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Archive for the ‘Prose’ Category

First, let me apologize for an embarrassingly long sabbatical from my blog, and then, let me explain, justify, rationalize my absence.

There are two distinct reasons I haven’t been writing.

1. I moved. Across the country. Into a geodesic dome. Where it has already snowed. It’s as if I’m living in a reversed snow globe.

2. My literary magazine, Omnia Vanitas Review, was finally launched.

Both of these things are chain-linked in my mind, as if they were organically related, but, as I was moving away from New York, and my partner wasn’t, we needed to wrap everything up before I left. This all culminated in a grand reading, a party, celebrating a different kind of writing. I used to say the underside of writing, the belly of writing, but this isn’t about depth, it’s about perception. It’s more about the expression without writing transcribed into pure writing. Language, that word, its flowery permutations, its acrobatic semiotics, changes from person to person. Wittgenstein talks about the impossibility of emptying the contents of your mind into someone else’s, the inability to create an exact duplicate of the analogons, the pictures inside your brain, for someone else to see, devour. Language, the relation of signifiers to signified, cannot be an exact science.

Signifier: The word, the sign, the representation, that describes the thing.

Signified: The thing itself.

Charles Sanders Peirce (the father of pragmatism):

A sign is something which stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity. It addresses somebody, that is, creates in the mind of that person an equivalent sign, or perhaps a more developed sign. The sign which it creates I call the interpretant of the first sign. The sign stands for something, its object.

So, an apple would be the thing, but the word “apple” would be the signifier. This issue is famously discussed in Magritte’s painting.

pipe1

I could go on and on about the pipe-ness of a pipe, and how when someone says the word “pipe” what appears in everyone’s head is specific and generic and different, but, roughly, we all come up with something that kind of looks like that, unless, of course, you’re talking about a different pipe.

this-is-not-a-pipe

Remind me to someday print this out and do something with it. It’s one of the only images I have found that combines my love for semiotics with my brother’s love of video games, a rare and precious intersection.

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I’m reading Wittgenstein’s Mistress right now on the beaches of Anguilla.

That line is actually a misnomer, since I’m sitting inside my hotel room typing these lines, but since my hotel room is on the beach, the location wasn’t false, just the act of reading Wittgenstein’s Mistress versus writing about it.

This actually isn’t the first time I’ve read it either, which is why I was so excited to read it on the beach, because I knew it would give me a closer feeling to the text, possibly bring me closer to Kate, maybe even her loneliness, something I overlooked the first time around because I was so astounded by the prose, and taken with the references.

I was so taken that I bought all the rest of Markson’s works and read most of them over the summer.

Reader’s Block being my favorite, though they’re all fantastic, some of the quotes even ended up on my wall.

It seemed as if Markson was toying with the idea that a novel didn’t require a body, meaning a protagonist, and he was leaving the idea of its creation up to the reader.

I even started wondering if Reader’s Block was a continuation of Wittgenstein’s Mistress.

He quotes himself a few times: “There’s somebody living on this beach.” It sent chills up my spine, and then I put the book down and thought heavily about death for a few moments.

Ryan’s been writing a chapter about Death and the Maiden, as well as Laura, but really Lauren, changing her name for the sake of protection, which I assume is legal protection more than her feelings.

Schubert composed 998 compositions before his untimely death at 31, meaning if he began at birth he composed a composition every 11.6 days.

One could easily compare him with Mozart.

I’m writing about that because Death and the Maiden has been playing on repeat, which I don’t mind at all, being that I’m very into Schubert these days, Schubert and Djuna Barnes.

I wanted to find a way to incorporate the quote: “Djuna Barnes wrote in bed. Wearing make-up and with her hair done,” into my presentation, but I couldn’t find a way to make it fit.

That quote being from This is Not a Novel, which certainly follows Reader’s Block, both being about death, specifically the facts surrounding famous artists’ deaths, but the latter focuses more on suicides, and Jews.

Also, Markson collapses the protagonist into the author in This is Not a Novel, telling us about writer’s aches and pains, but this in turn makes us aware that he is the one relaying all these facts to us, that he has experienced reading this information somewhere.

Although I said I was reading Wittgenstein’s Mistress on the beach, I’ve been experiencing many aches this vacation and spending very little time on the beach actually.

My head seems to be giving me a lot of trouble because of the flight and the humidity, and every event we attend for the wedding includes very loud steel drumming renditions of classical rock, which is torturous in and of itself, but the sheer volume of the music, and the intense sea breezes, have kept me mostly in my hotel room.

This, alone with the book’s themes, may have been what has enabled me to feel Kate’s loneliness more acutely.

But I cannot figure out if her sense of loss is heightened or softened by creating an Other simply by creating a book. In writing, a reader is automatically created, therefore a writer can never be alone, but in Reader’s Block, the author asks the reader questions that will forever be unanswered.

Well, they may be answered individually, by each reader, but Markson may never see the results, and one can’t imagine him retyping another version with the decision to place the protagonist at the cemetery as opposed to the beach.

The unanswered questions haunt the text, lengthen the gap between reader and writer, maybe to an infinite degree.

This would undoubtedly increase Kate’s loneliness.

But is she alone if she has her thoughts?

Wittgenstein supposes that a thinker can never be apart from their thoughts, and I think he was also the first to announce that the word “pipe” is most certainly not a pipe.

Persons, bodies and minds inhabit language, they play games with it, but are never separated from it, ever.

This might be one of the reasons Kate is thought to be mad, since her words are merely words, and not to be taken literally, as she herself often points out the mistakes within her own precision.

But I don’t think it’s very fun just to think that the death of her son caused her to fantasize about the rapture, or some kind of apocalypse, killing everyone, everything, except herself, and plants- I’d rather willingly suspend disbelief.

If she is mad, then we cannot take her at her word, and if we cannot take her at her word, our entire web of language fails at its primary function, which is to communicate to an Other.

Another reason to suppose she is mad, and therefore pretending she is the only person on the planet, is that she is writing this for herself, and then has no need to communicate with anyone, and could say whatever she likes, but then why desperately try to write with such precision?

The kind of precision that reminds one of Beckett.

Being here is starting to depress me, here as in Anguilla.

Or maybe it was the thought of Beckett.

The entire Caribbean reminds me of places people go to save their marriages, even if I’ve only been to Aruba and Anguilla, and both were for weddings.

Meaning I visited these islands to attend weddings.

And it’s not like I mind missing the wedding’s festivities, but I do mind that my body is slowing me down.

I often feel like my body is working against me, which is why I liked the bodyless aspect of Markson’s later works.

By working against me, I mean not in conjunction with my mood, or my goals, that is my body often wrecks my mood and impedes the completion of my goals.

Certainly I don’t mean that I am beside myself, although I am quite angry at the thought of nursing a headache when I could be reading on the beach, as I said I was doing.

I’ve decided to open the curtains, photophobia be damned, because at least then I can see the ocean, even if I can’t stand the noise.

Though it’s not the noise of the ocean that bothers me at all, that would be quite lovely, it’s the steel drums, and my hyperacusis is too much to bear.

Hyperacusis has an alternate spelling, hyperacousis, though neither seem to be in my Mac’s dictionary.

Is Wittgenstein’s Mistress a window or a mirror?

That seems to relate to whether she’s writing this book for herself or to create an Other.

Her book, is very similar to her canvas, both being a box, both extend outwards, meaning neither has a frame, or boundaries. All the frames are burned, the canvas is burned. Does this mean everything is what it is not?

A crazy woman living on a mountaintop once told me that no matter what era you live in, you’ll always have to chop wood and carry water.

Reading this book here really made me lament that I had to wear clothing down to the beach.

The text of Wittgenstein’s Mistress is formatted like the sea, every sentence is like a wave, and with each being a different length they visually remind me of the ebb and flow of the tides.

If I erase this last sentence does it continue to exist?

When Kate’s mother dies does Kate continue to exist?

Does she become nameless?

Since no one is around to recognize her, is this book her validation?

Or because of solipsism, would an Other make not the slightest of difference?

Wittgenstein seemed to understand the concept of solipsism, thought there was a germ of truth in it.

Kate is the world, but she is also its limits, but it is impossible for her to draw a boundary around herself.

She cannot be outside of her thoughts, meaning she has no outside ego that can confer and think about what she sees and thinks.

Kate reminds us that in the mirror she only sees her reflection, not herself, and certainly not her “I” .

There is a language of thought, and “I” is the formal point of reference for it.

I couldn’t help but want to make a Hyperlink out of Markson’s later books, as they invariably reach outside of themselves.

One could click on Prokofiev’s name highlighted in blue and find out all about him, and his music, and his relations.

Not unlike Wikipedia.

But unlike Wikipedia, there will be a narrative base, the optional hyperlinks would take one to the factual reference pages, just as one could surf through them, but the artistic foundation would be the narrative and its patterns laid out within Markson’s text.

Incidentally, I have not seen a single surfer during my stay here.

Wittgenstein’s favorite composers were Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, and Schumann, and he also thought thinking, since it was done in the head, could cause a headache.

He knows, rather, he thought up the hypothesis that humans cannot isolate a thought from what it accompanies, meaning there are no pure thought processes. It is not an inner process which we communicate by means of language.

What I think is no more in my head than the facts that make it true are in the world.

It is pleasing to think about Wittgenstein listening to Death and the Maiden while thinking these thoughts, just as I am listening to Death and the Maiden, thinking his thoughts.

Well, certainly not thinking his thoughts, but a translation of his thoughts, an understanding of his thoughts, because if they were his thoughts then that would presuppose that he lost his and I stole them.

But I don’t want to steal Wittgenstein’s thoughts, even if I have thought about stealing his heart.

I mean, I wouldn’t mind being his mistress, even if that word has gone out of fashion. Though I don’t think it has. I just loath that there’s no masculine equivalent, so usually people just go with the unbiased “lover.”

I wouldn’t have minded being Wittgenstein’s lover.

He was apparently a deeply serious man, and put his soul into everything he did.

That probably means he was good in bed.

Achilles probably was too, but I bet more selfish than Wittgenstein.

But probably still not as selfish as Michelangelo, nor as smelly.

All this has given me a strong desire to reread the Odyssey, and a small desire to read the Iliad.

And has caused me to order Maria Callas singing Cherubini’s Medea off of Amazon.

I laughed loudly when Markson compared Germaine Greer to Medea.

And I loved the image of all those tennis balls rolling down the Spanish Steps.

It’s stuff like that that makes me recommend this book to many, many people.

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Virginia Woolf once wrote:

“The merest schoolgirl when she falls in love, has Shakespeare or Keats to speak her mind, but let a sufferer try to describe a pain in his head to a doctor, and language at once runs dry.”

Loneliness. Alienation. Isolation. Even guilt, shame as Paula Kamen notes. These are common symptoms of migraine headache.

For years, and still, even now, doctors do not believe patients when they come for help with their invisible migraine headaches. I’ve had MRIs, because it is imperative that a migraineure checks and makes sure their problem isn’t more substantial like a tumor, but once the problem is labeled benign, like migraines, it’s almost as if the medical world vanishes.

Having pain is to have certainty.

Hearing about pain is to have doubt.

Mcgill Pain questionnaires are generic. They’re designed to be. Because it’s impossible to communicate pain, whether it’s physical, emotional, or spiritual (and I use this term very, very loosely).

I’ve been working on a collection of short stories, two of which will appear in Ampersand Review‘s 4th volume, where I translate my headaches into narratives. A couple of years ago I became fascinated with the language of pain, or rather the aphasia of pain. How it is impossible to really explain to someone what it actually is that I’m experiencing.

I’m forced to rely on empathy and translation because one has to use metaphors to describe pain. Metaphors that one hasn’t experienced. For instance, common descriptions for headaches are: It’s like my head is being stabbed with an ice pick. Or: I feel as if my head’s caught in a vice. Two things that most people have not experienced, two things that would fall under the category of torture and would certainly involve human agency. But, the migraine is self-generated. Meaning, the body causes this trauma unto itself.

Elaine Scarry ‘s Body in Pain and Cathy Caruth’s Unclaimed Experience were instrumental in my thought processes.

For Caruth,

Trauma seems to be much more than a pathology, or the simple illness of a wounded psyche: it is always the story of a wound that cries out, that addresses us in the attempt to tell us of a reality or truth that is not otherwise available. This truth, in its delayed appearance and its belated address, cannot be linked only to what is known, but also to what remains unknown in our very actions and our language.

Death. For most people, pain is associated with death. And, of course, as no one knows what death actually is, a gnawing, terrifying wound in the human psyche could be a very appropriate description.

When I have a headache it is if my head is literally crying out.

The wound steals my voice.

Help me. Help me. Help me. Stop. Stop. Stop.

My body others itself.

My body tortures me.

Everything is distorted when one is in pain. Pain is the annihilation of the world. Scarry discusses pain from the perspective of torture and war. If one ascribes to phenomenology, and I don’t really understand how one cannot, they would then believe that there is infinite potential within every object. Anything, literally anything, could be used against the victim in an act of torture: “The contents of the room, its furnishings, are converted into weapons.”

Physical pain leads to the destruction and the unmaking of the human world. Obversely, for Scarry, human creation leads to the making of it.

When one is experiencing a migraine headache creation, life stops, and one is forced into obsessive darkness, where one’s only thought is the removal of pain. It’s an obsessive compulsive loop. One cannot stop thinking about an image. For people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, this image would be of the moment where they escaped death, and they replay this image over and over in their minds in order to understand it, to torture themselves over what could have been.

It’s an unproductive obsession, but the victim is left with no choice.

Such is the problem with pain. It is not productive. It is not for anything. It just is. (Unless the pain is child birth, the only productive pain.) And when you’re in the dregs of pain, it seems like it has always been and will continue on being for eternity. In other words, it’s torturous.

Emily Dickinson, Poem XIX:

PAIN has an element of blank

It cannot recollect

When it began, or if there were

A day when it was not

It has no future but itself

Its infinite realms contain

Its past, enlightened to perceive

New Periods of pain.

*Note, after four lines there is a break. Wouldn’t want to change Ms. Dickinson’s format. I know how poets are.

**For the definitive Migraine Ontology please read Oliver Sack’s Migraine.

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Oh, the Place You’ll Go! is a classic children’s book that deals with the weighty topics of free will and death, but Dr. Seuss addresses them so delicately and with the kind of honesty and clarity that encourages and prepares the child for the overwhelming tasks that await.  

“You,” the pronoun, is written as a second person singular but intended as a second person plural. Meaning, “you” refers to both the protagonist, the unnamed little hero who’s adventures we will soon be following, and the reader. Dr. Seuss is writing in second person so that hero and reader conflate. They become one in the same person.

For the duration of this story, every little boy or little girl reading Oh, the Places You’ll Go! will travel with the hero, become the hero, and understand, subconsciously, symbolically, the existential journey we all must partake.

“You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”

The human condition is about making choices. Some people are paralyzed by this, they spend all day confused, gnawing at their fingers, unable to decide anything. As if from a surfeit of options they wait, choosing none, and suffer in “The Waiting Place.” But others, other like the hero, are braver than that. Others choose what their life will be, but, and this but is crucial, but only to a certain extent. Dr. Seuss acknowledges and tells the child that there are elements, things, that are out of the child’s control.

“And when things start to happen, don’t worry. Don’t stew. Just go right along. You’ll start happening too.”

The illustrations are trippy and weird, but to a child the entire world seems trippy and weird. The child does not have the tools to interpret all the signs he encounters everyday. Initially, the child’s only relation to the world is in the house. At this time, the house is the world.

The house is the first space a human being encounters. It is a representation, a trope of outside existence. Before a baby can understand itself as a thoughtful, rational, mortal being, before it can understand that it is a separate entity from its surroundings, it knows only the house and the people which inhabit it.

But, there soon comes a time when the child has to leave the house, and this is where Oh, the Places You’ll Go! comes in.

“Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best. Wherever you go, you will top all the rest. Except when you don’t. Because, sometimes, you won’t.”

This is the first time this mantra appears. The second instance is without italics, because, presumably, the child has gotten over the shock of failing at something.

Dr. Seuss does not shy away from sad or the scary, instead he understands them and tries to prepare the child for the inevitable hard and lonely times. Perpetually glossing over serious subjects can be detrimental to the child’s development, can make the fall, the “Lurch” from being left behind, even tougher to cope with.

“All Alone! Whether you like it or not, Alone will be something you’ll be quite a lot. And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants. There are some, down the road between hither and yon, that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.”

The picture above these words is dark and looks more like an Edward Gorey illustration. The inky hatch-marks, the brittle arbor, the dead trees, the yellow grass, the evil creatures with green eyes that are shaped like tomb stones, and the text itself all are signifiers of death. And though the child does not read death, and does not necessarily even think of death (because perhaps they have no idea what death is or means), the above drawings leave the child with the feeling of death. This illustration impresses upon the child the seriousness, the gravity of making decisions and the text suggests the extreme desire to return to the safety and warmth of the home. Thus, another existential dilemma.

Of course, the narrative ends on a much happier note (apologies if I gave anything away), but does so in such a way that respects the child, something not all children’s authors care about.

Now, if only all of life’s lessons came in such succinct rhymes.

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Yale University Press removes images of Mohammed even before any threats. Disgusting.

Yale University Press announced last week that it would go ahead with the publication of the book, but it would remove from it the 12 caricatures that originated the controversy. Not content with this, it is also removing other historic illustrations of the likeness of the Prophet, including one by Gustave Doré of the passage in Dante’s Inferno that shows Mohammed being disemboweled in hell. (These same Dantean stanzas have also been depicted by William Blake, Sandro Botticelli, Salvador Dalí, and Auguste Rodin, so there’s a lot of artistic censorship in our future if this sort of thing is allowed to set a precedent.)

The emphasis on the masters is only to shock, and impress the dire need to abhor censorship at all costs. If I should decide to print or even link to images of Mohammed and then someone at WordPress were to die because of it, or even if I were to die, WordPress would be responsible. That kind of logic, as Christopher Hitchens points out, is akin to women asking for rape merely by wearing something revealing.

So here’s another depressing thing: Neither the “experts in the intelligence, national security, law enforcement, and diplomatic fields, as well as leading scholars in Islamic studies and Middle East studies” who were allegedly consulted, nor the spokespeople for the press of one of our leading universities, understand the meaning of the plain and common and useful word instigate. If you instigate something, it means that you wish and intend it to happen. If it’s a riot, then by instigating it, you have yourself fomented it. If it’s a murder, then by instigating it, you have yourself colluded in it. There is no other usage given for the word in any dictionary, with the possible exception of the word provoke, which does have a passive connotation. After all, there are people who argue that women who won’t wear the veil have “provoked” those who rape or disfigure them … and now Yale has adopted that “logic” as its own.

Yale University Press should be ashamed of itself. Completely and utterly. For being cowards, for flogging the first amendment, and for fearing an action from a religion most of them don’t even believe in. Censorship is a regression, an unthinkable step backwards into the dark, and I can’t believe any ivy league press, supposedly the best of the best of what we have to offer, would consider such a pathetic act.

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Another wonderful play at the Berkshire Fringe. So wonderful that I felt I must write about it.

Phi Alpha Gamma. By Dan Bernitt.

The Lambda Literary Award nominated Phi Alpha Gamma is a haunting portrait of brotherhood, masculinity, love and fear embedded in American culture.

Two years after two young men perpetrate a gay-bashing that scars their fraternity’s reputation, another member of the fraternity comes out of the closet. Phi Alpha Gamma focuses a compassionate eye on young men searching for a deeper connection with each other.

The story weaves together the voices of four fraternity brothers as they each grapple with the remnants of the hate crime and this new revelation.

A one man play is already incredibly schitzophrenic. That one man must play, in this instance, four parts. Four different protagonists all fighting for the title of the real protagonist, and, it could be argued, that these four men really comprise one man. Not necessarily the author, though of course, in a way, but the fictional raison d’etre of the play. The cynosure.

For the most part I enjoyed myself. (And my boyfriend really enjoyed himself.) The acting was superb, and by that I mean, he didn’t once over-act in that emphatically emotional way plaguing most actors. Instead he delivered a subtle but profoundly gripping performance.

I am not an acting critic, however, I am a bit of a literary critic. Phi Alpha Gamma had plenty of structure and certainly a ton of suspense, and was not ham-fisted or overly preaching a gay agenda. But I did have a couple of questions.

SPOILER ALERT

For instance, Phi Alpha Gamma, the Christian fraternity known for gay bashing, has a newly pledged brother, Louis, that comes out of the closet. I’m not sure why he would be attracted to this fraternity in the first place. At one point another brother talks about the fraternity as family and I’m willing to accept that Louis was seeking a familial bond, except he was always in his room avoiding the group.

But yes, I was willing to suspend disbelief for that one point because the overall drive of the piece was to see how this meatheaded fraternity was going to react to such a blow to their collective masculinity, especially after the gay bashing incident with Aaron and Jacob. And, of course, it was a delight to watch their alpha male superiority at work. And not only was Bernitt making a critique on Greek life and jocks, but he was also criticizing Christianity, and that is right up my alley (no pun intended).

Bernitt bounces to and fro these four characters all telling the same narrative and all living inside the fraternity house, except Aaron, the gay basher, who resides in jail and spends most of his narrative depicting horrific rape scenes from his bunk mate “King”.

I found those scenes disturbing, as you’re supposed to, but I also found them typical. I expected this ironic twist of the tale, that the gay basher was going to be forced into having gay sex.

Aaron’s monologue is told in the form of a letter. He is writing to one of the brothers, we don’t know whom until the end, but we do know that he’s writing to the brother who he went gay bashing with. The one that got away.

So, the crux of the play’s suspense was in guessing which of the other three characters was guilty of this heinous crime. The alpha male (meaning the dominant one, since they’re all technically alphas)/ the president, or the self-righteous bible touter, or Jacob, the big brother to Louis, the one that Louis first makes his confession to before he tells everyone else in a house meeting.

I, of course, assumed it was the religious nut since the president is consumed with the fraternity’s reputation and I found Jacob to be a sympathetic character. This is why the end came as a shock to me.

Also, in jail Aaron talks about how he wanted to impress his partner in crime, the guy that taught him to attack gay couples at the exact moment they’re coming, because they’ll be distracted. He said he looked up to this man. He also said that Jacob was his little brother. I know it’s possible for the big brother to look up to the little brother, but generally it’s the other way around, this is also the reason I didn’t assume Jacob.

That, and Jacob’s character wasn’t developed enough. How could Jacob go from an intense bigot, one that takes gay bashing very seriously, to the most sympathetic male in the room, the one that wants to tell Louis that no matter what, Louis is still his brother?

Aside from those holes, most of which were only discovered in discussion on the drive home, the play truly was deeply entertaining and spot on.

The culminating scene where Jacob and the would-be priest (Daniel?) exchange Bible verses was executed perfectly.

“Justified homophobia” was left choking on the hypocritical Christian residue, and I totally loved it.

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Bizarro Fiction

Discovered Bizarro Fiction. Had mind blown.

Bizarro is like:

Franz Kafka meets John Waters

Dr. Suess of the post-apocalypse

Takashi Miike meets William S. Burroughs

Alice in Wonderland for adults

Japanese animation directed by David Lynch

Sex and drugs, but totally not sex and drugs. Unlike a man mistaking his wife for a hat, the wife would actually be that hat. It claims to be more for entertainment rather than literary. I wonder if the absurdist Daniil Kharms would fit inside this strange little genre. He’s certainly not writing weird for the sake of weird.

I should try my hand at writing some. Something poignant without being deeply symbolic, and certainly more shocking instead of ham-fisted.

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