Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Notes toward an ecology of the practice of poetry

This is a talk given in Seattle on December 6 at Pilot books.

What I want to talk about is Isabelle Stengers' notion of an Ecology of Practices as a tool for thinking -- and what the implications of this might be for poetics and poetry – ie, for those who write and read and listen to it.

First as a preliminary example, I want to say that Irrational Dude viewed immanently, that is, from within its own practice, is not exactly irrational. While it’s not a fully logical machine, and it is admittedly full of fits and starts, it was an attempt to cohere or to foster its own force.

The title is a nomination from outside (my nephew’s nickname for me) – which Nico Vassilakis and I freely adopted -- which might anticipate the responses of some readers.

But it is precisely this kind of external (dismissive or critical) naming or labeling that is rejected by an ecology of practices.

Coherence is not necessarily logical, but rather it is eco-logical. Something coheres in relation to its environment.


Briefly, Isabelle Stengers is a philosopher who lives and teaches in Belgium. She wrote a number of collaborative essays on philosophy of science with Ilya Prigogine. Her influences include Deleuze and Guattari, Michel Serres, Bruno Latour and Alfred North Whitehead.

Unfortunately, her recent books Cosmopolitics (Cosmopolitiques) and Thinking with Whitehead (Penser avec Whitehead) – have not yet been translated into English. In these later works she’s still distinguishing between good versus poorly constructed science – but she moves more towards philosophy proper – using metaphysical tools to explore questions of knowledge.

For Stengers, science is inherently problematic since it typically attempts to stabilize the world.

I should say that I find Stengers very rewarding to read, but also difficult -- maybe in part because of the translation, but more likely because science was never my strong suit.

I’ll try to outline some of her underlying ideas.

1. She believes after Whitehead in the primacy of feelings and experience. The number of feelings or prehensions we experience greatly exceed our cognitive activity. There’s a lot going on below the level of cognition. Our bodies process lots of activity without alerting our minds.

This numerical superiority of feelings helps to explain the next concept which is that: we don’t own our own causes. For me this is a deeply held belief. I’ve been saying for twenty years that the words write me as much as I might write them.

Decisions are made but we’re not exactly their author.

Thus, free will is a problem. As Brian Massumi says: The skin is faster than the word. Feelings are translated and we too easily accept what arrives as our own thought. Perhaps the only free will humans have is in exercising a suspension – that is, in deciding not to act on the thought that arrives.

2. She’s interested in the Constructive (or process oriented – focused on becoming or how things change), rather than the destructive or the deconstructive (more focused on critiquing “being” or presence).

“You never construct in general, [but] always in relation with … a matter of concern.”

She’s a constructivist. She looks at how propositions (or entities or things or objects) are produced, and how these productions can (sometimes) become autonomous...

3. Constructivism is non-foundationist. That is, truth is a construction – so there is no primacy of truth. She’s against either-or propositions. It’s not the chicken or the egg, that’s a false choice. She won’t accept claims that separate themselves from the actual practice, the actual becoming.

It is along these lines, that she argues for the minor stage (or minor literature) and against the major – because the “major” always appeals to Truth (-with a capital T -- which by history’s lights must lead directly to freedom, as in: “the truth will set you free”) The minor resists this traditional form of “enlightenment” – ie, this appeal to truth.

Working from examples in the sciences, Stengers is against universalization (ie, against any world view or model) that would deny the validity of other theories and practices outside its own practice/discipline. Universalization usually denies the validity of all other theories.

She sees innovative scientific propositions as (in part) making fiction – & if the fiction is accepted, it modifies the scientific reality – in a sense it makes history.  The “what if” that drives the innovative proposition is accepted as truth -- not necessarily a good thing.

4. Stengers is very much with Latour & Whitehead & the Speculative Realists against the bifurcation of the world into two realms: the human (or culture) versus nature. This has vast implications. One way to think about this is as a denial of the distinction between how we conventionally think about subject and object. They are, in fact, hopelessly intertwined.

For Latour, it is modernism that tries to purify the world by splitting it in two. Of course this distinction gives special transcendental powers to the human: the unique ability to cross the bridge between these two worlds.

The implications for poetry here are interesting. What does poetry look like if there’s no split between human word and world? What does a non-anthropocentric poetics look like? Is it a celebration of the democracy of all objects? Along the lines of: “Hello! tree” And what would a non-modern poetry look like? A poetry that would not privilege (the human realm nor) its own language.

I’m trying to write an essay suggesting that one example of what the non-modern might look like is visual poetry, which might be enhanced by crawling out of its own pigeonhole.

C. Ecology of Practices – as a tool for thinking.

It is performative, an attempt to address itself to practitioners of a field. “To dream along with” – “in a mode that is not critical, which [does] not remind [practitioners]… of limits inherent to their activity.”

An ecology of practices addresses how practices relate to each other. (but they can only partially relate). There are no practices that can be independent of environment.

"An ecology of practices does not have any ambition to describe practices 'as they are’…. It aims at the construction of new… possibilities for them to be present or, in other words, to connect. It thus does not approach practices as they are… but as they may become."

“If there is to be an ecology of practices, practices must not be defended as if they are weak. The problem for each practice is how to foster its own force, make present what causes practitioners to think and feel and act.” …

The challenge is to think: "par le milieu" (with the milieu) which implies becoming THRU the middle (without grounding definitions or an ideal horizon—in other words, unmapped) and WITH the surroundings. No theory gives you the power to disentangle something from its particular surroundings.

Blaser’s definition of the poetic resonates here: “The poetic is the language of the mapless.”

The ecology of practices as a tool for thinking must be immanent – so to the extent that it’s a critique, it’s an immanent critique. It wants to contrast rather than oppose. In fact it wants to find the stubborn facts and (ala Whitehead) to convert oppositions into contrasts.

Finally, it wants to affirm the positive value of attachment – which is what obligates practitioners. So it asks how it is that one belongs, and how that belonging obligates you.


So, how to translate all this to the practice of poetry or poetics? Can there be an immanent critique – from within the practice of poetry?

The first step would be to situate the relevance and limits of poetic practice without engaging in critique. In other words, where are the borders with other practices and what questions matter – what questions make us think rather than re-cognize?

For poets and artists, one of the biggest questions that matter may be: how does one produce objects or poems that have lives of their own?

The next step might be to ask: what are the obligations or “attachment(s)” of a poet practitioner. How am I obligated? Frankly, I don’t know the answer – and maybe it’s not knowable.

Maybe obligation is in part about affiliations or involvements – the more of these you have, the more autonomous you become? Or are these attachments related to tradition, community or methodology?

Stengers says: Attachments are what cause us to think. So it’s probably not really pencil and paper, or keyboard and screen that makes us think. I’d suggest that what makes us think is more of an aesthetic question. There is some mysterious allure or charm in my relations and interactions with other objects/entities that causes me to think. Like an aesthetic judgment it is singular and uncategorizable.

Looking at disputes within contemporary poetics – this does cause me to think and hopefully not just to recognize what I already like or dislike. For example, why so many hated and still hate L-poetry & why the same thing seems to be happening regarding so-called conceptual/flarf poetry. I think there are clues here about how what attaches poets to poetic practice.

Looking around, it seems to me that the notion of a poet’s obligation implies a real tension between ethics and aesthetics.

According to Latour and Stengers, moderns (and post-moderns) confuse attachments with universal obligations – therefore they destroy attachments. They “feel free to define themselves as ‘nomads’, free to go everywhere to enter any practical territory, to judge, deconstruct or disqualify what appears to them as illusions or folkloric beliefs and claims.”

If one takes (and this is where I think I’m going) aesthetics as “a primordial form of relation and interaction,” in effect a first philosophy, then the obligation may be to struggle – to relate and interact. To connect. And not just to words – but to all objects /entities that one meets in the world.

Modernist (and post-modern) poets -- the ones I have most cherished -- often answer the obligation question by moving away from aesthetics toward an ethical answer.

I’ll end by walking through some quotations about poetic obligation, but first I should say that the manifesto-like answer to this rift may be to try to convert oppositions into contrasts, a phrase which I seem to be repeating. In this case, it would be to try to find an aesthetic place for ethics; an immanent place for transcendence.

E. OBLIGATION On Poets and Vice Versa

First some examples that are not foregrounding ethics:

T. S. Eliot on the ineffable: "The poet has the obligation to explore, to find words for the inarticulate, i.e., to capture those feelings which people can hardly even feel, because they have no words for them. The task of the poet, is making people comprehend the incomprehensible…"

Brodsky: to write well…

Neruda: to listen – to become a conduit… to society/others.

Afraid I might prefer Shakespeare: “The truest poetry is the most feigning...”

To aim at unachievable totality, perfect sleep, rested totality, burnt toast… Sincerely, Louie Zukofsky.

And some that are foregrounding ethics:

For Pound (Gertrude Stein’s village explainer) the obligation is to act correctly – to make new. Right poetics lead to right action.

Oppen’s obligation to the other is ethical – to take responsibility. It’s a linguistically self conscious ethics – [“ethics as a structure of relationship between self and other”]

For Reznikoff, the obligation is bearing witness to things not seen.

Horace: uses Aristotelian principles to give specific obligatory advice (like the Koran): “there should not be more than 3 speaking characters on the stage at the same time” and… “we forbid the comic poet to ridicule our citizens, under a penalty of expulsion from the country and a fine of three minae.”

Plato: It is the poet's obligation, wrote Plato, to bear witness. But if you bear false witness three times, that’s punishable by death. That is, Plato requires a personal guarantee – he distrusts writing or rather, other writers.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Allegiance of the Drones: WTO Libretto


[Characters: He, She, Canetti, chorus of union and police
and protesters.  11/30/2009 and flashback
of 11/30/1999. 

Opening Scene: Spotlight on a long table with three oversize
microphone/props and water glasses.  It’s
like a roomy war court tribunal. Three chairs – one for Canetti who sits
mid-table facing the audience.  He &
She will sit at opposite ends of the table.
He and She may be marked by some sort of distinctive apparel – very
similar to each other, eg., blue-jackets (windbreakers) that define them or
some funny hat.  Canetti perhaps in black
jacket to suggest a soft allegiance to anarchists.]

Chorus: (singing in wings)

Ten livelong years have rolled away,
Since the twin towers bayed away,
By Market endowed with pride of place
The doughty chiefs of the Capitalist race
Went forth of yore,
To plead with the police, face to face,
Before the judgment-seat of War!

[He and she enter stage right/left and embrace – showing
tenderness.  Towards the end of following
chorus, before Canetti starts – they sit on opposite chairs at long table.]

Chorus: (singing in wings):

Truce to this bootless waiting here without! 
To see the beacon fires arise
And then beneath some thwarting word
Sicken anon with hope deferred
 (a crowd slowly

The most important occurrence within the crowd is the discharge.  Before this the crowd does not actually exist; it is the discharge, which creates it.  This is the moment when all who belong to the crowd get rid of their differences and feel equal.  … Only together can people free themselves from their burdens of distance; and this, precisely, is what happens in a crowd... In density, where there is scarcely any space between, and body presses against body, each person is as near the other as he is to himself; and an immense feeling of relief ensues.  It is for the sake of this blessed moment, when no one is greater or better than another, that people become a crowd.

Chorus /Union song:
(the crowd gathered, singing, still growing; She is present
in this group, and rises to sing the first stanza alone – somewhat softly, as
if to herself—the 2nd and 3rd stanzas sung by 2 or more,
growing in number; final stanza a crowd sings – maybe pointing at audience –
freezing when they finish)

I'm going down to join the union
I'm going to join it for myself
Aint nobody here can join it for me
I'm going down to join the union for myself

[Brother's going down to join the union
He's gotta join it for himself
Aint nobody here can join it for him
He's gotta go down and join the union for himself]
[possible deletion?]

Sister's going down to join the union
She's gotta join it for herself
Aint nobody here can join it for her
She's gotta go down and join the union for herself

You gotta go down and join the union
You gotta join it for yourself
Aint nobody here can join it for you
You gotta go down and join the union for yourself
[Short music interlude and then silence before C speaks;
crowd frozen until he starts]

(singing/talking?) (the frozen crowd slowly disperses
leaving 3 to 5 people; She returns to table)

But the moment of discharge, so desired and so happy, contains its own danger.  It is based on an illusion;

[music can restart here]

the people who suddenly feel equal have not really become equal; nor will they feel equal for
ever.  They return to their separate houses, they lie down on their own beds, they keep their possessions and their names.  They do not cast out their relations nor run away from their families. Only true conversion leads men to give up old associations and form new ones.  These new associations by their very nature can only accept a limited number of members.  Such groups I call crowd crystals. 

Chorus/Union Song:

 (3 to 5 singers-
union organizers – singing in quieter/lower tone) [Sound of police off stage,
perhaps an announcement to disperse – towards the end of the song, when the 3-5
singers quickly exit stage in different directions]

We're going down to join the union
We're going to join it for ourselves
Aint nobody here can join it for us
We're going down to join the union for ourselves

Though the roads be rough and rocky
And the hills be steep and high
We will sing as we go marching
And we'll join the One Big Union by and by

Crowd crystals are the small, rigid groups of men ..  which serve to precipitate crowds.  Their structure can
be comprehended and taken in at a glance.  Their unity is more important than their size.  Their role must be familiar..
[talking] They should preferably appear the same; a uniform or a definite sphere of operation...
The crowd crystal is constant; it never changes its size.  Its members are trained in both action and faith.  They
may be allotted different parts, as in an orchestra, but they must appear as a unit, and the first feeling of anyone seeing … them should be that this is a unit which will never fall apart. 

 (Police enter in
[possibly a pyramid] formation)

 [Over next several sections, the protesters
loll along – pacing like a river- moving like a cloud.  Slowing building and meandering until the
police eventually start to try to corral them. Density of the crowd grows]

Chorus- Police Song:

(He gets up from table and joins to sing corporal or private
part.  Sung by 8 different singers
assigned a rank;)

privates three
corporals three
sergeants three
lieuies three (pronounced loo-ee)
captains three
majors three
colonels three
generals three

privates three - "when do I get my check?"
corporals three - "war, war, war"
sergeants three - "file from the left, column right said Sgts"
lieuies three (pronounced loo-ee) - "I'll lead the way said the lieuies"
captains three - "take that hill said the captains"
majors three - "who's gonna shine my boots said the majors"
colonels three - "where's my star said the colonels"
generals three - "war, war, war"

 (Police standing in formation, while the crowd
rushes up to them and/or around them.
The police line moves but slowly, bending to hold their position – a
riverbank to the flows they contain.)

Your left, your left, your left, right, get on down    
Your left, your left, your left, right, get on down    
Now drop, and beat your face                           
[our neo-liberal] platoon's gonna rock this place                  
Boom, check it out, check it out                       
Boom, check it out, check it out                       

[possible repeat; as C starts, He sits down. Police stay on stage in formation
and moving]


(singing/talking?—possible overlay of first list with this
The crowd likes destroying houses and objects: breakable objects like window panes and crockery; …it is the
fragility of these objects which stimulates … the crowd.  …The banging of windows and crashing of glass are robust sounds of fresh life, the cries of something new-born. Everything shouts; the din is the applause of objects.  There is a special need for this kind of noise at the beginning of events, when the crowd is small and little or nothing has happened.  The noise is a promise of the reinforcements the crowd hopes for, and a happy omen for deeds to come. 

Union Chorus:

(She rises from
table to join chorus)
We’re taking security fencing and closing the streets
We’re setting fires in the streets
We’re chaining ourselves to each other
We’re blocking the streets with dumpsters – throwing concrete onto the street
We’re building platforms and stages
We’re flooding all intersections simultaneously - flooding them with people

Police Chorus:

( Canetti
silent.  She sits back at table in front of
their prop mics. He reads left column alternating with She, who reads the right
column. Police line and protesters continue to test limits and the crowd
builds/loses densit

Seattle Police Department: 1800 officers and personnel;
Washington State Patrol:
27 motorcycles and 40 patrol cars for escort duty,
55 troopers for demonstration management duty, 13 SWAT officers, 4 bomb squad
technicians and 2 explosives detection K-9 teams

31 hand
held Oleoresin Caps; 111 hand held dispensers of OC; 340 hand thrown
continuous discharge tear gas grenades; 100 multi-shot pyrotechnic tear gas
rounds. 5 rounds instantaneous CS powder designed for crowd management at
close ranges.

King County Sheriff: 13
motorcycles, 90 officers for demonstration management, 35 officers for Key
Arena, 8 SWAT officers and 1 bomb squad

459 rubber ball bodies containing additional small rubber balls; 25
rubber ball bodies containing additional small rubber balls and OC powder
dispensed when the ball is deployed;

Port of Seattle: security
personnel, a bomb squad, and an explosives detection K-9 team

172 rubber
ball bodies containing additional small rubber balls dispersing in a circular
pattern and containing tear gas.

Bellevue Police: 8 motorcycles. Kent Police: 5
motorcycles.  Auburn, Renton, Tukwila
Police: 10 officers

230 37mm
less than lethal rounds each with 5 wood batons; 64 less than lethal rounds
of single hard plastic batons designed to be direct fired in a crowd for
control; 361 less than lethal bean bag rounds designed to be direct fired.

[He and She rise and mill with their respective


The crowd "wants to experience for itself the strongest possible feeling of its own animal force..." It remains hungry for human beings it has not reached.
But everyone carries within him a small traitor who wants to eat drink make love and be left alone… The crowd here is like a besieged city… it has enemies before its walls and enemies within them.  During the fighting it attracts more and more partisans.  These slip through the enemy lines and collect in front of the gates,
begging to be let in.  

Union & Police -- Allied CHORUS:

[[He and She with
their respective groups.  Tension
continuing to wax and wane-- the union shout the locations while the police
shout the action—aka text in italic.  The
back and forth builds in volume here.) (NOTE—alt idea was to have the blue and
the black – not a union chorus but a protester chorus – have different tones or
positive/neg body language – union in disapproval – the black-jackets stoked]

We’re on 5th & Pine -- looters in the Starbuck’s.

We’re on 5th & Union – 7 patrol cars were disabled with all tires flattened.
We’re on Seneca & Hubbell Place – report of delegates being pushed around by protestors.
We’re on 3rd & Pike – people throwing barricades through windows.
We’re on 4th Ave. and Lenora, south on 4th Ave. to Seneca St.
East on Seneca St. to I-5
We’re North on Boren Ave. to Pine St.
We’re West on Pine St. to 6th Ave.
We’re North on 6th Ave. to Lenora St.
We’re West on Lenora to 4th Ave. and 8th & Seneca – large disturbance with people chaining
themselves to manholes and setting items on fire

We’re at the Convention Center – people observed carrying bottles filled with flammable liquids.
We’re Eastbound on Olive – people pushing a dumpster
We’re on 6th & Pike – 65-100 protestors lying in the street
We’re on Boren & Pike – people attacking moving cars and fighting with possible property damage
We’re on 8th & Seneca – 100 protestors jumping on cars
We’re on 9th & Olive – protestors putting chains across the intersection – light post to light post

(Motions of crowd
and police escalating to panic and pushing/shoving.)

Animals flee from the burning forest; …. but the crowd which used to run from fire now feels strongly attracted by it.  As is well known, conflagrations of all kinds have a magical effect on men… If … large enough, a curious reversal of their old mass fear commands them to hurry to its site, [to] feel there something of the glowing warmth which formerly united them...  one of the strongest instincts of the crowd, as soon as it has formed at all, is to create such a fire … to use its attraction to further its own growth.

(SHE falls in the struggle of the crowd w/police, which
suddenly disperses leaving her behind.
The police line moves on and alone, HE arrests her and puts handcuffs on


My hands met three times behind me, and returned, as often, empty, to my breast. I paled, with wonder, I
believe, and begged him to stop a while, and speak to me.


‘Just as I loved you in the
mortal body, so I love you, freed: so I stay: but you, where are you going?’

(HE walks SHE off stage)

Draft 6/20/09
Nico Vassilakis & Robert Mittenthal

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Proprioceptive Thought & Free Will

David Bohm suggests that concrete thinking is "in motion."  It is a tacit thinking aware of its own motion.  There's something that drives us to thought, but we're rarely able to suspend ourselves from the conviction of the thought, and its impact on us.  That is, because the feeling or affect that arrives from outside is powerful, we end up letting it direct us rather than suspending or questioning it.  We mistake the feeling for a thought and accept it as ours.  Proprioceptive thought may be less prone to this error; it is aware of its own motion, of its own body.

Brian Massumi says something similar in his Parables for the Virtual, i.e., that "the skin is faster than the word." (POV 25).  This fact has long been exploited in popular culture – from horror films to reality TV to politics.  As Ronald Reagan said: “facts are stupid things.”  Indeed, today feeling is the lure that empowers.  Stubborn facts may be limits, but they also provide opportunities. 

When someone talks about accessibility as a virtue, aren’t they really talking up instant gratification?  Impatience leads to the waning of the power of the word.  (“Heh – I can’t read your mind either!”)  Justice is flawed and at best slow and deliberative, but culture and life seem to move much faster.  In a world of object inflation and of oppressive choice, comfort is indeed, as Koolhaas says somewhere, “the new justice.”

The point is to resist those who would pin down thought, mapping it in a trajectory to guarantee its failure.  Zeno understood that his arrow on a Z-sited path could never arrive.  It’s the eros of thought that is missed, that needs to be embraced.  We need the sweep or whole motion of thought, not severable into discrete (mapped out) moments.  We need to let ourselves become, to be jolted out of the grooves of daily habit.  If a map is necessary, let’s make it uncomfortable, or at least full of surprises.

The Skin Is Faster

Recent science has uncovered some curious data regarding the split second between “the beginning of a bodily event and its completion in an outwardly directed, active expression.”  (POV, 29)  The active gesture in this instance is the flexing of a finger.  The test subject visually notes the clock-time of a decision to give the finger.  It turns out that there is about a 0.2 second lapse between the visual noting of the decision and the arrival of the gesture.  This isn't that surprising.  Reflexes aren't instantaneous and it takes a bit of time for the impulse to travel from the brain through the nervous system.  The real surprise is that a signature of brain activity occurs 0.3 seconds before the visual registration of the decision.  That is, the brain is independently doing something before we can register a thought as ours.  Stop.  Look around.  Before we can register a thought as belonging to us, something else, something outside has occurred.  This implies that there's something recursive about the nature of thought, something that isn't totally controllable. 

Stelarc in his recent Seattle talk said that new experiments have been able to predict what you’re going to do seven (7!) seconds before you do it.  [If that’s right, in our cynical neo-liberal times, it seems likely that some arbitrager will figure out how to trade on this gap soon.]  Why the case for Stelarc is so difficult to make will have to be a subject of a future post, but it relates to the fact that he is crossing boundaries that humans are uncomfortable with.  He’s a body artist who wants his obsolete body to literally become other.  To quote Massumi, “Stelarc is not a conceptual artist.  He is not interesting in communicating concepts about the body.  What he is interested in is experiencing the body as a concept.”  You can read more of this, the most convincing thing I’ve found on Stelarc, here.

It seems obvious that the brain registers all sorts of data that never make it into conscious  thought.  Unconsciousness versus consciousness is clearly a dynamic range.  In the grooves of daily habit, we travel familiar paths without consciously thinking about what we’re doing.   I go thru the motions and suddenly find myself at a destination.

One could go off here about the evils of habit.  Being aware of the present as it unfolds is an awakening.  But, e.g., sleep is a habit I’d prefer to keep.

Benjamin Libet, who did these experiments, interprets the results as a crisis of free will.  If we fail to suspend the arriving thought, to reject this as “our” thought, then aren't we becoming mere automatons, or ventriloquists of the received thought?

Perhaps the only free will humans have is in exercising a suspension – that is, in deciding not to act on the thought that arrives. 

Friday, October 30, 2009


Announcing IRRATIONAL DUDE, a new chapbook of collaborative writing by Nico Vassilakis and Robert Mittenthal from tir aux pigeons. 

Until the crayons ran out of color. A gargantuan snag of me uphill. Supine on their backs an instrument with heads attached. The stars are out above the bivouac.

       -from Testosterone Poisoning

On collaboration, to quote the others on the plateaux: "the two of us wrote this together. Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd...  We have kept our names... out of habit, purely out of habit... to reach not the point where one no longer says I, but the point where it is no longer of any importance whether one says I."

PURCHASE COPY for $6 (plus s/h) at lulu:
or read downloadable PDF here.

To request a review copy, please reply to me &/or the publisher at tirauxpigeons-AT-gmail-DOT-com.

======UPDATED 12/20======

Birds until the night swallows their song.
Lost in the borough, no bridge to brook the flow, no sea to settle
The stoop birds approach. The marvelous perch dispersed.

These are the most sonorous lines in the poem, and signal that it isn’t only the natural world that has been damaged—in fact, everything human, including our innermost core, becomes collateral damage. Stu Dempster, the trombonist to whom the first part of Irrational Dude is dedicated, has talked about “tuning yourself to the room you play in.” Our room is the world—on the whole, the language, the aphasic diction of Irrational Dude, is tuned to the irreparable damage of worlds. It “barks back into the night.”
   -Petra Backonja

After the fact, I've discovered that Irrational Dude is synonymous with Whitehead's secular notion of god, the ultimate limitation whose existence is the ultimate irrationality.  It is the irrational dude who works alone, perhaps in a clerical role, at Whitehead's novelty store.   


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Blackbox or blog?

The shell beyond which clarity
Counting to five wrongly
The armor that prevents understanding
A pedestal sink in the way of thought

Not metaphor or one idea
Following but the urge to tear apart
The fingers and hands cannot
Unscrew the phillips screw

The fingers can only seek the various
Tools that built the tools that built
The object inflated in a world without will
The foregone conclusion we allude to that only we can stop

The skin is faster as I
Patch in an old text here
These frames wired then
Into an assemblage of fact


I meditate on the little stars
Disasters for a body built
Whose perfect expression walks itself
Stumbling heavily, prone to misdirection

It chose to remain within
Not at rest but alive or in pursuit of a power to be affected
An image masochist whose bent eyelids recede
Passion by turns harnessed

Abraded flesh of a composite
Reaching up to pull down
Each word on my forehead punched out or remaindered
It's a chorus of voices in the ear

Or a knife, a tag team
For the prosthetics that extend a hand
Before then how do you do
Fisted numb it's the black of all feeling

Resonance in the viewer a taste on the lip
Where words break to reverse thought

Friday, October 16, 2009

Transpiercing The Text - Nico Vassilakis Books On

A book museum - pinning up the object of affection. It's your defection I read between cover stories - each reveal of tattered color running into open air. To worship such ships the most relevant foresails. Their representation of blood trickling to the street.

To feel the wound - the uncorrected proofs - the inadvertent flair of internal text. Blurbs of the high minded imagined there. Unseen leaps a totem of action clamours where words fail me.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Thumb Drive - Stelarc

Circulating flesh body to body
a book floats above the street
printable organs in excess of body weight
"Can we switch to the prosthetic head please?"

I talked to the ear - fractal and phantom
one exalts ones own face-station
the hook line and sink
the allure of blind carbon

This involuntary writing with
distributed footprints
the artist’s indifference
perceives a possible action

Implicated in each
objects pose in a body and vice versa
sensational zombies fill me up
the prosthetic is an empty shell

An experience of cutlery and culinary icing
The yes. It thinks itself
where the sinister piano plays out its highest pitch
close up and into the 3rd hand

A chimera or avatar - this cadaver without flesh
sings the consonant and improbable song
vowels staring back
in fear of its talking head

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Blandiloquence (the word for “a word for Seattle”)

Startled by the décor of the logic gates a portrait stands tall with the genial spirit. Black plastic patent pending the diameter of your wrist – about three inches small. Its vinyl bindings pinch the thighs – running down the double wide. An optical cable. Rods of refracted light marbled between cork and wainscot. Logic as such lines up watching subroutines work their way to the top.

Already written, the book talks back but with different hair.

It has knobs on. It takes its miniature fabrics off. Hollow when sawed through – a Ken doll with plastic flesh. These contradictions only prove K exists. The illusion of an argument alive in the eye. Feeling an arc that guides each step. The constraint of a three-legged race. Or a tumbling apart that produced silence.

We’ve become there – as adjacents. Ready to wear. Enacted in body words populate the gestures that own us.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

She In Blood - Essay on the feminine subject in Cormac McCarthy

Reads like a conflation of the Inferno, the Iliad and Moby Dick…
-John Banville, The independent

Evokes the styles of both Sam Peckinpah and Hieronymus Bosch…
-USA Today

She brings his meals, she carries out his slops.

She looked at him some more, then she called toward the back of the house.

She stopped at the gate and watched him go.

She looked harried and she smiled at them and she had smuggled them sweets under her shawl and there were pieces of meat in the bottom of the bowls that had come from her own table.

She’s a stout looker, said one.

She began to drag through the sand.

She swept up her skirt and composed herself and he took from his shirt a kerchief and with it bound her eyes.

She raised her chin slightly and she began a sing song chant.

She paused.

She looked like a blindfold mannequin raised awake by a string.

She moved her shoulders.

She began to chant.

She raised her jaw, gibbering at the night.

She seemed to catch some new drift in her divinings.

She stared at the ground nor did she look up even when the horses stood all about her.

She was in a meat camp about eight mile upriver, said Webster.

She caint walk.

She bites.

She had raised her eyes to the level of his knees.

She began to cry and after a while she made him take her to the place and she took wild primrose which grew in plenty thereabout and she put it on the stones and she came there many times until she was old.

She stared at the coins without moving until he shooed her away and she went off down the hallway holding coins cupped in her hands like a bird.

She disappeared up the stairwell calling out and soon there were a number of women busy about the place.

She looked toward the house.

She won’t bring you nothin without I tell her to.

She was a huge woman with a great red face and she read him riot.

She’s dead.

She turned to the other women.

She reached in and took him by the hand.

She handed him down, him clinging to her neck.

She was smeared with feces but seemed not to notice.

She looked back at those on the riverbank.

She held him up, she crooned to him.

She was sobbing and praying for mercy to Glenton and to God impartially.

She watched him ride past, covering her breasts with her hands.

She wore a rawhide collar about her neck and she was chained to a post and there was a clay bowl of blackened meatscrapes beside her.

She was very old and her face was gray and leathery and sand had collected in the folds of her clothing.

She did not look up.

She moved slightly, her whole body, light and rigid.

She weighed nothing.

She was just a dried shell and she had been dead in that place for years.

She ran forward and knelt and gathered the great shaggy head up in her arms and began to rock back and forth sobbing.

She looked up at him.

She directed him to a table where a woman was selling chits and stuffing the money with a piece of shingle through a narrow slit into an iron strongbox.

She led him through a door where an old Mexican woman was handing out towels and candles and they ascended like refugees of some sordid disaster the darkened plankboard stairwell to the upper rooms.

She turned and looked at him.

She had come to the door.

She stood in the hallway holding the candle and brushing her hair back with one hand and she watched him descend into the dark of the stairwell and then she pulled the door shut behind her.

She wore nothing but a pair of men’s drawers and some of her sisters were likewise clad in what appeared to be trophies – hats or pantaloons or blue twill cavalry jackets.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Notes on Spite: Apostrophes and Pronouns

Diogenes: To own nothing is the beginning of happiness.

The pretext or precondition for spite is a sense of propriety. I have created or built or found X. I've tended to it, thus X is mine, I own it.

Your sense of ownership can get so large that it owns you. Having too many things or too many choices can be a burden. Everyone today seems obsessed with both tangible and intangible commodities. We’re bred to have big heads, spending all our freedom constructing a sense of self from various consumer choices: brand Y; band Z. We take these constructions or invisible territories to be our own.

Spite is a simple and transparent emotional reaction. A spite house is constructed to destroy or disable the territorial views or rights of an adjacent house.

When told of the concept of the Spite House, I wanted to know how the concept of blocked light or blocked flow of air and/or water evolved in common law. I found that in English common law, there is something called a Negative Easement, where instead of simply denying a easement, or right of way through one’s land, one preemptively stops one’s neighbors from using their land in specific ways.

This anticipation of encroachment “limits productivity in the land,” that is, it restricts the other’s potential use, thus devaluing the other’s so-called “servient” estate (from the Latin “servire” -- to serve, originally to be a slave). The “dominant” estate anticipates negatively, to insure against interlopers or appropriators who may take the light or air away from the authority constituted via the original or more primary (artistic) labors.

A predominant extension of the concept of negative easement can be found in intellectual property, which reduces ideas to property. An intangible object of the intellect is magically transformed into tangible property. Today one can objectify an idea, not only figuratively “bringing it to the body” or “possessing it” (viz. etymology of property), but one may sit on the idea-object for years, preventing others from productively using it. Cognitively and conceptually driven by rules about origin and authority, the notion of intellectual property negatively anticipates and preempts neighborly use.

The aggressive artist marks his territory, carefully pissing away time – sitting on the egg with the hope that it will begin to resemble himself. Even the faint possibility of being spited, the possibility that some heathen may transgress his invisible or intangible boundaries, invites negative ease.

A traditional suspicion regarding the making of art is that it's an abnormal act or illness. This dis-ease is a sign that the very creative act involves a violent rift that separates the profane lower world (spite!) from the sacred higher world (self-righteousness?). It is artistic authority which begets this duality of spite and negative ease. The alleged salvation of art is that it aims to heal this rift.

In other words, authority in its base (ok, vulgar!) form is inherent to the so-called creative process. So, if anything I might create is infused with vulgar authority, then how to proceed? One can only hope that this art show posits this vulgarity as a problem worthy of serious contemplation.

One final thing you can say for spite – for the most part, it knows what it’s doing. Spite has a goal – it has made a decision, albeit a vulgar one. For me, the interesting problem is how to aestheticize. To build a Spite House is to work negatively, with no eye open to potential futures. It is to be trapped replaying anti-aesthetic strategies and tactics that have already been fully played out. We need an aesthetics of decision that doesn’t simply repeat the notion of pharmacon (poison = cure). We need aesthetic decisions that have functions but no goals – not a floundering around and hoping that something might emerge – but making use of material and occasion – a heterogeneous practice.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Here's the thing (the rough-age) - Non-Poetics

A poem is nothing.

The conversion of nothing into something is the task of criticism.

By persistence a poem can be made something, but then it is something not a poem. Why is it nothing? Because it cannot be looked at, heard, touched or read (what can be read is prose).

Once a poem is classified as the cause of an effect or both cause and effect, it counts itself out of experience - as a nothing masquerading as something.

Literature is preferable to experience, since it is for the most part the closest one can get to nothing.

Poetry is an attempt to make language do more than express, to make it work; to redistribute intelligence by means of the word... The distribution must take place within the intelligence itself... Poetry always faces and generally meets with failure... But even if it fails, it is at least at the heart of the difficulty, which it treats not as a difficulty of minds, but of mind.

These lines (above- from Laura Riding's Anarchism Is Not Enough) first published in 1928 are still provocative after 80 years.

Turning towards more recent provocations:

Conceptual poetry: "an unfortunate noun modified by an adjective."

Is there a difference between the term conceptualism(s) vs conceptualist(s)? The prior implies a schema - and even a system furiously attempting to cross itself out is still a system...

Another (big picture - because it is a vision thing) related and provocative problem:

How to aesthetize? That is, if you accept, as I do, that the anti-aesthetic strategies are all played out.

But I should get back to the point - an alternative way of saying nothing....

(a translation across disciplines or non-disciplines - RMUTTS NOTE - this means that what follows is derivative work).

Non-poetics is not open to criticism - it's a theory that can be proven or disproven, ie, on its own terms.

It is unintelligible from a poetic perspective. To approach it poetically is to invite confusion and dissatisfaction (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Non- poetics seeks to reduce poetic decisions to indifferent materials, rather than authoritative theories. Non-poetics opens the possibility of a non-authoritative use of poetry that does not collapse it into a convenient fiction.

While non-poetry begins as an explanatory theory of poetry, non-poetry is nothing but poetry as non-decisional or non-authoritative. Non-poetics does not wish to put an end to poetry but to liberate it from its self-imposed strictures, it is not merely an explanation of poetical theories, but a way of using poetry itself as creation of concepts, in a way wholly alien to poetical authority.

What can a non-poetic use of poetics do? Once released or disengaged from their decisional determination, concepts no longer pretend to sufficiently explain, or determine, or give the Poem or the Real, but rather, they are posited as given ACCORDING to the poem, concepts become real materials for use. There is no longer a theory of practice or practice of theory. Concepts and theories become subject of experimental use.

Concepts should no longer function as conditions, but as fracalizers, capable of inducing unprecedented forms of experience, like what the telescope and microscope did for the natural sciences.

Non-poetics as a use of poetry no longer seeks to enact the real, but like science, to enact thru experimental testing and constant negotiation amongst disparate poetics. For non-poetry, poetry becomes the empirical phenomena to be explained, experimented with and theorized.

The non-poet no longer claims privileged access to the real or the word, but rather, confines herself to a kind of empirical pragmatics determined according to the real or the word.

The results of an experiment are more important and take precedence over the hypothesis. Determination is left in the hands of the real, the theory is secondary.

Non-poetics offers a universal pragmatics of poetry, or a use of poetry that is not determined according to poetics. This is a use not only of poetic materials taken as given, but poetry itself taken as a means of production of conceptual materials.

(By thumb, he sd)
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