Thursday, December 27, 2007

What comes when I try to write...

"All of your anno Domini
the whole year long
has turned to
anno servi, or two, or
better yet:
ano polaco...
in a piece of the wor(l)d
where slave and Slav
de-fine the di-stance between
six years—nine, but who’s counting?
seven hours, and
365 degrees,
the temperature at which this flesh burns."

Monday, December 24, 2007

California Dreamin'

Just a week after returning to the States from Europe I had already had enough of Dallas and crap at the university.... Or at least I knew I was going to have already had enough, so Stephen organized a blissful weekend away to San Francisco (while I was still in Germany) since he and Kris were going to be there for work. And Jola is there.... So many wonderful people I care so deeply about in a wonderful city by the ocean. I read chapters in the U.S. history textbook for the class I TA for on the flight, so technically it was a working vacation.... Anyway, here are some of the photos of that most relaxing getaway (where gallons of coffee were drunk at Bazaar Cafe, we sat through an hour-long reflexology session, did qigong (as well as napped) in the sand on the beach, and ate incredibly delicious meals at ethnic restaurants throughout the city. I guess gluttony is yet another form of relaxation....).

Saturday, December 22, 2007

15 Songs for a Solstice

...to help keep the cold in on the first day of winter. (As if most of us needed help with that.) Here's to a new season of personal (and universal) growth.

For those of you not on MySpace, I'm currently reading Edmond Jabès' The Book of Margins. After only the first 35 pages, I can definitively state that it will be one of my most favorite books I have/will ever read:
The word is distance within non-distance, that is, the width of a gap that every letter stresses while bridging it. What is said is always said in relation to what will never be expressed. At these extreme limits we recognize ourselves.

This winter will (always already and yet again) prove the truth of the infinite distance I must travel in order to recognize myself in the extremities of the here and now. And now to the soundtrack that will be playing on that trip:


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Skin Deep

There are already so many things wrong with the story about the French woman who received the first face transplant. Like how did she “lose” her face to begin with? Well, she took an overdose of sleeping pills in a botched suicide attempt. She didn’t wake up when her pet Labrador retriever started chewing on her face. But she did wake up after it had already gnawed off her lips, chin and most of her nose. Note to self: feed the dog before killing yourself. Or better yet, kill the dog first!

I’m thinking this would’ve been a ripe time for another suicide attempt, but no: instead medical science in all of its vast uselessness decided to cut the face off a brain-dead woman and transplant it on our heroine. After a couple of near rejections of the face—we could be here all night if I was going to pursue this line of thought!—it seems the face was there to stay. Now she has regained nearly full use of her facial muscles. Or the facial muscles of the other woman. I’m not sure exactly where one woman ends and the other begins! Our heroine is currently “satisfied with the aesthetic result,” according to her surgeon.

Of course, none of what I’ve written or thought about thus far concerns the real problem at hand. The most disturbing aspect of the article I read in the New York Times is the final two sentences:
Ms. Dinoire’s [face] is a bit crooked, with one side slightly higher and one eye more open. But it is not unlike that of a typical Frenchwoman trying to convey a vaguely insouciant sarcasm, with hints of mordant wit and a certain je ne sais quoi.

I have lost all respect for the New York Times for publishing such an offensive, misogynistic and xenophobic article. I have lost all respect for modern science for thinking it was within acceptable ethical bounds to perform such a surgery in those circumstances. And I have lost all respect for Labrador retrievers, or as I shall henceforth refer to them: “face eaters.”

It all reminds me of something my mother used to say when I was a kid: “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugliness goes clear to the bone.” (She would know.)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Excerpts

Something I've been doing for the past several semesters is offering excerpts of my academic work here at the end of the semester. When I'm not writing here--which is happening more and more frequently--I'm most likely working on papers such as these. The work I did this term just about did me in altogether: I started working on the first paper in May, but I was able to write the second paper in just a few weeks. It seems I always shoot my load on one project (usually the one for my major professor and mentor) and then do a second quickie. (And yes, all academic metaphors must be sexual; otherwise, you're not doing it right.) By the way, my first essay earned me a "gifted," and the second one was termed "brilliant." (I'm not braggin'; I'm just saying....)

In die Fremde der Heimat:
Celan’s “Schibboleth” and the Ethics of Translation


Mem’ry, in addition to being short, is also (always already) a matter of convenience. A covenant both enjoins and excludes. Our inclusion in a community is a function of how we enact our communal memory—which flags we pledge allegiance to, which political slogans we cry out, which language community we find ourselves born into—in short, how we embody our covenant. Memory is the shibboleth we use to segregate: it either allows passage or cuts off the return passage home. This scar—this syllable pain, this wounded word, this death sentence—bears the memory of our covenant, a circle of forgetting, bereft of a center. Memory, therefore, is what must be transversed, transported, crossed over, and translated; it is the liminal border between the alien and the homeland, the superliminal space where the blood of the Passover sacrifice demarcates between the Chosen People and the(ir) other. Memory is the shibboleth—mispronounced, death-bringing, inarticulate; the unsayable that demands utterance, performance, invocation. The promise—the sign of the promise—the promised covenantal sign scars the human body. This scar—a genital, genitive scar—wounded by the past, is passed on to future generations, to those also born of the wound, born of disaster.

The half-mastness on both sides of mem’ry bisects “Schibboleth” with a reference to a political act: commemoration of the dead, of national heroes. Yet this flag at half-mast (from the fourth strophe) is not (necessarily) the same flag to which the poet has sworn no allegiance (from the second strophe). Instead of being unfurled in the market square, demanding allegiance, this flag at half-mast signifies the presence of death. Yet Celan’s dead remain doubly absent: not only are they no longer present (having been murdered and reduced to ash) but neither have they been properly buried and mourned for. No national flag had been set at half-mast to commemorate them. They are absented in both language as well as cultural memory, and it is an inherent characteristic of Celan’s poetological project to call those absent dead back into presence through language and to rescue them from forgetting/forgetfulness.

But just as Heidegger wants us to think being as some thing other than beings, so we too are called to think the other as some thing wholly other, as something more than the sum of all others—uncoordinatable and incalculable, unbounded and aporetic, unmappable and undateable. The wholly other exceeds all Cartesian coordinates as well as any Cartesian cogito: all that I can know of the other is that I do not know.

Initiation into Redon’s Initiation to Study

The fifth and final work in Redon’s two-woman sequence is his circa 1905 Initiation to Study. This oil painting is marked by a flattening of the pictorial space as well as by a sharp delineation of line of the two figures. The priestess is clothed entirely in blue; the novice wears white. Instead of holding a red branch as in the 1896 oil painting, the novice casually holds a scroll that has been partially unrolled. It seems that the natural element from the first painting has been replaced with a cultural artifact; the mysteries of nature have given way to the mysteries of a secret society whose knowledge is written down on the scroll. But no text is exposed; to the viewer, the scroll is empty and blank.

Though the novice’s eyes are still downcast, we get no sense of her emotional state from her otherwise expressionless face. The priestess, however, appears somewhat sterner than in previous depictions: she is clearly frowning, and the severe profile line only accentuates her one visible eye. Redon’s noirs were often populated by round, globe-like eyes, but in this series, the women’s eyes are almost always closed, further resisting the viewer’s gaze.

The women appear within a space defined by heavy brown lines to the pair’s left and right as well as beneath their feet. The light brown floor recedes a short distance before ending at what looks to be a white plaster or stucco wall behind the figures. The pictorial plane, nevertheless, is further flattened with blotches of paint that transgress across all three strong defining lines. No shadow or shading interrupts this compression to give the viewer any impression of dimensionalized space. Redon flattens the vertical as well by repeating the light brown of the floor in the upper right. Moreover, the illusory depth is shortened by the dark pink tones of the oil paint: Redon uses the same tone for his signature and the dominant background behind the priestess. In this way, the surface and the background are the same color, disrupting any sense of depth and preventing any penetration beyond the work’s surface.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Tiempo libre

I became a free man again as of 1:33 yesterday afternoon when I submitted my grades and went through the official (and ever-so-asinine) “check-out” procedure at the college.

It’s a bit hard to enjoy the sweet relief that should be flowing my way after two nights of disrupted sleep, though. But yesterday when I got out of bed around 4:00 (after waking at 3:00), I spent the time fairly productively: I began working on a creative writing project I’ve been thinking about for a few months now.

And there are so many other projects that need to be started: cleaning (and possibly moving), planning my spring courses at the college (especially the online version), covering some ground in my reading assignments for the next term, and taking care of myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I’ve neglected those things for far too long; although I have made it to the YMCA three times already this week.

Last night when I woke up at 3:00, I was too tired to even get out of bed and try to do something. I have an appointment with my neurologist Monday. We’ll see what pills she tries to throw my way this time as I adamantly insist I’m not taking anything she prescribes.

Wednesday afternoon I met Shellie and Blake for lunch at the Polish deli/café in Plano. We shared plates of pierogi (blueberry and potato-cheese) and naleśniki. It is really nice to finally feel like I’m part of a cohort (of sorts) at the university. It’s been years since I felt like I was part of a group of like-minded people who enjoy each other’s company.

Since submitting my last term paper (the one the professor called “brilliant”), I’ve spent far too much time on MySpace, that horrible online (anti)social network. If anyone wants to add me as their “friend,” please feel free, but you’ll have to use “soleo” as my last name. I try to ensure that my students will (at the very least) have a difficult time finding me anywhere online. And if there are any bloggers out there who want me to add their site to my links, send me the URL.

Ah, so much housecleaning … and most of it metaphorical.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

I am the walrus.


There's nothing quite as funny as the number of drugs I've taken over the past few months (years) to help me sleep. But the week of Thanksgiving, I stepped down from the Amitriptyline pony I've been riding since September. Now I've reverted to constantly waking up throughout the night and then waking up for good around 4:00 AM every morning. What's funny is that I don't seem to mind too much: with the meds, I was groggy even with eight hours of sleep, and now without them I'm considerably more awake. Even when I'm tired. The next step: get off this shit Rozerem that never did do anything it was supposed to do. According to several friends, it only makes me angry and bitter. I certainly have felt very on edge since I started on it in May. At first I thought it was just all the coffee I was drinking in Europe and all the shitty administrative annoyances I had to endure in Marburg. But it wasn't. Well, at least not just that. Even without the strong Euro-kava, I've been one angry fucker all term.

And yesterday I grew even angrier after spending almost three hours at the dentist office. One must suffer if one wants to be beautiful. And yes, my teeth are indeed beautiful. For the first time in my life. Too bad it took throwing almost $700 at them before they took on the glamor sheen of celebrity. But I'm only now enjoying my first coffee since yesterday morning. And I'm sipping it through a straw. And I must go brush my teeth immediately after I'm done. But even with the unbearable pain, the expense, and the inability to eat or drink for most of the past 24 hours, it really is worth it.

Once, on an osobowy (oh-so-slowly) train from Warsaw to Szczecin during the summer of 1991, my compatriots/companions decided to sing songs by the Smiths to help me sleep. (And to support my growing dependency on angst and ennui.) I need those friends now to sing me to sleep....
  • Asleep
  • Unlovable
  • This Night Has Opened My Eyes
  • Back To The Old House
  • Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now
  • William, It Was Really Nothing
  • Girl Afraid
  • Half A Person
  • There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
  • Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me
  • Reel Around The Fountain
  • That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore
  • The Boy With The Thorn In His Side
  • Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want
  • Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others