Monday, September 24, 2018

This petal-based idea

The bodies are fundamentally similar, no mystery there.

But not the vaginas. Those are like fingerprints, in fact they could use those embarrassing organs, which the police have yet to appreciate, for identification — they are absolutely unique. Beautiful as orchids that draw in insects with their shape and colour. What a strange thought — that this botanical mechanism has been preserved somehow even into the era of humankind's development. It would be understating it to say it's been effective. It almost seems to him that nature itself so delighted in this petal-based idea that it became determined to take it further, heedless of the fact that man would wind up with a psyche that would slip out of control and conceal what had been so beautifully developed. Hide it in underwear, in insinuations, in silence.
— from Flights, by Olga Tokarczuk.

I posit that much the same could be said for penises — they are like fingerprints (not the whole finger?) — though I haven't seen too many lately, and when I was seeing them more regularly, I wasn't paying them the attention I ought to.

Indeed, people are like fingerprints.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

A book is nothing but a cube of hot, smoking conscience.

Some of the letters between Boris Pasternak and Marina Tsvetayeva reference Pasternak's "A Few Principles," which had been published some years earlier.

Letters: Summer 1926 summarizes and quotes some of these principles to provide background information.
2. Contemporary trends assume that art is like a fountain, when really it is like a sponge.

They have decided that art ought to gush, but it ought, rather, to suck up and absorb.

They assert that art can be divided into categories according to means of representation, when actually it is composed of organs of perception.

Art must always remain among the spectators and see things more clearly, more truthfully, more perceptively than the others, but in our day it has resorted to using face powder and dressing rooms and displaying itself on the stage. It is as if there were two forms of art and one of them, knowing that it holds the other in reserve, allows itself the luxury of perversion, which is tantamount to suicide. It makes a display of itself when it ought to get lost in the top gallery, in anonymity, and be unaware that it cannot help being discovered, that while shrinking in the corner it is afflicted with a glowing translucence, the phosphorescence that goes with certain diseases.

3. A book is nothing but a cube of hot, smoking conscience.

[…] One forgets that the only thing within our power is the ability to keep the voice of truth within us undistorted.

The inability to find and speak the truth is a failing that no talent for speaking the untruth can disguise.
Perhaps art is a fun-house mirror.

You can find some thoughts on these principles at Brain Pickings.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Painting is not thinking, it is the exterioration of thinking

"He began his 'From One to Infinity' project in 1965. In the top left corner of the first canvas, he painted the figure one, then two, then three. By the time he'd reached the bottom right corner he was at, I don't remember, somewhere around thirty thousand. And then he started the next canvas, painting several hundred figures a day like that for the next forty-five years. At first it might have been eccentricity, but after thirty-six years of daily, consistent, Sisyphean work, he'd produced the most brilliant expression of transience in the history of art. Or at least that's what I think."

"So do I," mumbled Lisa.

"Me too," said Zofia, raising a hand.
— from Priceless, by Zygmunt Miłoszewski.

Me too. I'd never heard of Roman Opałka till I read these pages in this thriller about recovering artworks stolen from Poland by Nazis. His career came later, of course, but this is why I enjoy reading Miłoszewski — the insights into both current and historical aspects of Polish culture.

Roman Opałka painted time, moving forward toward infinity. His life's work is a series of canvases, each of them a "Detail" of his magnum opus, 1–∞.

Listen to Opałka counting off.

See also:
Roman Opalka’s Numerical Destiny
He pursued this culmination on a daily basis, eight hours a day, until the process of painting led him to “white/white” — that is, white numbers on a canvas with a background painted white, the same as the numbers. After three years (1968, possibly 1969), Opalka began to add 1% white pigment to the black background. Gradually, over time, as more paintings were painted, the black surface would become gray. As he continued to count and to paint five, six, and seven digit numbers, he discreetly added 1% white to each canvas, thus making the surfaces appear increasingly lighter. In the late 1970s he declared that the background of his canvases would eventually appear white, the same white used to paint the numerals that would finally dissolve into the surface, embody the surface. Ultimately, there would be no distinction between the white numerals and the white surface; they would culminate as a form of blankness, possibly transcendent, as the numerals grew invisible within the prospect of infinity, the Samadhi or highest level of meditation.

[...] Opalka was clearly reaching for invisibility in his paintings.
Running the Numbers
A frequent misunderstanding about Opalka is that his engagement with painting was merely a convenience by which to execute the idea, and that the idea would be enacted over decades of time. In fact, painting was never ancillary; it was a central idea. For Opalka, there was no idea apart from the act of painting. This was his infinity. In this sense he could be evaluated as a dialectical painter as Hegel was understood as a dialectical philosopher. Opalka’s synthesis became an idea/painting, the result of a numerical destiny, the entire span of 233 Details at the end of his life, or, from a conceptual point of view: one vast singular epic given to a rarified existence.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Summer is so curiously absent-minded

Sometimes I think: I must exploit the chance that I am still (after all!) body.
I am forced to reconsider, again, my thoughts and feelings about love, poetry, and correspondence, or at least how I write about those things. Twice I've set down notes about this book, and for whatever cosmic quirk, my work failed to save. Obviously I wasn't getting it quite right.

Maybe I should begin this way: What makes a poet a poet? More than just words? Do poets live differently than the rest of us? Am I a poet? How do poets feel love?

By far the most interesting character of Letters: Summer 1926, is Marina Tsvetayeva, the greatest Russian poet you've never heard of. I'd never heard of her. Yet, she was central that summer in the lives and work of Rainer Maria Rilke and Boris Pasternak. This book collects the correspondence between the three of them and captures the inner workings of the creative process as well as the drama of a very strange love triangle.

Marina loves Boris, and then Rainer, she loves them both, then she is angry, but then she loves Rainer again more than ever, she loves them both, but a different ways, that is, she loves them soul, and body and soul. Boris hates his wife and loves Marina, until she gets in the way of his work; he admires Rilke and resents him and Marina for loving each other, and he loves his wife again; it wouldn't do for any poet to be considered on the same plane as himself. Rainer is meek, but wise — he has a way with words; he is somehow above matters of the body, matters of this world. He says he loves Marina, but I don't think he knows what love is — he is too much soul.

Tsvetayeva is interesting to me in part because I've never heard of her. That she is little known has little to do with the quality of her poetry, and everything to do with Soviet politics (Her husband was a spy, allegedly unbeknownst to her; and having lived in exile, she was regarded suspiciously upon her return to Moscow.) and, I think, her sex (perhaps like Teffi, simply not taken seriously).
I might have said all this to you more clearly in Russian, but I don't want to give you the trouble of reading your way into it, I would rather take the trouble of writing my way into it.
What samples of her poetry I can find online I don't actually like (that is, they don't speak to me). Her letters, on the other hand, are impassioned and sincere. They are (overly) dramatic, sometimes cryptic, sometimes downright weird.
Boris, this is not a real letter. The real ones are never committed to paper.
I hear myself in her writing. She explains, "I talked to you all the time." I see myself talking to him even though he's not there. Is that love? Talking, writing to an absence? Imagining their presence. Living with their presence in their absence. Isn't creativity is a means of wish fulfillment? You write something into existence. Tsvetayeva wrote, "I do not like life itself: for me it begins to be significant, that is, to acquire meaning and weight, when it is transformed, i.e., in art."

She made her love for Pasternak become an enduring thing, though it had no hope of being so, by writing it that way. I've done the same. And I think she wrote her love for Rilke into existence.

Love has always been mediated by the technology of communication. Today it is dating profiles and real-time text. Tsvetayeva relied on reputation, literary reviews, and gossip to filter for the object of her love and engaged in long-form correspondence with lengthy lag time and crossed wires.

There is so much innuendo in these letters, but I don't know if that's something I create by reading it with my twenty-first century (dirty) mind, or if it was intended. Surely the recipients of the letters would have a clearer idea than I do. Or would they? When they declare their love, is it for the person or for their work? Is everything a metaphor? Is everything poetry? Do these poets even have bodies anymore?

Tsvetayeva to Rilke, June 3:
Before life one is always and everything; as one lives, one is something and now (is, has — the same!).

My love for you was parceled out in days and letters, hours and lines. Hence the unrest. (That's why you asked for rest!) Letter today, letter tomorrow. You are alive, I want to see you. A transplantation from the always to the now. Hence the pain, the counting of days, each hour's worthlessness, the hour now merely a step to the letter. To be within the other person or to have the other person (or want to have, want in general — all one!). When I realized this, I fell silent.

Now it is over. It doesn't take me long to be done with wanting. What did I want from you? Nothing. Rather — around you. Perhaps, simply — to you. Being without a letter was already turning into being without you. The further, the worse. Without a letter — without you; with a letter — without you; with you — without you. Into you! Not to be. — Die!

This I how I am. This is how love is — infinite time. Thankless and self-destructive. I do not love or honor love.
Tsvetayeva was always declaring herself. I admire her for it. It takes a great deal of courage to say what you feel.

In April, Pasternak is telling Tsvetayeva he had a dream about her, a dream of "joy and endlessness," and "it was more first than first love." By June he is afraid of falling in love.

Pasternak to Tsvetayeva, July 1:
This groan is the loudest note in the universe. I am inclined to believe that outer space is filled with this sound rather than with the music of the spheres. I hear it. I cannot reproduce it, nor can I imagine myself caught up in its rushing, multitudinous unity, but I do make my contribution to the elemental groan: I complain with every muscle of my heart, I give myself up so completely to complaint that if I were to drown I would go to the bottom, carrying a three-pood weight of complaint in my upstretched hands; I complain that I could love neither my wife nor you, neither myself nor my life, if you were the only women in the world, if your sisters were not legion; I complain that I do not understand and sympathize with Adam in Genesis, that I do not know how his heart was constructed, how he felt and why he loved. Because the only reason I love, when I do love, is that, because I feel the cold of the right half of the universe on my right shoulder, and the cold of the left half on my left, my love circles around and around me in decent nakedness, like moths around city lamps in summer, cutting off sight of what lies before me and where I must go.
Pasternak has an ego, a very male ego. He's a bit of a jerk really. "The will of the poet transcends the demands of life." Come on, Boris. Who do you love? Make a fucking decision. He's a coward standing behind his talent, his luck to have a reputation.

Rilke's ego is that of an artist. It's hard to think of him as a man at all.

Rilke to Tsvetayeva, July 28:
My life is so curiously heavy in me that I often cannot stir it from its place; gravity seems to be forming a new relationship to it — not since childhood have I been in such an immovable state of soul; but back then, the world was under the pull of gravity and would press on one who himself was like a wing wrenched off somewhere, from which feather upon little feather escaped into limbo; now I myself am that mass, and the world is like a sleep all around me, and summer is so curiously absent-minded, as though it was not thinking of its own affairs....
By August, Tsvetayeva clearly declares that she loves Rilke. But she seems to resent the fact his feelings are not reciprocated with equal force. (Nor is she aware how close he is to death.) She wants desperately to sleep with him, but really to sleep. She loves the poetry, his soul; she does not even know Rilke the man as a body.
Love hates poets. [...] where soul begins, the body ends. [...] Soul is never loved so much as body; at most it is praised. With a thousand souls they love the body. Who has ever courted damnation for the sake of a soul?

Friday, September 07, 2018

Too clever by seven eighths

Skagra adjusted the controls again. "When I was born, this is what Drornid had become," he said gravely.

Romana turned her eyes back to the screen, expecting to see some hellish, blasted wilderness. Instead she saw lush, tropical beaches, and wide tree-lined boulevard though which people in shorts and sandals walked happily.

"It looks quite nice," said Romana.

"Nice?" said Skagra. "This is the sick, degenerate, purposeless world I was born into. Drornid, the so-called top holiday destination of Galactic Quadrant 5. Primary export, beachwear. Primary import, ice cream. The Planet of Fun."

"It must have been awful for you," said Romans.

Skagra searched her face. "Do you mock me?"

"Of course not," said Romana.

"Nobody was interested in the past," Skagra went on. "Nobody was interested in anything but their mindless, futile diversions. It was I who unlocked the secrets of the planet's history. I who excavated the site of the great Statue of Thorac. I who discovered the abandoned papyri in the ruins and restored them."
Shada: The Lost Adventure by Douglas Adams, is a Tom Baker-era Doctor Who script resurrected by Gareth Roberts. It's a smart story that could be easily appreciated both by Douglas Adams fans who are not aware of his Doctor Who involvement and Whovians who could care less who scripted the story (though the existence of such a person strikes me as having a high improbability factor).

It's funny. It sounds like Douglas Adams. Roberts respects Adams's voice, and there are several nods to Hitchhiker along the way. And Roberts obviously respects books, as his Who credits clearly attest (he scripted the episodes in which we encounter literary icons Shakespeare and Agatha Christie, among others).

Indeed, the plot centres on a book, The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey, one of the Artefacts of the Rassilon Era, hidden and misplaced.
The book was impressive. Much more impressive than the books he'd actually meant to borrow from old Chronotis, which now sat abandoned on a table top, in their disappointingly papery ordinariness.
The book is found and stolen and key to all sorts of nefarious dealings.
Skagra entered the room, and winced. He was seeking one book. Here there were many, but they had all been scattered carelessly around in no particular order, with creased and cracked spines, dog ears and — most horrifically of all — many, if not most, of them were adorned with dark brown ring-shaped stains, as if some beverage vessel ad been placed on top of them. I was a place of vile untidiness and confusion.
You can read up on the plot details elsewhere. This read was all about voice for me. And pure joy! Oh, and there's K-9!

AV Club
Games Radar


Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Misrepresenting the world

But Özgür never hangs up on Elaine because Elaine never lies like that. If she lies at all. Özgür's never caught her. Sometimes he wonders if what keeps him interested isn't the sex but the dumb suspicion that how Elaine misrepresents the world is far beyond his abilities to detect, which considering his profession both galls and entices him, especially since the implication then is that the only one misrepresenting the world is Özgür himself.

Elaine had even written on the very possibility once:

Where identity's at stake, the unconscious keeps attempting to create a blind until it succeeds in fortifying one beyond the abilities of the intellect to parse. We cannot mentally accommodate the vastness of the variables we daily inhabit. So we invent a self we believe can.

"Though none can. Not even you, Oz." Her margin note.

Which more crucially posits: it is not belief that necessitates the self, but rather the other way around. It is the creation of the self that necessitates belief.

But when Özgür asked what she meant by belief, Elaine had just smiled and before going down on him, whispered: "Let me show you."
— from The Familiar, Volume 2: Into the Forest, by Mark Z Danielewski.