Thursday, June 28, 2012

Translation's Haunt (The Rolle Excursus), Part II

When we examine Rolle’s practice in the Name of Jesus cult through the lens of medieval Christograms, we arrive at a truly demanding juncture of translation, (non-subjectivist) ethics, and the materiality of language—all facets of Blanchot’s own philosophical project that undergird this project.  Throughout the Middle Ages, the late (originally mistransliterated) Latin inscription IHS was used both to refer to the Greek transliterated name ΊΗΣΟΥ̃Σ [or Ίησου̃ς, Iesous] as well as to abbreviate various Latin phrases such as Iesus Hominum Salvator [“Jesus, Savior of Humankind”], in hoc signo (vinces) [“in this sign (shalt thou conquer)”], and in hac salus [“in this (cross is) salvation”], among others.  We have also heard it used as an English abbreviation for “in His service.”  Such multivalency and polysemy can inform our understanding of IHS not only as invocation of Jesus’s name but also as appellation (qua Iesus Hominum Salvator), advocation (qua in hoc signo), and the resulting (and seemingly necessary) equivocation.  Christograms, in general, are more than examples of linguistic literalism, however:  devotees would embroider them on their clothing as an indication of their faith, thereby turning IHS into a doubly literal sign, particularly when we cross the ascender of the lower-case h.  This monogram-cum-sign designates the disseminated possibilities of meaning inscribed upon the clothing of the faithful, thereby marking, quite literally (that is, with letters, with the material of language) the faith of its wearer.
With this invocation of Rolle, who not only gave us the first (and most common) definition of the term translation but also exposed us, at such an early date, to the problems of polysemy, especially as read across the literalness of Christograms, we wish to further problematize translation’s relationship to ethics.  We human beings are thrown forth into the doubly vexing, twin problems of ethics and translation, and we must try to unravel the questionable questionability as well as the radical radicality of these problems.  The statement ethics haunts translation radicalizes our understanding of these terms in that translation, haunting, language, and ethics—at least how we want to understand what is at issue here—are but various modes of one another.  That is, for example, translation can be best understood as language grounded within an ethics (as ή̃θος) that haunts us.[1]  Here, our hauntology bespeaks the haunt that is our language, where we find ourselves (and the fact that we exist).[2]  Language haunts us, too, in that it brings to mind that which is no longer present, the trace of that which does not remain.  Each term, then, actively translates and stands as a consequential translation of the other, fundamentally reflecting and refracting the rootedness of these terms in the same phenomenon and by way of the event of translation.  Of course, we, too, are acknowledging the play inherent in such terms as radical—this term that speaks of the rootedness and common root of language and ethics.  It is by way of language and the ensuing necessity of translation that we human beings come to understand ourselves (and perhaps each other) ethically as beings with and within language, wherein—according to Heidegger’s estimation—being itself resides.  Also from this deployment and play, it hopefully becomes clear that we do not employ the term ethics to mean merely normative directives by which a translator is capable of transferring meaning from a source language to a target language.  For example, ethical translation does not necessarily occur when a translator chooses the best word in the new language to semiotically refer back to, correspond to, or to represent an original idea or thing.  We will come to see later how Walter Benjamin overturns our traditional conception of this mode of translation.  Not surprisingly, the ontological turn in twentieth-century hermeneutics that we have already examined will also deeply inform this conception of ethics.  We can see this Heideggerian and post-Heideggerian deployment of ethics as another translation of language and translation themselves—that is, ethics not as instructions about how to behave toward one another, but rather as a mode of our own being, how we find ourselves within a world that necessitates dialog and understanding.  Translation, then, activates and makes manifest an ethics grounded upon a foundation informed by the Heideggerian notion of Mitdasein, of being-there-with.  To be within a there [sein da] necessitates a resonance with the ethical demands of finding oneself mooded and thrown within a shared world of others, among other Dasein(e).

[1] See Martin Heidegger, “Über den Humanismus” (Frankfurt am Main:  Vittorio Klostermann, 2000).  Martin Heidegger, “Letter on ‘Humanism,’” trans. Frank A. Capuzzi, ed. William McNeill (New York:  Cambridge University Press, 2005).
[2] For more on hauntology, a portmanteau of haunt and -ology and near-homophone with ontology, see Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx:  The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York:  Routledge, 1994).

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Translation's Haunt (The Rolle Excursus), Part I

If we resort to merely philological evidence, we can readily see that translation has always meant more than the narrowly defined project of transferring meaning from one language into another.  The primary definition involves the removal, transference, and conveyance of ministers and other religious figures as in, for example, the translation of a bishop from one diocese to another.[1]  We can also see its use in the transportation and reinterment of a saint’s relics or the reassignment of a feast day to avoid it coinciding with one more superior.  The transference of the righteous directly from earth to heaven expresses yet another meaning, as in, for example, the story of the translation of Enoch found in Genesis 5:24:  “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.”  In this way, we can see that translation has always maintained an ethical dimension, at least insofar as we typically understand ethics (as involving human beings—their bodies as well as their souls—and the conveyance of and interactions among those beings as framed within an ethico-religious system).  Nevertheless, the first historical use of translation in English is still the most commonly understood meaning, but as we shall see, even something cited as originary and standard can present us with many more problematic questions.
In the prologue to his 1340 translation of the Psalms of David, English mystic Richard Rolle of Hampole wrote, “In the translation I follow the letter as much as I may,” thus instigating the linguistic and literary use of the term.[2]  But in this one statement Rolle, too, delineates the problematic essence of translation by opening up the question of the literalness and materiality of language as well as the necessary limitation of translation itself.  Having left behind what he saw as the empty intellectualism of his academic training at Oxford, Rolle devoted the remainder of his life to articulating his mystical experiences involving canor, cantor, and dulcor:  being set ablaze, yet unconsumed, by fire while in a state of ecstasy, hearing a heavenly melody, and being overwhelmed by the sweetness of Christ’s love through the mediation of the Holy Spirit.  More importantly, however, is Rolle’s involvement in the cult of the Name of Jesus.  Rolle’s particular form of meditation involved continually invoking and repeating the name of Jesus.  We can imagine the contemplative state brought on by such repetition as alternating between, on the one hand, complete and absolute signification—with each utterance referring back to one (or all) possible antecedents for Christ—and, on the other hand, (and as most children can attest) the opposite extreme of utter nonsense and meaninglessness.

[1] These definitions of translation come from the Oxford English Dictionary.
[2] Richard Rolle, prologue to The Psalter, or Psalms of David and Certain Canticles, ed. H. R. Bramley (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1884), 4: “In þe translacioun i folow þe lettere als mykyll as i may.”

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Wounded Root

Both Edmond Jabès’s The Book of Questions and Jacques Derrida’s “Edmond Jabès and the Question of the Book” convoke with “imaginary rabbis”[1] in a lexical Ouroboros: the disembodied voices spread like the “certain ivy” Derrida describes in the beginning of his essay as capable of turning “its meaning in on itself.”[2] The register Derrida employs here speaks to the joy of the text, the joy of the corpus, of the poetic body: “Humor and games, laughter and dances, songs, circled graciously around a discourse which, as it did not yet love its true root, bent a bit in the wind.”[3] Derrida’s poetic register speaks to the poetry of Jabès’s The Book of Questions, questioning the hauntological exigencies of the text that turn the root back upon itself. Jabès’s questionable book becomes for Derrida the site where “a powerful and ancient root is exhumed, and on it is laid bare an ageless wound (for what Jabès teaches us is that roots speak, that words want to grow, and that poetic discourse takes root in a wound: in question is a certain Judaism as the birth and passion of writing.”[4] Let us take this root of poetic discourse that takes root in a wound and unwind the ivy whose meaning turns back upon itself.

[1] Edmond Jabès, The Book of Questions, trans. Rosmarie Waldrop (Middletown CT: Wesleyan UP, 1976), 26.
[2] Jacques Derrida, “Edmond Jabès and the Question of the Book,” Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1978), 64.
[3] Derrida 64.
[4] Derrida 64.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Nothing Really Matters

Madonna's "Nothing Really Matters" was on heavy rotation on British Airways on-flight music programming during the summer of 1998 while he enjoyed his summer break from teaching in Japan. He repeatedly listened to this track for most of the flight from Dallas to London and from London to Tel Aviv. And on the return flights as well. He wasn't sleeping much those days; it was the beginnings of his insufferable insomnia from which he still suffers today. In those days before the poison, international flights offered complimentary alcohol. He drank and drank, listening to the songs cycle through for hours on end, across timezones. He understood the air as the only country to which he belonged, the only home that didn't reject. Years later he would teach this video in his Introduction to Humanities course; it featured prominently in the last class meeting of the semester, when the topic would be postmodernism and media culture. He would lecture about Butoh and rhizomic imagery: how Madonna presents herself as the Madonna in the opening sequence, holding not Christ but a bag of water--the elemental. He would call attention to the glitch-pop noises, reminding his students of Brian Eno's ambient music, Philip Glass's minimalism, and John Cage's questioning of music altogether. He would associate the Butoh dance--itself a questioning of dance altogether--with Anselm Keifer's "scorched earth" paintings--attempts to come to terms with art after the poison of war. The painted bodies' share in the iconography of Hiroshima and Nagasaki like Samuel Beckett's "Catastrophe," where the man is described as bird-like and the color of ash.

"Nothing really matters. Love is all we need."

Friday, June 22, 2012

Irigarayan Deinos & the Distance of Home, Part IV

Reflecting the double abysses, a “double power” seems to surround man as well: the power of the natural universe around him, and the power of his created world (70). Man, however, does not recognize the cultured world as his own creation; he sees it instead as natural as it conceals the work of his violence in the everyday (70). This world, created from out of man’s violence (which is itself the violence of nature directed against itself), both dominates and exiles man (70). In this way, man’s culture springs from nature as mere imitation of natural power: “He believes himself to be the creator of language, of poetry, of reason, but, in fact, he has only imitated the strength of the universe which surrounds him” (71). The gesture of violence becomes purely mimetic, a miming of nature’s power. Man too mimes the gesture of violence (against itself) against himself in his attempt to conquer nature, becoming “nothing but an effect of the violence which results from his conquest” (71). The only way out of this tautological rut is not a recourse toward new, undomesticated ground, for it is the conception of “new” itself that draws man upon the same trodden path—a recourse—again and again:
Only if we understand that the use of power in language, in understanding, in forming and building helps to create (i.e. always, to bring forth) the violent act of laying out paths into the environing power of the essent, only then shall we understand the strangeness, the uncanniness of all violence. For man, as he journeys everywhere, is not without issue in the external sense that he comes up against outward barriers and cannot go on. In one way or another he can always go farther into the etcetera. He is without issue because he is always thrown back on the paths that he himself has laid out: he becomes mired in his paths, caught in the beaten track, and thus caught he compresses the circle of his world, entangles himself in appearance, and so excludes himself from being. He turns round and round in his own circle. He can ward off whatever threatens this limited sphere. He can employ every skill in its place. The violence that originally creates the paths engenders its own mischief of versatility, which is intrinsically issueless, so much so that it bars itself from reflection about the appearance in which it moves. All violence shatters against one thing. That is death. (73-74)
Ever circling around his small sphere of intelligibility, man recreates the power of nature unaware that his power comes from nature, that his power is of nature. But Irigaray insists that man can replace his “taming, plowing up, and capturing” with “contemplating nature, the flowers, and others” (71). Only by setting aside his natural violence-doing and instead attuning himself to the feminine or buddhic nature can man then be able to rediscover and redefine what and how he is. The difficulty of just such a project lies with man’s inability to accept mystery as mystery: “Man could have envisioned it as his task to contemplate the intimate harmony of the world’s motion, admitting that its origin remains unknown to him. But he cannot endure the mystery of the other and, instead, conceives a god made in his own image in order to encircle, if not to dominate, the horizon of every mystery” (73). Man tries to master all mystery, to take things apart, “to cut in order to cure.” It is only by stopping the interminable tendency to make sense of everything that man can come home to himself as well as accept that the other—in his/her/its radical alterity—too is already at home.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Irigarayan Deinos & the Distance of Home, Part III

To separate oneself from others and from our environment is the original violence we do, both to others as well as to ourselves. Yet one’s nature inextricably links oneself to others; that is, we are naturally at home among others (other human beings as well as other non-human beings). It is through the violence of culture that we divide ourselves into “us” and “them,” yet culture (and its requisite violence) is (as Irigaray maintains) natural to mankind. There is no—and can never be a—return to a primal nature untainted by civilization. It is man’s essential nature to be/become enculturated in an attempt to occupy the center of beings: “Man imposes a yoke upon the life that unfolds in itself but whose foundation he does not inhabit” (69). The fact that life occurs without human mediation gives man cause to exert force over that life. In so doing, he forces nature within or under a human timeframe: instead of allowing grain to naturally produce itself (à la physis in its most fundamental sense), he employs several methods from agriculture/agribusiness (the use of fertilizer and pesticide, the development of irrigation systems, the introduction of foreign species, among others) to “force” grain to grow according to his own time, in order to maximize yield. In effect, man removes nature itself from the realm of nature and imports it into his own fabricated world, thereby making it subject/subjected to his instrumentalized, scientific, productionist mode of being. Man’s idea of nature then becomes reliant upon the human being, erecting man as its creator and caretaker. This “nature” depends upon human culture. Within this phallologocentric view, it is only upon the kindnesses of human "strangers" that all things can come into their own being. This, however, is just another version of the anthropocentric myth. This metaphysical position becomes the foundation of culture and history. But man’s homelessness continues to beckon him still back toward the un-fabricated home outside of his imposed intelligibility. His seeking of home merely endeavors to domesticate the mysterious and unfathomable abyss he does not recognize.

As man establishes a culture of violence (whose violence is not man’s but nature’s), he forgets his originary nature, replacing it with a fabricated version. But this new nature also falls prey to the violence expressed within the male to be. For Irigaray, man institutes culture, thereby launching history, in an attempt to assert his power over nature. She asks, “Is History not simply the other name for man’s intolerance towards nature” (70)? This “most violent gesture”—the gesture of mastery—is the claim of originality, the originary audacity to speak “in the beginning” as if man were present at the beginning of history. Man eludes his oblivion—his historical absence—by formulating history as progressive and teleological. But when man congratulates himself for his mastery over all created beings, he, already fully embedded in metaphysics, is well on the way toward his oblivion(s) to come from which there will be no escape: his individual oblivion (that is, his death) as well as the oblivion that awaits all things if man destroys his world (which in turn will destroy his natural to be as well). The scientific fields of archeology and paleontology, in Irigaray’s view, will never say anything significant about the origin of mankind. Instead, man’s beginning is revealed only discursively; that is, “in the interpretation of a mythology in which man imposes himself as the master of nature, after having been its slave” (70). The instruments man has utilized to effect his dominion over nature—“tools, language, intellect, the passions themselves” (70)—along with the gesture of dominion “create, little by little, another world which dominates him … and which exiles him from himself, even if he may feel closer to it because it is made by him” (70). Therein lies the tension between the power of men and the strength of nature.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Irigarayan Deinos & the Distance of Home, Part II

The I of the Storm
Reminding us that natureas opposed or exterior to (masculine) human cultureis more than just tempest and maelstrom against which the human being must rage, Irigaray advances an alternative encounter with our natural home, one that is more originary than the constructed home we find either in the Sophoclean polis or the Heideggerean Volk. In fact, she offers a two-fold alternative: a gendered feminine encounter that is somehow subsumed by or conflated with an Eastern buddhic encounter. We use the term buddhic to denote a contemplative awareness, a non-scientific knowledge (from the Sanskrit buddha enlightened, awakened, from budh to awake, know, perceive) that does not necessarily have any affiliation with “orthodox” Buddhism. The male to be and its subsequent culture are “far away indeed from a figure like Buddha, for whom reawakening takes place beginning from the contemplation of the most simple, of the most everyday, of the least extraordinary and violent: the contemplation of a flower” (71). Contemplating a flower, one comes to realize that extension and projection are fallacious modes of being: “contemplating ten flowers is no better than contemplating one; quite to the contrary” (71). For Irigaray, contemplation is a mastering of the self as opposed to a mastering of something exterior to the male to be; it is recognition of one’s interior abyss and not the projection of mastery over the exterior abysses of nature or the other.
After citing the Italian translation of Heidegger’s version of Sophocles’ choral ode from his Introduction to Metaphysics, Irigaray begins her critique by declaring, “The sea is frightening, but man is more terrible still” (69). The frightening nature of the sea as “tempestuous” and a “bottomless abyss” mirrors the abyss man “chooses to ignore” within himself. These dual abysses—the one interior and the one exterior—open up within and around man, but because he has chosen to ignore the interior abyss, he too misses the opportunity to contemplate the exterior abyss. It is as if, instead of Nietzsche’s abyss looking back at the one looking into it, man’s exterior abyss too chooses to ignore—to not look back into—the man, moving man further away from his belongingness to the abyss. In the original context of aphorism 146 from Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, one can easily conflate the abyss with the monster: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.” Although Irigaray does not mention Nietzsche per se, her use of the term abyss resonates with this aphorism, except in an affirmative manner: by allowing the mutual recognition of interior and exterior abyss, the human being no longer finds herself/himself estranged from being. Man’s estrangement from being further elicits his estrangement from others. Yet it is only by way of recognizing the abysmal gap between himself and others that man can be attuned to justice, to the contemplative, to the compassion of being. Ignoring this gap and perceiving it as something to be conquered and mastered projects the other into the role of mere object over which the male subject too exerts his dominance. Not seeing the abyss (as well as not being seen by the abyss) allows man to wield his power over all that he perceives to be exterior to himself: language, nature, and human beings, among others. As long as man continually reasserts himself in this privileged position of authority, as one authoring his own reality, justice, contemplation, and compassion cannot occur. Man’s imitation of nature’s original violence (that is to say, his culture), then, will always impede and hinder the buddhic mode of being that calls for withdrawal and repose.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Irigarayan Deinos & the Distance of Home, Part I

“Do not seek to go home.”
– Chorus, Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus

“Home is where I want to be, but I guess I'm already there.”
 – Talking Heads, “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)”

In “Between Us, A Fabricated World,” Luce Irigaray supplements Martin Heidegger’s reading of deinos in the Choral Ode of Sophocles’s Antigone. For Irigaray, the uncanny is not just the unhomely tragedy of human being (Heidegger’s das Un-heimische) but rather the site of nature’s original gesture of violence against itself: “The uncanny is the gesture of initial domination which will always force man to tame things, in particular, those things which he produces…. Man lives in the uncanny, believing that he has tamed it. For him, the familiar is his violence become History.”[1] By way of just such a definition, Irigaray posits a necessarily artificial and constructed quality to Heidegger’s understanding of deinos—a result of the human being’s techno-scientific, productionist mode of being. Heideggerean deinos, Irigaray seems to argue, is always already enculturated. But for Irigaray, culture is a natural outgrowth of nature; that is, culture (although “fabricated”) remains fully ensconced within—and not removed from—nature. It is not as if culture, for Irigaray, were merely exterior to the natural world. Instead, nature necessarily informs culture, allowing for the possibility of culture to arise and become manifest in the first place. Whereas Heidegger (according to Irigaray) situates the uncanny within human being itself, Irigaray would rather locate the uncanny within nature. She understands that nature effects its own violence against itself specifically within the male to be.
Although Irigaray’s argument here is probably closer to Heidegger’s later reading of the choral ode (which involves a more complex notion of the uncanny as the ground of human being) found in his 1942 Hölderlin’s Hymn “The Ister” (see especially pages 68-74), she only references his earlier (1935) Introduction to Metaphysics in her essay. Beginning with Irigaray’s statement that “man lives in the uncanny,” this project is a reading of Irigaray’s critique as a thinking toward what home as the uncanny ultimately is or could be for the human being. We will explore the possibility that the uncanny is not the/a human being per se but rather the home of the human being, the state of the human being’s to be. In Heideggerean terms, the human being, from this perspective, does not ex-ist or stand out from being; instead, nature itself performs and achieves its own standing apart from (existēre) through male being. After a critical reading of Irigaray, we will explicate the premise that just such a home is ultimately and necessarily unintelligible, an argument that Irigaray herself seems to move toward by way of the rhetorical register she employs throughout her work in conversation with Heidegger. The way we will go about this examination is by bringing two texts of Irigaray—The Forgetting of Air in Martin Heidegger and the already mentioned “Between Us, A Fabricated World” from To Be Two—into dialog with some of the later essays by Heidegger himself.

[1] Luce Irigaray, “Between Us, A Fabricated World,” in To Be Two, trans. Monique M. Rhodes and Marco F. Cocito-Monoc (New York: Routledge 2001), 70.

Monday, June 18, 2012


He wonders if he'll ever get his work done after working nonstop for most of the day. Several things checked off the to-do list and several more things added: lift weights, rake the front yard, mow the front yard, grocery shopping, eat lunch, mail order prescriptions, email the dentist, reset the password, download the songs, edit the letter, respond to only three of the most recent emails, realize that his inbox has 170 messages. Correction: realize that one inbox has 170 messages and realize he has no idea how many other messages are in his several other inboxes. Wonder why he has as many email accounts as he does. Something to put on the to-do list: deactivate his Hotmail account. Don't stress out about not having his teaching statement together. Don't stress out about not having his conference paper edited down to the allotted time. Don't stress out about still having a stack of papers on the table. Now it's 5:43: time to clean the cat boxes and plan supper. Another email arrives: #171.

Friday, June 15, 2012


The shampoo smells like Jolly Rancher watermelon although it has a picture of an avocado on the label. He's not sure how he would feel about the smell of avocado anyway. One soap smells like almonds, the other like grapefruit. He alternates between the two. His lotion smells like lavender and shea butter. Lavender is supposed to help him relax, rest, and fall asleep. His balm is scented with chamomile and calendula, which too is supposed to calm him. Chamomile will always remind him of hot tea with his friend Jola in a Soviet-era hostel in Warsaw. His toothpaste smells of cool mint although he wonders if mint is ever uncool, and, if so, what would that smell like? The deodorant  he dutifully smears in his pits on the days he's to interact socially with other humans claims to be old spice, though the ingredients cryptically list "fragrance." The official scent is "High Endurance" although these days his endurance is low at best. He reads the back label for the first time: "Contains odor-fighting 'atomic robots' that 'shoot lasers' at your 'stench monsters' and replaces them with fresh, clean, masculine 'scent elves.'" They're trying to be cute and clever. He's perplexed at the marketing acrobatics that would pit "scent" against "odor" and "stench," but they must have a reason. Other people's jobs make him sad. The paste he applies to his hair smells like a mixture of mango meringue and the frosting of expensive wedding cakes. His three favorite smells remain cinnamon, dark chocolate (anything between 70-85% cocoa), and Tahitian vanilla. When he was younger he used to declare that heaven smelled like vanilla. When he was younger he used to joke that Mexican vanilla was his two favorite flavors. He still finds that joke funny. He's laughing right now. So many natural scents to ensure that he never once smells naturally.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Address

The letter was simply addressed: l'Étranger, Rue Perdu, Nevers. It contained an account of the war and of life before war. It slipped out of pocket, down sewers and over the Loire. Signed by l'Immoraliste, obviously the nom de guerre of someone who was giddy for Bataille. It never arrived, it was always in arrival in the town of Nevers on the Loire. In the Valley (... of the Shadow...) of the Word and the Image of the Word. He held it in hand just out of hand. Thomas's cat recited the Word and the Image of the Word, became the Word, unaccounted for in the war to end all wars. Became war, beckoned Bataille beside the letter unaddressed in a house on Rue Perdu. In the town of Nevers rolled over in war. The letter arrived, in always arriving, in the town of Nevers on the Loire. Unaddressed in the Word of war. Unaddressed by war on a Nevers bridge named for Bataille over the widening Loire.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


"Talent deprived of the gift of sorrow produces only near-values."
In 1932, John Graham completed Embrace, a 30 x 36 in. oil painting on canvas. It is held by The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, and currently on display at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth until August 19 as part of the American Vanguards exhibit. This show traces the influence of Graham and his circle (Stuart Davis, Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, David Smith) in early twentieth-century American Modernism. For Graham, the artist arrests the dynamics of time and space so that the captured "time-space"--we use quotation marks to denote that such "time-space," having been arrested, no longer bears resemblance to actual time or space--provides an artifact upon which the viewer can contemplate, extending the limits of consciousness through suffering. The burden of art bequeaths to the world a vehicle through which suffering abandons the perpetual motion of the world. In stasis, art suffers through the gift of its insufferable burden. Come, let us embrace the suffering of art.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

If Wishes Were Fishes

He stares at the framed graduate degrees hanging on the office wall. He wishes they offered more assurance, more meaning. To him they document the unfailing stubbornness he tapped into to complete the PhD. Nothing more. He wishes they at least symbolized something greater, that they at least were paid for with his first month's salary as a tenure-track professor. But wishes only bemoan the work necessary for their fulfillment. Wishes are little bitches that nag in his ear that nothing will ever work out right. His entire education has been unlearning to listen to those voices and instead capture them, encase them behind glass and hang them on walls so they can watch his real work. Pinned butterflies anesthetized and suffocated in their own vituperation. His framed graduate degrees watch from the office wall in awe as he dedicates himself not to a job but to a life. This is the real assurance they provide him.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Inaugural Conversations

The conversation based on stories--the historical conversation--attests to this difficulty. Instead of an organic dialog arising between self and other, each subject subjects the other to metanarrativity. One hears the difference in the deferral of meaning-to-say. The different stories of a building, for example, upon whose facade a story is related and portended--the building as book--reveal the inadequacy of this dialog about dialog. Should one simply read the facade, or should one augur the signs while signaling toward a greater significance like a frenetic semaphore about semaphore? One would prefer the reading, simple or not. The organic conversation comes with its own magic decoder ring that unravels the otherwise difficulty of inaugural conversations. The conversations about conversations close in on the participants who have abdicated the basic skill of reading the signs as they attempt to ascend the spiral staircase of friendship.

Friday, June 8, 2012


"...Barely daring to breathe or Achoo." - S. Plath

Last night he found himself in an impromptu Plath-a-thon, reciting "Daddy" at a pub that served the worst version of a margarita pizza he had ever seen. He considers himself the winner since he was able to complete each phrase when the other two contestants hesitated. His memory, however, sketchy at best when it comes to a poem he memorized in high school already more than twenty-five years ago.

When he was an undergraduate, he wrote and directed a performance piece based on the poetry of Sylvia Plath as part of the Arts Festival in spring 1989. The man who would become his best friend and partner attended that performance, but it would be another year before they would know each other, and another year before they would become friends, lovers.

While he was working toward the MA, Plath became taboo. His area of study and his major professor and thesis chair frowned on anyone who "appropriated" the Holocaust. But it would take a book and a miracle from G-d for him to explain to them their inappropriate understanding of both Plath and that Event. The "language obscene" when one tries to pronounce either.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Arboreal Being

He feels for the tree that did not survive yesterday's storm. He mourns its removal from his yard, his life, the world. He knows that nothing is ever created or destroyed, that everything cycles through being and nonbeing, that he himself is already tree. And will be becoming tree again. He knows that trees that have preceded him will proceed from him. He knows that he will follow the tree in its demise: a midlife cut short and cut down. The tree trees, yes. But no, the universe trees, if we can reduce all of being and nonbeing to such a simple term, to the pure metaphoricity of tree. The tree removes impurities from the air, provides his daily breath. He remembers the mantra that presented itself to him in Japan: I breathe in the universe, the universe breathes in me. He know that that I presents itself as the trunk of his identity, erect and swaying in the breeze and now unnecessary as a cipher of his being. The tree has escaped all recognition, all thought. Fractured, fallen, and felled. The buzz of the chainsaw in the distance.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


She has a knack for inserting herself into his life. He does not like her, and yet she is already in view. To call her a storm on the horizon is to unnecessarily poetize the most unpoetic of all. He wishes she would leave. He met her years ago. She remained beneath his radar year after year until his friend told him what she said. He dreamed of strangling her with a towel. She's a liar and a cheat. And although he's uncertain about the word cur, he thinks it must apply to her. She is an intellectual mongrel and impostor who already has a full-time job. She's written what must, at best, be pure shit. At this point, she will most likely be a doctor who can fulfill several departmental quota. He wishes her nothing but the best, which he hopes would negate something of her pure negativity. He wishes she were forever elsewhere, out of sight.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Vox Animalis

The animal voice comes from beyond the body, resonates throughout the body. Its significance resides in the echo of the call, in the trace of the animal voice inscribed within the body. This residual animalia worms its way through the body, directing attention toward the meaningful structures carried along by the animal voice from beyond. One cannot not hear the animal call. Though one may turn a deaf ear toward the animot, one's body nevertheless and necessarily perceives the phenomenon. And that phenomenon is necessarily encoded with meaning: a yelp of pain, a peep of a greeting, a roar of danger. The animot speaks of the animal beyond and echoes throughout the animalic body. What binds the human and animal, then, is prosody. What conjoins the human animal and the non-human animal is the per-sonal, the su/per-sonic. Through the medium of meaningful sound, the animot speaks in the language of the animal trace from which the personal arises; the vox animalis performs (as) the person.

Monday, June 4, 2012

In Budapest

He remembers: the last time he heard a live cover of Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" was late February 1996 in a basement pizza parlor in Budapest before heading to the trendiest discotheque out in the warehouses by the train tracks. He thinks it was probably the only other time he had heard this song live before this past Saturday evening when he sat at Terilli's with his friends sipping a nine-year Macallan's over conversations about eurythmics and embodied phenomenology. That night in Budapest was chilly and damp; this night in Dallas hot and humid. The what-seemed-like-twenty-minute instrumental version Saturday could not hold a candle to the Hungarian-folk-singer-with-acoustic-guitar rendition all those years ago. Then, because of the music, the atmosphere, he felt ecstatic and in bliss. Now anxiously wondering when the song would end.

He remembers: the last time he ate at Terilli's was spring 1990, a few days before the Democratic primary that would put Ann Richards on the ballot to be the next Governor of Texas. He remembers that political detail because that day he and Shayne kept bumping into a woman who was working on the Richards campaign. That night he was snorting blow and drinking. Despite having been a vegetarian for four years, he ended up eating pasta with meat sauce. That was the last time he ate beef. That was twenty-two years ago, when Terilli's had only been open for a few years and before he headed to Europe for the first time in 1991 and then again a few years later when he would in February find himself listening for the first time to a live cover of Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" in a basement pizza joint in Budapest.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Magna pretium cognoscere.

Pity the wood that finds itself a violin. Pity the thought that finds itself man.

He thinks it must be due to faulty metaphysics from calculative reckoning gone awry that there is evil in the world. The thought that one knows better, that one is better. When asked if evil exists, he responded no. Existence for him names the being that remains even outside the register of human consciousness: the cat, the stone. They exist despite what Heidegger tried to convince his readers of. Evil does not exist. But nevertheless, there is evil, which is solely within the possibility of human being. Weather is not evil. The viperine poison that arrests the heart is not evil. Only man is evil. No: only man can be evil. Man has kicked the dog, pulled the worm in half. The poignant tragedy and terrible paradox of human being is that life becomes more precious after the disaster of evil, even more so than life before. Such preciousness, however, cannot prevent evil's next advance. Until man learns to unthink evil.