In the city, evermore feverish competition for infrastructure rights below grade: water, gas, electric, steam, telco (not to mention sewers and subways) – as much as for air rights to cantilever towers over tiny five-story landmarked buildings.
As ever, the spectacular rides on the back of the invisible. On the pavement, a boom in the pavement saw business and an enormous proliferation of manholes.
Still, the hundreds of scaffolds (or “sidewalk sheds” as they’re known in the trade), thrown up for façade work, and the shrouds of new construction, make it all look like it’s coming down. Makes you wonder how we managed so long without canals.
Who authored these streets, these shedded, I was going to say shredded, streets that every day look more like D-Yard at Attica under Rockefeller’s siege.
“I come out of streets where life – life itself! – depends on timing more infinitesimal than the split second, where apprehension must be swifter than the speed of light,” says Baldwin via Hall Montana in his final novel, Just Above My Head.
Split nanosecond, aka the “New York Minute” reactions. Q.v and c.f. Toulouse Lautrec, writing triumphantly to a friend:
“Swept along by the turmoil of the baccalaureate (I succeeded this time)… finally the jury in Toulouse deemed me acceptable, despite the stupidity I displayed in my answers! I gave some quotations from Lucian which don’t exist, and the Professor, wanting to seem learned passed me with open arms…”
Where to locate the border between the freedom of emotional flow and the tyranny of pathologic lockdown? Is there a precise moment or territory in which the transformation occurs? Why is it so easy to penetrate the membranes between, say, ecstasy and hysteria, between awe and fear, between nostalgia and grief, and so difficult to breathe one’s way back across the threshold to the living room side of the looking glass? And the artist, what of the artist who lives to make the journey to Wonderland? Scheherazade, your death-threat sultan is imago – nothing more, nothing less.
The guillotine within.
If a structure exists internally, it exists externally as well. If a structure exists outside of us, it may be found at the site of our innermost.
Yeah? I’ll fuck you up in a new york minute!
I gave some quotations from Lucian that didn’t exist wrote young Toulouse. Though Lucian, author of A True Story (a self-acknowledged work of fiction) would likely have approved.
Lucian, though he claimed his mother tongue was “barbarian” – having been born Assyrian in what is now a part of Turkey inundated by the Ataturk Dam – wrote in Greek, mostly Attic Greek. Attica. Attica. “Attica Means Fight Back.” You had friends in the upstate New York Attica once. And you suspected, even then, that the brave slogan was, in face-saving disguise, a bugle call to run like hell.
At the museum the other day, you revisited an object that, over the years, has drawn you evermore strongly: the marble funerary lekythos of a certain young woman named Kallisthenes. It’s about five feet tall, very beautifully proportioned, and carved around the body in low relief. This time, you copied down the description:
During the fifth and fourth centuries B.C., memorials to the dead sometimes took the form of monumental marble lekythoi. The shape was appropriate, for the lekythos – a vase used exclusively to hold oil – played an important part in funerary preparation and ritual. The figure of Kallisthenes, whose name is inscribed, is shown clasping the hand of a seated man, while a woman raises her hand to her chin in a customary gesture of mourning.
In pictures of you, unless it’s a group shot, your hand is often raised to your chin. And in casual conversation, you find your hand straying there. Who knew? Who knew?
Low relief. Customary.
Lives of the Anime.
Where would our “attention, once liberated from the endlessly spendthrift thirst for knowledge, focus”? Jullien says where, on p. 31 of Vital Nourishment: Departing from Happiness.
Nameless it is the origin of all things;
Named it is the mother of myriad things.
Therefore always be without desire so as to see their subtlety.
And always have desire so as to see their ends.
So Wang Bi comments on the Laozi.
To which Bisio, in Decoding the Dao adds:
Wang Bi’s commentary tells us that “’subtlety’ in this passage means an absolute degree of minuteness. By being without desire and remaining empty we can see the subtlety from which things originate. Yet we should have desire. Desire that is both rooted and in accord with the Dao. Then we can see the ends to which things arrive.”
Two highly visible white American cultural figures, both performers, died on the cusp of January-March 2014. Rolling Stone magazine – Sophie without a choice – goes to press with a portrait of Philip Seymour Hoffman, the actor, on its cover.
And the man who invented what is now known alternatively as the Long Neck or Seeger 5-string banjo, well, So long, it’s been good to know you…
One mentions this not to reprehend, but to notice of the image carved on the lekythoi. And to breathe into the locked-down energy of one’s own Attica of the mind. No, or rather: Guantanamera. Guajira Guantanamera…
Mi verso es de un verde claro
Y de un carmín encendido:
Mi verso es un ciervo herido
Que busca en el monte amparo…
Gracias José por el poema.
Gracias, Josejíto and Herminio por la música.
Y gracias Pete. Por tu oído, y el corazón.
A culling of the herd that has, so far escaped media packaging, only a notice in the Post: “String of baffling JPM banker deaths brews a Morgan mystery.” And it ain’t just JPM. Apparently the occurrence of fatalities among investment bankers home and away has been spiking these past three weeks. The two Morganites went off buildings: one in Hong Kong, the other in Canary Wharf, London. Another was found, possibly poisoned in Stamford, CT.
Among other banker bodies, one was discovered near the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, no cause reported, and another found hanging in a home in South Kensington.
Stop Making Sense.
Does one make sense or does it coalesce and then one notices it?
And sensibility? From what organ or region does that emanate? Can it be cultivated?
O tell me where is fancy bread?
Wotta difference a nay makes.
“Oh, life may be a field of corn and one ear of corn may look very like another: but I’d a whole lot rather dig it as a cornfield than lie about it as a crock,” thinks Hall to himself and us in Baldwin’s Just…
In the early sixth century, Zhong Hong, who Jullien considers to be among the first great Chinese poetic theorists, proposed that imprecision creates its own effect and also goes hand in hand with an infinite triggering of emotion.
“’Whereas its expression remains within the tangible [things one can hear and see], its emotion projects beyond this world.’ The poet, moreover, ‘makes us forget things that are close by and petty in order to raise us into those that are open and far away.’
“…This deployment of meaning (based on concrete images in the poem) tends not to direct the reader toward another, ideal or spiritual meaning but to free the reader from too narrow or ‘petty’ a reading of reality (this poet thus comes close to the tradition of Zhuangzi). Furthermore, this deployment leads us not to reconstruct the meaning on another level (passing from concrete representation to ideas or essences) but to detach ourselves from this level which is the domain of the paltriness of things and references: under the effect of emotional incitement, phenomena communicate something beyond themselves; the vagueness attained by poetic meaning (in going beyond referential constraints) frees us from their opaque and limited presence.”
And in Ukraine, and a hundred blood-soaked soils, the great game roils on – unworthy of its former capitals – though still, he who controls the resources has the power to say who among us will be the ditch-diggers – for we shall still have and be them – and who will engineer the apps to control the ditch-diggers, and who will cultivate of foods and toxins to make the ditch-diggers grow after a fashion and get sick and who will raise up drug-dealers to chill and cure them, and spectacle grinders to dazzle them with their own stolen and distorted features, and media men to make them feel entitled to it all.
Until, that is, Gaia herself makes us think again, or makes us unthinkable.
How to begin to address the ground opened up in Jullien’s Detour and Access: Strategies of Meaning in China and Greece.
It is as though we are confronted, as if for the first time, by words that signify in an entirely different way than our Greek ones do.
Jullien and the Chinese literary theorists he cites use many words to describe this quality of difference: allusiveness, vagueness, indirection, obliquity, incitatory.
For Jullien, “the Chinese poem becomes an indefinite allusion, whose application stretches limitlessly toward a mobility of sentiment. Thus either one decodes the image (univocally), or it becomes elusive – like a state of mind… In either case, however, it does not acquire the consistency of a symbol and does not lend itself to a progressive application of the mind. Nor do we see, in the two levels between which it oscillates – that of (diffuse) emotion and (concentrated) intention – what might be called a sufficiently stable and constructible level of representativeness.”
This is the place to put our stone. We shall return to the Go board again and see what the new configuration is when, via some “hidden hand,” our opposite stone magically appears.
A new game entirely, not merely a moving of goal posts. For we have staked all on the power of representation, and on the power of locating “real” meaning at an entirely different level. And in this new game, the line between literal and figurative blurs, but not for lack of distinction, but because the string vibrates too fast for us to fix its position.
When, in the literature of the U.S. and Western Europe did the first person definitively drop its implicit we?
When adjectives become nouns, batten the hatches, upside-down.
For over thirty years, from the end of WWII deep into the 1970s, African American culture made a heroic and ultimately exhausting effort to bring itself and white perception to its senses. In which light, the counter-cultural explosion of the 1960s appears as an epiphenomenon.
The intent, whether conscious or not, was to awaken oneself and others to reality. The evidence of this full court press of a nearly entire population within a population may be found everywhere: in politics, rhetoric, music – in short throughout “high” and vernacular production of texts and artifacts. Never have we possessed a richer vernacular, one more replete with wisdom: with hammers of warning and bells of possible glory.
Part of my motive in writing about James Baldwin is that, taken together, or considered as separate works, his oeuvre distills the liberatory spirit of the age, unencumbered by false hope or rosy nostalgia for a “way we never were.”
A steadfast narrator of a quicksand, quicksilver moment, nowhere in Baldwin’s deep and capacious work will you find, as the saying went, “a bullshit tip.”
He was also, from what I can see, the last American literary writer of influence beyond cult status to use the first person and mean “we.” Read him next to Burroughs and you will feel the shaking in your bones of the ghost road not taken.
Too bad, Ma. So long, Tom Joad. Goodbye, Messrs. Chips and Charley.
Out, out brief Ken Doll.
In the West, though, as in China, how to negotiate the endless dance of the emblematic and the concrete?
Buffon, the great naturalist and rigorous observer of the inter-relation and inter-action of things, proposes the warbler and turtle dove as, respectively, emblems of “inconstant” and “faithful” love. Yet he acknowledges that the emblem cannot be sustained against the nature of the concrete: “The warbler, lively and gay, is neither less loving nor less faithful because of it, and the turtledove, sad and plaintive, is only the more scandalously libertine.”
For Mencius, words that are “simple,” while their “meaning is far-reaching,” are “good words.” Rather than attempt to reveal mysteries or address abstruse principles, the Sage speaks only of the most ordinary things, those belonging to day-to-day experiences. Yet the ordinary proposition may gate into infinite depth.
Likewise The Book of Changes is praiseworthy because “Its terms are few, but their analogic resonance is vast, its meaning far-reaching, its expression harmonious.”
The above several paragraphs plucked and tweaked from Jullien’s Detour…
And, as if to lend an affirming breeze from another quarter, word comes via email from a writer friend:
Sharing with you a New York moment.
I bought a power strip at a lighting-hardware store near Union Square yesterday. The company is Powtech. On the back of the package, “Made in China exclusively.” Also, “Designed and Engineered in U.S.A.” There are two statements, in very small letters:
“Tranquility is beauty. Equanimity is joy.” (on the front)
“When you think about hope and humanity the mind” (on the black, blurry)
The URL given, www.powtechonline.com, makes the browser say, “Oops.” Searching Powtech takes one to a company in Nuremberg, Germany.
The hardware store was filled with Chinese New Year decorations, hangings.
The wise, according to the Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor (Huang Di Nei Jing) observe their sameness. The foolish observe their differences.
Though it isn’t said so directly, it seems that Orpheus went mad in those transfigured mountains, Rhodope and Haemus.
By the third time Helios finished the year in watery Pisces, Orpheus had completely renounced the love of women. Whether this was due to some serpentine guilt-aversion at having failed Eurydice, or some other cause, who can say?
But women still found him irresistible and it is posited that – though none of his assailants depicted in the known images are maenads – that the Dionysettes put a hurting on him in revenge for his scorn. Lord knows that lots of women who get involved with musicians end up wanting to kill them, and sometimes they do. But it is said in Ovid and elsewhere, that Orpheus did not turn celibate, but rather originated among the Thracians, “the practice of transferring the affections to youthful males, plucking the first flower in the brief springtime of their early manhood.” (Charles Martin, trans.)
Which puts not a new twist, but rather a deeper spin on Bernie Schwartz’s line to Issur Danielovich Demsky: “I love you, Spartacus.”
O brave new world that hath such Thracians innit!
Shining from the eyes: the spirit, or the spirit of madness. How subtle a turning.
Under a plain black awning between 20th and 21st Streets on the east side of Ninth Avenue in Chelsea, a very odd narrow little storefront.
A joint outpost of an upmarket “skin care” brand, Aesop – the unguents, à la Love Potion #9, presumably mixed right there in the sink, and the Paris Review, whose latest and most recent issues are prominently displayed. The walls, as is evident from the photo, are literally papered with spreads from the journal’s back numbers.
Discerning eyes will note – at the lower right corner – the visage of George Plimpton: fortunate son, Harvard and King’s College alum, PR editor and CIA “agent of influence,” wearing customary tuxedo and bow tie, pasted next to a mysterious white box on the baseboard.
O tell me, George, now sitting as one assumes you do at the celestial right hand of Allen Dulles – tell me O tower of American Century aristo-intelligentsia: What’s the good weird?
Every sink needs a plug.
And a drain.
Some MFA writing programs teach haiku.
Others skip the hai part and just go straight for the coup.
And you, O reader – when you sit down, where does your ass land?
To what gods do you sacrifice? And what is the nature of your offering? Will blood flow, and if so, whose?
What does your sacrifice ent(r)ail?
Ephebiphobia. Yes, for real: fear and loathing of the young.
Rebuke the devourer, rebuke the devourer: a favorite line of a much revil’d if not indicted ‘80s televangelist, Pastor Robert Tilton. Who, apparently, was Jerry Lee Lewis’s cousin and quite a showman in his own right, being wont to weep and speak in tongues. Which he seemed to relish every moment of. A very oral guy. But rebuke the devourer, what a fun mouthful to utter!
Early bird, late city.
The great defenistrations are just beginning.
Cultivate the wild.
The Macademy Awards:
The road to hell is paved.
Intentions reveal themselves sponte sua.
Incite and outasite.
Of course I write this way: I grew up in that ear.
You mean when they practiced the i-love-lucyian mysteries?
Yes, and the fashionable nymphs all read Harpies Bizarre.
And the radio played “Teen Angel” by Dionysius and the Bellerophons…
So you’ve heard of them – well I’ll be an ithyphallic mule!
Yeah, old school. You ride on, daddy-o, ride on.
According to Thomas H. Carpenter, who writes on the art and myth of Ancient Greece, a certain Kleitias, painter of what has come to be known as the François Vase, a black-figure Attic vessel from the 6th century B.C., the artist is not interested in “the relation between time, space and action, but, like most Archaic artists, leaves them for the viewer to provide.”
Throw away lines, Bryan Ferry observes laconically in “Out of the Blue,” often ring true.
The lever. The levered. The full crumb.
The way light refracts passing through a prison.
Freight train, freight train, run so fast
Freight train, freight train, run so fast
Please don’t tell which train I’m on
They won’t know what route I’ve gone…
Sang Elizabeth Cotten oncet.
No history, no spine.
America perforce: an invertebrate culture. Hence attempts to stand upright, well…
And, of course, Americans – for more reasons that one can shake a stick at – suffer from back pain, or more accurately, phantom back pain: which is to say real pain felt in a missing spine.
The project then becomes pain management. And displacement.
The most difficult thing is to maintain.
If we are to survive this age, we must become electrickians.
How many “k”s in America?
Another chip off the old blague.
I lost my junk to the heart man.