Saturday, May 31, 2008

An American Childhood

But like anyone, I could recall and almost see fleet torn fragments of a scene: a raincoat's sleeve wrinkling, a blond head bending, red-lighted rain falling on asphalt, a pesteringly interesting pattern on a cordovan shoe, which rises and floats above that face I want to see. I perceived these sights as scraps that floated like blowing tissue across some hollow interior space, some space at the arching roof of the ribcage, perhaps. I swerved to study them before they slid away.

I hoped that sentences would ail the blowing scraps down. I hoped that sentences would store scenes like rolls of film, rolls of films I could simply reel off and watch. But of course, the sentences did not work that way. The sentences suggested scenes to the imagination, which were no sooner repeated than envisioned, and envisioned just as poorly and just as vividly as actual memories.


Friday, May 30, 2008

Maps of the Imagination

As writers, no matter whether our tendency is toward expansion or compression, we must gauge what to leave blank, and why. We need to be sure to choose our blanks, rather than simply omit parts of the fictional world that seem to large or complicated or bothersome to include....The challenge is to create a world that is realistically complex. Then we need to create such a persuasive whole that the reader isn't distracted by the necessary absences.

Maps of the Imagination, Peter Turchi

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Difficult Grace

[An original function of language] was to exclude from attention what was unimportant to the task at hand, thereby providing an ordering of the experience of the world. That exclusion, which characterizes rationality and discursiveness, is also useful to poetry, because it is in the balance between order and inclusion that poems are made. As Stevens said, "The poem must resist the intelligence almost successfully. The "blessed rage for order" must win in the end because it is that which allows us to survive. However, if the battle against it is not a raging battle, the poem will seem to have excluded too much.

A Difficult Grace: On Poets, Poetry, and Writing, Michael Ryan

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

One-Way Street

The power of a text is different when it is read from when it is copied out.... Only the copied text thus commands the soul of him who is occupied with it, whereas the mere reader never discovers the new aspects of his inner self that are opened by the text, that road cut through the interior jungle forever closing behind it: because the reader follows the movement of his mind in the free flight of day-dreaming, whereas the copier submits it to command.

One-Way Street, Walter Benjamin

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

An American Childhood

Children ten years old wake up and find themselves here, discover themselves to have been here all along; is this sad? They wake like sleepwalkers, in full stride; they wake like people brought back from cardiac arrest or drowning: in medias res, surrounded by familiar people and objects, equipped with a hundred skills. They know the neighborhood, they can read and write English, they are old hands at the commonplace mysteries, and yet they feel themselves to have just stepped off the boat, just converged with their bodies, just flown down from a trance, to lodge in an eerily familiar life already well under way.

I woke in bits, like all children, piecemeal over the years. I discovered myself and the world, and forgot them, and discovered them again. I woke at intervals until, by that September when Father went down the river, the intervals of waking tipped the scales, and I was more often awake than not. I noticed this process of waking, and predicted with terrifying logic that one of these years not far away I would be awake continuously and never slip back, and never be free of myself again.

An American Childhood, Annie Dillard

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Strong Opinions

Reality is a very subjective affair. I can only define it as a kind of gradual accumulation of information; and as specialization. You can know more and more about one thing but you can never know everything about one thing: it's hopeless. So that we live surrounded by more or less ghostly objects.

Strong Opinions, Vladimir Nabokov

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

January First

we shall have to think up signs,
sketch a landscape, fabricate a plan
on the double page
of day and paper.
Tomorrow, we shall have to invent,
once more,
the reality of this world.

"January First," Octavio Paz
Translated by Elizabeth Bishop

Invisible Man

Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in the face of certain defeat. Our fate is to become one, and yet many -- This is not prophecy, but description.

Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

Monday, May 19, 2008

Invisible Man

"I thought you had learned about that, Brother."
"Learned what?"
"That it's impossible not to take advantage of the people."
"That's Rinehartism -- cynicism..."
"Cynicism," I said.
"Not cynicism--realism. The trick is to take advantage of them in their own best interest."

Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

Social Uses of Poetry

Poetry can be the linguistic equivalent of weight training – an experience of language in all its resistance, a world in which “more difficult” does in fact mean “better.” Or it can be hollowed out in service entirely to the referent, an almost weightless domain of “experience.” Whenever the latter happens, however, social institutions (including those that replicate themselves inside of us) institute an almost automatic hierarchy of such experiences & emotions. This is why it’s so easy for people to falsify memoirs of dark beginnings & upward striving. We want to believe. We want to think that poetry can heal the rift between mother & son, even in the light of a conflict started under false pretenses with no clear goal or end in sight. But no amount of poetry is going to solve the problems of Iraq.

Ron Silliman
May 10, 2008

Friday, May 16, 2008

Humboldt's Gift

There were even profounder questions. For instance, the history of the universe would be very boring if one tried to think of it in the ordinary way of human experience. All that time without events! Gases over and over again, and heat and particles of matter, the sun tides and winds, again this creeping development, bits added to bits, chemical accidents–whole ages in which almost nothing happens, lifeless seas, only a few crystals, a few protein compounds developing. The tardiness of evolution is so irritating to contemplate. The clumsy mistakes you see in museum fossils. How could such bones crawl, walk, run? It is agony to think of the groping of the species–all this fumbling, swamp-creeping, munching, preying, and reproduction, the boring slowness with which tissues, organs, and members developed. And then the boredom also of the emergence of the higher types and finally of mankind, the dull life of Paleolithic forests, the long long incubation of intelligence, the slowness of invention, the idiocy of peasant ages. These are interesting only in review, in thought. No one could bear to experience this. The present demand is for a quick forward movement, for a summary, for life at the speed of intensest thought. As we approach, through technology, the phase of instantaneous realization, of the realization of eternal human desires or fantasies, of abolishing time and space the problem of boredom can only become more intense. The human being, more and more oppressed by the peculiar terms of his existence–one time around for each, no more than a single life per customer-has to think of the boredom of death. O those eternities of nonexistence! For people who crave continual interest and diversity, how boring death will be! To lie in the grave, in one place, how frightful!

Humboldt's Gift, Saul Bellow