New work from a psychomagic-literary friend / teacher / catalyst ~
My mouth is open, my words are unfledged, they churn and swirl in the egg, listening
to thunder and wind, dying away into flute-song.
Imagine in the context of this site an epic encounter between the productions of Pedagogical Monster and the progeny of Grammatological Monster. Grammatological Monster, down a spiral staircase and through a series of dimly lit corridors, is kept chained in the cellar, and by certain individuals with curious insatiable appetites is from time to time visited with deep sympathy and even identification as they stuff its maw with various select books and articles. When the Grammatological Monster opens its mouth, strange deformed hybrid creatures, its children, fly out, fluttering all around in a panic, bruising their wings, pecking wildly at the walls, many of them severely injuring themselves, bloodying their heads, falling to the ground and dying, but at least some of them escape through a crack or a hole, finding their way through the series of corridors, up the spiral staircase, and fly into the open. Once these survivors have settled down, landing safely above everyone’s head, they then spread out what they have, and parade themselves like peacocks. They are not necessarily birds, and, though they do make sounds, they don’t really have a song. Some have royal banners with long and unusual titles on them which unfurl and flutter from their tails when they leap and fly from one perch to another.
Pedagogical Monster sits high above behind clouds like Zeus on Mount Olympus, chained to a judge’s seat. It’s unclear how it got there and if it chained itself there. When it opens its mouth thunder booms and rolls, ice cracks and falls all around, icicles becoming daggers, loose structures rattle revealing where their weak points are, followed by majestically mysterious sentences, one after another, like the silent trains of De Chirico, smoke coiling up and trailing off, the cars carrying as its cargo (on its journey to infinity?) bewildering assemblages, stunning paradoxes, which can only be glimpsed by mortal eyes momentarily during flashes of lightning. More and more of these trains come out of the open mouth as if out of a dark tunnel, breaking off from each other, speeding up in places, slowing down in others to form new connections, the more trains which appear the more danger there is of a collision at an intersection, all of the trains snaking along and around and above what after a while becomes apparent to anyone looking up at the spectacle is a whole system of tracks looping and intersecting in the night sky.
I wrote to you, Brian, back on March 29, 2015:
“Zbigniew Herbert’s poem you sent, The Envoy of Mr. Cogito, is beautiful and moving. Thank you so much for directing my attention to this poet. I should know him, having mostly Lithuanian but Polish roots in myself too. I definitely feel attracted to his work. I read a little from him and about him. Oh, wonderful! (I’ve ordered work by him already and can’t wait to read more.) That voice of his perhaps comes closer to where my own is presently than yours does in its towering intellectual and visionary heights. “Mr. Cogito never trusted - tricks of the imagination/ the piano at the top of the Alps - played false concerts for him.” I do look upon lines of yours as these fantastic baroque ornaments, or magnificent word-bridges built in perfect arcs and spirals, all interconnected, and becoming a great highway system in the sky. I feel I need a special vehicle to ride around on those magnificent roads. Often in the midst of your word-constructions I feel like a jaywalker, feeling in some sense - because I don’t understand all the signs and their inherent rules and regulations - I’d be breaking some law if I just threw caution to the wind and ran across on foot. On the one hand I’m mesmerized by sections of your great highway system in the sky, how incredibly it all fits together, but on the other hand I can’t help but to regard them Cogito-like: "…never trusted/ tricks of the imagination.” I’ve thought in reading your work of false prophets, of cult leaders, of sham artists. I don’t at all mean this as a criticism, Brian, but as an observation which includes the shadow side of you and your great illuminating light, the clown side of your adopted mythic personae as seer and visionary in touch with deep secrets of nature and prophesying. “Beware however of unnecessary pride/ keep looking at your clown’s face in the mirror/ repeat: I was called - weren’t there better ones than I.” I see more and more how necessary De Chirico is to you, that (Nietzschean) intellect he had, which being extended to you, the daemon which was in him now inhabiting and operating in you, keeps you grounded and centered and saves you from turning into a charlatan who merely does hocus-pocus with words.”
As Maia wrote with such a beautiful self-preservatory poetic instinct turned necessarily spartan and in league with Sappho: “My mouth is open, my words are unfledged, they churn and swirl in the egg, listening to thunder and wind, dying away into flute-song.”
The Goddess is active listener, but sometimes she keeps a distance and takes cover close to the warm bosom of mother earth to protect from falling debris from the collisions and catastrophes that are expected to come sooner or later from any Promethean raid on the infinite, any Promethean spectacle built with Tower of Babel zeal overhead. When she minimizes her song it is to prevent the icy wind from freezing her precious eggs to stones.
Good to hear from you again, my friend?
And “…when the wind/and the light are working off each other/so that the ocean on one side is wild/with foam and glitter, and inland among stones/the surface of a slate-grey lake is lit/by the earthed lighning of a flock of swans/ their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white/ their full grown headstrong-looking heads/tucked or cresting or busy underwater./Useless to think you’ll park and capture it/more thoroughly.”
Postscript, The Spirit Level
Understood, Maia, the sense of the fine words by Seamus Heaney you have shared. Yin and Yang, or complementarity operates in the understanding. Push one thing far enough and to an extreme, its opposite will begin to seep in the rear, pushing in the dark through whatever cracks and holes are in the hull of the vessel; then once that opposite gathers enough strength and weight of its own, it will finally leap out and revolt, toppling the power which has become too big for its britches, shaking matters up, until after some time has passed and everything settles back down, a more natural balance is restored and one feels one can breathe and speak again. I really like the part in Brian’s piece about key functions that good friends perform for each other.
I must say from what I’ve witnessed, Maia, your sensibility is much different from Brian’s. Mine too. I love your searching looseness, the generous heart I sense in it, trusting in the larger processes of nature, and your feel for the living pulse in words. You don’t write as if you have pinned down a specimen and watch while its life slowly drains away. You don’t chisel your lines in stone as if trying to preserve them for all eternity. You strive more to channel and guide the nourishing sap from root and trunk up to your branches with the understanding that any fruit that might grow is a gift not only to nourish yourself by, but also to be shared with others.
I feel all too intimately in my own tendencies and ways of doing things on the other hand the truth of these words by Nietzsche : “ …Unfruitfulness itself disposes one to a certain masculinity of taste; for man is, if I may be allowed to say so, `the unfruitful animal’.”
Hey Mark, of course, dude. We’re friends. Who agrees in all things? I look back on our previous exchanges with amusement and respect, and I must admit a little embarrassment at some of my own words. At any rate, whatever has been written or might be said, whatever we may hurl at each other, you do have one thing I very much appreciate: character.
Many thanks for your wonderful poem-critique as well as for the flowing generosity of your response. I only wish I were inspired enough to write something Haiku-like in response. Perhaps a bit later.
The beginning of your critique would perhaps be very good material for a Gothic/Baroque/Surreal Escheresque-type drawing. In my first book, “X: Revenge of the Autogenes,” which I published for friends in 1984, I did have a series of “Gargoyle Poems,” in which I imagined myself to be a gargoyle sitting on a ledge, frost caking my lips. When this creature tried to speak, he could never quite remember what language he was speaking, and what were perhaps intended to be clear statements sputtered out as eight-dimensional puns. They were good performance pieces, fun to read out loud, so long as I had no sense of shame and did not mind looking grotesque.
You wrote, “I’ve thought in reading your work of false prophets, of cult leaders, of sham artists. I don’t at all mean this as a criticism, Brian, but as an observation which includes the shadow side of you and your great illuminating light, the clown side of your adopted mythic personae as seer and visionary in touch with deep secrets of nature and prophesying. ‘Beware however of unnecessary pride/ keep looking at your clown’s face in the mirror/ repeat: I was called - weren’t there better ones than I.’”
I do actually address this issue, to some degree at least, in the essay itself (with more personal—and embarrassing—information to come in the next two installments). In section three of this installment, I write, “There was a task to perform for which no one else was suitable, or perhaps, for which no one else had been dumb enough to volunteer. Each year, the path back to the instructions in the seed would grow more and more circuitous. Not many of your goals would be achieved. That, too, is something that you would earlier have known. For obscure reasons, like the other 6 ½ billion people on the planet, you had picked this time and place. Leaps of imagination would be waiting to transport you, if and when they chose. This was not at all convenient. You could hear the ticking on an inner clock. This had led you to regard your more personal objectives as irrelevant, to the extent that you had the sanity to judge.”
I’m afraid that I would make a very bad cult leader, for any number of reasons. First, any self-respecting cult leader must project a sense of absolute certainty and hint to his followers that he and only he possesses all of the answers they might need. The great majority of people are very much aware of all of their anxieties and self-divisions, even if this knowledge plays hide and seek with them and emerges on the level of bodily sensation, even if they freely engage in projecting all of their faults onto others, even if the fissures that rip through their psyches are not consciously acknowledged. The great appeal of the cult leader is that there are no chinks in his armor; he appears to be a creature who has fully freed himself from doubts. My work does the exact opposite; I am constantly slipping trap-doors under my readers and setting up arguments only to unravel them and improvising cosmologies only to pop them with a pin. This will not endear me to the seekers of certainly. If any reader is interested in venturing into the spaces that I open, the key quality he or she will need will be what Keats refers to as “negative capability”—the ability to remain in a state of high uncertainly, poised between opposites, without any urge to reach towards a premature conclusions. One of my daughter’s favorite t-shirts reads: “There are two types of people in the world: One type is able to extrapolate from incomplete information.” She is always surprised at the number of people who come up to her and say, “Part of your t-shirt seems to be missing. What is the other type?” I will leave out the other reasons that I would make a piss-poor cult leader.
Thanks much for your response, Brian. It makes me giddy with delight your idea of the gargoyle with frost-caked lips perched on the ledge of a cathedral, racking his brain trying to remember what language he was speaking, what intending to be clear statements sputtering out instead as eight-dimensional puns. With my love of absurdity and feel for the grotesque, that I would perhaps really try my hand at drawing a picture of, only needing to cut the eight dimensions down to something more humanly conceivable. Illustration does after all have its limits, and so do words and language. The other evening an acquaintance of mine shared with me an article about the polymath Claude Shannon and the development of information theory. In it is written this provocative statement: “To write is to write ourselves into a corner: up to 75 percent of written english is redundant.” Anyway, your marvelous idea of the gargoyle struggling to clearly enunciate and articulate and the words only coming out wrong, in ever increasing variations of complexity, recalls to my mind this not unrelated little piece by Daniil Kharms (written in 1934-35):
"Would you like me to tell you a story about the crichen? No, not a crichen, but a chickrichen. Or no, not a chickrichen, but a chuckroochen. Phooey! Not a chuckroochen, a charckoochen. Of course it’s not a charckoochen but a coochoockrichen. No, that’s not it! Chickyckraten? No, not chickyckraten! Coocheecoockitchen? No, wrong again!
So I’ve forgotten what this bird’s called. But if I hadn’t forgotten, I would tell you the story about this choockoockurookochen."
I agree, this is the essential mode with which all less than immediately transparent meaning asks us to meet what is offered. Was speaking of negative capability (without using the phrase) to a friend this morning , a way of being with poem/prose/art/being/cosmos, in a kind of free-floating accord which can feel discordant—a variety of being “lost” without demanding Ariadne’s thread . Actually there is no “thread” . And there are numberless threads, braiding/unbraiding …leading us on–literally!
Love that T-shirt, indeed.
“ …Unfruitfulness itself disposes one to a certain masculinity of taste; for man is, if I may be allowed to say so, `the unfruitful animal’.” How do you understand “man” and “masculinity of taste” in this quotation? Can you speak more about “unfruitful animal” ? I find the quote puzzling my mind, while my body responds to it with sadness.
I admire your Blakean take on how the opposites work in constant inseparable dynamic tension It can be rough as experienced by humans— navigating painful doubt-realms which lie directly next to forgiveness and mercy, beauty and tenderness. No sense to be made, only sensing. But the view from above the labyrinth, so to speak, can be carried in the heart in the midst of torment, either actually or to come, or in memory. How does this happen? Through the very cracks and holes and mis-directions…which turn out to be the inner-linings of branches, airways through avian wingbones, and on and on without end. As with music, there may be no end, but there is and must be, now and again, rest. A pregnant and empty rest.
How you wrote the second part of your response to me is beautiful. You write in such a way that your words breathe, having a tactile sense, you clearly feeling them in your body. Your pacing is refreshing too. One can tell you rest in a productive way. You release tension, going down into yourself, nourishment drawn from the moist dark soil and traveling up the stem, and then you open yourself like a flower. Brian mentioned in one of his other comments of the artist-poet a kind of alchemy which he himself practices in his own way. I think for any artist the processes and practices engaged in which end up working best are highly individual and idiosyncratic. What works for me may not at all work for you, though there are tips and suggestions we might share, though I believe there is a limit to these. I think a large part of the creative process is frankly not explainable, being a matter of doing rather than saying.
It is ironic, isn’t it, that the precious few who “do” more than say with words and who would thereby help us to listen to and appreciate and love them more are all too often drowned out by the endlessly noisy talkers.
Nietzsche’s remark is definitely loaded. I initially thought it best tactfully to omit the first part of it. My original intention was just to use the end of the provocation as a wedge, working it into the silence to pry open a space to invite dialogue. After all, Brian’s piece is entitled “The Goddess as active listener.” If not handled with an adequate amount of self-awareness and restraint, how presumptuous for a man to speak of the Goddess as if he is a genuine authority on her. Likewise, how presumptuous and even insufferable it would be for me to tell a woman who has actually carried a child in her womb how it feels to be pregnant and to give birth. There are real differences in our experiences and the ways we express ourselves which reach down into biology. Metaphor and constructs of them can make up for a lot, and help us bridge our differences, helping me sort of understand what a woman actually experiences and how she feels during pregnancy and while giving birth, but there is a limit to this. It pays here for a man to talk less, perhaps, and to be more of the active listener.
I would rather listen to an adventurer who has actually been to Africa and walked on its terrain, than to some person who has never left his or her hometown in America but has studied closely a map of Africa and memorized all the names, read some books and studies on the subject, and watched a handful of documentaries.
The entirety of Nietzsche’s remark is as follows: “When a woman has scholarly inclinations there is usually something wrong with her sexuality. Unfruitfulness itself disposes one to a certain masculinity of taste; for man is, if I may be allowed to say so, `the unfruitful animal’.” This can be interpreted in different ways. The lens can be turned on Nietzsche and the kind of solitary and itinerant bachelor life he led. Unlike Brian, or Marco, or Ed Mahood, or Douglas Duff and others who have commented at this site, Nietzsche did not father children and was not a family man. He did not live day in and day out with a mate and mother of a child of his own and have those kind of responsibilities. The same lens can be turned on me. I myself do not have any children.
It would be valid to say that those men who have fathered a child or children, and have not fled but stepped up and faced the responsibility, are growing up and maturing in ways that those such as myself are not who have no children. Fatherhood does something to a man, just as motherhood does something to a woman. I have on my stronger side witnessed it with admiration and on my more pathetic side with envy. I generally love children, having much that is childlike in my own spirit. I have at least grown to have sincere appreciation and gratitude for my own parents and all they had to do and endure to raise me and my two sisters, my appreciation extending tenderly to their shortcomings and failings now that I have grown older and have plenty of my own, and understand in my bones, in my heart, in my soul, how hard it is and painful it can be to live in this world.
Here’s a scary proposition: Man who not only is unable to accept that by himself he is the unfruitful animal but arrogantly defies nature is only capable ultimately of producing monsters. I do believe Frankenstein has endured in haunting the human imagination for a reason.
> Here�s a scary proposition: Man who not only is unable to accept that by himself he is the unfruitful animal but arrogantly defies nature is only capable ultimately of producing monsters. I do believe Frankenstein has endured in haunting the human imagination for a reason.
If you mean the human being who not only is unable to accept that by self alone we are not fruitful, if we arrogantly defy and lay waste to nature, then we are only capable of producing monsters----I agree. Given what Earth has come to under interminably masculine management. By himself is the misleading phrase. If s/he does not believe in the natural cosmos as ultimate creator, of children and poetry and electric light and the moon and love…if humans, if we believe in self and the comforts/good fortune of self as sole or highest goal, human as supreme creator in the universe, master of Earth, then, male or female, we ARE indeed, the unfruitful. We are Zeus’ children who rape, steal and lord it, and still keep throne and rite, while Demeter roams in despair and rage, looking for her stolen child, her fruitfulness, her rightful rites. The only thing that moves Zeus is when trees and plants refuse to grow, to yield, when wells sour and waters dry up, seas flood, birds fall silent. This might be enough, but barely, for humans to release Persephone PART of the year. This “myth” is not to be reduced to “fertility tale” . Not Demeter goddess of grains in whom that simpleton race of ancients (pre-Greeks) indulged, but one of the GreatCycles (as the 26,000 year Great Year the sun travels around the black hole in the center of all that spilled milky of stars. Earth and Sky in the beginning were One. Sky moved away from Earth which seemed a good idea until the divisions themselves multiplied with no end and here we have the war of opposites, without truce or rest. Titans lumped with female, Sky led on to Zeus and his Big Brothers, Time to rename and revision! What if Earth’s sons and daughters had won? Same thing. You said it yourself, John the road leads— around to itself, passing through the palace of gold and the palace of excrement. No, it’s further back and farther on, than that. What if Earth and Sky had not parted? Were not parted now, in us or around us? Actually, they didn’t. We believed they did and repeated the rumor until it was true. At the same time, it was never true because it’s impossible for them to part, as it is to part human and not-human. We are made of one another, we are one another, we are, as Brian writes, the Other. There is no lonesome "self"that is the lie. That self is lie and liar, unless…it knows itself as EarthSky full of creatures, mountains, rivers. Hell is barrenness, yes and we ourselves have condemned ourselves to live there, building jealous machines to dust and polish furnaces which run eternal lights in windowless corridors…
Mary Shelly gave birth to Frankenstein and his monster. I believe childless and child-bearing women give birth–as men do-- to ideas, visions, stories. Men don’t carry children in their bodies, feed them from bodily fluids (although they have the sleeping mechanism and some say an occasional man has done this out of grave necessity, I don’t rule it out), so that gender and conception/birth, child-rearing, are so much more vastly complex than anything hinted at in N.'s quote. You rightly chose not to include the first part, but what you did include, implied it, via a backward shining diagnostic light. What I believe is that HE himself felt all this acutely. And the sadness that arose (I left out anger, but anger covers sorrow, not the other way round) was not only for him, for you, for me, but for human life as it has come to be in its brief bloody broken-in-pieces season, with exceptions here and there, and perhaps an actual time of Matriarchal and relative peace, who knows, the evidence is everywhere in Western mythology (history) of goddesses turning into gods, or wives or nymphs (Maia is a perfect illustration, by the way), something to inspire elegies and laments, both personally, culturally, and—and even the philosophers wonder: ontologically?) But no, not in essence because though Mary (not Shelly, but theotokos) was said to conceive through her hearing, Rilke said the same thing of “his” Angelic muses, which were certainly not 'his"—of his received elegies, discovered through listening and honed with mind and body, those other gifts not his or anyone’s, they belong to themselves as birds do. Angels are (almost always) depicted as male humans. But I believe they are translations of genderless beings perhaps inspired by avian physiology and song. In any case, you, yourself, childless and of the male gender are not, if I can speak with what might seem like certainty but is not arrogance or else the arrogance Brian refers to as paradoxically a species of unknowing, are fruitful. I know such pronouncements are in some sense ridiculous and pointless. But at the same time, I believe they are not.
You write fruitfully, John. Some mothers never give birth. Some fathers eat their children.
Sappho some say was childless and some say she had a daughter. Her poems were banned burned, fragments scattered, a few recovered in the writings of men. She was called “Tenth Muse”! Why were her writings lost to us? Because she loved women. She produced great powerful beauty in poetry, even her fragments are magnificent.
What you’ve written here seems proof against your unfruitfulness. Arrogance to write this way of someone I don’t know except through your writing?
Yes. And no.
I hope to respond to your other paragraphs…but this came out first and I have to stop now, so here it is. Forgive any misunderstandings!
Thank you and more as I can.
What a joy to read, Maia. Your words are like fresh water running over what before was dry ground, soaking down to seeds which were going to die, softening them up and bringing them back to life. Thank you for this outpouring. There are so many words about in the world I don’t wish to return to read, but I don’t feel that way about what you offer. I’m sincerely glad to have made your acquaintance.
After a while in a public forum or comment section, even in private correspondence, I end up feeling guilty getting too involved with any individual who has a real gift, because I don’t want to get in the way of the poems or whatever art is waiting to be shaped and formed and brought into existence. Part of me also pulls away, because this goes both ways. Not that I am tremendously gifted, I am happily modest, but I am in my quiet way working on my own art.
Artists and poets are generally so neglected in this world, so hungry for connection and interplay and good feedback, that once one meets another who is open and receptive there can be a tendency to share too much at one time, or without proper spacing and realistic regard for digestion.
From the work of Brian George I’m still digesting things from a couple years ago. The other evening, hours before swallowing out of his work a polyhedron, after downing the finger food of a few miniature chinese puzzle-boxes, let me tell ya’, I did feel like I was going to give birth to a baby!