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on transcendental experience … after Mario Levrero

Mario Levrero begins The Luminous Novel… he is a writer from Uruguay, was. An unnecessary detail, perhaps. Alejandro Zambra, a writer I admire, Chilean, as it happens, or happened, like Bolaño, yet very unlike him, writes about Levrero that we cannot, we readers, we cannot hope to understand that mythical beast, that chimaera, that the literature of Latin America is, without taking in the part Levrero has in it. He says something like that.

And we might for a moment consider the chimaera. Mythical, yes, but also a fish…

…although to call it a fish is to dismiss the inventiveness that’s gone into it. …but also man-made, the chimaera:

…here pictured as a kind of babble of bodies.

Chimaera is mythical, fish and … here made by Kate Clark:

Or, consider the following, in view of literature, from E.V. Day:

The chimaera is also a work of conscious and deliberate construction. Matching chicken and lion, bird and reptilian parts. To put on display, and this is the key word, don’t you think? display.

4222 years ago, the Egyptians weren’t engaging in the earliest known taxidermy for the sake of producing chimaera to display. Embalming and processes of corporeal preservation, of animals, including humans, was conducted not for the living but for the dead on whom these practices were being used. Unless we consider that the exhibition of the dead was not as we understand it but for religious purposes.

Was the intended spectatorship some kind of cosmic audience?

Probably not, because the way out into the cosmos was back in through the world, a world of living deities and cosmic entities present rather than having to be presented, not requiring elaborate rituals, for example, in order to be presented, but already there, in attendance. And these were waiting to see themselves join the throng of the dead.

Their embalming and preservation must have seemed like having to join the queue, for the afterlife. Death.

And now they see themselves sail the stygian waters of the Nile into the omphalos of night. They don’t leave their bodies… no Judgement will have to restore the lucky ones who got the winning ticket to their discarded corpses.

Embalmed, taxidermied, they wait in line, the living gods, and travel over into death beside themselves, beside themselves, if everything has gone well with their preservation, beside themselves in the same way as we might think of an other world being beside this one. An early multiverse.

It is also the Egyptians we tend to thank for our first glimpses of chimaerae. (The word itself is something like a chimaera.) The Sphinx, whose riddle is herself. The bird-headed people, the dog-headed, and the alligator-headed dog.

When does this all change?

Is it at the birthplace of the human individual that Siedentop announces with the advent of early christianity? When, he maintains, before a subsequent crackdown by the institutions of a priestly caste, there were just as easily female communities and communities in which women were considered individuals as they were male… children, individually, born with a relation, a corporeal relation, to the living body of Christ, and, to life everlasting?

So Larry Siedentop maintains in Inventing the Individual: the Origins of Western Liberalism, 2015.

If you bear in you this inner connection, in your living body, this special relation that is special to you, would not the display of the dead pass to individuals to behold? Would you not already have in hand your ticket, to join the queue…?

General exhibition would be a thing institutions might want to have some say over, so restricting entry to an other world, and cutting out the ones not worthy for being somewhat… chimaerical. Raising ticket prices, and so on.

Cutting out animals entirely. Women. Naughty children. Saving them who’ve not had time to sin. Little angels. But all would press against the gates, to see… the exhibition.

Instruction enters. Education, and edification. Now it is on how to live beside yourself, next to your immortal part: the real you. It is no longer the practice of separating to be rejoined in the afterlife.

Until we consider resurrection in the body. Then we have to consider which one the dead part is: and it is clear. It is the body of the animal to which the soul is glued on, by cosmic taxidermy. Well, not really. More by transcendental taxidermy:

the human soul stuck to the body of a corpse… and which the afterthought? For the afterlife, the latter.

…Is resurrection in the body metaphorical? or… virtual?

This would make sense. I mean: it would make sense. The rational part of sense, to which the soul is the best proportion, the perfect ratio. … And freed from the body takes off, like this:

Pause.

What part is the insubstantial again? and what the rendered insubstantial? the de-prioritised?

It’s that old body of the animal again, of which the chimaera is the perfect example: a constructed thing.

A mechanical thing, even, that David Bentley Hart rails against with such seriousness. Seriously. (In a nod to Hart I wanted to say, with such wanton solemnity.)

A book I am reading. Roland is a dog. He talks to the narrator on serious subjects like the dismissal of the transcendental experience (of living beside yourself, body and soul) by the mechanistic world view. The book’s success will be in the measure to which Roland separates himself from the views of Hart, the narrator.

From instruction, edification, tutelary and educative purposes, to … entertainment, would seem to be the path followed by chimaerae into modernity. Entertainment and art, that is. And we ought to think of those lesser souls belonging to lesser bodies, bodies more chimaerical, like those, classically, of women. And of the children who are yet to be edified and educated; and of non-whites, yet to be colonised, indentured, and given a mission.

Too embodied, these ones.

Will Hart allow his dog, Roland, to be one of these?

And what of the bodies of literature, like Latin American literature? The chimaera of …?

I don’t think Zambra really uses the word, chimaera. χίμαιρα is the female form of χίμαρος, meaning, in Ancient Greek, male goat: female goat.

– Jacopo Ligozzi, c.1600

I said female goat… but we do have here the fire-breathing part, and the querulous lion: is this masculinisation concessionary?

We can ask the same of literature, of course, as well as we can whether it is non-concessionary.

Mario Levrero begins his novel… this happens in the first two pages… by relating the sort of psychologism that Hart might reject.

Levrero tells us that he had a transcendental experience, which he told a friend about in the form of an anecdote. Why an anecdote? Because the etymology of anecdote is clear: it means unpublished account (ἀνέκδοτος = ἀν- not + έκδοτος published. έκδοτος derives from έκ- out of or ex– and δίδωμι, which is the first person singular of the verb to give).

Levrero’s friend says he must write it down. It would make a great novel. A great and luminous novel, perhaps, like we have here in our hands.

And Levrero says no. Impossible. Impossible to recapture the transcendental experience, to do it justice, in anything more substantial than an anecdote. End of discussion.

Except that it’s not, it’s not the end. It’s the beginning.

Levrero forgets, and this is the important point: he forgets the friend’s instruction, the friend telling him what he must do; he has, afterall, rejected it. And, anyway, it turns out they are no longer friends.

He forgets it. Levrero says, of course, what he is in fact forgetting is his resistance to his friend’s advice. And from this resistance comes the whole problem. The problem that is The Luminous Novel, in its published form. Because his opposition to the idea inflames it.

He tries again and again to write down the anecdote in which he relates his transcendental experience. And he dismisses each effort, and destroys it. But, the next important point: the urge and urgency to pursue the idea no longer comes from the friend, the friend who is no longer a friend, but from Levrero himself. It comes from inside him.

He attributes to himself, to his inner being or core, or soul, if you like, the demand, the commandment to write … and even tells himself it was own idea. It came from him…

And what is he doing, then, the poor man, torturing himself, when every effort to write down the story of the transcendental experience is in vain?

One thing is for sure, he can’t write his way out, he can’t write himself out of this problem, because he is the problem!

He is the problem and the cause of the problem and he can’t cut himself into two halves, even if they are unequal halves, returning to himself once he has cut himself off from or cut out the criminal part. The corpse, if you like. The animal. He can’t claim transcendence by following the only part that is transcendental.

As I said a psychologism, or a psychological ghost story. And, like Hart’s, a spiritual one.

The friend is ghosted, dead to you, and you tell yourself it is you yourself who told you what you must do because of what you had done.

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only

the old sensitive trees    you see on the coast here

they can make you believe   life is sad

gods in the forest


a character's always he or she or they
never it Levinas    the French Jewish philosopher

my friend, Alphonso Lingis, you can call me Al
and when you call me, I am called to myself
    to answer for myself, Al
       as if my self is what you have when you're busy
               doing other things    also from Lithuania

anyway, Immanuel Levinas insight is God is individual
is not the general category of transcendent Being
       an individual    like a character, he she and they

they pull their own roots out of the ground

the old sensitive trees do not oppose the young
and when you meet God, it's like anyone

hey, how ya doin? like the song ...

they throw themselves they hurl themselves off cliffs

yell, Bollocks overboard ! 

and hurtle out of bed like they are leaving this life

any gods       must die?

it's a question you can only answer with a proper name.

...
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grief, and a sense of loss…

we have to …

no, we don’t.

wake up?

no, we don’t.

and it is as if we are passing through a dream…

pass through

dreams passing through a dream…

pass through

gathering the images to us we want

desire is like turbulence

in our transit

who has time these days to furnish themselves

for the interior decoration of their minds?

who has time to…

choose carefully, cos you’re gonna be spending a lot of time in there …?

who has room?

to gather together the images around us…

we want?

in our transit, passing through.

and I recall your 20th century critique of an airport,

a hotel lobby, or foyer: that it was merely a place to pass through,

a transit lounge. Decorated by …?

“architecture is the first science of sensation”

I think we need more screens.

we don’t. cos you’re not gonna be spending much time in there, at all

and pushed up against the body by pain, it has evicted us

pushed up against the wall… it’s nice to have something to watch

out of the corner of your eye

Lou Reed & John Cale knew Andy knew:

a pathology, which the Quay brothers say somewhere is what they need to find

as if a pathology were … no, yes, a character or gave character, by giving to the work

direction: to the transit, direction

gathering together the images … in the turbulence of a wake,

a passing through, in the turbulence of a …transit.

in pain, we lose our sense of independence to

the body,

like an alien thing, like an image we didn’t choose or want.

Who has time, anyway, to furnish the room of the mind?

…or sick, discovering my time is not my own…

it passes differently, differently passes, with indifference to … the wallpaper.

time we have no choice but to pass through

rewards of loss, in shame

but loss, no matter still

what we have really lost is the body

no, we haven’t. It is, as used to be said of desire

repressed.

but loss, no matter still:

still in your room, still against the wall, still

evicted from your sense of self, out of the corner

of your eye: images.

Are they the one’s you would have chosen?

it was repressed, your desire. Now it is not.

but the shame is how your body has evicted you

the sense of loss is from its betrayal.

...
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on shrinking

In, as part of, Claire Bishop’s original Artforum article, “The Digital Divide,” there appears a ‘media case study’ where Mark Dion says what he’s afraid of in the digital, as part of it. I talked about this in the lectures uploaded here. In a strange serendipity, Mark Dion appeared in another Artforum I picked up yesterday. Now, here that is.

That serendipity I have been thinking about all through the writing of the lectures linked to above. Had been. I thought it connected with the recourse to character, that thought seems to necessitate. At least, this is the impression Gilles Deleuze gives: of personae being necessary to think through; conceptual personae, that is. And there is a passage in The Logic of Sense where Deleuze writes of the torsion of character.

This torsion is the experience familiar to us when thinking about blue cars, for example, of blue cars coming to us out from the images the world is full of, as if having their own intentionality. Or, for example, that experience of reading about Mark Dion in an article unconnected to the one by Claire Bishop, which I had set myself to read for the sake of the topic on which I was lecturing–digital media and the moving image. And now that same sense of a torsion, of images attracting themselves to the characters of thought, as if having their own intentions, when I read in Wayne Koestenbaum’s My 1980s, in an essay supposed to be about giving advice to the young, that is really more about Koestenbaum giving up (pretensions of?) teaching.

What is the connection here? not so much Mark Dion as what he says in the ‘media case study’ beside the Claire Bishop article: because Bishop’s article asks why the number of artists (in 2012, when it appeared) who thematise the digital, media, is so few. Perhaps the more interesting point she makes is that the preference she sees for artists to use older, analogue media devices, rather than the newer, digital ones, with which contemporary life seems to be saturated, that this preference is itself expressive of a thematisation of the digital for its repression.

Dion’s example in the ‘media case study’ is for taking the side of resistance to using digital media in his art work. It doesn’t seem like he is himself repressing the digital, and so thematising the digital in spite of himself. Rather he prefers for people to experience his work at the scale on which it is built, to be surrounded by it, near it, and to have a spatial relation to it.

My thematisation of the digital in my lectures has more to do with temporal relations, brought about the moving image and screentime, that are a part of the digital condition, than with spatial ones. But the spatial relation is striking, since on the screen the work, the image, the blue car or the Mark Dion, are small. Or that they shrink…

And this is where Koestenbaum’s essay in My 1980s comes in: making a contrast between “image and reality,” he realised, in the dream he’s recounting to us, that he was the sculptor of his fate, and, he writes:

… as a consequence of this new self-determination, I began to grow small, as in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, until it seemed I was only a photograph of myself, a miniature pedagogue, with the jauntiness of a child on the way to kindergarten, lunchpail in hand.

–Koestenbaum, 2002.

– alternative pedagogy, workstyling, at Mildred’s Lane [look how little everything and everyone looks]

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this poem departs (introduction to poems that don’t exist #3)

       This poem departs from the idea which is not my own that all that we think of as objective knowledge is subjective knowledge.

       I suppose I can call it a poem, I am introducing poems that don’t exist. It doesn’t exist, this poem.

       When we think of the object of knowledge we think of it as outside ourselves. Someone told us. Or we saw for ourselves. Most often it’s someone, teachers, friends, parents, parents rarely. They are hardly believable. It’s even difficult to think of their existence, of them being objectively real.

       Why would I not call it a poem should it not exist and not if it should? I think in my first introduction, if you go back there, this was the case.

       Most often, more often than not it’s a body, giving out what then becomes public knowledge. That is, publishing, but as such bodies are in the business, they sell it, are selling it. That is, publicity. So they are private bodies, businesses; and even if public institutions, like schools and libraries, and institutions of government, they think of themselves as businesses. They have adopted the business model; even organs of government, those organs telling us what’s going on in our own society, what new laws have been made, these are not, as is sometimes thought, political mouthpieces, organs of propaganda: they are private companies or separate departments engaged in public relations, that is, PR.

       I wouldn’t call my writing all through these years poetry, because it has never been published as poetry for a start. But it has been read as poetry... but not like, and this is where these introductions to poems that don’t exist come in, it has not been read like those people I hesitate to call poets because I all too readily recognise their voices. Yes, I all too readily hear in the voices of those who read their poetry who know it to be poetry, poems, they are reading, who are for the most part published poets, and those who aspire to be published, to have their poetry published, I all too readily hear in their voices other voices. Other voices which all come down to one voice. One voice that we know to be the voice of poetry, which, in other words, serves, pays exactly lip service, to our knowledge of what poetry already is.

       The change from public to private organs of knowledge we recognise as participating in the change from knowledge to information. But this part is exaggerated when we, as some do, maintain the change from knowledge to information to be to the former’s detriment. Or go as far as to say it marks the demise of knowledge. Or complete symbolic breakdown.

       When I read poetry I read it in my own voice. So I’ve never been concerned about what my voice is on the page. It shifts, drifts. I can’t go as far as to say I have multiple voices. I am not Fernando Pessoa.

       There are those informing us of what we take to be the case. With some practice we can separate out commentary from exact description. We can separate the facts from opinion, or from the taint of subjectivity. We suppose we can. I don’t intend in the poem that follows to be gainsaying this supposition. This is not the reason for my poem.

       Without too great an uncertainty, and despite the inroads made into the world of poetry, of poetry publishing, a large part of which relies on its own PR, its own good publicity, in allowing those inroads to be made, by black people, by coloured people, by people belonging to ethnic minorities and by women, queer, trans people, those who are in the middle of transitioning and those whose identities are fluid, among whom I do not count myself, we may call the voice of poetry despite this progress, despite the progress made by all these factors, we may call it his master’s voice.

       This poem then is not so concerned with the passage to privatisation of knowledge where knowledge equals power and the globalisation of that power. It’s not so concerned with the politics of knowledge. It’s not that idea, the idea of science and civilization going hand in hand and then knowledge being taken out of the hands of the civilizing process, siphoned off into privately owned silos, it’s not this idea that it departs from; and neither is it the idea of there being some good attached to the history of knowledge in its relation to power, nor is it the idea of some bad, of the process of civilization being one of conquest, of colonisation, of empire, of slavery or of emancipation.

       His master’s voice takes up poetry in a way that ruins it for me. And it does so for the slam-poetry poet-performer as well as for the academic poet-teacher: the little chat introducing the poem over, he, she, they, launch in, with a change in voice, a change in speech to what is in quotation marks. His master’s voice.

       The following poem, that, remember, does not exist... is not about freeing knowledge or of planting and harvesting it, of stockpiling or of weaponising it in some kind of economic arms race... It’s not about its advantage or disadvantage. It’s not above it. It departs from this... at that point when... all that we think of as being objectively known becomes subjective. That is, the point at which we, any one of us, either stupid or smart, poor or rich, powerful or powerless, grasp it, understand and know. What do we know?

       I’m not saying hear me, I am an authority on this, you can bet the academic poet-teacher of poetry does her best not to write, in fact and defensively tries to avoid writing, poetry suited to the seminar. And you can bet the slam-poetry performer does not try to avoid writing and presenting the stuff suited to the society of slam poets: he, she, they, want to belong. The poet-teacher disowns. She, he is, they are uncomfortable in their professional skins. That’s why we laud the laureate’s appointment who manifests to us the inroads poets have made into the poetry business who have different skins: we appreciate their struggle with having to wear them that can only mean progress for poetry, and be filtered back into the process of teaching it, the civilizing process.

       What I am saying, and it’s not an original thought, it’s not an original thought and it’s not because it’s not that this poem departs from it, is, what I am saying is that because all we think of as being objectively known is only ever subjective, is that the poem has to depart. Knowledge is always this departure. And a poem is too.

       I am not saying I have altogether avoided his master’s voice by calling it out. My failure to publish poetry is my failure. It’s not turn-around-able into a successful strategy to avoid his master’s voice that I don’t call my work, my pieces of work, writing, poems... except those, like the following, that doesn’t exist.

       What I am talking about in the poem that doesn’t exist is not freedom from slavery. What I am talking about in the poem is a new I. The new I that follows the departure that to know is and that a poem is.

       I am he who—

       I am she who—

       I am they who—

       Language is a found object.

       I hear its murmuring. A background to the world. And forming it into words...

       It’s said. Is not enough. As if the fault lay with language.

       The impossible to express.

       It does not. And changing it or knowing how to is simply irresponsible.

       The proper response is to let him go let her go let them go

       It’s called this poem departs

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a musical interlude–takes me back to chapter two you know who

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a present, small piece for Z.

what do I still want to know about the world?

	will it it take me under its wing

	it will not take me under its wing



do I fight in the storm of it? do I fight the storm

	I do not fight storms

	and its cruelty do I call it out on that?



who do I tell

I don’t

	tell on the world



I would praise who I would tell

	and no one is worth that praise

	is no one worthy of that praise?



no

that praise

	is due the world






6 . 1 . 2022 on the occasion of 
my son’s birthday

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sketches of Kawaeranga


don’t trust bird stories

they have short lives

	are pleased to please themselves

	tell of quick movement

quick and alive and

don’t trust the pain of trees

	they bear up the sky

	look

the sky is blue


…


	the big kauri on the ridge

supports half the sky

	calls endlessly for help

distresses the children

for brothers and sisters’

	assistance

to the wind

	distresses its

over a thousand

	children


…


my ankle gave way on the tramline

	coming down the cutting

no tram

	no trestle

the dams remains

	no kauri

numbers to support the efforts

	taken to remove them

the exorbitant efforts


…






4 . 1 . 2022

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for Neill

           I lay on a deep land mountain high dreaming around the spaghetti

tonsilled bird awallow

       hello on a brassfretted dawn


was a coldlicked clear day

a smoke wisp blue tongue sky


       in a hemhigh coat hat combo

say a patchjacket headjazz throwback affair for a hat

       shouldering a sky set brick hard

                 a doorknock studio

       on an alley narrow street


  
a note played till dawn under a lemonade sky

       you don’t have to be sick

like his mum brought and he brought to drink

                 when we lived in a cave



love held sobre steady

sailtaut like a cablecar wire



for the sheer drop

notes like boltcutters



swoopfingered on the loose

from highbrow to low toe

       the full jazz



gingering that slackwire

       toeing that line link that ear rig

no luck in it



from chance start to at last

       out



to occupy the vast reaches of space

I occupy the stars.







31 . 12 . 2021

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completing a short series up to christmas


my mother and my father are far away

and huddled together

	against the weather



they look hopefully out
 
to the sea as if one of us is coming

	to pick them up



and the odd thing is that they
 
show no resentment at the lateness
 
	in their faces



as they would normally do and

are unconcerned by the violence

	of the weather



I suppose in some way it

is in them too yet

	they huddle



my father slightly taller

than my mother

	they are small people



their faces set and looking out

as I have said

	without resentment



without acceptance as they have

never accepted anything to be

	given



they are not two people in a storm

not a microcosm or a couple

	for whom



the other suffices

is satisfactory

	and provides



not everything the other

needs that would be even
 
	for the most ideal couple



if not impossible then unlikely

no but since they are not looking

	out for others



it seems each is looking out

to the sea for something

	that the other needs



and they are looking out

together for each other

	and if



they are looking out for us

it has got to be precisely

	because a mother



needs a son to come and

pick her up and a father too

	needs a son



whom he has not finished

saying everything he needs

	to say to and

 

never will and a mother needs
 
her children not to know

	she needs them as much

 

as they need her

...

	if not more






24.12.2021 – 28.12.2021

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