci

C) Michelangelo

D) Picasso

And so for day 1797

From Trickle To Puddle

Karel Čapek
I Had a Dog and a Cat

I have never meditated before on how to get a dog from underneath a table, I suppose that it is usually done by sitting down on the floor and expostulating with the animal, using intellectual and emotional arguments to get it out. I tried it both with a generous and commanding voice; I begged and bribed Minda with lumps of sugar, I had a go at making a little dog of myself to entice her out. When all attempts had failed, I threw myself under the table, and dragged her out by the legs into the light. It was a brutal and unexpected violence. Minda stood on her legs, humiliated and trembling like a virgin in disgrace, and she strained out of herself her first reproachful little pool.
Thus begins a lasting relationship.

And so for day 1796

Subduing the Sofa

Given the handsome design on the cover this is one I would love to encounter while unpacking my library as Walter Benjamin does

I am unpacking my library. Yes, I am. The books are not yet on the shelves, not yet touched by the mild boredom of order.
Where would one put Hollandsong by Marvyne Jenoff?

She writes in "Moving Up"
the huge new sofa
topples the room with its black
weight, moves in a changing
gravity as we rearrange
and finally give up on balance, unpack
little things,

our thousand
books to the ceiling
dusted one by one,
they get us back in scale.
Imagine books taming the furniture… for what is a surface without its volume?

And so for day 1795


Jeff Derksen segment from "Interface" in Dwell (1993)

Almost a non sequitur. The target is neoliberal globalism.

I bought your book for a quarter.

My body's attached to my leg, to a genetic history, to a parallel sentence structure stretching over the horizon.

"A reader must face the fact that Canadian literature is undeniably sombre and negative, and that this to a large extent is both a reflection and a chosen definition of the national sensibility."

Cheerleading is a growth industry in the U.S.

I'm stepping aside here, just to say that if it's not my job, I'm not going to do it, and if it's not my arm I won't twist it.
A way back into the grid of these declarations is via the source of the quotation — that bit about sombre CanLit is from Marie Mulvey-Roberts The Handbook to Gothic Literature quoting Margaret Atwood Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature and now reproduced by Jeff Derksen. And that may not be the author's route. Mulvey-Roberts and Derksen may have gone directly to the source independently. But they chose to quote the same package.

I didn't buy the book. I borrowed it from a tax-supported library. Furthermore not Dwell but the publication of "Interface" in The New Long Poem Anthology.

And so for day 1794

Four Skills

Remarks to Humanist stemming from a course about online learning


Namely a "translation" of the four literacy skills [reading, writing, speaking, listening] into four multimedia skills (i.e. more than applicable to verbal arts). I've manage to rename them thus:
  • reading parsing (attentive to breaks & groupings)
  • writing scripting (writing as a score for performance)
  • listening observing (careful looking too)
  • speaking performing (evident bit to storytellers)
Evidently there is a theatrical model at work here.


the course participants who somehow got me to discussing the four language arts during a discussion of Andy Lippman's definition of interactivity and how it is built out of contrasting conversation with lecture. Interactivity modelled principally as interruptible conversation may not sufficiently value certain skills such as listening. Of course most of the Lippman material has come to me through a single source (Stewart Brand's The Media Lab) so there is a bit more research to do here or a least some caution in any further write up of these cognitive explorations.
parsing - reading
scripting - writing
observing - listening
performing - speaking

interesting typology that holds up well

And so for day 1793

Levity in the House

What I find remarkable is the carry over of the joke from one day to the next. First instigated by the Minister in referring to Charlie Angus as that famous cartoon character Charlie Brown. And then he the next day alludes to the Minister as being Lucy with reference to the famous stunt of pulling the football out from under the luckless Charlie but in this instance displaced to pulling the ball out from under Indigenous children and youth.

Oct 4, 2016

Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay, NDP): Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Justice was regional chief of the AFN when it took the government to court to end systemic discrimination against first nations children, but now her government has ignored two compliance orders to address the crisis of children at risk. She has the responsibility to ensure that the government meets its legal obligation, and pretending that an under-funded plan written in the final, dying days of the Harper government was somehow a response to the ruling in January is not acceptable. We are talking about children here. Will the minister respect the tribunal? What steps will she take to restore credibility in the House regarding these broken promises.

Hon. Carolyn Bennett (Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, unfortunately the assertion by the minister across the way is absolutely false —

Mr. Warkentin: Minister?

Hon. Carolyn Bennett: The member. One day, Charlie.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

The Speaker: The minister knows we do not refer to members by their first names. The Honourable Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs.

Hon. Carolyn Bennett: Charlie Brown.

Some Hon. Members: Oh, oh!

Hon. Carolyn Bennett: Mr. Speaker, this government promised a new relationship with Indigenous people, a new way of doing things. We prepared for and then accepted the ruling of the tribunal and are committed to ending this discrimination. We have made immediate investments in child and family services on reserve, and we are working with First Nations communities and the key organizations-

The Speaker: Once I have the Minister's attention, I would ask her not to refer to other members as cartoon characters either.

Oct 5, 2016

Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay, NDP): Mr. Speaker, according to Cindy Blackstock, the Liberal government shortchanges First Nations students by $130 million this year in foster care under Harper's plan. On education, the Prime Minister promised $2.6 billion over four years to First Nations students. An INAC document showed the Minister was given the plan to follow through on this promise, but the Liberals once again decided to pull the football out from under First Nations children. They stretched that promise past the next election, shortchanging children by $800 million. When it comes to priorities, why squeeze money from children suffering under this broken system?

Hon. Carolyn Bennett (Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the member will recognize that the document was dated the day after we were sworn in. First Nations deserve the best start in life, and this begins with properly funding education. That is why budget 2016 provided $3.7 billion over five years for kindergarten to grade 12 first nations, which includes providing $824.1 million to implement first nations-led transformation in education and 118 school-related infrastructure programs. We will work nation to nation to ensure the goals set by first nations are achieved and First Nations-led initiatives are supported.
And what would Linus say?

And so for day 1792

From Light to Light to Light

I first came to the poetry of Iqbal through the music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and this couplet from a ghazal [translated by K.C. Kanda] triggers for me a host of reflections on the image of the candle.

The love whose candle can be snuffed by a random gust of death,
Can't enjoy the thrill of waiting, burning, blazing, all through life.
A similar sentiment is captured in the Taoist adage,
Mieux vaut allumer une bougie que maudire les ténèbres.

And the refrain of a song from 1970 comes to mind
Melanie Safka
Candles in the Rain

Lay down lay down, let it all down
Let your white birds smile up at the
Ones who stand and frown
Lay down lay down, let it all down
Let your white birds smile up at the
Ones who stand and frown
And if collecting such instances is a waste of time…
'Not worth the candle' is ultimately of French origin. It appears in Randle Cotgrave's A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues, 1611, where it is listed as: "Le jeu ne vaut pas la chandelle."

Make a wish. Blow them out.

And so for day 1791

At the Core of Apple: More "Apple"

In reading Phyllis Webb Naked Poems (1965) I am at ease imagining a pair of lesbian lovers in the opening sequences. I take my cue from assuming that the poem's voice is like that of the author female and that the introduction of "your blouse" marks the addressee as a woman too.

An there's that bit about the apple - pure bravura - that via a lesbian theme brings to mind Sappho

What do you really want?

want the apple on the bough in
the hand in the mouth seed
planted to the brain want
to think "apple"

Phyllis Webb Naked Poems
Like the sweet-apple reddening high on the branch,
High on the highest, the apple-pickers forgot,
Or not forgotten, but one they couldn’t reach…

Sappho translated by A.S. Kline
Such textual encounters are spotted after having long ago absorbed The Highest Apple: Sappho and the Lesbian Poetic Tradition by Judy Grahn — absorbed in the sense of being keenly on the look out …

And so for day 1790

Don't Throw Out That Old Edition

Joy of Cooking

It boasts 500 new recipes for a total of 4,500 "recipes for the way we cook now". It's the 75th Anniversary edition. It's good but (like those dictionaries that feature new entries without telling which one's they've dropped) it is of its time.

Chicken Pot Pie description from the 1964 (reprinted 1974) edition that has sat on our shelves and has been often consulted these low thirty plus years:

An easy dish if you have precooked chicken or beef and precooked pie shells. We find the precooked shell more convenient and tastier than the crust which has to be exposed to long, slow cooking.
Not a mention of precooked pie shells in 2006 (the 75th Anniversary edition). There the bottom is crustless.

We do gain a whole section on pat-in-the-pan crusts. And this very useful piece of advice on timing:
Baking time will vary according to the material from which the pan is made. —> If it is ovenproof glass or enamelware, cut the baking time indicated by one-fifth to one-quarter.
Whatever volume you may have at hand to consult, there is of course no substitute for reading and research (and practice). Looking at the pictures doesn't suffice. The Joy of Cooking is blessed with a lack of food porn. There are other books for luscious extravagant illustration (or even elegant line drawings such as Amy Vanderbilt's book with drawings by Warhol).

Still holding on to the various editions. They all deserve shelf space.

And so for day 1789


Excerpts from Lisa Robertson's statement in The New Long Poem Anthology Second Edition edited by Sharon Thesen.

Writing Debbie, I researched the linguistic pressures of epic genre on the internal structures of subjectivity, gender, history, and memory.


In Debbie, the narrative itself is structured as dispersal and digression; this tendency is decorated with poems practising a provisional lyric closure, with typographical dexterities, and also with the construction of a persona, "Debbie" who might lightly embody the renewed, political potential of a lyricism which can embrace notions as disparate, yet necessary, as justice, desire, and collectivity.
There is something intriguing in that order — the hint of a syntagm — justice, desire, collectivity.

And so for day 1788

Spoilage Avoidance

Spoiler alert — damage control demanded.

The quality of vegetables depends much both on the soil in which they are grown, and on the degree of care bestowed upon their culture; but if produced in ever so great perfection, their excellence will be entirely destroyed if they be badly cooked.
Eliza Acton. The Elegant Economist.

And so for day 1787

Trading Marks

From Editing Canadian English 2nd Edition


Many publishers prefer to substitute generic terms for trademarks when the context allows:
soft drink or cola for Coca-Cola
jeans for Levi's
plastic wrap for Saran Wrap
photocopy for Xerox
The Canadian Press Stylebook lists many generic equivalents as well as number of former trademarks that are now unprotected and in the public domain. These include escalator, nylon, and raisin bran. The CPS (Compendium of Pharmaceuticals and Specialties) lists generic as well as brand names for drugs.

The owner of a mark uses ® [®] if the mark is registered, or ™ [™] if it is unregistered, to indicate its intention to defend the mark. No one else is required to use these symbols.
Product placement takes on new meaning.

And so for day 1786

Building Metaphors and Explaining When the Blow Over

Joseph Boyden
From Mushkegowuk to New Orleans: A Mixed Blood Highway
Henry Kreisel Lecture 2008

And so maybe these two stories, both absolutely true, serve as metaphors for my life thus far. Maybe. But one thing I have learned as a writer is not to push a metaphor too far. What is the fun in setting something up in word pictures only to go ahead and explain it? Let the reader, the listener decide.
In my reading I note a slippage between pushing a metaphor to explaining. They aren't exactly the same type of activity. As Boyden himself demonstrates in the lecture you can push a metaphor to full blown manifesto. And some will argue that manifesto is a type of explanation. Indeed it's a type of blueprint as demonstrated by the title of his manifesto which concludes the lecture: "If At First You Don't Secede, Try, Try Again".

And what is the fun in explaining this push from metaphor to manifesto? Except merely to chuckle, praise the method evidenced in any carrying through and to go ahead and explain and realize with a wry smile that there's more, always more.

Push it further than too far. Like witnessing a hurricane (New Orleans) or spring break up (Mushkegowuk). There is something sublime in the disintegration of language that has been piled up. It is worth sometimes risking the entropy of explanation [which I hereby distinguish from "explication"].

Maybe I'll consider writing a manifesto for explainers. Maybe.

And so for day 1785

Tragicomic Faces

Paper cutout from 1970s.

A study in symmetry

And so for day 1784