Against Horror

A time to grieve.

Bodies again, but no words. 

The point was our speechlessness.

Terror: when the body flees to survive.

Horror: parted lips, frozen and immobile, a spectacle of power. It almost always goes by another name, or none.

State: a verb for the creation of complicity.

The method: consistent spectacle.

What heals, then?

The opposite of spectacle is suffering. To suffer is to return from horror with a voice.

Blessed are they who––

Cry against the silence, throw shattered voices into it.

The opposite of order, this is language like broken windows.

The opposite of calm, this is babbling, wild-haired, full-bodied.

The opposite of isolation, grief demands recognition of our common breaks. Its substance is our connective tissue. It flows with the blood of a common wound.

Grief is a voice, and it sounds like the inverse of okay,

which sounds like the reverse of an answer.

Consider this moment.  Against the hum of this machine, let us launch 

a shattering cry. Now is the time. 

Break.

***

Inspired by Christina Rivera Garza’s Grieving: Dispatches from a Wounded Country and by Adriana Cavarero’s Horrorism: Naming Contemporary Violence, translated by William McCuaig. 

For the Living and the Dead

Against the machine.

When the horror of a moment renders a body speechless, the acts of pen to page, brush to canvas, fingers to keys––become negotiations with death. Yours, mine: what are they and how do they relate? To account for whole cities of dead, a vast underground rendered invisible through banality. What is it to write a voice, paint a vision––while standing on ground in full recognition of the brothers beneath it, and the invisible sisters with their children and parents in mass graves? Welcome to the necropolis, says one, where screens herald the battalion.

What are the stakes at this scale? Life. Lives. Forget numbers, abstractions. Try instead: One.  

One. 

One. 

One.

Each a brother, sister, mother, daughter, each with a scent of their own, a particular laugh and secret hopes––erased.

What is at stake? The human condition in the age of the war machine.

How to resist? The first act is naming.

***

Inspired by the work of Juan RufloChristina Rivera Garza, and Achille Mbembe.

Flight in Darkness

The poet remembers.

Only symbols. When I saw that the architecture was burnt out in me, I became a poet. Now I am grief, hunger, the embers of cities. But making is older than killing, and what is this man to make of this life but a brief flight in darkness, now and then on a rainbow?

***

This morning I learned that it was the birthday of poet Andrei Andreyevich Voznesensky, who  Robert Lowell once distinguished as the greatest living poet in any language. He came to fame during the Khrushchev thaw and was known as an outspoken critic of artistic censorship of any kind. I don’t have a complete translation of Voznesensky’s work, but I was able to find some selections online. The above is assembled from my a small sample of these findings, adapted.

The Form is Not

Urgently seeking answers.

Are you there? I need to know what happened.

Sure. It started with a long walk and a begging bowl. Then it was time to sit.

I have some questions.

Who doesn’t? For answers, consider impermanence, inevitable extinction.

Yes, got it! To everything there is a season. A time to––

But don’t hold onto the idea, or any other. No more T-shirts or bumper stickers, okay?

Right. I’ll try to focus on action. How do I give?

Without counting.

What about appearances?

What about them?

Never mind. Let’s get to the real teaching. I’m ready.

What you learn isn’t supposed to be a trophy, but a raft.

Okay. Let’s talk fortune.

Give it away. What did I just tell you?

Right, right. Okay, what about this stream? How do I enter?

What stream?

Um, like the path––you know, the levels?

Forget about those.

You say that a lot. What should I remember?

Only teach.

But I don’t know anything!

There you go.

But seriously. I can’t even control my mind yet.

Hah! Which one? The past, the present, or the future? None of them are made for holding.

[sigh] 

Can you just give me some answer?

Fine. But I’m about to lose service here. The reception in these mountains is terrible.  Ready?

Yes!

It’s–––

Hello? Hello?

***

This morning, I learned that on this day in the year 868, a copy of the Diamond Sutra was printed in China, making it the oldest known printed book. Prior to this, the teachings had long been conveyed orally. Naturally, I got to imagining an attempt to convey urgent teachings orally via cellphone. I have spotty service at home and pretty good service in most other places, so many of my conversations have at least a few moments where one or the other party is saying, “Are you there?” or “Wait a minute, I’m walking outside. I might lose you.” I consulted Burton Watson’s translation here.

Shiny Tomorrows

Visions from a tech summit of the past.

Tomorrow’s hero is bloodless and perfect and all are lit from below––even the cow’s udder. It does not smell, and the maidens are all behind glass, sitting in the robot’s lap. In tomorrow, there is one voice and no talking back; the rugs do not slip and it’s rife with clean sailors. Instead of sounding music, tomorrow has the memory of sound.

It’s a little expensive, this tomorrow, and it remains unclear who––beyond these few––will be in attendance.

***

On this day in 1939, the New York World’s fair opened in Queens, New York. As war raged in Europe, this massive event was built around the theme of “The World of Tomorrow.” It professed to be a celebration of scientific discovery, but serious scientists complained that the emphasis on gadgetry far outweighed any possibility of serious scientific discussion. Einstein, for example, was asked to give a presentation on cosmic rays, but was only allowed five minutes to do so, a limit he said would make any serious explanation impossible. I failed to find a text of this speech this morning, so instead I selected E.B. White’s essay on his visit to the event, which appeared in The New Yorker and is collected in Essays of E.B. White. Today’s post is assembled from borrowed phrases from White’s text.

Cornered

From a tight space.

Call it a threat––back against two walls, but some dream best from spaces like this. If I wanted to hide, I could walk in the open, but only from here can I bear witness to being, the intricate choreography of shadows, swinging between the arms of a branching angle. Turning from one wall into to the next, I find the other half of this shell, enough to negate the noise of a universe with its effusive unknowns, and hear, between breaths, the song of a single house finch. 

***

Inspired by, and using borrowed phrases from, the chapter “Corner” in Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space.

Mechanical Issues

Looking for a few good ideas.

I was having some mechanical difficulties, so I decided to do some research. A body with issues of an uncertain nature may sometimes find relief by revisiting certain fundamental tenets of the physical world.

To be sure, greater minds than this one have long considered these questions––which may concern, among other things, the action and reaction of bodies at rest and in motion––not to mention acoustics and optics. Also, heat, friction; details related to magnetism, electricity. Astronomical matters may seem remote, but these, too, are not to be discounted, considering how profoundly any number of factors may govern aspects of the visible and invisible world. 

In conclusion, it’s complicated. 

There are a number of implications for these findings. For example, while I am still entirely unsure about the origins of that squeaky grinding noise that sometimes but not always happens when I make a right turn, it is reasonable to conclude that while the stereo system remains functional, it should be possible to avoid hearing it until a more appropriate time. 

As for this other thing I am trying to write, I am no more certain of my approach than I was before this brief foray into certain essential principles of structure, but at least I’ve found myself in good company when it comes to my ongoing bafflement regarding the proportional significance of any number of factors in a given system.

***

Inspired by a chance encounter with Mortimer J. Adler’s chapter on “Mechanics” from The Great Ideas: A Lexicon of Western Thought. And some other things. 

First Sight

Notes of a witness.

For a lover, pure and simple, beguiled every step, it may be a long journey. Bloom time in the lowlands, there were weeks and months uncounted, sun-drenched in lark song before the painted hills. Progress slow, I wandered enchanted.

Then came the peaks, massive light forms suggesting the walls of a celestial city. Crystal rocks and aspen glow, the irised spray of waterfalls; all that may perish is vanishing quickly. Listen, ancient glaciers now sing river song, and at temple of the valley floor, a congregation of glowing rock faces to welcome the storm like the lambs. 

In the distance, I heard the thunder of the fall, and before me the whale-back masses of granite crowning and rising, alone and in snug groups. Breaking tranquility, I followed the plunging river down. This wild scene I tell you was never safe, my fate hinged on an idle wind.

Nerves shaken, drenched, bathed in moonlit spray, I hoped. All were in bloom.

The air was shining. I counted, noticing the noon-gray clouds.

I slept and woke, and the winds sung too, in throbbing chorus with the fall, and it was a song I tell you, pleading notice.

Do you think there is a choice now? I saw none but this cry, and I did.

***

In honor of the birthday of Scottish-American naturalist and environmental philosopher John Muir (1838-1914) (also known as John of the Mountains), today’s post is composed of found words and phrases from an 1890 essay he published in The Century Magazine, “The Treasures of the Yosemite.”

Notes on Form

Old tools in a fallow field.

There is an exuberant history of forms to be found in these fields, compelling a witness to show how surfaces of knowing can be tilled with the tool of some adopted custom or cadence which, once discovered, can be carried solidly as a birthright through corridors of memory still in blueprint.

The challenge is measure, balance––and the joyous enterprise pains with enthusiasm, the center of any nascent art.

***

Inspired by and using borrowed phrases from the introduction to The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland.

Tell Me, Neighbor

Feeling a wound.

The fact that it is so difficult to express is what complicates, and in these complications, sometimes art. In its invisible geography, the felt experience of any other tends to flicker, then disappear.

Like fireflies, or a faulty bulb? Like meteor showers?

No, not like any of these.

It breaks your metaphor, doesn’t it?

It breaks.

A choice, then: the astounding freedom of unsight, or the weight of witness.

This body, take it. It has never known certainty, the first sound a cry, shattering words.

***

In her profound The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, Elaine Scarry writes, “When one hears about another person’s physical pain, the events happening within the interior of that person’s body may seem to have the same remote character of some deep subterranean fact, belonging to an invisible geography that, however portentous, has no reality because it has not yet manifested itself on the visible surface of the earth. Or, alternatively, it may seem as distant as the interstellar events referred to by scientists who speak to us mysteriously of not yet detectable intergalactic screams. . .”