Book of the World Courant CLXII





Immaturely aging


Early fall morning post-Ba Gua Zhang: for the first time in your sixty-plus years of Washington Square Park memories, you see a full-spectrum rainbow, hanging suspended like a banner over the fountain, broad as the circle itself.

Denise notices it first, and since you’ve been talking about Uruguay and Argentina you try to think of the Spanish words, but all that comes is arc en ciel.

It takes until the evening, long after you’ve stop thinking about it, for arco iris to pop into your head.


What is the relationship between the image of Christa and that of the good and bad thieves, who are part of the traditional Golgotha iconography?

Is some of what cannot be spoken of here the precise location of, and therefore a hidden and protected monopoly on divinity itself? What, one might ask both the present curators of “Manifesting Divine Bodies” and the Suffrigan Bishop of ‘84, makes the image of either Christ, or Christa, on the cross “theologically and historically defensible,” then, now or ever?

Is it possible to distinguish between male and female divinity? What is the relationship between, the “beautiful” Christa (to use Ms. Schubert’s word) and a possibly divine Christa. How are aesthetics implicated? And the inarguable perfect otherness of the nude?

From whence comes the sacred legitimacy of one thing, and the profanity, even blasphemy, of another? What systems of thought are engaged in the production this crown of thorn-thoughts, this tortured manufacture of meaning?


Jack Straw could eat no maw

His wife could fare no better.

And so, between the two, you see

They lived up to the letter


The perfect past’ll make u tense


A young, thin Chinese guy wearing glasses, his cheeks abloom with acne, sits with a companion at the table next to yours. As you rise to leave, you note his teeshirt message, white letters on gray:






Shih T’ao [Shitao] wrote: “The method is complete when it is born from the idea, but the method of the idea has never been recorded.”

In trying to express the unnamable ideas (miao i), the artist had to experience a communion with the mystery of the universe akin to that enjoyed by the Taoist “mystics.” Accordingly, the creative process was described in terms of emptiness, simplicity and suggestion; and the painting itself presented a unique relationship between the known and the unknowable.

In the words of Li Sih-hya: “That which is called ch’i-yün must be born in the man [sic]. It is indeed in a state of emptiness (hsü) and tranquility (tan) that most ideas are conceived.” And when the ideas are carried out, the brush must possess the power of spiritual suggestion through emptiness (hsü); hsü meant that the “brush comes to an end but the idea is without limit (wu chiung).”

…Because of our inclinations toward reason, science and the expression of human emotion, it was inevitable that western painting should depend on forms. In these forms we have valued intelligibility, convincing representation and emotional expressiveness. Solid permanence has been preferred to the intangible. In China the emphasis on intuition, imagination and the moods of nature led to the importance of the mysterious, the intangible and the elusively expressive. [Not to mention allusively.]

Both east and west sought reality, but in one, the universal truth was to be captured in forms, and in the other, the mystery resided in the forms and in something beyond the forms.

The painter begins with the pictorial reality of shih, then suggests through hsü (emptiness) the reality of the spirit beyond form, with a flow and effortlessness which results in the indescribable unity of hun. We pass from the tangible and measurable into the intangible and incommensurable and yet experience the intelligibility of the whole which, at the same time, is the wellspring of the mysterious.

N.b. Hun is used here in the cosmic sense of Zhuangzi, to signify the creative entirety and potentiality of primeval origins, quite different from the notion of confusion inherent in the western conception of chaos. [Rowley, p. 77]


Let them eat code


Think outside the fridge


Coding, run all round my brain


Once upon a time, a ceramicist named Bernard Palissy developed a method of molding from fauna and flora and applying the casts to large basins and platters, achieving a form that seamlessly blended artistic naturalism and virtuosic craftsmanship into a kind curio cabinet for courtiers to serve soup in.

Having begun his career as a stained-glass artist, Palissy applied a remarkably rich and luminous palette of glazes to what he called his rustiques figulines [sic]. In the late 1500s, Palissy’s artisanal shone brightly. He lectured on natural sciences and the virtues of direct observation and his orations collected into a volume: Discourses admirables (1580). Aristocratic collectors, among them Anne de Montmorency, clamored for his work. And the queen mother of France, Catherine de’ Medici, commissioned an entire roomful of clay figures to adorn her “grotto” in the Tuillieries palace.

Such were the vicissitudes of the age though, that despite his prestigious clientele, the nominally Protestant Palissy was imprisoned for heresy, and died in the Bastille, ca. 1590.

Workshop of Bernard Palissy (French, 1510-90). Platter, ca. 1565-75. Lead-glazed earthenware, w. 20.5 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
Workshop of Bernard Palissy (French, 1510-90). Platter, ca. 1565-75. Lead-glazed earthenware, w. 20.5 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC


If the so-called Dakota Access pipeline goes forward, it will cross under the Missouri River tunneling under land “owned” by the Army Corps of Engineers.

“Something bigger than us is happening here.” This said by LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a tribal historian of the Standing Rock Sioux.


The Dao of Skizziks


North American Veelblefetzer, good morning. How may I direct your call?


Veeblefetzer: 19th century Yiddish slang based on the German Weben, weave, and Fetzen, rip or shred. A veeblefetzer is, at one level, a thingamajig, and on another a complicated mechanical device of questionable functionality. The word briefly entered mainstream slang via Harvey Kurtzman’s repeated use of it in Mad magazine, ca. 1953. In Gasoline Valley, a satire on a popular contemporary comic strip, a character named Skizziks sets up shop fixing cracked Veeblefetzers.

As late as 1997, Donald Duck could be found working in a Veeblefetzer factory owned by his Uncle Scrooge.


Times have changed

And we’ve often rewound the clock

Since the Puritans got a shock

When they landed on Plymouth Rock.

If today

Any shock they should try to stem

‘Stead of landing on Plymouth Rock,

Standing Rock would land on them.

Pace, Cole


When you can’t look at level distance across the true circumstances of your life, you can always obsess about your moods. And no one (almost) will get down on you for being so “in touch” with your emotions.


Hare Krishna

Hare Krishna

Stare Stare

Stare decisis


Among the luminaries in the early days of the Royal Society was Sir Francis Chichester, famous in his time but now fallen into obscurity. He deserves, I think, to be better known, since he was, in a sense, the father of counter-terrorism. Sir Francis was born in Woolwich in 1642 (a contemporary nearly to the day of Sir Isaac Newton), third son of a naval engineer who specialized in metallurgy. Young Francis learned his father’s trade and went on to invent, among other devices, a chronometer and a mechanical, a lock which he patented in 1678 as the Chichester Exploding Lock, since indeed, it did just that, but only – or so, at any rate, was the promise – when someone attempted to force the mechanism.

Over the course of nearly a decade, many hundreds were forged and loaded with a powder charge at the Chichester manufactory on the Isle of Dogs, then installed in doors, strong boxes, safes [alt. pl. saves] and vaults, bringing Chichester both a sizeable fortune and a knighthood. But a fatal accident at the King’s mint in 1687, and another, which sank a ship of the line under full sail claiming many casualties, so tarnished the reputation of the lock that Sir Francis was forced to withdraw it from manufacture and found himself nearly bankrupted by lawsuits. He was saved from destitution by his patent for the Chichester Leaping Spring, which could propel the wearer several yards at a bound. Originally intended for military use primarily against cavalry, the spring proved a short lived domestic craze.

Of his locks, several examples have survived. One, in prime (thought not primed), condition may be seen at the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford, just to the left of a fossil of Paul the Apostle’s third right metatarsal discovered in a bog near Agincourt.


Of arms and the man, sing I…

Of arms and the trans I sing…

Of arms and De Man, I sing…

Oh you mean: Of arms and the post-Mann?

Nein, of arms and Der Mensch…

I Tweet® of arms and Man-O-Manischewitz…

And I’m waitin’ for my man…

Whereas I sing of arms and the bear…


Aside from the West Village, where you grew up and where you have many associations, the place you feel most comfortable in Manhattan is the Upper East Side, chiefly in the area bounded on the south and north by the seventies and low eighties and on the west and east by Fifth Avenue and Park.

When you walk those streets, including Madison Avenue with its posh shops, you breathe more freely and your imagination wanders at will as your legs carry your body along.

Does this mean that you are an aesthete, a snob, and that beneath your anarchist politics lurks a class traitor secretly identified with the aristocracy?

Perhaps. But is there something in the streetscape itself that weighs on the scale of affinity? You have few personal associations with the Upper East Side, so it is a place where you can more freely project your thoughts, without encountering the feedback of experience. Yet despite a host of ambivalent experiences in what was once your home neighborhood, the West Village still “works” for you. Crossing south on Fourteenth Street you feel immediately more relaxed, as though you are joining something, harmonizing with it, rather than defending yourself against it…


There is a Brooklyn-bound colloquial train one station away


Yet, not far from Positively 4th Street, post-Ba Gua, you push your bike by its seat across the park and the fountain mist envelops you.

On a sunny bench you sit and read “From Bohemia to Derelict Fringe,” the penultimate passages of Bruce Weber’s essay, “Picturing Washington Square.”

…In 1965 [Diane] Arbus became fascinated by the sense of territoriality the park engendered. She entered the complicated social structure that existed there in order to become closer to the people she photographed… She wrote of the experience: I remember one summer I worked a lot in Washington Square Park… The park was divided. It had these walks, sort of like a sunburst, and there were these territories staked out. There were young hippie junkies down one row. There were lesbians down another, really amazingly hard-core lesbians. And in the middle were the winos. They were like the first echelon and the girls who came from the Bronx to become hippies would have to sleep with the winos to get to sit on the other part with the junkie hippies. It was really remarkable. And I found it really scary. I mean I could become a nudist, I could become a million things. But I could never become that, whatever all those people were… I got to know a few of them. I hung around a lot. They were like sculptures in a funny way. I was very keen to get close to them, so I had to ask to photograph them. You can’t get that close to somebody and not say a word although I have done that…”

The novelist Cynthia Ozick attended New York University in the mid- 1940s and later related her thoughts on the people who line the park benches: Here, side by side with students and their loose leafs, lean or lie the shadows of the pretzel man, his creased ghosts or doubles: all those pitiable, half-women and half-men, neither awake or asleep, the discountable, the repudiated, the unseen.

No more notice is taken of any of them than of a scudding fragment of newspaper in the path. Even then… the benches… are pimpled with this hell-tossed crew, these Mad Margaret’s and Cokey Joes, these volcanic coughers, shakers, groaners, tremblers, droolers, blasphemers, these public urinators with vomitous breath and rusted teeth-stumps, dead-eyed and self-abandoned, dragging their makeshift junky ward shows, their buttonless layers of raggedy rat fur.

The pretzel man with his toilet paper rolls conjures and spews them all – he is a loftier brother to these citizens of the lower pox, he is guardian of the garden of the jettisoned. They rattle along all the seams of Washington Square, They are the pickled City, the true and universal City-below-Cities, the wolfish vinegar-Babylon that dogs the splitted skirts of bohemia. The toilet paper rolls are the temple columns of this sacred grove. [paragraph breaks inserted for legibility; from Homage to Washington Square, New York: Berry-Hill Galleries, 2001. pp. 95-97]

Thus forensically demonstrating that the only creature more capable of panicked projection onto the Other, more terrified of reality, more impoverished of empathy than the “average American,” is, or was, the American artist.

With rare exceptions.


…Even though a cloud’s white curtain in a far-off corner flashed

An’ the hypnotic splattered mist was slowly lifting

Electric light still struck like arrows, fired but for the ones

Condemned to drift or else be kept from drifting

Tolling for the searching ones, on their speechless, seeking trail

For the lonesome-hearted lovers with too personal a tale

An’ for each unharmful, gentle soul misplaced inside a jail

An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

            Starry-eyed an’ laughing as I recall when we were caught

Trapped by no track of hours for they hanged suspended

As we listened one last time an’ we watched with one last look

Spellbound an’ swallowed ’til the tolling ended

Tolling for the aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed

For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an’ worse

An’ for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe

An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

Sang Dylan, oncet