Monday, November 29, 2010

Narrative Inevitability


When confession is around the corner, the nightmares suddenly cease;
"no one is given more than they can endure" reassurrance; despite
the mask, the tape, the skin-sizzle in the distance;
tell it to the team tasked with torturing out the "truth."

Align the presentation of details, facts, figures
the narrative builts itself; bank on
narrative ineluctability; the interrogator makes the meaning
the interrogated simply blurts out enough to stop the pain

Please keep in mind we're not talking about physical torture now
I just wanted that to be absolutely lead-crystal bell-tone clear

Stem cell my heart moving ahead rail-speed highs
and lows; aren't you where I expected you to be?
cure the reprogrammed memory; aren't you where you should be?
Let me put my eye on the sky; particles blinders the inner healers

Somewhere and somehow you started to sound like Rapunzel;
Climb golden up indifferent yet walls still barren solid
Suffer the body, suffer the sane. We are all tissues of inevitability;
tell me the story; damaged like all the hard to reach, hard to hold.

Please keep in mind we're in the midst of the occasional;
and I'm in the midst of mind, heart & storms -- still random.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Eternal Zunshine of the Spotless Mind: Zunshine Meets Burke Meets Zygotsky -- Mashup or Meltdown?


I'm interested in how Lisa Zunshine's cognitive recognition in literature // application of Theory of Mind relates to Kenneth Burke's consubstantiality (getting under the skin of the reader).

Don't both have to do with extreme identification with the discourse? It could be either the speaker or the protagonist -- the rhetor or the literary character.

Here is one difference:

Kenneth Burke is writing from a point of view of rhetoric, which is to say that he's concerned with the rhetor's tactics, and the impact on the reader. It falls under the umbrella of persuasive discourse.

Lisa Zunshine, however, is writing from the point of view of literary discourse; in particular, the novel and the characters that inhabit it. For her, the great appeal of literature is the fact that the reader is able to derive voyeuristic pleasure by vicariously living a narrative that has appeal to the reader. For Zunshine, we know what will happen in a text not only because we are familiar with certain archetypal narratives that repeat themselves in history, and we know the patterns, but we know what we know because of our learned abilities for "mind-reading."

Zunshine turns to cognitive science to explain the mind learns patterns and is rewarded and reinforced. Her view is largely complementary to that of Vygotsky, who supports a theory of social learning, to wit: children learn from each other, and learning is one aspect of socialization.

Thus, it is largely a constructivist view of reality / knowledge. The Theory of Mind that Zunshine adheres to seems to suggest that there are some patterns that are innate to the human brain and are not necessary encoded through social interaction. What clearly differentiates Zunshine from Vygotsky is Zunshine's focus on the emotional engagement of the reader, who uses his or her ability to predict behavior based on cues / patterns to derive pleasure; often sadistic.

In contrast, Burke's vision seems platonic, and focused on a kind of neo-platonic moment of unity, where empathic responses to text inform the decisions (and hence, attitudes and actions) of the reader.

In The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (dir. Michel Gundry, 2004), the narrative posits a world where Theory of Mind concepts are suspended; as a person goes through a process of deep-cleaning the mind of pesky / abhorrent memories, it effectively wipes clean the mind of any emotional memory. One might, by extension, assume that the individuals who have been cleansed would, by necessity, also lose their emotional intelligence, their socially-learned / imprinted knowledge. They would be wiped clean of Vygotsky-type experientially- and socially-learned knowledge.

Would they be wiped clean of consubstantiality? Perhaps not. If the rhetor can find points of contact // shared reference points, ideally emotional -- it's possible for the individuals to relate through text.

Now for the knotty problem.

Would wiping one's memory of emotional entanglements and relationships (past loves) affect one's ability to predict the actions and emotional states of fictional characters?

If we do indeed have a hard-wired, innate set of patterns in our minds that compel all people from all cultures to behave in certain highly predictable ways, and to have the same emotional responses, perhaps.

However, if the deep-cleaning materially affects the physical wiring, all bets are off. Any damage to the brain itself would affect anything that is there, whether acquired through experiential learning, socialization, or through pattern recognition acquisition.


The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. (dir. Michel Gundry, 2004). Film.

Burke, Kenneth. (1969) A Rhetoric of Motives. U of California P.

Vygotsky, Lev. (1986). Thought and Language. Boston: MIT Press.

Zunshine, Lisa. (2006). Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel. Ohio UP.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Glass Book: Writings by Valerie Fox -- free "lite" ebook


If you're familiar with Valerie Fox's work, you know her work takes the reader to an intense, new world of associations, connections, and reconfigured perception.

Writing Assignment / Journal Based on Valerie Fox's The Glass Book

Step 1: Please respond to the following questions and observations. Let your thoughts flow, and do not worry about complete sentences or grammar. You may make lists and your thoughts can be fragmentary. The goal is to free-write, which may involve free association.

Thought-Block 1: In "They Know About Fish," what kinds of scenes and ideas come to mind? How might the work evoke notions of reality television or a documentary? What is the role of the viewer in making the fishermen authentic? What do the fishermen themselves do in shaping a notion of authenticity? What does authenticity mean to you in this situation? Write a few sentences about what it means to you to be authentic.

Thought-Block 2: Which prose poems make you feel as though you're watching a scene unfold? What are you, the viewer or reader, doing? How is your attention directed to specific elements of the scene? Does it make you seek to find a story to tie all the elements together? When do you first find yourself looking for a story to make sense of it all? What kind of stories seem to fit these poems? What did you expect to see? Investigate Alain Robbe-Grillet.

Thought-Block 3: List places where the characters in Fox's writing are in a collision course with each other. What will happen? What does the impending encounter reveal about each? What does it say about the world we live in? What are the locations they're in? What is the context? How does the fabric of reality hold up with all of this investigation into relations / places / encounters? Do you sense a strengthening of the people (or the places)? Or, an increasing fragility of the people? If you were to write a version about an encounter in an odd place in your life, what would it look like?

Step 2: Read your thoughts. Then, expand them. Revise and edit for clarity, but do not remove the vital spirit, the essence that flows forth. Then, share your thoughts on a blog, or turn them in as an assignment for a course.

Step 3: Create your own prose poem / writing. As you do so, visit the notion of "fu" -- the Han dynasty form of writing that blended poetry and prose. Here's a rather incomplete article on Chinese poetry, but a good starting point:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

All Saint's Day

It appears my dad and I are in the same stage of grief / grieving. I claim my mother communicates with me by sending me butterflies and rainbows whenever she wants to indicate to me that I'm doing the right things to take care of myself. My dad says he and my mom, due to their long marriage, started to share the same frequency, energy charge, and that they communicate via energy vibrations. She's in the stars. Her energy, though, being the same as my dad's, resonates.

"Do you have a Bible in your apartment?" asked my dad. "Turn to 1st Peter, chapter 3." I read it. It exhorted women to obey their husbands; husbands to be kind to their wives.

"Your sister should read that," he said.

I took the bait.

"Have you ever stroked a cat's fur against the grain? Stroked it backwards?" I paused, smiled. "The cat takes a bite of your arm."

I set the alarm for 5 am. I woke up minutes before that. However, I changed my mind about it -- did not want to get out of my warm, soft bed. I fell back asleep.

The sky burst open. Dreams before awakening -- traveling on a regional jet and looking down. Flying / running higher and higher. Then, I was in a helicopter -- a jet helicopter -- looking ahead to a bank of clouds we were getting ready to enter. I watched a small plane pull a plane that looked like a dump truck with wings, and we soared over a city with skyscrapers and a sinuous river.

But where were we headed? I had no idea. No thoughts about final destination. Get right with your maker. Where am I going? Ascending vertically, circling, spiraling up and down, clinging to a mini laptop. Butterflies in my stomach. Dizzy.

I'm getting ready to meet people I've been out of contact with for a long, long time. And now I'm descending into 19th-century Mexico for Dia de los Muertos celebration and a ragged copy of sonnets by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, a translation of R.D. Laing's The Divided Self, and a dog-eared edition of Octavio Paz's El Laberinto de la Soledad. The Mexico he understood was deeply chasmed, and so are we all, split by life.

It's All Saints Day.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Bread Pudding

This bread pudding -- a specialty of the baguette shop I like to frequent here in Norman -- has the kind of gluey density reminiscient of rubber cement that makes me think that it's the perfect accompaniment to a multivitamin pill and a couple of calcium supplements -- the things that tend to make me nauseous unless I'm taking them on a full stomach. If they make me nauseous, can vitamin and calcium supplements really be so good for me? My body seems to tell me "no" but all the doctors say "yes."

My dad proudly shows me the begonias he's nurtured to a showy, bright fuschia and red in the front flowerbed.

"They were spindly and would not bud out with flowers until I started giving them shots of Miracle Gro."

Am I so different from a begonia? When I was in high school, I offered to do an experiment on "the effect of chemicals on begonias" -- inspired, perhaps, by "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds." That was the title of a play I read in 10th grade. Not surprisingly, it had less to do botanical experimentation and more to do with a couple of daughters dealing with their mom in an almost impossible home situation. I've always found the title to be a particularly poignant metonymy, and I tear up a bit every time I think of it.

"The Effects of Miracle Gro on Begonias" (I don't know what variety the begonias are -- I'm sure it's a colorful name, although not much can match "Man in the Moon Marigolds." Here are a few ideas -- "Dad's Home Pride," "Strength-in-Numbers." Both have a nice metonymic ring, too. And, speaking of metaphors and the desire to generate figurative language, I leafed through the PMLA today (Proceedings of the Modern Language Society), and for the first time in my life, I had a desire to go to the annual conference, which takes place in Los Angeles this year. I do not want to go there for the job interviews, although that's always the big draw -- it's the place where modern language professors and new grads go to interview for positions. I actually felt a desire to check out some of the presentations. I've made a stab at keeping up with my publications -- articles, chapters, etc. in peer-reviewed journals. But, they're in instructional design and not scholarship on a period, writer, movement, or theoretical stance.

In fact, I don't even know who the latest, biggest, hottest new theorists are... all I know is that I was getting quite tired of the theoretical scene in the late 1990s because it seemed so cut-and-dried, and so "cart before the horse," which is to say that a large, glaring theoretical synthetic a priori / set of prior assumptions assured that no matter what went into the critical blender, the same gelatinous pulp would glop out of the spigot. The only question was how much you'd get, and what temperature it might be. It ranged from tepid to room temp, in case you happened to wonder.

Bread pudding. I'm taking another bite. This bread pudding has the requisite base of stale croissants and day-old baguettes (and maybe even a bagel or two), but in the mix, they've swirled in shredded coconut, some sort of oil (canola?), raisins, and cinnamon / cardomom, etc. Over the top is what used to be rum syrup, but what I'm convinced is plain old corn syrup with a bit of Torino rum flavoring mixed in. It's bland. I'm glad it's bland. Otherwise, I might go a little crazy and eat the whole thing. As it is, I'm thinking I can eat a portion, then run out to the car where I have some Flintstones chewable multivitamins in an overnight bag in the trunk. I may opt out of the vitamins, though. Despite the fruity kid flavors, they have a yukky aftertaste.

It's time to pop over to my hair appointment which is conveniently located in a salon a few doors down from the baguette shop.

She's running behind. So, to kill time, I've decided to chat with the painter who is touching up the "La Belle Vie" sign -- my gambit is, "Que tipo de pintura?" (What kind of paint?) To which he replies, "Aceite" (oil-based).

So, I have my perfect opening to start chatting about paint, and how wet paint looks lighter than dry paint, and how one has to be careful when selecting colors. He's from Jalisco. I chat a bit, then thank him for letting me bother him as he works, as my stylist works through appointments. I should ask her for some "miracle gro" for my hair, but it's sort of the last thing I want, since my hair, like my imagination, grows much too quickly. I've always liked the convergence of philosophy and literary exegesis. I like new tactics for getting meaning(s) to pop out from a text. I also like the connections between science and literature.

Mathematics.The mathematical literary imagination. In the 80s and 90s, it was all randomness and fractals. Today, it's all neural networking, imaging, patterns -- extrapolations. Is this advisable for humanistic endeavors? Take literature, search for patterns in an extreme way (J. Hillis Miller & Co on steroids) and then claim the images are the reality? That there is a measurable reality behind the "best fit" model? Not good. Or, perhaps it is good.

Bread pudding. It's tasty, and, in a pinch, I'll bet you could use it as modelling clay.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Facing the Wind

The only obstetrician in the small Texas town admitted five women in five hours to the local hospital. Each had a different threat to her pregnancy. Will the hospital run out of beds? It's possible, someone said. We did not smile.

It is unusual to have so many obstetric emergencies at the same time. Is it a full moon? Sun spots?

My first thought was that it was from the smell scraped off the surfaces of the slaughterhouse north of town. Someone said they installed low-water systems for conservation, to go "green." Doesn't low water mean it's harder to hose off all the blood? I admit I've never seen the inside of a slaughterhouse / packing plant, so I have no idea how they use water. Do they have high-pressure hoses? I'm all for green.

The wind is blowing. I have to tell you it is not necessarily a good thing. However, I want to face the wind whenever I have to, and I want to look at it -- even when it's cold and frustrating -- as a blessing and a life-giving force. The wind turns the turbines on the south edge of town. Yes, I'm in northwest Texas, again, in the Panhandle nirvana of the essential elements: earth, wind, and the fiery sun....

Naoya Shiga: A Dark Night's Passing. The orphaned boy met his grandfather, who held his fate in his hand. The boy was six years old. To him, the old man looked thin and cruel. Taking an instant dislike to one's imposed patriarch does not strike me as wrong.


I'd like to have a nice, long talk to figure out what went wrong (and what goes right).

But, we'd probably go in circles. At least, that's what I do. I approach the truth, or at least an essential, unchanging element, and suddenly, I'm a bead of mercury and I deflect myself, or I shatter into a thousand tiny globules. Eventually, I reconverge with my brother and sister globules, and I'm a big bead of mercury all over again - just with a small film of dust on the top.

By the way, it's surprising how we used to play with mercury -- how we did not know the risks, in spite of Mad Hatters and birth defects in the old gold towns in Nevada and California, where they used cinnabar (mercury sulfide) to dissolve the gold from the ore. My mother disinfected my wounds with white merthiolate -- it did not sting like the red stuff. Both had a base of mercury.

I scraped myself often in those barefoot summers of running across lawns, down the street, and into the neighbors' splash ponds, fountains, and pools. We converged to play, tiny globules who would soon forget what it was like to be a zippy little bead of light and inexplicable chemical.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Stepping Stone


We look at our lives. We think we're at the beginning or at the ending of something, but in reality we're not. We're simply on stepping stones in the middle of a rushing stream.

The rocks are smooth and they are slippery. We can't maintain our balance on them and stay on them, even though we'd like to. After all, it's scary to jump from one rock to another. The water is cold, and it is turbulent. The water level rises and falls, making it also a matter of exigency that we leap - preferably before we've had too much time to over-analyze the situation and lose our initial, intuitive understanding.

Oh but it's not easy. As much as I celebrate the successful leap and landing on a new rock, I am sometimes weary of the constant readjustment, realignment, reassessment. The water is rising again. It is time for action again. I look (but only briefly) at the rocks behind me. It's not good to look back, because there's a certain introduced disequilibrium in the physical act of looking back -- not to mention the fact that the mind starts to play tricks on me, and I lose my sense of linear time.

The rock I'm on is pointed and it hurts my left foot. Three stones ago, I perched for quite awhile on a long, smooth stone. I now appreciate it, but at the time, I felt the stepping stone I was on was too big -- I was too exposed -- I felt vulnerable. The waters started to rise and I leapt.

Then I leapt again, again, and again. So, here I am now.

The air smells fresh today. It's a bit foggy, and I hear the hum of cicadas and a strange bullfrog twanging -- it sounds like large rubber bands being snapped.

This is not the best place to be, but I've made it work -- for as long as I've been here. The sun is coming out. The fog is burning off. Ah yes, and there's a mini-rainbow in the mist.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Catty Wonky iiii

It may have been her imagination, but Sarah noticed her hair seemed to be becoming finer, more fly-away. She also noticed that she was able to maintain muscle tone - to even look slightly ripped -- while spending almost no time at all lifting weights. The most she did any more for her upper body was to close the door to her office when she was feeling groggy after lunch, and do 10 sets of 10 pushups against the edge of her cheap and grotesquely heavy veneer-over-particle board office desk.

She always had the sense that her life was interchangeable with a Hal Hartley film. She lifted the book she had bought because it was cheaper than a 10-pound dumbbell, and it gave her nice definition in her deltoids.

As she watched her muscles flex in the mirror, she wondered if she could find the email addresses of the editors of the weighty tome she had in her hand -- the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. She would like to express her appreciation of their catholic, all-inclusive view of the world. Her leg hair was definitely thinning these days. She could go weeks without mowing her legs and they looked just fine.

For fun, and to see if her muscles bulged, she did a yoga pose -- the anjaneyasana pose -- a forward lunge with arms in the air. Whenever she did yoga, it had a very oddly familiar feeling about it, perhaps because when she was in junior high school, the warmups and cool downs after dodge ball or some other humiliating "team" (read "gang up on the weird kid") sport, were meditative yoga poses and asanas.

Yoga was a good thing.

It helped her ignore it when she was duped yet again by a too-friendly face asking her overly solicitous questions -- which she answered in good faith until somewhere along the line she realized she was being mocked, not interviewed. She was their entertainment, their sport, their way to feel still in control and on top of the world. (sigh)

If her hair really was fining, and if it were due to some odd shift in her hormone production, should she feel awkward about the change?

She liked the word "transmogrify" -- it had the convenience of meaning to change shape, but "transmogrify" also had the sound "ogre" embodied in it, which is exactly how she felt of the time these days. Perhaps she should live under a bridge. Menace billy goats who happened to clippety-clap over the bridge. The nice, ripped body would be nicer if she had someone to share it with. But, who had time?

Her favorite Hal Hartley film was Henry Fool -- about two people -- a garbage collector poet and a hack writer -- and the unexpected encomiums that result when work gets out, goes viral...

She used to care about having work go viral, but the only was she could get her youtube videos to go viral was to do reaction videos from the highest-ranked videos of the day and put in all the same tags; and then not care when all the scathing insults came through when people fell for the bait and switch. Her best viral video was a reaction video to the news of a Siberian tiger mauling a zoo patron.

Today there was Great White Shark attack in California. A surfer's entire leg was detached in a single, ghastly, scary movement of jaws and razor-sharp serrated teeth. How? Why? Let's look. A shark 20 feet long can exert a bite force of over 18,000 newtons (4,000 lbf).

In Hal Hartley's sequel to Henry Fool, the garbage collector's wife, Fay Grim, finds herself in an odd situation. The camera angles reinforce the oddness -- they incorporate "Dutch angles" -- in common terms, the camera is all catty-wonky ... it's in the wrong direction. In theory, the filmmakers had a reason for it. She could not figure it out. Don't be afraid of your geography. She went to the Dollar Tree store to load up on 5 dollar movie candy selling there for a buck a pop. Instead, she bought a gallon of Crystal Geyser water. It was all in the interest of world peace. Be free. Accept yourself. Love everyone like a brother or a sister. Keep a disciplined approach to life and your goals / personal mission (if you have one).

There were one or two scenes not shot with Dutch Angles. By that time, she was tiring of cattywonky for cattywonky's sake.

The camera shot flat, straight-on shots, nothing "dutched" with angles; nothing made dizzying with too much dolly-work. She needed to tell someone she loved him. She dialed. No answer. She texted. No answer. Same with email. Nothing.

As she descended into a slough of despond, she realized that she could be her own friend, her own companion. Spend more time in the gym. The body that emerges can be your own special friend. Does that make sense? It shouldn't. And, the fact that it does not is good. The most beautiful place on earth is 30 floors up overlooking the Caspian Sea and the "ichiri sheher" -- an old walled city and a drowned fortress, the "Maiden Tower," said to have housed a Azerbaijani variant of Rapunzel.

Then she realized she was not able to "un-Dutch" herself. All angles, all perspectives were destined to be high-angle and to not conform to those of the world. Ah. Nice. Eventually, with 20-20 hindsight, this will look to have been prescient; somehow fore-telling just what she needed to experience and to do in order to get to a place where love is love and that's all that matters.

Catty wonky.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Calling My Bluff

The server in this restaurant is talking about her leopard gecko that was eaten by her cat.

"I named it 'Pepper Pot' -- it was sad, but it wasn't my fault," she said. The poor gecko was doomed by the name. Who would name a lizard after a soup -- unless you intended it to be one of the ingredients???

I wonder if if the cat got sick from eating a lizard. Cats are so finicky. I'm surprised the cat actually ate it. I would be less surprised if the cat killed the poor lizard and then just threw it over to the side to let it slowly dessicate in the sun.

I am not sure if I can believe anything that the members of the wait-staff are saying. One just tried to convince his co-workers that Britney Spears' "Oops I Did It Again" is a cover of a Louie Armstrong jazz song.

The idea is, well, not completely unbelievable. After all, DeadMau5 did an absolutely transcendant trance / electronica dance mix that was styled on a ballad that was just boring beyond words. I am in the mood to second-guess myself. Was it always such a great idea to insist on going it alone?

I have had opportunities to back-pedal and do a low-key job or part-time ... accept a proposal of marriage... well. I'm sure it wasn't really a bona fide offer. Just some sort of emotional gesture designed to curry favor -- the warmth would wear off quite quickly, if it ever even made it that far after I called the bluff. Calling one's bluff.

I think that's what the Tea Party going to be faced with. If they're really elected, their bluffs will be called. Are they really willing to dismantle government, instead of enjoying the spoils of elected officialdom? Can they resist being co-opted? I have my doubts. It's better not to put people in positions where you call their bluffs. No one likes what they see. What if I had accepted the marriage proposal? Called the bluff? My opinion? No marriage. Just a big row -- on some sort of ridiculous pretext -- pick a fight, recant, refuse to honor the proposal. Say things have changed.

Blame it on the other person's "secret" -- some essential thing they've been hiding, keeping under wraps until now. Now it's a deal-breaker. What "it" is does not matter. And, it does matter that it's impossible to describe or define "it".

Take the Tea Party. Let's say they're elected. How do they save face when their bluff has been called?

It's simple. Just find someone to lay blame upon.

"I want to do all the things I promised in my campaign, but I can't and it's not my fault. It turns out that Washington is a tougher, harder nut to crack than I thought. There are things you would not understand. The situation is complicated. I can't really go into detail. It is just that it's not what it seemed. So. The deal is off."

Honestly, can't you just hear a newly elected Tea Party person saying this -- ways to rationalize that once they got to Washington, the big machine made it impossible to go about developing or maintaining a vision that was at all sustainable (and not simply a self-serving set of jingoistic statements that masquerade as profound ideology).

For the record, I sort of like the Tea Party. And, they make a convenient case study. "The cat ate my gecko." It's sad. For some people (rather cruel and insensitive), it's tragi-comic.

I had something special, but it was eaten by my emotional proxy, my pet, my cat.