Russia, east of the Urals, the Near East, Arabia, these are really just the Far West. Drop a line down and you’ll see what I mean. When we went (back) to active war with Islam, it was really just brother against brother – an age-old contest over whose blade was better tempered, whose prick was… whatever – not a true case of West v. East.
And South Asia, well, we don’t know what to make of them and pretty much don’t care. That’s the Brits’ affair. But China is another matter. What we’ve been avoiding all these centuries – and via a thousand stratagems of which the Great Game and Age of Oil are only temporary diversions of Western Yang is the question of what happens when we, inevitably, encounter Big Yin. This isn’t a contest for domination among the similar – geocultural homophobophilia as it were – and very Greek – this is about the encounter with something really Other. With a capital O. Except their culture works in pictograms. And that O looks, on closer inspection, like a black fish and a white fish doing something inextricable and scandalous.
O for a muse of fire. Ah, but here comes water in quantities even Google’s servers can’t crunch and all the ice in Christendom can’t chill. Soon, mon, soon.
The Russo-Japan war, Pearl Harbor, the UN “police action” in Korea and the American War in Vietnam were only the opening stones. We can play chess all day with the Persians and joust on the beach by night with Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn. Some days they’ll topple our king, occasionally a pawn will transform to a Queen. But who among us knows the mind of Gō?
Meanwhile, with little fanfare, America has been openly Chinese (with or sans quotation marks) for millennia. If you don’t believe me, have a look at Peru. Or Oaxaca. Or British Colombia. We wuz discovered before we wuz we.
Too many Geists in the Zeit.
The artist, Jacob, wrestling with the angel of the self.
Mary, Mary, what you going to name that pretty baby?
To truly move away from objectifying the other, one must move toward subjectivizing the self. The second is the precondition of the first, even if the process begins in middle age or later. Structurally it can’t work the other way, any more than an oak can distill itself down into an acorn again once it’s grown.
And the ten thousand things that find their multiplicity in the one.
When the sun and Jupiter are in “opposition” relative to we, and one of the latter’s moons is transiting, a funny visual game gets played out against the Jovian backdrop. Are there two moons, or one moon and its shadow? What is the relation of the shadow to its moon? And which emerges out of which, or is subsumed by the other?
Still, si muove. Eppur si muove.
Twelve gates to the city. Yes, and countless more: over, under and through the walls.
Class within class within class.
Gonna take a sedimental journey…
…always moved to witness a person remove, however briefly, the barricade between themselves and their humanity.
Always grateful when that person is me.
“’…How does it feel to know that you mean so much to so many people?’
I thought of Christopher. I thought of Barbara. I said ‘It makes me feel a tremendous obligation to stay well. It makes me know that I did not make myself – I do not belong to me.’”
— Leo Proudhammer, on leaving the hospital, to a reporter in Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone.
Questions of meaning do not abide, exclusively, in the realm of signification. Deeper down, at a primary level, they are rooted in issues of legibility.
What’s your business plan?
Simple stuff: Fuck the workers. So simple you don’t even need to pencil it out. And the workers, trust me, not only will they never do the math, we’ve converted them to auto-fuck.
“…I moved a little away from him. He followed me. We stood at the bar together, and he filled my drink. ‘I was born on the streets, baby, and I take nobody’s word for nothing.’ He touched my glass. ‘You know I’m not going to take your word.’
‘You trying to scare me?’
‘Shit. I’m probably trying to make you.’
He threw back his head and laughed. ‘Tremendous!’ Then, ‘Do you like me? I like you, I think you’re crazy.’
Something rose in me, stronger than intelligence or experience. ‘Sure I like you. I like you very much. You know that.
He gave me a smile of pure pleasure, and it cannot be denied that such a smile is rare. He touched my glass again. ‘Tremendous,’ he said. ‘We’re going to get on just fine.’ He looked very grave. Then, irrepressibly, like a very small child, ‘You know something I was going to tell you before, but didn’t have the nerve? You got your name written all over me. That’s right. I got my name on you too.’
I smiled. ‘Okay. We’ll see.’”
—Dialogue between Leo and Christopher in Baldwin’s Train.
A series of palpable full-body jolts in reading …How Long the Train’s Been Gone. As if Jimmy were trying to induct us into the practice of an internal martial art, of which, needless to say, he is a master.
The Velveteen Market. Will anyone’s love make it real?
Vanitas vanitatum. And the bonfire this time.
Skipjack, flapjack, Shadrach, Meshach…
Because [like water] he does not contend,
Nobody in the empire is able to contend with him.
Says the Dao De Jing.
“In spring,” one reads in the annals, “in the first month of the royal calendar, the day of mao shen, the first day of the month, fell stones in Song, five in number…” The commentary is particularly precise on this account:
“Why does it say ‘fell’ before ‘stones’? The falling of stones repeats the way it is heard: one hears the noise of something falling, and in looking at the thing that has fallen, one sees that it is stones; in looking at them closer, one can count that there are five.”
There is a parallel example of this in a description of the sky, just as hearing precedes sight. The annals next note that “the same month, six herons, flying backward, passed over the capital of Song” because one first notices six birds, then on looking closer one notices that they are herons, then on even closer inspection, one notices that they are flying backward. Could the attention to event-related exactitude, the concern not to invent anything, which is obsessive in this case, be taken any further? One can see from this example why the Confucian tradition kept a distance from myth and censored fiction. Here the order of the sentence is supposed to follow the unfolding of the process, to reproduce it at every step, as if the description could be limited to the pure recording of facts, in an absolutely trustworthy fashion, so as not to deviate from reality. [Detour and Access]
Three peony opera.
Baptism of snow.
We are helpless. But not quite.
When there is a severing or blockage of the channel along which what we “know” and what we “think” flows, our capacity to track with reality is compromised. This disconnect, if it becomes severe enough, can manifest in very strong movements of energy which will lack coherence. Nor will they nourish our fundamental energy reserve. Instead they will act to deplete it. We will find our energies drawn out along evermore untenable lines of force with no way to engage our capacity to seek or maintain balance.
What this disruption occasions is a deep internal fear that, were it a purely “physical” sensation, would be undeniable and excruciating. But because it is “mental” we displace it into fear of death, illness or infirmity or some loss of property or status.
The death or loss we fear has, in some sense, already occurred: the separation of ourselves from ourselves, and therefore the separation of ourselves from others and from the world.
What we call society is constructed, by a mostly unthought collective process, to act as the hegemonic power that dominates the individual, who then develops various stratagems of complicity or resistance – all of which involve invoking some species of non-engagement from both society and self. This drawing away is also a form of “pushback,” one that always contains the potential for “blowback,” because the individual, no matter how seemingly compliant, has become, absent any necessary intentionality on her or his part, a latent terrorist: a sleeper cell.
But terrorism, like so much else, begins “at home,” i.e. within our bodies. Which is another way of saying our selves.
There’s Gaia Theory. And Goya Theory. As in the black paintings.
“I heard his cry because it was my own. He did not know this – did not know, that is, that his cry was my own – but he knew that his cry had been heard. Therefore, he hummed a little and tapped with his fingers on the glass. He sensed that he had found the path that led home. But I was afraid. What, after all could I do with him? Except, perhaps, set him on his path, the path that would lead him away from me. My honor, my intelligence, and my experience all informed me that freedom, not happiness, was the precious stone. One could not cling to happiness – happiness, simply, submitted to no clinging; and it is criminal to use the unspoken and unrealized needs of another as a means of escorting him, elaborately, into the prison of those needs and sealing him there. But, on the other hand, the stone I hoped to offer was, nevertheless, a stone: its edges drew blood, and its weight was tremendous.”
Leo’s internal dialogue toward the end of Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone.
All of Baldwin’s novels are in some way love stories. That is they try to describe and articulate the peculiar form of energy we call love as it abides in people, is aroused, and passes among them. There is nothing idealized or transcendent about the love Jimmy relates. It is fraught with ambivalence and struggle and is always threatened, or, to use a word he favors, “menaced,” both from within and without. Its endurance is similar to the Daoist image of the gnarled and ancient pine tree atop a mountain, twisted and scarred by, yet in some way nourished by the elements.
Whether consciously or not, Baldwin systematically poses his novels as examples of how the same elemental and deep awareness of another human soul and body manifests among people irrespective of the cultural signifiers which drive the engines of difference. Their experience of the other, and the forces that act upon them are mediated by a host of social forces, but love, as it constructed within his work, acts as a kind of infra, or meta-force – one that simply maintains in the face of vicissitudes. Love, for Baldwin is less a series of acts between or among actors, than a manifestation of the generative principle itself, which contains, within its nature, a measure of destructive propensity.
Love, then, is always the underlying play of his novels, but what we think of as some form of romantic or explicitly sexualized love is posed most explicitly in Giovanni’s Room, Another Country, Tell Me How Long The Train’s Been Gone and reaches its highest relief in If Beale Street Could Talk, where – somewhat problematically for those for whom Baldwin functions, in the general reductio of our moment, as a “gay” writer – the romance concerns a heterosexual couple and their making of a baby.
In commenting on The Red and the Black, Marcel Merleau-Ponty observes “What is important is not that Julien Sorel, after he has learned that he has been betrayed by Madame de Rénal, travels to Verrièrs and tries to kill her. It is that silence, that dreamlike journey, that thoughtless certainty, and that eternal resolution which follows the news. But there is no passage where these things are said. There is no need for ‘Julien thought,’ or ‘Julien wished.’ In order to express them, Stendhal only had to slip into being, to enter into a monologue with Julien, making objects, obstacles, means, and hazards flash before our eyes with the speed of the journey. He had only to decide to relate the journey in three pages instead of ten, and to be silent about something rather than say such and such.” [From The Prose of the World, trans. John O’Neil.]
Sitting by the banks of the Mishigas. Waiting for the tide to roll.
“Those who study the Dao are as numerous as hairs on an ox, but those who reach attainment are as rare as a Qilin.” So wrote Sun Xi Kun in his book Ba Gua Quan Zhen Chuan [Genuine Transmission of Ba Gua Zhang].
The Qilin (Kirin in Japanese) is indeed a rare creature. Most accounts give it the head of a dragon, but from there down, descriptions vary widely, not to say wildly. Some give the Qilin the horns and body of a deer, the hooves of a horse and the tail of an ox. Others observe it to posses the scales of a carp, the hooves of an ox and the tail of a lion. One version of the Qilin appears with two horns, and another like unto a unicorn.
It is however, generally agreed that one knows one when one sees one. And further accounts of the Qilin laying its head in the lap of a jade maiden and falling into a swoon, are as numerous as hairs on a depilated ox, musk or otherwise, or the knots on a floating, flying Esfahan pile.
“On a worn dollar bill, someone had scrawled, in black ink, ‘Save the rhinos,’” writes friend Michael from his post at the MLA, which, via some strange karma is headquartered in John D. Rockefeller’s former Standard Oil Building.
When desire becomes intention, lose the intention.
Titles of books you’d like to write but probably never will:
The material life of symbols.
Donald, his uncle and his nephews, all ducklectic materialists. If it walks…
How and where you are is in some way mediated by how and where you believe yourself to be: q.v. Quixote.
White people ate most of the world, but their eyes outpaced their stomachs and now, no surprises, it’s reflux time.
Quantum satis, mon amour.
THIS PAGE HAS SOME PROBLEMS.
Proud sponsors of: The Melian Dialogue.
Lucidides: the mother of history.
Dao as birthright. Getting out of and into the Way.
Cultivating the Dao occurs in the human body. The outside body is not the Dao, wrote Sun Xi Kun in Ba Gua Quan Zhen Chuan.
And yes: “three thousand and six hundred side doors, and seventy-two heterodox paths…”
Caution: un bain marie is not the same as Marie dans un bain.
We stand in awe before the great repository of unwisdom.
A city in quiet convulsions.
Baron George-Eugène Hausmann, Prefect of the Seine, and soi dissant “artiste-démolisseur” (artist-demolisher) of Vieux Paris, during the years 1853-1870, appointed to his post by Napoleon III.
Haussman, in turn, created the position of official photographer of the City of Paris for Charles Marville, who documented in detail, and with exquisite nuance, the quarters of the city that, henceforth, would be no more. Today, the photographs, many of them albumen silver prints from glass negatives, read as thresholds, almost curtains of qi, in which the past, somehow, remains, even as the future emerges out of blankness, like tones upon the paper in a developer bath. Encountered in the wan light of modernity’s end, these pictures renounce their duple claim. Neither nostalgia nor nihilism can hold them fixed.
Four dogs, three bones, two funerals and a bris.
Yes, yes, the poor ol’ Lone Ranger, out there on the plane, having himself a Tontological crisis.
What exactly about a human being is not a sheep?
keep.com and carrion.
All so that Baudelaire could say, in “Le Cynge” (à Victor Hugo)
Le vieux Paris n’est plus (la form d’une ville
Change plus vite, helas! que le cour d’un mortel).
Old Paris is no more (the form of a city
Changes more swiftly, alas!, than a mortal heart).
And that – avec sagesse mais sans helas:
“Mes chers frères, n’oubliez jamais, quand vous entendrez vanter le progrès des lumières, que la plus belle des ruses du Diable est de vous persuader qu’il n’existe pas!”
“Never forget, dear brothers, when you hear them tout the progress of enlightenment, that the devil’s most beautiful trick is to persuade you that he does not exist!”
[from “Le joueur généreux,” “The Generous Gambler,” Le spleen de Paris]
The problem of 2.
The offshored self.
What is the most natural thing on earth?
As Paris coalesced in the middle ages, it grew a “belly”: the agglomerative Halles, heavy, and resting on massive piers of stone. Which lasted until the Napoleon III decreed a tummy-tuck. The new Halles permitted no masonry, it gestured toward the heavens: steel and glass “umbrellas only!” decreed the Little Corporal’s nephew. And so that rose, still connected to Rue Montorgeuil, the “throat of Paris.”
After ’68, Paris could no longer sustain a belly. And so Les Halles became for several years, Le grand trou, the big hole at the foot of the medieval church of Saint-Eustache. The market itself was resituated south to Rungis, beyond the Péripérique, near Orly airport.
It is one thing to “pierce” a city, as Haussmann described his work. And another thing to remove its viscera and place them some distance from its body. How odd, how very odd we are, to imagine an animal can survive disemboweled.
And then New York: which, beginning in the second half of the 20th century reversed the generative “alchemy” of Daoist belief and placed FIRE (finance, insurance and real estate) above water, i.e., the Great Port, the Hudson, the Erie Canal with its connection to the Great Lakes, the “heartland,” and, by extension, the “breadbasket.”
Water, the Book of Changes and Transformations tells us, tends to sink, to ebb away into the earth. Fire tends to rise, to expend itself heavenward. Thus, by elemental propensity they move opposite one another and doing so cannot generate dynamic energy. But when fire is put below water, steam is the creation: condensation, qi and what we know as life. This is the generative principle of the elements – their interaction, not their separation.
If fire is depleted, no steam can rise. If it burns too hot or fast, it evaporates the water, or the pot boils over and the fire is extinguished. The position of water over fire is key, but the balance of the elements must be carefully maintained: in meditation, in life nourishing qi gong, for the person, for the city.
Without water above it, fire will rise of its own accord, seemingly without limit. It is then, at the moment when the Port was literally deported to New Jersey, that the ultimate towers of fire rose at the shore of the Hudson, fire aspiring, as always toward heaven, shunning, as ever, the earth.
For thirty years the WTC raged out of control. Then, as the seasons turned, as yin came on strong, it became necessary to pour water, in vast quantities, into the only structure of the buildings that remained: its subterranean “bathtub.”
Is it possible to put the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate beneath Water again, with the port objectively gone? Or does the bonfire simply rage on, consuming what it can, before dying down of its own accord?