Thursday, September 30, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 6.2 (Jack Kerouac)

The Dharma Bums
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Kerouac, Jack
The Dharma Bums

Purchased for Lori at Talking Leaves...Books. Lori went on a brief Kerouac jag a few years back, so most of these were bought for her to read. Many Kerouac fans have told me that this is the one to read, but I still haven't gotten around to it. Maybe someday. I used to have a copy of Mexico City Blues, some of which I like a lot, but it seems to have been lost in the shuffle.

During the year I spent in Ecuador, I brought with me a mixed tape made by a friend. Like many mixed tapes, it had the feeling of an attempt to articulate something, a kind of audio-collage-essay-poem. It was given to me by P., a friend who when I left NYC that summer was in such despair that I wasn't sure I would ever see him again. The content of the tape shifted back and forth between spoken word and music.

I don't remember all of it, but I do remember the music included Frank Zappa, John Lennon, Nirvana, Spike Jones, Iggy Pop, and others. Most of the spoken word pieces were recordings of the Beats. It had Allen Ginsberg reading, "America," and William Burroughs' 'Thanksgiving Prayer."

At the very end of the tape he included Kerouac's famous reading of the final scene from On the Road on the Steve Allen Show. I remember there was a humorous splice right after Kerouac said, "Dean Mo-Ree-Ahr-Tee." It was Curt Kobain's voice saying, "Thank you, I'm a rock star," then the Kerouac piece played a second time before the tape ran out..."Nobody, nobody knows what's going to happen to anybody, except the forlorn rags of growing old..."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 6.1 (Jack Kerouac)

Kerouac, Jack
The Town and the City

Purchased for Lori at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall discount bookstore. I haven't read this one.

I am very sad to hear the news of Michael Gizzi's passing. A great poet and a great guy. In his honor, I'll refer you back to my three posts on him and also to an interview I did with him a few years back.

Here are the links:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 6 (Jack Kerouac)

On The Road
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Kerouac, Jack
On The Road

Purchased at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall Discount Book Store. I think I bought this copy for Lori. It is not the copy I read. Mine had a cover designed in the late seventies or early eighties depicting a burning sun in the center of a horizonless sky.

I read it the summer after college. The university let me stay in my RA apartment in Little Italy in the Bronx for part of the summer while I looked for my own first place. The other book I read during the same period was Gravity's Rainbow. I put the latter down, my head spinning, about 300 pages into it and read On the Road instead, returning to GR after I'd finished.

I am having a weird memory of the first time I heard Jack Kerouac's name. It was in 9th or 10th grade. I had gotten into the habit of reading the comics in the Washington Post every morning over a cup of coffee with cream and three heaping tea spoons of sugar, into which I dunked between four and eight slices of wheat toast slathered in butter. Ah, the good old days.

My favorite comic strip was 'Bloom County," which I read religiously each morning. One strip I remember fairly vividly depicted Milo Bloom as a Dylanesque folkie singing on stage at a club. The strip's entire content consisted of the lyrics to Milo's song, which was a lament over the conservative turn in the your culture of the 1980's. I only remember a few lines:

Take us back, Jack Kerouac
To when a cool cat
Would never mean
Garfield locked in an ice machine

I knew who Garfield was -- his strip usually followed or preceded 'Bloom County' somewhere on the same page -- but I had no idea who Jack Kerouac was, which is probably why the lyric stuck in my head. It took another ten years for me to get around to reading On the Road. Not so surprising, given that 'Bloom County' was more or less the extent of my reading in high school.

I never really got the Kerouac bug, I have to say. By the time I read the book my expectations of its transformative powers had been raised so high by things I'd heard and read that it couldn't have been other than disappointing. Mostly I found the book to be a kind of tedious lament with flashes of absolute brilliance popping up every so often. I was never sure the payoff of those flashes was worth the slog through the rest of the book.

I read it one other time just to make sure I didn't miss something, but whatever seemed to have happened to other readers never happened to me. Which isn't to say Kerouac hasn't been important to me in other ways. When I was younger he embodied for me the romantic image of the writer -- devoted to his art to the point of risking madness and personal dissolution. I used to keep a postcard on my bookshelf in New York of a photo of Kerouac on a fire escape overlooking the city.

I liked to imagine he was standing on my fire escape.

from On the Road

I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up. I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won't bother to talk about, except that it had something to do with the miserably weary split-up and my feeling that everything was dead. With the coming of Dean Moriarty began the pat of my life you could call my life on the road. Before that I'd often dreamed of going west to see the country, always vaguely planning and never taking off.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 5 (Maurice Kenny)

Carving Hawk
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Kenny, Maurice
Carving Hawk

Given to me by the author. Inscribed. I remember Kenny came to Buffalo for about a week in the mid-oughts, and that I drove him to about ten different schools to perform writer residencies and that he gave me the book as a gift.

It has a kind of strange inscription, whose context I do not recall:


Sorry I put you to sleep that morning, but I'm pleased to have your friendship.


Maurice Kenny

I think I may have fallen asleep during one of his school visits, possibly while he was reading. I have a vague recollection of having to get up rather early each day to pick him up and get him to the schools on time, which would explain my drowsiness. This is all conjecture, because my memory of the whole week is very vague.

from Carving Hawk


The voiceless pines
Have no anger, cannot shout
At the wind as it rages
Through needles and limbs.

The quiet hum of the plundered pine,
Raped as though a closed-eyed child,
Only lifts or lowers its tone
But does not scream
Its brutal violation.

Open your arms, old mountain pine,
The cry and the lash and the hate
Of the crazed wind
Which loves you.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 4.1 (John Keats)

Keats, John
The Selected Letters
Of John Keats

I bought this at Rust Belt Books because, remarkably, yesterday's title, The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Keats, which contains within it a selection of Keats' letters. does not contain the one letter that every single person who studies Keats reads. I mean the letter to his brothers dated 21 December 1817 in which he lays out his theory of negative capability. It boggles the mind that an editor at the Modern Library could leave something like that out. It makes me wonder if perhaps the concept did not have the same cache it does now at the time of the publication of that book.

I remember when I first started reading Olson how he talked endlessly about negative capability. He talked about it almost as if he were the first one to have discovered the idea's significance. That fact alone makes me wonder if it wasn't until later, say the fifties or sixties, when a certain kind of ambiguity became fashionable in critical circles, that the idea began to take hold within academia. I'd be curious to know if anyone has ever traced the use of this idea in essays and so forth and to know if there was a spike in interest, at least in the United States, after the Second World War.

If that were the case, I could be more forgiving of the omission.

from The Selected Letters Of Joh Keats

from the letter to his brothers, George and Thomas, Sunday, 21 December 1817

I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, on various subjects; several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously - I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason - Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge. This pursued through Volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates every other consideration

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 4 (John Keats)

Keats, John
The Complete Poetry
and Selected Prose of Keats

Not really sure where I bought this. It looks pretty old, but I am sure I bought it within the last ten years, possibly at Rust Belt Books. It has a Filene's price sticker on the cover. Looks like the price was $.95. I remember shopping now and again at Filene's Basement in Chelsea. They used to have lots of cheap clothes there. I think it became a gigantic Old Navy store.

Keats has been enormously important for me at various points in my life. He was probably the first poet I read seriously when I was an undergraduate. I remember taking a class on the Romantics during my sophomore year. I had just stopped drinking and was going to AA religiously. For a time, I became something of a purist, not only about getting sober, but about the ideas that floated around the rooms and how they applied not only to daily life but to moral/philosophical thought.

My thinking went something like this: I had been trying to escape from reality for a long time, but if I wanted to get and stay sober I had to learn to face reality without artificial aids. I then for some reason took this a further step, declaring to myself that escape from reality was morally unjustified. I guess I created this false ethic as a kind of projection of my own feelings of failure. If I could overcome the need to escape reality, that would make me morally superior to others. If I were morally superior to others, I would not feel bad about myself. If I did not feel bad about myself, I would not need drugs or alcohol. Something like that.

Which is all a roundabout way of telling you about my first paper as an undergraduate English major in which I excoriated Keats' for what I perceived to be his escapism and thus his moral weakness in "Ode to a Nightingale." You see what Catholic education does to people? Anyhow, the professor loved it and pointed me to all kinds of criticism to support my thesis in one way or another. For a long time after that, I thought badly of Keats.

At the same time, my first poems were pretty much naked imitations of Keats, without any reference to the present, just straight up rhyming iambs and mysterious ghostly women come to cleanse and purify the corruption that was my mortal soul. I am glad I threw all of that stuff away.

Fast forward to the early part of the last decade. I wrote a poem about Keats that actually made it into my first book. In it I was testing my ancient theory about Keats and escapism. I'd had long since stopped going to AA, but had managed to stay sober and find other ways of mingling escapism and reality that did not involve the wholesale derangement of my senses. A seemingly obvious idea for most, but for me an important one, and not so obvious at that. I desire escape at every turn. It's in my nature.

I discovered I really liked Keats.

Fast forward a couple of more years. For about a year, I got in the habit of coming home at lunch and trying to memorize poetry while I ate. I found that memorizing metred, rhymed poems was not only easier than memorizing modern poetry, it was also a sensually more pleasing experience. I found that even some of my favorite poets -- Creeley, Williams, etc., were not particularly pleasurable to memorize. Their verses were hard to remember and their irregular rhythmic patterns felt kind of flat on the tongue in comparison.

Which isn't a criticism -- just a way of noting where some of the value of metred, rhymed poems lays.

My two great feats of this period were the memorization of Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey," which took several weeks, and the memorization of all of Keats Odes, which took about the same amount of time. One other thing I learned about memorization -- at least beyond childhood -- is that it doesn't last. I might still be able to pull off a recitation of "Ode to a Nightingale," but none of the other Odes, and certainly not "Tintern Abbey."

However, the memorization process left a deep impression of each of these poems. Not just the content, but the rhythm and the form. Fragments of the poems: lines, phrases, images, remain embedded in my consciousness and rise to the surface at unexpected times. This period had the further effect of helping me make a wholesale change to my poetry. Everything I have written over the past 3 years has been profoundly different than the short, tight, fragmentary poems of the first two books. My line length and poem length have stretched out. I find myself employing narrative and toying with iambic pentameter. However, I think these poems are contemporary in a way that my early imitations of Keats were not. I feel like I have absorbed and assimilated and deployed the information rather than having simply parroted it. At least, that's the hope.

from The Complete Poetry And Selected Prose of Keats

Ode to a Nightingale

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness, -
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays;
But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
Fast fading violets cover'd up in leaves;
And mid-May's eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain -
To thy high requiem become a sod.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is fam'd to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music: - Do I wake or sleep?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 3.1 (Immanuel Kant)

Political Writings
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Kant, Immanuel
Political Writings

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. I think I used the essay "Perpetual Peace" from this book as one of the readings on my oral exam list. I don't remember much about it, or even much about Kant's political thought.

Last night I got to witness a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle in downtown Buffalo. To kick off the big regional art exhibition, Beyond/In Western New York, Didier Pasquette, a French high wire artist, walked along a tightrope strung between the two Statue of Liberty replicas atop the Liberty building.

Lori and I walked Zelda downtown and then climbed 9 flights to the top level of a public parking lot to watch. Both of us forgot the camera, so all of our pictures are crappy iPhone photos. One of them came out ok -- atmospherically, at least.

There were several surprises, which I think for many turned out to be disappointments. First, the state required him to wear a harness, which removed the danger element, for all intents and purposes. Insurance companies really know how to ruin a good spectacle.

Second, it only took him three minutes to get across and he only did one crossing. After he finished, he waved his hat to everyone, then we cheered and you could here practically the whole city cheering, and then we all stood there for ten or so more minutes waiting for him to do something else -- but that was it.

Nonetheless, Buffalo is often short on spectacle and this was one for the ages.

from Politcal Writings

'The Perpetual Peace'

A dutch innkeeper once put this satirical inscription on his signboard, along with the picture of a graveyard. We shall not trouble to ask whether it applies to men in general, or particularly to heads of states (who can never have enough of war), or only to the philosophers who blissfully dream of perpetual peace. The author of the present essay does, however, make one reservation in advance. The practical politician tends to look down with great complacency upon the political theorist as a mere academic. The theorist's abstract ideas, the practitioner believes, cannot endanger the state, since the state must be founded upon principles of experience; it thus seems safe to let him fire off his whole broadside, and the worldly wise statesman need not turn a hair. It thus follows that if the practical politician is to be consistent, he must not claim, in the event of a dispute with the theorists, to scent any danger to the state in the opinions which the theorists has randomly uttered in public. By this saving clause, the author of this essay will consider himself expressly safeguarded, in correct and proper style, against all malicious interpretation.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 3.1 (Immanuel Kant)

Kant, Immanuel
Critique of Pure Reason

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books for a graduate course with, I think, Henry Sussman. I think we read this and The Phenomenology of Spirit by Hegel. We took a sort of compare and contrast approach, as I recall: Kant (static categories) v Hegel (the dynamic movement of the dialectic).

I am getting up earlier and earlier since we brought the new dog home. She went to the bathroom much earlier than usual last night, which had me worried she might need to get up earlier than usual this morning. I tried sleeping until seven, but I was out of bed by 6:20. It's kind of nice to be up this early, but I am finding myself more and more tired at the other end of the day.

I fell asleep watching a movie last night at about 9:30. It was a really low-budget, made-for-TV adaptation of Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles that featured Rock Hudson. It should have kept me awake on the kitsch value alone. Apparently there are at least 4 more hours. I believe the next two feature Roddy McDowell.

Poetry season in Buffalo is upon us. Had I the energy, I could go to a poetry reading every night this week. But I don't -- i've been feeling slightly under the weather since last week. It had seemed to go away for a while over the weekend, but I may have simply been ignoring my illness. I feel all congested and cough-y now.

None of which has anything to do with this here blog project. I feel like I may have hit a lull in thought again, which I guess I'll just have to write myself through.

Looks like I left off reading the Critique of Pure Reason on page 286 -- at least that is where my bookmark rests.

from Critique of Pure Reason (page 286)

But even if we could by pure understanding say anything synthetically in regard to things-in-themselves (which, however, is impossible), it still could not be applied to appearances, which do not represent things-in-themselves. In dealing with appearances I shall always be obliged to compare my concepts, in transcendental reflection, solely under the conditions of sensibility; and accordingly space and time will not be determinations of things-in-themselves but of appearances. What things-in-themselves may be I do not know, nor do I need to know, since thing can never come before me except in appearance.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 3 (Immanuel Kant)

Kant, Immanuel
Critique of Judgement

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books for a graduate school course with Rodolphe Gasché in 1997.

This is one of my all time favorite books of philosophy.

The beautiful...

"The beautiful is that which apart from concepts is represented as the object of universal satisfaction."

The sublime...

"The sublime is that, the mere ability to think which shows a faculty of the mind surpassing every standard of sense."

In comparison...

"The mind feels itself moved in the representation of the sublime in nature, while in aesthetical judgments about the beautiful it is in restful contemplation. This movement may (especially in its beginnings) be compared to a vibration, i.e., to a quickly alternating attraction toward and repulsion from, the same object."

I think I can safely say that since reading The Critique of Judgement I have always, in one way or another, set before me the task of experiencing again and again this movement and attempting, to the best of my ability, to get that movement down in words. I usually fail, but I almost always find my failure pleasing.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 2.1 (Garrett Kalleberg)

Kalleberg, Garrett
Some Mantic Daemons

Given to me either by the author or the publisher. I believe this was the first book published under the Futurepoem banner, Dan Machlin's press. It's inscribed and dated on the same date as yesterday's title, which means that they were either signed at the same time or that I acquired them on the same date. It probably also means that Garrett came to Buffalo only once, not twice, as I surmised yesterday.

Before he left on Sunday, we took Will Alexander to brunch at a little cafe around the corner. We found ourselves all telling funny stories about former teachers. Suddenly all of my middle school teachers started coming back to me. Some of them were serious characters. Want to hear about three of them? Sure you do.

Well, first I remembered Mr. Morton, who taught wood shop in the seventh grade. Mr. Morton was a short, balding WWII vet whose minimal coiffure was ghost white. His forehead was pinched and wrinkled, and the pinches and wrinkles all seemed to be trying to squeeze themselves into the little space between his pointed eyebrows, which seemed to be vying for the same position as the wrinkles.

A myth circulated that this peculiarly angular scowl had been caused by his having been shot in the head during the war and having had a metal plate inserted into his forehead. One of Mr. Morton's creations was a wooden roulette wheel painted red, white and blue, which he used to determine what kind of punishment a student would receive if he or she acted up. I think we were uniformly afraid of the man.

Mr. Timmons, or Señor T., as he liked to be called, was my Spanish teacher. A thin, very short man with a full head of white hair cropped as tight as the day he'd enlisted, he was also a veteran of WWII. He'd flown something like 100 bombing missions as the little guy who sat in the glass hatch under the plane and released the bombs when they were over the target.

He'd orally recorded accounts of all his missions. At some point, the person who'd recorded and transcribed them made a presentation in class recounting his heroics. He was a lively, flamboyant type who sometimes wore Hawaiian shirts to class and liked to talk about taking his wife out for Margaritas. I think everyone liked him.

Probably the most vivid character was my history teacher, Mr. James A. Michener (no relation). Mr. Michener was a scary looking guy -- medium height, very thick from the chest to the waist, his face deeply pockmarked, his dark hair slicked back with some kind of gel. He wore a dark blue coat and and colorful tie to school each day. The coor of his socks always matched the color of his tie, and he made a point of telling us that this was the correct way to dress.

He'd been a marine colonel during the Korean War. He liked to tell us about the marines. He'd beat his chest and then pat his gut and say, "You know what they used to call me in the Marines? Skinny Jimmy. Skinny Jimmy!~ Ain't that somethin'?"

If he said a word aloud in class he knew we wouldn't understand, he'd single someone out, usually me, and say, "Michael, do you know what that word means?" After I'd told him no, he'd fling a dictionary in my direction and shout, "Well look it up!"

If someone sneezed in class, he's ask the person, "Do you know what just happened?" When they said they'd sneezed, he'd reach up to the rollout maps and pull down a chart of the human nasal passage. He'd then explain the physiology of the sneeze to the bewildered and terrified student, after which he'd toss them a box of tissues and say, in a gently mocking tone, "Now go wipe your nose, you snot-nosed little brat."

Once he showed us a letter he'd received from his namesake the famous author, who'd responded to a letter detailing the coincidence of their names. He seemed very proud to have received the letter.

Oddly, I thought the guy hated me, but when I read the recommendation he'd written for me to get into high school I discovered quite the opposite was true.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 2 (Garrett Kalleberg)

Kalleberg, Garrett
Psychological Corporations

Inscribed by the author. I can't remember if I bought this or it was a gift. I think got it at a reading in Buffalo, but it's a little bit of a blur, as Garrett is also a friend from my New York days. Regardless...

Garrett was one of the first five or so people I met in the NY poetry scene back in the mid-nineties. He was part of a circle of people around Ann Lauterbach that included Dan Machlin and Heather Ramsdell and Genya Turovskaya, all of whom I befriended, though I was not in that circle, having never studied with Ann. In fact, I only met her a few years ago when I ended up sitting next to her at a large dinner in Buffalo during the Creeley conference in 2006. We talked about all the people we knew in common and lots of other things and then she gave me a sort of puzzled look and said, "What are YOU doing HERE? (i.e. in a place like Buffalo). I don't recall my reply.

I remember meeting Garrett at a reading he gave at the Segue foundation in probably 1996 or 1997. I think his chapbook, Limbic Odes, which I later republished in electronic form, had just come out. I may have met him before that, but the image of that reading comes to mind as an origination point for our friendship.

I remember him one other time giving an introduction to Pam Rehm, who was reading in the same space.

I remember asking Garrett what "limbic" meant.

He's read in Buffalo at least once, possibly twice, since I've been here. Last time he came through town with Jen Hofer, though both read on separate nights in different series. It was around my birthday. We ate dinner together one night with Lori and Jen Hofer and Patrick Durgin and his partner, whose name I can't recall, at a German place in Buffalo called Ulrich's, which claims to be the oldest continually operating establishment in the city. It's a popular place for Friday fish fry.

I am trying to remember where Garrett read. probably at Rust Belt Books or in The Hibiscus Room at the old Just Buffalo office in the Tri-main center, but my mind is drawing a blank. We played chess in the living room of the apartment on Ashland Avenue. Garrett beat me 2 out of 3 games. I won the first, but then he trounced me after that.

Not too long after that he got married and moved to Mexico. I've run into him once or twice in NYC since. I think he moved back there, actually, but we haven't really been in touch in a while.

from Psychological Corporations


And now: the electrical simulation of a frog

And now: the electric light bulb

And now: the electrocution of an elephant

And now, ladies and gentlemen in the dark: the dark.

The room is dark, madness

is dark, comedy is dark, the night is dark
when the curtains are closed shutting
out the street
light, I have dark thoughts these nights, dreams
which are pretty violent, I
hope this doesn't mean anything I've
never hurt a thing, really, not including
when Bryan and I went crazy with a
BB gun upstate, we were young, children
can be cruel, children are cruel.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 1.4 (Franz Kafka)

The Metamorphosis
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Kafka, Franz
The Metamorphosis

Not sure about this one. I have had it for a long time. It could be very old -- my first instinct was to say that I took it from my brother's shelves of required high school reading, from which I once pilfered the first books that entered my library, but something else tells me I bought for a course in college or graduate school. Anyhow, here it is, and it's the last of the Kafka on my shelves.

Feeling kind of quiet and wordless this morning, having had a whirlwind couple of days.

Will Alexander arrived Thursday night from LA by of the Motor City. Stayed up late drinking peppermint chamomile tea and talking.

Wednesday I took Will to read and talk to students at Buffalo State, then afterwards wandered across the street to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, where we saw all the young artists at work penciling the amazing Sol Lewitt installation onto the walls of the stairwell and upper gallery foyer. We looked at some Warhol and some Oldenberg and some Kara Walker and some Lichtenstein. Much of the upstairs was closed off for an installation in progress. I was sad to have missed the chance to show Will the excellent Clifford Still exhibition that had just closed.

Downstairs we passed through the hall of impressionism and post-impressionism, stopping for a long time to look at the "The Old Mill," by Van Gogh, noticing how the brush strokes get finer and more detailed as they recede into the background and thicker, muddier, more vague as they move toward the fore, which creates a sort of far-sighted perspective. I hadn't though about it before, but I realized that most perspective drawings are either near-sighted, meaning that objects in the foreground are clear and detailed while those in the background are muddy and vague; or they make use of a kind of deep focus, wherein everything is clear no matter how near or far it appears to the viewer, as in Gregg Toland's cinematography in Citizen Kane.

We strolled down past the minimalists and around the corner to Rauschenberg's "Ace," which Will said he admired, despite the fact he is not usually a fan of R's work. We did get to see one Still painting. We both talked about how our admiration of Still had grown over time. Will talked about the word "lacunae," and how that seemed to him an important concept or ground or feature in Still's work.

We looked at a Rothko, we found the paper match in the Pollack, we turned around to see the one painting Will had really hoped to see, Gorky's "The Liver is a Cock's Comb." We looked at the de Kooning and I told Will about Bill Berkson's lecture on abstract expressionist brushstrokes last spring. Will asked if I had any of Bill's essays. Yes, I said, and when we got home, I lent him the collection of them titles, The Sweet Singer of Modernism.

We napped, then walked, Will and Lori and I, to Kuni's for Sushi in the evening. We ate gelato after that, then stayed up late talking on the couch.

We talked a lot about sports, mostly basketball and baseball. Will talked about working for the Lakers. I told him about my father, a basketball nut, and how he started a prestigious high school basketball tournament in DC, which still exists. We talked about LeBron and Kobe, about steroids in baseball. Will told me he works as a practice catcher for a pro-level pitcher in LA. We pet the animals. The dog and the two cats all love Will.

Saturday we drove up to Niagara falls. Will had never been there. I showed him the bench John Ashbery sat on when I'd taken him there. We walked down the steps to the Horsehoe Falls. Will was awed.

I kept trying to take pictures of Will, but the sun was hopelessly behind us. We looked at the birds and the rainbows. We walked back up the stairs and then from the Horseshoe falls to the Bridal Veil falls. I got a good shot of Will standing there, the sun shining directly in his face. We walked down stairs again to get up close to the falls. We leaned over the railing. We listened to the gorgeous loud gushing of the water against the rocks. We felt the vibrations of the gorgeous gushing.

Will talked about energy and power. We walked through throngs of plastic-poncho'd tourists to the car. Will took a photo of the Nikola Tesla statue and the old power station gate with the stone indian medallion for a keystone above its arch.

We drove home. We talked about Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston and Mike Tyson and Don King and Joyce Carol Oates and generally about boxing.

At home we made real popcorn and sat in the sun on the back patio. We talked a lot about yards and gardens and cities and animals and people. Then Will napped while Lori and I walked the dog and got ready for Big Night.

I put on my tux.

We drove to Big Night. Awesome Will helped me carry 60 plus chairs down a flight of stairs into the gallery because my volunteers couldn't make it. Awesome Will helped carry all the beer and wine and forks and knives and plates and cups down stairs for the bar because Aaron Lowinger had a bad back and was in serious pain all night. He worked hard nonetheless.

People arrived. Lots of them. They ate and drank and talked and some of them smoked outside. I introduced the evening with a lot of thank yous. Allissa Nutting read a very funny story about working as an assistant to a supermodel. We took a break. People ate and drank and smoked and talked some more. Gut Flora played a set of music using all kinds of homemade instruments like PVC didgeridoos and some regular instruments like a soprano sax and a penny whistle and a drum and they yelped and sang and clapped their hands and it was a great set.

Then Aaron and I introduced Will with three poems about the loxodrome. Awesome Will read. He talked about writing between poems. He talked about energy and power and Niagara Falls between poems. He talked about space travel and the Milky Way between poems. He talked about Roman Architecture and Jesus and Egyptian scripture between poems. He also read lots of poems, including one written in the voice of the Pope at Avignon. He finished with a section of the title poem from the Sri Lankan Loxodrome.

People clapped and cheered.

We cleaned up while Gut flora played another set. Awesome Will helped me carry the chairs back upstairs. We came home with wine and potato chips and nuts and beer and Sprite and me and Will and Lori and Geoffrey Gatza and Donna White all sat around talking. We talked some more about sports and then everyone started to yawn and we called it a night and went to sleep.

Will is just now waking up. I'll take him to the bus station in a little while. He's on his way to Cleveland, Oxford, Cincinnati, OH, then back to LA.

I will rest today, I hope. I might watch football or baseball or both. I'll walk the dog and clean up after her and feed her and pet her. Lori and I will talk about home improvement and we'll probably watch a movie later. We've been watching a lot of David Lynch for the umpteenth time lately. We'll probably watch Mad Men after we've recorded it and can skip the commercials.

I guess I wasn't as wordless as I'd feared.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 1.3 (Franz Kafka)

Diaries 1910-1923
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Kafka, Franz
Diaries 1910-1923

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I had used some text from one of Kafka's diary entries to create a section of a poem in Human Scale and I wanted to go back and reread the diaries again for further inspiration.

The quote was:

"Life's splendour forever lies in wait about each one of us in all its fullness, but veiled from view, deep down, invisible, far off. It is there, though, not hostile, not reluctant, not deaf. If you summon it by the right word, by its right name, it will come."

The poem came out like this:

It might be true
The thing I hunger for

Is here in all its fullness.
Only give me the name

That calls it forth
To frighten and amaze

By the spectacle
Of its own privation.

I remember reading this poem to Gerrit Lansing at his home in Gloucester when we visited him there that year. He corrected my pronunciation of the word 'privation.' I think I pronounced it like 'deprivation' instead of like 'libation.' I felt kind of silly -- I'd never heard the word spoken aloud before, I'd only read it and guessed at the pronunciation. Fortunately it didn't screw up the rhythm of the poem.

Some other poet I know used this exact same quote as an epigraph in a recent book. I swear it was Anselm Berrigan, but I can't find the book on my shelf at the moment. It might be in a chapbook or something.

I think I had hoped to find further text to work with in Kafka's diaries, but did not. When I borrow text I don't tend to be able very often to return to the same source for inspiration. It usually finds me, hits me, transforms itself, departs. And that is that.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 1.2 (Franz Kafka)

The Basic Kafka
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Kafka, Franz
The Basic Kafka

Purchased at Seventh St. Books in NYC.

I remember reading this while working as a temp at Hyperion Books in Manhattan.

I have two vivid memories from this collection of Kafka's writing. The first is of Kafka's letter to his father, which is one of the most devastating things I have ever read. Sitting in my cubicle in the back corner of the marketing department, I read it over and over. I even tried composing something similar myself.

Looking back it seems this was nearly a premonitory act. Before the year was out, my father would pass away and I would charge myself with writing and giving his eulogy. It feels weirdly as if I sensed his death was imminent and was preparing myself to face it.

I wrote the whole eulogy out, then deleted most of it, leaving only a bare-bones outline to remind me of the stories I'd intended to tell. It was nothing like Kafka's letter to his father, I should note. I found that although our relationship was often difficult and strained we were bonded by a depth of feeling born of our years of warfare. I find that kind of bond to be almost completely absent from Kafka. The gulf between his father and himself appears unbridgeable.

The other thing I remember, which is bothering me right now because I can't seem to find it, is a diary entry I recall reading that was written by Kafka on the day WWI was declared. My memory is that it read:

War was declared today. Swimming in the afternoon.

If this entry exists within this volume, or within the larger selection of K's diaries I'll write about tomorrow, I can't find it. I hope it exists, as it's one of my favorite lines of all time. The wit and concision and surprise in the transition slay me every time I think about it. If anyone knows the source of this quotation, I'd be obliged if you could direct me to it.

AHA! Found it; however, not in this volume. Thank you, Google. I found the date in the diaries: August 2, 1914:

Germany has declared war on Russia -- Swimming in the afternoon.

Phew. I knew it existed. I couldn't possibly have made that one up.

(Postscript: It occurs to me, two hours later, that this is not the edition of selected Kafka I owned in New York. It's possible I lost that and bought this at some later date, possibly in Buffalo, possibly at Rust Belt Books.)

from The Basic Kafka

Dearest Father,

You asked me recently why I maintain that I am afraid of you. As usual, I was unable to think of any answer to your question, partly for the very reason that I am afraid of you, and partly because an explanation of the grounds for this fear would mean going into far more details than I could even approximately keep in mind while talking. And if I now try to give you an answer in writing, it will still be very incomplete, because, even in writing, this fear and its consequences hamper me in relation to you and because the magnitude of the subject goes far beyond the scope of my memory and power of reasoning.

(It goes on for about 75 pages after this.)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 1.1 (Franz Kafka)

The Trial
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Kafka, Franz
The Trial

Purchased at St. Mark's Books in NYC, probably in the early nineties.

Looks like it got a little wet at some point, as the corner has a water stain running from the front cover all the way through guts to the back cover. I love that they call that part of the book the 'guts.' It makes me think of meat, flesh, bowels, intestines, blood: the messy complicated substance of things.

I am home sick today with a sore throat. Will Alexander arrives on a late bus tonight. I hope I feel better by then. Tomorrow I take him for a reading at Buffalo State College during the day. He reads in the Big Night Series on Saturday.

Zelda is sitting next to my desk gnawing on one of those dried bull penis things they sell at the pet store. I have to keep an eye on her. I turned around before and she was eating one of my bookshelves. If I am not careful I'll find her eating one of my books! I am sure I will at some point. I hope it's not one I am too fond of.

from The Trial

Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested on fine morning. His landlady's cook, who always brought him his breakfast at eight o'clock, failed to appear on this occasion. That had never happened before. K. waited for a little while longer, watching from his pillow the old lady opposite, who seemed to be peering at him with a curiosity unusual even for her, but then, feeling both put out and hungry, he rang the bell. At once there was a knock at the door and a man entered whom he'd never seen before in the house. He was slim and yet well knit, he wore a closely fitting black suit furnished with all sorts of pleats, pockets, buckles and buttons, as well as a belt, like a tourist's outfit, and in consequence looked eminently practical, though one could not quite tell what actual purpose it served.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 1 (Franz Kafka)

The Trial
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Kafka, Franz
The Trial

When I pulled this off the shelf, I thought to myself, huh, that's not the edition I read. I wondered if perhaps I had lost the original and bought this one to replace it. I looked back at the shelf. The original was sitting right there. Now I was even more confused. I had no recollection of having bought this particular copy of the book.

According to a little sticker on the back, I bought it Talking Leaves in January of 2003 for $13.00. I have to remember to not take those stickers off the books I buy there -- they serve as a useful record of my purchases.

I think I was done teaching at that point, but it's possible that I used it for one of my final classes at UB. The sticker would seem to indicate that that is the case -- it lists the book as a course adoption for English 201, which I taught many times during graduate school. I have a vague recollection of teaching the book and then showing the Orson Welles film based on it to a class full of indifferent faces.

The only other possibility is that I bought because it was a new translation. Somehow I doubt that. I love Kafka, but not in a scholarly way.

from The Trial

Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested. His landlady, Frau Grubach, had a cook who brought him breakfast each day around eight, but this time she didn't appear. That had never happened before. K. waited a while longer, watching from his pillow the old woman who lived across the way, who was peering at him with a curiosity quite unusual for her; then, both put out and hungry, he rang. There was an immediate knock at the door and a man he'd never seen before in these lodgings entered. He was slender, yet solidly built, and was wearing a fitted black jacket, which, like a traveler's outfit, was provided with a variety of pleats, pockets, buckles buttons and a belt, and thus appeared eminently practical, though his purpose remained obscure. "Who are you?" asked K., and immediately sat halfway up in bed

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Aimless Reading: The J's: Stats

The J's
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
The J's

14 Authors
33 Volumes
33 titles

1 blurry iPhone snapshot.

Aimless Reading: The J's, Part 14.4 (C.G. Jung)

Jung, C.G.
Memories, Dreams, Reflections

This is the last of Jung and the last of the J's.

I may have bought this at Rust Belt Books.

I have never read this volume. If memory serves, my acquisition of it had to do with its having been recommended by an ex-girlfriend. We hadn't spoken for many years when one night we ran into each other on Second Avenue in New York when I was visiting. We made plans to get together the next time I was in town and we did.

For me, it was sort of a proving to myself that I could act like a mature adult in such a situation, which I more or less did. I was at the time reading through the other volumes of Jung I had a acquired and I didn't yet own this one. When I told her I was reading his work she got very excited and asked if I had read his memoirs and I said no and she said it was one of her all time favorite books and so I went out and bought it when I got back to Buffalo.

I never even opened it. I don't know why. I've intended to open it often, even to start reading it, over the years, but I never have. I never saw that ex-girlfriend again after that, either. Maybe there is some connection.

from Memories, Dreams, Reflections

My life is a story of the self-realization of the unconscious. Everything in the unconscious seeks outward manifestation, and the personality too desires to evolve out of its unconscious conditions and to expreience itself as a whole. I cannot employ the language of science to trace this process of growth in myself, for I cannot experience myself as a scientific problem.

What we are to our inward visions, and what man appears to be sub specie aeternitatis, can only be expressed by way of myth. Myth is more individual and expresses life more precisely than does science. Science works with concepts and averages which are far too general to do justice to the subjective variety of an individual life.

Thus it is that I have now undertaken, in my eighty-third year, to tell my personal myth. I can only make direct statements, only "tell stories." Whether or not the stories are "true" is not the problem. The only questions is whether I what I tell is my fable, my myth.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Aimless Reading: The J's, Part 14.3 (C.G. Jung)

Jung, C.G.
Psychology and Alchemy

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

When I woke up this morning I found myself thinking about a previous entry in which I spoke of how I'd started buying Jung's books in order to build a defensive wall around myself when I was in therapy.

I was remembering a conversation I had many years ago with a friend, P., a writer who at the time was going through a crisis in which he had decided that he should never have started writing in the first place.

P. is a self-castigating type who came to this conclusion first and then backed it up by creating a narrative whose moral suited the negative feelings he was then currently entertaining about his writing career. His evidence was that he never liked reading in the first place, and that the only reason he started reading and writing was to impress a girl he had a crush on in college.

They were reading Jack Kerouac in an English class his freshman year he discovered through a brief conversation with this woman that she had a profound and abiding passion for literature in general and the Beats in particular. This knowledge, he said, produced in him a powerful passion to share in her passion and so he began to read all of the books for this class.

His passion for Kerouac developed at such a pace that before long he had read all of his novels and decided that he, too, needed to become a writer. In the hands of a different person, this would serve more as a simultaneously self-aggrandizing and self-deprecating creation myth about the first stirrings of his literary ambitions, but in the hands of my friend it server exactly the opposite purpose.

I started thinking about all the reasons that I have started reading different books over the course of my life and how often those reasons have external motivations.

I have read books books because I wanted to impress someone, like a teacher or a someone whose opinion I respected, with the fact that I had read or understood the work.

I have read books recommended by someone I love.

I have read books recommended by someone I lust after.

I have read books because they were assigned in a course.

I have read books because I heard them mentioned in movies and on TV.

I have read books because I read that writers (or others) I admire had read them.

I have read books recommended by friends.

I have read books because I hadn't read them before and felt I should have.

I have read books because they were written by an author I like.

I have read books that were difficult just to prove to myself I could read them.

I have read books recommended by others I do not respect only in order to confirm my negative opinion about that person.

I have read books that seemed like other books I had read.

I have read books that were well-reviewed in a journal somewhere.

I have read books because they were written by friends.

I have read books because they were written by enemies.

I have read books I have written.

I have read books randomly chosen.

I have read books because I owned them for a long time and felt I should read them or get rid of them.

I have read books I discovered on bibliographies in the back of other books.

I have read books on lists of recommendations for further reading.

I have read books listed on syllabi of friends I admire.

I have read books discovered in the course book section at Talking Leaves...Books because I thought the course sounded interesting and that I might learn something new.

I have read books to fill holes in my historical, geographical, or scientific knowledge.

I have read books I was once supposed to have read but did not and felt I should have.

I have read books because I liked the cover.

I have read books because they are part of the Canon of Western Civilization.

I have read books because someone said they should be part of canon and were not.

I have read books I thought would change my life but did not.

I have read books chosen for an oral exam list.

I have read books I thought would help me write my dissertation.

I have read books to help me start thinking like an academic.

I have read books to help me stop thinking like an academic.

I have read books I thought would teach me the necessary jargon to survive in academia.

I have read books that I thought would help me understand other books better.

I have read books to understand certain ideas.

I have read books to bolster certain ideas of my own.

I have read books in order to steal ideas.

I have read books in order to steal lines or text for my own writing.

I have read books to learn specific skills, for instance writing, web design, basic plumbing and wiring, cooking in a wok, etc.

I have read books to try to understand something about myself and/or the world around me.

I have read books for pleasure.

(I try to do the latter as often as I can.)

There are many more reasons, I am sure.

Feel free to tell me some of your own.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Aimless Reading: The J's, Part 14.2 (C.G. Jung)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Jung, Carl

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. I think this is the book my therapist recommended, the one that contains all the stuff about The Shadow.

Whenever I hear the name "The Shadow" it makes me think of that old radio program.

"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!"

I am feeling a little blank this morning.

I remember first hearing the word "archetype" in a class I took on psychology in high school. I just barely passed the class -- if I had failed it would have postponed my graduation, but I managed to pull off a final hour "C" on the exam and make it through. I remember not being very fond of that teacher.

from Aion

The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance. Indeed self-knowledge as a psychotherapeutic measure frequently requires much painstaking work extending over a long period...

....It is often tragic to see how blatantly a man bungles his own life and the lives of others yet remains totally incapable of seeing how much the whole tragedy originates in himself, and how he continually feeds it and keeps it going. Not consciously, of course--for consciously he is engaged in bewailing and cursing a faithless world that recedes further and further into the distance. Rather, it is an unconscious factor which spins the illusions that veil the world. And what is being spun is a cocoon, which in the end will completely envelop him.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Aimless Reading: The J's, Part 14.1 (C.G. Jung)

Jung, C.G.
Symbols of Transformation

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I was surprised one morning over brunch by the answers to a question I'd posed, while sitting around a table full of writers and artists -- I think it was Jonathan Skinner and Laird Hunt and possibly Eleni Sikelianos and Isabelle Pellissier -- to the effect of "Do you consider yourself a Freud person or a Jung person?", the collective response being a unanimous, "I am a Jung person."

I think we were eating breakfast at a place called Cybele's, a long gone and sorely missed Buffalo brunch haunt, so we didn't delve too deeply into the reasons for everyone's embrace of Carl Jung. The conversation had more the tone of, "Are you a John, Paul, George or Ringo person?" than it did that a penetrating psychological study.

I think I was surprised because I feel myself to be more of a Freud person and I assumed that would be the more common response among my peers.

Despite the fact that I consider myself an atheist, I find, probably because of my relatively strict Catholic upbringing (I say "relatively" because I wasn't forced to attend Catholic school until high school, so I avoided some of the more traumatic childhood damage inflicted on many of my friends), I can't resist returning again and again to the religious question, not because I care one way or the other to discuss the existence or non-existence of God, a moot and settled point as far as I am concerned, but because I think this kind of question always hovers around the central fact of our psychic or so-called spiritual lives. I mean of course death.

I think I have been thinking about the fact of death, specifically my own, since I was a child. I can remember at a tender age, say 5 or 6, sitting around wondering whether or not I had not in fact already died and if I were not in fact already in heaven, lying on a bed of clouds, dreaming my entire life from start to finish, or if I weren't on that same cloud, this time awake, simply recalling the whole of my former life in all its rich detail, from start to finish, as if watching a movie.

The fact of one's death raises many central questions, probably the most important of which is how shall I live, knowing that someday I won't live any more? Should I treat life as one passionate bacchanal and flameout early or should I parcel it out, measure it in coffee spoons or whatever Eliot said, taking things in in a kind of predictable if pleasant moderation. And how does my relationship to these questions change as I get older. If you had asked me at 16, I would have answered, "Better to burn out than to fade away" I'd answer differently now.

But getting back to the Freud/Jung thing. I feel a certain kinship to Freud: I prefer his atheism to Jung's spiritual focus. I tend to think of human beings as more or less isolated individuals in a more or less meaningless universe, a fact which requires each one to make meaning out of what are the given circumstances of their lives.

I think Jung's worldview tends to view everything as connected vis-a-vis ideas like a collective unconscious and symbols of transformation. I tend to see connectedness as a physical fact of existence, i.e., that we are all carbon-based life forms, but I don't take it much further than that.

I sympathize more with Freud's somewhat cynical view of human beings, societies, and the drives that motivate their actions than I do with Jung's sense of human beings as participating in a kind of constant, perpetual renewal. I guess I am painting a less than idealistic picture of my thought here, but there it is.

I am a George person, in case you were wondering.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Aimless Reading: The J's, Part 14 (C.G. Jung)

The Archetypes...
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Jung, C.G.
The Archetypes and
the Collective Unconscious

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I went to therapy for about 18 months starting in late 1999 and ending in mid-2001. This was the period I spoke about earlier that began with a disastrous relationship after my time in Ecuador, continued on through the death of my father and my move to Buffalo and finally bottomed out after a relationship of less importance whose breakup stirred up the whole bloody stew once again.

I reached a point where I was "treating myself" by watching TV and movies or playing video games 12 hours a day and then staying up all night driving around town in my car listening to really sad music. Kind of pathetic.

So I decided to go to therapy. I must have been a pain in the ass to my therapist. I tried to play the role of the guy who was so smart and special that his therapist couldn't possible keep up with him -- she would be so wowed by my grasp of psychoanalysis that she would learn from me.

One symptom of this began to appear after she mentioned, "the shadow," during one of our sessions. She asked if I had ever heard of Jung's concept of the shadow. I was forced to admit I had not. I asked her what I might read in order to better understand what she was talking about. She told me she would bring in a xerox of an article explaining the concept.

Well, that wasn't good enough for me.

I went to the bookstore and bought the whole book, and then another and another. I think I read three or four full volumes from the complete works. I also started reading Freud and decided that I preferred him to Jung. At our next session, I showed up armed to the teeth and began to explain why I thought Freud's theories were more accurate and that I thought Jung's thought was a bunch of pseudo-religious bullshit.

She patiently explained that she was more of a cognitive-behaviorist and was really agnostic about the Freud/Jung split, especially about the pedantic academic arguments regarding the truth of either of the arguments. In her opinion, one used what one found useful for the patient through a process of trial and error. When something clicked, she tried to used it to go deeper with the patient. I found this shockingly unintellectual. But I went back the following week for another session.

from The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

The first of the five aspects of rebirth to which I should like to draw attention is that of metempsychosis, or transmigration of souls. According to this view, one's life is prolonged in time by passing through different bodily existences; or from another point of view, is is a life-sequence interrupted by different reincarnations.Even in Buddhism, where the doctrine is of particular importance--the Buddha himself experienced a very long sequence of rebirths--it is by no means certain whether continuity of personality is guaranteed or not: there may be only a continuity of karma. The Buddha's disciples put this question to him during his lifetime, but he never made any definite statement as to whether there is or is not a continuity of personality.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Aimless Reading: The J's, Part 13.3 (James Joyce)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Joyce, James

Purchased at the Fordham University Bookstore for a course on this book, and this book alone. I would say that if I ever performed in my artistic and intellectual life what Olson famously termed a "saturation job" on a literary subject, that is, performed a sustained act of study so that my knowledge of that one thing not only taught me everything I need to know about learning but also lead me into every other field I could think of, then I performed mine on Ulysses.

I can recall preparing for the course by reading Homer and Hamlet and Dante over the Christmas break and then methodically working my way through each chapter, week after week, over the course of the spring semester.

I would begin by rereading the corresponding chapter from the Odyssey, followed by a synopsis of the chapter in Ulysses. I would then read the chapter once by itself and read it again, a copy of Allusions in Ulysses by my side, attempting to record and remember every single one. I would also try to read as many critical articles as I could, then go back and read the chapter again on my own.

It's been almost twenty years since I read Ulysses, but most of the information from the book still feels fresh in my mind in a way that information from few other books still does. It was a very useful process for me, but one on the other hand that left a small feeling of regret -- that is, I wish now that I had just sat down and tried to read the book once through on my own, before my mind became overloaded with all the various schools of interpretation that have grown up around Joyce and his work.

Criticism, though it can be helpful, often takes the fun out of literature. It's sort of like the guy who never laughs at the punch lines of jokes, but instead explains to you why they are funny. My professor told us on the first day of class that we if we weren't often laughing out loud while reading Ulysses then we weren't really getting it. And he was right. I feel like I worked over the text to such an extent that I understood all the jokes without every really taking pleasure in their humor.

from Ulysses

It must be a movement then, an actuality of the possible as possible. Aristotle's phrase formed itself within the gabbled verses and floated out into the studious silence of the library of Saint Genevieve where he had read, sheltered from the sin of Paris, night by night. By his elbow a delicate Siamese conned a handbook of strategy. Fed and feeding brains about me: under glowlamps, impaled, with faintly beating feelers: and in my mind's darkness a sloth of the underworld, reluctant, shy of brightness, shifting her dragon scaly folds. Thought is the thought of thought. Tranquil brightness. The soul is in a manner all that is: the soul is the form of forms. Tranquillity sudden, vast, candescent: form of forms.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Aimless Reading: The J's, Part 13.2 (James Joyce)

Joyce, James
A Portrait of the Artist
as a Young Ma

Apologies for skipping a day. We adopted a dog over the weekend and have been in heavy parenting mode ever since. Who knew it was so much work? She's a Catahoula Leopard Dog with a brown coat, black spots, and ice-blue eyes. Her name is Zelda.

This is my undergraduate copy of the POTAAAYM, well-thumbed as you can see by the crease across the cover. Looks like there are a couple of puncture marks in the upper right hand corner, and there are some strange scribblings on the front page, written in my hand. I don't understand them at all:

how do bees get in the library

staring at the bee
afraid of the sting
kill the bee

solid outside
dark and delicate

If I had any idea what any of that meant, I'd surely tell you.

James Joyce was hugely important for me when I was younger, though it has been a long, long time since I read him. Must be the Irish Catholic thing. I think I read this book 3 or 4 times. One of my writer friends wrote a short story once in which I figured as a character. He called the character "Stephen," a la Stephen Dedalus. He didn't exactly mean it fondly. The character was brooding and melancholy and something of a downer.

That same friend was part of a writer's group I've written about before. We had something of a schism in the group between the Francophilic writers and the Anglophilic writers. I fell into the latter camp and was in the minority. Several of the other members had all been in a course together on the French Symbolists and decided that they were the end all and be all. Joyce might have been a good bridge between the two, but the other writers more or less dismissed him as Anglophone and therefore to be ignored.

Which reminds me of a derisive nickname a non-writer friend gave to all of us: The Bearded English Majors.

from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo

His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face.

He was baby tuckoo. The moocow came down the road where Betty Byrne lived: she sold lemon platt.

O, the wild rose blossoms
On the little green place.

He sang that song. That was his song.

O, the green wothe botheth.

When you wet the bed first it is warm then it gets cold. His mother put on the oilsheet. That had the queer smell.

His mother had a nicer smell than his father. She played on the piano the sailor's hornpipe for him to dance. He danced:

Tralala lala,
Tralala tralaladdy,
Tralala lala.

Uncle Charles and Dante clapped.
Tralala lala.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Aimless Reading: The J's, Part 13.1 (James Joyce)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Joyce, James

I bought this for a course in college, likely at the Fordham University Bookstore, though as I write this a faint, contradictory idea that I bought it later on, after college, disturbs me, if ever so slightly. I am sure one of those things is true.

2008: Welcome to the present, or something resembling it, anyhow. We bought our current home on Norwood Ave. in August of 2008. We looked at when it first went on the market, but it was a bit too expensive for us given all the work that would need to be done on it. As summer wore on, the price began to drop -- 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 and finally 70 thousand dollars fell away. We looked at it again and decided it had gotten a lot more affordable. We tried to get them to knock another 40 off and managed to get them to drop it by 10. We bought it, figuring if we couldn't afford it after all we could sell it pretty easily because of the neighborhood it is in.

The house is a blue victorian with five bedrooms and 1.5 baths. The facade, though not nearly as fancy (no gingerbread, simple columns on the front porch), is similar to the house on Dearborn, and includes some of the same carved wood features. There is no driveway, but it has a pretty deep lot for the city. You enter from the front porch into a foyer with an oak staircase to the right. Under the staircase is a little coat closet. The original oak paneling still covers that part of the room, but the rest of the walls have bead board wainscoting that was added later. Lori painted painted the wainscoting white and the walls a soft orange.

A pair of french doors to the left leads into the long living room. Two windows look out the front of the hose, and two more bays flank a fireplace facing the side. It's large enough that we use it as both a living and dining room. It's painted a light blue with a pair of neutral faux finish accents, one above the fireplace and the other on the inner walls of a built-in book case tucked between the two windows at the front of the room.

Off the dining room is my library, an open room with built-ins on three sides and a window looking out on the neighbor's driveway. A single french door leads back into the foyer. My library may have been a pantry at one time, or even a kitchen, as the built-ins are really converted cabinets with the doors removed. It was all green when we moved in -- green ceilings, green walls, green cabinets inside and out, and green doors. We painted almost everything white except for the back walls of the built-ins, which are painted a kind of mustard brown.

Another pair of french doors opens from the dining area into a very large formal dining room that Lori currently uses as a studio. She intends to convert it back to a dining room and to move her studio into two bedrooms upstairs. It has two windows facing one side of the house and one larger one facing the plum tree astride the neighbor's driveway. Everything I have thus far described has has oak flooring, as does almost the whole of the second floor.

A small doorway leads from the studio into the kitchen. We completely gutted the kitchen soon after we moved in. This hadn't been our intention, but we found a guy who did work very cheaply and decided to go for it. The drawback of his cheapness was a total lack of organization and follow through, combined with a total lack of concern about how these affect the client. It took nine months to finish the kitchen and we had to hire various others along the way to keep the project moving. It was kind of a nightmare, but it finally got done.

The kitchen has simple maple cabinets from the Home Despot, same design as the last house with a different finish. The original kitchen had a parquet floor that we sanded down and refinished with a clear coat over the unstained wood. We installed dark brown concrete countertops. Lori painted the walls a rich light green based on the color of powdered green "Matcha" tea. There are no upper cabinets, only open shelving from Ikea -- espresso colored wood with stainless steel brackets.

To the left as you enter is a door to a half bath. We refinished this also, installing a new sink, new light fixture, new wainscoting, new window, and new travertine marble tiled floor. Straight ahead is the coffee bar. It's a litte corner to itself on which sits the coffee maker and the microwave. All of our demitasses, mugs, and tea pots rest on the open shelves above.

To the left is the refrigerator, then a long countertop that includes the sink and the dishwasher. All our plates and glasses and a few other mixing bowls and so forth sit on the open shelves above it. Lori painted the dishwasher to match the wood. It's almost impossible to tell them apart.

On the wall opposite the bathroom are two windows between which the stove and range hood stand, flanked by cabinets. We put an island in the center of the room and stacked two large cabinets to create a modest pantry on the wall opposite the sink.

The room has six doors:

1. The open doorway from the studio.
2. The bathroom door.
3. A door to the basement.
4. A door to the back stairs.
5. A door to a back room that we use for storage which in turn leads through sliding doors to a covered back patio off of which Lori this past summer built an uncovered brick patio with a small dining area.
6. A glass door leads onto a small covered part of the patio, where we keep the grill.

The back stairs lead up to a long corridor on the second floor. To the immediate right at the top of the stairs is a door to the attic, then a door to a small bedroom which we have given to the cats. To the right of that is a full bath, which was completely redone by our handyman. Nothing fancy like the last one, just a fake wood vinyl floor, blue walls, a closet, a toilet and a one hundred year old pedestal sink that came with the house, above which hang a simple mirror and a modern light fixture bought at the Despot.

A linen cabinet and drawers are built into the wall just out side the bathroom. The hallway has yet to be painted; it takes a sharp right and there is another door, which leads an empty bedroom that sags slightly due to the removal at some point in the past of a supporting wall.

The hall cuts left again and there is a room to the right, which will become Lori's studio. It is a lovely little bay-shaped room with wainscoting and crown molding, all of which need painting. Down the hall to the right is a little room painted soft green and yellow. We call it the smoke room, because that's what it was for the previous owner. We spent weeks cleaning nicotine and tar off of everything -- wood, floors, walls, windows, doors. Shadows of pictures that hung on the wall remained after they'd been removed -- white rectangles surrounded by orange clouds of disgusting tar. It was ghastly, ghostly.

At the end of the hall is the door to our bedroom, which runs the length of the front of the house. It has two good sized closets, one of which we use for laundry. It's painted a kind of gray-green. Our bed rests against a wall with the windows to the right. Just next to the door in the hall is a small utility closet, then stairs lead back down to the foyer. And that, friends, is all she wrote.

from Dubliners

from The Dead

Generous tears filled Gabriel's eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.