Monday, August 27, 2007


Untranquil Reflections

Quietly working things out, though at a pace much slower than I'd hoped. I did say, as we drove out of my hometown, that I expected it to take at least two months for me to process what had gone on there. It's been a little over that, and I've of course had to process my semi-new surroundings, as well. Never mind the interior landscape, which is a bit of a shambles. I think I'm accepting, more than ever, the limited sphere I'm able to exert any influence over whatsoever.

I have shunned using this blog, which, no matter how few come by to read it, remains a public forum, to comment too thoroughly on the more negative aspects of my experiences over the last few years. Besides, there's been plenty of value during those years as well, and focusing on what could have gone better is a very good way to lose sight of what could have gone much worse. That said, I feel the need to address some recent developments, from a personal vantage point, and though I'm not about to name names, what I have to say is germaine to some local events. So.

First and foremost, however, I think the central observation, of late, is that in writing, I need to concede the fact that the primary motivational force, from a personal perspective, is simply a love for and fascination with language. I remain convinced, as science gains a stronger foothold on many areas until recently left to the humanities, that if human consciousness ever proves to be thoroughly explainable with statements that are objectively arrived at, it will be through the thorough and systematic exploration of the medium of language. The infinite variations language is capable of, and the complexity couched in even so simple a sentence as "I don't think I've ever seen anything like it"--the latter thoroughly hammered home in the course of teaching English as a second language and getting a real feel for just how many months it takes to work up to the above sentence--seem to me to present the cognitive sciences with a puzzle that is more complex than chess by several orders of magnitude...and they're still working on chess. Further, my own readings lead me to believe that our "reality" is thoroughly saturated with the limitations and potentials of that language we use to describe it, and may in fact be, in large part, determined by those limitations and potentials, and how thoroughly we bend to the former, or reach for the latter.

That said, see premise one of this post. I'm aware that all of this is contingent, but the "truth," or lack thereof, is not the point--rather, the point, from my perspective, is that for whatever reason, this particular aspect of being human is of endless fascination to me. Further, that this is the only point to continuing. This is a shift, if not in fact, in having become conscious of the fact--in the past, the ostensible focus of the work was to reach out, to engage in dialogue, on the premise that dialogue is itself a good, particularly in respect to the founding principles behind democracy and self-governance. But this premise is no longer sufficient. While my own belief in those principles may still be strong, my belief in the ability for those principles to function in the present context--in which a certain key resignation, while welcome, rings hollow in the realization that, as with every other member of our fundamentally corrupt ruling class, this is quite likely the full extent of the punishment that will be meted out for a series of crimes I regard to be deserving of much, much more punitive measures. We've seen this before, again and again. When a member of this class falls on their own sword, they must be rewarded, not punished. The only thing that's going to suffer under this schematic is the very democracy all of the above men claimed to serve and to love. And it's suffered plenty, and I've seen nobody--least of all myself--much able to turn that tide. And while I could spend the next few years deluding myself into believing that I'm copping out by not taking up that particular banner, I think maybe I could do more, and better, by simply acknowledging that the reason I continue to write is because I love language. And that's all.

So. About two weeks ago, we held the first of (hopefully) a series of open mics, organized, by and large, by Dylan, who finds himself having to function as point man for the venture because...well, because of a lot of things, though I do try to help out where I can. That show went well enough, and there are those, locally, who appreciate the efforts behind it and seem to genuinely enjoy the chance to gather for something other than just a night out on the piss. Dylan anchored the show brilliantly, and I got some excellent feedback on a poem I've been trying to puzzle my way through for the past few weeks, so that's all to the good. We've made plans for a second, and while I'm looking forward to it, I have to admit, after this last weekend, the wind in my sails has died down to a very gentle breeze that's likely to carry me with a little less haste toward that destination. Mostly, I think, second guessing amongst what is, of necessity, a fairly closed society of waeguks, who, for reasons of their own, are a little fearful of what might be said at such open mics. Fair enough. I've no good grounds upon which to project my own relatively high insensitivity to criticism upon others, and plenty of past experience to tell me that even well-meant criticism often wounds far deeper than the object of that criticism lets on. I have my own take on all that, but it's not really central to my concerns. What is central, however, is the fact that I was told (for the second time by the same person, interestingly enough) that I'm not aware enough of the particulars behind local waeguk politics to have a valuable opinion on the matter.

I admit, I'm not aware of those particulars. Further, I hereby admit that I'm not interested in becoming aware of them. What is striking, however, is that every time I go out, I hear of bad blood passing between another two humans, both of which I respect--at the very least, as humans--and I'm not sure how to operate under such conditions. I know, again, from my own experience, that there are those amongst us humans who are opposed to "unity"--under any banner--on principle, and I can't say I find those principles completely lacking in persuasiveness (though the actual principle is rarely enough communicated, in explicit fashion, as to make it almost unassailable for the fact that the bearer often refuses to acknowledge that it is even held). But the level of fractiousness I encounter, in the common course of any given day, closes up an already bleak vista in which no triumph seems great enough to be called progress. I fear for this future. I don't relish biding another forty odd years celebrating every small step that appears to make things "less bad," and trying to convince myself that those steps really are a way forward. I think we've been thoroughly hornswaggled, as a people, as a species, into believing that our selves are of such high value that we should commit them to no cause, no ideal, no love that might entail the sacrifice of even the smallest scrap of that self. Our leaders have divided us by convincing us that division is a virtue, when it's as likely that we're all blind dust groping in a vast universe that will one day swallow all our works and ways like so much detritus down a bottom-feeder's gullet. It's as stark as that, and the funny thing is, if all us little turds got together with a purpose, we could thoroughly kick ass.

Then again, in the immortal words of Steve Martin, "Naaaaah".

As for myself, I'll keep on not giving up, but I have to admit, I'm getting a thorough sense of just why it was that my younger self understood writing to be an endurance sport. It ain't easy, and let's face it, cynicism pays better. But cynicism's the man's game, and anyone who doesn't believe in the man after the last 6 years of American politics would be doing us a great service if they crawled the rest of the way up their colon and disappeared entirely up there.

Yeah. It's that dark in here. I'm still receptive to the light, but I'm gonna be hell to convince from this point forward.

Monday, August 13, 2007


Taking Stock


My thoughts run this way: in the past few months, I've dealt with a nasty piece of reverse culture shock that may very well have left me permanently embittered toward a hometown that I already had a tenuous relationship with, and, by extension, I have to look somewhat askance at the nation that houses such a place--and will not only tolerate, but actively defend the actions of an administration that has made it a public policy to a) torture, b) spy on its own people, and c) base government employment on political affiliation rather than merit or ability. For a few years I've found myself engaged in multiple conversations defending this nation against charges that it is in serious and pretty much irreversible decline, and doing so against arguments that frankly, I found more than a little convincing. While I generally tend to defer in such matters, I will say I'm past defending it. From a personal vantage point, I find myself battling the sense of being a colonial French teacher at just about that point in history when la lengua franca was being supplanted by the universal language. The pay isn't bad, but I feel a bit of an anachronism, on several fronts. Of late, my main concern is to wrestle back my mojo as a poet, but even that's feeling somewhat difficult for the fact that so much of my work has been toward either community or online literature, and I'm feeling more than usually antisocial and technophobic. I watch the division into schools, of an art that, even were it to present a unified front, appears to most to be an antiquated mode of expression that is rarely relevant, generally ineffective, and equated, for the most part, with lace tatting. My sole consolation in this last regard is that I think it obsolete for reasons that have to do with a poorly educated public's capacity for reasoned discourse, the sound bite having supplanted substantive thinking in most realms some decades ago. What I do not understand, however, is why poets insist upon what I can only regard as glorified sissy-fights as their misguided means to promoting the arts.

A friend from the Munich days once put it to me this way, after a show: "I like poetry--I studied it, like everyone, in school, and always enjoyed it--but I hate poets."

Maybe so. Maybe that's where I need to be, as well. All I know is that I desperately need, not things to write about, but reasons to write about them.

Thursday, August 09, 2007


We're back the saddle again. Join if you can. Anyone got a digicam for video?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Far from shocked

Ganked from Books, Inq.:

Which Author's Fiction are You?

William Faulkner wrote you. Yes, you're a genius, you drunken old coot.
Take this quiz!

Quizilla |

| Make A Quiz | More Quizzes | Grab Code

Sunday, August 05, 2007


Language's a virus:

"One of Ms. Kenneally’s most intriguing scientists, Simon Kirby, a linguist at the University of Edinburgh who works with computer models, has proposed the idea that language might be a self-evolving phenomenon. Somewhat like a computer virus, it changes and adapts to survive."

Read the whole thing here.

Meanwhile, ya think?


Untitled exile

ALSO the mind, and that land, easement of
   borders, fluid conjuring cubes from
   meandering streams, dream of stilling
river, rock, cloud, rain, cliff, grain, human, child,
our words puzzle through time, one or more steps
   behind, always. We only dream form/We
   dream only form/Only we dream form, BUT
we are most insistent in our dreams. So,
the old minds have it, with judicious
   application of limits, we may ground
   perfection on perfection's given, abandon
all our senses may offer, this tumult
   of living, and seek instead our unities
   in separate dreams that war with time.

Saturday, August 04, 2007


Rage Within the Machine

As it appeared, originally, a couple of years ago in Volume 6 of Marlow Peerse Weaver's "In Our Own Words" series (which, by all appearances, the website has gone down since, though you can still, ostensibly, order the book through ('tis no great shakes, literarily, though it's documentary function provides something at least mildly interesting.)) As it was published, but as I doubt many who stumble across this blog--or did, anyway, before I went silent--have read it, and as my contractual obligation not to republish has expired, I'm parking it here, as much for myself as for anyone.

Rage Within the Machine

We all know, in our own particular, stubborn way, that any attempt at exchange between humans inevitably entails stripping the matter down—-simplifying what does not merit simplification—-that between any event and the representation of same lies a space so saturated with the vagaries of our senses as to make of any claim to truth a laughable pretense. Saturation being the word for our particular times, feeling the pressure of ten billion plus human feet upon our Earth, hearing the familiar rumbling of those machines, the way we extend ourselves into our world.

It is June 5th, 1989, and even in this middling Oklahoma town, innocence is not a virtue to be pursued. We seek the death of our own innocence consciously, not through the fault of any system, but as a result of our own humanity, the natural expression of an unbounded and unbindable curiosity. The celebration of our own coming of age—a sudden shift from one age to the next marked by a single day on the calendar—one single, sleepy instant in which we both breech and acknowledge those boundaries under which we thrive, not merely a matter of shattering illusions, but also of choosing which ones we will continue to believe in. The End of an Era. The End of Communism. The End of History, discarded in the offhand flourish of a four-word headline.

Now you see it. Now you don’t.

It is not my birthday, but were I to put a definitive date on my own passage into adulthood, this would be the day. Behind me, the eighties, the cultural unit used to describe my coming of age, another illusion, upon which the curtain falls six months too fast for the calendar. WarGames, the Atari 2600, MTV grown from cutting edge to mass-marketing dinosaur in the space of just eight years. Even now, in some far removed point of space, marketing agents are wrestling toward the one phrase that will encapsulate "my generation," the phrase that will fit into the tidy edges of commercials for carbonated beverages, tennis shoes, candy bars.

I don’t know it yet, but I’m preparing for my future, engaged, as I am, in a proto-typical version of multi-tasking as I read Crime and Punishment during commercials. My reading is obsessional, dredging the tributaries of literature for corpora gleaned from casual adjectives, Kesey to Tom Wolfe to Kerouac, the present volume chosen on the basis of Kerouac’s use of the adjective "Dostoyevskian." An unofficial education, associative in nature, again unwittingly preparing myself for a hyper-linked future I’ve yet to envision. I feel, in preferring Raskolnikov’s justification for murder over adverts for mutual funds and products to staunch the odious by-products of being human, more distance between myself and twentieth-century Madison Avenue than I do between myself and late ninteenth-century Russia, the words before me speaking directly to my own awakening desire for greatness: "In my opinion, if the discoveries of Kepler or Newton, by some combination of circumstances, could not have become known to the world in any other way than by sacrificing the lives of one, or ten, or a hundred or more people, who might have hampered or in some way been obstacles in the path of those discoveries, then Newton would have had the right, or might even have been under an obligation…to remove those ten or a hundred people, so that his discoveries might be revealed to all mankind."

The television is tuned to CNN Headline News. Real News. Real Fast. The world condensed to thirty minutes of breaking news, distant lands bleeding into my living room via satellite. For the last seven weeks, beginning with the mid-April death of Hu Yaobang, who served, until his ouster in 1987, as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, the drama has been building to a slow climax. The spark provided by this death, the death of a prominent man who may well have shared a common logic with Raskolnikov, ignites a gathering flame, now the conflagration of a million Chinese citizens standing in Tiananmen Square, demanding nothing short of Democracy. Guiding light of our century. Every bit as elusive, in practice, as were the more admirable aims expressed in the writings of Marx. Yesterday, that demand was met by the awesome force of the Chinese army. Today, I sit here, half a world removed from the events keeping me riveted to the screen, months shy of my own arbitrary passage into adulthood, watching as a different vision of greatness is played out in my living room: one man, daily shopping in hand, confronting a long line of tanks, bringing the machine to a halt with his demand to know what they are doing in his city.

Here is the reason we mourn, again and again, the loss of innocence: it is simpler. Easier by far to take our first, visceral reaction as truth. Easier to pretend that this moment extends no further than this present, simple, immediately digestible image of power; one human, armed with courage, making a difference. Easier to just believe. By the time my majority is recognized, the Berlin Wall will have fallen. In two years, the word "Balkanization" will enter the common lexicon. Within five, the word "internet." Download, storage capacity, planned obsolescence—entire paradigms framing politics, economics, human cognition discarded like a locust’s exoskeleton. Future shock is now. We have left our homelands, and in our absence they have ceased to exist.

Easier to believe in the strength of one human voice bringing the machine to a final, glorious halt. Easier to divide along the lines of human virtue and machine malevolence. Easier, by far, to forget where these machines came from—their dark, metallic lines every bit as balanced, as carefully executed, as a line of poetry, the composite parts of their engines working within the same framework of tension and release informing our philosophies. Easier still to measure the distance between our selves and our machines by opposing spirit to matter—-and here, the image truly begins to break down, for it is an image, filmed by a machine, transmitted by a machine, received and translated by the machine I now watch. One human’s courage in the face of an awesome machine, a machine explicitly designed to control and destroy, carries no meaning if not communicated. In my very ability to see this one instant, this one human finding the courage to transcend his self and communicate, through action, the collective desires of a million other humans, there remains in myself a less innocent strain, in which the eye guiding the camera demands recognition.

Tension. Release. Both contained in hard matter formed to our specifications, driving the engine forward, bent to our will. Any question framed in the self-limiting terms of morality—-right and wrong, vice, victor and victim—-recognized as an ongoing inquiry into whose will this individual machine is serving. And we all build machines.

It is June 5th, 1989 and it doesn’t matter, really, that Crime and Punishment lies not in my lap, but on my bookshelf, having been read some months previously. Simplicity’s the thing, and the twinned visions of greatness, one Raskolnikov’s deadly hypothesis, the other an anonymous Chinese citizen’s actions, are both straining under the weight of the present moment. Doesn’t matter, really, that I—-a bookish, Okie kid, bone-weary from another nine hour shift feeding the metal components of a machine I will never see into other machines I do not understand—-know already that tomorrow I will return to my work, and will make no inquiry into the nature of the machine I am building. Doesn’t matter, finally, that I understand, in this silence, my own desire to build my own machine. Machines of words. To truly understand a machine, you must build that machine. Few of us have access to a foundry, but we all have access to our voice, and for one voice to alter our world is less a result of the quality of that voice than it is the result of the compressed explosion of that voice within a charged context.

Tension. Release. Can we get along here? Can we all get along?

Arms sticky with the lubricants used in the factories to keep one machine from destroying itself as it fashions parts for another machine, the air of the room petroleum-heavy, charged, compressed, pressurized, waiting for a spark. Context weighs on every atom we breathe, summer flaring from the hard mirror of steel rails as the machine of history slips its well-laid tracks, and what will do I attribute to our collective machine, that language we use to set boundaries, to collaborate, to conspire, to oppose? It is June 5th, 1989, and I don’t know it yet, but I will never know what happens to one man in China, will never know if he knows what I have seen, do not know now what eyes, what wills, what cameras are recording what words and works, pushing back against the heft of history as it presses hard upon our need to speak.

We are but sparks.



Laughter is the last refuge of the wounded.

Friday, August 03, 2007



...the extremity of premise three, that only the present experience exists, self is thus a mental construction by which experience through time is interpreted as belonging to a cohesive whole. Hobbes' clock, striking twelve. Absent this sense, whether this sense is illusory or no, the self, when defined in communicable terms, fragments.

Language--of whatever form--being a primary form of thus communicating a possibly illusory sense of a cohesive whole by which experience through time is seen as continuous--thus exposes itself as inadequate to the task: any single name for what one is, at the moment of any given experience, is insufficient to describe the experience.

Anecdotally, I am at some moments a teacher, at some a father, at others husband, at others, possibly a poet. At still others, my actions and/or perception of events is such that I feel compelled to claim many of these names at once. For the purposes of the present inquiry, I am interested in claiming the name of poet, but there are moments--indeed, the majority of moments--in which I am neither acting or perceiving as my understanding of a poet would direct me to.

I perceive myself, however, at all times, as a player upon the stage of language.

(BTW, as these individual thoughts may pertain to something larger, you could do worse than to give a squiz to Sven Birkerts' piece, "Lost in the Blogosphere," over at Can't say I'm 100% in agreement, but the piece does identify most of the really salient points, and reinforces my own feeling that the greatest danger a poet--and co-incidentally/co-respondingly any form of "culture" that is at all reflective--faces today is the danger of distraction. Take that as a thought from someone who wrestled hard with the religion of Hope and took great joy at the democratizing potential offered by internet-based forms of publication. One day, perhaps, I'll again be able to write that last sentence in the present tense.)


Inspecting the foundation

Premise one: Any inquiry into the nature or purpose of consciousness is highly susceptible, by virtue of the nature of the inquiry, to yield conclusions that are received, wishful, or both.

Caveat: this does not necessarily make such inquiries unprofitable. Any evidence I might cite to the contrary, no matter how uniform a body of evidence that might comprise, is purely anecdotal. My own personal experiences in this regard do not preclude the possibility of such an inquiry furthering the body of human knowledge.

Premise two: Regardless of the nature or purpose of consciousness, whether it be guided or no, whether it be a form of physical reality or wholly illusory, it remains an organizing principle that is difficult to dispense with. I think I think, therefore I think I am.

Premise three: There is, thus far, no solid, reliable evidence that any experience outside of the present consciousness I employ to organize those things I sense is likely to be forthcoming or to have preceded the present one. Taken to the extreme, this can be interpreted to take time into consideration: only the present experience exists. All others are conjecture, predicated on the uniformity of both time and self.

Accepting the above, with room for revision should it prove necessary: is happiness a choice? A viable one?

To add to Chomsky's status as "the most quoted author on the Earth" (and I'm not even going to use a particularly good quote): "Suppose that you felt that there's 99 percent of a probability that human civilization is going to be destroyed in the next hundred years, but one percent chance that it won't be, and that one percent offers some opportunities to do something. Well you commit yourself to that one percent." Take those percentages out of the realm of supposition: if you knew those were the odds, would you feel at all duty bound to commit to that one percent chance? If so, upon what grounds?

Thursday, August 02, 2007


Note to self...

What's needed here is a vehicle by which despair and anger can be made palatable to any but the person feeling them.

Never have I felt so challenged in this respect.

A friend, in my hometown, said, "You can't be an atheist in this town." Although I understood his meaning--it is difficult to make any kind of living in so small and so Christian a town if it is known you do not subscribe to the Judeo-Christian big daddy, never mind if you are actively opposed to people organizing their life around magical thinking--I challenged him. "Of course you can. I know at least two, and I'm agnostic." "Yes, but my point is that you can't talk about it."

Freedom: After pointedly not ogling the bare breasts and dancing madly to the drum circle in the Englisher Garten in Munich, it is more than a little ironic to hear this value being bandied about in a place where meth labs run rampant, but if you round up six of your friends to go play the guitar in a local park, you stand a very good chance of being put in jail, at least for the night.

What's at issue here is that there is very real pressure for anyone who legitimately dissents--at a time when dissent is necessary--to keep their heads very low. The pressure takes many forms, and not all of it is society wide: I have yet to speak of my last employment in Munich, largely because I am afraid that if I got started, I would say things I would later regret--that's not society, that's just me trying to be humane about the whole thing. But the pressure that is most disturbing IS society wide. Telling someone who wishes to become a poet that they must keep silent is hell to that person. The functionality of stoicism is not without limits.

I need words rich to the senses and to the mind. I need human words, that mean on a human level.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?