- The Hysteric wants the hole package.
- The Obsessive is moored in the hole, summing parts.
- The Pervert swears he saw the hole thing.
- For the Psychotic, it’s no holes barred.
Formal strategies are very important. Processes, too, are crucial. Choose them and trust them.
I found myself wanting to do something with verse. I decided to invent a line. I arrived at three iambs followed by three trochees:
And that would be followed by a line consisting of three trochees followed by three iambs:
I decided that if I had one line of one sort, it would have to be followed by a line of the other sort.
Will all the lines follow this verse form? I reserve the right to not know.
Symmetry and isomorphism come to mind with this approach to prosody, but not in a way accountable to formal mathematical definitions.
To back up a bit, the reflected mirroring aspect comes from a silly two line poem I wrote:
Damn! Finish already.
Already finished? Damn.
That one led to another one, an imagined bit of chat between voices:
And it’s inverse:
She did, did she?
That got me curious about symmetry in language. You can have it in certain ways, but in other ways, you can’t. Time flows in one direction with respect to how you deploy words. Sure, you can construct palindromic sentences, but can we perhaps say that meaning lies in the impossibility of certain symmetries in the domain of language? Or can we even talk about the breaking of symmetries?
You do have symmetries with the shape of certain letters, however. And maybe that I will also exploit.
So, to carry forward with this idea of reflection or twoness, I chose for there to be two speakers. Sitting in chairs. I impose an arbitrary restriction: they must remain in their chairs.
To shape how I ponder the implications of what I have so far, I give myself two words:
Associations to these words will help prompt and organize material.
Now, with me, there’s always this matter of what I’m going to call the “extra-textual” in a script. This is a germane issue in this instance because I want to compose something for two performers I worked with in grad school. I am thinking particularly of these two because it was a moment of work between them in a piece we did using the writings of Poe that was very much about defining the significance of the “extra-textual” component, so much so that it basically led to my own particular “Road to Damascus” transformation with regard to what I want out of theatre.
So somehow the work has to attend to this matter of the “extra-textual.” It has to have something built in that will allow for these two performers to have some opportunities for elaboration that they, because of their training, will know how to use to their advantage.
I’m thinking square brackets. At certain points I will place things in square brackets and this will lead the performers to explore “extra-textual” possibilities at that moment in the proceedings.
The gender of the performers, both female, will also guide certain associations. It will underline, ultimately, a certain attitude toward reflection and symmetry. At a certain point, perhaps, a certain attempt at balance is an attempt to define absolute intimacy. So, too, I now realize, the scan of each line and the structured coupling of lines are also enactments of that intention.
So here’s the thing about story. I don’t want to deny the audience the possibility of finding a story or speculating about a story. They will attempt to clump together the strands. As I associate within my strictures, moments of a storied temporality will emerge, but I refuse to let those take over. It’s enough to trigger things for the audience. I’m more interested in using language and creating a multi-dimensional realm of possibilities for the performers.
I should play with some examples. Here’s a couplet that illustrates my verse scheme:
Your tongue will sound a cold click before I finish
running lengths of twine all around your hands and heart.
Three iambs followed by three trochees in the first line, the reverse in the second. This implies a two-fold mirroring, one between the lines and one within each line. The challenge of composition with this verse form led me first of all to the question of the mirroring break in each line. I knew I had to have two accented syllables next to one another in one and two unaccented syllables together in the other. Cold click came first, free of context, just a collision of two unarguably accented sounds. From that choice, I tried to let questions and answers regarding subjectivity, intimacy, body, and relationship, start to unfold. Since a context began to emerge, it made it more challenging to determine the mirroring pivot of two unaccented sounds in the second line. The twine was already in place trying to do double duty as both a tying action and a punning allusion to doubleness or twin-ness (not to mention a bit of promise for some comic sado-masochistic jouissance to come into play), so all around made for a possible solution with the all a- serving as the unaccented couple. The somewhat idiomatic tone of that phrase also seemed to keep things light and gave me permission to indulge in the use of heart at the end of the line. There is fun and grumpiness here, a familiar griping between intimates, perhaps, a domestic ritualization of the perpetual misalignment of desires.
I am suddenly surprised to see that the word finish, one of my orienting ideas along with nestle, has made an appearance.
I want to take the mirroring action further, so I decide to reverse the couplet:
[Heart and hands your round all of twine and running lengths
I finish click before sound will cold and tongue you.]
I made small adjectival adjustments, but tried not to interfere too much, just enough to conform to the inverse of the original couplet’s verse scheme (I did change around to round for that reason). The line struggles with grammatical conventions, of course, but subject and object still seem to churn and insist. I tell myself there’s a bit of extra enjoyment seeping in with this uncoupling from the conventional requirements of sense. I wonder if this approach might have some “extra-textual” interest for the performers, so I enclose it in brackets.
The piece I’m interested in writing is for two performers, so I decide to mirror again, but this time from the point of view of the other presence implied by the first couplet’s address. Again, I reverse the verse scheme:
Tie my heart and hands with at least two tightening turns
to try and stop my tongue clicking cold indifference.
This indifferent responder’s use of the alliterative t‘s communicates an investment in some kind of overt and resistent physicality, more exertion than what is at work in the tying one, seemingly. The word indifference, caught up in irony, also seems to situate the responder in a different place.
For the sake of completeness, I now mirror the responder’s couplet, again reversing verse rhythm:
[Indifference my cold clicking tongue stop try and
Tight at least and tightening hands twice heart and tie.]
Again, an evocation of the “extra-textual,” as if nestled within the attempt at a meaningful utterance is some other projected truth, something with a life in another dimension, an expression folded up and hidden away in the mirroring surface between the speakers.
These principles and processes are leading to some material. Is this dialogue I’m writing? I don’t know. I think I will need to follow my processes for a while and watch material accumulate.
Finally arrived at the thought of birds. I got there by staying with this idea of symmetry. After a detour into concepts of higher mathematics to find out more about a wondrous notion I stumbled upon in a “math for civilians” book: homologic mirror symmetry (attaching myself instantly to a precise colloquial sense I found in these words that seemed to set out my poetic project in its entirety) and discovering, no surprise, in parsing the specifics, that I had no business traveling into this area, the notion that eventually developed, as I thought about symmetry with tempered ambition, was that it was what was needed to establish containment.
Symmetry is the essence of any holding structure. Take a moment to visualize expressions of symmetry and you will see how trivially true that is. Think of a circle, think of a sphere. Fold over a plane and you have a pocket. Can one go further and assert that with a fold of containment, the line of time gets bent back on itself, gets looped or knotted? Symmetry asserts itself as something set off from the flow of time, perhaps.
Language seemed to both fit and not fit in with this. Language can be likened to the flow of time itself, of course, with every word marking a notch on the timeline. But can’t language also reach out into the world as part of an impulse to construct something that gathers in, holds, and preserves? Then I arrived at birds. You can perhaps see how.
When I ponder the mysteries of language, I sooner or later get caught up in a wish to lace together questions of what is within us and what is without us. How, for instance, is language a natural result of a living organism engaging with its environment? What part of the world of meaning is engendered by this odd muscular harnessing of acoustics with instinct and what part is an outside pressure pushing in on us like any other threat to the integrity of our cellular walls. Language as both an is and an it, and what might we, as investigators, stumble upon if we can find a way to study things both ways? So I drifted into thinking about other creatures that reach out into the environment to “express” containment. I naturally came to birds building nests. I then was immediately pleased with the fact that one of the guiding words I had chosen for my project was nestle.
Birds also harness acoustics as part of an engagement with the environment, of course. Can we see the impulse to sing and the impulse to structure containment as part of the same instinctual web of engagement? I’m simply playing with conceits at this point, be assured. I’m not trying to pass this off as any kind of scientific speculation. I had already imagined my two performers sharing a relationship that involved nesting. I had also seen them as lovers: love birds. So it seemed right to stay with birds and it followed naturally that I asked myself how two love birds might build a nest with words, the words emerging through a kind of singing…
After the bit of play with the symmetries of “she did” and “did she,” there’s an expression of enjoyment, I can imagine, followed by one performer asking the other if the pleasure is shared. If it is shared, then I think there’s a symmetry evoked that contains that sharing of enjoyment, that sharing of enjoyment typifying for me an expression of intimacy. Perhaps an erotic intimacy.
Sin entering Sister Mary.
Merry Sister entering sin.
A concept from the quest for meditative wholeness leads to some fun with the clichéd trope of the naughty nun. I had already had a notion of female mystics somehow pointing to a language source for this piece, along with two other words (the f in the word finish kind of prodding me to some choices) flowers and furniture. What if, in fact, the nesting love birds are former contemplative sisters? Trying to story it so explicitly all of a sudden makes it seem a little silly, but I am interested in the idea. Erotic and mystic union intertwining. Via a balancing and reflecting of language. Strange thought. Where could it go? Can I build something with this that can actually contain something?
With words, of course, there’s nothing really there. What can you keep in a container that is not real? Look what thy memory cannot contain… Symmetry holding an absence, a mystery, a passion. Maybe. But then as we carry on to the thought of the mirroring reflection, the symmetry is no longer a containment. We move to something else. Absence is not contained. Absence co-constitutes as a chimerical reflection. And what does the bird sing for then? Here, I think, is where the insurmountable conflict takes shape. These voices trying to make words contain something that cannot be contained, to reflect what cannot be reflected. Something is gone and can’t be gotten back. Folding, reflecting, nestling, containing, nesting, singing, all insurmountably painful. Pleasuring against life with what is lost to preserve who is lost. Again that silly surge toward storying is there. There’s a loss, right? One of the love birds has flown the coop, taken wing. Angel’s wings? Now the nest is empty. There’s the other aspect of finish. These clear outlines start to get boring and I want to dive back into the play of the words, into the effort and the mad scramble of making.
Indolent. That”s the last word.
Offering up this word ends the pretense. Ends the effort. Ends the need for effort. Maybe the effort was never worth it because it always seemed like a double effort or an effort folded over, already too daunting to think about. I must make an effort in order to, then, consequently, make an effort. I must make an effort in order to acquire the credible veneer of one who seems to spend his time making an effort. Even the effort I afforded this paragraph, glibly relying as it does on the repeated use of a word, was folded over, was a cover-up, an attempt to indolently get through to the end without too much effort.
I take walks most days. It”s boring and meditative. I am a prisoner of the Other. I grapple with what the Other might want. Lacan 101. I offer up my thoughts. I gather up self-appraising notions. I craft aphoristic codas. I pretend I”m a wordsmith. I get the jump on time by making phrases. I stand there waiting for myself to catch up. It”s all very tiring and obsessive. So, on the walk today, I proposed to the Other to offer up a word that sums it all up, that accomplishes the perfect self-evaluation. Once I proposed this, the word came fairly quickly. Indolent. I am indolent. I have always been indolent. I, baring unforeseen interventions, will always be indolent. I further told the Other that once I offered the word, I would be free of a large number of its demands. I would be off the hook.uk inflatable hello kitty
And so I am. Yes, the Other will still pester me about other matters, but I now can be at peace over so many things connected with questions of energy and activity. I consider this a very Lichtenbergian achievement, by the way, one the brethren will accept without too much condemnation. I do question, however, whether or not I can still hold the office of “Aphorist.” I can only continue to hold it if all accept that I bear the title ironically. More ironically than when originally bestowed. I was, I must confess, quite invested in the appearance of “accomplishment” and of my possessing certain “powers” that went along with the title. I made a certain amount of effort to try and keep that all propped up. But the truth is, it”s work. And it”s the kind of expenditure that is akin to treading water while trying to wave and appearing to float effortlessly. I am a treader trying to pass as a floater. And for all I know people on the shore are discussing it among themselves: he looks so contorted trying to hide the fact he”s treading; does he really think we think he”s floating? Every floater knows floating doesn”t look like that. And so on.
I expect there to be some condemnation, of course. The full truth of the word indolent includes a certain amount of the ignoble. In other words, indolent is mobile casino not a characterization tinged with irony. It”s just true. And its despicable dimension is also true. I don”t celebrate it, but I don”t hide it. I am indolent. Don”t expect much.
And so I can conclude at a moment”s notice. I will not fret over the fact that what I have rendered here in no way sounds like the symphony of summation I unfolded during my walk. The word has freed me from that. And freed me from worrying about crafting pithy final sentences. I am now giving a last bit of effort to recalling any details from my walking meditation that I can include. I stop typing to do that now.
I resume. Why indolent and not lazy? A touch of vanity, I think. Also true to my nature. Indolent implies that I did as a youth show some earnest effort, that I earnestly worked at my vocabulary lists. But I don”t think I have ever included the word in my working vocabulary. It was kind of an accidental recall. Sure, I”ve read it in books. The fact that I would assure you of that is also part of my character. Indolent evokes for me a certain atmosphere, one in which the word lazy certainly has a place, but which also includes other paralyzing and paradoxical elements. And I offer that previous sentence rather than an autobiographical fantasia. Nothing to hide, just intimidated by the effort it would require to weave all that into this.
One other thing. Maybe two further things. I have been in trance-like states of absorption in which something like creative expression has taken place. Those moments seem, in retrospect, effortless, but they tend to be self-contained ends in themselves. No way to turn back and recapture, no way to exploit for future glory. So not part of the equation, I think. Also, I find certain distancing conventions impossible to undertake. It is very difficult to fictionalize, for instance, so that avenue is not really open to me. And maybe not really that interesting to me. Which, too, may be due to indolence. Taking upon myself the burden of others, of sharing their worlds–no energy for that. So no energy for making up lives and shouldering their cares. Abstractions have always been more amenable. Perhaps because I can pick them up and set them down without burdening myself too much. Abstractions lend themselves more easily to the trance-like improvisatory play I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph. But still, it”s a laborious seizing of elements. Best to leave it to those who do it like breathing.
Anything further? Nope. That”s it.
Seems only natural to use this forum on creativity to talk about bullying. See, already I’m indulging in a free-floating snideness. And who am I put out with? The crusaders or the realists? Both, I guess. Those of you psychologically attuned will note that such ambivalence indicates I speak from experience. I have been bullied. I have also tried cosying up to a bullying culture in an desperate effort to win acceptance and so have joined in my share of targeting those I perceived as being even more deserving targets than I clearly was.
So I’ve got the anger and the guilt going. “Deserving…clearly…” Noted that, did you, you psychologically attuned folk? Was I really a deserving target? No, part of me insists. No one is a deserving target. I, therefore, wholeheartedly lend my righteous anger to the crusade. Stamp it out! And yet…
That still small voice: “You were probably pretty annoying. You’ve picked up on clues to that effect. Might have done you a little bit of good. Made you a bit more…circumspect? We can never really see ourselves accurately at that age, after all…” That little voice that suggests the wisdom of the group is kind of like the wisdom of the market. You take your lumps, right? Experience scratches a few tattoos on your skin. You learn to survive in a tough world. And yet…
Round and round it goes. So one wants to imagine a hypothetical situation that might offer some objective information, something outside the subjective loop of fear-loathing-and justification, something you can bring to the bullying debate free from the clouding of subjective division. Imagine someone with bullying baggage indulging in a perverse desire to follow up on characters from the past through online social networking. What happened to kids from the old school? From those dim elementary and middle-school years? It’s a plausible scenario. What might one find? What if one finds a subtle sense that most of those who were of a bullying nature–and even those who were of a less defined “onlooker” nature in that cultural milieu–had, as adults, signed on as supporters of the right-wing/ libertarian agenda? Can we conceive of such a result from such a thought experiment? Can we draw conclusions? I open it to the group.
My particular concern is with the question of progressive leadership. Is it possible for leadership to emerge from those not complicit in a bullying culture or, worse, who might have been victimized by it? In other words, what if the impulse to lead comes from a desire to help the progress of the species and not from a youthful ability to orchestrate and manipulate taunters that’s now directing itself into the wider world? Is such leadership even possible? How might what we discovered in our little thought experiment play into this? Could a leader with progressive vision get a pack of dogs to settle down enough to be vaccinated and maybe even learn a few commands? How are our enlightened discussions related to this? Do we speak to each other out of a belief in leadership? To return for a moment to my experiences, which I briefly noted in the opening paragraph, I can say that as a result of my encounters with bullying I see human barbarity as a puzzle to be solved or something to be overcome through large movement towards a new human future.
But I also know I have no taste for aligning with a diversity of others to achieve such progress. That, too, is a result of my experiences. My anger sparkles like fireflies in a jar. I’ll poke a few holes in the lid, but that’s it. Gonna keep things screwed shut and glowing on a shelf in my room.
I have no problem with these. I still feel cute as a button uttering them. Shirley Temple cute, if I’m being honest.
Three gnaws a bit, though. I want it to be more concise, more aphoristic, more…Lichtenbergian . Georg is the Master! I’m so happy the quote rotator is back up to speed, humming away. In these dark days of diminished production quotas, it’s a reason to visit the site everyday. I can fiddle with Three, maybe, in the spirit of Lichtenberg:
3. The truly new is that troubling stranger who in a year’s time could easily become an intimate if you gave in to your instincts, but who would more likely reject you outright for understandable reasons.
Shirley Temple is now disgustingly cute. I think my more compact version is actually longer, but it feels more precise and even has a touch of storytelling verve, which is not usually my forte. So it’s a keeper. Bon bons at play…
But I’m also content to chuck all of them. I don’t really believe in them as working guidelines. I don’t really believe myself these days when I claim I create. I have been revisiting the circumstances that first put me on a supposed creative path, and the truth is, I really cannot speak of those circumstances in any other way than as an encounter with an impasse. At a certain point in my development, I met with something I couldn’t understand or encompass or circumnavigate. The instruments I normally employed to get at things were useless.
Always an exciting moment, of course. And, in my case, I think, traumatic. Every encounter with an impasse is something of a trauma, I might assert. The moment of defeat makes an impression and sets the stage for a lifetime of re-visiting, of rehearsing the fatal encounter. Exciting, traumatic, and, ultimately, therefore, essential. Because, as I said before, you are not equipped. You lack savoir faire. There is no help. You become a moment of possible extinction. Such a threat, a loss, a lack, touches on the essential, on you, on life. You can’t find a ring to grasp. You plunge.
Here’s a version of the Bear Hunt Song as thoughtfully preserved by a helpful Boy Scout troop. The song is basically a guide to using prepositions in one’s various encounters with the world. It is the prepositions that function as the working codes, the symbolic formulas, that afford you the chance to move on Reality, to engage it, to establish meaning and possibility. Reality as a set of known possibilities is, in fact, mapped out in the song. But here’s the interesting thing: at the heart of the song is an encounter with an impasse. And that moment, really, is the essence of the song. The key moment, the thrill, is when prepositions aren’t worth a damn. And that is why it is fun to perform the song. Repeatedly. The Bear.
To put it briefly, my particular preoccupation with “creativity” and all that it promises and withholds is due to meeting a Bear. My continued engagement is a rehearsal charted by a particular practice, a particular way symbolic reality works and then unravels. I flee and re-approach.
I was lost in a Baroque tangle and baffled by words. That was the Bear. At the time there were no friendlier words to begin to characterize the predicament or the effect. I then began to collect related objects that seemed to want to adhere to the initial mysterious mute monstrosity. The “creative” path took its place as a possible connection to that mute kernel, along with others. All within a family drama, of course, and surrounded by various figures of interest. And so I orchestrated more and more elaborate meetings with the thing in the cave.
What to do? What will this new clarity tell me about how to proceed? I’ll keep you posted.
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As a rebuke to those who might accuse us of not seeing the forest for the trees.
We Lichtenbergians are in the midst of our most reflective season. We’ve pitched our camp at the foot of the final peak, lit our cooking fires, fed the pack mules and llamas, gathered and voiced a hearty hurrah for our president as he undertakes the final ascent to the ultimate transpersonal apex of revelation, fulfilling his ultimate mandated task as our society’s designated head. He vanishes into the blinding white. We wave. It’s how we do things.
And while we wait, anxiously fidgeting about our campsite, we reflect. We look forward and back. And I’ve decided it is the task of the aphorist during this period to help provide diversion. To facilitate meditation upon all things Lichtenbergian. Over the next few days I will try and add to this post new perspectives and discoveries as time permits.
Today, however, time is not my friend. Time has brought me housecleaning and preliminary conversations with tradesmen. Today I will only note briefly that my recent dip into Peter Gay’s The Enlightenment: an interpretation has led to some surprises for me and the way I perceive Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, the way I weigh his influence on our group and our activities. Though our official focus is on the vicissitudes of the creative impulse, we are, I think, inevitably led to see ourselves also as supporters of something akin to the Enlightenment. To poorly and vaguely define that (and realizing, of course, that the actual Enlightenment took place close to three hundred years ago) in one crisp sentence is my only goal for today. And I’m going to say that it means to be caught up in certain tensions: between reason and superstition, between science and mysticism, between privilege and egalitarianism, between the parochial and the cosmopolitan. Well, okay, shucks, just one more sentence: we strive once and forever to throw off all vestiges of barbarism.
Added on Dec. 9, ’11: Must keep my promise. Maybe if I go back to the moment when I first felt the need to post this “aphorist” entry, I can find further material to share. It was during my Saturday morning pre-dawn reading ritual. I am programmed to wake up between 5 and 6 am, so even on Saturday morning that’s what I do. I get a cup of coffee, prop up on pillows in bed, clip a little LED onto a book–Gay’s The Enlightenment at present–and sink into cosy bliss. First thing I note: it must be non-fiction. What’s with that? It allows me to include in my reading an ongoing inner conversation. I think this is where I do the conversing about thoughts and ideas that I should do when I sit “about the fire.” So, be assured, I do enjoy Lichtenbergian conversation; I just do it at the wrong time and only when I am actually alone. Not virtually alone, however. My inner conversation is always peopled with my ash-bound brethren. I also tend to add female locutors (Freudian alert: originally typed “locators”), but that’s just me adding extra spice to my meal.
At any rate, I read and exercise a need to relate what I read to others as I’m reading. So there I was with the Peter Gay book. The subtitle, I might add, is The Rise of Modern Paganism. Not as overt an embrace of Dionysis as one might wish to infer. “Paganism” in this book is more a way to characterize the tendency of the philosophes to appeal to personages of the Classical era to underwrite and embolden their Deist, or in some cases more wholly atheist, anti-clericalism. Not so much our pagan-like countenancing of the power of chaos (unless your fears of humanism tend to run that way and so you reflexively bring that to the table with any mention “enlightenment” themes: such thinking invites darkness, chaos, etc).
So I was prompted to offer my first bit of posting. But now what? See, that’s my problem. I am at a crossroads, perpetually, as to what I am about when I gather to discuss or when I deliberately sit to write a prompt for discussion. And the result is a wiping of the board. It all goes away. Willful repression? Sometimes I go dangerously psychotic and want to heal the world with our discussions, but that neglects the idea that we are playing with questions of creativity rather than politics and philosophy. Notions of spirituality get tangled up with my perceptions of the everyday. The healthy diversity of views among the brethren also adds to the dizzying blur, and that reminds me that everything is up for grabs (and sometimes leads me to fear stepping on toes–mostly my own). And I come back to the inspiration of Lichtenberg himself and the question of how ambition can misguide or confuse or paralyze talent. Or how creative desire might possibly conjure in the absence of talent, if it can. Maybe we should forever return to that.
Tomorrow is Saturday. I’m going to strive to bring some of my (though it’s really “your”–which is somewhat presumptuous, implying I can think successful impersonations of everyone) lively reading conversation to this space. Stay tuned…