Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Roman Cieslewicz
I was leafing through my old copy of Cesar Vallejo: The complete posthumous poetry.
I originally picked this this up at a used bookstore somewhere. The frayed front page opens up to a page where people will write personal inscriptions.

There are two inscriptions in this book but one of them has been erased with white-out. Of course, I put the page up near a light-bulb but the words are illegible except one - the sign-off begins with the word 'Love,'

The second inscription reads "Merry Christmas Paul, Please keep this book... Love, Rosemary (Christmas 1989)"

Who erased the first inscription? Why would someone write a second inscription over a first one? What is the secret history of this book? Well now it sits in my hand. I open it up to page 67 and it reads...

Today I like life much less,
But I like to live anyway: I have often said it.
I almost touched the part of my whole and restrained myself
with a shot in the tongue behind my word.

Today I touch my chin in retreat
and in these momentary trousers I tell myself:
So much life and never!
So many years and always my weeks!...
My parents buried with their stone
and their sad stiffening that has not ended;
full length brothers, my brothers
and, finally, my Being standing and in a vest.

I like life enormously
but, of course
with my beloved death and my cafe
and looking at the leafy chestnut trees in Paris
and saying:
This is an eye, that one too; this a forehead, that one too...and repeating:
So much life and the tune never fails me!
So many years and always, always, always!

The poem continues. This poem is not particularly dark for Vallejo, who often writes about how men are tossed around cruelly by fate - many poems are about his own imagined death or the alienation he felt as a man in Paris or simply as a man.

I turned back to Vallejo recently since starting to read some books by Alfredo Bryce Echenique. Bryce Echenique is the author of El Guia Triste de Paris (The Sad Guide to Paris) , a collection of tales about strangers in Paris. Bryce Echenique shares with Vallejo, and also with a host of other Latin American writers such as Julio Cortazar, the sense of being suspended between two worlds. A small exodus of latin american writers led to Paris being referred to as the 'European capital of Latin America'. Many fled their homeland after having rejected their own society, living among it as curious outcasts. Arriving in Paris, however, many also discovered that the culture they sought was still in other ways alien to them. They existed as a sort of half-children in perpetual self-exile.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

I wish to end this brief review with a reference to Jennifer Miller, a contemporary "Bearded Lady" and a New Yorker who refuses to be victimized by her condition and who calls herself a "transgressive performer."

"I live in a very liminal place," she says. "It is a lovely place. In the theater it's when the lights go out and before the performance begins."

-from a review of Rosamond Purcell in RainTaxi
Have you ever established a code language - a simple one that sits on top of regular speech but can quickly communicate some other intended meaning?

For example, you might call a friend in the middle of a date and agree on a prescribed code. You ask her if she can make it to your party tomorrow. If she says she'll be late then the date is horrible. If she will be early, the date is going spectacular. If she'll be there extra early and might even bring over some dessert and help you cook, well....

On a darker note, I've had friends tell me that if they ever, for example, start talking about mangosteens in the middle of the conversation, then that means they have been kidnapped and I should call 911.

I can imagine taking this to an extreme. Each word or phrase also means a different word or phrase. Each action like the heavy thud of steps and each object, like an onion or a mirror, is also an element of a phrase whose conjunction writes a different story. (This might be like the opus-2 language of Chris Pressey in which deep red means to glorify and mothballs are the sign of danger.)

In a world in which every action has intentional meaning, most people must seem either like stuttering fools or like the creators of surreal collages (and you stare dumbfoundedly, head half-cocked, like a puzzled dog.) The graceful aesthete may go unnoticed by the rest of the world but you, with your intentional language, can pick him right out. Everyone else, for example, might only see a guy with a green shirt spilling his coffee on a small pile of books. But, to you, it is sublime poetry.

Friday, September 26, 2003

James has a really interesting first-hand account of the chess match between Blaine-in-a-box and a homeless man.

The game lasts in the order of six or seven hours. Watching intently, it is possibly to identify a weak, or seemingly inexplicable move. Blaine gives away a bishop very cheaply, relatively early on. Blaine and Greeff, though, are not Grand Masters, and to come along with a full stomach, nitpick the game and depart ten minutes later would be to miss the point. These are two players playing in exceptional circumstances. David Blaine, a third of the way through a feat of endurance, has not eaten for fifteen days. Francois is a homeless guy with a hidden disability.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

My book club meets tonight. Having not read the book, I have the perfect chance to enter the conversation with the least of preconceived notions, the perfect mind freed from judgement.

It reminds of this remark of Borges:

The composition of vast books is a laborious and impoverishing extravagance. To go on for five hundred pages developing an idea whose perfect oral exposition is possible in a few minutes! A better course of procedure is to pretend that these books already exist, and then to offer a resume, a commentary . . . More reasonable, more inept, more indolent, I have preferred to write notes upon imaginary books

I'll also try to not read the book next month.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Here are two songs from Astrud Gilberto for a hot San Francisco day:

1. Nao Tem Vez
2. How Insensitive
At my old place near 17th and Valencia, I used to brag about how there were at least 12 different bars within *one* block. When I moved to Bernal heights, I knew that number was only headed in one direction.

Last night, when looking for a nearby bar, I realized there were actually only three in my immediate neighborhood. My first choice is probably the Wild Side West which has a nice back patio and garden and a pool table. Its also one of the best lesbian bars in the city, but they are non-lesbian friendly.

Then theres Charlies, which is modern and hip but cant seem to get its business off the ground. Its a great place if you dont mind seeing the same ten people there. Still, the owner tells me, they are developing a cool backroom and the place should take off soon.

Finally, there's Skip's Tavern which is usually described as a 'neighborhood blues bar'. The music is good but whenever I've gone there it has that feeling like a fight is about to break out in the next 10 minutes. This could be a good or a bad thing depending on your mood.

There's only two other bars worth noting on nearby Mission St. First is The Odeon which seems like a cool place but it also seems like its trying hard to be a cool place which, in the unforgivable calculus of cool, probably means its not. Still, I havent actually had a drink there.

Then there is The Argus which holds a place in my heart. The first time I walked in there (in the middle of the afternoon of course) there was only one guy there and he was reading a Shakespeare play as he downed his beer. I had noticed that the place had a whole stack of books against one wall and when you look closer you realize that they are all paperbacks of different shakespeare plays.

When I went back later (I had to return) I asked the bartender what that was all about. He told me that a bunch of guys (and girls) used to show up there every monday night and read shakespeare plays aloud, assigning roles, and getting drunker and drunker until all coherence, if there ever was any, was lost. Apparently, the group disbanded but left all its paperbacks, culled from used bookstores and yard sales, to the bar where patrons still leaf through them as they down their whiskeys or cheap beer.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

I'm watching the convergence of cognitive neuroscience and physics. Succinctly, how do we perceive the world and what illusions do we create?

The work of Gazzaniga among split-brain patients:

In a wonderfully elegant experiment, a group of researchers led by Michael Gazzaniga at Dartmouth College showed pictures to the right and left hemispheres of a split-brain patient and then asked each hemisphere to pick another picture to accompany the one originally presented. The right side was shown (through the left half of the visual field) a house with snow and, logically enough, it picked a shovel. The left hemisphere was shown a chicken leg (through the right half of the visual field), and it picked a chicken head-also quite logically. The experimenters then verbally asked the patient to explain his choices. The left hemisphere was the only one that could articulate an answer, but remember-it did not know why his right counterpart had chosen a shovel, since the information about the house with the snow did not cross the severed corpus callosum. The patient's answer was as astounding as illuminating: "Oh, that's simple. The chicken claw goes with the chicken [which was true], and you need a shovel to clean out the chicken shed [which was coherent, but completely false]." In other words, the left hemisphere acted as an interpreter of the worldview of the individual and fabricated a just-so story to fit all the available data!

These sort of experiments have shown that the left hemisphere is in charge of our worldview, of the paradigms we currently hold about a variety of aspects of reality.

So theres enough evidence that volition is a carefully constructed illusion. Our higher brain may be nothing more than a deluded emperor who is kept in the dark by his cunning subordinates.

The first communications between the right brain and the left brain must have been like a spark gap being ignited. This is where Jaynes comes in who speculates that the 'unified brain' is a recent development. That our ancestors carried two brains and that they believed the authoritative whispers of the left brain were direct messages from the gods.

Autistics, like Tito, must bind together the different experiences of reality to create a larger view which we create seamlessly.

How does all this apply to physics? The deepest illusion we maintain is that of the notion of Time. We cant define it. When we sketch it out mathematically, it just behaves like Space and yet we "feel" that it is so fundamentally different. The illusion we maintain is that there is a coherent narrative of events or that there is a narrative at all. Not only the future, but also the past is being created at this very moment. These are the ideas that John Wheeler is pursuing.
All these little things, like a swarm of flies on a summer day.

Monday, September 15, 2003

I was away for the weekend. I slept. I swam. I read books (William Golding Free Fall, The tale of Monkey ) I played the piano. I watched the stars. I drank wine and ate dark chocolate.
I lay in the sun. I played scrabble. I got a massage (shaitsu and reflexology). I talked about swimming (How do bodies glide through water?) I laughed with a performance artist (not at her) and played word games with a red-haired (the color of yarn) girl. I talked about hawks (some ethereal play. how do hawks inspect the world? Are we below their notice?)
It would have been an even better weekend had I not forgotten to bring the coffee.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

In The monstrous and the marvelous, rikki ducornet explores the sense of the fantastic. She has a list of Optical pleasures which i found too good to pass up. I've reproduced pieces of it here and added links where appropriate:

Any number of things set off my chronic weakness:

-Edward Lear's paintings of parrots, Man Ray's photograph Glass Tears, the glass of Emile Galle...the ceramic dishes of Bernard Palissy...

-Paradises, true and false: the Tea Palace in Mantova is a prime example...

-The serpents painted by Jacopo Ligozzi, anything painted by Bosch or Maria-Sybilla Merian...Tenniel's illustrations for Alice

-A mural painted by Max Ernst for Paul Eluard's house called Au Premier mot limpide..

-Tumeric....the books of Jurgis Baltrusaitis


-The entire bestiary of Aloys Zotl

-Capricorn beetles

-..a glass by Dale Chihuly...

-The original edition of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica of 1768-1771.. Plate LXXIV (Book Two) contains the following:
1. an Electrical machine
2. a Cloud machine
3. an Elephant
4. an Echeneis
5. an Elater
6. an Erinaceus or Hedge Hog
7 & 8. Ermin and Ermine (Heraldric Crests)

The English version of the collected works of Georg Buchner has this to say about "Danton's Death":

The powerful theatricality which a modern audience may recognise is all the more suprising, since there is no evidence at all that Buchner was a theatre-goer or had any real conception of how a play was staged. Furthermore, he wrote the play not from any deep love of the theatre, but in a feverish rush, in five weeks and under constant threat of arrest, because he was desperately short of cash. Possibly it was this very naivety and haste that lent such freshness to his approach.

Well, that english was from an Amazon preview. I am reading "Dantons Tod" as a piece in his Werke Und Briefe. Its a small German hardback (pub 1968) that I have owned since 1992 as part of a small collection of German books a friend gave me back then.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

At about noon yesterday, LB called me and told me she had an extra ticket to go see the Dalai Lama who was in town. She had gotten the ticket from a Tibetan friend of hers who as a small girl had followed the Dalai Lama into exile.

I was asked by another friend who couldnt attend (it was USF students mostly and then Tibetan friends and media) about what my perception was of the Dalai lama in person. Did he have an aura, a presence?

I'm not sure I was in the best position to judge since the event took place in a basketball gymnasium. Thats not the kind of location, at least for me, that usually inspires transcendence. (A counter-example would be a Catholic Mass I attended a couple years ago at the summit of Mt. St-Michel, on a cold foggy french morning shortly after seeing a dead man in Paris. It is in this way that moments are constructed.)

I know he giggled a lot. Having not really heard him speak before, I was unsure of when he was joking or when he was serious. The strongest impression he gave to me was of someone who had achieved some measure of happiness.

There have been some recent articles on the subject of happinness. Also, some recent research seems to suggest that the practice of Buddhism does indeed make you a happier person.

Like most others, I am happiest when I am deeply engaged in the "now", in the present moment, engaged in a task that is stimulating or meaningful. But I cant exist only in the now. I also need to look up and see that the future itself will be full of grand surprises, undiscovered joys.

After the lecture, LB and I went to this great french bakery where I ate a Duck and Prunes sandwich while we chatted briefly about the lecture, about her friend and Tibetans in exile. The small moments did seem more pleasant so maybe his presence did have a calming effect, a lingering radiance.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

I've been recently playing around with Terragen, a fractal landscape generator which is quite easy to use for a beginner like myself. It has a wide following as well. And, although its is mostly used to generate static pictures, the community has started using it to generate planets and fly-overs.

I created the above picture in about 10-15 minutes. Its amazing how far this has come. I think I created my first fractal mountains on a silicon graphics box in 1993. It was just a crude wire rendition but I was so excited even then at the potential for realism.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Several burning man refugees are on their way here. Time to unfold couches and search for spare blankets.
While I was at my parent's house, three other houseguests were there too. In addition, they had some sort of party two out of the four days I was there. My parents are social creatures who thrive on having others around.

I'd walk around the house and, even if the room was empty, i could sense the presence of everyone else. I walked by the kitchen once and an unattended pot was mysteriously boiling. Walking back through a while later, the pot had disappeared and there was the faint scent of tea in the air.

I'd see some item, maybe a book or shoe, in one room and then later see it mysteriously appear in some other part of the house soon after. This happened enough that I started to suspect there was some sort of Underground Railroad for household objects.