Rinko Kawauchi | Untitled, from the series “Ametsuchi”, 2013
Baudelaire called the public, in its wild enthusiasm for photography, “sun-worshippers.” They loved what they saw. “From that moment onward, our loathsome society rushed, like Narcissus, to contemplate its trivial image on the metallic plate.” Here is a photograph of a building in ruins. The caption reads “Victoriously.” This is a politically devastated landscape and, although very differently, a politically charged photo. We can see a child’s shovel and pail in the foreground and some seashells beside them. And we can see a “Vacancy” sign in a window of a building off to the right of the ruins. The photographer may be obsessed with death, or with fending it off. They are not the same thing. The landscape is stark, but the rubble is minutely textured, purveying pattern. Photography is perhaps the first of the Enlightenment arts, utilizing the technology that the Enlightenment’s anthropocentric view of creation assumes and fulfilling some of its not entirely false promises. The photo-loving public can have its shadows, rendered believable, prolonged indefinitely, and even immortalized. Photos can contribute to the aesthetics of minutiae, with their promise of infinitude. Attention to the miniscule (which has provided science with its own province of sublimity) might stand as a counter to a concomitant awareness of orders of magnitude that include atrocity, war, capitalism, and perhaps ———— though it may be mortality’s saving grace ———— death. Indeed, photography enthusiasts might be better described as worshippers of shadows, after-images, history. Even large format photographs ———— as in Doug Hall’s magnificent digital C-print works, some measuring as much as 4 by 5 feet ———— seem more immediate (though, paradoxically, less intimate) than paintings. For intimate encounters we turn to time. It is there that we feel the intimacy of other lives and others’ experiences of things. True, as progenitor of the objective sciences, the Enlightenment can hardly be deemed a wellspring of intimacy. Forget the selfie! I’m doing my best not to contribute to the cult of surveillance. But, by bringing the objectifiable world home, so to speak, the Enlightenment did, to some extent, increase the human capacity for intimate experience ———— that is, for experiencing things intimately, and hence inconclusively. Adorno, writing about the late poetry of Hölderlin, speaks of inconclusiveness as an instrument of “the paratactic revolt against synthesis.” “Hölderlin,” he says, “so transmutes the form of unity that not only is multiplicity reflected within it ———— that is possible within traditional synthetic language as well ————but in addition the unity indicates that it knows itself to be inconclusive.” Within the dark interior of the camera is an hallucinating eye enchanted by the passing image of an emotional face or pigeons circling under the sky. It sees things one can’t discern sufficiently and that are on their way to expiration, but the way is so long as to be unimaginable except as an instantaneous, blazing flash in an otherwise soft black depth that isn’t a space but a plunging of space too dark and empty to see as anything at all. One can’t look directly at the sun, either, of course; everything one has forgotten is in it. Near a set of keys, a hammer lies on the table beside a paper napkin. A stuffed animal ———— a brown nubbled dog with splay and floppy limbs ———— on its side in a chair; over the back of the chair a black leather jacket is draped. This is yet another in a sequence of winter “spare the air” days. The branches of the street trees (plum, gingko, sycamore, birch) are leafless, but the yellow flowers of creeping woodsorrel are blooming in front yards, median strips, and weed beds. There’s a used teabag on the napkin, surrounded by an ochre stain. The newspaper carries an inky, uncontroversial image of Martin Luther King Jr., photographed against an indistinct background. It’s the annual tribute. The expression on King’s face blocks interpretation, or, rather, that is exactly what he’s expressing: resistance to interpretation. The story of everyday life (repetition) proceeds slowly. The story of young QJ takes his entire lifetime to unfold.
Streets all around us like jawbones
bringing marvels that rival a robin’s
and that’s real ’cause both are so common
———— so common, so come on, so common . . .
Carlotta snaps her fingers. “Feelin!” she says. “Playing music’s useless,” says Diego; “that’s what’s good about it.” “I don’t think it’s useless!” QJ brings both drumsticks down on the highhat, the right slightly before the left. “Streets all around us like jawbones. Lot a things like that, around us like jawbones. Gives me a chance to express myself.” “I’d say what you express is that you like to beat on things,” says Carlotta. “Fuck, playing this shit is useful,” says Flip. “Like how?” Didier Padilla Brown is hastily tuning his guitar ———— pong pong, pang pang, ping ping ———— the harmonics match. He swings, strums, bends, kicks. It is said of him that he has one eye too many, prompting one pungent critic to comment that it is an irrelevance since Didier keeps it closed. It’s an improviser’s eye. He turns it on the kids. “Listen up.” Didier Brown values spontaneity, outbursts, “best after years of practice,” he says. Everything about the past is to be remembered; “boundaries exist so you can pound on them,” he says, “and the first beat’s not the one you’re going to hear.” A helicopter passes noisily overhead, generally following Telegraph Avenue north toward Berkeley on its way to drift over the early rush hour traffic, locate a criminal, or hover over a protest. “What you are witnessing is the beginning of the end of civil society.” The helicopters compete for the acoustic space, cops loiter on the fringes of the crowd, one leans against a sycamore tree. Now and then within the circuitries of communication the volume of noise increases, sometimes aspiring to cause interference, sometimes aspiring to overcome it. Take this little poem of Lyn Hejinian’s, for example
store it all
The tercet is spare, but incautious. Its very brevity inflates it. It seems peremptory, or irascible. It is certainly not gnomic; it is not trying to hold any of its energy in reserve. It has a strongly expressive quality; something has excited emotion, but just what that something is or was and what that emotion (or complex of emotions) is remains unclear. But clarity is, obviously, not the point. That said, clarity seems even less the point in P. Inman’s chapbook Ocker. It is either semantically protean or in ruins, radically inconclusive or beyond repair.
oneitd , crine
Perhaps the forces of history have ravaged the words and phrases of the poem, so that what we have are only its embattled, allegorical, fierce remains, or we are witness to those words and phrases coming into formation. The poem presents us with something that might have been said or that might be said yet. Gertrude Stein claims that masterpieces “exist because they came to be as something that is an end in itself.” In this respect, she says, they are “opposed to the business of living which is relation and necessity.” Young lovers imagine their love to be just such a masterpiece. As Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous B puts it, “The lovers are deeply convinced that in itself their relationship is a complete whole that will never be changed.” But it seems whole because it feels incontrovertible, inevitable: “Romantic love manifests itself as immediate by exclusively resting in natural necessity . . . .” The same could be said of existence ———— one comes into being from natural necessity, but in this case it’s less an inevitability than through circumstantial fortune. The sequences of events resulting in a birth are multiple, their sequentiality largely inadvertent, and perhaps from only one of them might a birth have been reasonably predicted ————though any particular one couldn’t have been predicted at all. And, even when a child might have been intended, the child was not itself a participant in the intention. But soon it will have to realize that it exists. The Uzbek poet Muhammad Salikh has credited that realization to one’s shadow. “I am a very young child,” he says. “That’s the dream.” He says he is flying high above the desert. He swoops through the air, his shadow racing to the left, then to the right, sometimes shrinking into a valley or dry riverbed, sometimes burgeoning on top of the dunes. He wants to stay in the sky forever, teasing his shadow. Suddenly, far below him, he sees his mother standing in the desert. He lands beside her, and she takes his hand. He tries to pull away. “Come fly,” he says, but his mother points to his feet. His shadow has caught him and holds him to the sand. “That is how I was born,” Salikh said. One’s shadow does more than supply one with a caption. The allegorical comes affixed to remnants of the past of which it speaks, but it can speak only incompletely and cryptically of the lost whole (its true and proper time) ———— this is a point that Walter Benjamin makes ————whereas the shadow can extend into the future, and condense itself into the present, as well as come out of the dark. Spinach frigate and ledger cello and churlish Lily Ball and dysfunctional ephemera and puppetry and fusion flautist Samantha Bell Chow. For the most part, I myself am not afraid of chaos but of fending it off: the tedious work, the interminable sense of obligation, the compelling call to return over and over again to the defense of a regimen of familiarity, and of predictability, which runs counter to everyday life (repeating repetition). Drowsily timeless colossus and lowercase pictography and pasta puttanesca and rain, at last. It’s hard to discern where history breaks off and everyday life (implacable repetition) begins. But what about this? Near the Oakland MAP a church is being demolished, the boards are being pried from the studs, carefully stacked, incrementally hauled away, presumably to be reused. The graceful, though somewhat squat, arched windows, empty of panes (which were of plain, not stained, glass) having been removed and lean against the side of a truck. The reader is not apt to read this as a speculative passage, she is likely instead to take it as straightforward description, accurate to what it purports to represent, even if what it presents is local to a fiction and redolent with interpretation. What about this: The hills rising at the eastern edge of the urban area provide a perspectival panoply, while to the west the bay offers an endless prospect, a scintillating distance. One wide ugly avenue is the only major street running between them; uninviting squat commercial buildings, cheap motels, copy shops, and then a stretch of Indian restaurants and a cluster of sari shops line it from end to end. Or this: A man approaches, his feet and legs encased in armor made of shining silver scales. The front edges of his armored boots are decorated with curling silver claws much as the prow of a ship might bear a masthead in the form of a nymph whose long curls blow out over the waves. Each element of the work, every particular, exists as a point of encounter, rather than of separability; each particular serves as an intersection, a portal, a source of energy, and a point of departure (rather than terminus). In his old age, the writer James Earl French says he no longer has the energy to express his ideas, his greatest pleasure now is in getting new ones and he acquires them with a sense of urgency, he reads, he takes notes, I’ll never do anything with them, he says. He has lost interest in depicting the world as it appears to him; he has lost his interest in offering his particular, peculiar perspective on things. I want to know the world as it is, not as I see it, he says, but how is it? “That question’s not so obviously political,” says Jean Day, “maybe not political at all.” Reality ———— the given ———— is the problem that constrains objectivity, prompting withdrawal. “Impoverished sense is the real problem,” Jean says, brushing her right hand gently in the air as if to move the statement aside. But of course everything is imminent in anything, with corresponding troubles and vexations, things in need of attention, bringing many bits that concern us, their pertinent worries and the accompanying worrying. Time gets intersected by the comings and goings of its dramatis personae: dog walker, truck driver, short order cook, oncology nurse, barista, florist, bank teller, dog walker, student, civil rights lawyer, electrician, figment of imagination. Real shadows are subject to the time of day, and to the position of the sun. What does one do with the excitement one feels when in one’s excitement one becomes exciting and excites awareness of the excitement and the exciting? And for how long can one do it?
Rinko Kawauchi | Untitled from the series “Ametsuchi, 2013
In The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau describes walking in the city as an experience of utter rootlessness. “The moving about that the city multiplies and concentrates makes the city itself an immense social experience of lacking a place.” But surely what de Certeau is describing must depend on where one is in the city. What, for example, if one were in one’s own neighborhood? Wouldn’t one have a sense of belonging there (perhaps with a concomitant sense of who doesn’t belong ———— a levying of prejudicial judgments). Or perhaps we don’t walk in cities at all, we ramble ———— or stumble ———— in the global economy, cheeks brushed by the petro-breeze, eyes on apps. The poet-scholar writes a poem, or it might be an essay; she quotes contemporary intellectual authorities, alludes to current influential ideas. The professional professor scoffs: “You come well-defended, Poet; you have brought artillery.” She is wrong. As a knife in language, there sticks the tongue. An event occurs ———— it’s an achievement of the temporal flow we call space. It isn’t only then and there, or now and here; it is happening. Everyday life (attributed repetition) is lived by habit, of course, and yet it is also a realm of decisions, choices, and thus, in some sense, it’s an ethical sphere: the realm of living with one’s choices, along with the choices made by others. Everyday life (switched repetition) has multiple centers of gravity, various data draw our attention, and we are individually diverted. But in querying everyday life from an anarcho-socialist perspective, there are two questions to ask: what makes people happy, and what makes people unhappy? Sean Bonney writes (in Happiness):
it is thin, our cynicism, the latest distinct word
sometimes, when a specific distortion in the vowels is achieved
we can hear heaven. It is a kind of wall
all if our clear, musical nouns
the morality of our achievements, singing on the scaffold
& the riot squad have denied everything
our laws and out tastes, this is harmony
In a bookstore, as at a supermarket, driving in traffic, walking on city streets, one is constantly (though mostly unconsciously) making quick decisions about the relevance to oneself of all that’s happening. It rained during the night. At last. The sky is still cloudy, gray, though not, at the moment, “threatening.” Guardian pumpkins glow at doorways, grinning, grimacing, scowling, voracious. The windows are open, and the scent of damp pavement, humid soil, foliage, building façades wafts in, the breeze brushing my face just as my eyes and reading mind come to the beginning of a sentence in Isabelle Stengers’s Thinking with Whitehead, “The conveyance of some sense-objects by others might one day…,” and I raise my head, the sentence slants away, scent in the air of the air, the surfeit of something before finishing. Memory provokes a ready pathos, present in the complex sensations that accrue around the fact of one’s having lived. The fact moves, like the floaters in my eyes, as hard to track as the stars in the Pleiades, or like a coincidence, with its moving parts. The sounds and smells and touchings in the air socialize. It’s that that adds to the emotional thrill of memory. That thrill isn’t always a happy one. Memory can pinch at one’s world. Charlie Altieri rubs his elbow. I return to the text.
every possible combination of peoples and phantoms
our sobriety and victims, this is our alphabet
sometimes, we get sick of our pious barbarism
we leap screeching into hell
our immense, unquestionable affluence
Bonney’s poem as published might be an unrhymed, unmetered sonnet; it fulfills what appears to be the minimal requirement of having fourteen lines. It is one of a number of Bonney’s poems in the book said to be “after Rimbaud,” and there’s something of Rimbaud’s precocity, distress, and ambivalence in it ———— “the feeling,” as Angus Fletcher notes, that “one experiences in situations of acute social tension,” whose impact/structure is allegorical: “allegory always demonstrates a degree of inner conflict, which we call ‘ambivalence.'” I ask Charlie Altieri, “May I introduce you as a character in my poem/essay/story?” He says, “Your energy is amazing ———— or maybe appalling.” Or that’s what he might say; the act of description , which, if it is honestly carried out, is as much a perceptual process as anything else, and comes, ultimately, to an arbitrary end. But in its course, in saying what things are, or what things are said, the process may sometimes discover also why things are, and why they are said. On the other hand, it can reflect rank superstition. “One of the strongest proofs of the irrationality of human beings is that they look for reason where it is not to be found. They look for intention in chance, and, since they know well that this intention is not theirs, they presume that it is another’s.” Every description, no matter how assiduously carried out, flirts with secrecy, which, like the red that’s said of the robin’s breast, deepens the surface of the description’s main clause, its central proposition. Relative clauses, on the other hand, have a captioning effect: the real estate boom that brought logs pounding into the city; Alexander Pope, whose stature was “that of a 12-year-old-boy”, the neighbor, who is throwing walnuts at passing cars; a seafaring bobcat, which comes out of the waves; Alexander Pope, whose name became attached to a figure fleeting through my dream one night riding a bird, because, perhaps, Maynard Mack, in his biography of Pope, commenting on Pope’s sex life, says, “The wren goes to ‘t with as much prosperity as the swan.” Sometimes works of art produce captions instead of images ———— captions to experience, real or imaginary. But this emphasis. The young French scholar Chloé Thomas said as much to me just the day before yesterday. Americans value both the gaining of experience and the having of experiences, and access to experience is a prominent element in America’s narrative of itself ————its self-consciousness. Hence its obsession with geography (as a medium for experience as well as for expressive, physical, and economic freedom), and its insistence on human beings as agents of history and culture (so that they “make something happen”). And so character in a narrative comes along, a protagonist, in variable, quotidian disguise. I cannot speak to the experiences that are had by a stone (say of rain or sunlight falling on its surface, or a sow bug crawling under it), or a nasturtium (say of an ant’s feet on one of its petals, or water rising through a stem), nor even, with any confidence, by my long-haired white and orange cat with the large fluffy tail, but for humans, every experience elicits other experience. That’s what experiencing for humans is: an amplification and intensification of our sense of ourselves amidst other presences in the world. In this sense, every experience is symbolic, the evocation and provocation of meaning, which is itself experienced. Say I fall in love, or aspire to an intensity of friendship with another, so as to participate in the workings of his or her mind. I want to see all the sites he or she finds exciting, the places he or she is now planning to revisit. I feel a vague anxiety, however, since doing so will take up a lot of my time, and maybe, in any case, I’m not invited. After the rainy night, there comes a pale morning, amorphous pale blue patches appear in the sky that seems nonetheless to have given up any attempt to cast daylight. He or she with whom I seek an intensity of friendship, a multi-layered history of shared experience, is driving and, without explanation (but I know that he or she has suddenly spotted something of interest, or that we’ve reached a destination), pulls off to the side of the road. I scan the terrain. From beyond the hum of the engine, through the open car windows, I hear the singing of birds in the trees and I’m frightened, knowing that they are not singing voluntarily, not claiming branches or giving an alert or flirting; they are spellbound, possessed. But everything that happens justifies the constant detecting of a constant detective. The detective I call Roy Robinson Trelaine has a maimed left hand and weeps in his sleep ———— “from boredom,” he says. His theme seems to be that of distrust or ambivalence or “the unbearable realism of a dream.” Hearing a dubious opinion, Roy Robinson Trelaine responds with caution or frustration or with a sense of overwhelming sleepiness. Finding that something lacks plausibility, veracity, credibility, reality, I too lose interest. I resent the waste of my time, energy, attention. Sufficiently bored, I grow hostile. Perhaps boredom, like pain, can be quantified; on a scale of 1 to 10, how bored are you? By the time one’s level of boredom is approaching 10, it’s ceasing to be boredom and becoming panic, or rage, an excess of feeling, a counter to boredom, but worse.
Rinko Kawauchi | Untitled, from the series “Ametsuchi”, 2013
In whatever one does, one deploys or proffers or expresses or articulates or displays both conscious and unconscious style. Or we could call it esprit, and that might entail panache, éclat, or, antithetically, despondency, dysphoria, ire. To the degree that one’s style (or styling) is conscious, it’s an expression not just of one’s attitudes but of who one thinks one is or wants to be or wants to be believed to be. It’s more than adjectival or predicative; it’s self-definitive, a mode of transit. To the degree that it’s unconscious, so-called natural, or, rather, to the degree to which, as far as oneself is concerned, it’s formative (constitutive of how one is, the determination of one’s manner) ———— it’s adverbial. And also probably predictable. Either way, one adopts style on behalf of its survival value. It provides one with a way to practice overcoming something, even perhaps oneself, or the moods that seem identical with oneself, self-determining. The idiom that describes one as “retreating into one’s interiority” misrepresents the situation. Introspection is not a retreat; it’s an advent, into an unquiet space, generally gloomy, certainly not restful. We are not talking about oblivion here, nor safety, nor domesticity, nor the familiar; interiority is much more likely to present one with troubles. Among the more mild of them are doubt and ambivalence, since they are indigenous to interiority, which is, after all, an arena for muddling. Through style, the deployment of our adopted syntax, we (humans) forge connections. Connectivity is the advantage humans have over happenstance. Weak as we are, it’s our principle instrument of defense. We develop syntax, take on style, so as to prevail. Without the network of connections that result, we, as solitary individuals, are pathetic, innocuous, blank, weak, incapable of defending or even taking care of ourselves. Style allows us to link ourselves, even if negatively, to other beings. Grammars ———— by which I mean all kinds of connecting tactics ———— are our instruments of invention, as well as of power. But they are only a crutch. Having a capacity for grammar hardly justifies our thinking we have mastered the world. Time goes by. The funeral for the dead boy is over. It’s almost December. It’s dark, very late, a man is passing slowly through the neighborhood. He pushes a grocery cart, the bottles and cans in it clink and clatter. He sings something, a short refrain, hardly more than a mumbled melody ———— or memory ———— embedded in his voice. As he sings, he gains something: weeping ———— he weeps. A flash of pathos. Yes! But freedom is always qualified ———— dedicated, flaunted, overseen, negated. The gravitational force of weeping pulls at one’s inner world, from which it picks up scraps of the past. The gravitational force of the happy imagination pulls at the outer world, dragging material into perception. Askari Nate Martin sighs in his sleep, and Maggie Fornetti feels his breath on her face before she realizes she’s heard it. His breath is slightly stale; she turns over, the comment “I’m changing my olfactory orientation” crosses her mind and amuses her, and she falls back to sleep. Freedom lies in dreams. Somewhere non-freedom lies, too. Cretaceous thimbles, metal delectables, sporadic blankets, and effigies en croute? I must think of myself as a plaything of chance, a product of contingency. I remain still largely indeterminate, incompletely formed, despite my being now over 70. I’m subject to the weather, to aging, to gravity, to thirst. I’m subject to myriad objects. Here are some of the many useful instruments of a late November day around the Thursday of Thanksgiving: baster, bed, belt, blanket, book, boots, bra, bread board, broom, bus, candlestick, carving knife, cash, cell phone, chair, Clingwrap, coat, coffee maker, colander, comb, computer, deodorant, desk, dishwasher, doorknob, dust pan, envelope, faucet, file folder, garbage can, glass, glasses, gravy boat, hairbrush, hair dryer, hand lotion, jar, key, knife, mouse, mug, notebook, paper, pen, pencil, pie dish, pillow, plate, platter, postage stamp, pot, printer, radio, rake, refrigerator, roasting pan, rolling pin, shampoo, shirt, shower, sink, skillet, skirt, soap, socks, sofa, spatula, sponge, spoon, stapler, stove, sweater, table, toaster, toilet, toothbrush, towel, umbrella, underpants, waste basket, watch, wine glass. Interrelated objects, producing occasions and prompting responses, can assemble into riddles. As such, their functional identity is in abeyance; who knows what’s possible. Indeed, who knows what’s happening, what has already happened? “If you abolish the whole, you abolish its parts; and if you abolish any part then that whole is abolished.” What am I? Riddles proffer objects, situations, or images, but their identity is withheld. Memory has to cast about, so as to establish a connection with fate. And even then, though riddles arrange the sensible, they withhold the sense:
A birch tree with ideas
Freedom as gravel on a private road
A melancholy admiral
The pleasure we feel when we get the riddle’s answer is only partially intellectual. The real pleasure comes from the illusion of restored order. Dispersed parts are reunited into their apparent whole. Allegories, on the other hand, are not made out of parts, and the captioning of an allegorical image or situation activates what was in abeyance, latent, dormant ———— but not fragmented. “The stars have […] virtue for the allegorist: they belong in constellations. They are known from the earliest times to move in a strictly ordered system of mutually dependent relations.” Dawn is not far off. The stars are fading. Maggie Fornetti is asleep on her side, right leg straight, left leg bent and drawn close to her body, left arm across her chest, right bent and tucked close to her side. Askari Nate Martin is asleep on his back, arms folded, legs straight, toes pushing at the bedding at the end of the bed. Loss and forgetting are intimately bound to the affective life of married love, with its intricate temporality, its persistent (though sometimes hard-won) lack of closure. In the course of a day, through the myriad small temporal increments, power relations in the domestic sphere shift, fading only temporarily as everyone sleeps. One night, I dream thirty words. Or I hallucinate them (they have the convincing force of perceptual truth when it grabs reality and won’t let go) and see:
a pronoun dog along, an adverb on
the space and seam and purple is
for every idiocy perfection of the abstract sea
in rectangles of unaffiliated violet
or pink vivacity
I’m not responsible for the words, they just show up in the dream. But they become my responsibility. I am tasked with situating them, placing them. And to do that I have to recognize the “units” into which they should be grouped. “Endlessly”—that’s how I characterize my effort in the dream ———— endlessly, I “phrase.” I have to pace and place the semantic arrival of the words, their “meaning units.” But I’m not sure where to insert divisions. Selection requires decision, but (in the dream) indecision is what makes the phrases vivid. Indecision leaves intact the power of hallucinated particularity. I come to no conclusion. Waking, I quickly write the dream words, lineating as I do so, increasingly uncertain that what I’m writing down are actually the words that came to me, displayed on the dream screen. Waking solves nothing ———— quite the opposite. There’s no epiphany. Of course not. Epiphanies negate particularity. Something ordinary and everyday, just as much as something outrageous or surprising, can be transformed into an aesthetic event, undergo an aesthetic realization, but it does so precisely by remaining particular. Still, it’s difficult to resist the pull of seductive totality, which even the particular can exert. As, for example, in minimalist painting ———— and, perhaps, more problematically, in minimalist musical compositions, whose micro-modulations can become as pervasive as dust. The music may be luscious, and its intentions may be innocuous, while the effects are insidious, producing the mollifying effect of an all-encompassing ideology. As such, the performances of it become an elaborate advertisement for something that its listeners can’t name but begin to long for ———— something that constrains their freedom, even as their minds wander. Traveling (which is by no means always a manifestation of freedom) seems to remove one from everyday life (demanding repetition). And yet, one of the great pleasures for a visitor comes from gaining competency in the everyday life (free-ranging repetition) of the strange, new, foreign place he or she is visiting ———— discovering where and how to get groceries, mastering the public transportation system, figuring out how to use the bathing and toilet facilities, etc. Pleasures? Those pleasured visitors, reveling in their competency, are probable tourists, business people, politicians, entrepreneurs. But there are exiles there too, expert at exile, old hands at getting by. Roy Robinson Trelaine has a raw blister on his right foot and this may be what’s preventing him from moving swiftly forward again into the battle (his term), which, however, hasn’t yet begun. With the pain, such as it is, comes a flicker of history. A spasm of memory ———— physical, physiological, geographic, and seemingly perpetual. The refugees, exiles, fugitives, or the merely stranded, confused, lost, or even, often, merely homesick ———— they suffer nausea, loss of appetite, agoraphobia. Much of everyday life in the nineteenth century took place in interiors ——— in the domestic sphere. In the twentieth century, it moved increasingly into the streets, at least in cities. In the twenty-first century everyday life has moved again, onto screens. At Café Roma, Alice Milligan Webster and Judge Lorna Kelly Cole are sharing a convivial moment of misanthropy. Gears mesh, systems circle. In an essay on circuits and screens, capitalism’s inventiveness is acknowledged, along with the complexities of its flow, over filigrees, planes, and curls. Gates swing with creativity, familiarity exerts creative sway. Two children, neither more than five or six years old, are running at pigeons on the sidewalk outside the café. The children are wielding wooden sticks like swords, jabbing at the pigeons, shrieking. Bulky, awkward, stupid, the pigeons, entirely without merriment, stay just out of reach. Here perhaps we can note “the power of nature,” a subtle version of nature’s destructive capacity: the tumult of storms, the geological upheavals of earthquakes and volcanoes, etc. We animalize them, so that we can turn them loose, unleashed, except in the case of drought, an ongoing devastating non-event. The clouds refuse to release rain. Representations tend toward the metaphorical when they monumentalize. Memory presents itself conceptually as something very like nature, as all one thing, largely contingent, autonomously rational, with cycles of recurrence that are never the same. Like nature (at least until humans mucked with it so mercilessly that it became unnatural out of sheer self-defense), memory is self-stabilizing, but only because time is on its side. Elation gives way to calm, grief to acceptance or the lassitude of depression. The sky is the most standard blue. The blue everywhere is sky. When will it rain?
Rinko Kawauchi | Untitled, from the series “Ametsuchi”, 2013
I am not a bra, nor a thriving coastal pine tree, nor a voyage; I am still ambivalent. One can’t mete out wholeness; children don’t do so and the old shouldn’t either. Wholeness is loose and temporary ———— a kind of fog. Still I’m capable of serious appreciation ———— but that could also be said of a chump or insecure fool as well as of an advocate or empiricist. Perhaps it’s cowardly to appreciate. Montaigne says that sadness is characteristic of cowardice; he also calls it (in “Of Sadness”) “a stupid and monstrous ornament.” Nonetheless, it is an unavoidable part of anything on which ornamentation might appear. The Christmas tree, for example, or the tagged walls of warehouses and loft spaces along Oakland’s waterfront. Crews of graffiti-removers paint the ornamentation out, effacing sadness. Bone! F that. Going about her daily life on a side street west of College Avenue, Ellie North Roth is thinking these days about night life daily and daily life every night, as old age weaves them together, into something thicker and thicker, worn thinner and thinner. There are food chains, queen bees, trauma centers, sidecars, tangos, a white and orange longhaired cat, several days at last of melodious winter rain. These, accumulating, diverging ———— they contribute to subjectivity, strengthen a person’s individuation. In the quest for heterogeneity, for everything myriad, multiple, and different, one has to look outside of oneself, counter-introspectively. Even a writer of so-called lyric poetry should be disputing the validity of long-standing models of literary writing as introspective or retrospective. For reasons not exclusively his own, Askari Nate Martin rarely states what he loves, nor that he loves. Everyone is waiting, he says. Some fight while they wait, some share in the waiting. Pertinence, relevance ———— a constellating magnetic force of attraction ———— may intrude at any point and from any place, sourceless as time (though not otherwise resembling time). “No chain is homogeneous: all of them resemble, rather, a succession of characters from different alphabets in which an ideogram, a pictogram, a tiny image of an elephant passing by, or a rising sun may suddenly make its appearance.” Misanthropes and philanthropists alike wait for a green light. An old woman fumbles with her coin purse at a supermarket checkout counter. Two students, sheltered from the rain by the overhanging awning of a shoe shop, interact intently with whatever’s appearing on their cell phone screens while they wait for the bus. Art is capable of holding together assemblages very different from the ones that we think are credible, or probable, or that we think we can know. Coming in from the rain, Willem takes off his cycling gloves, Bill removes his shoes. Episodes of turbulence erupt out of the pull of everyday life, even out of the pull of domesticity ———— the call to breakfast, to the phone, to the kitchen for an English muffin spread with goat cheese or marmalade or for scrambled eggs and a Kellogg’s Pop Tart®, to bed, and perhaps to sex. To politicize people’s responses to such calls we could begin by asking how freely they answer. Don’t want to mistake free fall for free flow. One doesn’t make progress in the living of everyday life (facing repetition), except insofar as growing up, aging, declining, and dying can be construed as progress. Can it? Hardly. Every city emits its peculiar spatiality as an expression of its conditions. Dude! Rosario Basho Clark nods. It’s chill, he says. Yeah? says Flip. He’s momentarily frozen in fascination at the fact that swirling and vibrating and spinning atoms are the true reality of a table or bedroom wall. Everything that’s holding together may cease to do so. Flip raises his right arm. That’s it! It’s all percussion! Things don’t go into memory they emerge out of it. The friend they called Commando was once very much somewhere and then suddenly everywhere. Ellie North Roth lingers and awaits experience in the seemingly negative space of a rainy late afternoon of the holidays. To engage emptily in this way, in the art of abeyance, should bring one close to the non-particular, the unidentifiable, to all that is withheld because it is changing, she thinks. She attempts to let go of her place at the window; the changing makes her slightly afraid. She can refuse epiphany but she won’t refuse weeping. Memory’s inability to assemble wholes is one of its greatest virtues, Ellie North Roth says to Albert Sing Roth. I suppose, he says. Albert Sing Roth is a strong man, somewhat opinionated, but he’s neither a bully, nor an ideologue, nor a martinet, nor a narcissist. If memory thinks it can foresee the future, it is generally deluded, he says. Along with the creation of the private worlds that aesthetic work draws us into, certainly art, or some of it at least, should create public worlds, as it used to, in much earlier times. It’s possible that these public worlds might be as obsession-fraught or as dream-woven as private ones, or even that they would be unimaginable ———— bereft of images. In her introduction to Becomings, Elizabeth Grosz, writing on the threshold of a new millennium, speculates as to the character of possible futures and ends by wondering “whether this time of the future is the noble time of the lost cause, the time of an impossible future, in which one must struggle for, and achieve, a beyond in the most apparently hopeless and oppressed of positions.” A few pages later she continues: “The politics of the hopeless cause, the cause ennobled precisely because it is hopeless, improbable, unlikely to succeed, introduces another [order of] time, another dimension, into the concept of what politics and struggle are. To struggle not to win so much as to make a mark, to mark a time and a place as particular, is to imbue time (and space) with a hope that is beyond the hope of actual outcomes.” An inventive young poet wants to project into his forthcoming book some images from a large sheet of film, a 10 by 22 inch sheet of orange acetate with a “tongue” at one of the narrow sides just like the tongue used to thread a roll of 35mm film into a pre-digital camera. His girlfriend suggests that he make a cardboard mat with a round hole in it: the poet could slide the sheet so that the desired image would appear in the hole, backlit and thus projected. I say something like “that’s a great idea”; it’s a ridiculous thing to say. The poet’s orange acetate sheet of film is creased and breaking apart. He says he is going to make a new one, but I don’t trust the poet’s sincerity. In a notebook I sketch an empty rectangle and write under it a caption: a three alley dream whose interpretation requires a sword-swallower’s practicality and an office on location so she or he can speak French to the money guys who have expectations that will remain forever unforgiven. Unsatisfied, I try again, under a second empty rectangle: At the scene of his true crime a killer checks his pockets, searching for his notes about weak feelings that will allow him to wade indifferently away from the gore at the sight of which passersby with enthusiasm will narcissistically express their own feelings, always their true object of fascination. This is better, but for the fun of it I dream up another. I draw a third empty rectangle and below it carefully write From between two dark high-rises a car, so blindingly white as to constitute a speeding site of pure negativity, comes into view and further accelerates, bearing down on a sunny round yellow car which it smashes, catapulting it into the side of a rose red car in Kirk Wong’s ‘Crime Story,’ which we can take to mean that betterment will be as it always has been: littered with broken machines. I have no idea what might go into the empty rectangles. An epic is a long story about the difficulties that impede someone’s attempt to return home. The hero’s persistence is the real substance of his or her heroism. The kids at the Oakland MAP are searching for a proper place for themselves, a world with a horizon. They have predators: dealers, gang-bangers, bacteria, guns, cars, viruses, cops, idiots ———— general malignity. For humans alive in any given age, various ideas dominate as to the value of life, or the value of what’s available (or not) to the living, and each age has its accompanying array of hobbies, culinary preferences, and child-rearing practices. Some ages ———— perhaps most ———— lose their canonical status; what they in their time thought constituted the value of life loses credibility, or even reality. Other ages accumulate value, becoming valuable in their own right. The ages, here given in alphabetical order, include:
The Avian Age
The Age of Ends
The Age of Facades
The Feline Age
The Age of Games
The Age of Herpetology
The Age of Immediacy
The Age of Justification
The Martial Age (aka the Age of War)
The Martian Age (also known as the Age of Origins)
The Age of Meteorology (sometimes confused with the Avian Age; see above)
The Musical Age (with a period of harsh timbres and unmelodious atonality
following a long period of harmony and preceding a period of
The Ocular Age
The Age of Representation (aka the Age of Return)
The Age of Time (sometimes called the Age of Now)
“During the day I was sustained and inspirited by the hope of night: for in sleep I saw my friends, my wife, my beloved country….” Feverishly, Victor Frankenstein races across immense stretches of territory as he madly pursues his experiment and its destruction. His vast experiment was always driven by a particular form of homesickness. “Often […] I persuaded myself that I was dreaming until night should come, and that I should then enjoy reality in the arms of my dearest friends.” It is to reality that we turn when looking for the source, the cause, the realm of existence of those things that we think we can properly know. Such a reality ———— so-called “objective reality” ———— exists “over there,” while we, the knowing (or not-knowing), move about restlessly over here, in exile. But now the very word itself is beginning to lose reality. So quickly we are already some days into winter and the strange aspirations that come with the rain. Much of the activism has moved indoors. The great accomplishment that coherence achieves, as in a painting by Bonnard, are its murky verges.