What remains as thought

Thinking the mind of David Brazil

David Brazil, The Ordinary (Compline, 2013), 230 pp., $15.00—In his unpublished manuscript Residual Synonyms for the Name of God, poet Lewis Freedman makes this typically canny observation: “Thanks… thanks to the naked advancements of Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Paul, Origen, and Augustine… we cab our way to social functions on paved roads under the Big Scribe. Heathendom and idolatry as weapons… this is a teaching used by a priestly clan to restrain a lower class, assimilated by parable at the manifold points around skin.” This “condition,” a product of history (not human “nature’), summarizes the matrix, or one of the matrices, from which David Brazil’s thought emerges as presented in this collection of (mostly) previously published chapbooks. Brazil’s method of undermining scripture (lower- and upper-cases) is to rely on “found” paper, receipts (especially medical and real estate), advertisements, etc., some of which is reproduced and some of which contains typed (not word-processed) and handwritten drafts of poems, many covered with handwritten “corrections” and/or emendations. The gap between the idiosyncratic writings and the uniformity of the pages is, here, thematized as the interpellation, however incomplete, of the subject. Divided into six sections paginated in Roman numerals, The Ordinary is both an attempt to write the totality of what remains of a pre-socialized “mind” a la Artaud, Weiner, Low et al as well as reproduce the superstring of rhetorics that manifest themselves as the everyday, interrupted. Formally, the book most resembles the dazzling variegations of Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, though the narrators of these pieces often echo the monomania of modernist nostalgia (from Kobo Abe’s The Ruined Map to Malcolm Lowry’s Under The Volcano). At its heart, however, The Ordinary, like Frreedman’s work, is a meditation on the passage, so to speak, from ethnocentric antiquities to modern secularism, defined by the latter’s alleged “progressive” erasure of the mark of blood, even if it accomplishes this by spilling blood. This is one of those books one can open up at any page, but reading it in sequence as a narrative of Western history (which includes, obviously, the “East”) is instructive. Brazil formalizes this passage in multiple ways, from dated entries of “personal” traumas and difficulties to undated “translations” of the Pauline Gospels; from heavily redacted, marked up poems and journal entries to the “end of history” and the triumph of prosody; from the Greek kairos “to romans,” the sixth and last section of the book. One could thus read The Ordinary as an attempt to draw (or reveal) analogies between the Greek/Roman, Jewish/Christian and East/West divides, manifesting themselves today in so many “turnings back,” so many turnings against (Christian and Islamic fundamentalism), to say nothing of the “theological turn” in recent Continental philosophy against the presumptions of  humanistic “progress.” It goes without saying that these cryptic musings find themselves trapped between the desire for “justice” and their suspicions of the origins (not just etymological but also political) of the term. And though the fifth, and longest, section, ”economy,” is a meditation on the problematic intersections of “house” (oikos) and “law” (nomos), Brazil can offer little more than Marx’s well-known summaries of the progress that bourgeois society made vis-à-vis its feudal predecessor and the subsequent commodification, via divisions of labor, of the everyday. This is why The Ordinary, for me, is less a primer on the possibilities of collective resistance to the march of capital than a broken mirror, myriad reflections of a shell-shocked mind, desperate (if not eager) to map its torturous, tortuous constructiveness.