Monday, August 31, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 25.3 (Philip K. Dick)

Dick, Philip K.
Do Andriods Dream
of Electric Sheep?

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

Having recently watched Blade Runner for the umpteenth time (if you need a reason to upgrade to HD, Blade Runner is it), I have been thinking a little about the relationship of books to movies. My general feeling is this: that if a filmmaker tries to be too faithful to the book, the movie will fail. The best adaptations, with a few exceptions, are stories that have been wrested away from their origins in order to make them into something else.

Blade Runner is a case in point. It uses Do Andriods Dream of Electric Sheep? as a foundation upon which to build its own spectacular world. But it is the world of Ridley Scott, not of Philip K. Dick. I think the film is at least the equal of the book, which doesn't take anything away from the book. There is much that I love about the book that appears only tangentially in the film.

The whole problem of biological versus manmade animals and the criminality of owning the real deal is quite central to the book. Animals form the emotional core of the book and are one of the most interesting things in it. In the film, however. this is only briefly revealed in the scene between Harrison Ford and Joanna Scott, who does burlesque with an android snake. None of this takes away from my love of either the film or the book, but I think it does illustrate the point: had Ridley Scott tried to be too faithful to the book, he probably would have made a lesser film.

from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

"Do you have your ideology framed?" Phil Resch asked. "That would explain me as part of the human race?"

Rick said, "There is a defect in your empathic, role-taking ability. One which we don't test for. Your feelings towards androids."

"Of course we don't test for that."

"Maybe we should." He had never thought of it before, had never felt any empathy on his own part toward the androids he killed. Always he had assumed that throughout his psyche he experienced the android as a clever machine - as in his conscious view. And yet, in contrast to Phil Resch, a difference had manifested itself. And he felt instinctively that he was right. Empathy toward an artificial construct? he asked himself. Something that only pretends to be alive? But Luba Luft had seemed genuinely alive; it had not worn the aspect of a simulation.

"You realize," Phil Resch said quietly, "what this would do. If we included androids in our range of empathic identification, as we do animals."

"We couldn't protect ourselves."

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 25.2 (Philip K. Dick)

Dick, Philip K.
The Transmigration
of Timothy Archer

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I think I first encountered the concept of metempsychosis or "transmigration of souls" in a course on Joyce's Ulysses when I was in college:

--Show here, she said. I put a mark in it. There's a word I wanted to ask you.

She swallowed a draught of tea from her cup held by nothandle and, having wiped her fingertips smartly on the blanket, began to search the text with the hairpin till she reached the word.

--Met him what? he asked.
--Here, she said. What does that mean?

He leaned downward and read near her polished thumbnail.

--Yes. Who's he when he's at home?
--Metempsychosis, he said, frowning. It's Greek: from the Greek. That means the transmigration of souls.
--O, rocks! she said. Tell us in plain words.

I remember that reading Ulysses was like swallowing an encyclopedia whole. Our study of each chapter went something like this:

1. Read Joyce's schema for the book so we would know to which part of the Odyssey the chapter corresponded.

2. Read that section of Odyssey, preferably in the Greek, but for those monolingual cretins (like myself), the Lattimore translation would do.

3. Read a summary of the action of the chapter in Joyce.

4. Read the chapter itself.

5. Read it a second time, this time while holding a book that listed all of the allusions.

6. Study the texts alluded to in the book.

7. Repeat for each chapter.

Which has almost nothing to do with Philip K. Dick. Or does it?

from The Transmigration of Timothy Archer

Barefoot conducts his seminars on his houseboat in Sausalito. It costs a hundred dollars to find out why we are on this Earth. You also get a sandwich, but I wasn’t hungry that day. John Lennon had just been killed and I think I know why we are on this Earth; it’s to find out that what you love the most will be taken away from you, probably due to an error in high places rather than by design.

After I parked my Honda Civic in the metered slot I sat listening to the radio. Already all the Beatles songs ever written could be heard on every frequency. Shit, I thought. I feel like I’m back in the Sixties, still married to Jefferson Archer.

“Where’s Gate Five?” I asked two hippies going by.

They didn’t answer. I wondered if they’d heard the news about John Lennon. I wondered, then, what the hell I cared about Arabic mysticism, about the Sufis and all that other stuff that Edgar Barefoot talked about on his weekly radio program on KPFA in Berkeley. The Sufis are a happy lot. They teach that the essence of God isn’t power or wisdom or love but beauty. That’s a totally new idea in the world, unknown to Jews and Christians. I am neither. I still work at the Musik Shop on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley and I’m trying to make the payments on the house that Jeff and I bought when we were married. I got the house and Jeff got nothing. That was the story of his life.

Why would anybody in their right mind care about Arabic mysticism? I asked myself as I locked up my Honda and started toward the line of boats. Especially on a nice day.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 25.1 (Philip K. Dick)

Dick, Philip K.
The Three Stigmata
of Palmer Eldritch

Purchased at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall discount book store for $3.50. Not a bad deal. As I look at the twelve Dick titles on my shelf, I find myself getting a little nervous about having to write something about each one. I have discovered along the Aimless way that my imaginative capacity begins to diminish at about the 5th or 6th title, regardless of the author. If these begin to seem clipped, that's why.

On the other hand, I suppose I could just write about myself, which is pretty much what I am doing with this project, or I could do what I am doing now, which is filling space with meta-narrative filler, or I could reflect on where I have been so far in this project, where I think I am, and where I hope to go, or I could ask myself what I have discovered about myself and about my memories and reading habits, what has surprised me, what has disappointed me, and so on.

I could, but I won't. If I think to much about what I am doing I am likely to stop doing it. Better to stay a little stupid and keep writing.

You can listen to a very short free excerpt of chapter 1 of the Three Stigmata here.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 25 (Philip K. Dick)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Dick, Philip K.

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books about 5 years ago. Jonathan Skinner was still in town at the time and was teaching a course on Sci-Fi at UB. One afternoon I was wandering through the stacks of course books in the back of the store (a great way to find new and interesting things to read, btw), when I noticed the stack with Jonathan's name on it and decided to check it out.

Grad school was more or less over at that point and I was in the process of rediscovering one of the things I think often gets lost there: the pleasure of reading for its own sake. In graduate school, no matter how interested you are in what you are reading, it's always essentially homework. And homework is never pleasurable.

I had more or less stopped reading novels altogether for the better part of a decade, so the idea of reading genre fiction felt really naughty. I had already started reading a whole bunch of crime novels from the 30's, 40's and 50's, and reading science fiction seemed like a natural extension of that.

Of course, none of this prepared me for Philip K. Dick. It wasn't at all a guilty pleasure, but one of my more significant reading experiences in the past decade. Dick (along with Raymond Chandler, who I read around the same time) taught me for the second time (the first was when I was a child) the pleasure of reading a story for its own sake. Of becoming absorbed in narrative flow. Of identifying with the emotions of the characters. Of deferred expectation and surprise. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

I went on to read several more of his books in quick succession. Lori started reading them, too, and I think she ended up reading twice as many as I did. This was the first one either of us read, and it's definitely my favorite.

from Ubik

Friends, this is clean-up time and we're discounting all our silent, electric Ubiks by this much money. Yes, we're throwing away the bluebook. And remember: every Ubik on our lot has been used only as directed.

At three-thirty A.M. on the night of June 5, 1992, the top telepath in the Sol System fell off the map in the offices of Runciter Associates in New York City. That started vidphones ringing. The Runciter organization had lost track of too many of Hollis' psis during the last two months; this added disappearance wouldn't do.

"Mr. Runciter? Sorry to bother you." The technician in charge of the night shift at the map room coughed nervously as the massive, sloppy head of Glen Runciter swam up to fill the vidscreen. "We got this news from one of our inertials. Let me look." He fiddled with a disarranged stack of tapes from the recorder which monitored incoming messages. "Our Miss Dorn reported it; as you may recall she had followed him to Green River, Utah, where—"

Sleepily, Runciter grated, "Who? I can't keep in mind at all times which inertials are following what teep or precog." With his hand he smoothed down his ruffled gray mass of wirelike hair. "Skip the rest and tell me which of Hollis' people is missing now."

"S. Dole Melipone," the technician said.

"What? Melipone's gone? You kid me."

"I not kid you," the technician assured him. "Edie Dorn and two other inertials followed him to a motel named the Bonds of Erotic Polymorphic Experience, a sixty-unit subsurface structure catering to businessmen and their hookers who don't want to be entertained. Edie and her colleagues didn't think he was active, but just to be on the safe side we had one of our own telepaths, Mr. G. G. Ashwood, go in and read him. Ashwood found a scramble pattern surrounding Melipone's mind, so he couldn't do anything; he therefore went back to Topeka, Kansas, where he's currently scouting a new possibility."

Runciter, more awake now, had lit a cigarette; chin in hand, he sat propped up somberly, smoke drifting across the scanner of his end of the bichannel circuit. "You're sure the teep was Melipone? Nobody seems to know what he looks like; he must use a different physiognomic template every month. What about his field?"

"We asked Joe Chip to go in there and run tests on the magnitude and minitude of the field being generated there at the Bonds of Erotic Polymorphic Experience Motel. Chip says it registered, at its height, 68.2 blr units of telepathic aura, which only Melipone, among all the known telepaths, can produce." The technician finished, "So that's where we stuck Melipone's identflag on the map. And now he—it—is gone."

"Did you look on the floor? Behind the map?"

"It's gone electronically. The man it represents is no longer on Earth or, as far as we can make out, on a colony world either."

Runciter said, "I'll consult my dead wife."

"It's the middle of the night. The moratoriums are closed now."

"Not in Switzerland," Runciter said, with a grimacing smile, as if some repellent midnight fluid had crept up into his aged throat. "Goodeve." Runciter hung up.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 24 (Pier Giorgio di Cicco)

The Tough Romance
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
di Cicco, Pier Giorgio
The Tough Romance

Given to me by the author a few years ago upon a visit to Buffalo. He was serving at the time as the poet laureate of Toronto and was interested in checking out the Buffalo poetry scene. He came down for one of the readings in the small press poetry series. I can't recall which reading it was, but I remember we went out afterwards to the Founding Father's pub and ate popcorn and had a few drinks. In addition to being a poet laureate he is an Augustine Brother in the Catholic Church in Toronto. He also wrote a book about the "creative city" and I seem to remember he told me he mostly used his tenure as poet laureate to promote his ideas regarding said domain.

Birthday Poem for Myself

Birthday boy, your day is coming up.
There is not so much love in the whole world
as what I've saved for you.
Old pint-pot, lover of my suit of clothes.
I am speaking from your cradle,
from the far end of your grave. And I speak
like your own mother. Be good to yourself, make sure
you've pulled your flesh up convincingly.
Make sure there's no mistake. This is the
hallowed day when you measure one morning against
another, what was and what is. Between the two
you are smoking like a mad fiend, some delinquent kid,
biding the time, half expecting the kick in the
back of the head.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 23 (Bernal Díaz del Castillo )

Díaz del Castillo, Bernal
The Discovery &
Conquest of Mexico

I bought this for a dollar at the Strand. I think I was still living in New York at the time. I have a memory of combing through the dollar racks on the sidewalk and finding a stash of older history books, including this one, all priced at a dollar. I think this is the only one that has survived the several moves since that time, and it is certainly the only one I have read.

I am pretty sure I also put it on my history of history oral exam list in college, though I had read it before that. As an eyewitness account of Cortez' destruction of Tenochtitlán, it's essential reading in the history of the Americas, though his unrepentant defense of the actions of the Conquistadors ("we came to serve God -- and to get rich!") is repugnant. That said, it is a gripping read, on a par with any adventure tale I have read or any adventure film I have seen, and his descriptions of the Aztec capital, as well as Moctezuma II, almost all there is to go on in terms of understanding what was there before the conquest.

from Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España:

Early next day we left Iztapalapa with a large escort of those great Caciques whom I have already mentioned. We proceeded along the Causeway which is here eight paces in width and runs so straight to the City of Mexico that it does not seem to me to turn either much or little, but, broad as it is, it was so crowded with people that there was hardly room for them all, some of them going to and others returning from Mexico, besides those who had come out to see us, so that we were hardly able to pass by the crowds of them that came; and the towers and cues were full of people as well as the canoes from all parts of the lake. It was not to be wondered at, for they had never before seen horses or men such as we are.

Gazing on such wonderful sights, we did not know what to say, or whether what appeared before us was real, for on one side, on the land, there were great cities, and in the lake ever so many more, and the lake itself was crowded with canoes, and in the Causeway were many bridges at intervals, and in front of us stood the great City of Mexico, and we,—we did not even number four hundred soldiers! and we well remembered the words and warnings given us by the people of Huexotzingo and Tlaxcala and Tlamanalco, and the many other warnings that had been given that we should beware of entering Mexico, where they would kill us, as soon as they had us inside.

Let the curious readers consider whether there is not much to ponder over in this that I am writing. What men have there been in the world who have shown such daring? But let us get on, and march along the Causeway. When we arrived where another small causeway branches off (leading to Coyoacan, which is another city) where there were some buildings like towers, which are their oratories, many more chieftains and Caciques approached clad in very rich mantles, the brilliant liveries of one chieftain differing from those of another, and the causeways were crowded with them. The Great Montezuma had sent these great Caciques in advance to receive us, and when they came before Cortés they bade us welcome in their language, and as a sign of peace, they touched their hands against the ground, and kissed the ground with the hand.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 22 (René Descartes )

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Descartes, René
Discourse on Method
& The Meditation

This is an old one. It must be a used course book I purchased in college for a sophomore class I took on epistemology because it is highlighted from front to back, and not by me.

The course was taught by a youngish priest named Fr. C. He always wore a brown or blue v-neck sweater over his habit, with his collar clearly visible. His hair was longish on top, parted way over to the side and combed horizontally across his head in a straight line. A lock often fell down over his eyes has he lectured which he was always brushing away.

He often spoke of his love for opera and wine. He was a brutal grammarian, for which I thank him (note the lack of a dangled preposition in the last phrase). My father used to say that the Jesuits taught you the two most useful skills in the world: how to write and how to bullshit. The former is certainly true, but I think I picked up most of the latter long before I encountered the Jesuits. They helped me hone the skill by teaching me logic and proper sentence construction.

I also remember that there were two positions for which Fr. C had no patience: that morals were relative or that God might not exist. He enjoyed using Descartes to skewer any doubt one might have in the existence of God and then once that was settled to ensure that we understood that all morals came forth from that God and were universal and absolute.

There was another course book, I recall, for this class, written by a well-known theologian at the college, Avery Dulles (brother of John Foster), that was kind of a survey of writers: Descartes, Berkeley, Hume, Locke -- I can't recall the other, maybe Kant. It had a maroon cover with white text (Fordham school colors). I lost it somewhere along the way.

from The Meditations

Finally I observe that, since each of all the movements which are in the part of the brain by which the mind is immediately affected causes merely one particular feeling, nothing better could be wished for or imagined than that among all the feelings it is capable of causing, this movement makes the mind feel the one most proper and most generally useful for the preservation of the human body, where it is in full health. But experience shows that all the perceptions which nature has given us are such as I have just said, and there there is nothing to be found in them which does not make apparent the power and goodness of God who produced them.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 21.1 (Kiran Desai)

Desai, Kiran
The Inheritance of Loss

This came from the publisher in anticipation of Kiran Desai's appearance in Buffalo in 2008. I got to spend an afternoon with her driving around Buffalo and out to Niagara falls. She was was quite charming and she gave a great talk/reading that evening in the Babel series. I am not feeling terribly imaginative today, so here is the introduction I wrote for her then.

We’re very proud to present Kiran Desai this evening. In addition to being the winner of the 2006 Man Booker Prize for her novel The Inheritance of Loss, she is the daughter of novelist Anita Desai, herself a three-time nominee for the Booker. Having spent the first 15 years of her life in India, she moved to the United States on the trail of her mother’s teaching career at U.S. universities, finishing high school in Amherst, Massachusetts and college at Bennington in Vermont. In 1999, she published her first novel, Hullaballoo in the Guava Orchard. She then spent the next seven years writing The Inheritance of Loss, which many in Buffalo have been reading for the past month. She now has the additional distinction of being the first woman and the first author under the age of 55 to grace the Babel stage.

The Inheritance of Loss is a novel at once local in its attention to the minute rhythms of a particular place, in this case the West Bengal region of India, and yet global in its tracking of the journeys of several West Bengalis outside of India and into the world at large. It is a novel about displacement, violence and identity on the one hand, and about family, home and romantic love on the other. It further provides the reader with a window looking into a part of India with which few Americans are familiar. Kalimpong, where the novel is set, is a region with a historically porous border with Nepal and which is comprised of a population that is 95% Nepali. An insurrection of Indian Nepalese, or Gorhkas as they are called, forms the backdrop to much of the action in the novel.

Immigration also plays an important role in the story. The Judge left India to study in England, only to return a stranger to a newly independent homeland. Sai has lost her parents and has traveled from Russia to live out her adolescence in Kalimpong. And Biju, the native of Kalimpong, travels to America, where his particular American dream goes unfulfilled. Each in his or her own way represents a kind of dislocation common to a globalized world, never quite fitting in, never quite knowing the rules of the game. Of her own experience as an immigrant, Kiran Desai writes:

I think there's always a degree of loss in being an immigrant. It feels as if one will never be able to tell an entire story ever again. There'll be an aspect of living half a life, having only half a story to tell. We tend to hope for a simplicity of truth, a wholeness which is rarely delivered us.

The Inheritance of Loss asks us to ask ourselves what it means to live in a world that is economically interdependent yet socially divided, what it means to live in a world where the idea of a homeland or simply a place to call home seems to disappear in the swirl of global commerce, and finally what it means to love across cultures, time zones, and class structures.

We began this first season of Babel with a writer from Turkey whose worldview attempts to reconcile a national identity caught between European secularism and Middle Eastern Islam; our next writer brought from South America a bi-lingual and bi-cultural perspective to the discussion of political relations north and south; our third writer made beautiful poems examining the possibilities and failures of multiracialism in the west. Our final author in this year’s series in many ways brings all of these together by seeing the world through a truly global lens, one that registers the shifts and tides of history from within the mundane and local details of everyday life.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 21.1 (Jacques Derrida)

of Grammatology
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Derrida, Jacques
of Grammatology

It appears I purchased this at Rust Belt Books for ten dollars. I am not sure if I have actually read it. I feel like I have read of Grammatology before. I feel like I know its contents by heart. But have I actually read the book?

The first time I didn't read of Grammatology, I had just finished my undergraduate study. My friend, J., who was in graduate school, and called himself a marxist-feminist (he's now a libertarian), told me all about Derrida. I would walk from my end of E. 4th St. in the East Village over to his end of West 4th St. in the West Village, and we would sit in his apartment talking about poetry and philosophy and so forth and sometimes we'd go wandering around the then-mostly-empty reaches of lower Manhattan now known as Tribeca, Battery Park City, etc. The area was still in transition then and I am pretty sure did not have a name.

J. would tell me all about Derrida and Althusser and Kristeva Benjamin and so forth and I would ask a lot of questions. J. liked to discourse at length on various subjects and he was very good at pointing out interesting things along the way: signs on street posts, piles of garbage, an alley full of wooden window shutters flung open, a statue that leaned in one direction and upon which he would attempt to describe the theory of motion the sculptor had in mind as he leaned it in that direction. He was great fun to talk to and full of life and occasionally he'd lend me a book. But I don't think I ever read of Grammatology.

The second time I didn't read of Grammatology was in the year or two prior to graduate school, when I thought I might like to go to graduate school but felt that I hadn't quite read enough theory to participate in the conversations taking place. I read an introduction to poststructuralism and an introduction to postmodernism and an introduction to deconstruction and an introduction to Foucault and an introduction to semiotics and a few other introductions along the way until I felt like I could at least sound like I had read of Grammatology.

The third time I did not read of Grammatology was when I was in graduate school. Some form of deconstructive practice grounded pretty much every reading made by every professor. I particularly liked the methods of Rodolphe Gasché, himself an important thinker on Derrida, who would routinely spend six weeks on fifty pages of Hegel or Derrida or Patocka or whoever we happened to be reading. It was "close reading" taken to its logical extreme: literally reading the text aloud, sentence by sentence, sometimes word by word, occasionally looking up from the text to make a modest comment upon it, then back to reading. It was a way of looking at the work that revealed both what it said and how it worked.

But I never read of Grammatology.

I am now no longer in school, and haven't much time to concentrate on reading books like of Grammatology, which require hours of quiet, undisturbed contemplation to enjoy. But something about it lingers, that feeling of having read it, perhaps several times, a million times even, like I am always reading it, almost breathing it every minute of every day.

from of Grammatology

Perhaps patient mediation and painstaking investigation on and around what is still provisionally called writing, far from falling short of a science of writing or of hastily dismissing it by some obscurantist reaction, letting it rather develop its positivity as far as possible, as the wanderings of a way of thinking that is faithful and attentive to the ineluctable world of the future which proclaims itself at present, beyond the closure of knowledge. The future can only be anticipated in the form of an absolute danger. It is that which breaks absolutely with constituted normality and can only be proclaimed, presented, as a sort of monstrosity. For that future world and for that within it which will have put into question the values of sign, word, and writing, for that which guides our future anterior, there is as yet no exergue.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 21 (Jacques Derrida)

Origin of Geometry
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Derrida, Jacques
Edmund Husserl's
Origin of Geometry:
An Introduction

Purchased at Talking Leaves Books for a graduate school course with Rodolphe Gasché. I think it was called something like, "The Idea of Europe." We read Husserl's The Crisis Of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology to begin the class, as I recall. I don't remember much about reading the book, though I do remember feeling pleasure thinking about geometry.

I always got C's and D's in geometry in school. I pretty much got the same grades in everything. But I remember hating geometry in particular. Memorizing theorems bored me. Though when I read them now, I find the language of theorems quite interesting, even beautiful.

For instance:

Every line is a set of points that can be put into a one-to-one correspondence with real numbers, with any point on it corresponding to zero and any other point corresponding to one.

If I have any interest in geometry, it is more a philosophical-historical-linguistic one.

The separation of concepts from things, which seems to begin with Euclidean geometry, fascinates me. That there is no such thing as a circle distinct from the conceptual plane, fascinates me. That the ability to conceptualize data that is distinct from nature and which is also, in essence, invisible, despite its infinite applicability to nature, fascinates me. That the very invisibility of geometrical data links its idealized state with the human invention of the divine, fascinates me.

I could sit around all day thinking about the language used to describe a circle. I once tried to write a poem (that didn't actually work out) in which I did just that. Here's an excerpt:

There are no circles
In nature, only more or less circular objects,
The circle itself exists
Only as a mathematical possibility
Within the confines of Euclidean geometry,
Which doesn’t prevent it from lending itself
To the contemplation of the beauty
And completeness of this simple closed curve
Dividing a plane into two parts,
“Interior” and “exterior,”
It’s “circumference” being the perimeter,
The inner portion known as the “disc,”
And the harmony of even the language
Used to describe it, as in “radius”
Which calls to mind the radiating rays
Of the sun, the great disc in the sky,
Or the circle’s many “chords,” line segments
Contained end to end within,
The “diameter” being a chord
Passing through the “center,” and the ratio
Of the circumference to the diameter,
Known as “π,” an “irrational” number
Describing perfection, which neither ends
Nor repeats, a “transcendental” number
That cannot be produced by the finite

Anyhow, here's an excerpt from Derrida:

If the usual factual study of history in general, and in particular the history which in most recent times has achieved true universal extension over all humanity, is to have any meaning at all, such a meaning can only be grounded upon what we can here call internal history, and as such upon the foundations of the universal historical a priori. Such a meaning necessarily leads further to the indicated highest question of a universal teleology of reason.

If, after these expositions, which have illuminated very general and many-side problem-horizons, we lay down the following as something completely secured, namely, that the human surrounding world is the same today as always, and thus also in respect to what is relevant to primal establishment and lasting tradition, then we can show in several steps, only in an exploratory way, in connection with our own surrounding world, what should be considered in more detail for the problem of the idealizing primal establishment of the meaning-structure "geometry."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 20 (Jeff Derksen)

Down Time
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Derksen, Jeff
Down Time

I am pretty sure I bought this on Now and again I decide to catch up on my reading of contemporary poetry and buy used copies in batches off the internet. I am pretty sure that's how I acquired this title. No, it has a price written on the inside. I bought it at Rust Belt Books.

I am wondering where Jeff Derksen is these days. I only met him twice, a long time ago. When I arrived in Buffalo in 1997, his name was on the tips of everybody's tongues. He featured at one of the first readings I went to in Toronto. Peter Jaeger introduced him. It was at a gallery on Spadina, not too far from Queen St. It was called the red something or other.

And I remember Jeff came to read a year or so later in the Wednesdays at 4 Plus series that Charles Bernstein ran. We went out to dinner after the reading at Gabriel's Gate. I hate the food at Gabriel's gate, but it's not a bad place to hang out. And they have free popcorn.

from Blind Trust

They will recognize other as outsiders: a questions which has long intrigued students. Coddled, malignant. Redundancy with distinctive features for the following combinations: nasal, causal, projective, or simply flagging down fellow motorists for conversations. No need to humble. Pronunciation of full R designates import car or North American. Autobiography. Down in the office the obsession is with absence, really what the pay's for. Very much present, spittle.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 19.1 (Richard Deming)

Deming, Richard
Let's Not Call It Consequence (II)

This is the second copy given to me by the author, with another generous (and alliterative) inscription. In the upper right hand corner of the title page he has kindly inscribed my mailing address, in case I should lose the book again. On the lower left hand side is a scale drawing of the cover of the collected writings of Willem De Koonig, which apparently the author was carrying in his pocket at the time he made the inscription, which reads:

This Manifestation of
Let's Not Call It Consequence
is (again)
Mike --
master poet
majestic blogger
my mighty pal

with/for love
at the Cornelia St Cafe
in the Village
*The copy I read from last night at the PSA.

(The PSA is the Poetry Society of America, which at that time had just awarded the book its Norma Farber Award first book award. I will only make the briefest mention here of the fact that before winning the award, Richard referred to the book he gave me as a "recording," in other words, a reproduction of the original, and that after the award he referred to the same book as a "manifestation," a much more magisterial conception. That being said, Richard is still the same old Richard, which brings me to today's list.)

15 Reasons I Like Richard Deming

1. He likes Van Halen. I like Van Halen. (Without irony)

2. He likes David Cronenberg. I like David Cronenberg.

3. He likes Michael Haneke. I like Michael Haneke.

4. He published a poem in the Nation about zombies and dedicated it to me.

5. He published my first chapbook.

6. His wife, Nancy Kuhl, lives up to the pun in her name.

7. We met at a bar, but neither of us drink.

8. He used to be a musician.

9. He likes Gerrit Lansing. I like Gerrit Lansing.

10. He likes to talk on the phone for hours about Japanese horror films and pretty much any other kind of film you can think of. The more violent and sadistic the better. (Me, too).

11. He is a collector of books and art.

12. He likes cats.

13. He would like to someday find a very particular copy of W.C. Williams' The Wedge, which once belonged to Robert Creeley, whose first wife had stolen it for him from, I think, the Grolier bookstore in Cambridge. If you have this book, he will pay you for it.

14. He takes fish oil tablets and drinks spirulina shakes.

15. He was once the president of the Billy Squier fan club.

For today's excerpt, I will re-post yesterday's excerpt, so you can compare them and see which one you like better.

Buffalo Nights

starlit and ex-
cerpted it's colder
outside than
it looks

when the mirror gets heavy
and the chocolate
          stale, rust answers
          all that glare and some
          times sleep is a way of saying no

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 19 (Richard Deming)

Deming, Richard
(aka The Literary Outlaw)
Let's Not Call It Consequence

This book was given to me by the author on February 14, 2008, after the two of us read together in New Haven, CT at the Arts + Literature Laboratory (A.L.L.). My book, Human Scale, had been out a couple of months, and Richard's was hot off the presses. It was the last reading in the A.L.L. series and also the launch of Richard's book. We had a grand old time. You can see pictures of it here.

The book is inscribed on the cover page in green ink and makes me blush. It says:

"This recording of
Let's Not Call It Consequence
for my main man Mike
a poet of consequence
in admiration of his gifts
in gratitude for the gift
of his friendship

with/for love

Richard Deming

New Haven

(On the eve of
the end
of A.L.L.)

Ain't that sweet? I had thought the book was lost in the move last year, and while I was completing the C section of the library (no pun intended), I began to fret that it was gone forever, so I asked the Literary Outlaw for another copy.

It so happened he was in NYC to receive an award for the book at the same time I was there blogging for PEN. I couldn't make the ceremony, but we breakfasted the next morning and he gave me a second copy, from which he had read at the ceremony, with a brand new inscription.

And then, less than a week ago, I discovered that the old one was not lost at all. Instead of being in its proper place between "DeLillo" and "Derrida," I discovered it between "Delany" and "Deleuze." Now I have two.

I'll write about the other tomorrow.

Buffalo Nights

starlit and ex-
cerpted it's colder
outside than
it looks

when the mirror gets heavy
and the chocolate
          stale, rust answers
          all that glare and some
          times sleep is a way of saying no

(To be continued...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 18.4 (Don DeLillo)

White Noise
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
DeLillo, Don
White Noise

This is the actual copy of White Noise that I read. I probably bought it in 1992 or 1993, probably at St. Mark's Book Shop. Its pages are yellowing nicely.

My undergraduate education was very traditional, meaning that the faculty was skeptical about the 20th Century in general, especially the latter half of it. In between classes on Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton, I managed to sneak in a class on Ulysses, another on Modernist Poetry and Fiction, and I think one on 20th Cent. Irish lit. I think we read Seamus Heaney in the latter, which was the only contemporary writer I studied in college. After college, I set out to read only contemporary poetry and fiction, and I think the first novelist I landed on after Pynchon was DeLillo, followed soon thereafter by Paul Auster.

White Noise was the first book I read by DeLillo and the gateway into four or five others.

I remember the following from the book:

One guy studies Hitler. Another guy studies Elvis and car Crash films. At one point they duel, hurling Elvis and Hitler trivia at one another like so many knives. I think Elvis guy is also constantly hitting on Hitler guy's wife.

Hitler guy's wife teaches classes on posture and manners for the elderly. They take her classes because they want to reaffirm the constancy of the values they were taught as children.

Some kind of train wreck in involving a toxic chemical spill. I think he calls it an "airborne toxic event."

Hitler guy's baby opens its mouth and cries very loudly for a very long time.

A long line of station wagons waits to drop their children at college. (This kind of scene, in which we see herds of Americans acting in unison, automaton-like, opens several of DeLillo's novels -- a mass wedding, a baseball game, etc.)

I think that is all I can remember. Yes, it is.

from White Noise

The station wagons arrived at noon, a long shining line that coursed through the west campus. In single file they eased around the orange I-beam sculpture and moved toward the dormitories. The roofs of the station wagons were loaded down with carefully secured suitcases full of light and heavy clothing; with boxes of blankets, boots and shoes, stationary and books, sheets, pillows, quilts; with rolled up rugs and sleeping bags; with bicycles, skis, rucksacks, English and Western saddles, inflated rafts. As cars slowed to a crawl and stopped, students sprang out and raced to the rear doors to begin removing the objects inside; the stereo sets, radios, personal computers; small refrigerators and table ranges; the cartons of phonograph records and cassettes; the hairdryers and styling irons; the tennis rackets, soccer balls, hockey and lacrosse sticks, bows and arrows; the controlled substances, the birth control pills and devices; the junk food still in shopping bags--onion-and-garlic chips, nacho thins, peanut creme patties, Waffelos and Kabooms, fruit chews and toffee popcorn; the Dum-Dum pops, the Mystic mints.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 18.3 (Don DeLillo)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
DeLillo, Don

Not sure what it is with Don DeLillo, but out of the five books of his I own, only two are the actual copies I read myself. This is another substitute. The copy I read may have been the original paperback version. I recall it had a sort of glossy, mass market cover in Miami Dolphins blue and orange and that it may or may not have had a red paper edge. I bought it at 7th St. books.

This copy, however, was given to me as a gift by an old acquaintance, K, as a going away present when I was leaving NYC for a year to go volunteer in Ecuador. K. was part of that writer's group I wrote about in an earlier post. I didn't tell him I'd already read the book when he gave it to me, but I did end up keeping his copy because it was in better condition and was of a similar design to the others I owned.

It is inscribed:



This will help ward off any culture shock or nostalgia you may feel down by the equator.

Peace and Strength,


I remember the party where he gave it to me. It was on the roof of my friend E's apartment in Brooklyn heights, just under the Brooklyn bridge overlooking the southeastern shore of Manhattan. I had lots of different groups of friends in New York. Some knew each other, some didn't. Some got along, some didn't. I managed to get most of them to come out for this party.

Some of my students and fellow faculty members at the high school where I'd been teaching were there. A lot of my college friends were there. Some artist friends, some poet friends, some ex-girlfriends. Several people with whom my twenty-something relationships were awkwardly ambiguous and undefined. I remember for certain that two friends did not come because of open hostilities with other guests.

I have a little envelope of photos from this party on which is inscribed -- "For Mike, even though he's a jerk." It was mailed to me in Ecuador by one of those people with whom I shared an awkwardly ambiguous relationship.

from Americana

Then we came to the end of another dull and lurid year. Lights were strong across the front of every shop. Men selling chestnuts wheeled their smoky carts. In the evenings the crowds were immense and traffic built to a tidal roar. The santas of Fifth Avenue rang their little bells with an odd sad delicacy, as if sprinkling salt on some brutally spoiled piece of meat. Music came from all the stores in jingles, chants and hosannas, and from the Salvation Army bands came the martial trumpet lament of ancient Christian legions. It was a strange sound to hear in that time and place, the smack of cymbals and high-collared drums, a suggestion that children were being scolded for a bottomless sin, and it seemed to annoy people. But the girls were lovely and undismayed, shopping in every mad store, striding through those magnetic twilights like drum majorettes, tall and pink, bright orange packages cradled to their tender breasts. The bling man's German shepherd slept through it all.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 18.2 (Don DeLillo)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
DeLillo, Don

I just read this a few years ago. I think I bought it at Talking Leaves Books, but I a can't be sure.

When I was hired part-time to run a poetry series at Just Buffalo Literary Center in 1998, my first official task was to drive to the airport, where I had never been, pick up a representative from a major national foundation, which I'd never heard of, and drive her to a restaurant in Buffalo to meet with a group of board members that I'd never met.

She was a petite Asian woman and she carried a copy of the newly published Underworld with her. I asked her if she liked it and she said it was fabulous and that "Don" and just been out to read in L.A. and she had been to dinner with Don and that Don was such a wonderful person and that Don was such a great writer and that she thought this was Don's greatest book. I don't think I looked sufficiently impressed by this, which caused the tension in the car to rise over the course of our fifteen minute journey together.

I was probably the last person that should have been picking her up because of my unfamiliarity with Buffalo -- I had only lived here for a couple of months and had only had a car for about a week. Neither did I know anything about the literary organization I had just started working for, other than that my landlady was the founder. She became visibly annoyed when I could answer none of her questions about Just Buffalo or about the city of Buffalo or about anything else pertaining to the place she'd just arrived.

By the time we got to the restaurant, I could tell she wanted nothing more to do with me, and the feeling was mutual. I pulled the car to the curb in front of the restaurant and said, I think this is the place. She was now really pissed and asked -- aren't you going to come in with me? I said I wasn't invited and that truth be told, I didn't know anyone that was coming to dinner, so I would not be able to help her find her group anyway.

I guess I could have been a little nicer, but I really, really disliked her by the time we'd gotten to the door. Anyhow, she stormed off, but our grant was renewed, so someone must have charmed her at dinner.

from Underworld

He speaks in your voice, American, and there's a shine in his eye that's halfway hopeful.

It's a school day, sure, but he's nowhere near the classroom. He wants to be here instead, standing in the shadow of this old rust-hulk of a structure, and it's hard to blame him--this metropolis of steel and concrete and flaky paint and cropped grass and enormous Chesterfield packs aslant on the scoreboards, a couple of cigarettes jutting from each.

Longing on a large scale is what makes history. This is just a kid with a local yearning but he is part of an assembling crowd, anonymous thousands off the buses and trains, people in narrow columns tramping over the swing bridge above the river, and even if they are not a migration or a revolution, some vast shaking of the soul, they bring with them the body heat of a great city and their own small reveries and desperations, the unseen something that haunts the day--men in fedoras and sailors on shore leave, the stray tumble of their thoughts, going to a game.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 18.1 (Don DeLillo)

Mao II
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
DeLillo, Don
Mao II

This is not the copy of Mao II that I actually read. I bought this one for Lori at Talking Leaves Books' Elmwood Avenue store when she was reading through his books a few years ago.

Yesterday I was thinking about the experience of living in a city like New York, where the places you eat, sleep, drink, walk, ride the train and so on are constantly being reflected back to you in fiction (and movies and television and pop songs and any other representative mode you can think of). It creates this feeling of everything being layered with representation.

You walk down the street one day, then suddenly realize you saw a cop chasing a robber in a movie down that very street. And then you go home and read a novel that takes place in New York and it so happens the character lives in an apartment around the corner. And then you make yourself some dinner while listening to a folk singer sing songs about the homeless guy on your corner. Time passes and you live in that neighborhood for a while and you walk down that same block every day and maybe you write your own poems or your own fiction about that street and it gets published somewhere and then you read your own reflections on the place back to yourself and the process keeps repeating itself into infinity.

I remember when I read this book, probably around 1994, I had been living on the corner of 4th St. and Ave. B in the East Village for about two years. There are scenes which take place during the mid-80's in Tompkins Sq. Park, which DeLillo describes in all its pre-gentrification glory, when the park was a combination homeless encampment/vortex for the most radical politics in the city.

The riots that erupted there took place when I was in college in the Bronx, and by the time I arrived the park had been closed for renovations for several years. Ten foot chain link fences surrounded the park and no one could get in that wasn't busy building the new one. Within a year, the "improved" park, the one that didn't allow for overnight sojourns, opened. I had no experience of the old one, but reading DeLillo's account of it created in my imagination a sense of identification with the older, wilder days of Tompkin's Sq.

Over the next five or so years I probably walked through and around Tompkins Sq. several thousand times, and my experience of it became bound with up my own memories of having walked around it for hours having breathless political and aesthetic and existential conversations with my friend Paul or of dates I had been on with various women, which had sometimes ended up with a romantic (or unromantic) walk in the park and also the memory of the park I'd experienced through DeLillo's fiction and later through various other written accounts of East Village life before the riots. I began to feel I was not only living my own experience of the place, but the experience of all of those representations of the experience of having lived in that place I had experienced in fiction.

Whenever I am in the East Village now, I stop by my old apartment building (235 East 4th St., Apt. 6C) to see if my name is still on the buzzer -- it is, though the last time I checked, the current tenant had taped their name over the top of mine, the true name, the one impressed in plastic, the genuine article, not the paper pretender living there now, and knowing it is there gives me a certain satisfaction, as if I were still living there, and that I was the one true occupant, and perhaps I still am.

Maybe that other me is still eating a falafel on Ave. A in the evening with Paul before stopping off at the newsstand up the block, between 7th & St. Mark's, the one run by the polish guy and his two spectacularly beautiful daughters and where they serve the world's greatest egg creams, and maybe I buy one for myself while Paul buys a frozen yogurt at Nino's pizza and then maybe we start doing laps around Tompkins Sq., complaining about how much the East Village is changing before our very eyes, and maybe nearby is a film crew recording our every move for a film they are making about the changing landscapes of New York, and maybe on a bench sits a writer, scribbling away in her notebook, taking note of the two breathless twenty-somethings eating ice cream and gesticulating wildly as they disappear down the street.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 18 (Don DeLillo)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
DeLillo, Don

Purchased some time in the mid-nineties, most likely at St. Mark's Bookshop in NY.

As I finished writing the previous sentence, I realized that it wasn't true. In fact, this is not even the copy of the book that I read. This one has someone else's shameful scrawl all over it. That being the case, I think this might be a copy purchased more recently at Rust Belt Books, when Lori went on a Don DeLillo tear a few years ago. A memory now is bubbling up of having read the hardcover edition of this book and of having purchased said hardcover at The Strand.

Memory is pretty fickle, though.

One of the great things about living in New York, if you are someone who reads and writes, is that there are hundreds upon hundreds of writers there, and many of the ones who go on to publication and fame either live there or get their careers started there, which means an inordinate number of the books get published in the United States take place, at least in part, in New York City. Thus, one is given the repeated and pleasing experience of reading books that take place in the same place where your live.

When I read most of the books I read by Don DeLillo, I was living in the East Village. Most of the books I read have at least a chapter that take place in New York, this one included. They always provided me with this strange sense of walking through a grandiose, fictional replica of the world I lived in, in which the streets I walked felt saturated with significance, not to mention a kind of ominous dread, which seems to be the main emotion in D's books.

I haven't thought about them in a long time, but thinking back now, I realize that several document a New York that had already become a different New York by the time I read them, and which has become another New York two or three times over since. Reading the following excerpt, however, I am struck by how the experience described could have taken place in any one of those New Yorks.

In The Bronx

This was the year he rode the subway to the ends of the city, two hundred miles of track. He liked to stand at the front of the first car, hands flat against the glass. The train smashed through the dark. People stood on local platforms staring nowhere, a look they'd been practicing for years. He kind of wondered, speeding past, who they really were. His body fluttered in the fastest stretches. They went so fast sometimes he thought they were on the edge of no-control. The noise was pitched to a level of pain he absorbed as a personal test. Another crazy-ass curve. There was so much iron in the sound of those curves he could almost taste it, like a toy you put in your mouth when you are little.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 17 (Daniel C. Dennett)

Dennett, Daniel C.
Darwin's Dangerous Idea

Purchased at the UB Bookstore for the several times previously mentioned course with Elizabeth Grosz, Being and Becoming. As I recall, we read this as a sort of introduction to Darwin's ideas, before we got to the real deal. I can remember not really being all that interested in this book and not reading it very closely. This wasn't because of anything wrong with the book itself. When I was reading it I remember I kept staring at all of the books I wanted to read on the shelf: by Darwin, Nietzsche, Bergson, Deleuze, which were all the books that I signed up for the course in order to read, and thinking that I really wanted to be reading those books, not to mention all the books I was reading for my courses in poetics. So, I don't think I read it very closely. I remember not wanting to read it all, possibly even not reading it, or reading only a little and picking the rest up from the lectures. Either way, I remember nothing about the content of the book itself. Alas.

from 1. Is Nothing Sacred?

We used to sing a lot when I was a child, around the campfire at summer camp, at school and Sunday school, or gsthered around the piano at home. One of my favorite songs was "Tell Me Why." (For those whose personal memories don't already embrace this little treasure, the music is provided in the appendix. The simple melody and easy harmony line are surprisingly beautiful.)

Tell me why the stars do shine,
Tell me why the ivy twines,
Tell me why the sky's so blue.
Then I will tell you just why I love you.

Because God made the stars to shine,
Because God made the ivy twine,
Because God made the sky so blue.
Because God made you, that's why I love you.

This straightforward, sentimental declaration still brings a lump to my throat -- so sweet, so innocent, so reassuring a vision of life.

And then along comes Darwin and spoils the picnic.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 16.6 (Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari)

Deluze, Gilles
Guattari, Felix
What Is Philosophy?

Turns out I was mistaken when I said I had gotten rid of ALL of my Deleuze and Guattari titles. I have one, and it is this. I bought it at Talking Leaves Books. I am pretty sure it was for a class in the comp. lit department with Rodolphe Gasché. I don't remember much about this particular book, though it appears I read it very excitedly at some point: underlining, asterisks, exclamation points, names of other philosophers and various other notes to myself appear on almost every page. At certain points I highlight four or five pages consecutively, which I don't think is a very useful way to index anything.

The practice of underlining is a very strange one. I used to do it a lot when I was in school, mainly because I thought I might at some point need to lift a quotation out in order to drop it into a paper I was writing. I almost never write in books anymore. I alway regret having written in them. Once I put a book down, the train of thought that led me to underline things in the first place invariably disappears, so that when I try to decipher the markings I come to the conclusion that the person who made them was a) not me and be b) likely mad.

I feel a kind of shame, come to think of it, for having marked up a perfectly good book, and I am seized by a sudden fear that someone I know and respect will one day open the book, take note of what I have underlined, and come to the same conclusion about the person making these marks as I did.

And then they will start talking about me at parties, quoting all of the insignificant passages I have underlined, no doubt to the endless amusement of their friends, who will then go silent as I walk into the room, exchanging furtive smirks and glances among one another until I leave, at which point they will burst into a chorus of laughs.

Here is a passage I marked:

Today it is said that systems are bankrupt, but it is only the concept of the system that has changed. So long as there is a time and a place for creating concepts, the operation that undertakes this will always be called philosophy even if it is called something else. (This passage is marked with a vertical line in the margin at the center of which is an uppercase letter "A." I have no idea what "A" stands for -- possibly "Adorno," but that's only a guess).

We know, however, that the friend or lover, as claimant, does not lack rivals. If we really want to say that philosophy originates with the Greeks, it is because the city, unlike the empire or state, invents the agon as the rule of a society of "friends," of the community of free men as rivals (citizens). This is the invariable situation described by Plato: if each citizen lays claim to something, then we need to be able to judge the validity of claims. (This section is also marked by a continuation of the same vertical line from the paragraph above. However, the final sentence, after the colon, is underlined, and their is a large exclamation point in the margin. Reading this now, I don't see anything so profound and moving that it merits an underline, much less this other hysterical punctuation mark. I feel shame. I can hear you all laughing.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 16.5 (Gilles Deleuze)

Deleuze, Gilles
Difference & Repetition

Purchased at Talking Leaves Books for the amazingly low price of $18.50. There must have been a sale, because books by academic presses are routinely overpriced, and these days $18.50 would seem quite reasonable for a paperback book. I either purchased this for a class or for my oral exam lists in graduate school. I think I bought it for a class with Elizabeth Grosz, but I am not positive. It's also possible I bought it for a course with Rodolphe Gasché, who was also a member of my oral exam committee.

I once read an interview with Toni Morrison in which she said that one of the most important books in her intellectual development was Finnegan's Wake. She's said it was important despite the fact that she really didn't understand most of it. I think her basic point was that understanding everything about a work of art is not the most essential thing in experiencing it, and that the work of understanding, of reading and experiencing and trying to make sense of a work is where its true value lies. I guess it would follow that one might to some extent judge the quality of a work by determining through close reading whether or not it continues to be useful.

Which is all a roundabout way of saying that I have read this book twice, that I don't really understand most of it, and that it has nonetheless been incredibly useful for me. Sentences like the following have left me dazzled and puzzled and pleased as I have read them again and again (and now again):

Only the shadows of history live by negation: the good enter into it with all the power of a posited differential or a difference affirmed; they repel shadows into the shadows and deny only as the consequence of a primary positivity and affirmation.

This is a full-blown Nietzschean assault on dialectical thought, but it's also a kind of poetic manifesto that ties the thinking in this book all the way back to Deleuze's book on Nietzsche, which I posted on a few days ago, wherein the creative power (and thus the value of art) is in its "positing" and not in its "negating," in its affirmation of itself and not in its negating of some prior moment.

Which probably sounds like I have a decent understanding of this book, but I don't, really. I understand the concepts of affirmation/negation, and have found them very useful, but I have never quite grasped what he means by either "difference" or "repetition." I kind of get 'difference' -- that each thing -- organic or conceptual -- is made up of distinct other things which are in turn made up of distinct other things into infinity and that all these distinct other things are held together in some way through the concept of representation. I sort of read that as taking the extreme side of the "many" in the "is the universe one or many" argument. That said, I couldn't even paraphrase what he means by "repetition."

Feel free to explain it to me.

Anyhow, here's a brief excerpt that I have always liked, especially the part about the "thought without image":

The theory of thought is like painting: it needs that revolution which took art from representation to abstraction. This is the aim of a theory of thought without image.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 16.4 (Gilles Deleuze)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Deleuze, Gilles

Purchased at Talking Leaves Books. I have no idea when, or why, or for what purpose -- could have been pleasure, curiosity, interest, or for a class. I am sure I have not read it. Or if I have, I don't remember it. I am surprised I didn't read this book. I read a lot of Deleuze in graduate school. I also read a lot of Foucault. But I did not read Deleuze on Foucault.

It's amazing to think of how much French theory I read in graduate school, given that I was not there to study philosophy, but literature. I wonder if there is an example in any other discipline within the humanities or sciences wherein the work of a handful or writers from a different discipline came to such prominence within that other discipline. I can't think of one.

Personally, I always like reading philosophers as philosophers and not as critical theorists, but I very much like to read them alongside everything else I am reading. I find reading Deleuze very much like reading good poetry. His work has a density to it that is at once opaque and tantalizing. It always seems to be pointing towards some beautiful concept just out of reach. You can just see the outlines of his thought, but you can't ever quite see the whole architecture, and yet somehow that's not the most important part anyhow. It's enough to know it might be there and that you might someday get to see it.

The last thing I'd ever want to do is apply it to literature.

from A New Archivist:

A new archivist has been appointed. But has anyone actually appointed him? Is he not rather acting on his own instructions? Certain malevolent people say that he is the new representative of a structural technology or technocracy. Others, mistaking their insults for wit, claim that he is a supporter of hitler, or at least that he offends the rights of man (they will not forgive him for having proclaimed the 'death of man'). Some say that he is a shammer who cannot back himself up with reference to the sacred texts, and who seldom quotes the great philosophers. Others, though, claim that something radically new has appeared in philosophy, and that this work is as beautiful as those it challenges. It celebrates the dawn of a new age.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 16.3 (Gilles Deleuze)

The Fold
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Deleuze, Gilles
The Fold: Leibniz
And the Baroque

I think I bought this for pleasure and at Talking Leaves Books.

I would say I am slightly on the OCD side of the normality scale. I tend to unconsciously arrange the silverware, the salt and pepper shakers, the napkin, etc., when I sit down to eat. When I listen closely to my thoughts as I walk, I often discover that I am counting my steps, and I tend to semi-consciously attempt to avoid cracks in the sidewalk.

When I was in high school, I thought for a time that I was going crazy because every time someone spoke, a voice inside my head would try to translate their words into Spanish, which I was learning, but did not speak.

I can remember a time in college also, when I became addicted to playing solitaire on my roommate's Apple IIe. I would play for hours and hours. Afterwards, if I were among a group of people, I would find myself visualizing each of them stacked on top of one another as if they were cards in a game of solitaire. I wasn't actually playing the game with them, just arranging them so that they fit the visual pattern. I have at times had the same problem with chess, wherein I play for hours and hours online and then arrange each person I see somewhere along an imaginary chess board.

And so it was when I read The Fold by Gilles Deleuze, in which, as I recall, he describes another kind of infinity, that of organic matter, in which everything that exists is comprised of an infinite number of folds, which get larger and larger moving outward and smaller and smaller moving inward. It's a stunningly poetic vision. I remember that after I read the book, I kept seeing the folds in everything: on the surface of water, on my skin, in the lines of a buildings, etc. I remember wandering around for days noticing how every living thing is folded in upon itself and outward into the universe. After a time, I returned to arranging the salt and paper shakers and the folds disappeared.

from The Pleats of Matter:

The Baroque refers not to an essence but rather to an operative function, to a trait. It endlessly produces folds. It does not invent things: there are all kinds of folds coming from the East, Greek, Roman, Romanesque, Gothic, Classical folds...Yet the Baroque trait twists and turns in its folds, pushing them to infinity, fold over fold, one upon another. The Baroque fold unfurls all the way to infinity.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 16.2 (Gilles Deleuze)

Deleuze, Gilles
in Philosophy: Spinoza

Purchased used, for $8.50, most likely at Rust Belt Books, though I have no way to be sure. I read this book purely for pleasure, over the summer, I think, or in between semesters, when I was in graduate school. This is probably my favorite book by Deleuze, or if not my absolute favorite, it shares the honor with Nietzsche & Philosophy.

In the previous note on Bergson, I mentioned that my memory of reading Deleuze about Bergson is much stronger than my memory of reading Bergson. After reading Expressionism in Philosophy, which is mostly a reading of Spinoza's Ethics, I ran out and bought a copy of the latter, which to this day I find completely unreadable. In other words, all I know about Spinoza is what Deluze says about Spinoza, which is fine--I happen to like what Deleuze says about Spinoza.

To think about infinity, which, regardless of whether it is called "infinity," or a "plane of immanence," or "God," cannot ever be visualized, and yet trying to visualize it, and having one's visualizations collapse in upon themselves, to completely fail to render anything approaching the concept itself in any kind of comprehensive way, I find very pleasing. Every time I read a book by Deleuze, or, say Borges, I discover this pleasure again.

I would like to fly on a plane of immanence.

I would like to walk across a plain of imminence.

Something is bound to happen.

from Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza:

The significance of Spinozism seems to me this: it asserts immanence as a principle and frees expression from any subordination to emanative or exemplary causality. Expression itself no longer emanates, no longer resembles anything. And such a result can be obtained only within a perspective of univocity. God is cause of all things in the same sense that he is cause of himself; he produces as he formally exists, or as he objectively understands himself. He thus produces things in the very forms that constitute his own essence. But the same attributes that formally constitute God's essence contain all the formal essences of modes, and the idea of God's essence comprehends all objective essences, or all ideas. Things in general are modes of divine being, that is, they implicate the same attributes that constitute the nature of this being. Thus all likeness is univocal, defined by the presence in both cause and effect of a common property. The things that are produced are not imitations any more than their ideas are models. There is nothing exemplary even in the idea of God, since this is itself, in its formal being, also produced. Nor conversely do ideas imitate things. In their formal being they follow from the attribute of thought; and if they are representative, they are so only to the extent that they participate in an absolute power of thinking which is in itself equal to the absolute power of producing or acting. Thus all imitative or exemplary likeness is excluded from the relation of expression. God expresses himself in the forms that constitute his essence, as in the idea that reflects it. Expression characterizes both being and knowing. But only univocal being, only univocal consciousness, are expressive. Substance and modes, cause and effects, only have being and are only known through common forms that actually constitute the essence of the one, and actually contain the essence of the others.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 16.1 (Gilles Deleuze)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Deleuze, Gilles

Purchased at the UB Book Store for the previously mentioned course with Elizabeth Grosz. It's funny -- even though I have very pleasurable memories of reading Bergson, when I glance at the table of contents of this book I feel like everything I remember clearly about Bergson is filtered through Deleuze. His readings of other philosophers are so lucid that they often leave a stronger, more indelible imprint on my mind than the philosophers themselves.

I could sit an ponder the chapter headings all day long:

I Intuition as Method.
II Duration as Immediate Datum (I almost mis-typed Duration as Immediate Dream, which I also like)
III Memory as Virtual Coexistence
IV One or Many Durations?
V Élan Vital as Movement of Differentiation

Maybe that should be everyone's assignment for the day.

Deleuzian Excercises (Bergsonism)

1 Spend 5 minutes outlining a method of intuition.
2. Find one example of duration as immediate datum.
3. Describe a memory not as a the past but as a virtually coexisting present.
4. Look out the window and make a list of as many simultaneous forms of duration as you can see before you.
5. Take a long walk and pay close attention to all emergent life forces within your mind, your body, and your immediate surroundings. Do not write this part down, just pay attention.

from Intuition as Method

We are wrong to believe that the true and the false can only be brought to bear on solutions, that they only begin with solutions. The prejudice is social (for society, and the language that transmits its order-words [mots d'ordre], "set up" [donnent] ready made problems, as if they were drawn out of "the city's administrative filing cabinets," and force us to "solve" them, leaving us only a thin margin of freedom). Moreover, this prejudice goes back to childhood, to the classroom: It is the school teacher who "poses" the problems; the pupil's task is to discover the solutions. In this way we are kept in a kind of slavery. True freedom lies in a power to decide, to constitute problems themselves.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 16 (Gilles Deleuze)

Deleuze, Gilles
Nietzsche & Philosophy

I may have purchased this for a course with Elizabeth Grosz in graduate school, in which case I bought it at the UB Bookstore. However, I may have bought it for some other class, in which case I bought it at Talking Leaves Books. I feel like I had already bought and read the book before Grosz arrived, but I can't say for certain.

Before we begin or little foray into Deleuzeland (7 titles), let me say this: I love Gilles Deleuze, but I can't stand Deleuze and Guattari together. I tried to to read Anti-Oedipus. I tried to read A Thousand Plateaus. I found both of them incomprehensible and wholly devoid of pleasure. I did not find it in any way liberating to float along on the lexical sea of wordplay and allusion and so after years of having them on the shelves and not reading them, I sold them to Rust Belt Books last year when we moved across town.

There, I said it. I did it. I am not sorry.

That said, this is one of my favorite books by Deleuze, possibly one of my favorite all-time books of philosophy, possibly one of my all time favorite books.

If I were asked to point to a book that delineated in a clear, concise, convincing and inspiring manner as definitive an answer as possible to the question, why make art? I would point to this book. In short, the answer is to put something novel into the world. I use the word "novel" instead of "new" because I don't think Nietzsche would subscribe to the fetishization of "the new." Rather, I think the point would be that to put something into the world that needs to be there, not as an argument against something one feels shouldn't be. This kind of negative assertion of art he would call "ressentiment," art which only reacts but has no active force of its own outside its reaction to that which it opposes. Art, then, as an argument for itself, not against something else.

from From Ressentiment to the Bad Conscience:

The imputation of wrongs, the distribution of responsibilities, perpetual accusation. All this replaces aggression. "The aggressive pathos belongs just as necessarily to strength as vengefulness and rancor belong to weakness"... Considering gain as a right, considering it a right to profit from actions that he does not perform, the man of ressentiment breaks out in bitter reproaches as his expectaions are disappointed. And how could they not be disappointed, since frustration and revenge are the a prioris of ressentiment?....We can guess what the creature of ressentiment wants. He wants others to be evil, he needs others to be evil in order to be able to consider himself good. You are evil, therefore I am good

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 15.1 (Samuel R. Delany)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Delany, Samuel R.

Purchased at Talking Leaves Books about 5 years ago. I think I mentioned before that Jonathan Skinner taught a course on science fiction that had a great reading list, including this book, which gave me a reason to start reading some science fiction, which I had never really done before then.

A year or so after "Chip" Delany visited during my first year in town, he came to teach at SUNY Buffalo. I took a five week mini-course with him. I can't remember what it was called, but it I think there were two books on the reading list. Flaubert's Sentimental Education and Marx's Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. We read the former in the first week and wrote a paper, then read the latter and wrote another paper, then read the former a second time and wrote a longer, final paper on same.

There was quite a bit of tension between teacher and students in the class because of a dispute about the content (and in one case, the format -- not the form -- but literally, the formatting, i.e., where we put the our names on the sheets!) of our papers. Being that were studying in Buffalo, and most of us were, to varying degrees, theory heads, we wrote almost all of our papers for other courses using the usual theoretical suspects as our guides. Given how much theory Delany had used in his novels, we assumed that would be the order of the day in his class. Not so. A self-admitted "old fuddy-duddy," he became quite incensed at our dependence on theory and demanded that we do "close readings" of the works at hand. His claim, and he may have been right, was that we had become afraid of engaging directly with the work and were using theory as a crutch.

The other major tension came b/c of his style of teaching. We were all used to being treated as equals, i.e., as practicing, serious--if yet unpublished--writers, by the likes of Charles Bernstein and Susan Howe and Robert Creeley. Chip seemed more at home in an undergraduate atmosphere in which the students were apprentices and he their gentle guide. This unfortunate circumstance, as I recall, made it difficult to bridge the already wide communication gap that grew up between us. And we never did bridge it, sad to say. It felt very tense all the way to the last class, and I don't think any of us ever took his classes again and then, after two short years, off he went to Philadelphia.

from Chapter 1

"Hey, Mouse! Play us something," one of the mechanics called from the bar.

"Didn't get signed on no ship yet?" chided the other. "Your spinal socket'll rust up. Come on, give us a number."

The Mouse stopped running his finger around the rim of his glass. Wanting to say "no" he began a "yes." Then he frowned.

The mechanics frowned too:

He was an old man.

He was a strong man.

As the Mouse pulled his hand to the edge of the table, the derelict lurched forward. Hip banged the counter. Long toes struck a chair leg: the chair danced on the flags.

Old. Strong. The third thing the Mouse saw: Blind.

He swayed before the Mouse's table. His hand swung up; yellow nails hit the Mouse's cheek. (Spider's feet?) "You, boy . . ."

The Mouse stared at the pearls behind rough, blinking lids.

"You, boy. Do you know what it was like?"

Must be blind, the Mouse thought. Moves like blind. Head sits forward so on his neck. And his eyes—

The codger flapped out his hand, caught a chair, and yanked it to him. It rasped as he fell on the seat. "Do you know what it looked like, felt like, smelt like—do you?"

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 15 (Samuel R. Delany)

Delany, Samuel R.
The Motion of Light On Water

I purchased this at Talking Leaves Books in 1998, when Samuel Delany paid a visit to Charles Bernstein's poetics seminar. I had never heard of Samuel Delany before I came to Buffalo. My friend Taylor Brady was a big fan and had told me about his work, but at the time I had not read much science fiction (I still haven't, really, but I have read some). I remember he had especially recommended this autobiography. I have never actually gotten around to reading it.

I didn't read it at the time and then at some point a couple of years later I loaned it out, I think, to Jonathan Skinner, who was teaching a course on science fiction literature that included Delany, and who held onto the book for several years himself, returning it just before his departure from Buffalo, which was a sad day for me, despite my being happy to have the book back, even though I had not yet read it, though I still plan on it.

from Sentences: An Introduction:

My father had been sick almost a year. Already he'd had one lung removed. But after a time home -- which he spent mostly in bed, listening to programs of eclectic classical music (Penderecki, Kodaly's Sonata for Unaccompanied Cello) on WBAI-FM, all of which were new to him and pleased him greatly, or sitting up in his robe and pajamas working on a few ordered and geometric paintings of cityscapes in which there were no people (he'd always wanted to paint) -- he began to grow weaker. Soon he was in pain. Toward the end of September, an ambulance was sent for to take him to the hospital. But the attendants who arrived to strap him into their stretcher, there in the apartment hall in his dark robe and pale pajamas, were too rough, yanking down the straps and buckles over his thin legs that, by now, could not fully straighten. After asking them twice to loosen them, he began to shout: "Stop it! You're hurting me. Stop--!" Lips tight, my mother stood, flustered, embarrassed, and worried at once, perfectly still.

My father bellowed at the two white-jacketed young me, one black, one white, "Get out--!"