Thursday, May 29, 2008
I’ve read more Beckett than Proust. Krapp’s Last Tape. An explicit articulation of time as layered and accumulated - a pile of speech, language. Scorning while also being one’s own younger rendition. I imagine the act of recording it: Now speak as yourself, but 30 years younger, and more confident, though equally critical of yourself, than the version of you that you will later perform. Or I think about Happy Days. The mound of dirt on the enclosed space of the stage gets hugely enlarged in the film version by Patricia Rozema (on Beckett on Film), where Winnie’s mound is in a huge, ever-expanding sand dune that breaks my heart even more. (Wait I’ve never even seen it staged…) But here it is space that is at once dilated and compressed, while the time, (I think I recall…), is trapped Miss Haversham-like…
One of the instigators to the current thought, a performance of bunraku – Japanese puppet theater – the literature of its script is interesting in that it is intended for one person, the tayu (chanter), to speak/sing/narrate all the characters in one particular scene, accompanied by shamisen (lute-like instrument). Though there is an absolutely impressive synchronization between the three people operating each puppet, the tayu, and the shamisen player, the nugget of convention that felt new to me is that for each new scene, as a new chanter appears to replace the old, the new chanter picks up in the middle of the last sentence of the preceding. Nevermind the curtains closing and re-opening, the set change, the announcement of the new chant/shamisen pair – the text is continuous. It reminds me of something Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop claim to do, which is to read exceptionally long novels during times of transition (like when moving to Paris), so that amidst all the numerous changes and instabilities, the text continues. I've been reading VP’s book, Dies, but was not able to complete in one sitting – and each time I part with it, the incomplete sentence hovers, suspended, waiting.
This thread of continuity all over western choral music – the soprano part holding on to a single note while all the other parts shift below it – less a segue, more a transition – which is how I feel after having moved, yet again, to a new country, for for the first time not alone but with someone, a partner, a big fat thread of continuity amidst transition. On a smaller scale, hamburgers, or to be more “precise,” hamburgs. Some degree of shock, upon moving to the US, that the meat in hamburgers usually consists of meat and nothing else. In Japan there is no bun, lettuce, nor tomato, but the oval of meat is presented in its own right, a poor-man’s steak, if you will – often topped with sauce. For as little as I cook, I’ve always known that Japanese hamburgs also contained egg, milk, bread crumbs, and that the term for such additions was tsunagi, or connector – lest the particles of meat try to come apart while cooking. It is also used in the making of other low-elasticity food items, like soba. It could also be useful in earthquake-proofing buildings. Maybe. Other tsunagi: rebound-relationships, DJs and their beatmatching, a time when I thought of a segue as some sort of “way.”
Something else I like in bunraku is the reversal of scale. In most western puppetry the puppet is a fraction the size of the puppeteer, hence articulating a power dynamic between the controller and controlled. In bunraku the puppet is almost life-size. The fact that all the puppeteers (three per puppet) are visible feels like a process/product relationship I’d like to think about later, but for now, their size – the three puppeteers scurry around with a subtle madness, in order to accommodate all the movements of the doll, which is controlled not from above, with strings, but from behind and below. (And, dressed in black and crawling about…they do look a little bit ant-like, too.)
And a note from China, last week: in a show of officially enforced mourning, three straight days of earthquake coverage on every TV channel, worrying the NBA basketball fans.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
“There’s no time for a doctor.” Watkins did not look to see, but he knew the light was still flaring in the sky. Nor did he add that there might never be time for a doctor again. “Here! Let me lead you!” He grabbed the attendant’s arms. Watkins did not know the man. He was merely trying to help a fellow human being.
“Get away from me! Don’t touch me.” Jerking free, the attendant fumbled his way into the shack on the lot. Watkins caught a glimpse of him trying to use the phone. Tom did not wait to see more. Nor did he try to use his car. He knew that in seconds, before he could get it turned around, it might be so much twisted metallic junk.
Unless he reached the shelter quickly, Tom Watkins knew that he too might be just so much twisted human junk. He headed for the shelter, running all the way.
Monday, May 26, 2008
Silver says she'll speak soon -- see subsequent site significations.
Meanwhile, for those of you who don't know, (though most of you do), the Les Figues Rummage Sale/Reading was postponed because of rain. We don't get say that much in Los Angeles, so what a treat. Hope you'll come out for the new date -- Saturday, June 7. We have everything from a bicycle to a TV to a small wire shelf to a child-size mannequin (one arm missing).
Sunday, May 25, 2008
That bird..a forgotten language as Merwin has said. That individual bird.
a. Is it possible?
b. Is it possible for me?
I liked the Raven King in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell...but then, he was not a bird and the birds didn't talk in that book.
An aside…I seem inclined NOT to do what I intend to do in my writing. It would be nice if I could find that secret avian lingo, but I seem to always be finding instead that mystery thing, that place where I feel we cannot pass, where we are blocked. I cannot write a bird talking. I can only write that bird as something whose talking we can never quite hear.
Another aside…Starlings are gorgeous and gorgeously reflective—we can only sort of see them. Their feathers reflect enormous amounts of UV light. We cannot see this, we do not really see them, but other starlings and other birds do. Bees also see UV.
Aside No. 3…Starlings are not native to the United States. They were released in 1890 and 1891 into NY’s Central Park by Eugene Schieffelin. He wanted to populate the U.S. with every bird ever mentioned in any bit of William Shakespeare’s writing. He only succeeded with the starling
When he lies asleep,
And in his ear I’ll holla ‘Mortimer!’
I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak
Nothing but ‘Mortimer,’ and give it him,
To keep his anger still in motion.
[1st Henry IV – I, 3]
Aside 4…this is why (in case you are wondering) many ecologists dislike these birds…they are what is termed invasive. But, to prevent another aside, I will not go into my rant about the inappropriateness of such loaded terms when applied by humans onto other organisms that we moved around the world ourselves.
Final aside...In case Shakespeare hadn't tipped you off, pet starlings are excellent mimics. They are complex communicators and there is a study that suggests that starlings are capable of recursion--something, according to linguists, necessary for language construction. They have amazing songs and I saw one singing and waving his wings in circles the other night, it made me smile. [We were, in fact, waiting outside to pick up our tickets for the very nice Shearwater show and I think you should listen to their new album Rook. ]
I tend to fragment. It is my way of qualifying, of bowing down, of trying to be as careful as possible, or perhaps, of trying to get as much of the various voices in my head heard (one says…this….and the other says…that…) Wittig says we women feel the need to justify our presence in the social realm, is that what I am doing? I certainly apologize a lot.
What I’m reading and listening to…Just finished Midwinter Day and will finish Roper’s witch book tonight. You’ll notice I am slow. I am thinking about our relationship to children…or mine. I had a nice day with mine which was a relief because I’ve been pretty cranky lately.
In the witch book, the children they thought were evil were put away for more than a year. This was near the end of the witching trials and the whole nature of the accusations and trials were shifting and breaking apart (this is, says Roper, why the children became the possessors of evil rather than those possessed by evil ones (old ladies)). Here were some ideas they came up with—limit the kids food (one child’s mother apparently starved her to death), beat the kids several times a week, make the kids sleep during the day and stay awake at night for the devil is most active at night—unfortunately, this last approach seemed to lead to an increase in fantasy and susceptibility not a decrease. They were released finally, back in the families that turned them over to the court in the first place…fearing their evil natures (silica and excrement). Masturbation was difficult for the adults to deal with as were the little games of Christ on the Cross (With real piercings). How do you put your mind here. Something reminds me of Realms of the Unreal—a line to and through Darger?
Anyway, Midwinter Day’s children are very alive. The book made me think of how much language is being lost in our house as we just try to survive and do the best we can.
How do we get to this difference, where every little moment with the children matters so...from that place of knives in the mattress and children behind locked doors?
Have you heard of Opal Whiteley’s diary? I stumbled on it reading a children’s book we’d picked up at the library. The diary is either true or not, but is intriguing to me as I am starting to get back interested in Americana of the period between 1800 and 1950. I also have a book of excerpts from the diaries and journals of pioneer woman so we’ll see.
I’ve got that German witch blood, the blood of folks in their covered wagons and those loggers all mixed around. There’s some kind of intersection that is trying to make itself heard. It’s easy to dismiss them all as part, or all, of the problem.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
"Here's your stimul--" So far Dr. Speransky got, then stopped speaking as an intolerably bright light flared in the sky. Up toward Pasadena, the light might be over the Rose City, it might be over downtown Los Angeles. Its distance was hard to estimate but its brightness was not. The experiments were conducted in the following manner. When it flared in the sky, the sunlight seemed to fade away into a dim glow. Dr. Frolov caught only a glimpse of the light out of the corner of his eyes. Dr. Speransky looked straight at it. Dropping the special stimulus, he clapped his hands over his eyes and began to scream, "I'm blind! I'm blind!"
No Sound accompanied the light. On many occasions a phase of equalization of the reflexes was observed after administration of the buzzer, the reflexes often diminshing and the animal declining the food.
Dr. Frolov did not need anyone to tell him what this light was. He knew instantly the source from which it came, knew this better than he knew his own name, knew it with an absolute sureness. A positive effect, in the form of a salivary secretion, was a direct evidence of the tone having definite excitatory properties. "Come on, man! There's no time to waste."
Monday, May 19, 2008
Saturday, May 24th
9am-4pm* (picnic at 3:30; reading at 5 pm)
2776 La Salle, Los Angeles, CA 90018
Yes, come help us raise money for Les Figues by joining in the fabulous rummage sale, a delicious picnic, plus an exciting “rummage reading,” featuring Anthony McCann, Janice Lee, Harold Abramowitz, Matias Viegener, Mathew Timmons, Laura Vena, and YOU!
How can you help?
1) Donate items you think someone else may have a use for. Here’s your chance to give that porcelain vase collecting dust in the attic, that well-loved side-table, or that yellowed copy of Paradise Lost, a great new home. Email Teresa (email@example.com) to let us know what items you have and to solidify drop off arrangements.
2) Saturday 9 AM- 4 PM: Come browse and buy wonderful knick knacks!
3) Saturday 3:30 PM: Join us for a picnic meal. Bring your favorite summer dish or drink to share. Eat, socialize, and browse the rummage!
4) Saturday 5 PM: Participate in our “Rummage Reading.” Dig through your old writings, journals, poems, rants, and bring something old, something you’ve forgotten about, something you haven’t read in a long time and share it with the rest of us!
All proceeds benefit Les Figues Press.
Friday, May 16, 2008
"Here's your tick--" So far the attendant got, then stopped speaking as an intolerably bright light flared in the sky. Up toward Pasadena, the light might be over the Rose City, it might be over downtown Los Angeles. Its distance was hard to estimate but its brightness was not. It was brighter than the sun. When it flared in the sky, the sunlight seemed to fade away into a dim glow. Tom Watkins caught only a glimpse of the light out of the corner of his eyes. The parking lot attendant looked straight at it. Dropping the ticket, he clapped his hands over his eyes and began to scream, "I'm blind! I'm blind!"
No Sound accompanied the light. Not yet.
Tom Watkins did not need anyone to tell him what this light was. He knew instantly the source from which it came, knew this better than he knew his own name, knew it with an absolute sureness. He looked toward the street long enough to locate the round circle, the A, and the pointing arrow, then jerked the door of his car open and leaped out. "Come on, man! There's no time to waste."
Friday, May 9, 2008
Hey, Graymalkin Here’s my weird mix; Midwinter Day by Bernadette Mayer, Women, The New York School And Other Abstractions by Maggie Nelson (a critical text de jour at least on this coast?), Grave of Light by Alice Notley—ok so these make sense—Signs of Life by Eduardo Kac, Social Network Analysis by John Scott, Wayfare by Patiann Rogers, Artscience by David Edwards—I guess they still are marginally related (a network diagram might help matters, see fig. 1 below and thanks to Debra di Blasi for her inspirational Jiri Chronicles network—quail make strange networks), Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany by Lyndal Roper, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (to my kids) and Clutch of Constables by Ngaio Marsh because my brain hurts.
When shall we three
I also recently read The Seal Mother by Mordicai Gerstein. Have you read it? The legend of the selkie reminds me of the movie by John Sayles, The Secret of Roan Inish which I really liked (me being the “love little kids floating off in coracles” type) but have not watched recently. I do remember wanting the little girl to be my own daughter—my daughter is similar and different in her own way.
In thunder, lightening
In The Seal Mother, the selkie takes off her seal skin on midsummer’s night and dances as a woman in the moonlight. Her skin is stolen by a fisherman who coerces her to marry him for seven years. They have a son who overhears her pleading with her husband (after seven years) for her skin back. He replies that he will not leave his son without a mother and that she must promise not to leave them…a promise she refuses to make. The son finds the skin and returns it to his mother who carries him to sea for a visit with her family and then returns him to a life out of the water, with periodic visitations.
So, when I read this to my kids last week (not for the first time) I stopped short at the conversation between the husband and wife, spoken in earshot of the child. There was something embedded in the story about what a woman is before children and what she is after and how her choices are made. One thing I liked very much was that her choice to return to a life in the sea was not viewed as a selfish decision (despite the fact that she was clearly not “opting-out”). Of course, the coercion by the father mitigates what society might sea as selfishness (oh that evil thing) on the part of the mother but still, I wonder what sort of streams of longing have run through this legend and its many iterations over the ages.
[As an aside: Here's how our writing can confuse those we love--Willie has commented after reading my blog that now everyone will know when I leave him with the kids that it was coming as I am, apparently, a selkie. I should have been clearer that my thinking about the selkie was more about a woman finding some piece of her self, separate, than physically finding herself a separate piece from the family. No, Willie, my leaving is not imminent despite the fact that the kids gave me my skin back for mother's day.].
I think, by the way, my interpretation of this story, myth, in this light is in part because of my own circumstance (I feel guilty even comparing them…no I do not want to abandon my children…but then where am I?) and in part because reading Mayer and Notely at this point in my life, when I have a more mature brain, has been incredibly liberating.
And what did that woman, that seal mother, do all day while he was out fishing and her own skin dried up, waiting for her, in the hidden cave, below the waterline.
Ere the set of sun
Older, postreproductive women bore the brunt of the witch trials. I’m getting older, though I not yet post repro (but done with being pregnant that’s for damn sure). Sometimes I am in a frenzy as I hammer nails into my own coffin—because this part of my life is over and this part and this part and holy shit I even look old.
I wish age was power, but it sure as shit is not right now, anyway, especially for a woman, especially when Madonna looks like a plastic replica of her self (now how the hell much work has she had done? Oh but those hands, my my...something we all should start worrying about right away)
but look at this lady (Karaikkal Ammaiyar, in a sculptural representation from the Metropolitan Museum of Art):
Here’s a translation (not by me) of one of her poems to her god, Siva:
The ground is damp with liquid marrow--
Skeletal ghouls with sunken eyes
jostle and elbow--
looking furtively around them
extinguishing the fires
with gleeful hearts
they eat half-burned corpses--
There, in that menacing forest
holding fire in his hand
dances our beautiful lord.
Not to get into problems of a) interpreting ancient Southeast Asian experience with modern English/Welsh/German/American eyeballs (but hey, there’s some suggestion the Celts and the ancient Indians making the Vedas were pretty damn close, brothers and sisters and such), and b) the problem of our feminist brains trying to overlay interpretation on saints of any stripe who forsook their material lives for spiritual spouses. But isn’t that a nice poem. It’s the sort of poem that makes folks in the west stereotype Siva as a fearful god. But you know, one meditation technique in both Buddhist and Hindu approaches to yoga is to imagine one’s death—to meditate on it. For those of us who’ve had that suicidal thing it’s a lot healthier than fighting it—recognize death and allow the self a little bit of time not to be weighed down. It makes it easier to come back.
When the battles lost
Anyway…I’m off subject. I was thinking about old women and the way they’ve been dismissed and demonized. The accused witches might have found their only little piece of power in the fear in the eyes of the judges and the assembled witch tribunal—the better the story the greater their sense of power in those moments before the fire was lit or the noose was strung.
But look at Karaikkal Ammaiyar. She is old (the legend is she wished to be so and her beauty was taken). Her breasts are pointed and sagging--in great contrast to representations of rounded goddesses of medieval India (see picture I took at the Museum left)--her head bald. (Her elongated ears are a not uncommon trait found on Buddhist and Hindu devotional sculptures at the time). She’s considered “a hag” by some…but wow, she’s beautiful and powerful and attractive to Siva (and isn’t that what we all want…or at least some of us, or, well…, anyway…). Ok, my point, where’s the hag in western spiritual traditions except on the pyre.
And one more picture: Chamunda, horrific destroyer of evil (Taken by me again, at The Met--that's what I was doing during AWP, staring at Chamunda and wishing for a scorpion on my belly instead of stretch marks. Maybe I'll get a tattoo). She's a good one to have on your side and I've never found anything like her around here.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Recently received: journals starting with the letter C: Calque, Circumference, Conduit. Recently read: poetry in the form of not-poetry – a la Julio Cortazar & Carol Dunlop (Autonauts of the Cosmoroute), R. W. Fassbinder (In a year with 13 moons).
Unique about Calque: Reviews of books in translation by reviewers who speak both the language of the original and translation, and often include critiques of other reviews of same book. Other contents include a rich array of literature from the world, always bilingual, always with a contextualizing note from the translator. And interviews.
The Cortazar/Dunlop book is my new, favorite antithesis to Kerouac’s On the Road: they move insanely slowly (the distance between Paris and Marseille, France over 33 days instead of one day) – and write a book while they're at it, replete with scientific observations (the “cartography of the country of a tree”), a series of fictional misinterpretations, notes to the reader, travel log, photos. One rule: that they must not leave the autoroute for the entire duration of their trip.
Writing about: ants, still. Jack Spicer taught me about writing in series, and that they (the series) will let me know when they were done. I was quite sure that the ants had left me, but as it turns out, they’ve returned. Not unwelcomely, just with a mild perplexion and wonder – will I ever know that they have truly left?
Wish someone would republish: Semantic Divertissements by Franciszka and Stefan Themerson.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
If you ever hear of aaaaaaaaaaalice coming to your town, or even better, if you ever have a chance to participate—Go! Read! Listen! Enjoy!
Meanwhile, we have Jennifer Karmin here, at Les Figues, as a guest blogger for the next six months.
Saturday, May 3, 2008
So be on the look-out for posts by Sawako Nakayasu and Vanessa Place, Jennifer Calkins and Harold Abramowitz, and more, to be revealed.
Meanwhile, we'll also continue to post information here about Les Figues events and general news.
Friday, May 2, 2008
Thursday, May 1, 2008
Praise for A Happy Man
“A delightful, unusual, highly individual book, with a gentle wisdom, sometimes disturbing or amusing or both, but always very distinctive. I enjoyed it, story by story, greatly, but the total atmosphere exceeds the sum of its parts.” – Claude Rawson, author of God, Gulliver and Genocide and editor of The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, IV
“The unique quality of Axel Thormählen's stories lies in their integrity of subject, action, and expression. They refuse to be dissected or peeled like an onion. Each is a jewel in one's hand, a luminous presence to be acknowledged whole.”
– Thomas Vargish, author of Inside Modernism: Relativity Theory, Cubism, Narrative