Commentaries - December 2012
Translated from Spanish by Gustavo V. Segade & Elise Miller
Imagination is more important
— Albert Einstein
THEORY OF RELATIVITY
Problems aren't resolved,
they only occupy less and less space.
Problems are real, but they have limits.
Problems don't grow,
what grows is the consciousness of being,
Problems change shape constantly.
Vision does not; it always keeps
the same shape,
but it does change in size.
That's why it is correct to say
that only error changes,
as it is also certain
that vision is totally fluid
and that there's a terrible wind out there
and that its capacity for transformation is amazing.
Radiated heat – in a camp fire
as well as in the atomic explosions at the center of the sun –
is not a continuous flow:
it's more like the beating of the heart
than the slow running of a river,
because radiation proceeds by quantum leaps.
Perhaps our knowledge
proceeds the same way.
The fact that in physics
whole numbers have been assigned
to each one of these leaps,
and that in different traditions
there exist initiation rituals for each passage,
in no way alters the basic phenomenon.
The circles in clear water
move outward from the stone that falls into it
but the depth of the pond remains unaltered.
The heart pulses in leaps
but the circulation of the blood
is one continuous reality.
At one time it was thought that electrons
were like planets gyrating around a nucleus
–a central sun– and that along with their movement and
there was a corresponding orbit, naturally.
Nevertheless –to our great surprise–
quantum theory proposed that electrons
in spite of their movement, velocity, etc.,
do not orbit! How is this possible?
If we observe a hydrogen atom (the simplest of all)
through the electron microscope
we will see that the light of the instrument itself
stimulates its only electron to absorb energy,
become excited, and leave its orbit ...
and we will never know that other orbit.
Quantum theory proposes
–as opposed to classic mechanics–
that movement can exist
without a trajectory, without a journey, without an orbit.
At least without a known path,
and –what is more important–
without a path that can be known.
Is this not poetry?
THEORY OF UNCERTAINTY
that a researcher
peering through a microscope
—whether realizing it or not—
is part of the experiment
that he is undertaking
because the same light
that he uses to observe
what is happening
in the experiment
the arrangement of what he sees.
This is exactly what happens
when parents want to know
how their children behave
in the company of other children
when they are not there.
If the parents show up,
the form of interaction
A train at rest is not the same
as a bullet train
gliding on the rails
at full speed.
This is evident.
the conditions of an object.
When we speak of speeds
close to that of light
that rule and direct
the movements of the atoms
and the subatomic particles,
we are speaking of a separate reality:
An unthinkable world
where not only are
—if the expression fits—
until they cease to be so,
but the same laws
that govern nature are others:
they have nothing to do with “common sense."
So, Heisenberg’s law of uncertainty
tells us that we cannot know
—from a subatomic particle—
its position or its velocity
at the same time:
if we know its velocity,
we do not know where it is and vice-versa.
The same thing happens in literature.
An immobile critique, an erudite essay,
a stagnant report is not the same …
as a poem
that unfolds at high speed
Poems are quick as quick can be …
We cannot know
their form and their content.
And if we know the form of a poem
we will never know exactly
what it says.
NOTE. An increasingly significant voice in Mexican & Latin American poetry, Blanco crosses boundaries between poetry as such & his other works as musician, artist, essayist, & translator. Of his attempts, as here, to keep viable the relation between poetry & science he writes: “Having been trained as a Chemist, it is not a surprise that I have always been tempted by the poetic possibilities of scientific imagination. Which is a way to speak of the poetics of science. Because, in the long run, both poetry and science work with metaphors of the world. I am not saying that, ultimately, they are the same thing (anyway, what does ‘ultimately’ mean?). Science deals with numbers and measurable realities: quantity. Poetry –as all art does– deals with quality and the unmeasurable. But both endeavors deal with the unknown. The Square Root of Heaven is a series of scientific poems (you can add quotes if you like … ‘scientific poems’) dedicated to different aspects of the unknown. The central part of the book is a series of Theories, like the three included here. And, although these Theories have been translated into many languages and have been published in magazines and anthologies, there is not a whole book of scientific poems published yet. Not even in Spanish. So these poems are waiting in the wings for the right publisher to make it happen.”
from Jet Ni (Kyak Ni)
My dear friend,
What a jolly good year we’ve had. Every village is democracy, democracy, democracy these days. Every villager is Mother Suu, Mother Suu, Mother Suu now. Long live Mother Suu!
Of late even some oligarchs have become slightly socially responsible. After Mother Suu, one of those tycoons might plunge into politics to become ASEAN’s Berlusconi in the mafia state of Myanmar. Touch wood! Long live Mother Suu!
This tourist season hundreds of tourists descended upon our village stupa. Many of them complained we didn't have beer bars. They shouldn’t whinge. Everyone has something to sell here. Palm wine is 100 percent organic and cheaper than Myanmar Beer. Tourists can even buy peacock feathers, tiger claws, bear paws and porcupines.
You might recall, when you visited us last year, my father kept talking about genetically modified rice seeds until his mouth foamed with saliva. Now he has gone quiet for a while. Nor does he have to worry about the impotent fertilizer supplied by his dealer.
He killed himself in June when they told him the land he had tilled since he was twelve was not his. He didn't have any document that showed he owned the land. How could he produce any paper? He didn’t even have the pinkish card that said he was a Myanmar. I myself now need 5 lakh to buy the pinkish card so I can vote for Mother Suu in the coming election.
Our land has recently become a zone, a hotel zone or an industrial zone…I am not sure what, but the news journals say employment opportunities are better in the zones. I hope to find a job there soon...I need to look after my mother and keep my little sister Mya May in school. By the way, little Mya May may still be a quarter of a shrimp but she is ready for the Pacific. She says she wants to make money to get herself an Eyepad or something like that.
Remember Shwe Mi, my pretty cousin, who was always the flower bearer at village pwes? She mysteriously disappeared after Thingyan water festival in April. Before Thingyan, her mother had died from food poisoning—the poor old lady had eaten too much tea Shwe Mi had pickled in the fake cooking oil she was sold at the village market. We recently received a letter from Shwe Mi from China. In her photo Shwe Mi could pass for Zhang Ziyi. She seems happily married to a Chinaman. Women are running out in China, Shwe Mi says.
In November, some of our distant relatives ran to scoop up petrol from a derailed oil cargo train in Kantbalu, upper Myanmar. Dozens of them were instantly grilled in the ensuing flash fire. Even their immediate relatives could not identify the bodies. May they never be born again in the bottomless pits of poverty.
Scores of other relatives who had marched north to Kachin State for jade mines and teak jungles never came back too. Never mind them. I heard, there are no more tigers in Sri Lanka. Tigers have been long gone in Kachin state but the Kachins are still there. Of course, we have taken war against our own ‘national races’ for granted and it doesn’t bug me as much as the Rohinja question. Yes…the existence of Muslims in Myanmar undermines our core Buddhist values such as metta (loving-kindness), karuna (compassion) and mudita (appreciation).
No doubt you knew what happened to our venerable abbots when Latpadaung copper mine protest was broken up by the police in November? We still don’t know what hit them. No one deserves expired teargas canisters. An abbot has had to undergo a skin transplant surgery in town and he seems ok, at least physically…but the 100,000 USD medical bill for the venerable U Nyarna who was sent to a private hospital in Bangkok has become a national issue. Even little Mya May’s soul wouldn’t sell for that much money. Even our government which has privatized everything over the decade felt ripped off, and U Nyarna has been moved to a Thai public hospital.
Good news is that this year I don’t have to live in fear any more. The Tatmadaw has stopped dragooning young men into army corvee, at least in our area. I am proud to tell you that our patriotic Myanmar commandos will soon be showing the US marines how to win battles by surviving on bamboo shoots, how to make the locals absolutely loyal to you and, in general, how not to be a wuss in the joint military exercise in the plantations in Thailand. In turn, I am sure they will learn from the US troops how to use damage as collateral, how to justify invasion-occupation of resource-rich/strategically-significant lands, how to regime-change through espionage, how to drone-bomb the Kachins or the Rohinjas to extinction and how to piss on your enemy's corpse.
There is a lot of freedom these days, my friend. We now have freedom to ogle at the ivory thighs of model girls in see-through dresses on magazine covers. Even the village elders who used to have shy eyes are now buying those magazines behind our back. Some of those tasty legs have even walked up to our village monastery bookshelves.
I hope I will be receiving good news from you and your family as ever. Hope you will be visiting us again very soon…Mya May wishes for more chocolate…Whiter Shades of Grey for me please. Have a wonderful 2013!
Jet Ni (Kyak Ni)
Zone- 24 (Gyobingone Village)
Forrest Gander and Kent Johnson, Jacket 8 and Jacket 25
Jaime Saenz (1921–1986) is Bolivia’s leading writer of the 20th century. Prolific as poet, novelist, and non-fiction writer, his baroque, propulsive syntax and dedication to themes of death, alcoholism, and otherness make his poetry among the most idiosyncratic in the Spanish-speaking world.
[»»] Jaime Saenz: Five poems from: As the Comet Passes, translated by Kent Johnson and Forrest Gander
[»»] Jaime Saenz: excerpts from: Immanent Visitor, translated by Kent Johnson and Forrest Gander
[»»] Forrest Gander and Kent Johnson: Jaime Saenz — Some Days in the Life of The Night: Notes from Bolivia, June 20–30, 2004
“It was with a human leg that Jaime Saenz, Bolivia’s visionary and most influential poet, came home from the university. Still living with his mother. Death, his constant companion.
In his strange, late poems, visualizing the body as an abode of unfathomable space, an otherness we carry with us, one that will carry us away into itself, Saenz meditated on death. Channeling its plutonic voice, he came to write, ‘I am the body who inhabits you, and I am here in the darkness, and I suffer you, and live you, and die you. / But I am not your body. I am the night.’
But that is later. First, the young poet had to bear, through one singular night, for who knows what manner of study, the pilfered limb of a cadaver. And in the morning, he punctually presented himself at his clerk’s job with the United States Information Service at the US Embassy.”
resizing a nonsensical poem
In 2006, Kenneth Goldsmith posted a 30 second clip of Maria Osmond reciting Hugo Balls' 1918 sound poem "Karawane" on the TV show Ripley's Believe It or Not; it was taken from a CD supplement to Greil Marcus's Lipstick Traces. Now a video clip of the full 2 1/2 minute segment has surfaced, which includes Osmond's introduction to Dada and sound poetry. (Thanks to Jay Sanders for alerting me to the clip.)
In his November 17, 2006 blog post at WFMU, which included a link to the mp3 now also at UBU, Goldsmith tells the story:
Taken from a Ripley's Believe It Or Not segment on sound poetry from the mid-80s. According to producer Jed Rasula, "Marie Osmond became co-host with Jack Palance. In the format of the show, little topic clusters (like "weird language") were introduced by one of the hosts. In this case, the frame was Cabaret Voltaire. Marie was required to read Hugo Ball's sound poem "Karawane" and a few script lines. Much to everybody's astonishment, when they started filming she abruptly looked away from the cue cards directly into the camera and recited, by memory, "Karawane." It blew everybody away, and I think they only needed that one take. A year or so after it was broadcast, Greil Marcus approached me, wanting to use Marie Osmond's rendition of Hugo Ball for a cd produced in England as sonic companion to his book Lipstick Traces; so I was delighted to be able to arrange that."
And here is a machine transcript of Marie Osmon'd intro:
an answer properly dressed for the park
Wanda Corn and Tirza True Latimer's Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories (the catalog and exhibition) makes a compelling case for Stein as the genius (or possibly genie) behind the many portraits of her, which Corn sees as a striking act of self-fashioning – creating a remarkably legible body of work, popular and iconic, to accompany her allegedly illegible writing. Before hearing Corn's lecture in Paris last year, as part of the Stein Collects show, I hadn't thought of the portraits as a discrete body of work. But now I am convinced that Stein recognized the significance of the photographs, paintings, and sculptures for putting into views a set of identities that are as much a part of her work as The Making of Americans. With that in mind, Corn was able to identify distinct sets of images and it is apparent that Stein recomposed her image over her lifetime. There has been a fair amount written about Stein as celebrity. What interests me here, though, is something slightly different: Stein as image fabricator, who used the portrait as a way of supplementing her writing (in a similar way to how The Autobiography works in tandem with its looking glass other, "Stanzas in Meditation"). Stein was acutely engaged with verbal portraiture, from her early word portraits on (and in the Making of Americans as well). These images, created for widely different purposes by many different artists and journalists, became, for Stein, portraits by other means.
The Stein portraits collection by Renate Stendhal is the pioneering work on this subject. It has many more photos than are presented here or are otherwise on-line and which established the significance of this body of work.
Corn and Latimer have selected key images for the web site of the show, so the first thing to view is their five sets of Stein portraits. The photos here are meant to supplement that primary collection. I put this page together as I work on the syllabus for my graduate seminar this Spring, which is on the Poetics of Identity (textual – aesthetic – social – technological).
Alvin Langdon, 1913
Jacques Lipchitz, 1920
Man Ray photo 1922 (exact resemblance of exact resemblance):
1926 (SF MoMA)
Sept. 11, 1933
Carl Van Vechten, 1934
other Van Vechtem portaits here (LOC)
Cecil Beaton, mid-1930s
Francis Rose, 1939
Francis Rose, Homage to Stein, 1948
David Levine (1971)
Ray Johnson, 1975
Faith Ringgold, c. 1991
Deborah Kass, c. 1993