Sunday, November 30, 2008

Breaking the Necessary Silence

One of Bataille's impossibilities ( I would call them contradictions, but a contradiction is a fault of discourse--a limitation from which Bataille would have poetry break free: music, the slave of its instrument, will know freedom only in destroying the instrument that gives it voice.

Silence again.

... most of the day preparing submissions: poetry.


I've never been able to come up with an answer--a motive, that wasn't a cliche, an outright lie, a bit of rhetorical nonsense (I send my poems into the world as I send my children... rubbish. My poems are not my children. A metaphor with no meaning, no effect but to erase the question without addressing it).

"Then why do you write poems?"

That's a question I don't have to answer.

Or rather, the only answer... silence.

Bataille tells us that poetry is a cry without language, beyond language... that cannot exist but with language.

A contradiction that is both the creation of language, and beyond it.

In silence, the contradiction and its resolution are at peace. The lion and the lamb. The asp in the hand of the child. Death and silence.

That is not a world we are able to live in. To sustain ourselves, everything must be put to use, and in using and being used (the music played on the instrument of language... what language is for) ... we lose the sovereignty of being human.

Our only defense... language that becomes the silence.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Georges Bataille: The Imposibility of Poetry

The essays in the beginning of Georges Bataille's THE ABSENCE OF MYTH, Writings on Surrealism. are primarily of interest for the light they shed on Bataille's early conflicts and later reconciliation with André Breton and on the history of surrealism: its flowering between the wars and transformation and reemergence after the liberation. The later essays deserve consideration in their own right, quite apart from their place in the history of a literary movement.

I would single out "War and the Philosophy of the Sacred, "Poetry and the Temptation of the End of the World," and "Surrealism and God," but those on Jacques Prévert, (From the Stone Age to Jacques Prévert), René Char (René Char and the Force of Poetry), Camus' (The Rebel (The Age of Revolt), and his critique of Blanchot on Sade (Happiness, Eroticism and Literature) represent aesthetic critical thinking above and beyond.

Begin with the impossible. And never back off.

If you want to think about, to write about "literature" (I am more and more estranged from this word... let's go back in time and call it all poetry... and what doesn't come up to poetry (or merely aspires to it without overwriting all earlier attempts to define it, is merely "literature." What we called the glossy hand-outs at the auto show when I was a kid in the 50's).

"...poetry is...literature which is no longer literary, which escapes from the rut in which literature is generally entrapped. For us, 'poetic' cannot have a set value in the same way as an Anjou wine or a fabric (Hear that, Mr. Wood!) (p. 138) ... if you want to think about poetry, there's no where else to begin.

... but with the impossible.

You have volunteered to be shackled to two draft horses. They are pulling, one to the north, one to the south. Your job, if you choose to accept it, is to never give way to one side or the other, even as they tear you, body and soul, asunder.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sad sad news for Philly....

Robins Bookstore is closing

This just breaks my heart. Losing an old and dear friend. So many memories tied up with this store, the readings, the best poetry selection in the city... I want to cry

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ana Girl Cult: A Theology of Anorexia

I first recognized the tendency to reify this disorder in the life (and death) of Simone Weil. I have long been disturbed by the simple minded treatment of anorexia by the media and in popular lore: as though it were something young girls caught by looking at photos of skinny fashion models. There's clearly much more to this--a far more complicated disorder, and painfully difficult to treat. This tendency to imagine it as kind of spiritual exercise, a religion of death--something I thought about when I wrote my short story, A Theology of Anorexia, imaging the sensibility of a Weil in the life of a young American woman.

Nancy Maya Sloan's story, Ana Girl, published by Driftwood Press is a long, first person account of a recent internet cult of anorexics--a disturbing "support network," that makes a virtual religion of self-starvation. I wasn't aware of this until last night at a reading of Maya's story.

There's also a book, Holy Anorexia, on ascetic practices in the middle ages. I came across this after I'd written my story, working in a bank of radiographic transcriptionists. The woman next to me: a 40 something anorexic, who at one point weighed less than 70 pounds. People would get off the elevator when she entered... thinking she had AIDS or some other contagious disease.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Reality Chickens Come Home to Roost

Dan Green responds to Nigel Beal.

Once more with feeling: the boogey man of Realism.

And once again, my problem with literary realism begins with the problem of assuming that "reality" --of world or character, is something we just know when we see it. That it is not, in fact, the problem.

I don't understand what Nigel, or anyone, means by "natural;" and as what we take as "real" in the physical world is for physicists but a sensual phantasmagoria, so too, the apparent reality of character and self. What is more, it doesn't take special tools and measurements to notice this. While we can never entirely escape the phantasmagoria of character, self, society--it is a stage setting riddled with holes, anything but a seamless impenetrable surface. We have but to close our eyes in sleep and it shatters into splinters and fragments... or to open them--to rouse ourselves from our habitual waking sleep to realize that the phantom reality is not a given of the objective world, but a shimmering mutable composite, a collective creation.

This is not for me an inference drawn from abstract thought, but rather, an attempt to name what is otherwise an unnameable experience, how I find myself un-made in this world again and again.

How then, as a writer concerned with reality, am I to ignore this, ignore the tattered fabric, the frayed threads and ribbons fluttering in the wind of a reality beyond that of the phantasmagoria? What possible motive to do so other than to tell lies, to bring false comfort; why would I want to do nothing more than polish mirrors for readers to use to behold images of our shared illusions of self and world?

And why would I want to read what is neither comfort, nor even an escape, but a mockery of our fragmented reality, of our effort to build together a humanly habitable place in a world that is anything but whole?

As I noted in a comment I left on Legendumst, what the blinkered pursuit of the "natural," (maybe we should call it "lifeyness,")generates. are Reality Chickens: the Reality Chickens of commercial fiction… Reality Chicken factories safely caged laying our breakfast eggs on command, turning themselves, shmoo-like, into oceans of identical artery clogging nuggets."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Dont' bother your father, he's feeding his ancestors"

An exert from ThinkBuddha, Will Buckingham's blog, touches on the writing process, on how our brains delegate authority.

The thought, that is to say, emerges in the writing, and if it doesn’t emerge, I save the article as a draft so that, if I feel like it, I can come back to it later. To write – to use the image from Russell Hoban that I have quoted here before – is to (or to attempt to) make friends with your own head. This idea implies, quite correctly it seems to me, that our own heads go their own merry way without taking the trouble to ask us if that is OK. They do their stuff, and we do ours. And when they do things that we don’t like, we claim not to be in our right mind (“What was I thinking of..?”) whilst when they do things that we do like, we congratulate ourselves and tell us how clever we are.

But who, we might ask, is taking the credit here? Not the brain, but the noisy, garrulous self that seems ( to my mind at least – a curious expression in the present circumstances…) to pop in and out of existence, to come and go on whim. It is as if, in the busy office that makes up the mind, there is one colleague at least who, whenever he shows up for work (and, for much of the time, the work goes on far better without him) can’t help going on and on about what he is up to, about how important he is to the running of the whole show, about how the decisions that he made last week (his colleagues are too polite to point out that he was, in fact, mysteriously absent when the real work was happening) have been so successful that he is going to award himself a further bonus and a pat on the back…
I've had several ideas buzzing around in my own brain but I realize I'm not ready for them... or they're not ready for me. They buzz and fly about, but nowhere near ready to come in for a landing. Reviewing Bataille on Surrealism just stirred them up all the more. This is related (one of those buzzing flies) to something that came up at the end my of post on The Rhetoric of Hope, and was more my purpose in writing it than the stuff about Obama--though I only discovered this at the end:

The word 'literature' should be retired as the all-inclusive term for imaginative writing.

It will do for those four color fold-outs they give you at auto shows, or for Establishment Literary Fiction--all that stuff that's been chewed up digested and regurgitated as corporate feel-good pabulum, the stage dressing for our everybody's-a-participant Consumer Reality Show. All that stuff out there to seduce us into becoming believers...believing that this wonderful paper-moon fabrication is REAL.
Something about poetry punching through.
The words punching through ... like buzzing flies.

That what we used to call 'literature'... we can best recognize (an American colloquialism I happen to like) in poetry--where commercial success offers you no hand (and no cross-signals) in judging the good from the drech.
I'm telling you, I haven't thought this through yet. But poetry--what makes poetry poetry... is its power to punch through (there it is again) the conventions of reality, to disconcert our wish to believe. And anything that now or ever deserved to be thought of as literature--yeah--Flaubert too, he's no fucking 19th C. founder of ELF--no mater what the retro lit-crit voices chant! You've gotta have your head buried way deep in sentence level criticism to swallow that one.
I've been thinking about that too. Emma and M. Moreau... how their empty romantic dreams expose the bourgeois emptiness they hoped to flee--how Flaubert, in contrast with so many of his ELF progeny, doesn't offer false hope, feel-good symbols of noble humanity, the wonderful mystical blah blah blah satisfactions of love conquers all, the humble satisfactions of ordinary domestic life, etc etc etc... one emptiness exposes the other, reveals, not "reality" but the unrelieved unreality of the everyday. And by that means, leaves us, his readers... free.
No compensation but that.
Poetry. It's all poetry... or

So here's what I find myself thinking... flies buzzing away... my thesis. My reading touchstone.
... but they haven't landed yet.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Politics and Poetry: The Rhetoric of Hope

The man has a way with words, but what's that have to do with reality?

In the hundreds of conversations I've had on the doorsteps of South Philadelphia, how many times have I heard some variation of this question? The man has a way with words, but what does that have to do with reality? In thinking about my experiences in this campaign, from my first day as a volunteer, a bundle of voter registration forms in hand, standing outside the 69th Street terminal on an unnaturally warm day in early March, through eight months, working three major events, knocking on more than 2400 doors, those four long GOTV days that lasted forever and passed in the blink of an eye, I can't imagine a more important question, a question more worthy of thought. The man has a way with words, but what does that have to do with reality?

The question of trust is a question about language.

This is, of course, a question about trust, directed, I suppose, in the minds of those who posed it, at this man who used words like hope, and change--charging them with a power nearly impossible to define; a meaning richer and more potent than whatever definitions one might try to assign them, more than any particular issue or policy that might follow as their object.

Change--what kind of change? Change for what?

In my early conversations I would pretty much keep to the script; mentioning health care, funding for education, benefits for veterans, pointing out contrasts between Bush's policies and Obama's proposals, but it wasn't long before I recognized a pattern; that it was not so much the man they didn't trust, but the words. No, not the words, but words themselves, and the more particular, the more specific the content, the more evident the nature of that mistrust. At some point I began to listen more carefully to the rhetoric of Obama's speeches, to the way he used the word hope the word change: what I had thought of as very cleverly selected buzz words.

The things we do are the children of our intercourse.

I recognized that when he spoke of change, it was most closely associated with two related ideas: belief (change you can believe in), and in a great variety of contexts and expressions, with the quality of discourse. We must change the way we speak of and to one another, the way we listen to one another, and I realized that this change was primary; and of course--how could it be otherwise; specific policies and actions, whatever their nature, flow naturally from and follow the discourse that engenders them: that the things we do are the children of our intercourse.

By understanding change as change in the nature of our discourse, we can better understand how Obama uses the word hope.

What I found so engaging in Obama's speeches was more than his emotive power to inspire, to t make me feel good or to forge my identity with this or that ideology. There was something about what he was saying that was primary to the issues that he would list in the middle of the speeches; it was always clear that specifics were contingent, possibilities; this is what we can do, if... If we learn again to listen to one another; to address one another as more than objects or obstacles to some end we seek, as more than means. Understanding change in this way, we can better understand the relationship between hope and belief.

Hope is where poetry and politics meet.

Hope has no object. It is not the antecedent of something we desire or expect, nor is it something mystical or supernatural: it is simply (though anything but simple) an openness of heart and willingness to listen: the necessary if not sufficient quality we must bring if we are to engage in any fruitful public discourse. Hope, if it is real, refuses to name its object. To do so would be the death of hope, and in this I see the intersection of poetry and politics.

When I say "poetry," I mean all of literature. All of what is called "literature" is not poetry, but all of what deserves to be called "literature," is most certainly poetry. I think of Bataille's defense of surrealism: that somehow, what is, is made alive by what is not, or not yet, that we can never be satisfied by the "real." Everything we can name as real is past, always already archaic, dead, without that life which is yet-to-be: what in politics, in our expectations for the future, in what Obama means by hope--something without a nameable object. Political life, the evolving life of human communities--and poetry--converge in the not-yet, in the yet-to-be-named.

The unnameable reality of the spirit

A great political leader: a Lincoln, an Obama, or a leader of a people still in the political wilderness--a Moses, a Martin Luther King, bring a people into the political from the wilderness, from slavery, from aimless wandering, from the timeless sojourn, the ever repeated circle of the pilgrimage into the politics of poetry, the poetry of politics, from the slavery and servitude of the named toward the yet unnamed which is the realization of hope seen from the heights, the unnamed brought forth from the depths by poetry, of a future none can foresee or predict... the unnameable reality of the spirit. The change we can believe in.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

It's A Beautiful Day!

Feel the Love!

Photo: Sean of Philadelphia casts his vote

Monday, November 3, 2008

This is it...

Another 11 hour day, cause I get off early. The two staff people are working 18 hour days. Together, we've sent out volunteers who've knocked on from 12,00 to 15,00 doors. And that's 1 of 20 staging sites in Philly. Gotta figure we've hit close to 200,000 doors in Philly.

More than 100 volunteers. Hard to imagine any likely Democratic voter hasn't been visited... had some worries about voter fatigue, but volunteers come back with positive reports. This late in the process, that's good news.

I tell them what the assignment is, the objective for each walk, and try my best to turn it into a inspirational "fire 'em up" send off. Like a kind of stump speech. I use it as base, improvise to keep it fresh. In spite of losing my voice and counter to my wonder at how well received these spiels are, I seem to be a pretty effective inspirational speaker.

Another 12 hour day coming up. Have to be on site at 7:00.

By this time tomorrow... we may know

Saturday, November 1, 2008

One Day: Three to go

From a house in South Philly which the owner had opened to us as a staging site for our first day GOTV effort, we sent out in three shifts, over 100 volunteers.

I would guess that more than half were from New York--many came to Philly on one of the China Town bus lines and will come back again
They knocked on 3000 doors.

They recruited many new volunteers for election day.

One staging site.

Every door, every contact recorded and entered in the data base in preparation for the final election day push.

Reports were that the McCain campaign was going to target South Philly, sending in volunteers. Our canvassers saw no sign of them.