While Listening to Henry Plotkin

0. While Listening to Henry Plotkin 1. I was cold and sweating. I was sweaty cold. As I warmed, the sweat cooled, making me colder as I got warmer. I stopped the bike to photograph a tree, and the gear slipped as I slowed. My feet nearly slipped off the pedals as well. I had trouble keeping the bicycle upright between my legs. I rode all the way around the tree once to find the angle that best combined form and color. Perhaps I should have photographed the tree from multiple angles. As it was, what I felt was the best angle included the bums on the bench in the distance. When I initially rode past them, one of them was speaking in a voice made of gravel. Gravel always “crunches.” Breakfast cereal always “crunches.” First I was cold and sweating, but now I’m just cold. 2. Having just read a poem, an unfinished poem by Michael P. and being struck more than once, I mean a chord within me was—and but now also listening to exceptionally accomplished modernist music by an eleven-year-old—and wanting to continue the striking poem, continue examining my own beliefs and/or continue adding and modifying the existing structure so that it changes without changing, standing in a river, buying but never opening a box of colored pencils, wanting to make the joke “pencils of color,” but knowing better, and also being aware of the ease with which I just couched that joke like I thought you wouldn’t notice, like how his eye is on a slow journey to his chin, how I probably over-sharpen my pencils and too soon, like how characters allow us to do and say things . . . even though how is this not also a character, and the inability to write without thinking about a reader and being judged by that reader so that I would be forced to admit that yes, in fact, there is a God. Yes, there is, in fact, a God. There is also a button on my desk, a mother-of-pearl button shiny and opalescent on one side, mottled red and brown on the other and I always think of blood and I always think of blood. “Bloody Buttons” would not even be a good name for a band. My belief that I have something to say and it’s important. My belief that I have nothing to say and it isn’t important. Or rather that I have something to say and it isn’t important when what I really want is to have nothing to say and for it to be important. My belief in hope. My belief in pencil sharpeners. My belief in my essential unbelievability. I mean, that I should not be believed. Not because I am a liar, but because, perhaps, I don’t even know I’m not telling the truth. So much of this is philosophy for neophytes. and then what seems to have been out of rhythm resolves itself into the larger complex of sounds. Complex of apartments. 3. My writing feels stalled in the same way my life feels stalled. Trying to make something new and interesting from something that’s been done and overdone. Writing about writing for Christ’s sake. I mean look at this! Or maybe always on the cusp of something and never pushing or working hard enough. Not having a practice. What is a practice? Going into private practice. 4. AnlageBaum

In fact, there is nothing at all to say.

'In Turkey, a man brought home a goat to sacrifice for Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice-which celebrates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son for God-and stored it on his roof until, on Wednesday, it fell off, landing on and killing his 13-year-old son, who was playing below. "In fact," the man said, "there is nothing at all to say."' From the always interesting Harper's Weekly Review

Reading The Loop by Jacques Roubaud, part 12

map 1: §18 --> I §81 --> §18 --> Bif B §146 --> Bif B §147 --> Bif B §148 --> Bif B §149 --> Bif B §150 map 2: pp. 75, 253, 254, 75, 76, 77, 384, 385, 386, 387, 388, 389, 390, 391, 392, 393, 394, 395
Memories and curiosities are shoved aside more and more rapidly as obsolete, in a "stock rotation" that affects not only books in bookstores, films in theaters, and the music on "Walkmans," but also, and at least as rapidly, yogurt brands, ideas, opinions and convictions, scientific theories, animal species, friendships, loves (77). To live, and to live as a unified whole, requires that one be able to think a continuity of being, it requires the certainty (illusory but persistent) of having lived without interruption. And this certainty itself requires a setting, a framework, a background both geometrical and temporal, without discontinuities. For a "self," the real beginning of life isn't birth (which, strictly speaking, is as internally unthinkable as death)—and is even very distant from birth (384-5). But how does one recognize oneself? I am not at all certain that I don't actually have to depend for this recognition on those external memories provided by photographs, and a certain number of photographs can constitute an ordered documentary sequence, punctuating the years at not-too-distant intervals: stable witnesses to time, much less subject to doubt than internal memories, but far more indifferent. (And this is independent of the fact that photographic representations look at you from the outside, and present a different face from the one that we see in the mirror.) (390)
I would say I still don't know how it is I haven't ever finished Swann's Way by Proust, considering particularly how beautiful Lydia Davis' translation of it is, but the year-long pause in this project easily answers the question. (In a sense, the interruption in this project constitutes an interruption in my life. (There are those who would like to believe that my current residence in Germany is an interruption of my life. (Now might be the time to trot out that beautiful line from a John Lennon song ("Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)" from the album Double Fantasy (the album, incidentally, that introduced me to Yoko Ono's music, which, these days, I find far more interesting than Lennon's solo stuff (For the longest time, I considered myself (if one takes Tom Robbins' assertion that there's only one relevant question when trying quickly to ascertain something about someone else's psychology; that question being "Who is your favorite Beatle? (a question which becomes less and less relevant as the years go by)) to be a John person (the rebel!), but now, after both coming to terms with the fact that Abbey Road's B side is awesome because of Paul (and in spite of John) and familiarizing myself with Paul's "early" solo work (McCartney II came out ten years after the Beatles had split), I realize I've been a Paul person (the cute one?) all along.), probably because there always seems to be some larger conceptual concern behind her work (whereas John just wanted to make Rock-n-Roll (not, in and of itself, an unworthy goal, just not where my interests lie))) that has become both cliché and somehow twee (Lennon? the rebel? twee?): "Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans."))) But, obviously, a work like The Loop (or a project like the great fire of London) could not exist without Proust's initial plumbings/dissections of memory. The problem with an assertion like "one cannot understand Roubaud's masterwork without having read Proust" is that it creates a slippery slope: One cannot understand Proust without having read X; one cannot understand X without having read Y; one cannot understand Y without having read Z; Z = the whole of classical literature (all the Greeks and all the Romans).
I will . . . refrain from entering the race to break the record for "earliest memory," into which autobiographers have thrown themselves ever since some first pioneer among them came up with the idea and decided that he possessed this "thing," a "first memory" (I don't know who this was, or even when it happened: who is the author of the "first memory"? (a written memory, that is)) (Robert Graves seeing Queen Victoria at the age of one, or Tolstoy in his little bathtub at two, are among the most ridiculous I have ever read) (392).
A question I regularly (and uselessly) ask myself is where did it start to go wrong? If we could just put "Come Together" and "Something" on a different album, get rid of "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," "Oh! Darling," and "Octopus's Garden" altogether, and turn the A side of Abbey Road into a 25-minute version of "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," the world would surely be a better place.

Reading The Loop by Jacques Roubaud, part 11

map 1: §16 --> §17 --> §I80 --> §17 map 2: pp. 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 251, 252, 72, 73, 74, 75
I propose this distinction-opposition as a transposition of the one proposed by Sloterdijk in his Critique of Cynical Reason between cynicism properly speaking and what he calls "kynicism," that is, briefly stated, between waht is imposed from the top down and what, on the contrary, looks up from below (69).
This is an important distinction. I attempt the latter rather than the former, but it's not always possible. I think especially when one is young one tends (if one tends in this direction at all) toward cynicism. Plus also, when one is young, one only thinks one knows what the bottom looks like. Though I suppose that is always true. Each bottom is false. One looks up, stamps one's foot, and hears a hollow reverberation. I suddenly feel like I have written this before.
I will add, since this touches on an essential feature of the conception of my Project, that in this general refusal of obedience, I adopted a particular strategy, which was not to imitate a revolutionary gesture but to seek and to choose a multiplicity of master figures (the fatal illusion par excellence, in politics as in art, is that of the "tabula rasa"): hence Queneau; but also Raimbaut d'Orange, Cavalcanti, and Mallarmé; but also Gertrude Stein and Trollope and Kamo no Chomei, So much (and this list is hardly exhaustive) for poetry and literature. But there are other things besides poetry and literature. I had masters in mathematics (Claude Chevalley, Jean-Paul Benzécri), and elsewhere, in each of the disciplines taken up as a part of the Project's implementation (252).
Julio Cortázar and Georges Perec. Robert Walser and David Markson. Matthew Goulish and Dan Beachy-Quick. Andy Warhol and Joseph Cornell. Terry Riley and Steve Reich. People Like Us and Matmos. Lydia Davis. John Cage. Lanny Fiegenschuh and Mike Peterson. David Byrne. Beth Nugent. Scott McCloud and Jim Woodring. And on and on.

Reading The Loop by Jacques Roubaud, part 10

It has been over a year since I last posted in this category.1 It has also been over a year since I read in The Loop. I don't remember much of what I've already read. I don't remember much of what I've already written. I could go back and read. That would be ~135 (dense) pages of Roubaud's book and nine blog posts. I might go back and read the blog posts. In fact, I will do so now, so here is an interpolative link to them. Ah yes, scratching the frost on a window and a fig tree. And ah yes, even my first post warns of likely failure of this project. So, after a year-long pause in the "action," here is another attempt at Reading The Loop by Jacques Roubad: map 1: §15 -> I§77 -> §15 -> I§78 -> §15 -> I§79 -> §15 map 2: pp. 64, 65, 247, 248, 65, 66, 248, 249, 66, 67, 250, 251, 67
"And if was a unique moment in Germany: a sort of historical no-man's-land in which the reign of the defeated had come to an end, yet that of the victors . . . had not yet been established" (67).
Jacques Roubaud spent some time in East Germany in the early part of 1990, shortly after the Wall had fallen. I spent two weeks in Hellersdorf in eastern Berlin in the early part of 1991, shortly after unification (the Wall fell on 09 November 1989; unification happened 11 months later on 03 October 1990). Roubaud saw piles of brown coal covered with a little snow. I saw piles of brown coal covered with a little snow. Roubaud saw pock-marks left by bullets in the façades of buildings. I did not, though the buildings by which I was surrounded—tall, featureless, "socialist" blocks of flats—did remind me of death in that I felt as though I were an ant in a cemetery. Roubaud was reminded regularly of moments from his childhood (of course he was—that is the conceit of The Loop). I was still living my childhood, and living in one of Europe's largest cities reminded me in no way whatsoever of growing up on the plains of Nebraska. I was not old enough, or experienced enough, or smart enough, or attentive enough to see how both places were empty and how both places were full. Roubaud may have written about the social-political-historical import of that "historical no-man's-land" elsewhere (he had gone there on a writing assignment, after all). I wasn't, at the time, aware enough really to comprehend either the importance of the moment, or of my privileged place within it (as part of the first ever group of foreign exchange students to stay with families in what had been East Berlin). Besides the above-mentioned, here are some other things I remember about those two weeks:
    • the smell of that brown coal being burned. • walking through the snow, late at night, alone, after visiting a friend, and listening to the Jesus Jones album Doubt (which contained the single "Right Here, Right Now"). • going to see an exhibit of animatronic dinosaurs (an exhibit I would see again at the Riverside Zoo in Scottsbluff, Nebraska). • being told about how a fellow exchange student, who was of Asian descent, had been chased through the streets by a group of skinheads. • watching Spaceballs dubbed in German in a very nice apartment in the city center (and how the "Jam the radar!" joke didn't work). • taking a drive into the country to visit a dam. • talking to an 11th grade English class about growing up in America, being asked the question, "What means 'fuck you!'?" looking to the teacher for guidance, seeing the teacher give me the go-ahead, talking for ten minutes about all the various uses of/for the word fuck, and ultimately explaining that the lead singer of Depeche Mode, when he yelled "Fuck you!" during the concert (which the entirety of that 11th grade class had ostensibly attended) was not commanding the crowd to copulate.
1. But, having been inspired by the "Reading Der Mensch Erscheint im Holozän" project, I decided to give it another go.

Reading Der Mensch Erscheint im Holozän, Section 9a

response to http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/2367/the-art-of-fiction-no-113-max-frisch INTERVIEWER Does the artist have to have a political conscience? Is it valid for an artist simply to create? FRISCH I don’t believe so. You may not know what can be done politically, but it is important that you do not accept the way it is now, nor accept the lies. At the very minimum, challenge the lie. If you write a story, or a poem, you are in a state of mind of having no good reason to hope; you’re powerless, you have lost a lot of hopes, and it is in this landscape that you write. *** Narrative realism, straightforward storylines, plots, and the rote Faden are all lies. All of my feelings are lies if I attempt to articulate them. My whole life is a lie if I attempt to articulate it. Every story I tell is a retelling of the last time I told it and not a recreation of the event. There are no events; there is only the reporting of events. The reports are greatly exaggerated. My death. *** A few months after our interview, I called Mr. Frisch to see if he had any final corrections or comments to add. “Yes,” he said. “Tell them that for just a brief moment I flew. Only for a moment—to the kitchen and back—but that you saw me fly.”

Reading Der Mensch Erscheint im Holozän, Section 9

pp. 131-143 CasualPanic How shall I explain my desire to insert a photo from my wedding day here? I don't suppose I would have to explain; you and I both read the same book. I got married in western Nebraska during the wettest May that part of the world had seen in a very long time. Usually yellow and lip-cracking dry, the Panhandle that spring was multiple shades of green and a deep, rich brown. The skies were gray and low. Wildflowers bloomed everywhere. Old-timers talked about how the last time they saw the waters meet (that is, that the moisture from above would meet the moisture always hidden deep within the earth) was when they were children. It did not feel like the place where I had spent my adolescence. But the landslide was still a long time coming. One writes a sentence like that, and one is ashamed. One feels as though perhaps one should be expelled from the party. And yet, the world is built on sentences like that. Look, there's another. Here's a third: The clouds I stood under the day I got married never really lifted. The landslide was always going to be personal. The landslide was always going to be internal. The landslide is always both. One does not always consciously notice the cracks, but one is aware of them anyway and attempts to cover them with something—perhaps a small piece of paper and some tape, a kiss on a scraped knee. One always thinks one does not want to lose what one has, but one is always losing what one has. Erosion.1 1. My first typed draft of this was exactly 268 words long. That was a coincidence. In my head, the last word was first just a last word, then a whole sentence, but then, finally, just that one typed word. The two-hundred-sixty-eighth word. I have edited in such a way that this section is still exactly 268 words long.

Reading Der Mensch Erscheint im Holozän, Section 8

pp. 115-130 Es ist noch viel zu tun— 1. Herr Geiser has a minor stroke. 1.1. The stroke occurs during the pictures of the dinosaurs. 1.2. Previously, Herr Geiser lurched over the mountains in the night, but is not now an amphibian. 1.3. Presumably, Herr Geiser lurched from his chair onto the floor. 2. Herr Geiser locks himself away in his house and refuses to answer the door or the phone. 2.1. Because the Zettelwand makes him look crazy? 2.2. Because his stroke-closed eye makes him look like an amphibian? 2.3. Because he simply doesn't want any visitors? 3. Herr Geiser roasts the cat. 3.1. Herr Geiser roasts the cat in the fireplace. 3.2. But does not eat it. 3.3. Even though that was, ostensibly, the plan. 4. Herr Geiser begins the narration of a memory 4.1. This is the first time in the book a memory has been narrated. 4.2. Unless we count pp66-7: “Einmal im Sommer hatten die Spechte sozusagen eine Idee.” 4.3. Otherwise, memory resides in the Zettel; memory belongs to the culture (the Bible), memory belongs to the earth (the lexicon). —nun ist dieser Text zerstückelt, unbrauchbar.

Reading Der Mensch Erscheint im Holozän, Section 7

pp. 100-114 -Meistens denkt man im Gehen gar nichts.1 -Worüber soll man sich Gedanken machen?
    heikel: awkward, delicate (precarious), particular (fastidious, choosy), fussy, precarious, sensitive (mission, issue), tricky (situation, problem), thorny (fig.), dodgy (situation), shaky (precarious), picky (esp. about food), touchy (subject), subtle, queasy, fastidious, ticklish, dainty, scabrous, trickily, fussily, queasily, scabrously, touchily
-Nachdem er den Cognac ausgetrunken hat (ein kleiner Flachmann) und den Feldstecher in den Rucksack gesteckt und langsam den Rucksack weider verschnürt hat, ist Herr Geiser noch eine Weile lang sitzen geblieben, ohne sich zu sagen, was er denkt, was in seinem Kopf beschlossen wird. -jemand hat die Zettel an den Wänden gesehen
    I'm suddenly so tired again. I haven't done much of anything all day other than worry and attempt not to think. Emotionally exhausted. At some point in the near future, I will also have to metaphorically climb a pass in the Alps to prove to someone that I don't have to go to Basel. Was soll Shawn Huelle in metaphorischer Basel? I think that if Stadt is feminine, then a city (any city) probably also is. I am also probably wrong. I wish someone would bring me soup while I slept. I wouldn't mind if they saw all the bits of paper on the walls. I mean, I have long subscribed to Virginia Woolf's idea, “Arrange whatever pieces come your way.” Hell, the wall on which the Zettel can be found is already open to the public in several forms.
The footnote alone breaks the word count rule, even if the response does not. 1. "A Little Ramble" (by Robert Walser (translated by Tom Whalen)): I walked through the mountains today. The weather was damp, and the entire region was gray. But the road was soft and in places very clean. At first I had my coat on; soon, however, I pulled it off, folded it together, and laid it upon my arm. The walk on the wonderful road gave me more and ever more pleasure; first it went up and then descended again. The mountains were huge, they seemed to go around. The whole mountainous world appeared to me like an enormous theater. The road snuggled up splendidly to the mountainsides. Then I came down into a deep ravine, a river roared at my feet, a train rushed past me with magnificent white smoke. The road went through the ravine like a smooth white stream, and as I walked on, to me it was as if the narrow valley were bending and winding around itself. Gray clouds lay on the mountains as though that were their resting place. I met a young traveler with a rucksack on his back, who asked if I had seen two other young fellows. No, I said. Had I come here from very far? Yes, I said, and went farther on my way. Not a long time, and I saw and heard the two young wanderers pass by with music. A village was especially beautiful with humble dwellings set thickly under the white cliffs. I encountered a few carts, otherwise nothing, and I had seen some children on the highway. We don’t need to see anything out of the ordinary. We already see so much.