On November 12, Lydia Davis gave a talk at CalArts culled from her forthcoming collection of stories, Can’t and Won’t. Davis has been recording her dreams, writing them down, and working them into fiction, then engages the inverse: writing lived experience as dream, as absurd occurrence. Maurice Blanchot’s mise-en-abyme, Michel Leiris’s Nights as Day and Days as Night, and Alain Badiou’s Being and Event all featured prominently in her musings on the porosity between waking and dream life, fiction and nonfiction, the lucid and the irrational. Blanchot’s desire to experience writing as experience, and Badiou’s event, of disappearance and consequences for Being and subject, in particular, collide. The writing subject disappears as such at the moment of writing, as one attempts to capture the reality without real convention to get at the experience of human thought. Through dream and through thinking in multiple languages, Davis makes palpable the absurd pleasure and impossibility of translating the mind's work with words. How close she feels the phenomenon of reading and of dreaming are, as ‘suspension of disbelief’ and the near-shutdown of the prefrontal cortex, the planning and logic center of the brain, bear relation. The brain exercises differently in reading and in dream; Davis suggests, as others have, that experimentation in writing is calisthetics for the reading brain, making it grow. In one piece, Davis’ left hand is a subject in itself, separate from her, with its own experience, with predilictions and habits born in another time and space, in another country. This is real. Davis accounts for it. Many in the audience, as she spoke, understood, with that mix of familiarity and discomfort that comes from accepting illogicality. Hallucination as a natural state of readerly conjure, perhaps organizationally, syntactically induced by withholding, manipulating the expected order. Nouns and verbs fall on odd notes. A peculiar action is not the final scene, the punchline of a dream. Instead a return to “normality,” whether smooth or abrupt, is what makes the uncanny resonate. Davis studies her own dreams and in so doing learns a new language that she in turn applies to her approach to prose. She extracts this language, too, from Flaubert. In his letters, she found passages of floating travelogue recalled from nights peering through carriage windows and recounted to an addressee as if through the fog of sleep. Davis culled and translated these passages—linguistically and formally—into a liminal space between the lived and the conjured, what we might call story, but what Davis is reluctant to definitively name or categorize. Instead, the pleasure of uttering mind, tongue and pen converging, is the point. The language of dream, of the absurd, is staccato, in short sentences. Space and time contract, the difference between place and subject, place and body, shrinks, exchanges, becomes transparent, transfigured. A panel of judges denied Davis an artist's residency, citing the ‘laziness’ of her writing, her over-reliance on contractions. Can’t instead of cannot. Won’t instead of will not. How contraction in language cost her the gift of time, and yet its precise rhythm is the vehicle of her writing, how she approximates the experience of time in the mind itself.
Davis' talk intensified my current revistation of Ana Hatherly's Tisanas, which blend poetry, prose, fable, Buddhist koan, chronicle and philosophical meditation into tight little sachets Hatherly calls “neo-prose,” “near-herbal teas,” and “proto-tonics.” Hatherly, also a painter and filmmaker, says the teas are “an attempt to salve the wound between thought and dream,” and they use a number of strategies, cinematic, painterly and poetic, to do so. Each “tea” chronicles an event, featuring characters ranging from pigs to keys to islands to serpents. The tisanas are an ongoing project, questioning the idea of a “finished” work, and stand instead as “eternal objects.” As of 2006, Hatherly has published 463 tisanas in Portugal, her native country. Perhaps a third have been translated in English, but only about fifteen translations have been published. The tisanas often begin with a period, a full stop, and a lower case letter. Perhaps this is a way of contracting time, action and scale, converging it onto a single point, the beginning of a proto-tonic event, a call to focus or attention to mark the experience of writing. In Tisana 262, the author appears as “a blind man who is given a short, cold pause to see by.” Other tisanas seem to perform this as a textual strategy as well as philosophy. How shall we hear this full stop before seeing the event that succeeds it? As a breath? A click? A rise in texture, like a curb between street and sidewalk? The numbering of the tisanas apparently does not reflect the order of the writing. Hatherly refuses the spirit of the system, preferring instead Umberto Eco's “fruitful disorder.” Yet the groupings of teas do yield a sense of continuity without forfeiting the dreamlike quality they possess. Entering another language transforms reality syntactically, something Lydia Davis well knows. In Tisana 47, above, I wandered for a time into Portuguese to experience Hatherly's near-herbal tea for myself. I cannot vouch for the quality of my translation, but in not-knowing came a new solidity in recognizing the (il)logic embedded in language, and a vigorous shedding of my own syntactical habits in the dusk of another’s sonic, sense-making and sensory reality. “At issue here” says Maurice Blanchot, “is a translation or a transcription of this project into the language of the night, not its implementation; and the anxiety is not provoked by the discovery of the disquieting realities that might be gathered in one's innermost depths, but rather the motion of looking into oneself and seeing nothing but the contraction of a closed, unlit space.” In contrast to the anxious discovery of a private abyss, what Hatherly and Davis show in the looking and sounding into oneself is that contractions, of verbs or prose, space and time, create illuminating distance without distance.
The person sleeping under the chair,
is he the children of the person who made the grand house?
The Reason the Person Inside Looks like a Deformed Invalid
I am standing in the shadow of a lace curtain,
that is the reason my face looks vague.
I am holding a telescope in my hands,
I am looking through it far into the distance,
I am looking at the woods,
where dogs and lambs made of nickel and children with bald heads are walking,
those are the reasons my eyes look somewhat smoked over.
I ate too much of the plate of cabbage this morning,
and besides this windowglass is very shoddily made,
that is the reason my face looks so excessively distorted.
To tell you the truth,
I am healthy, perhaps too healthy,
and yet, why are you staring at me, there?
Why smiling so eerie a smile?
Oh, of course, as for the part of my body below the waist,
if you are saying that area isn’t clear,
that’s a somewhat foolish question,
of course, that is, close to this pale window wall,
I am standing inside the house.
Things like littlenecks,
things like quahogs,
things like water-fleas,
these organisms, bodies buried in sand,
out of nowhere,
hands like silk threads innumerably grow,
hands’ slender hairs move as the waves do.
A pity, on this lukewarm spring night,
purling the brine flows,
over the organisms water flows,
even the tongues of clams, flickering, looking sad,
as I look around at the distant beach,
along the wet beach path,
a row of invalids, bodies below their waists missing, is walking,
Ah, over the hair of those human beings as well,
passes the spring night haze, all over, deeply,
rolling, rolling in,
this white row of waves is ripples.
The World of Bacteria
bacteria are swimming.
Some in a person’s womb,
some in a clam’s intestines,
some in an onion’s spherical core,
some in a landscape’s center.
Bacteria are swimming.
Bacteria’s hands grow right and left, crosswise,
the tips of their hands branch out like roots,
from there sharp nails grow,
capillaries and such spread all over.
Bacteria are swimming.
Where bacteria live their lives,
as if through an invalid’s skin,
a vermilion light shines thinly in,
and only that area is faintly visible,
looks truly, truly sorrow-unbearable.
Bacteria are swimming.
Body half-buried in sand,
still it’s lolling its tongue.
Over this invertebrate’s head,
pebbles and brine rustle, rustle, rustle, rustle, flowing,
ah so quietly as a dream flowing.
From between the sand and sand that go on flowing,
the clam again has its lolling tongue flicker and flare red,
this clam is very emaciated, I’m saying.
Look, its rubbery entrails seem about to rot,
and so when sad-looking evening comes,
sitting on the pale beach,
flickering, flickering, it lets out rotten breaths, I tell you.
The One Who’s in Love with Love
I painted rouge on my lips,
and kissed the trunk of a new birch,
even if I were a handsome man,
on my chest are no breasts like rubber balls,
from my skin rises no fragrance of fine-textured powder,
I am a wizened man of ill-fate,
ah, what a pitiable man,
in today’s balmy early summer field,
in a stand of glistening trees,
I slipped on my hands sky-blue gloves,
put around my waist something like a corset,
smeared on my nape something like nape-powder,
thus hushed assuming a coquettish pose,
as young girls do,
I cocked my head a little,
and kissed the trunk of a new birch,
I painted rosy rouge on my lips,
and clung to a tall tree of snowy white.
This utterly unknown dog follows me,
shabby, limping on its hind leg, a crippled dog’s shadow.
Ah, I do not know where I’m going,
in the direction of the road that I go,
roofs of tenements are being pelted pelted in the wind,
in a gloomy, empty lot by the road,
bone-dry grass leaves are pliantly thinly moving.
Ah, I do not know where I’m going,
a large, organism-like moon is vaguely afloat ahead of me,
and in the lonely street behind me,
the tip of the dog’s thin long tail is dragging on the ground.
Ah, no matter how far, how far I go,
this utterly unknown dog follows me,
crawling along the filthy ground,
behind me, dragging its hind leg, a sick dog,
distant, long, sadly terrified,
at the lonely moon, howling afar and pale,
an unhappy dog’s shadow.
[NOTE. Although poetry & illness were not the same for him, there was a constant interplay between them – a dialectic from which he emerged as one of the early poets moving the old language into new directions. Writes his translator Hiroaki Sato about his initial volume Howling at the Moon: “A collection of poems written at a time when literary diction was being replaced by everyday language, it deliberately blended the two and the effect was unsettling enough to make the words themselves appear poetic.” Hagiwara’s own view of himself was of “a half unconscious automatic machine” in the process of creation. If his concern was with psychological states as a kind of obsessive self-exposure, the formal vehicle was one of “rhythm” as the “new” in poetry might now allow it. Unlike Pound’s call for a return of poetry to music, however, Hagiwara’s poetics brought that whole relation into question. Thus he wrote of his own practice: “Through the free verse form the poet has been able to freely reveal the perfect rhythm of his ego for the first time. When it broke every unreasonable restraint and escaped from the bondage of music, poetry for the first time was able to discover its legitimate route and construct the ‘music of words’ in the true sense.” Toward similar ends his work displays a mix of elevated & low language, along with a range of syntactic irregularities that force the mind out of its normal channels.” (J.R. with Pierre Joris in Poems for the Millennium)
A full collection of Sato’s Hagiwara translations will be published shortly by New York Review Books.]
by Will Alexander
A beacon beaming rays through the mists of an inclement realia not unlike a lighted mount above a sequestered alabaster grove. This being Beyond Baroque, a refuge for imaginal practitioners. Not a mirage mind you, but a living amplification of language, operative since the latter '60's, prior to all the poetic bureaus and seminal presses of the present era. It pioneered, took chances, paved the way as an alchemic hive, as a living poetic habitat.
Not a mirage, but a three-dimensional facility, housed in the old Venice City Hall, constructed circa 1908. As stated, it remains a poetic refuge, but more than a refuge, it is a zone where poetic combustion transpires. Certainly not a space which appeals to the psyche of technocrats, or to poets buffered by disposable income and unwarranted status. It is a place where mud can withdraw and smolder, where the imagination can alchemically teem, and is given the liberty to blaze.
As its Poet-In-Residence I have never been hounded by a sub-surface gravity herding me into zones of conventional expression. Never has there been ideological susurration shadowing my choices of individual readers or my predilection concerning the selection of readers or in construction of collective events. Which is increasingly rare in an era of state sponsored surveillance, in an era in which the general mind is super-imposed with extrinsics, all the while hounded and at the same time comfort driven.
Beyond Baroque remains a Foundation fortified by the bones of integrity, an integrity not unlike an organic inherence, running as an unbroken lava from its founder George Drury Smith to its current Director Richard Modiano.
Workshops for the poet, the novelist, and the screenwriter all gratis. Which remains diametrically opposed to an active commercial tenet concerned as it is with draining one's personal coffers. Instead, at Baroque there is concern for sustainment of the long term, of the irreplaceable elements in one's creative spirit.
Baroque's motto: "a place dedicated to the possibility of language." Because of this dedication it retains its hardscrabble demeanor, its take no prisoner approach to comfort, in spite of the passivity which now brokers the fuel of the bourgeoisie personality.
Its presence is like a grace conferred upon the Los Angeles region, and beyond that, a subliminal icon bending its rays like a seminal wind encircling the planet.
“(Untitled) Bridge,” the banner image for my collection of (Un)lived/experience Commentaries, is from a series of works by visual artist Wura-Natasha Ogunji, and I am grateful that she allowed me to share her paintings here. “(Untitled) Bridge” and the details from “A Question on the Way to the Continent,” below, are not only emblematic of what I want to explore over the next few months, but they also inspire my thinking about processes of mediating experience, both lived and imagined. Perhaps Ogunji's work is a way to talk about instinct, or to understand the sinews of relation as psychic and material. Perhaps Ogunji's work allows us to understand cellular memory or genetic inheritance as an influence on how we dream. The grounds where we work ourselves out. Her choice of medium is deliberate: architectural tissue paper, usually discarded with preliminary sketches. With it, Ogunji insists on a delicate endurance: painted upon, drawn through, built up, kept.
How can one know without knowing, say, a homeland or a parent, and how do we use our power to create to reach that unknown place, that longed-for person, and make it known, make them present? Can one's artmaking practice manifest that presence as it is embedded within us? When musing on Ogunji's paintings, her stitched works, her multimedia performances, it seems so. At the time of her making these works, Ogunji had not been to Nigeria, but Nigeria had been to her. So is that lived? Some brief touch from the beyond of father's spirit, of the home where one's face was born? And behind that face, our faces, any face, what is known? What can be uttered? There has long been an exchange, across time and space. And yet, a close view of “(Untitled) Bridge” belies the completeness of the exchange; yet again, from an eye's gift rivers of sense flow, reach for return. “A Question on the Way to the Continent,” the gift and mystery is speech act, speech artifact, speech object. These paintings are the dreamscape of lived experience and its inverse. Parenthetical unnaming, intent on crossing the question.
On Jake Pam Dick's Lens (a translit)
Transcribed From A Conversation in Bryant Park Near the Noisy and Annoying Appearing of A Skating Rink
JK2: 48 postulates: “I am my world: the homocosm.”
It’s this really strong assertion that there are no politics.
But Jake Pam Dick is a philosopher.
Spliced biographies and fantasies of people hilariously standing in, posturing, as philosophy (as critique, celebration, correction, of those people, and philosophy).
Those particular people:
Then the issue of the whole, how to become it. The beautiful doesn’t have to be beautiful. Sublimity gave moral freedom or freedom of the aspect. Cf. Kant (heard by Jakob), Spinoza (read by Georg), or the German Romantics (read by Jake/James).
I am my bed, I made me up, now I must lie in me.
It’s sharp inversion…
The next day the world was slow to appear, when it did, it was nasty.
The person precedes the world, the social. I read here a strong rejection of the social. And yet.
I see this as an apologia. Maybe that’s not the right word for it.
What is that?
A struggle, like the fancy literary word for justification. A literary philosophical argument for a life of reading as justification of the project itself. It’s not an easy one. It’s not a justification to the reader and it’s a justification to itself.
Here is the argument, again in Jk2.
Jk2:32 Their conversation a mere monologue, although by many voiced.
Jk2:32 I prefer a dialogue by one alone voiced. The solitary diverging.
Jk2:32 Make the two into one, 2=1, that single one the tract, the royal—no, Hermes—inkdom.
Histories compelled to be patched together, sucked into this vortex(t).
That’s the delight of the work. But that’s not what I am talking about yet. I want to talk about the work as a whole. To do this type of work in the contemporary milieu, there is this need to justify this type of occupation.
I'm assuming James is James Joyce.
No. It’s something else. It’s in Pam’s email giving context on the work:
Lens (a translit) engages with the writings and lives of Jakob Lenz and Georg Büchner (author of the prose poem novella Lenz.) It rewrites Georg's Lenz, analyzes Lenz, transmutes an epistolary novella by Lenz himself, transposes Georg's own letters, riffs extensively on the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas, and ends with a list of unpublished books by Dick. The 6-part structure is lifted from Archipelago's book Lenz, which includes not only Büchner's novella but also sections by Goethe, Oberlin, a series of notes, a translator's afterword, and background readings. The Gospel of Thomas part is motivated by Lenz's preparation of a sermon in Lenz, and by the overall spiritual/social/political pursuits of Lenz and Büchner. Lens explores ideas of multilingualism, fragmentation, transient subjectivity, melancholia, despair, euphoria, indifference, empathy, etc. It's an iteration of what I've been calling incestuous poetics (i.e. making out and off with sibling texts.)
The pleasure of text stands in for social action. An assertion, or proposition: as I collect these parts that have created me into one, I am doing the making of the one and all that exists as the one. The first person singular is all that exists in terms of first person, because of the work.
She turned to go, he threw himself out of the bed, landed prostrate at her heels with a weird eye in his look. Listen, he said, this idea just had me, if only I could figure out whether this is bad news or a good novella. I mean a gospel/poem. You could try it out, here in bed, he hurled himself back into it, looked frankly at Inger. But she had already left, so all he saw was her negative space. Later Roald decided he was disgusted and made evacuation plans. Inger a distant postulate. James burst in on Roald. His head a slippery doorknob which life or God couldn’t grasp because it was greasy. He had his left arm in his right hand, the nervous circuitry hung out from the shoulder like electric spaghetti.
I saw that as a need to sustain the energy of reading. In the reading of the texts every single image becomes an object. The scene is happening as its being read. The world outside would be too overwhelming.
I think James is James Joyce. Unless Jake Pam Dick told you something different.
No. There is that whole list of people who this is about and James Joyce is not one of them.
It doesn’t matter.
Is it James Joyce or is it not James Joyce.
I don’t think it matters.
Here's why I thought it was interesting. All the Pam Dicks are always writing about multiple people. I don’t think we need to worry about that.
The reason why I started to think it was James Joyce was certain lines reminded me of Ulysses.
Readings are stupid because aural, I miss the words as tiny drawings. James prefers to look at things.
That could be Robert Walser. The need (for things) to be handled.
There is very little containment except the act of wrestling with it (the gangly and overwhelming).
There are paragraphs. But they are very sprawling. The narratives are floating stratospheres like bean dip aquariums.
The bus refused to listen. No amount of cutting will relieve you. Chopstick sonata. Chapstick sanity. I do not want your kisses, whispered James. The pen was deep cerulean blue and somebody had something.
Everything is floating in layers but it’s also moving. Those were my images of the structure. Bean dips and aquariums. Crazy chaos inside the head or the house then it’s planted, plopped down.
There is also a sort of raunchiness.
Spasm is its formal code.
A myth being embalmed.
Lens, in all these 6 parts, is dredging up something that’s dead and redisplaying it. I feel like the motivation for that other than a personal excitement in the original texts and constellation of texts is putting all these people together. A very stylized exhibition display.
You just went through a lot. Start again with the embalming.
If there is this cast of characters that get placed and replaced with each other, intercut, transposed, transmuted with each other, her words, their words, it’s like how is it all supposed to come together as a thing that is then talking to the reader. It feels like a collection. The way it is being collected is the thing.
That’s what I was saying before, that formally it is contained. That there is all this shit flying all over the place but formally it is very structured.
Is this supposed to be pointing us towards the source text? Do I need to go read Lenz now? Even a little bit?
I never know the answer to that question. Personally I think no. There are a lot of books and writers that do that. Beverly Dahlen's A Reading, Rosemarie Waldrop's Lawn of Excluded Middle, Caroline Bergvall's Chaucer work, Alyson Singes and the rest.
Then if we are writing about it, is there some baseline research we need to do.
The city of the text.
The mind wants to live as a text.
Object oriented. Words are objects.
She fell with all her pronouns, whereas Lenz tried to jump from his name. Georg hallucinated. What you hear when the languages don’t mesh. Solipsism does not deny the existence of others, it only shows your access to them as mediated by your own existence. So they exist in you.
They are cascading. The self is always breaking open by the weight of all these words or images. There is no self. This is a manifesto that struggles with the problem that there is no self and yet the only thing that gets represented is the self. That the only source of representation is first person singular. Yet the self, the thing that is always transmorphing transmuting, is based on the words it encounters that are these objects that become images that become things. **
The argument is that it’s hard enough to have a self. To just have a self would be to be in the world. It’s hard enough to be in the world but the world is also asking you to have a self.
This is helping me understand it. Because my understanding was that it restarts every few lines.
My sense of it is the bawdy. It's lascivious delight. In the game are these vectors of encounter between the different texts. There is this gesture of them as characters. As invisible friends.
They are friends, absolutely. Mischievous. Like Kafka’s assistants in The Castle. They are the Amelia Bedelias. The messy of being a person, a trans person, ambiguously means both being a multiple and rejecting the multitude to have a self. Is that the trans of the lit in Jake Pam Dick's 'translit.'
Jk8: 41 How I put on the Batman t-shirt to conquer fear…
JJ8:57 The hustle a double negation. The ambidextrous dash goes both ways.
JJ9:06 Amplified, amped. Am per signed; am personed.
(And here are some links to more Pam Dicks, see vimeo from 21 Grand below):