Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Primitive man was equal to his tools; postmodern man is everywhere overwhelmed by them.

(paraphrased from Krishan Kumar's "Selections from 'Modernization and Industrialization', Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th Edition.")

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Entry for "most succinct word" in a now-defunct Guiness Book of World Records:

"Mamihlapinatapai" - Fugeian for "looking at each other hoping that either will offer to do something which both parties desire but are unwilling to do".

Friday, February 13, 2004

the thickening night words. the tongue
unfolding flesh, rasps along the body's length
is words. moves across the room. sits. writes.
has just written. fact this fiction. the thickening night;
the unfolding flesh; the you he addresses
across this room that is, as any room, crowded
with old standards, stock scenes, clich├ęs
we have seen before, heard. who
directed this shit? he did. his flesh
thickens. hangs
where he would wish it not to be. night
falls. the tongue
explores its own mouth. shut up. put it
here. there, he said. here. & there, she said.
here. here.
(from bpNichol's "St. Anzas VII")

Thursday, February 12, 2004

And if i tries to retain a kind of loyalty to ideas, not blindly, but allowing them, always, to evolve under the scrutiny that time permits, it is simply that struggle with constancy, to stick with what makes sense until it no longer makes sense, to not be swayed by infatuation's blind calling. It is what binds books together, these motifs and concerns, the trace of a life lived, a mind.

     in the rooms you live in
     other people's books line your shelves

     the traces of their lives
     their minds


something of that is what family is. other minds enter, other lives you pledge a constancy to.

there are other journeys, other poems, other plans that do not realize themselves.

living among family you are changed. it is the way your vocabulary increases. you occupy certain nouns, are caught up in the activity of certain verbs, adverbs, adjectives. syntax too. tone.

the language comes alive as you come alive and the real mysteries remain.

     outside the window
     the rumble of other journeys
     planes, trains, cars passing
     the feet of friends or strangers echo the unseen concrete

the blind is white under its horizontal ribbing

the world enters

your ear

(from bpNichol's "You Too, Nicky")

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

my mother found herself one late summer
afternoon lying in grass under the wild
yellow plum tree jewelled with sunlight
she was forgotten there in spring picking
rhubarb for pie & the children home from
school hungry & her new dress half hemmed
for Sunday the wind & rain made her skin
ruddy like a peach her hair was covered
with wet fallen crab apple blossoms she
didn't know what to do with her so she put
her up in the pantry among glass jars of
jellied fruit she might have stayed there
all winter except we were playing robbers
& the pantry was jail & every caught thief
of us heard her soft moan she made her
escape while we argued over who broke the
pickled watermelon jar scattering cubes
of pale pink flesh in vinegar over the
basement floor my mother didn't mind she
handed us mop & broom smiling & went back
upstairs i think she was listening to
herself in the wind singing
(di brandt's Questions i asked my mother)

Thursday, February 05, 2004

I am no more lonely than a single mullein or dandelion in a pasture, or a bean leaf, or sorrel, or a horse-fly, or a humble-bee. I am no more lonely than the Mill Brook, or a weathercock, or the north star, or the south wind, or an April shower, or a January thaw, or the first spider in a new house.

(from Thoreau's Walden)
I love lists. Not in the self-actualized, lists-conquer-disorganization sort of way... just a love for the intricacies and complexities of, in fiction, creating a beautifully shaped list. The list is like a poem in that the placement of every word matters; only, in a list the form is entirely minimal. It's like math too: a series of discrete points one after the other forming a line that extends into infinity but is always only visible, on the page, as a finite set.

Maybe the reason I think lists are so cool is that their meaning is almost entirely shaped, not by mere elements, but by the relationships between them. Meaning in lists is like the harmonics formed when ripples meet: pebbles flipped into deep water. "earth, the universe, this flower pot": each term pushes and pulls meaning from the terms around it and from the list as a whole. Every term affects every other; the list is both its parts and its sum.

Maybe words themselves are like that. Maybe words are just these tiny little one-element lists: forever humming with the potential of splitting, of multiplying, of bursting free like seedpods into millions of children. Purple becomes "mauve, violet, a smear of burgundy and navy". Far becomes "far, shockingly far, so distant it's beyond our ken".

Take the above list from Walden. It's beautiful. The words link and fall like silver chains toward their meaning. The drawn-out, headlong tumble of reading something like this in the midst of simple prose is breathtaking. And that last line... "the first spider in a new house," and suddenly everything before it is seen as if for the first time, "the first spider in a new house," and a mundane list of associations leaps into the poetic.

Look, to further wallow in the linguistic list-geekiness we’ve got going on here, I find I have no choice but to mention another classic. It said by Foucault to have "shattered, as I read the passage, all the familiar landmarks of my thought" (Foucault's "The Order of Things"). Foucault got the list from a passage in Borges, which gives vague reference to a work by Franz Kuhn. That work, in turn, "allegedly comments" on the classification of animals by a "certain Chinese encyclopaedia," intriguingly named the "Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge." The list itself?
Animals are divided into:

(a) those that belong to the Emperor,
(b) embalmed ones,
(c) those that are trained,
(d) suckling pigs,
(e) mermaids,
(f) fabulous ones,
(g) stray dogs,
(h) those that are included in this classification,
(i) those that tremble as if they were mad,
(j) innumerable ones,
(k) those drawn with a very fine camel brush,
(l) others,
(m) those that have just broken a flower vase,
(n) those that resemble flies from a distance.
If that just isn't the coolest thing ever, I don't know what is.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Without looking up at me, he asked, 'They won't take him away from me, will they, Mr Meursault. They will give him back to me. Otherwise what will I do?' I told him that they kept dogs at the pound for three days for their owners to collect them and that after that they dealt with them as they saw fit. He looked at me in silence. Then he said, 'Goodnight.' He closed his door and I heard him pacing up and down. Then his bed creaked. And from the peculiar little noise coming through the partition wall, I realized that he was crying. For some reason I thought of mother. But I had to get up early in the morning. I wasn't hungry and I went to bed without any dinner.
(from Albert Camus' The Outsider)