Friday, November 28, 2008


From The Gift, by Lewis Hyde:

I would like to speak of gratitude as a labor undertaken by the soul to effect the transformation after a gift has been received. Between the time a gift comes to us and the time we pass it on, we suffer gratitude. Moreover, with gifts that are an agent of change, it is only when the gift has worked in us, only when we have come up to its level, as it were, that we can give it away again. Passing the gift along is the act of gratitude that finishes the labor.

Monday, November 10, 2008

finnish loveliness

Ze Frank points to this gorgeous collection of photos of Finnish site-specific environmental art. Want to fly to Finland immediately. (Bonus: it is not 79 degrees there in damn November).

Ze liked the colored-pencil logs the most but I can't decide. The shirt seascape? The firebird? The parasol? Maybe the white suits climbing out of the sea.

Why is art that lives in the natural world so thrilling.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

cold hell

Was listening to a podcast I'm intermittently fond of, BBC Radio 4's In Our Time. Don't know why it's called that as they are never talking about Our Time, but anyway this week they discussed Dante's Inferno. The host asked one of the scholars why--once Dante and Virgil make it past various lakes of boiling blood and pitch etc--why, at the very center of hell, the ninth and lowest circle is frozen over. This is the circle of traitors, where a three-headed Satan eats Cassius and Brutus in two mouths, and Judas with the third mouth. So I typed up what the guy said.

It is stillness--there is no life, and no movement, and no dynamism.

Now we come to something of infinite sadness there at the bottom of the pit--we come to something of infinite sadness, because everything is still, every possibility, every spiritual possibility, every--every possibility of establishing a love link--Dante speaks about a [??] vinco d'amore, a chain of love, which binds men rationally together--that has all now evaporated and been destroyed. So the first thing to say certainly about the pit there is that that horrific image of stillness -- the only movement is Satan's wings, that ensures that Hell is frozen over -- there is man's ultimate response to the creativity of God himself, and man's own energy--man's response to that, that tragic response, is caught there by Dante in nothingness, in stillness, in deadness.

John Took, Professor of Dante Studies at University College London

So is the idea that where trust is broken, where that human link is broken, all creativity and life stops? If so I really like that. In case Refraction Arts ever revives The North Project, which we should, I wonder if we could work this in.

Friday, October 3, 2008

feeling blakeish

Don't know where I've been not to know it, but this made me happy of Blake's:

Prayer is the study of Art.
Praise is the Practice of Art.
Fasting &c., all relate to Art.
The outward Ceremony is Antichrist.

Got so pleased about this I started reading Peter Ackroyd's Blake biography and it is excellent. Great stories about him being sent as a teen apprentice to spend day after day drawing the tombs in Westminster Abbey. The statues were painted then, and Ackroyd thinks this (plus stained glass etc) influenced Blake as a colorist. Someone needs to film this I feel, the late 18th c Abbey with all the painted stones. Anyway I need to see it.

BTW for the 1.25 people who read this: I was quite wrong about Don Paterson's Orpheus not being available in the US -- it is, and I'm getting it. Here is another piece.

Consider the flowers: true only to the earth
yet we lend them a fate, from the borders of fate,
and supervise their fadings, their little deaths.
How right that we should author their regret:

everything rises -- and yet we trudge along
laying our heavy selves upon the world.

Friday, September 26, 2008

time maps

So thinking a lot about maps, which I love of course (who doesn't); but also about calendars and clocks, which are maps of time not space, and which I am obsessed with, maybe in bad way.

(A clock I guess is not so much a map as a GPS guidance system -- "you're HERE now; no wait now you're HERE; now HERE; look out, you're almost THERE" etc. God SHUT UP people must want to say to their GPS things. But I don't want to say that to my clock, I always look at it with gratitude and sometimes longing: make me not here any more, take me there, where it will be better.)

But a calendar lays it right out, where you can review it any time: where you've been, what you've come from or been launched out of or escaped; plus all the pleasures that await you. That's the part I like, the all the pleasures that await me. Am not much for reviewing the past.

It would probably be good for me to delete every appointment from my calendar, and take off all the lines from all the squares, and all the numbers and names of months. Just a long unravelling blankness for a map.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


I hate omniscient narrators, I really do. It's always false, as boring as a false god w/beard, opinions, etc. The commandment against false gods is because they are BORING; not that that has stopped us. And we make stories boring when the narrator can blah blah on and on without a voice or point of view. Stories need a voice. I like the potential for lying and mistakes in a real voice.

(I say all this and I am sure there are about 8 million books I love with omniscient narrators. Will have to notice more and figure out how they work--I think mostly via intersubjectivity rather than real omniscience. Maybe.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

solved v resolved

The serious problems of life are never fully solved but some states can be resolved rhythmically.
- Roethke

a good rhythmic sentence too. That's what I need; more rhythm.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

okay this must be north

Choosing how to orient a map is a big moment--you commit yourself to one view of the world.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

rilke baby

I've been waiting (fruitlessly) for this new translation of Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus to make it over from eng-land but nothing, it's been almost two years now, and I have given up. Checked it out at the PCL, since I cannot afford the cost, sorry I mean carbon footprint naturally, of shipping it across ocean.

The poet/translator is Don Paterson and it is so lovely (so far), like clear water, no irritating grit but gorgeously shifting shallows and depths. The third one has been on my mind lately and he does it beautifully (beginning from second stanza):

A song is not desire; so you taught.
Nor is it courtship; nor is it courtship's prize.
Song is being. Easy for a god.
But when are we? When will the Earth and stars

be squandered on us, on our living? Youth--
don't fool yourself that love unlocks this art;
for though love's voice might force your lips apart

you must forget those sudden songs. They'll end.
True singing is another kind of breath.
A breath of nothing. A sigh in a god. A wind.

Monday, September 8, 2008

performative words

In a college French class my professor happened to mention "performative verbs" -- verbs that do not merely describe but perform an action as they are spoken. "I solemnly swear," "I promise," etc.

So this has stuck with me ever since, and lately has connected with my thinking about maps, although I don't think I've sorted that our very well yet. (Are there performative maps? is maybe the question). In some traditions, including at least one Christian Gospel, the world was created by a word, the Logos.

And that made me think about sounds that are eggs or seeds. In Sanskrit there are syllables called seed sounds which I know little about but I think they are meant to affect you energetically rather than convey meaning. Are there other egg or seed sounds out there?

You know I can go on and on about this and use words like performative but what's cool is that it's magic spells; magic words.

Friday, September 5, 2008

radio play scene 1

Scene 1.

Phone ringing [maybe some specific tune]. Quite a few rings

Sorry, isn’t that your phone?

That is my phone.

Are you—-you’re not going to answer?

That’s one very strong possibility.

And you’re not going to – most cell phones have silent modes, I mean in case you didn’t know, where you can—

And I’m not going to silence it. I’m almost certainly not going to answer it, and more certainly, I’m not going to silence it.

Do you mind if I ask why? Because it’s really pretty irritating to—

Because I might answer it. I might answer it. That possibility also remains open. And it can’t remain open if I can’t hear it. I can no longer hang balanced in perfect anguish between those two possibilities. If I turn the ringer off.

(pause. phone continue to ring)

Why isn’t your voicemail picking up?

I cancelled the voicemail.

So it could just ring forever.

It could.


Whoever it is, they really seem to want to reach you.

I agree.

What if it’s something important. What if it’s, it could be something like, it could be your mother, she’s sick, she might have fallen, she could barely reach the phone in the first place, and now she’s holding it to her ear, her last hope –

My mother died a year ago.

Oh. Well. Sorry.

It’s okay. (beat) It’s been a long year.

(Phone ringing)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

figure and ground

I was thinking about this idea a lot a year or two ago because I had just read Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees and was excited. I want to think about it more so I am sticking it here, in the world's most random blog. In the book, Lawrence Weschler quotes the painter Robert Irwin, who writes about how you separate the line of a painting from the rod on the wall it's hanging from:

Well, of course you do it on a scale of values. In other words, the line in the center has some kind of compounded meaning which gives it the emphasis to be focused on. Whereas the rod on the wall, of course, is very meaningless. So therefore, you can, in a sense just not see it . . . So what we're really talkingabout in this whole process is not anything to do with the painting itself, but rather something to do with this thing of value . . .

And figure and ground is a whole system of that kind of focus. You've got a way of looking at the world . . . In this case, you simply eliminate those rods by a deductive process of meaning. They're meaningless, so therefore they simply fall out of view.

But now, when you have a construct like that, that's how you go through the world. In other words, you don't just do it when you're looking at painting. We're talking about a mental construct to which the whole civilization has deeply committed itself.

There's more and it's excellent but I have been typing all day. But he talks about how cubism flattened figure and ground--"the marriage of figure and ground." And he talks about how he (Irwin) is doing work that marries painting to the environment: "Suddenly it had to deal with the environment around it as being equal to the figure and having as much meaning."

This is one of those ideas that is both beautifully obvious but also won't stop unfolding. I will even set aside what it means to the way we watch political conventions, or walk around the world for hell's sake. Just confining it to art for a moment it is still slightly thrilling (and much more manageable).

What constitutes figure and ground in theater, and how can they be married? (Married=flattened is funny.)

Sunday, August 31, 2008

"Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame Catcher Carlton Fisk bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back"

". . . the Love Poem Project, in which we take love poems and swap out any mention of the word love."

For example, "Love = Wearing Your Pants Backward."

The fair varieties of earth,
The heavens serene and blue above,
The rippling smile of mighty seas—
What is the charm of all, but wearing your pants backward?
Or "Love = MTV."

If I speak in the languages of humans and angels but have no MTV, I have become a reverberating gong or a clashing cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can understand all secrets and every form of knowledge, and if I have absolute faith so as to move mountains but have no MTV, I am nothing. Even if I give away everything that I have and sacrifice myself, but have no MTV, I gain nothing.

In a stupid week this blog makes me want to go on.

Monday, August 25, 2008

"the curious eat themselves"

There are only a few bony concepts, but think of the metaphors!

For him, God was always there, like an ugly wife.

I am reading Straw for the Fire, excerpts from Roethke's notebooks. Here's a paragraph where he was on crazy roll:

Get down where your obsessions are. For Christ's sake, shake it loose. Make like a dream, but not a dreamy poem. The past is asking. You can't go dibble-dabble in your tears. The fungi will come running; the mould will begin all over the noble lineaments of the soul.

(it goes on too)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

mystique of the archive

I am writing a piece about an exhibition at the Harry Ransom Center called "The Mystique of the Archive." I was thinking, am I the biggest nerd in the world that I actually do think archives have a thrilling mystique and I have just read and enjoyed 83 pages of exhibition label text in prep for a 700-word piece? But the labels reminded me that people have written whole novels and plays (Eco, Byatt, Stoppard, Barnes) about archive mystique. I am a piker.

I wish I understood better how we make objects magical. It does go back to saints' relics and far before that. It's some combination of what someone invests in the object and what we invest in that someone. The journal of someone you love or wildly admire radiates this kind of magic, whatever kind of magic it is, and the magic is deeper if they are gone.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

error is

"Error is drawing a straight line between anticipation of what should happen and what actually happens." Says John Cage (talk about old cranks). And that reminds me of this dream I had where a piece of onionskin floated up to occupy my whole field of vision, with typewritten letters that said


Sunday, August 17, 2008

kafka in a bar

Met Kafka in a bar. He is not a big drinker, more of a slow sipper. Will make a shot last all night. Stares down into the bar, never at the mirror behind it. I was trying to explain the Milky Way. “God’s seed spilled across the night sky,” he said. Which was confusing.

I said No, it’s something about galaxies. His eyes burned, which with him means he's perking up. “Means milk,” he said. “Galaxy means milk. ‘The Milky Way is something to do with milk.’ That’s a fine definition, compact and pleasing. I congratulate you.”

I said no, a galaxy wasn’t milk (“it used to be,” he whispered), or well if it used to be it wasn’t anymore. Now it was something about a lot of stars together. Stars and gravity. Stars held together by gravity. For a joke he said “I am held together by gravity, too.”

I said the Milky Way was our galaxy, we were part of the Milky Way. “Is the Milky Way a mirror then?” he asked. I said no, it was a galaxy, our galaxy. “Then why does it seem to be so far away, something we peer into, rather than out of? I peer out of my face. I peer into a mirror.”

I said I didn’t know.

Kafka ordered a glass of milk. “Top it off with stars,” he said. When it came, he tossed the milk in the mirror, and watched it drip down his face.

dream play

I'd like to make a play where the narrative moved forward the way dreams do--circling back to repeat the same events over and over, but in a more complex, information-rich, and emotionally charged way every time. This is what actors do; also ghosts maybe. This might be good for my Ghost Radio play, which definitely needs SOME kind of narrative.

energy in juxtaposition

"'Basically, the paintings would vibrate. One of the things that painters all along have known is that you build energy by the interaction between things, that one and one doesn't make two, but maybe five or eight or ten, depending on the number of interactions you can get going in a situation.'"
- Robert Irwin, quoted by Lawrence Weschler in Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of Thing One Sees.

This makes me think of the stuff we were doing in the Refraction Arts workshop earlier this month--juxtaposing two random elements, say a one-minute piece of domestic blocking with six random text messages, or sentences from an acceptance speech--and the weird energies it unleashed.

if surrounded by walls

"The more you limit yourself, the more fertile you become in invention." Kierkegaard

happy thought for oppressed-feeling day