Archive for March, 2010

29
Mar
10

78 or Zero Endings

I just got back from ‘The End?’, an interdisciplinary Humanities graduate student conference at Indiana University. As I am basically an inter-disciplinarian, I presented on my book, 78 Stories, and on the theoretical context through which I understand that work. I read excerpts from the book, answered questions from the audience, and delivered a brief talk.

Below is an abbreviated version of the talk that I gave:

This is a panel on constraint, and yet, as the tradition of constraint writing is most heavily associated with the Oulipo group and their successors, it is also secretly a panel on potentiality…. {section on Oulipo, which I’ve basically posted on this site in other forms so am excising from this post}

… This project, 78 Stories, specifically grew out of my interest in Oulipian writing practices and the Derridian notion of iteration. (I am about to butcher Derrida here, but the general idea or inspiration should come across.) Derrida proposes that a grapheme- that is, any unit of text, can always be repeated such that each repetition means differently (because of context) and yet bears the trace (because of the larger context of that grapheme’s history in the world) of each previous usage.

I wanted to devise a constraint that would be a kind of iteration engine, that would force every block of text to mean in multiple directions. I eventually thought of the crossword puzzle, as in the crossword each white square is filled with its own grapheme, in this case a single letter, and every letter forms part of two different answers- one across and one down. In the standard American crossword puzzle- the form I chose for my project, the grid used measures 15 by 15 squares, is parallel along the diagonal axis, and every square must cross. That is, there are no letters that do not form part of two different answers.

For ’78 Stories’, I chose to use the unit of the paragraph as that which would repeat. Now, when you read the text, you can read either across or down until you reach a black square, as if you were reading the answers to a filled in crossword puzzle. This created an interesting problem with regards to the topic of ends and endings. What serves as an ending must also serve as a beginning, as a middle, as a totally different ending altogether. Characters with the same names perform the same actions over and over in radically different contexts across the surface of the stories, bearing the markings of each other, even the described-bodily and emotional characteristics, while never fully coinciding. A valid reading is that the same characters repeat but are subjected to different fates, but I much prefer to think of the characters as iterations, each one singular but haunted by the others that bear their name. I don’t want to get too far into speculation about subjectivity, and I want to actually read you some of the text of my book, but I will note that this seems to me to be more or less how names tend to function, even as they might name the same person in different stages of life.

Before I begin, I should also note that endings and finality are major themes of this work’s content, as the stories swirl around many many deaths, romantic failures, and apocalyptic events, each one of course doubled, none of them the proper ending for the work as a whole. I am interested by what this doubling of death, doubling of doomsday, does to the finality of the final. In a text that does not properly begin or end, although, I suppose, it can be exhausted, (sidenote: the non-finality of death is also highlighted by my frequent recourse to ghosts) I would like to think of this non-stable doubling as performing death’s function on death– that is, as death is of course the guarantor of the fragility of life and the end is the guarantor of the finitude of narrative, to disrupt every ending is to cast that single point of certainty itself into uncertainty, which is either a liberating or dreadful gesture, or, as befits this strategy of doubling, it is both.

—-

The conference, by the way, was great. I’m bummed that I missed that party though. Sorry W. Philly people.

24
Mar
10

i sometimes wonder why the world keeps on turning

So maybe you’ve read on the hippie news that oil drilling is changing the tilt of earth’s axis.  I say this is baloney because the oil isn’t moving that far away from its original location in the crust to the surface, relatively speaking.

HOWEVER — IN OTHER NEWS — EARTHQUAKES CHANGE THE EARTH’S AXIAL TILT.

This is kind of old news, like Chile-earthquake-era news, but I’ve been thinking pretty hard about it.  Like, we’re losing microseconds every year.  And every earthquake changes the number of microseconds.  Because the EARTH IS UNSTABLE IN THE UNIVERSE.  IT CAN SHIFT. WTF.  I know the universe is expanding and stuff.. but I thought we were pretty stable otherwise.  (Could a huge earthquake make us fly out of orbit?  How about a universe-quake?)

What does this mean about our daylength?  Did the Romans have longer days than we do?  When we say life-expectancy has increased since the industrial revolution, is it a farce because our days have simply gotten shorter?

Am I aging more quickly now than when I was born?  Do I have greater or fewer days until death?

When am I going to die?

If the earth is gonna be shifting around, how am I supposed to keep track of anything?  When is it going to be summer?

Answer my questions, please.

22
Mar
10

3 ideas that are almost impossible to decipher

or, words so thoroughly charged with meanings that they ultimately contradict themselves:

formalism

humanism

modernism

attempt definitions at your leisure. prizes to those most comprehensible. additions to the list will be met with frustration and praise.

21
Mar
10

names part 2 : polynomial approximation

By performing a simple alphanumeric conversion (i.e. a = 1, b = 2 etc) you can fit polynomials to words, and therefore come up with a continuous interpolation of them, for example producing a letter for the 3/2th place in the word “GHOST” (turns out it’s F) or any other place along the line, although what the meaning of these non-integer ordered letters is I don’t understand.In the plot above, you can see the polynomials for GHOST and ISLAND, illustrating how they take the respective alphanumeric values at each integer. Rounding to the nearest integer, the letter at each quarter step (i.e.  at 1, 1.25, 1.5, etc instead of at only 1, 2, 3 etc) gives the following strings:

GFFGHJLMOPRRSST IKNQSSRPLHDBABEINRTPD

As expected, every fourth letter is the that of the original word. This method only covers a single case of the 26 letters in the English alphabet. If you continue to values beyond the place of the last letter (or before the first) you get numbers beyond 26 (or below 0.)

19
Mar
10

Names

Ghost Island

Goes Thailand

Go Stylin’

Ghost Eye Land

————-

14
Mar
10

Unrelated Very Short Things

1) Song of the week: ‘Million Tears’ by the Pastels

————

2) I am working on a project involving blurbs for books that do not exist. One of the potential contributors to the project wrote about her distaste for the blurb as a form. This prompted me to try to articulate what interests me about blurbs. Here is a fragmentary text excerpted and revised from my response:

One of the things that I want the project as a whole to investigate is the ways in which the blurb/back cover text is and is not part of the book, how it can and fails to conjure the idea of the actual book, how some blurbs are more exciting than the texts they describe while others completely under- or mis-sell the books to which they’ve been appended. The blurb, to me, is a fascinating and almost ‘secret’ (or unrecognized or something) literary form.

Is this a blurb for blurbs? Also, does anyone know the etymology of the word ‘blurb’? Is blurb not a singularly ugly word? I think it suggests soot, goop, cynicism and morbid obesity, and yet I will admit that I am a lover of blurbs and like to read them over and over.

09
Mar
10

John Stewart and the Meaning of Life

As was recently posted on the Guardian (scholarly version here), the philosopher/hypothesizer John Stewart thinks he has a pretty good guess at the meaning of life. It hinges on a few points:

1. He claims to observe a repeating trend in biology in which forms aggregate and coalesce into a new more powerful form.

2. The seeming fine-tuned-ness of the universe for life, which leads many to anthropics and the “Many Worlds.”

3. That it is possible to create a “universe,” although the sense of the term as he uses it might sometimes be closer to “replica universe” or “simulated universe.”

He then posits the following:

The trend for larger scale organization will continue, with humans eventually forming some sort of interconnected global community, which will reach into space and find other communities that originated on other planets, with the process advancing until it can either move outside of or manipulate this universe or find a way to create another universe (unless we kill ourselves first.)

The consequence is the question “What if it’s been done already?” and his answer is “You might end up with a chain of universes and their offspring-universes which are tuned for successively increasing habitability to life, with our universe being a link in this chain.” Even if we have no way of knowing any of this to be true, he reasons we should act as if we do, and therefore the meaning of life is the lesson taught by terran evolution (and contrary to the “survival of the fittest” style individualism) that it’s best to cooperate.

He doesn’t posit how this train got started. Maybe there is some source of universes or we are the first. I’m also not sure I would call it “meaning” to say that our lives are part of a large scale meta-biological process; he admits that many feel a similar scientific reduction is just what stripped it. But for all it’s logical bleakness, it’s fascinating and a little rosy.

07
Mar
10

OF WHOM WE ARE ALL HAUNTED

“We readers of many books are still very careful to say “Whom did you see?” but we feel a little uncomfortable (uncomfortably proud, it may be) in the process. We  are likely to avoid the locution altogether and to say “Who was it you saw?” conserving literary tradition (the “whom”) with the dignity of silence…It is safe to prophesy that within a couple of hundred years from to-day not even the most learned jurist will be saying “Whom did you see?” By that time the “whom” will be as delightfully archaic as the Elizabethan “his” for “its.”….We say I see the man but the man sees me; he told him, never him he told or him told he. Such usages as the last two are distinctly poetic and archaic; they are opposed to the present drift of the language.”

06
Mar
10

AWESOME FEELING

05
Mar
10

Sports

In keeping with the currently jocky mood, a few reading suggestions:

Roland Barthes answers the question What is Sport?

“What need have these men to attack? Why are men disturbed by this spectacle? Why are the totally committed to it? Why this useless combat?”

——-

Also see Robert Coover’s great baseball novel: The Universal Baseball Association Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop.

Here’s what the Times thinks.

——

Finally, if horse racing is more your bag, you could do worse than attempt some John Hawkes. I know one of you already took me up on this and should probably return my book…




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