Pen Sharpening Exercises
(Work in progress, 1997–2013)
Thursday, February 5
I have no personality.
I have no thoughts, ideas, feelings which are my own.
I have a pen.
This page holds the date well.
Today I have no personality.
I have no ideology.
This is a new day.
Pen sharpened and ready for action.
For Madman See Types
I kept a notebook of ideas, images, fragments for a literary project.
I kept a notebook of words and phrases, words copied from books, songs, conversations, words I admired, words that moved me, words that fascinated me.
I was a copyist.
I kept a notebook full of ideas.
The ideas were true and false, real and imaginary.
They were other people’s ideas, in other people’s words.
I was an analyst.
After a while, I couldn’t tell these words from my own.
I kept a notebook full of other people’s words, but put them in my own order.
The words stood in for actions and for thoughts, the actions were evil, the thoughts, or motivations, were evil, but the order was good.
I was a judge.
I kept a small black notebook, judiciously.
These were my own words, though I couldn’t keep them to myself.
And where the order came from, I could not tell.
I could not tell I could not tell I could not tell I could not.
Forgive me, I was still young and innocent.
I kept a notebook, a complete, forthright & accurate account of names, dates, places, of what had happened and what did not happen and what could have happened, of what I said and what I did not say, I kept a record of my thoughts & motives, and of the thoughts and motives of friends & enemies, of intimates & strangers, of existents & of non-existents, of what they said and what they did not say.
I was a madman.
I kept a notebook, it was a diary.
There was only one entry.
It was a promising beginning.
But I could not could not could not tell.
An Imagined Generosity
And now, it doesn’t matter how small the gift you have. It is what you have.
And I said, This is what is given you. And I lifted him up to his desk and said, Now write. And he said, Write what? I answered, Write that you are weak, that you allow even the mere voice of another, imagined subjectivity to compel you to your desk to write. Is that all? he asked. He seemed dejected, so I gave him this: No, one more thing: write that you have nothing more to say than this.
The power of the real is somewhat over-rated, he wrote, and closed the notebook and went back to bed.
Upon hearing of my promotion, the couple at the store around the corner gave me a gift of a small pink vase. Frightened as I was of receiving a gift, I resigned myself to opening the bag and unwrapping the thing from its cream-colored tissue paper. But the fear subsided when I began to reflect on the kindness and generosity of the two, who hardly knew me at all except for occasional cigarette and milk purchases. It certainly wasn’t that I was a good customer. Nor that I had offered to help them out in any way, though naturally I always greeted them warmly and secretly wished them the best of success. I began to calculate whether perhaps the profit they had made off me in cigarette and milk sales over the past three months since they opened the shop was in any way commensurate with their gift, or whether they had sensed I was a loyal patron and would continue to buy my things there, despite the fact that the husband had encouraged me to quit smoking, offering himself as an example, for he had successfully lived without cigarettes for three years now and was feeling 100% better. While I have an honest desire to quit, I give a fair chance to the possibility that I will smoke until I die. Nevertheless, they surely can’t be banking on it, nor, I thought, could they be doing so well in our neighborhood that they feel they ought return something to it. Besides, no one would mistake me for a representative of the neighborhood in any sense, they could hardly imagine that I’m a popular figure here (though once someone called me the Mayor) likely to spread the news around the neighborhood that the shop around the corner is a very good place to shop, come one, come all.
Because of my promotion, I took a couple of weeks off for vacation, in part celebratory, in part recuperative. I wanted to be in full strength of mind and health of body to begin fulfilling my new commitment. When I returned from this trip, however, my mind was hardly at ease. I avoided the shop around the corner. I hadn’t thanked them properly after having taken the gift home. It’s true that when I left I left in a hurry, running into their shop at their request before a last stop at the apartment before heading to the airport; I had grabbed the unopened package from the woman’s hand, saying, Thank you, or That is so thoughtful of you, and ran out. At home I opened the package.
Hansen, whose name I learned only by the signature on the card that accompanied their gift, came into the bar I was sitting in several weeks later. After warm greetings, he asked what my friends and I were drinking, whereupon he bought us a round. Failing to remember his name at the moment when an introduction would have been most suitable, however, I appeased my guilt by telling my friends of his great generosity, and this on a small acquaintance, adding that he and his wife make me feel as if we lived in a small and friendly town. When I turned around again he had gone. I vowed to myself to make a copy of a picture I had taken on my vacation and frame it for them as a keepsake. A week later I worked up the courage to go into the store and buy cigarettes: he greeted me warmly, we talked about the work day, how long it had seemed, You are lucky now, with your new promotion, he said jokingly, but soon it will probably seem like the same old thing! Yes, you will see! he said and gave me a hug. Had he had a shop before, in some other neighborhood? Perhaps it had failed, and maybe more than once, leaving him slightly bitter about making a living, for it must be very difficult to make ends meet with a shop like theirs, but all the same one could see that he still had the energy to try, and wasn’t bitter after all but full of life and enthusiasm. And so I went straight home and wrote a letter, a very beautiful letter, I might add, thanking them both for their gift, for their thoughtfulness, and the next day I was going to go to the post office to get a stamp, not an ordinary stamp but one that expressed the ceremony of my gratitude. A week later I walked by their store, my head slightly tilted to one side, but when I did not see either of them inside but only a boy, probably hired to help out, I made a few unusual steps (even for me) and veered round into the store. Once the door closed behind me the wife got up from behind the counter, and I saw for the first time that she was quite pregnant. I said, Hello! How are you? Hi!, she answered. When did you get back from your trip? Oh, three or four weeks ago (I was trying to downplay my delinquency)—I guess this is the first time I’m seeing you since I’m back? Yes, she said, I haven’t seen you in a while. I paid for my cigarettes and left, speaking clearly and confidently, so as to let her know I was planning on repaying the gift, See you soon!
Two weeks later I was again in Bar X with a friend when Hansen came in and, walking by our table, smiled broadly and firmly shook my outstretched hand, quickly moving away after an exchange of cheerful greetings. My friend tried to talk to me about I don’t know what, I sat there thinking only of Hansen, wondering if he got my card, which I had only mailed the day before—he made no acknowledgment of it in our exchange. I nodded. Yes, I said, On what day did you say? repeating over in my mind Tuesday, Tuesday, Tuesday, but my friend was beginning to tilt her head slightly in certain reference to my inattention when the bartender came over, put two bottles of beer on our table and, smiling, said, That’s from the guy down there, gesturing with his eyes towards the far end of the bar where Hansen stood in shadows. I smiled likewise, and raised my eyebrows in thanks, but couldn’t tell if Hansen was even turned towards us. I was explaining to my friend, He and his wife are very kind to me, when someone brushed past us, opened the door and turned around—I opened my mouth, See you soon! said Hansen, and was gone.
Lately, Every Day
For four or five minutes at a time, every day, someone is taking all this down. Maybe as much as fifteen minutes, at a time. Maybe a few hours. One can feel it oneself, as to when and how much. How often. That’s why clipboard and file, pen and paper, and a time. Somewhere there’s a clipboard with a file and a paper which reads Tuesday. What else could it say?
I am sitting alone in my room. I am writing.
I am looking alternately down at the paper in front of me and across the room at the other man. He too is sitting, writing, a letter I would guess. But to whom? No one has come to see him, no one even knows him, as far as I can tell. Except, perhaps for me, but who am I to say.
When I look down at the paper again I can feel his eyes on me, staring at me, looking through me as if I were made of air. He knows everything I do, doesn’t he. He knows what I am made of. He knows what’s in my pen. He knows what makes me write Tuesday.
I have something to say to you.
Write that you are a weak man, obedient to your impulses, chained to your habits, a slave to your desires.
Thank you. I knew I could rely on you.
Write what I tell you (came the instruction from a somewhat higher being).
Listen! clear your head, of stupidity, cowardice, indolence. And above all—no more lies!
And so with a slight movement of my hand and leaving no more than a slight smear of blue across the page I gave him a new start.
Listen! calls the listener.
And the ear recalls purpose.
The purpose recalls repurposer
and the speaker
speaks pauses at volume 0.
Pause Pause or
According to the instructions I pressed
the pause button, but
then the pause button was depressed and I
couldn’t get anything else to happen.
Okay go, I said (but it would not go).
Okay stop, I said (but it would not stop).
It would not respond to any of my wishes, so I
changed my wishes
(still no response)
until I gave up all of my wishes, yes? but
wait, all the while—it’s only
occurring to me now—all the while,
there was this
noise, buzz, or hum,
On the Keen Hearing of Our Children
Sometimes I cannot bear to listen to the stories of other people, of the stories of their loves and such difficulties. It causes me a certain pain, as it must most people, to hear of the suffering of others—I remember a friend, some years ago now, who had been left by her lover, and called us almost every night, and at some point in every call began sobbing into the phone, telling us about that day’s conversations with her now former lover, telling us every painful detail of those conversations, and about things that no one really need know about. Nevertheless, and I am not sure how I can justify this, I will indulge myself by telling you about something that happened, just recently, between myself and my lover.
One afternoon last week, I had returned to the office, when somehow it began to become clear to me that my lover was done with me, it was obvious, there was a silent laughter among the other workers. They were saying, I am sure of it, What an idiot! to have believed she would love him! There were even whispered rumors that she had a date with another man that night. I had stood for all I could stand for and couldn’t stand it anymore, and left humiliated, So it was all a game to you, I thought. What else was I to do? I went for a walk, in the woods by my house, where I often find solace, but on this day it was not to be, even the sound of the wind in the trees began to irritate me. Besides, it was getting late, so I returned home, to that house I’ve been building all these years, but such a makeshift endeavor—every time I exit or enter the house I have to do so by way of the lattice-work attached to the rear wall and enter by my window, there are no doors.
I climbed inside, and, feeling the need to talk to someone, tried to figure out the phone but it was no use—there was no phone. Then it occurred to me: the cell phone! which I tried to reassemble, because for some reason it had been taken apart and put back together incorrectly. I struggled to take it apart again and get it together as quickly as possible when finally, apparently fixed, the phone rang—my lover! It is you! I said. My lover, she wanted to talk, and to talk, but I could barely hear her, so I climbed back outside, tried to find a place where I might get better reception, she was telling me about all the new things E— was doing, and about a walk in the woods she took with E—. But G—, said my lover, she is afraid, she has hear-hearing. And I said What? and she repeated this again, and I thought to myself, hear-hearing? And she said it again, and I thought to myself, it must be especially sharp, especially keen, double the power of ordinary hearing, this hear-hearing. But I was truly puzzled and, feeling quite foolish, asked her, Okay, what is hear-hearing? In hushed tones, so that I almost couldn’t be sure what she said, she answered, G—, you know, she can hear the hair of men as they walk in the woods, the sound of their beards! I misheard—hair hearing! And this made me afraid, and I immediately went home and shaved off my beard. Just to be safe, I shaved off all my hair, covered my body with ashes, and filled my mouth with stones.
Odd, but the night before last, E— was sick again. Something was bothering her, in her ear. She picked at it and picked at it until she found a little thread, or hair. She pulled this hair, and pulled it and pulled it—it was six feet long, when finally extracted.
One More Message
And if someone says, This is what is given you, and if, lifting you up to the table, if someone says, Now write! and if someone says, Write that you are weak and allow an even weaker being to force you to the table to write. And if someone says, Write that you have nothing more to say than this—?
The power of the real is somewhat over-rated, I said, bearing in mind speech is a property or attribute of dissemblance, but when it was heard that I had said something where previously I had said nothing, someone comes forward and asks me for the message for X. I say, I cannot, the message is secret. In fact, though I don’t dare mention it, it is of a very personal nature.
And if you bring another into your confidence? at first, only gradually even assuming shape, mass, form, only slowly appearing like a life in your world, only gradually do their gestures resolve until you can actually hear them, saying, But I’m the messenger, how else do you think X will get the message?
And if I look out the window, into clearest blue of sky, a lone aircraft cutting its line in the sky—surely what can be said will be said—and I whisper the message. The figure laughs and, soon all the messengers have heard my little joke. God how they laugh. Yes now they’ve stopped. But they’ll start up again.
And all my intelligent agents shall perform information preparation and exchange on behalf of a client or server in an automated process, communicate with other agents to perform some collective task on behalf of one or more client or server.
Staging such an assault involves the recruitment of thousands of innocent machines. Which either destroys innocence or kills the machines. And desire?
I have no desire
I am a machine
said the voiceover machine. The message handler handles messages.
NOTICE: It appears the PMs have removed the unite-and-resist page. I suppose we really did solve the puzzle, and there are no additional solutions. You can all kill your clients now!
And, Tom, the one way to make them forget price is to give them a type of helpful, creative service that will make you and your papers worth more than the next fellow’s.
I believe you are trying, Tom. No one could say that you are not sincere. But some of your methods won’t do to-day and your knowledge and experience are limited.
Yes, Tom, I know. But the length of time you’re in business hasn’t got anything to do with the experience you possess. Take the attendant who guards the geology room at the local museum and has done so half his life.
The Daily Practice of Writing
One afternoon he sat at his desk with the pen in his hand hesitating just above the page and suddenly it occurred to him that he could do anything with his life—he was free from any obligations, owed nothing to anyone, didn’t own much of anything, wasn’t tied to anything or anybody—and his imagination opened up into multiple worlds. Anything was possible.
Furthermore, having no personality, no ideas, no ideology or theories, no thoughts, sentiments or feelings, which were his own, having no voice, having nothing to say, no words which were his own, it occurred to him that anything could be said, anything could take form, like light in air. This is the best of all possible worlds, he wrote, as the light was running out, and the money, and the ink in his pen.
Exercises in penmanship
or pen sharpening
are good for the word, as the pen is good
for the ink, and the ink
though we all have to accept some sacrifices. We have to accept that some ink must be lost in order for the word and line to be found, don’t worry, it’s neither good nor bad, it’s what it is. The word and the line will survive.
Lines that are fluid, flowing, fuel to be consumed by a social engine (culture).
Lines that are artful, artificial, artifacts of a condition or state (sociology).
Lines that are extenuating, yet not exculpatory, evidence of a personality (psychology. Or biology. I mean biography).
Lines that are passionate, full of desire, witness to a longing, or an indictment of desire (art, or sex).
Lines that are true, good, and beautiful—hence a mystery (religion, or mathematics).
Lines that are subjectively elaborate or decoratively self-deprecating, self-consciously mimetic or unconsciously parodic, immanently contradictory or eminently nugatory, varnished by intent or set in resin by unconscious forces, lines of a confessional nature (punishments. Or promises. I mean morality).
In the Anagogical Theater
Silence. Then sound of slow footsteps.
From the stage rise concentric rings, or tiers in which the novices sit, making careful note of every move of the doctor occupying the main of the proscenium.
The doctor. Bearing the accouterments of a doctor. Accompanied by the bearing of a doctor.
The doctor. After a ceremonious moment of measured consideration and holding the instrument in his hand, he draws his hand skillfully along the length of the body, then suddenly he starts back.
After a moment he re-collects himself.
What is operative here, said Dr. Zazetsky, is the instrument of reason. (See illus.: An anatomized cadaver anatomizing another cadaver.)
Later that evening, while eating his supper, alone, as was his good fortune, the doctor turned to the notebook on the table and wrote: “At all costs, perform operations on the human psyche”
he wrote, at all costs, and turned from his notebook until he was able to swallow again.
In the audience, a critic turns to the notebook lying on his lap and writes: “But what is this? in his mouth. What is this? on his tongue. What is this? spat delicately so back onto the fork.”
The literary act is consummated.
If food or some rejectable substance finds its way into the mouth, a secretion of saliva is produced. The purpose of this secretion is in the case of food to alter it chemically, in the case of a rejectable substance to dilute
and wash it out of the mouth. In addition to this, a similar reflex secretion is evoked when these substances are placed at a distance, even the vessel from which the food has been given, further, even the sight of the person or the sound of his footsteps, all these innumerable
stimuli lose their power forever as soon as the (cerebral) hemispheres are taken from the animal.
A data mine at the base of the skull.
A mnemonic excision by rhetorical tools.
A critical operation on a text string.
And tomorrow? Make self
test subject or
tell them anything, namely,
what is done, is done.
So It Was Written
Laia started by disinfecting my upper arm and then administered a local anesthetic to numb the area where the book would be implanted.
I really liked Laia.
Laia... —the book? not so much.
Entkunstung, Meaning “Art’s Emptying of Itself”
(There was) one page upon which every poet had written, until the whole of it became an inarticulate blackness. Some continued to write their lines but as soon as their hand lifted from the page what they had written couldn’t be distinguished from what came before, and was forgotten. For memory must have some particularity. Then some set out to scratch away the surface, to see what was hidden beneath. Some set out then to repair the damage to the page, to conserve the legacy. Some tried to turn the page, the page they were written on, which, if you think about it, a character in a line in a book, is a comical improbability. But impossible?
Who Are You?
They went into, within, among
any one of us
I’ve set a table with no names.
When they come, they
will announce themselves,
they will say I am.
Saying and being, they will
any one of us.
What Is to Be Done
You can do anything
with this page until the words
are full, though I may not be able
to write you again please
don’t try to contact me.
What We Need Are Results
And failing that, failed every test, including the last one, which was the test of recognizing that he had failed all of the previous tests.
Not that it would have helped his situation anyway.
Marginal Note, September 3
I know of several cases where amateurs failed utterly to hear voices, music, or even telegraphic spark signals from some station.
Several cases wherein the author attempts to improve his worldly pen through a series of spiritually edifying pen sharpening exercises.
Beep beep beep beep.
No no Beep beeep beep beep.
Beep beeep beep beep.
No not at all Beep beep beep beeep.
Beeep beep beep beep.
That's not quite it Beep beep beeep beep.
Beep beep beeep beep.
No no you're not listening Beep beep beep beep.
Beep beep beeep beep.
Beeep beep beep beep.
Beep beep beep beeep.
Beep beep beep beep.
We Serious Poets
Until the signal increases, and even the unaided ear could detect the familiar changes in the telemetry which said the recovery was under way. A sudden change in pitch—? Note it in the log, said Sir.
Who is “Sir”? Is it me? does he exist? You
are crazy, I’m worried about you, she said.
What Is to Come
Pig, in the mirror.
Monkey, you shave.
Face to face, eye to eye, lip
to lip, the tongue
enters in, the hand enters
paper enters in
to the fold of the hand
and away, but
a bad thing’s come
into my head—get it out! get it out, but it
will not come.
It will not come
to lips sewn shut, it will not come
to eyes Krazy Glued open, it
will not come to a pig’s tongue,
a monkey’s lips, the drool drooling
from the grimaced lips of the
shaved head of a crash monkey, its head in a vise.
It will not come to the teeth marks
on the tongue of a pig,
its shaved back burned with a blowtorch.
It will not come
to the brain of a crack-addicted cat, the eye
of a glamorous rabbit, the spine
of a similar dog, to the subcutaneous suffering of a
On the Aporias of the Avant-garde
The way your mind works
is amazing, said the tortoise
to the hare upon the hare’s exposition
of the paradox of motion.
What the hare is
unable to explain, however, is
who has established the tortoise
in the vanguard position?
Who has made the course?
And who has said Go?
Go, tortoise, go
’round the track
said the hare.
We have another show to perform
in the evening.
“Dance on you pigs, what concern of it is mine?”
Some pigs may object that this book is hardly a book at all, but consists rather of x texts only vaguely connected—I would be the first to admit that this is true, but insist all the same that some uncanny parallel exists between them, some identity below the surface and, in fact, I would insist the pig consider this something to be the true book....
Some pigs may object that this book is hardly a book at all, but rather
parables and paradoxes and
natural phenomena & artistic devices, insubstantial materials & transparent machines and
things that can be seen and things that cannot be seen:
voices that present a very compelling argument for the materiality of the universe and voices that are heard
voices that tell the author things and voices that tell the author to do things
voices that cry through the walls of the night and voices that sing from some station.
With one finger alone I’m
digging a hole between the eyes
to get out
to get them out, let’s be friends
their way of life?
Let’s be friends, all words, said the Word.
The Reward of an Ordered Mind
Once I was looking for a book and, seeing how filthy the shelves had become after months of neglect, took a rag to them. At first I tried to be very careful, wiping off the tops of a row of books, sliding them back slightly to get the leading edge of the shelf, and so on, but after a while I was caught up in an entirely vindictive dusting and sending vindictive clouds into the vindictive air of the room, so that I nearly became lost in the ambiguous marasmus, breathing in the stuff and soon began to cough. For days and days I coughed, but was unable to expectorate the bugs, they grew in my lungs, the book mites reproduced and colonized and soon a kind of order was established.
A highly specialized race, the philosophic mites retained a nominal position of authority, but the critical mites cast ultimate judgement. And the drones, the workers, the sexual functionaries, bred from the various disciplines—psychometrics, geometry, theology—each had their own tasks. And the literary bugs, the poetic bugs, avoiding work, settled into the head. Where they wrote:
Something about myself
how when I was younger
I became afflicted
of a common book mite,
I was younger
scratch that [scratch]
scratch again [scratch]
And here we have a process iteration,
the daemon spawns a new instance of itself.
The daemon has answered—
from above or from below?
or from the elided middle?
itching into the almost
State, or an instance of
evening. October 7.
from a straight path,
darkening. October 9.
or from a stable center
wobbling. November 21.
From the center of a language
an excess in transition,
the words so spun will
spin without stopping.
How their parts are co-ordered,
passing into chaos, break
then take place, as state, present.
That the sciences also are in language.
And Don’t Come Back
An agent is that which acts
in a self-interested
manner in relation to
An act is
that which is irrevocable,
assaying in agency.
And the ass of a snake
is a snake’s ass.
The ass of a snake forms a template
around which is written
Write failed: broken pipe.
How to Get from Here to There?
Step forward, she said, up to the line.
Raise your arms from your sides.
Now, empty your pockets on the table.
These last words especially calmed me down.
From gate to gate to gate
I can see it, the way
out or in just please
do not take my pen
but I gave it to her anyway.
I didn’t do it, he said, What didn’t you do? I said, he said I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it, he said, You didn’t do what, what didn’t you do? I said.
I didn’t do it, said the subject.
I’m sorry I told you that, he said. I’m sorry I gave you the idea that I did it by saying that I didn’t do it. I don’t know, guess I just felt compelled to lie to you, he said, though you’ve never done anything to me. I felt it—.
What did you do, I said, that you’d feel compelled to lie to me about?
I don’t know, he said, I just know I lied and lying must take an object.
Thomas remembers it like this: one day he was driving around with his superior, X, on one of those missions that had become so habitual, so routine, as to hardly have even been worth remembering, but it was on this one particular day, when X was driving, as was their routine, X was driving and, without turning his attention from the road, uttered the following: Thomas, operatives for ASN 102 should be allocated from AIC 134.
Thomas, as he told me, picked the notepad up off his lap again without hesitation and wrote quickly and with all the confidence of his experience in recording these sayings. X returned to his thoughts, and Thomas turned towards the window, and watched the countryside roll by. A minute later—an hour later?— X pronounced: Thomas,—.
Thomas wrote again as quickly as he could, trying not only to record every word exactly as he heard it, but also to preserve something of the tone of the original utterance, as he told me, Thomas wrote quickly and confidently, easily keeping up with the speed and agility of X’s thoughts. Thomas turned the pages of the notepad to a fresh page, and said to X, You know, if you used a tape recorder—.
For Thomas was nothing if not honest; moreover, he felt it his duty to offer, even in such an indirect manner, that Thomas’s account may not adequately convey the entirety of meaning intended in the superior officer’s words.
X—was he really listening, or was he lost in his own thoughts? Was he even aware of Thomas’s presence—for hardly any acknowledgement could be said to have been made by X, on any of their trips, of Thomas’s presence, of Thomas’s loyal, trustworthy, and dedicated companionship. X spoke: Thomas, make a note to get a tape recorder.
Would any reader be surprised that Thomas was fired from his post shortly thereafter? His superiors claimed, though this is obviously laughable, his superiors claimed that he was fired for impersonating a Recorder, whereas he had in all actuality barely achieved the status of Messenger.
The way backwards is the way
forwards the same.
You can do anything with this page
as long as you do not change any of the wording
and include a credit for the author and a copy
of the license included with the original.
We Will Never Be Alone
There is a little padlock
lying in my drawer.
It lies and lies. None
to keep out. None to keep in.
I have a little padlock and
Peter is the key and I
being monad have
neither window, gate, nor door.
The Following Passage
I take or make
a wrong turn
of the key even
with a map reference
to a second entrance
or exit to the secret
passages of structures
themselves, having come
the turning was the way,
key not found.
I turn back
and around, and
in churning chew
these words until
my teeth break,
spit out a golden key
to lock up all
the mouthing disaffectations.
The Way Up Is the Way Down
The tiers of the cylinder.
The fluorescent pulse of light.
The white on white.
No Clearance in Niche.
Write entrance (portal not given).
Write structure (tiers not given).
Write structure (situation unchanged).
Write out (transcendence not allowed).
Set up a table, open a new notebook.
Write this down: event # E01632209
if you have a purpose in this system. Otherwise,
please go down to Room 156.
Always a back door. Leave
always a back door
an escape plan
Late one summer and it feels especially hot and humid in the country. Better than home, he’s thinking while walking down the lane from the country house, on to the candy store for some candy. Skipping down the country lane, whistling a tune he made up, an atonal tune. The lane is narrow, woods on either side, with a median of dull grass and wildflowers swelling up between pale hollows of dirt. He turns a bend in the lane and sees something down the road: he sees a figure, sitting in the middle of the road. He starts walking again, a few steps closer and he sees that it’s the girl he likes, sitting on something in the middle of the road. It is you! he says, and she smiles. He sees that she’s straddling a milkbox, the folds of her skirt flowing over the sides of the box, her bare knees shiny in the sun. She smiles. What’s in the box? he asks, pointing. Oh, you don’t want to know what’s in the box, she said, and smiles. Yes, show me, what’s in the box? I can’t show you what’s in the box, she says. Yes, please, you can show me, what’s in the box? he says. No, you really don’t want to see what’s in the box, she says. Yes please! please! please show me what’s in the box! Well, I warned you! she said, and smiles—
Box of Poems
The wooden box
still empty box
in the corner of the room
waits to be remembered.
With the patience of wood,
it is written
(on the lid)
What is it that it is that it,
as is said in the French?
It is a wooden box,
as is said in the room.
What kind of a room is this?
I am sitting at a desk wearing a white shirt. Often I wear a blue-striped shirt. In fact I do not in general like white shirts yet here I am, sitting, wearing a white shirt. Yesterday I wore a blue-striped shirt and I sat here, at my desk, which is black. If I mention my desk it is because I am sitting at my desk tonight and I am writing this—that I am “wearing a white shirt.” How odd. You would think that I would be wearing a blue-striped shirt, because this is what I often wear and that, wearing a white shirt, I am hardly myself tonight. And yet I am. In fact if I were not wearing a white shirt tonight, at my desk, then I would not be myself. Because I am sitting at my desk, wearing a white shirt.
I am he-who-wears-a-white-shirt-now-and-is-writing.
I am he-who-sits-at-his-desk, -often-wearing-a-blue-striped-shirt:
I am he-who-wore-a-blue-striped-shirt-yesterday. In fact if I did not wear a blue-striped shirt yesterday I would not be myself. Because I wore a blue-striped shirt yesterday. And before that, I am trying to think, before that I was wearing a white shirt, that was the day before yesterday, though I am not proving my point very well that I often wear a blue-striped shirt, lately, because I am he-who-wears-a-white-shirt, -who-wore-a-blue-striped-shirt-yesterday, -who-wore-a-white-shirt-the-day-before-yesterday. And if I did not wear a white shirt, a particular white shirt, which I like, with white embroidery down the front on either side, the day before yesterday, I would not be myself. Because I wore a white shirt the day before yesterday as I walked for a while for a good several hours up and down the street in the rain. Actually, there was no rain the day before yesterday, I am confused, the day before yesterday I was sitting at my desk, thinking about writing, wearing a white shirt and, if I was not wearing a white shirt yesterday, I would not be wearing a white shirt tonight, while sitting at my desk, writing, and now drinking a glass of water or, alternately writing and drinking, writing and drinking as suits my fancy. Because I am he-who-sits-at-his-desk-writing, -having-worn-a-white-shirt-the-day-before-yesterday, -now-drinking-a-glass-of-water, -now-writing-etc. The question may be asked: And what if I did not wear a white shirt yesterday? Or for that matter: And what if I did not wear a white shirt on July 7 (I am only guessing that I did, though there is a high degree of probability that I wore a blue-striped shirt, as is often the case), and what if I did not think to go on, that day, in the still heat of a small room, sitting at my desk, go on writing, in my blue-striped or white shirt—?
And I did go on, I must have gone on. The day may be remembered and spoken of as if it were the past. It is not too difficult even to form in one’s mind the idea of such a room, a small white room with a black desk and books and a small bed place. A room, or a generic place in which one can be, as to eat sleep etc. A white room, as I say, as white is often said to be neutral, blank, empty, ready to go, ready to accept the events, come as they may. Such is the room to which I was bound, by necessity. No matter, I have since moved, I have taken my desk with me and my shirts and whatnot, the rest. I am here now, I am writing, no need to belabor the rest.
And if I were not sitting here at my desk now wearing a white shirt and writing, you would not be here too, sitting here, reading. This is a fact, is it not? Consider the following: if you were not here, where would you be? For the sake of argument one may say that a body (this term will do) exists, and any body that exists must exist in a particular place and a particular time. This may be said of bodies: one cannot exist and not exist. One cannot be in one place and time and likewise be in another. This should suffice. Therefore if I were not the writing-body wearing-a-white-shirt-body sitting-at-desk-body and so forth—if only one could grapple with the sum of all attributes! —then you would not be at all, because you are here, now, sitting here, reading this. No matter that you are not exactly sitting: you would not be at all, if I were wearing a blue-striped shirt, you would not be at all, if I were wearing a black shirt, you would not be at all, if for one moment I had worn a shirt other than that which I had worn on any particular day, the above July 7 being cited as an example, no matter that I’m mistaken and here may interpretation enter in, you would not be reading you would not be thinking you would not know your left foot to be where it is you would not bear your tongue in such a way that the teeth do not bite it off you would not smell whatever it is that you might be smelling in this place where you are, in spite of yourself and here an old trick: Don’t think of elephants. No matter, you would not have blinked your eyes in an elusive moment of boredom as you did, not willingly nor without any sign of will whatsoever, not once and then again quite a long time ago, in the past. I am being rather general, I admit. All the same you would not be at all if you were not the-one-reading-what-I-have-written-where-I-am-he-who-is-sitting-writing-wearing-a-white-shirt.
You may suspect this is a kind of philosopher’s joke such as that where two mirrors are placed face to face in a white room and may be said to mirror each other. You may suspect this is a literary trick where writer and reader reflect one another, where writer and reader may be said to be bound, by necessity, as I am bound to write for I am at my desk I am sitting I am writing. Which gives rise to mention: and so you are bound to the situation you are in, considering, that if you were not in your situation, sitting in your own sort of way and occasionally blinking and again mildly suppressing the thought of elephants—you would not be at all. Nor would you have been born, because your birth is only one of the things that must be said to be true about you in order for you to exist—nor would your mother have been born, even, for your mother is the-mother-who-gave-birth-to-you and you are the-one-who-blinked-again, -and-then-again, -who-now-reads-what-I-have-written. The same may be said of any one of the existents. I put it in the form of a proclamation: without this act, even, as every letter appears on the page in which I write, you would not exist, nor your mother before you, nor even your first ancestor, nor even the first cell, germ, or unit of life, or monad.
And from the point at which this thought is possible a connected order may be discerned, bound up with the very first moment as with the very present. From this very point a system of things, a connection or congruity or an agreement may be discerned, as of the order of words which brings them to bear meaning. Then when I write, “I am sitting at a table wearing a white shirt,” it will be understood that this is a necessary abbreviation of a narrative linking all things and all times. And tomorrow, when I wear a blue-striped shirt, it will be understood to be a certain inevitability.
Like a box
Like a certain wooden, oriental box or
puzzle which, once opened, cannot be put back
Like smoke exquisite arabesque
escape a scribble again.
ridiculous as Time
is to say
of the perfect
What comes is what is to come.
the past is open
What next? I forget, but after
a few good drinks I may
walk backwards out the threshold
and even come back to say,
Here I am.
Well, that takes care of regret,
but what about remorse?
As it happens a young man was so distraught about his family life that during a particularly violent quarrel between the man’s mother and father the man surreptitiously left the 14th floor apartment and made his way to the roof of the building by way of the emergency staircase with the idea in mind as to how to resolve it all, all their troubles, once and for all. The fighting was vicious and intense, neighbors have been quoted as saying, with very little uttered by the two, as neighbors reported, suitable to be reproduced by the press.
During the heat of the struggle the woman, the mother of the young man, pulled a handgun out of the coat closet, the gun presumed to belong to her husband, the father of the young man, and threateningly if haphazardly aimed it at him, her husband and the young man’s father, and fired.
I heard a bang, and then more screaming profanities, one neighbor was quoted as saying. This bullet has not yet been recovered.
In the ensuing struggle, the man wrestled the gun from the woman and fired off the gun again.
I heard a second bang, the neighbor is reported as saying, then it was strangely quiet.
This second bullet missed the woman, the man’s wife, the young man’s mother, and whirred through the air, passing through the plate glass living room window out into the night and into the body of their son as he fell through the air, killing him instantly, according to the medical examiner’s report, and before he hit the ground.
It is a shame, I thought to myself, it is a crime, to see anyone so robbed of their resolve, the will to take control of their own life.
It was originally reported that the bullet passed through the “picture glass” window, since corrected to “plate glass,” as this is obviously what was meant.
From a Notecard Found in His Copy of Fear and Trembling
weaknesses in writing are weaknesses in character
Friends for Life
In the woods at night between Sweet Hollow and Mt. Misery Road, while the blood brothers, or lost ones, really, are lighting cigarettes, drinking beer, and cutting themselves with razor blades, two trees uproot themselves from where they are and where they have been and all they know and hurl themselves at each other with such force until they stick.
What a sound they make.
Or there are sticks, in the woods at night, what a sound they make, and the two, lost ones, or lovers, really, pause for a moment spooked by their spooky ideas. Which thankfully they forget when they grow up and learn how not to hurt themselves quite so much in this life.
And, thankfully, there is no real reason or answer for every crackling sound heard in the woods at night.
Was Tarquinius Superbus in seinem Garten mit den Mohnköpfen sprach, verstand der Sohn, aber nicht der Bote. So quotes Kierkegaard, in Fear and Trembling.
The almost sexual excitement this line arouses in me may perhaps be explained in part by the fact that a lover of mine and I read it at a certain point in our relationship, in part because I couldn’t help thinking that it offered an insight into Bataille’s “Language of Flowers.” I’m thinking of it now because, at the end of another relationship, I had to clear out a storage space we’d kept and in the process went through several bankers boxes of old documents. I was surprised to find that one of these boxes contained not financial documents, but personal papers I had long forgotten about, postcards and letters, mementos of various sorts, even some drawings by old friends. I came across a ruled, 4 x 6 index card that had written width-wise in blue ballpoint pen on the blank side:
never come between us
and a drawing of what looked like a poker chip in blue to the right of the word “women.”
A chill came over me when I remembered how I came across A— and B— in George’s (which was the name of the bartender we liked, not the name of the bar) many years ago, talking and laughing quietly together over a beer, as one might often find them, when suddenly they turned to me—I didn’t realize they’d even seen me—and almost in unison said, Here, you better keep this.
Early in their careers, or career, I recalled, as it was at the time—the two collaborated on everything they did—these two young men, so close as to be considered nearly brothers, developed a secret language between themselves. Perhaps it should rather be called a style of communicating—they shared thoughts and theories, criticisms and opinions, feelings and intimacies, so to speak, about their lovers, about their friends, about other artists, things they would never reveal to anyone else and in truth could barely admit to themselves if it weren’t for the other. But what would you expect? Such may the nature of friendship, at times, that even what one has guarded as one’s innermost secret may be spoken, even in the most ordinary words.
They had often, as I myself have witnessed, spoken in this secret language in public, unbeknownst to others who thought they are saying rather ordinary things. This was, and precisely as they had planned, to their advantage. One day I was walking up First Avenue with them, when I heard one say to the other, Do we need stamps? Suddenly they changed direction, crossing the avenue, as I tried to keep up with them, nearly getting hit by a taxi cab in the process. When we were across, I turned to look at where we had been, and recognized Warren, or Michael, I forget which, walking down the avenue just about where we’d been. Isn’t that Warren (or Michael), I said. The two just stopped dead and stared at me, smiled slightly and seduced me into a bar where they proceeded to question me about the Bataille study I was doing at the time.
A— and B— spoke and corresponded and otherwise communicated in this secret language which after all appeared to be ordinary language. This brought them closer together, into a kind of a pact, as I had thought. Though for what? After all, after a while, as all friends do, they began to grow apart. They began to work separately and, after a while, never collaborated on a project again. Moreover, B—, who had come into some small inheritance and went to a prestigious MFA program, became more distant over time, wanted to have little to do with A—, even began to pretend to not understand A—, especially in public. Once at a party, I recalled, A— and B— were conversing with another fellow, another artist whose name I forget, and B— said that things were going quite well with his dealer, which was a lie, and A— said (to this other artist) Yes, B— was just telling me that things are going quite well. After a moment’s pause B— said, Yes, that’s, what I just said, A—, and raised an eyebrow to the other fellow.
Perhaps there was no secret language after all, perhaps I’m only imagining this, but it’s really hard for me to believe that friends so close, at least as they appeared to me at one time, would have not made such a leap, from the language of ordinary communication, to that of a special kind, like that secret language of lovers.
Now Do I Not Speak
For, Harry, now do I not speak to thee... in words only, but in woes also.
—King Henry IV.
After several seconds of a spasmodic movement of the muscles had ceased, he shouted the name of the man. And the half-closed eyes opened slowly, and looked at him, Docteur Beaurieux, then slowly closed again. The doctor waited a few seconds, then shouted the name of the dead man, at the head, and the eyes opened slowly, and slowly turned towards him, then just as slowly closed once again. He waited again a few seconds, then shouted the name of the man, at the head, and the eyes opened, then slowly the eyes turned towards him, then slowly closed again. The doctor did this until the eyes did not open, turn towards him, did not see his tormentor and his little book,—the man was dead.
* * *
Harry! I shouted, at the head. And the eyes opened as if woken out of reverie, and looked at me. Then slowly closed again. I waited a few seconds, Harry! I shouted, at his face, and the eyes opened with a kind of languor, and slowly, very definitely, turned towards me, then closed again just as languidly, not another muscle of the face moving all the while. I looked at my wristwatch, waited again several seconds. Harry! I shouted, at him. And the lids of the eyes, they opened, his eyes, they turned towards me, slowly fixed themselves on mine with an undeniable stare of recognition. Then slowly again they closed. I did this two more times, Harry! I called, Harry! until his eyes took on that gaze which they have in the dead.
* * *
Cool, pleasant evening. The business of the day well concluded, and after a fine supper, I’ve taken up my hobby again—but something is eating away at me tonight, chilling me to the bone.
Something has remained with me, haunting me every waking day and in my dreams as well, and who, now, can I tell? A year or so has passed, and every day I’ve tried to think of what I had said, knowing even that it was you who left me, believing, as I believe, that I hadn’t done anything to sever the ties of our friendship, hadn’t been the one to cause the injury. But I’ve read over and over again what I had written in my notebook—was it one sharp word, one bitter, cold, injurious word that cut into your soul, cut through your very being, one word that tore you away from me? And still you are here with me—for “no more shall we part,” as the words of the song go—did I say something that made you turn from me, close your eyes to me, for good? I’ve prayed you would speak to me again, say something, even if only that you hate me. By God, I’ve prayed you would look upon me once again, with your beautiful eyes, your loving, caring eyes, so full of compassion, as I remember them, that morning you said good-bye. It pains me now, and how can I accept it? even today, as the days have passed into weeks, and the weeks into months, and one day, I know, the months will pass into years—but I was as dead to you, as you were to me, from that day on, and forever more.
In the mirror everyone looks the same, everyone the way they ought to look. They do the things they are likely to do in any given situation. But they are not the people I know. Not H—, or L—, H—’s best friend, though their names correspond each individually with the person. Not A—, L—’s husband, taking a sip of beer, neither faster nor slower than A— would sip beer, as I offer him another. The things of the table not alien to them, the glass and knife not alien, they are well-practiced in the techniques of handling the implements, cutting the meat, in the art of putting the mashed potatoes in their mouths. They are well-practiced in eating and laughing and after-dinner conversation, waiting each in his or her turn to tell their variation of the story one Saturday night, as they share their experiences with each other, make each other at home in their friendship, their affection, their humanity.
Though it is only human to be able to share one’s experiences with another human being, I would eagerly sacrifice some part of being human in order to make contact with the others. I would be their agent, interpreter, I would invite them to sit at my table, tell a story and pour another beer and here, if the others were sitting before me, if the others were sitting at the table, each a mirror image of the people I had loved, each assuming the identity of those I had loved but lacking something that only a moment before I felt in living human kindness, I would honor their secret. That they had made contact with me, I would never tell a soul, but turn back from the mirror and offer A— another beer.
Theory of Experimental Literature
You, and your special notebooks, your gold-nibbed pens, your Königsblau ink, your papers and archival boxes, your poetic rituals and pretenses, your literary and secret experiments, your books, your beloved library, your thoughts, ideas and theories, your critical condescensions and mannerisms, your humors and aesthetic affects, your tastes, and feelings and sentiments,—once I saw you reading Novalis at Holiday Cocktail Lounge! you were alone, you were always alone, weren’t you?
Not really, I answered, and it is by my affects, it is precisely by my artistic pretenses that you are granted your life.
Your experiments are your friends! Leave people alone!
On the subway back from meeting the French poet Roger B— for a coffee, I watched a woman board the train with her two girls, about 6 and 8, I’m guessing. Why I bothered to meet him at all is another story. The older girl asked something about why her mother was going to instrument school, but I didn’t follow the answer. The girl quickly and deftly turned over and rearranged a piece of colored paper from her pad into position on top of the now-detached cardboard backing, the sheets and backing having irregular, wavy die-cut edges, and one hole punch at the top. Excellent pattern-matching, I thought to myself. I’ll tape it for you, said the woman, referring to the cardboard back. No, said the girl thoughtfully, I like it like this. After a few moments, the woman tossed a pair of pink, cartoony little girl sunglasses gently across the car onto the book on the girl’s lap; the sunglasses slowly slid off to the floor, as the girl tried awkwardly to grasp them. Will I have to go to catch school? she said. I tried to suppress my laughter, but the woman, sitting next to me, turned to me and gave such a huge smile, I had to duck my head into my book.
I’d just gotten to the passage in Austerlitz about the suicide who constructed his own guillotine, so as not to botch the job. With tears in my eyes, I put the book down and picked up a tabloid paper that was lying on the seat next to me as a distraction and opened the paper to an article about a man in Stuyvesant Town who sealed his windows and door, turned the gas on and resigned himself to his fate. But for reasons that were unclear, at least at the time of the initial investigation, the gas exploded, blowing out all windows and a hole in the wall between his apartment and his neighbor’s, causing also a bulge in the brick face on the top two floors of the building and much other property damage due to smoke etc. The man survived, with burns, though I couldn’t bear to read how serious they were.
I turned the page again and the image of a man on a bicycle grabbed my attention, and read: The officer—The officer, I’m thinking, rides around on a bicycle. He is looking everywhere, for the slightest sign that the law has been broken. He rides around and around, in an unbroken motion. The officer moves, and in moving, I’m thinking, is moved initially, as all bodies move in riding around. He is moved initially, he must be. He moves, and so like a body moves towards an end. He is moved, I’m thinking, initiated, as a body in motion must be: he exists, in existing has awareness, in awareness is executed towards an end. He moves, in moving has to be aware of his execution and has to know why he is being executed. He must be: this is the law and the same law he has broken.
I got off at the next station, and stood there for some time, when a man walked down the end of the platform. His eyes glazed and silent. Taped to his back was a piece of paper, reading: Good-bye Friends. And I thought to myself, this is the man I have been looking for. And I followed him. From street to street, from bar to bar, his odd perambulations indicated beyond the shadow of a doubt that the man was a brilliant mathematician
and a lover of rules
and the mysteries of logic
hence the secret laws of literature
and I followed him. From street to street, from bar to bar, from night to night, from arcade to arcade into a multi-dimensional labyrinth with a multi-dimensional Minotaur and a universe of possible threads, or strings, into the real, and into the last, unnamed chamber, where I found the man partially hanged from a lamppost by his underwear. I tried to get the man down, and bring him to his senses.
I am not mad, he said. I am not mad! he said, and I tried to grab his arm and calm him down.
Now take it easy, man, just be calm, I said.
I don’t want to take it easy! he said.
Come on, man, just take it easy, I said.
Get off of me, he said, I don’t want to take it easy!
Calm down, and you won’t be hurt, I said.
I don’t want to calm down, let go of me! he said.
It doesn’t have to be this way, I said, just calm down.
What?! What doesn’t have to be this way? he said.
Just relax, now just relax, I said.
Let go of my arm! he said.
I don’t want to hurt you, I said.
And at this, he paused and stood at a curiously renewed attention. What are you running from? I said, you can’t get away. Besides, I’d begun to say, when I suddenly realized that the tables were turned, and I found myself now trying to wrestle free from the man.
Calm down, calm down! there’s nothing to get excited about, he said. But the more I tried to get away, the firmer his grasp.
Let go of me! I yelled. And at this, he smiled. Let go of me, I said, let go of my hand! You can no longer keep me from writing! And suddenly I knew whom I was addressing all along. It was right here, all along, in my own notes:
A man walked down the end of the platform, eyes glazed and silent; taped to his back, a piece of paper, reading: Good-bye Friends. And I thought to myself, this is the man I have been looking for. And I followed him. From street to street, from bar to bar, his odd perambulations indicated beyond the shadow of a doubt that the man was a brilliant mathematician
and a lover of rules
and the mysteries of logic
hence the secret laws of literature
and I followed him. From street to street, from bar to bar, from night to night, from arcade to arcade into a multi-dimensional labyrinth with a multi-dimensional Minotaur and a universe of possible threads, or strings, into the real, and into the last, unnamed chamber, where I found the man partially hanged from a lamppost by his underwear. Frenzied, I tried to get the man down, and bring him to his senses.
I am not mad, he said. I am not mad! he said, and I tried to grab his arm and calm him down....
Now take it easy, man, just be calm, I said.
I don’t want to take it easy! he said.
Come on, man, just take it easy, I said.
Get off of me, he said, I don’t want to take it easy! and a small crowd began to form.
Calm down, and you won’t be hurt, I said.
I don’t want to calm down, let go of me! he said.
It doesn’t have to be this way, I said, just calm down.
What?! What doesn’t have to be this way? he said. The crowd just stood by. Let go of my arm! he said.
I don’t want to hurt you, I said.
And at this, he paused and stared at me. The crowd stood silently by, but at a curiously renewed attention. What are you running from? Besides, I need you, I had begun to say, when the man seemed suddenly calm, suddenly completely composed.
Right, he said. Thank you. I didn’t know what I was doing at the time, he said.
But I just can’t stand it when a person has such a low opinion of himself that he’s compelled to say Thank you, Thank you and Please, even to someone who’s just fucked them over and I pulled the pen out of my pocket and stabbed him in the chest.
The crowd stood silently by, but at a curiously renewed attention. What are you running from? someone said.
Hanging from a desk lamp
“the author’s guilt”
on a yellow Post-It note.
I was going to write, I should always carry my reading glasses with me from now on, I can’t see the letters, the words I’m trying to form, they blur into a continuum of blue—and then wondered who I was talking to.
Why do I write these things? like a 14-year old boy, I thought recently, keeping a diary of his thoughts and feelings.
Thoughts and feelings. [scratch]
“Thoughts” and “feelings,” I write, as if they were two completely discrete phenomena. Writing begins by pulling the ink through that distinction, writing begins by betraying that discretion [scratch]
by pulling the ink through the blank space of that distinction, by betraying [scratch]
through the blank space, through the page-white tranquility of that distinction, writing begins by betraying that discretion.
You wouldn’t have been so untrue to yourself, wouldn’t have been such a liar, if it weren’t for this writing, if it weren’t for this working at writing. Writing,—and these are your own words—imitating something else, mimicking something you’d read, adapting some style, attitude, or tone, absorbing, assimilating some thought or feeling, incorporating some complex of thoughts and feelings and distorting it into works. The more your writing became an art, because it did become an art, you matured in your art, it is true, the art of writing consists, some would have it, in the manner of this imitation, this distortion, the art of writing consists in its art-work, it’s true, in its condensation, displacement, figuration, and secondary revision, the more your writing became an art the more it became affect, the proliferation of affective dissemblances, an affective distortion of the world you experienced because you couldn’t handle the world you experienced.
If only you’d just kept it inside you. If only you had just managed to shut up, if only you didn’t feel this pressure to talk, so to speak, to expose the lie, to confess, which is the lie itself, you could have been true to yourself, could have been an honest man, maybe even a good one. Now you’re just a liar, your life is a tenuous and illusionary weaving of lies, duplicities, and mendacities, it doesn’t matter what you do. Once you wrote that your only regret was that you had not kept faith in this writing, because you had stopped writing, at some moment, when you were younger. Now you regret only that you have written, this affective impulse, causes you remorse, this artistic dissemblance, and now you cannot stop. Like a gambler betting on credit, believing your luck has to change, believing that probability will save you. Though you love [scratch]
Though you lose everything. Though you lose everything, it doesn’t matter what I do, nothing could take it away, what remains, the excess, [scratch]
Though you lose everything, nothing I have done, or do, or will do could take away what you’ve written. It’s too late to destroy the files, the papers, all the art-works that remain—now you can only write out the lie by writing another. It could almost be said as a rule, that the opposite of what you write is true, especially when you try to be honest with yourself and come so close to the truth, to the way things are as they are and by coming closer give the illusion of being more true, when in fact it’s just the lie that’s become more effective, more believable, probable, more in all probability like life itself.
“Art is more than a career, it is a profession, a calling. There is a great burden on painters to be aware of their own genesis and existence.”
I have to admit that before I got to know him, I thought—and I’m sure this will say more about me than about P—, the man or the painter—I thought he was sort of one of those artistic throwbacks, one of those who didn’t progress in the evolution of art beyond the dumb power of the paw—sorry, I’m losing my train of thought here—what I want to say it that with the lines above I suddenly had the belief that there was a self-conscious intellect of depth and feeling moving these paintings.
Consequently, P— seemed to expend considerable effort in putting forward this authentic persona, and in guarding himself against the false impressions that others may make. This necessarily involved keeping tight control over sensitive details of his private life—whether in the form of a photograph, or an experience of a photograph (this is in the days before social media), or of an anecdote—such as his appearance in an off moment while hiking a Swiss glacier, a moment which he fortunately was able to capture on film, though not to be shared with anyone else. In more ordinary circumstances, as for example in a limousine on the way back to his loft in Tribeca from an afternoon in a printmaker’s studio, a casual conversational question about the evening’s plans might be met by an elusive reply, in order to preserve something for that compartment of his life which remained personal, intimate, free from the public eye.
In some ways painting as a profession is much like being president as a profession—it takes years of grooming and solicitous attention to one’s opinions. For example, one must keep in check what would otherwise be an almost natural reaction to another painter or sculptor’s work. As a sign of approval one should say about another, “I think he’s onto something”—that is, “I think he’s going somewhere with that” (I think this fellow has a career ahead of him). As a sign of disapproval, say “What do you think?” In general, according to the degree of someone’s fame or ignominy, express commensurate possibility of engagement.
As for literature, P—’s tastes cannot afford to be too peculiar, aside from one or two special idiosyncrasies which go to show that this is in fact a truly individual character. If I say to him, I’m having some trouble with this story and I’m not sure it quite works, he will say, “it is a strange one.” If I say about the same text that several people have read it and they all love it, he will say, “Yes, it’s very good.”
Forgive me, N. You know
I love to hold only you.
And yet you make me fuck up
so that I have to ask for forgiveness.
This is what touches you,
when I have something to say.
This is what holds us
moving from page to page.
The difference between the touching and the moving
not one of degrees.
A Gentle Touch, or Pain, in the Side
I can feel him by my side, wherever I go. I can feel him even now sitting at my desk, his hand, touching my own, entering into my own, guiding the pen in one way or another, however I resist,—I must make my art my own.
He must know what I’m writing.
He must know what I’m thinking. He—I probably should not have written even this—but it’s too late. I feel my hand shaking again. I don’t think it’s laughter (could he hear me anyway?). So I must say something, I must pretend that there is something for me to say, something to say for myself. And to whom?
I begin to say that I’ve been fucked up—look here at this scar,—but then feel guilty for only thinking of myself and ask the man to show me his wounds, his cuts or scars.
What else could I say? His name—I said his name. I called him The Other.
I thought you were somebody else, said the man. I am somebody else, I said. Me, too, he said and left.
Cut, Excise, or Otherwise Correct
All good things even
these little cuts
being mindful, as we said
in love and like Thomas
touched the fatal
irony of doubt.
In the stillness of the summer afternoon he opened the book and stared at the page. After a few moments he closed the book, stood up, went out for a walk, came back into the room where, standing before the assembly of judges, he recited the passage from the book that was previously open before him. Word for word he got it right, and so was awarded yet another prize for his recitation, and was soon allowed to advance to the next level. But here in the next level he was no longer given the book, and the memory of the passages began to fade from his mind, so that he no longer succeeded in his recitations and was shortly demoted to the lowest level. Having become despondent, no longer performing for the judges, he asked to leave the camp. The judges were delighted but, feeling sorry for him, decided to give him a gift. He was not, however, under any circumstances, to open the gift, they instructed.
He had lived for many years after, having long forgotten about the gift, when one day one of the judges paid him a visit at his house. The man was old and feeble, unshaven, wasted: one would say that he appeared to be all used up. N thought that the man was a fool, had squandered all his power and his intellect—for certainly he was also a drunk, one could smell the liquor on his breath, in fact his body reeked of it, and his clothing, too, was soiled and worn—apparently the only thing he owned, besides a small bundle held tightly under his arm. What could he want with me? thought N. Besides, it is an embarrassment, he was already in bad enough standing with his landlord, having this sort of derelict coming round the house could only bring his eviction closer. But the old man stayed on, N couldn’t get rid of him in any indirect way, and finally worked up the nerve to ask him outright, What are you doing here? What on earth could you want with me? And why don’t you just go away?
Days and nights passed like this, the old man pleaded, but one day N finally had to force him out the door. The old man held onto the door, then the door frame, then the railing in the hallway, until N had to shove the man down the stairs, one step at a time, so dearly was the man clinging to life. Finally, at the threshold of the building, where now a small crowd was gathering, cheering N on, for the old man was obviously a bum, the man stood up and brushed himself off with the practiced airs of dignity, picked up the tattered package he had brought with him and cradled it in his arms, then stumbled down the street and around the corner out of sight. The crowd laughed. One said, Good luck! Another said, What a loser! but it’s funny that the ones with the gift don’t stick together, but N had already gone back into the apartment and soon tried to forget about the visit.
On the Excitation of Certain Consonants
A character named Voices
in a silent community
issues forth an unutterable word.
And here sensitive
a certain sensitive presence:
Voices : (Silence).
Zazetsky : (Silence likewise).
Voices : (Silence).
It goes to mindset,
is nothing more nor less than an idea
in the air.
This the transmission mechanism, nothing
more nor less than an idea in air,
just as one flows into the other
until there are many and
the many so moved become
excited and warm to the touch.
A writing which aspires to become the book, into which it is inscribed as fire is to wood, as decay to flesh, as the secret to sympathetic ink:
and the stroke of the hand in the flow of ink in royal blue, forgive us the actions and passions of the one accompanied by the passions and actions of the other (as Leibniz says of the soul and the body) for as all bodies in the universe are in sympathy, or receive the impressions of all the others, all bodies in the universe are in sympathy. Receive the impressions of all the others.
Not much ink left in this pen, is there? Maybe after I’ve refilled it one more time with my formula, my special mixture of royal blue and black inks, then this black ink residue will be washed out. Did I, how could I have put black ink into the thing? I don’t even have a bottle of black ink in the house—and the nib, the nib seems duller, maybe it’s not even my pen!—is she the waitress? She doesn’t seem to be doing much of anything. One more cigarette: it’s better to be late than too early. Do you want to share this table? I’m going to be leaving soon anyway… One more cigarette! And try to enjoy it…. It’s odd that this place is so popular.
Dear Della Ford,
I’ve had my Pelikan pen for about six weeks. The pen had worked fine except that the plunger mechanism seemed to have a bit too much play. But yesterday when I attempted to fill the pen I noticed the plunger did not retract all the way into the reservoir. Now it seems to move up and down only within a small area of the reservoir.
I use my pen every day. I rely on my pen. Please repair it as soon as possible.
Thank you very much,
Trace (Tell Them Anything)
This error, as when you make yourself the subject
of an experimental writing and
then there’s the problem of correction
I mean if it’s all a process then it doesn’t matter
how fucked up it is, right? I mean,
we’re all fucked up, in one way or another,
he said, My brother,
tell me anything
though end of message
“Experimenter, Get Me Out of Here!”
According to a volume of the Time-Life series of books called Violence and Administration, or Violence and Aggression, or Aggression and Adverse Behavior, which H— found in the library of a bed and breakfast that was our retreat two weekends ago now in the pretty little town of R—, during one of those moments of fantastic country boredom that lead to criminal fantasies and fleeting gestures of sexual aberration, as often as to carefree creativity, or a kind of reading so lazy that a book which would normally take a day or two to digest in the city might take an entire period of life, no wonder drinking and driving a pastime, and thank god no gun handy, somewhere, in this country, experiments were carried out in which the subjects were told to administer electric shocks to other volunteers were they to give the incorrect answer.
Though they were not actually electric shocks.
They were not actually electric shocks it, the book, said.
They were not actually electric shocks, the victims or volunteers were feigning suffering as the subjects of this experiment increased the voltage to what would have been deadly levels, or near-deadly levels, or excruciatingly painful levels, or perhaps they were not feigning.
In this experiment, perhaps they were screaming to be let out, I can’t really remember.
Welcome and Farewell
The Law I Dream Of
When I woke I found that I was living in a book, physically inside the book, as part of the book, which was none other than Being and Time. Just my luck: to be so at home with the laws of ontology.
So I went back to sleep and tried to follow the particularly difficult passage I was stuck in—Bewußtsein, Bewußtsein, Bewußtsein—I’m thinking as I take a seat at the bar. I stare into the center of a red lava lamp behind the bar, into the dead center of the flow, and see it differently than otherwise—and then remember that in Sancerre H— and I sat in the early evening overlooking the valley, and my eyes fixed into the center of a swarm of gnats or small flies. Suddenly patterns appeared where previously I’d only understood senseless, nervous flittings. And if I were to look into the center of my own nervous, associative reactions—would a pattern emerge? I think about a chain of associations, that no matter where my mind turns, and the next link is or next hook is this thing I go back to gain and again, this thing I cannot yet escape. Chain, yes. A bondage to some one or thought of one, an attachment. But what is it one is always, necessarily attached to? One’s own body? and consciousness a symptom. Where nothing can happen to us but what happens in our thoughts and feelings. Consider the Federal Court ruling last week, giving the state the right to force-administer anti-psychotic drugs to a psychotic death row inmate. In order that he be sane enough to execute. “[E]ligibility for execution is the only unwanted consequence of the medication,” read the majority opinion. This makes sense, I thought. He has to be aware he is being executed and aware of why he is being executed. Otherwise the insane may live indefinitely, float from body to body, fuck with our sense and our purpose, fuck with our reason, our trust, our faith. Fuck with us. Fuck us.
Leave Off This Hell of Trying Too Hard
Ever feel like you’re working so hard for something, you’re trying so hard, but can never have it, that there’s a reason? Some days you find out something, something happens, that you realize will change everything about what you imagine, hope for, of the future. The story’s not over yet, you may tell yourself. But perhaps those are the days you are just feeling particularly dramatic, perhaps those are the days you are just trying too hard. The reason is the story you have in the end.
The Story at the End
After an endless succession of days, alone and against all odds, now the sun reaching its zenith dulling his senses in the senseless heat, and feeling at one moment as if he was the subject of some experiment and then another after all that he had gotten this far, and finally having overcome a most difficult passage he had come to a vast and wide space, empty of anything to get in his way. For all about him was desert.
He drew a sharp breath: So then all was for nothing.
And with teeth clenched he began to ask himself some ultimate questions, as to what all was, and nothing. And he talked to himself this way, so to speak, for a very long while, all the while coming back around again and again to the same question: What was I hoping for, what really was I hoping to come to?
until finally, in consummate resignation, he shook his fist at the sun and withwhatever strength he had left screamed a curt scream punched the sand and recoiled in a new startling pain: he had hit a stone.
Good enough to bash my fucking head in with, he cursed.
And in a moment he brushed away the sand and lifted up the stone, which revealed a brittle scrap of paper.
He laid the stone aside and held up the paper, further brushing away the sand and in turn revealing a clay jar buried a little deeper in the sand, and next to it a metal mouth as of a pump. His eyes turned back to the page in his hand and the writing on that page, and he read:
Drink not of this sweet water. Taste not of this water, but pour it all of it into the pump.
If you sacrifice all you have you will have a new life.
And yet, my friend, I must tell
—he read, until the paper crumbled into dust in his fingers and blew away.
He sat like that for a little while, watching the grains of dust float into the dull, dry air until the sun blinded him and he could see them no more, and he dug his fingers into the sand and lifted out the jar, uncovering it at once and, seeing the water it contained, in his great want, lifted the jar to his mouth, and was about to drink.
But he did not.
What is it that stops us from fulfilling our immediate needs and desires as we feel them, what moves us, makes us do things, keeps us alive, if not the promise of a greater fulfillment? He now saw the pump where previously he saw nothing. But the pump yielded nothing of itself. He did not reflect long, reasoning chiefly that 1) If there was no water in the well, how in fact could his precursor have been there, written the note and lived to travel to another land? 2) If there was no water in the well, why would anyone have left the jar there and not drink of it themselves? 3) If there was no water in the well, how could the jar have been filled? —It was not faith that lead him on, but the power of his own reason, and he soon poured the water into the pump with care, to prime it, to bring it to new life.
But the primary defect in his reasoning was simply this: there was no water in the well.
A Critique of Parody
Each poem is a critique of the one that came before, she said. A critique, a correction of the one that came before.
Each poem is a glorification of the poem that came before, he said. Each poem glorifies, magnifies the poem that came before.
Each poem is a parody of the one that came before, it said. And that one, a parody, of the one that came before.
And that one a parody. Of the one that came before, and that one, and that one. And that one, and on and on and on to the first poem, which is a parody of everything, which is water.
All of the Above
There is nothing which is not metaphor, one thing standing in for another likewise.
In the case of this poem, I will represent you with all the love and care as if I were representing myself.
I want you to know, I am totally committed to you!!!
I have read, understood, and agreed to the above.
October 18, XXXX
The uniforms of a foreign formality, the comically peaked cap of the captain, the carbines of the carabinieri in Venice, the knife poke of the pimp in a Paris alley threatening I pay a franc to pass—the gestures of violence elicit laughter almost across some foreign border of what I’ve known—officer, policeman, pimp, father you tried but you were too literal, even the law or God wouldn’t have made so many loopholes, said the rabbi. The Philosopher said, for all use metaphor in conversation; wherefore it is clear that there will be something “foreign” about his speech while possibly the art may not be detected.
Call this an exercise, it will be good for you. Call this a test, how bad could it be. Call this and call this and still no answer. The phone rings, another wrong number. They’re not looking for me, and yet here I am. That was earlier, and before that, something about a table, at which there is a game without any players. It goes like this, each player has a hand, and each hand has a card and each card is either good or bad. And each good has a bad, each bad has a good, it gets better, or worse, it’s a slow game and requires many players. The phone rings. This is a test. I can say Hello and a few other things, but they’re not looking for me and here I am, it’s your turn, take a card. That card means bad, you don’t have a hand, or worse, there’s nobody at the table. Okay my turn, I’m going to call, it’s been a week, maybe somebody has an answer. I can say Hello, and a few other things, this is a game that is played without any players. I have a hand, and the hand has a hand, this is a card, and is neither good nor bad, unless you’re sitting at the table. Wait, it gets worse, it’s my turn to call, and there’s still no answer. I have only one card, and this card means hand, and this one means another wrong number. Call this an exercise, call this a test, an experiment, by just being here the phone rings and here I am, this is good, I am sitting at a table.
The Lost Reader
I am the glass beaker with long stem of tiger lilies on the kitchen table knocked over by the man who left the bed in the middle of the night to sit by himself and smoke in the dark.
I am the subway car filled with smoke in the evening rush hour.
I am the email in which the writer, after spending several hours composing a letter of explanation to his lover, typed Command-A then hit the Delete key.
I am the romance which, through great difficulty, became a friendship, the friendship which, without any difficulty whatsoever, didn’t become much of anything at all.
I am the pocket in the pair of designer jeans which felt empty after the man payed for another beer then turned to his notebook and stared for a half hour.
I am the page in the notebook waiting for an apology.
I am the flesh that found its destiny by fulfilling itself in the wound.
I am last Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon, and again late Sunday night.
I am the impulse not acted on in the taxi cab on the way home.
I am the pen of the writer who wrote until all the ink was consumed in the tawdry and insipid details of the meaningless events and vain pathos of an otherwise meaningless life.
I am the perspicuity of the vision of the man who just passed peacefully away.
I am the blackness in the darkness of forever.
I am the noise in the whitespace, at home in saying what cannot be said.
I am the voice of the impulse, saying Just do it, we’ll deal with the consequences later.
I am the mouth of the boy spitting out the pink Starburst onto the deck of the tour boat in the middle of a Sunday afternoon.
I am the phone conversation after she, or he, said the words, I guess this is good-bye then.
I am the home of the house now occupied by shrapnel.
I am the word of the man who said I will come back again and became poem of repetition.
I am the book which lost its reader forever.
The Hand of Glory
Though I beg the reader to not ask me why—or how—I managed to divert my attention from my recent work on the poetic economy of exchange in early modernist English poetry, an attention that had already produced one well-received book—well-received: by my peers as well as an excitingly broad audience of readers—towards such a peculiar subject matter, the stuff of a perhaps at best questionable curiosity—I offer the following text, written on a large, folded quarto in a fabulously fluid and florid style of penmanship which oddly breaks off in manic staccato of frustration at points, a manuscript which I found several months ago in a rather ordinary box of otherwise uninteresting papers in the study of the notorious Scottish burglar Smith, also believed by some, though this on scant physical or philological evidence, to be the licentious author of certain “philosophico-religious” pamphlets known only to people like myself, that is to say, to literary scholars, as “Mr. Adams.” Again I beg you not ask what brought me to study the papers of a criminal—suffice it to say that I’d long ago realized I’d lost any true sense of direction and gave myself over to whatever it was I found along the way. I merely offer, and for the sake of the reader’s possible amusement, a simple transcription of what I found, to the best of my ability, omitting a lengthy passage apparently regarding the contents of a certain lady’s jewelry box, as the handwriting at this point at best may be described as that of a foreign and unknown (to me, at least) language, though I may be projecting the scholar’s desire to truly find something new, something altogether unknown to men and, at worst and more likely, merely the ordinary signs of a rather ordinary mental dissipation.
Late afternoon, the air warm and heavy, the sun low in the sky, a man’s body beneath the branch of an oak tree. The specifics of the crime are only important inasmuch as the nature of the offense, or of the conviction, must have been good enough for him to have been hanged by. The timing is essential, for there are only a few moments, at nightfall, during which the procedure may be done without detection. The guilty’s right hand is severed at the root, wrapped in cotton gauze or cloth strips and carried away in a sack, to be cared for later, in those secret chambers where such cares may be attended to, to those who know, where physical reality and excited imagination are at times conjoined in an artful consummation.
Cleaned of blood, the hand is pickled with salt and long peppers, and dried in the sun (though this the less desirable method) or in an oven with vervain. The relic is then and forever safely kept, couched in a bed of cotton in a locked wooden case. Locked away and forever, that is, except for those moments when, everyone else gone to sleep, I bring the hand to life, so to speak, and write.
August the 19th. Tonight I am working on the final details of my ultimate pleasure, a simple burglary, really, like thousands—hundreds of thousands!—committed before. This one is to be my master crime, my life’s greatest achievement, my own, and only an unnatural excitement compels me to write about it tonight. The act is to be carried out tomorrow night, which I expect to be another warm and lovely summer’s night. The preparations made, the acts rehearsed, the hand left in a closed house—and when the occupants therein fall asleep—when the woman therein—oh my god, she is beautiful! how I’ve laid in bed behind my own locked doors these past months, and dreamt of her—today I gained entrance to her house by the most artful ruse, and left the hand behind, hidden in her parlor. Tomorrow—I can hardly contain myself!—I will wait till nightfall, hide behind the great oak tree in her yard. And when the moon rises the hand will come to life, unlock the door, and let me in!—all the while its power holding her, the woman Margaret, in a deep sleep,—I’ll mount the stairs, enter into her bedroom and steal away that jewelry box of hers, which contains the precious
steal that precious jewelry box of hers, which she keeps guarded, so close to her bed, containing
the box, in which she keeps
on this night, what if
what if the hand does not come to life, the hand
what if on this night, the hand does not open the door, the hand does not let me in, I
I cannot go on, this is unnerving me, it pains me to write, it pains me to form the words on this page, it pains me to form the letters, as if every stroke of the pen cutting into me—
Second Attempt at a Failure-Mitigation Mechanism
whether they continue or are bothersome, whether nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, gas, constipation, indigestion, dizziness, lightheadedness, drowsiness, or headache, whether rash, itching, change in vision, ringing in ears, swelling of hands or ankles, black, tarry stools, or stomach pain whether swelling of hands, face, lips, eyes, throat, or tongue, whether difficulty swallowing, breathing, wheezing, hoarseness, severe stomach pain, or blood in vomit or vomiting matter that looks like coffee grounds [scratch]
but failing that, you
make your wishes so powerful and commanding that no one dares to withstand them, you ask your life to grant you what you desire, you let others do what you want them to do, you think of something and see for yourself when it happens, life is too short to wait and waste aber lang ist die Kunst so you start this journey towards the realm of dreams today, you make your wishes so powerful and commanding that no one dares to understand them, you lie awake all night, make imaginable worlds where you come out on top, you become more probable, more real, more like yourself but, like me, give up before you hurt someone for real.
You Don’t Have to Answer If You Don’t Want to
I’ve been meaning to ask you a question. Don’t you recognize me? Have you never seen me before?
Then you will agree that we have not met, have no previous connection, are in no way bound to each other, that we owe each other nothing. I’d like to ask you a question:
Don’t you recognize me? Have you never seen me before?
Here are some eyes. How about now?
Can’t say anything?
Here is a mouth.
Yes, just sit there and smile. I wouldn’t know what to say either.
Okay. Okay. I’ll give you a break from my questions, smiled Mr. Adams smugly.
Across the table, the man to whom Mr. Adams had been addressing his remarks for the last several hours felt the muscles in his neck and shoulders contract again sharply. The buzz of a single florescent light tube in a fixture hanging from yellowed acoustic ceiling tiles and the dull hum of the Bulova wall clock resounding dully against the gloss of the dull, pea-green walls of the room together formed the limits of space and time; and the man relaxed every muscle in his body.
On the table was a pack of Camel Filter cigarettes, a matchbook offering 1,000 STAMPS for ONLY $2.95, a yellow legal notepad and, off to the side and almost not worth mentioning, a white paper napkin spread flat with what would appear to be one drop of blood on it.
JOHN F. KENNEDY along the side of the image of the stamp.
Why don’t we reverse roles for a moment, Mr. Adams began again, now leaning slightly forward on his elbows. He smiled gently.
Why don’t you ask me the questions—you can ask me any three questions that come into your mind! He smiled again now as if to congratulate himself. Ask me three questions, any you like, and I’ll answer them, he said, folding his arms, crossing his legs, and leaning back sharply into the aluminum and green vinyl chair.
Now this is a surprise, said the subject, suddenly sitting more erect, surprising himself as well with his response. He paused, as if to make sure it were he that just spoke. Well, in all consideration—. I want to be the good sport, you know—may I ask you any kind of question whatsoever?
Yes you may, go right ahead, anything that pops into your head. It’s only fair now, isn’t it.
Anything at all—whether general and abstract, or particular and material? he said.
Yes, said Mr. Adams.
Even a direct question, or a personal, or even intimate question? he said, bowing his head slightly, all the while keeping his eyes fixed on the interviewer.
Well, yes, said Mr. Adams, almost betraying a certain hesitancy as he leaned in towards the subject, but after all this was his interview and so with total confidence, Yes, that’s what I said,—it’s only fair now.
So I should start? I may ask you anything at all?
By all means, and by now he began to slowly relax his big, soft body again back into the chair, by all means, said Mr. Adams reassuringly with a broad smile.
The subject sat silent for some minutes, staring at Mr. Adams. After a while, Mr. Adams’s left eye twitched slightly; after a while, he shifted in his chair. Moved forward and slowly maneuvered his pen between the fingers of his left hand. Then of his right. Touched his twitching eye with his left index finger. Then made a mark on the legal pad on the table in front of him. Slid the pad slightly forward on the table, then back again, as a single drop of cold sweat began to form under his starched white shirt, between his shoulder blades, causing Mr. Adams to readjust his tie, which did nothing to relieve his discomfort. The subject sat silent, staring intently at Mr. Adams. Mr. Adams tried to act as if it were perfectly natural that the subject weigh his thoughts so carefully. After all, these were the only three questions he would be allowed.
Hours passed like this. The light buzzed and the clock hummed. Days passed. Mr. Adams was eventually led back to his office, and the attending officer noted in his log the following:
The interviewer’s notepad was blank, except for the top sheet. This sheet was covered almost entirely from edge to edge in a scrawl of ball-point pen, so that the sheet resembled a piece of luminous, blue skin—doodles, scratchings, broken patterns, incomprehensible drawings of monstrous little figures, a gun (handgun), a knife (or dagger), several crosses, and small, bud-like blobs of an apparently lewd nature were vaguely discernible. Towards the top left of the page, where the drawing was lightest, could be discerned the following lines in an increasingly shaky scrawl:
2:35 PM. I offered him a cigarette. He became calm.
2:35 PM. I offered him a cigarette. Thank you, he said, but did not take the cigarette.
2:35 PM. I asked him if he wanted a cigarette. He became calm. He stopped sweating. His heart—we had stripped him down for security reasons—you could see his heart, beating.
2:35 PM. I asked him if he wanted a cigarette and he advised me that he never smoked.
And below this, toward the lower right hand corner of the page and barely discernible from the overall scrawl, a word or phrase apparently repeated over and over again, each time violently scribbled out and written over again. Illegible on the page itself, an analysis of the traces of the pen on the underlying sheets reveals a word written with pressing decisiveness—almost throughout the entire pad—and hence leaving a stronger impression than the attempt to obliterate it:
Nothing Is Certain
I wanted to write and tried throughout the day in various ways to write to get myself to write but I was unable to write not anything. It seems I could not write because I did not have anything to say and this disturbed me and I felt quite anxious and after a while and after a not very long while I felt quite at peace and after a while I felt nothing and after a while a certain beatitude.
Ceasing Is Certainly Possible
Write without ceasing then cease.
You have to cease and you have to desist which means to wait.
To wait for a reply but none is forthcoming.
The words go forth, but they do not go back in again.
Ut pictura poesis
And discovered that writing brought him relief, expiation, pardon, a release from an unspeakable internal pressure, an articulated sentence for an inarticulable internal process—as long as he keeps writing! as long as he doesn’t lift the pen from the page (and how do this, having to refill the pen from time to time? but he is clever, clever!) and first he filled up one notebook with the unutterable in this manner, then another, then another, until he had a vision of the unutterer.
History of Brain Function
The head of adores [scratch]
The eye at the wall of the mind is just following orders.
The Possibility of Additional Worlds
My world is a box with two possible worlds: one black box or one white box.
My box has two cats: one black cat or one white cat, or any cat that can be represented—this is life, or death.
My world has two possible values, represented by true or false, yes or no, on or off, or anything that can be represented. This is good, or evil.
But the real world has two possible values, represented by true or false, on or off, yes or no, or anything that can be—no is—real. This is good, or bad.
No. There isn’t a real world. Or, there are many kinds of perfection. And myself, good or bad: a timely mutation. Added to which the addition operator concatenates.
To Travel to F—
There is a place I return to again and again in my dreams, a land foreign and familiar, at the same time, a place so unapproachably distant and yet, somehow close to home. What is there that one could imagine to be more foreign than what happens in one’s mind? I have other dreams, it is true, but on certain nights, under perhaps especially favorable circumstances, I return to this place. A land of a complete and total happiness, and yet, somehow, also of discomfort—but after all, who isn’t uneasy when they are most happy?
There is one thing I’d like to tell you about F—, assuming you do not know much about this place or its people or customs, for it is so unlike our own country. One thing I’d like to tell you, to give just a hint, an adumbration, if you will, of why I have been so particularly attracted to this other land, why all of my work, even, has been formed, it could be said, by this desire for F—, though it may not seem like such a significant fact. It has to do with their sense of value, with their money, to be more precise. At one point in the period of their enlightenment, according to what I have read, their government decreed that all things of value were to be replaced by paper notes. Now what is most striking to me about this is that the citizens did not rise up against the government, but in fact happily, though this may not be the best word, gave up all they had to the state for these written notes, occasionally described in the literature as being poems. Perhaps happiness is the thing, for these people seem, by all accounts, to have now everything they want and desire.
Recently I had, by some strange and well-deserved, I may add, stroke of luck, I had won a free ticket to the land of my dreams; all I had to do was go to the central office, or any affiliated ticket booth, to pick up the ticket. I decided to go to one of these booths, which was much more convenient for me, to claim my ticket. But a woman at the booth—much like a cinema box office, I may add, for those of you who do not know how things are done in our country—a woman at the booth said that I would have to wait to have it sent to me, that this was standard procedure, but that after all it was necessary to claim my ticket at this office because that was the first step. I said, So all I do is go home, and they send it to me? (My skepticism was beginning to give way to a mounting and uncontrollable excitement about going to this place.) Yes, she said. There’s nothing more? No, that’s all, she said. I don’t need to do anything else, there aren’t any other official procedures to go through, they’ll just send it to me? Yes, she said. There’s no intermediate step, such as having to be inoculated or—. Yes, that’s right, she said, I almost forgot, you have to be inoculated in order to travel to F—. Oh, okay—how do I get that done? Well, we do that right here, she said, just step around the back and the doctor will see you.
So I stepped around the back, where I was greeted by the doctor, an amiable-enough appearing man who was evidently getting on in years. He introduced me to his nurse, a young, beautiful woman who, as it turns out, was being trained to take over the practice. My nurse will be giving you the vaccination, he said, and sat me down in a chair. The doctor proffered the nurse an open tool case, from which she chose the necessary instrument. She handled it the way doctors and nurses handle syringes, a drop of liquid seemed to ooze out the tip, and, leaning closely over me, she brought it to my arm. As she began to press the tool against my arm, I noticed that it didn’t appear to be hollow anywhere, but was rather a solid metal instrument. Moreover, it was somewhat bent, and appeared even to be covered with some black grit. In writing this now I realize that the tool was my own letter opener, the slightly warped pewter sword I’d bought in Prague, which has a strange, uneven texture, pitted slightly with black—how did they obtain this thing, or is it that mine is not as unique as I’d thought it to be? As she pressed it into my arm I became alarmed, and felt the inevitable pain of being gouged by such a crude instrument. The doctor tried to reassure me, but was evidently becoming a little concerned himself, as if his beautiful young nurse had not in fact been a very good student. Coaching her along, caressingly, he handed her another tool—this was presumably the way inoculations were in fact done in his office: first by making the hole and then inserting the antibody with a secondary device of delivery. As she again leaned closely over me, pressing her body into me, I saw that this tool was a pair of common pliers which held a small bit of copper wire in its teeth, bent in the shape of a V, which she attempted to insert into the hole in my arm, when suddenly, and with a sense of great disappointment, I remembered that, years earlier, I had had a similar procedure performed on me, under considerably more suspicious circumstances.
8 AM eye doctor. Left the examination room seeing more poorly than when I arrived. Pupils dilated, in the waiting room, I tried to focus and, seeing a woman, started up from the couch. In horror, I found myself urgently pleading with the woman to tell me where I knew her from. She held my arm, tried to reassure me and, caressing me, said she had told me this before, a number of times. My eyes tearing, I said, Please help me, I can’t remember. Was it the girl, the woman I had an image of, though she too was beautiful, it couldn’t be, could it? could it be you? After a moment I took my hands off her—but I wouldn’t leave well enough alone and soon cornered her in the bathroom where she was tearing off her white dress, getting ready to leave. She was becoming irritated with me because I couldn’t stop my advances, Tell me, tell me any detail of the class we had been in, which school it was, whether we were young or in college, what color my hair was, my eyes—please help me! I said. When I look into the past I see things, translucent figures torn off from the scene and floating languidly like angels without flesh, without feelings, I can’t see, I said, please help me.
Yes, dear, I used to like your drawings very much—I used to think you were incredibly talented, Dr. C—’s receptionist said, as she helped me with my coat and showed me the door.
In the swirling
grains a face
of the table
until there were thousands, and I
in my chair at the table
writing, police car
driving past and a siren
joins the multitude and I
in my chair, at the table
until there were thousands.
In the swirling
wood grain, faces—
I see you [scratch]
I saw what you wrote and
in the swirling
in the swirling, they
and their faces become wood grain.
To Begin With
I am a wave, not a particle! said dust.
I am a man, not a number! said one.
Writing with sympathetic ink, one cannot see the lines form, the figures taking shape. Once one wrote with lemon juice—but what as stylus? Then remember it was a fountain pen he stole from a stationery store in Staten Island, the beginning of a sordid romance with pens. Later one tips up the shade of a lamp in the living room, bringing the paper close to the bulb. Will the figures appear? Once one wrote with his own blood. And one wrote with another’s. And one wrote with tears, this was a long, drawn out process. And one wrote with his own excrement, as he preferred to keep his blood to himself. His tears also.
this page is bad luck.
It doesn’t matter what is written here but that it is written:
Nothing matters here
here either, as luck
will have it, for that matter.
Entry and Exit (Correction to the Last Entry)
Into what they saw and suffered
they brought new accounts.
“To the women they said,
You may go the border, survive
by playing dead but they put us men
in two big rooms and started to shoot.”
“They collected all the people. They
separated the women from the men.
They told the women to leave, they
put the men against the wall, I
don’t know what else
to say,” he said. “My brother,
can you please
remove these people?” and I took a black
magic marker and
crossed out all those names.
An anxiety report (Wednesday, October 27)
The paper filled up
with that kind of fear
knowing no object
like this, he wrote
until the light was done
and the ink and the paper
he was writing on.
You Can Talk to Me
Under my bed I have all the crumpled spiral notebook pages of ball point pen suicide plots of all the sisters of this world and the next.
Under my bed I have all the dark, unfinished stories of all the brothers whose days are like nights and whose nights are darkness’s metaphor made obsolete.
Along the walls of my room I have all the words of all the souls written between the day I started and today and today’s not over yet so you see writing forms a wall and sometimes I feel sometimes not.
In bed I have the hand that holds the one phone call of all the lovers who wanted to say Hi, how are you? but could not for the reason all the sisters know and the brothers and the souls. And the books?
The spiral notebook pages say Noose, dagger, clock, revolver. The books, they chat away anyway
What He Saw Out the Window Made the Light Go Out of His Eyes
Small book for small poems.
Big book for big poems.
Small box for small eyes.
Big box for big eyes—
where did this box of eyes come from? which is the key
to the city of light, where did that twinkle
in your eye come from? the lachrymonious
and sparkling key
to the gates of light—
and be empty.
The window calls
A mere wish, unaccompanied [scratch]
by an effort to attain [scratch]
A mere wish, unaccompanied
by an effort to attain
And if you asked my why I did these things,
A mere wish, unaccompanied [scratch]
the only thing I could say in all honesty is that I liked it. I liked it very much.
And Why Not?
If you were truly happy you might come to expect it—and then what?
Pleasure is the superficial, profundity the meaning behind the surface appearance of things,—the depth and truth is suffering.
Or, suffering is the immediacy of a pain experienced as the eternal present—its only depth is duration, its only meaning is the will to believe that duration—is meaningful. Because the opposite—that there is nothing more than what comes to be and passes away—would be too comical for meaning. Though that is what truly gives meaning to everything.
And that pain is first of all the expectation that it should have been otherwise.
What mind would ever seek permanence, the eternal, continuity, the unchangeable, some anything behind or after or forever, if all that we ever experienced is passing away? And yet we have our friends, and love over years, and shared experiences. Good, then!—enjoy them!
And she started speaking about the joys and satisfactions of endurance—have you ever experienced that? she asked. But what if the joy and satisfaction is nothing more than that of enduring? No of course there are the memories, even the bad things that have happened that you can look back upon and laugh about.
But what if laughter is not forthcoming?
What do you want from me? she said.
I have everything I need, said Necessity.
That’s the way things are, ether take it or leave it, said Chance.
Thursday Feb 3
I.e. three days later
Friday Feb 11.
Void if removed
Friday Feb 18
Word cannot fire event.
Weds March 1.
No money left.
Sat March 4.
Weds March 15.
It was such a pretty day.