Not Zen

Patrick Lima. The Art of Perennial Gardening: Creative Ways with Hardy Flowers.

There may be some folks of a more Zen cast who come to gardening with a built-in appreciation for leaves. I admire the austerity and clean lines of a Japanese meditation garden—but not in my backyard. Italian gardens, all green and gravel, fail to move me. A hearty amen to the writer who said, "I continue to feel that flowerless garden is a sad place." But when the bloom is off, so is a garden planned entirely around flowers. Balance is called for. Grow the flowers you admire, but understand that they will look lovelier in a setting of enduring foliage.
And similar principles may be applied to culinary practices — a bed of good rice to support the curry or the stir-fry.

And so for day 2026

Step Out into the Abyss

The first chapter is suitably entitled "Approach" for this phenomenologically-informed discourse.

Every approach needs to presume upon its reception. And, so, in beginning we never fear that we shall be wholly misunderstood, we trust that our hesitancy, our stumbling talk, and our choice of words are not a search in the dark. To begin is confidently part of the work of building and sharing an understanding. It is ideally the institution of making sense together within a common life and a come world.
John O'Neill. Making Sense Together: An Introduction to Wild Sociology

By some form of association this calls to mind a marker placed in the ground at the parting of a cedar hedge into a view of the meadow with one word "abbyss" to indicate the leap not only of perception but of imagination (seen at the garden created by Douglas Chambers, Stonyground) which is an allusion to "Upon Appleton House" by Andrew Marvell
And now to the Abbyss I pass
Of that unfathomable Grass,
I let Chambers explain its origins himself (and you gentle reader to judge its aptness for juxtaposition with wild sociology):
That summer I was writing an article on Andrew Marvell's poem "Upon Appleton House": the first record of an Englishman's recognition that the landscape is also a garden. Marvell has provided several texts for my landscape but perhaps none is so apposite as the one that now sits at the edge of the west lawn, just as you walk into the meadow. "Abbyss", it says, in Marvell's spelling: a signal that you are about to pass across an abyss from the fixed architectural formalities of the garden into the true abbeys [sic] of nature.
There is a picture of the "Andrew Marvell quotation at the border of garden and landscape" in Stonyground: The making of a Canadian garden. Chambers's "true abbeys of nature" recalls as does Marvell's poem that the seat of Fairfax's estate, Appleton House, was once a nunnery. Common life and common world.

And so for day 2025

All Shapes and Sizes

It was Hilary Clare (formerly C.M. Donald) who introduced me to fat liberation. I have in my library a copy of The Fat Woman Measures Up. I also have a gift — a laminated poster of Obélix sporting a gay pride button.

It contrasts with the meditative cover of The Fat Woman Measures Up. The cover photo of the book is by Marty Crowder and called "I Love Women and Rainbows".

And the last stanza from the last poem — the last word belongs to the poet:
I'm out of bounds,
out of breath,
out of sight,
outfront and
out of the closet
and what was it, actually,
that needed to be under control?
And so for day 2024

Rapture and Ripeness

"Pistachio Music"

The moon has risen full, softly illuminating the inky sky above a pistachio orchard near Aleppo, in Syria.
The farmer stands at the edge of the orchard, waiting. He thinks tonight the bright green nuts may grow that final bit to burst the shell and skin. His head, bathed by moonlight, inclines in the dark, a tiny puff of air floats through the orchard, audible to itself. Then there is another and another as nut follows nut with its final spurt of growth bursting its shell, until all through the orchard the tiny hot breaths become music. Out under the moon more and more farmers come to hear pistachio music, the hauntingly joyful tune of the harvest.
Susan Herrmann Loomis. Nuts in the Kitchen.

And so for day 2023

Canada Customs Protest

In the mid 1980s… Kingston Customs House

Canada Customs was seizing gay porn and writing that depicted anal intercourse. The issue was raised with some urgency as sexually explicit material was necessary for spreading the word about safe sex.

Yours truly created some erotica and invited the public to judge the case against censorship. The words are now available at our companion site, Stanzas.

What began as protest lives on as celebration.

And so for day 2022

Territory and Traversal

Miriam Nichols Radical Affections: Essays on the Poetics of Outside

This critique of empiricism ultimately derives from Immanuel Kant. In the Kantian tradition, the things of perception are organized by a priori categories of understanding. These are categories that are innate to the human mind are not derived from experience. In Kant's account of the transcendental field, the categories are quantity (unity, plurality, totality); quality (reality, negation, limitation); relation (substance, cause, community); and modality (possibility, existence, necessity). Modern philosophies or psychologies that emphasize the mediating role of language or sexuality on perception are indebted to Kant, however much they revise Kant's arguments.
[How do modality (possibility, existence, necessity) relate to relation (substance, cause, community)?]

And so for day 2021


The elaborate layering exploited the heat generated by the composting. Ingenious.

As the weather warmed up and we moved toward summer, the main crops were planted — corn, beans, melons, and peanuts. Sweet potato plants were ready for pulling from the hotbed — a structure made of 4 x 3 x 3 boards stationed in a corner of the garden. The bed was made by filling in a 6-inch layer of fresh stable horse manure that was then covered over with a 4-inch layer of dry oak leaves and few twigs of green pine needles. A 4-inch layer of old hay was added and that was topped with a 5-inch layer of clean, dry sand. The bed was then covered with a piece of old blanket or canvas and left to heat up for a few days. When the temperature in the hotbed reached 70˚, specially selected sweet potatoes were inserted into the sand, and the cover replaced. The bed was aired daily, every afternoon when the temperature was at its highest, and sprinkled lightly with warm water during incubation. When the plants reached a height of 5 inches, the bed was left uncovered so that the plants could toughen before setting them in the open ground.
Edna Lewis. The Taste of Country Cooking.

And so for day 2020

Mind Leaps to Spryness

Richard Ronan. A Lamp of Small Sorrow: Four Fu Poems.

Lucian Stryk in the preface concludes
But what impresses me most about A Lamp of Small Sorrow is not so much its closeness to Taoism or Zen, though the closeness is palpable and altogether present in each section. Rather it is the feeling that the sequence had to be written, and that the poet, seemingly lost and overwhelmed in a harsh impoverished landscape, rises above it through meeting it directly, honestly and with great sensitivity. Richard Ronan in this lovely book tells the story of a spirit encountering its absolute context.
A note of abstraction that would seem amiss were it not for the exergue on the facing page.
of sorrow let oil be made
let rags of sorrow
be made into wicks
mark out the stars
     for each season
make of these
     a lamp of small sorrow
be brave, old friend, be brief
And glowing in this body of work are illustrations by Bill Rancitelli each as suggestive as this one capturing the feel of spring: eyes shielded from the light and scanning the skies and an armful of pussy willows, dog sniffing the damp earth — all bespeak of anticipation.

Word and image moving the mind to contemplation.

And so for day 2019

The Spryness Leaps to Mind

Richard Ronan. Buddha's Kisses.

The poem "Gacela" opens with the figure of Lorca contemplating death and "the boy". By means of repeated words and short lines the poem builds image of a heart beat and a vast openness…

if this were
the singing
of the sea
in his ear
A tiny word "and" and over its continuing repetition emerges a big surf sound in the ear.

As perfect accompaniment are drawings by Bill Rancitelli - also built up of small repeated elements animating the surface in a turn of surf.

And so for day 2018

The Anything Everything List

Karin Cope

Passionate Collaborations: Learning to Live With Gertrude Stein

For when I began really to understand something about Gertrude Stein and her difficult words, I was not contemplating the example of Stein so much as acting it out. And in this acting, I began to ask why most of the crucial domains of our lives, those never simply discursive or critical, and always highly affective domains of passion appetite, self-esteem, sorrow, relatedness, pleasure, fabulation, love, movement, memory, touch, dreaming, fear, sensory delight — those domains from and in which what we do takes its weight and value — have, for the most part, fallen from the capacities of what we tend to consider properly critical address.
Note how fabulation is located between pleasure and love. And love is between fabulation and movement.

And so for day 2017

Slivers of Silvering

He gives us this general statement and immediately situates it ("I am making a big connection here between writing, coming out, and community.")

Any art wants to take the place of your reflection in the mirror and call for your recognition. It makes you become it like a magic spell—with words, images, representations. That is why a new self, like a new aesthetic form, like any new approach to art, is something of a scandal. That's why readers experience shock and outrage, or relief and urgency. New form, new content demand a new way of being, a new way of seeing our own life, just as new vocabulary calls forth its meanings in your life. It is at this starting point that an art movement, or a political movement, has moral life. The appearance of a new self in fiction will be tested and taken as a demand as much as a description. A dishonest picture is a traitor, an enemy of the common good.
Robert Glück. "My Community" in Communal Nude: Collected Essays

What if one backed up to the fabrication of the mirror and not merely being entranced by the reflections it produces?

The silver coating is applied in multiple layers to provide a rich, lustrous appearance and adequate strength of deposit.
L'argenture est appliquée en couches multiples, qui se renforcent tout en donnant au lustre sa pleine richesse.

And so for day 2016

Learning Absorbing

Towards the end of How I Read Gertrude Stein Lew Welch shares this realization:

Stein has everywhere stated that she "hears" speech rhythms, and I have only recently been able to do so. It is a very exciting thing to be able to do, and to be able to do it one has to be able to listen to "meanings" and "rhythms" as if they were two separate things.

It is almost impossible to do this if one simply sets out to learn it. I tried to just learn to do it, and found that I could not do both at once. I was left staring after a question was asked me, simply because I did not hear the question, I only heard the rhythm and the rising inflection that indicated to me that a question had been asked. So I stopped trying. But suddenly one day I found that I was doing it quite naturally because I had been reading so much of Stein.
Setting out. Taking it. Setting out.

And so for day 2015

Scholarship and Cosmos

From nine first lines

The light foot hears you at the edge
Thickened light and liquid earth
Grail quests in times of plague
Instabilities of interminable
Fiery inclinations toward obscure
Indications of ripened peaches
The light at the end of unforeseen
Circulations of vanishing conversations
Protean racket intercessions were always
Nine Blue Moments for Robin. Michael Boughn

And here is a piece from the seventh of these homages to Robin Blaser
ashes. Peacock flesh from old
poems preens in reflections flashing
with clearly discerned intrusions
of glory eruptions eschewing
finely boned displays of self
determined perfections for the sheer
joy of raunchy instigations
and unheard of worlds written
The line breaks and enjambement along with the diction and vocabulary evoke what is elsewhere in the suite of poems referred to as "scholarship and cosmos teeming / with the sense of a kiss that never / quite ends because its beginning / was impossible".

And so for day 2014


From a 1993 group show, these three posters by Richard Hydal provide a note of defiance to the show's title: I Love You But You're Dead.

As someone concerned with HIV we must not fall into the stereotypes and cliches of AIDS. As artists, we need to look at how we represent AIDS. We must ask who constructs the crisis and why such a construction is formed at such a time and at such a place. You must question and reject the various crisis mentalities constructing AIDS around or within you!

The very notion of 'crisis' in the context of AIDS raises critical questions about the politics of representation. Apart from headlining the epidemic, making it horrific news on par with wars and stock market crashes, what has the term 'crisis' done to organize our perceptions of the syndrome and it[s] cultural impact? How has it constructed AIDS for us without having to think about it? We can all perceive that AIDS has been used to articulate profound social fears and anxieties, into a dense web of racism, patriotism and homophobia. It is this web, spun out of words sticky with blood lust, contempt, hatred and hysteria, which hangs across the entire media industry of the western world and within us all.

As someone who sees the global development of the disease represented to me I ask why is no one telling me the end is not near! That what we have here is a chronic manageable disease!


And with these bleeding colours and words, we revisit that tombstone:

The mourning is carried over into the fight for the living.

And so for day 2013

Nexus: between seed and fruit

"Take back the fruit: public space and community activism" is about the "Fallen Fruit" project in Los Angeles.

The description of the project leads to a question:

But who is the public? This question is at the core of Fallen Fruit. One way we like to frame this question is to suggest that the public is the nexus between those who have access to resources and those who do not.
The city has a policy of not planting fruit trees, though they will tend established fruit trees in public space (since their mandate is to keep the city as green as possible). The primary reason they cite, and not without justification, is the litter problem: fruit fall to the ground and end up feeding the city's unstoppable rodents. Thus the choice to plant a public fruit tree entails a commitment to its care and harvesting, so that the fruit will be an asset and not a liability to the neighborhood in which it grows.
Published in Food Alphabet City 12 edited by John Knechtel.

And so for day 2012

Rest and Replay

The dust jacket is shiny blue. Inside the book has a red cover. It seemed all blue to me in memory. It appears that sea of blue had a moon reflected in waves — all a blur to me — I was concentrating on the title words and the background — the title actually bisects the image making it a challenge to see it whole.

We consolidate memories mostly when we are either at rest or asleep, because these are the quieter times when we are not processing any new external events. […] Spontaneous replaying tendencies at rest have a second set of implications. Both our ordinary leaps of creative intuition and extraordinary peak experiences usually occur during pauses. Each requires an extra, dynamic ingredient, not just the mere replaying of a problem long incubated but still unsolved. Novel closures often means that some new item or motive source of energy has closed the information gap. Instantly, large networks shift into brand-new configurations.
James H. Austin. Zen-Brain Reflections

And so for day 2011

Making Room

Lisa Robertson. Thinking Space

There is a series of rooms. Each room frames a table, a book, and an opening to the outside—an aperture of some sort. At times they may be called studies or observatories or libraries but they are only rooms. Each has shaped a research.
This is the bold pared-down opening. Towards the end she quotes Carlyle and asks us to consider the "description of the study of the disappeared Herr Teufeldröckh".
It was a strange apartment; full of books and tattered papers and miscellaneous shreds of all conceivable substances 'united in a common element of dust.' Books lay on tables and below tables; here fluttered a sheet of manuscript, there a torn handkerchief, or a nightcap hastily thrown aside; ink bottles alternated with breadcrumbs, coffee-pots, tobacco-boxes. Periodical literature, and Blücher Boots.
Frame and framed. Flow and channel.

And so for day 2010

Just My Cup of Tea: Typography

The Ceylon Tea Bureau, now known as the Sri Lanka Tea Board broadcasting its presence at Pure Ceylon Tea.

These elegant information leaflets are here represented by the second, third and fourth in the set. I like the layout — plenty of white space and pleasing to the eye. Also smart is the "anytime is tea time" logo with its stylized moon and sun.

And so for day 2009

Repurposing Rites

There is a certain thrill in hollowing out a framework and replacing its content. The form serves another purpose. Take for instance the six rights regarding the administration of nursing which can be adopted and generalized to communication situations. (

Right Drug
Correct message
Right Dose
Correct number of instances of the message(s)
Right Resident
Correct audience
Right Route
Correct mode
Right Time
Correct time
Right documentation
Correct metadata
Of Drugs, Messages and Time suggests "Exercises that enable students to conceive of themselves as creators and as custodians and as commentators flow from the observation and description of transactions. "

The method can be applied to other areas such as this take on Christian sacraments:
Mon, April 4, 2005


Your recent post and comments on the Catholic Church got me thinking of sacraments. They seem to be signs of the incarnation which I relate in some history of ideas fashion to the socialist value placed on labour as making the world.

Norman Pittenger in the entry from the Encyclopedia Americana writes:
All Christians, except the Society of Friends, have accepted baptism and the Eucharist as sacraments "generally necessary to salvation," in the sense that their use is the normal way to admission to and participation in, the benefits of Christ [...] Catholic Christianity in both eastern and western forms, has said there are five other rites, of a sacramental nature, which may properly be called sacraments. These are confirmation, marriage, absolution or penance, holy orders or the rite of setting-apart for the ministry, and unction or the anointing of the sick or dying.
In what might be a heretical move for a believer, I have had fun mapping these 7 sacraments onto the work of the literary critic or the life of an academic [or an organic intellectual].
a naming -- I am a reader
I have not read everything; I desire to read more; there are somethings I have read; there are somethings I do no wish to read
I belong to a body of readers; their confessions are similar in form to mine but they take different objects (they've seen flicks I haven't and would never want to view movies that I would gladly watch thrice over)
degrees -- marks of accreditation not to be confused with peer recognition
Holy Orders
not the same as taking vows to become a mendicant Franciscan or a contemplative Carmelite; taking up the activity of professing; an organic intellectual would be a teacher of some sort able to hear confession and dispense absolution and solemnize marriages
the publication of "offspring" recombinant memes
Last rites
Archiving, donating and otherwise disposing of cultural artefacts; the bodies of the community readers don't seem to require this rite; the reader it appears does not need last rites... extreme unction, perhaps. Last rites would be like writing dust jacket blurbs that call out to readers ... reading will change your life. From this perspective all the sacraments seem to tend to an anointing of the sick and the dying.
In the Church of Literature, every act of reading is a self-anointment: the reader comes to occupy the position of both minister and ministered.

The sacraments so transposed seem to invoke the Benedictine rule, ora et labor, and recall the workings of a meeting where waiting upon the spirit to move through the friends gathered in silence.
Could it be that the paths opened up by Vatican II have allowed many ex-lapsed Catholics (who are never going back) to take the lessons of their catechism and live lives patterned on the sacraments? Would they not be people who have considered that the Anglican Book of Common Prayer states "The unworthiness of the minister hindereth not the sacraments" for these are "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace" and not so much moved on as adapted the form to a new reading?
Living in ceremony; writing in ritual; reading in carnival.

McSweeney's 31 devoted to the refurbishing of old forms has a consuetudinary done by Shelley Jackson in which we read:
Reading takes place in the past—you have to raise the dead to recall where we started. The word of sits up, shaking off damp clods and cobwebs, the rises in turn, raising a skeletal arm; and structure points a juridical finger. Of course, all looking is looking into the past, as de Selby has shown, but the special kind of looking that is reading permits a look further back than ordinary looking, without mirrors or telescopes. Thus reading was not just an intimation of her further interest in the dead, but a form of First Contact, albeit unrecognized as such. What, after all, is a ghost? It is an inanimate object or substance—a parch of cold air, a light that comes and goes, a gelatinous blob growing in the basement—that is endowed with some of the properties of intelligent life, but not all. It bears the imprint of the thoughts and desires of someone long gone.

And what is a book?

Consuetudinary of the Word Church, or the Church of the Dead Letter
The editors of McSweeney's rightly preface this pastiche with the reminder that "Read today, consuetudinaries provide invaluable insight into the longstanding traditions of a lifestyle closed off from the outside world." Ivory tower?

And so for day 2008

Backlist Item - Sold Out

Here is the description of the book from a scene with Marilyn Simonds in conversation with Hugh Barclay from Gutenberg's Fingerprint. They are examining all the books published by Thee Hellbox Press

Every book is different in size and shape and colour. A range of genres is represented: poetry, memoir, essays, fiction. It's hard to grasp a binding thread through all these Hellbox books, in either form or content.


I pick the top book off the pile, turn to the first page, and read aloud: "The old chief who made us welcome in English and then offered prayer in the soft poetic tongue of the Ojibwa radiated a concern for the future and the past of the North American Indian."

Hugh leans across and flips forward to an illustration of a warrior that seems to dance across the page. "I wanted to show the dynamics of the powwow, a bit of the dance," he says. "So I carved three images and over-printed them in progressively fading colours."
The book in question was the first produced by Thee Hellbox Press in 1983. It is entitled A Letter to Teresa. It was produced in a limited edition of 72 numbered copies.

And so for day 2007

Patterns, Rhythms,

First the injunction:

The structural theme must be conceived dynamically, as a pattern of forces, not an arrangement of static shapes.

Rudolf Arnheim, Entropy and Art: An Essay on Disorder and Order
From force to actant:
In 1968, Barthes pointed out that the Proustian narrator is not the person who has seen or felt, nor even the person who writes, but rather he who is going to write.

Jean Frémon "Delta" in Proustiennes translated by Brian Evenson. "Delta" is the final section of Proustiennes.
The opening conclusion, appeal to the reader:
[The concluding sentences to "Delta" and to the book recall the chapter/section on calculating à la Leibniz the ultimate finite number of books and then the necessity of repetition.]

In dreams, in books, in pieces of music, in paintings, in the beings what we love, as on hiking trails, there are sometimes, scattered, signs of gratitude such as compose the traveler's joy. They are fleeting, like sand, unstable, like sand can be, innumerable… They attest to the presence of something else, as do the shadows that reveal what's in the light, as do the efforts of the dead who haunt the living.
[Before this is] "The Traveler's Joy the English call the climbing viburnum because its presence on the hedges lining a road signals that you are approaching a hamlet."

For "hamlet" read "home". Always approaching. Hear hameau. Always approached. Approach.

And so for day 2006

Led by the Nose

Cleverly designed ephemera.

There's a twinkle in the eyes from some small cutout triangles and of course there's the nose inviting the reader to open the card to get at the words in a script as if written by hand.

And the double play with the puns in both French and English (announcing a German book fair): "Nose out a good story", " Ve-nez donc voir".

"3,000 books and magazines from 500 publishing houses" — in case you read the back before opening… now ya knowz.

And so for day 2005

Synth Perv

Top right corner, green ink, partial underline: probably indicates the topic: synesthesia.

Green highlight of a paper by Peng Yi with Latin phrase (Litterae Pervversae) in the title; right margin inscription: Peversity [sic] & Synesthesia.

Long line down the edge of the page in same green ink.

Green line terminates in bibliographic information inscribed in blue. [Listen to Shape and Warm is a Circle]

The whole page looks like a table top for moving pieces.

A Boolean search for "perversity" AND "synesthesia" nets:
An intensive trait starts working for itself, a hallucinatory perception, synesthesia, perverse mutation, or play of images shakes loose, challenging the hegemony of the signifier. In the case of the child, gestural, mimetic, ludic, and other semiotic systems regain their freedom and extricate themselves from the "tracing," that is, from the dominant competence of the teacher's language—a microscopic event upsets the local balance of power.
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

Set as an epigraph to "Introduction: Cinema and the Affective-Performative" in Deleuze and the Cinemas of Performance: Powers of Affection: Powers of Affection by Elena del Rio
I now return to note how the individual events/papers are packaged in sessions:
  • Plenary Session
  • Cultural Relativism and Conflicts
  • Problematic Identies
  • Inscriptions of Identities
  • Chinese Women in the West
  • Intercultural Contacts
All under the rubric of the 14th ICLA Congress of a Tuesday morning in Edmonton in 1994.

That many of these are concurrent sessions makes me think of time. And enter Sarah Perry with After Temporality, a piece on chronesthesia at RibbonFarm:
Linear temporality (time as a sequential series of experiences) and chronesthesia (time as many simulations of past and future) are not conflicting models. Rather, they are deeply interlocking models that constantly construct each other. They are both illusions, though the way in which they are illusions is different. However, they are both highly functional, and the ways in which they are functional are complementary.
She uses the experience of shopping via a grocery store to illustrate the concepts at play and through this she underscores the opportunities for mental time travel: "I think it’s interesting how much mental time travel is involved in crushingly mundane activities."

And one more point: "Interestingly, there is evidence that remembering the past and imagining the future are not opposites, but expressions of a unified underlying capacity."

And so for day 2004

The Body Remembers - Aided by a Postcard

I know I picked up the postcard in Toronto and the event was held in Vancouver. It is the image and its distinctive coloration that caught my attention as well as its suggestive title. (The evidence of a small pin hole indicates that it graced the wall near my desk for a number of years before finding its way into a file folder and from there to here — still fascinated by the quality of the design).

Neon bodies hooked together.

The recto gives more information: a dance piece choreographed by Joe Laughlin.

Which leads one to Joe Ink
The Body Remembers is a highly kinetic look at the mechanics of moving and the material life of the human body. Lyrical, humorous and emotionally compelling this dance performance leaves a most optimistic impression.
And one learns that the music was from Godspeed You! Black Emperor. O for a remount and tour!

And so for day 2003

Rock Lullaby for a Distressed World

Performed by the Eagles, written by Glenn Frey and Don Henley, the song has its own Wikipedia entry. A distracted listener can easily read it as being about an absent lover. The occasion of its composition is about loss of a different kind and its tenderness beseeches us all to repair …

There's a hole in the world tonight
There's a cloud of fear and sorrow
There's a hole in the world tonight
Don't let there be a hole in the world tomorrow
A suitable anthem for our perforated times. Feel the hurt. Heal the pain.

And so for day 2002

Day 2001 - Intellectual Exchange

On this day, a very short sentence.

His favourite apophthegm is "we sometimes connect by disentangling."
A smart quip for a bio.

And so for day 2001

Day 2000 - Intellectual Exchange from the Almost Reader

On this day, a long post.

Encouraged by my friend Fadi Abou-Rihan I lightly edited a series of emails with a view of making them available to a wider audience. Here then are the fruits of that effort

September 15, 2003

Dear Linda,

What a delightful postmodern question! Indeed, where am I? Nearly a decade past defending the thesis.

Curious as to what might have prompted the interpellation :)

Very much a para-academic. I contribute from time to time to Humanist, the discussion list moderated by Willard McCarty and devoted to Humanities Computing as well as to the Text Encoding Initiative discussion list.

I've participated (writing a "paper" and facilitating a discussion) in a number of online conferences about online teaching (an area of expertise that grew out of the work I did for the School of Continuing Studies.)

Lately, inspired by a question posed to Thomas Pavel I've rambled through theory with a piece about Lubomír Doložel's presentation of possible worlds and fiction

In short, I manage to write and find a bit of an audience.

Still a bit surprised that you wrote. And not sure if a mention of house, garden and work in the civil service would be more of an answer.


September 18, 2003

Dear Linda,

I'm currently working in the Policy Branch at the Ministry of the Attorney General. The position is scheduled to be surplussed so I'm conducting the ever-familiar job search. Likely to land somewhere within the Ontario Public Service.

I found myself musing over the last couple of days that it would be an interesting project to trace "students" and not just "grads". I can think of a few ABDs that contributed significantly to the student life of Comp Lit while I was there. Perhaps it is an inclusion possible for consideration in prospective tracking/tracing projects. It is a bit less of a challenge for educational institutions to begin thinking about themselves not just as degree/diploma granting bodies but also as facilitators. The academic is but one constellation in a galaxy of intellectual activities.

Others, such as Paul Goodman, have articulated a similar point. And still others are actively risking the extra-mural contact in their seminars and exploiting the fishbowl opportunities offered by new media technologies.

See for example this experiment from Pomona College: [digital decay – url now defunct; reviewing the archive at Planned Obsolescence leads us to believe that the referenced piece is is about incorporating blogging into a class tentatively titled “The Literary Machine”]

All praise to any institution that can tap into the goodwill of its ABDs. I know what tensions reside in that statement. But it’s a nice pivot from which to contemplate the place and pace of convocation and commencement, the role of gathering and scattering of the members of the corporation.

Thanks for your reply which has given me the chance to reflect upon that period where the pressure was on to finish in four years what a dozen would make better and that time where a few non-cynical but skeptical wags would venture to say "publish _and_ perish" and quickly add "but never cease writing". It is perhaps the most valuable experience that the interchange at Comp Lit in the early 90s gave me -- a deep and abiding appreciation for the time to think and that making time to think is akin to disciplined writing and all manner of record keeping. It's kept me in good stead.

Thanks for shaping that place and time which gave me so much.


September 18, 2006

Dear Linda,

My apologies if this subject line [Michael Lynch] came as a blow from the past. I did want it to stand out and catch your attention. The acknowledgements to Sarah Brophy's _Witnessing AIDS_ mentioned you and it led me to ponder.

I have my own selfish reasons for inquiring if you ever wrote an encomium for Michael Lynch and if so might I read it or some part of it? I am struggling with disclosing my own recent change in HIV status with some of my professional colleagues and friends in the civil service. I was wondering how two very articulate and sensitive individuals lived through that time in the early 90s. Not that I am looking for a model. I just want to a decade on to offer you a reader or listener because I vividly remember you walking away from the memorial service held in the old Euclid theatre wrapped in that inward looking look. Then was not the time to ask. Perhaps neither is now.

An interpellation ventured, is one less regret.

Thanks for already I have begun the telling in that most metadiscursive fashion with a story built on a narration that expresses the willingness to listen to a story -- and what more magical addressee for that than yourself.

I hope you are well and la rentrée is the delight it should be -- great students and revitalized colleagues.


October 22, 2006

Dear Linda,

Thank you for your message about Michael Lynch. Your pointing me to his writing (I recall the various pieces he wrote for The Body Politic and of course the one for _Profession_, the MLA publication) helped me recall a conversation. Michael, in those days of frantic grief and anger, where every step singular and collective was a struggle, gave to me in retrospect his blessing to stay in graduate school and continue with my research and studies. He quite gently but firmly evoked the unfinished task of organizing.

He said to me that it was important to graduate, there would always be time later to "activate". I remember fondly the Latinate form of the verb meaning not only to be an activist but also to be something like a Gramscian organic intellectual. My writing to you, my reading your response, helped me recall that conversation of a warm fall day somewhere along King’s College Road before the oaks were replanted --

Michael with that characteristic squint of concentration to make a point then relaxing into an invitation to contemplate the import of what he had said.

In the days after receiving your reply, I found myself thinking about issues of disclosure. So much of the activism of gay liberation and the organizing in response to the AIDS crisis was wrapped up in the tactics of silence breaking, telling stories, bringing to light, speaking out. The coming out questions are still there: who do you tell, how, why? But now in the 21st century, oddly and ironically, the very right to privacy can be enjoyed. I mean I am able to enjoy the work of education and advocacy. The supports are well in place and institutionalized. Such is the case, in the space of 20 years.

Today I was reading one of those marvelous essay-stories by Barry Lopez. The narrator-character references St. Ignatius to the effect that what one does on learning the end of the world is near is not to run to the confessional but to continue with one's activity, with what one is engaged in doing. I smiled.

A sero-conversion in 2006 is far from the end of the world. That said, I’m really only at the threshold of this set of personal experiences. Will the drugs work for me? Will I be able to manage the side effects?

Yesterday, we completed the fall planting of bulbs. This year we also put in a burning bush at the base of the smoke tree -- an elaborate horticultural joke. None of this is intended to have metaphoric import. It does and it doesn't. Gardening is so entwined with our quotidian since we purchased the property back in 2000, it is what we are engaged in doing.

And I write. It is what I am engaged in doing. Oblique interventions on discussion lists. Cross-pollinating comments on academic blogs. And my own short pieces published to the web. Continuing to be interstitial.

I had thought about keeping a journal. But there is other stuff to complete. And my writing is carried on in the space of an avocation -- after a day's work. Being sero-positive just might be the spur for me to take the rhetoric of multimedia that I have planned and sketched and, well, activate it.

Thank you thank you for bringing back to me the wonder of a time and place so important to who I am now and where I might yet be taken.


November 30, 2006

Dear Linda,

The moon waxes and wanes and almost a month has passed since my last not-a-stranger message.

During this particular lunar cycle, I spotted some of the promotional activity for your recent book on adaptation. And I noted that Robert McKee author of _Story_, was in town giving a two-day seminar on how to write for page, stage and screen. I didn't attend. It would have been fun to observe someone deliver a spiel when he is quoted as saying "that writing only for the Canadian audience is too limiting" in the same interview that he says he wasn't coming to teach Canadians how to make Hollywood films.

Your theme of the migration of stories and their retelling and resetting was on my mind when I read Jim Bartley's first novel, _Drina Bridge_. There is a character who "adapts" stories in the sense of producing alternate versions. There is in this novel a character engaged in writing a memoir about wartime experiences. A story will be related and a second and third version immediately succeeded in the narration.

The reader is situated as reading a typescript along with the narrator. The storyteller/writer is a 60-year old refugee raised in Bosnia and Serbia and through most of the novel an inmate in a Sarajevo hospital. The mise en scène results in an odd feeling of being at a remove from the situation of initial enunciation and yet occupying the specular position of the interpellated. And so when three distinct versions of a similar tale succeed each other there is more to the strategy than avoidance of traumatic memories. There is a point about the interchangeable roles in the atrocities. Yet the technique does not result in a simple set of aloof remarks about perpetuation and the repetition of history. It touches the line between adaptation and adoption. There is a passage that seems to both comment on the technique and set up the reader for revelations:
Chance divides the actual from the true. The actual might avoid the true -- for a time. But truth lurks eternal. It's always there, hovering closer to here.
And though it is not explicitly stated in the novel, it becomes evident that stories are bridges. Not only between the true of the there and the actual of the here.
What follows below is the first piece of sustained writing I've done, apart from the odd post to a discussion list or comment to a blog, since I learnt of my sero-conversion. It's influenced by our exchange and by my conversations with a colleague who is directing a student's research project on AIDS and grieving. I think I will now be able to integrate that bit about the actual and the true before uploading the piece to the WWW. Thank you for being an "interlunar" interlocutor. One of the reasons it has been difficult to renew my engagement with writing projects has been a shift in intended audience. When one is too much in touch with one's mortality the temptation is to slip into a mode of addressing posterity. I forgot that my best writing always has had contemporaries in mind. And so being at a keyboard typing and thinking is a much as part of staying healthy as compliance with anti-viral therapy which will begin in the second week of December for me when the results of a bunch of tests are back and the specialist has determined the best combination of drugs. In about a month my theme just might be "side-effects". Enough. I grow prolix. And I have to figure out how to integrate the actual-true theme in the following.
Jim Bartley's novel _Drina Bridge_ is set in the former Yugoslavia during the Bosnian-Serb war. Its narrator is a gay man who has lost a lover. There is an intriguing passage on the nature of grief. The passage in question is conveyed in the voice not of the narrator and certainly not that of the author. This particular view on grief comes from a character who is a writer and also male (but not "gay"):
Grief and language do not intersect. What we can express is sadness or distress or some form of the tragic, but those who have known grief will not find it on a page.
I found myself explicating the passage in a letter to a friend. I took a very Kantian approach to indicate that there is always a hiatus between the expression and the thing expressed. If grief cannot be expressed then neither can sadness nor distress nor even joy. Expressivity cannot be tied to intensity. For the slight stirrings of some emotion by being very minuscule challenges the adequacy of expression. However the non-coincidence of the expression and the expressed is not a failure. For such a _décalage_ opens the intersubjective space in which the listener or the reader can imaginatively project their experience. It is a space through which or into which experience moves. Of course it is not found on the page. The page is a portal.

And yet the page is a surface.

I also in an almost Stein-like moment reflected upon the difference between those who have known it and those that are knowing it. Those who are knowing it will find it anywhere if not everywhere. The past perfect tense that ascribes a pastness to the grief, locks it into a condition of having been known, offers an escape for the careful reader from the "we", the defeatist "we" that would reify the trauma and make it unreachable. It is a tactic that blocks lucid access to the power of the past.

It is quite telling that the next paragraph in the novel, a continuation of the passage quoted above invokes a salvation motif:
I have delayed redemption too long. Let there be a glimmer. There remains hope of an escape, of a new life.
In 1945 was born [...]
The reader forgives the delusions of the character, indeed by this point in the novel, the reader is well acquainted with the feints that help the discourse unroll and the stories come forth. There is no redemption. No escape. No new life. There are stories. Our narrator is an unbeliever and it is through the narrator that the somewhat backward confession of faith professed through the inadequacies of language comes to the reader. The story in its being told offers connections -- bridges -- and that is where hope lies. The redemption is in the delay.

The cost of mourning is not in the loss of stories about the dead. The cost of mourning is about the risk of connecting with the living. There is no guarantee that each interpellation will find acknowledgement.

There is a cruising aspect to the expression of grief. So many connections not made. And some very intense grief encounters that remain anonymous.

In some ways it is not about the process of mourning it is about the question of the place of intensity in one's living. And intensity well-managed requires an exquisite sensitivity to audience.

On the page. Around the page. Off the page.

December 30, 2006

Dear Linda,

I am grateful for your last message and in particular for the mention of my particular situation of enunciation for it got me to thinking of situations of enunciation in general.

Biography counts when it does. Its counting depends on more than knowing the facts. And if the term "situation of enunciation" can be read as a synecdoche for biography, it might explain, at least it explains for me, much of the fear (and sometimes loathing) that has greeted the discourse about the death of the author.

I arrive at this tenuous possibility by way of Barthes. Your mention of situation of enunciation put me in mind of his remarks about "fading". Even when reading an English translation there comes to me the French accent dwelling on the _ing_ sound, a sound of course foreign yet neighbouring. I think "fading" is at the heart of what the character in _Drina Bridge_ was expressing and offering up to resistance. I have been meaning to write something up under the working title _Incommensurabilities: of expression and experience_.

I think the impulse to cherish biography, as well as the exasperation with the inadequacies of being true to the intensities that traverse one's life, are related to the urge for continuous adaptation. Anyway by a circuitous route I plan to link some passages from Barthes to a meditation on a picture in Sausure's Cours.

My intent is to describe that at the very heart of the relation between matter and language is a human need to inscribe, nay incise, over and over again ... minutely and at every level to make the story stick.

Conversely we also revel in the unstickiness of stories. It is easier in this short space to convey the thought with an image: I will make marks in the sand knowing and expecting the wave and the wind to do their work.

I have benefited from this thinking about the paradoxical structural durability of stories and the ephemeral touches of narration. I've been tackling scenarios of disclosure. Not rehearsing. Just mulling.

Since beginning antiviral therapy, I've extended the repertoire of conversational gambits. I'm not limited to aping the Alcoholics Anonymous model and its for me bizarre ontological commitment (Hi I'm so-and-so and I'm [an example of]). It is far nicer to approach the disclosure through the punctual (I have tested positive; I have begun antiviral therapy) it leaves so much more room for a conversation and for absorbing the import of maintaining a distance -- not becoming overly identified with the disease and yet not slipping into easy denial.

One step to realizing this was timing the beginning of therapy with the resumption of the discipline of daily writing. Blogging offered just the right place to start. Almost as if it is the spiritual exercise of the 21st century, blogging is marked by a commitment to regular recording and reflection. But not a first person confessional! I maintain what amounts to an open commonplace book with glosses. No comments from readers (I don't want at the present to deal with the reactions of others). And nicely off to the side in a listing where one usually finds favourite movies or books is a wee bit of pharmaceutical discourse: the drugs I take on a daily basis. Those that know will know and those that are curious can find out. And as I write out this little ekphrasis of the layout, I have come to realize that I have a daily visual reminder of the importance of compliance with the regimen but more importantly a visual affirmation of a contract with myself to maintain perspective.

I recall some time ago at one point you had taken up the piano later in life. I don't know if you are still at it or interested in listening to a new piece you might wish to add to your repertoire. Nonetheless I will suggest the final piece in Clint Mansell's score to Darren Arnofsky's film _The Fountain_. There is a serenity to the composition that returns the listener to the mindfulness of practice. I have no idea what it would be like to play.


January 19, 2007

Dear Linda,

The ides have passed and my interlunar phasings are creeping more and more to month's end. Must be the influence of accounting in the air. Various modes of storytelling have been preoccupying me a wee bit lately. A few aphorisms crop up.

-- On the "split addressee" :
The practice of irony is like running with knives.
Non signal splitting safely involves a lot of care.

-- On "going meta" as per Jerome Bruner :
Involution is a necessary step on the way from self-referentiality to self-reflexivity and evolution.

-- From a letter to a friend in part about a piece by Adam Mars-Jones on the depiction of the disabled in film ("Cinematically Challenged" in _Blind Bitter Happiness_) i.e. me quoting myself :
"the gap between representation and reality -- the place where it is possible to imagine the possible. "

This is all connected in some fashion to the discussion we have been having about the incommensurability theme in the discourses on experience's relation to expression.

Hope all is well with you and that the students are receptive.


March 22, 2007

Dear Linda,

February passed by without my sending news. Not without thinking what I might say to you, faithful interlocutor. I've begun the task of sorting through papers and came across a clipping of a review by Michael Lynch and so noted it in the open commonplace book (blog) I keep. I quoted the salient part and gave the entry the rubric "Grappling"
In the middle, straddling two columns of text, the editors chose one key attention grabbing sentence from a review by Michael Lynch of the film Beautiful Dreamers. Now further in time from 17.04.90 its Globe and Mail appearance is a tribute to the author.
Audiences want to grapple with history, not be lulled by it.
"Putting Whitman back in the closet" is the title of the piece.
I've not had the energy for longer stints of writing. As I approach day 100 of religiously popping the antiviral pills there is some improvement in the CD4 count and still a way to go.


It was a treasure find to come across that clipping and a pleasure to report it to you.

I hope the end of term goes smoothly.


April 30, 2007

Dear Linda,

Very last day of the month: time to sneak in under the wire a report some disjecta and let you know that I have continued to meditate on the theme of experience and expression.

First, the hyacinth is blooming and the smell of the six or so plants in the garden is heady. It is a temporary phenomenon all the richer because of its transience.

Second, I found myself considering what I am inclined to call the forgetting of narration. I have observed in some examples of critical discourse that there is a tendency to speak in terms of many narrations and a single narrative. If a phenomenological perspective is introduced then narrative is not seen as a single and unique object of thought (or experience) but as the product of agreement between subjects. The diagram of a diegesis is no less a narration than the many words or images that also give access to similar constructions. It is by agreement that we produce the same story, an agreement renegotiated at every telling.

The same story is always a new agreement. Recall children wanting to hear a favourite story with all the noises and gestures that produce the sense of the familiar. It is a language trap to insist that what returns is the same. It is familiar.

No two cups of tea taste the same yet they are recognized as cups of tea and even tea of the same flavour (but with a wee difference in the intensity due to slight shifts in steeping time).

I have been propelled to this nominalist realization of the instability of any given entity called a "narrative" by recalling a question that Professor Fitch asked at my defense so very many years ago. His question was about Ingarden's notion of concretization. My answer then makes more sense now: a rereading produces a different concretization. Of course some readers would set concretization on the side of narration and a narrative on the side of some unchanging structure. But the structure itself is malleable; its stability, a function of our agreements.

In Saussure's Cours there is an illustration (referenced by Barthes in Elements of Semiology) where there are two flows and samplings from each. Below is a typographic transcription

===== < ============== > =====

.......... < …………………….. > ………….

The famous arbitrariness of the sign is a relation between samplings. The signified is as much an incision into a flow of matter (experience) as is the signifier. All this seems rather obvious to anyone that understands the semantic field to be dynamic. If the pair narration/narrative is isomorphic with the pair signifier/signified, the slippage that is perceived in experience/experience is built into how humans process the relations between language and reality.

And language is a part of reality.

Third of the disjecta, all these musings on the intersubjective nature of the stability of narrative as object of thought or experience came after a lecture by Martin Lefebvre to the Toronto Semiotic Circle where he quoted Peirce to the effect that "every fine argument is a poem or a symphony" and outlined a scheme where habit taking mediates between chance/origin and necessity/telos. This is getting long and convoluted. The following is very sketchy.

involution is not equivalent to self-reflexivity

involution produces a copy of the world in a given state that becomes the base state to compare subsequent states (This is similar to how a computer’s central processing unit keeps a copy in active memory to work upon -- the model can be applied to the act of reading. In my thesis way back when I briefly touched upon the notion of involution in a quick look at the similarities between the semiotic square and the mathematical object called a Klein group. This bit on involution arises from a note in my thesis in the chapter positing the semiotic square as a machine… it of course needs elaboration)

Someone somewhere may have already introduced the notion of states into possible world semantics. This might just give access to a poetics of impossible worlds. Impossible worlds are imaginable as games (considered as moves between states). A focus that might interest those searching to bridge the ludology versus narratology in gaming studies.

Of course I'm left with questions to ponder: How does, if it does, the pair world-state map onto the pair narrative-narration?

And so I take time to breathe and smell the fleeting hyacinth.


June 2, 2009

Dear Linda,

I feel betrayed by the clever Stein-inspired subject line [Beginning Again, Again] that I used for my last message (apologies once more for the blank message). I am doomed to begin again!

I also apologize for the hiatus of over a year. And I thank you for the invitation to resume writing to you -- I particularly liked how you managed to mime keyboard activity to remind me not to be a stranger.

It has been an odd year. A slump both physiological and psychological. After some months of monitoring and observing, medications have been modified thus giving me more energy. I also have been forced to pay attention to diet and exercise. The medications affected appetite which affected food intake. And I lead a fairly sedentary existence. So some weight gain contributed to the physiological sluggishness.

The lack of stamina resulted in a, for me, bewildering retreat from writing. I wasn't depressed -- I could function well enough at work. I wasn't dejected -- I still derived pleasure from reading and watching films. I had become passive. I just wasn't able/willing to devote evening time to writing. It wasn't as if I didn't begin composing in my head. I kept putting off the act of writing. Very odd since writing in a sense nourishes me. Ironic: a year of bad food choices and little writing.

What I didn't abandon was reading. I did give up half way through the larger volumes I had been reading such as Edmund White's biography of Genet or Tony Peake's bio of Derek Jarman. However poetry and short prose and would you believe it "food writing" were genres that I frequented.

I made my way through the complete poetry of Gwendolyn MacEwen. She has a wonderful line in a poem called "The Return" , a line that would make a nice inscription around a mirror: "To perceive you is an act of faith". I am able to recall this mainly because the notion was recorded as a blog entry. A short entry. One of the last before a long patch of no entries.

Of course that mirror trick would have been impossible were it not for an encounter with the _Narcissistic Narrative_ a long while ago.

Professor Doložel asked me a vexing question when I saw him at the festivities in your honour. He asked if I missed the university. I hesitated and gave my stock reply about missing the teaching but not being willing to spend years in the wilderness of sessional appointments. He then mentioned a former student of his who has been caught in sessional work for almost a decade. Relief mingles with regret. I like the discursive move to a story about managing one's career path, an exercising of choice. It is a reassuring tale. However it deflects from a sense of rejection (not to have been chosen to be part of the academy). The rejection is the luck of the draw. Up until recently it has been stored as a piece of disavowal. It is amazing to how much pain we can immure ourselves.

The failure to land a tenure track position and the move to another world resulted in the loss of an audience. Not just any audience. A learned audience. In my case the loss was not total. I managed to participate on line and for a while attend conferences. Always though as an outsider.

Outside looking in is not an unusual position and not without its special attributes.

I came to graduate school with a strong sense of the distinction between an intellectual and an academic. I was also heavily influenced as a teenager by having read (twice) Hesse's _The Glass Bead Game_. I was a far less resistive reader then and identified with the character of Knecht who serves the academy and then moves beyond the institutional walls. His life ends with a beautiful and stoic suicide. As a teenager that ending was far off. And the promise of company of other game players, an inspiration. Still would it be possible to rewrite the novel without its suicide ending?

Funny to think it possible to read one's intellectual itinerary as a rewrite of a novel read in one's youth.

I don't plan on returning to Hesse in the near future. I recently have begun reading novels by gay men who first published in the 1980s and have continued to write in the aftermath of the AIDS epidemic. Earlier on there is something very arch in most of them. James and Proust are the evident models.

Allow me to conclude with this passage from Andrew Holleran's 1983 novel _Nights in Aruba_. It contrasts nicely with Hesse. From its concluding pages ... our rather listless hero is looking for conclusion if not closure.

I no longer believed when I awoke in the morning that I could, by lying still in my dark room, balance past, present, and future, or figure everything out. I was certain that even death would provide no illumination -- that we died ignorant, confused, like novelists who cannot bring an aesthetic shape to their material.
As I sat there in my silent room I saw these memories would be with me forever, that wherever they were, I was: some part of me. But the life I must begin was my own -- a separate person's.
This was difficult. For I realized that so much memory and desire swirl about in the hearts of men on this planet that, just as we can look at Neptune and say it is covered with liquid nitrogen, or Venus and see a mantle of hydrochloric acid, so it seemed to me that were one to look at Earth from afar one would say it is covered completely in Ignorance.
And the reader is thus left to ponder. And perhaps conclude that a closer view, a view perhaps more down to earth, is possible and through which one appreciates that allegorical figure of Ignorance as the product of a novelist certainly not confused nor ignorant. Our author is in no need of illumination to provide the ending a novel. He knows how to insert a self-destructing allegory. The author is also lucky to find receptive readers.

And now for a bit of bragging that I can share with you because so much of my reading habits were honed in Comp Lit. Recently in a reply to a posting as part of a public discussion about computing and the humanities, Willard McCarty replied to one of my postings by calling me out by name:

"Francois has a gift for almost reading a text, that is, for remaining aware of the ways in which surface-features of a text condition the reading while it is happening. Most of us attend _from_ the many voices and signs and signals to the argument unfolding as we go. He simultaneously attends _to_ them."

It is amazing how I lap up such praise, feed the ego and re-engage with writing and sharing. It's a kind of cool designation to be an "almost reader". :)

Thank you once again for your kind indulgence. It's appreciated.

Thank you for your kind indulgence. Again.

And so for day 2000

Awe-filled and Awake

Michael Redhill in Light-crossing offers a suite of poems that reflect upon the reflective figure of the father.

while that roil of stars and darkeness
coalesced to you, who arrived, surprisingly.
Grey, wet, sweating nutrient, quick

to suck. Math-loving atoms, clenched into body,
assumed alikeness, which delights. I now hold
this infinitesimal, that gathered its forces across

vast nothing to be called to life.
This from "What Moves". Note that the coalescence is not "in" but "to" — a destination with a hint of further destinations. Also note the being called to life. Again the stress is on a continuing voyage.

"Offering" is sacramental in tone but offers more.
I was alone with you after everyone was gone
and life was in you like a charge in a wire. Your poor
head in my hand, musketball heavy, your eyes roving
for purchase in the blue and grey room. They had you
in a tiny surplice, not knowing
they didn't have to make you look holy, you were
already ministering to me.
The line breaks tremble. You can almost hear "power" in "poor" because of the "charge in the wire" and the break. It crackles.

The opening of "Star" captures the nuances of a repeating scene: "Is he sleeping? — our midnight / mantra, one of us walking / all stealth into the room."

Lines that bring you in even if you have never experienced being the vigilant parent but have a faint memory of sleeping safely. There is more than just a trick of identification with the deployed pronoun "you" — there is a sense here of inscribing something for those not yet able to make their own memories, a sense of relatedness and human fragility.

And so for day 1999

The Immitigable Tree

Virginia Woolf uses the archaic adjective "immitigable" in The Waves. It is always in the context of Neville and a certain tree. A very Edenic tree with lethal consequences.

Project Gutenberg with an electronic version allows for a quick search to refresh memory.

'Since I am supposed,' said Neville, 'to be too delicate to go with them, since I get so easily tired and then am sick, I will use this hour of solitude, this reprieve from conversation, to coast round the purlieus of the house and recover, if I can, by standing on the same stair half-way up the landing, what I felt when I heard about the dead man through the swing-door last night when cook was shoving in and out the dampers. He was found with his throat cut. The apple-tree leaves became fixed in the sky; the moon glared; I was unable to lift my foot up the stair. He was found in the gutter. His blood gurgled down the gutter. His jowl was white as a dead codfish. I shall call this stricture, this rigidity, "death among the apple trees" for ever. There were the floating, pale-grey clouds; and the immitigable tree; the implacable tree with its greaved silver bark. The ripple of my life was unavailing. I was unable to pass by. There was an obstacle. "I cannot surmount this unintelligible obstacle," I said. And the others passed on. But we are doomed, all of us, by the apple trees, by the immitigable tree which we cannot pass.
'The man lay livid with his throat cut in the gutter,' said Neville. 'And going upstairs I could not raise my foot against the immitigable apple tree with its silver leaves held stiff.'
'I will not lift my foot to climb the stair. I will stand for one moment beneath the immitigable tree, alone with the man whose throat is cut, while downstairs the cook shoves in and out the dampers. I will not climb the stair. We are doomed, all of us. Women shuffle past with shopping-bags. People keep on passing. Yet you shall not destroy me. For this moment, this one moment, we are together. I press you to me. Come, pain, feed on me. Bury your fangs in my flesh. Tear me asunder. I sob, I sob.'
A trip to the O.E.D.

That cannot be mitigated, softened, or appeased ; implacable ; not to be toned down.

Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, the O.E.D. gives an occasion in Swinburne: 1887 Swinburne Stud. Prose & Poetry (1894) 188 The principle or the impulse of universal and immitigable charity.

Swinburne is commenting on Victor Hugo
All his logic, all his reason, all his conscience, had been resolved by nature into a single quality or instinct, the principle or the impulse of universal and immitigable charity. All his argument on matters of social controversy is based on the radical and imprescriptible assumption that no counter consideration can be valid, that no other principle exists.
We know that Woolf read Swinburne. Could she have formed part of Neville's character from Swinburne's remarks on Hugo?

And so for day 1998


An anecdote about Mary Butts and her prowess at convincing … the term "procuress" comes to mind but it is not apt.

Maybe the best of Mary is gathered in the short stories Several Occasions (Wishart, 1932); and here is the perfect account of the night when Mary was living in Villefranche in the same famous hotel as Cocteau. Cocteau had picked up a boy, and the boy refused to play. Mary arrayed herself as a glittering apparition and went to the room where the boy was sulking. With magic words she told him how miraculous it was to be offered a night with a great poet, to share the glory of France. She clasped an exquisite bracelet on the boy's wrist. "There," she said, "you are ready for glory." He looked at Mary and knew that he was.
"The Lady Who Enchanted Cocteau" by Oswell Blakeston Little Caesar No. 12 "Overlooked & Underrated p. 22.

Story-maker … that's the apt term … more appropriate for the navigator of spirit and flesh.

And so for day 1997