Sunday, February 25, 2007
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
stuff is all over me
and inside me
Craig Venter and rival scientist Francis Collins of the National Institute of Health jointly made the announcement of the mapping of the human genome in 2000, along with US President Bill Clinton.
Exactly why they wanted to map Clinton is a mystery. Venter began the genome project through Celera Genomics, a private company.
He is now working on exploring the DNA of the air and the sea. That sounds as poetic as writing an Advanced Beginners Dictionary to Breathing, or a street map to irony.
The DNA content of humans has been mapped, as has that of mice. Evidently, they are only about 15% different. By taking samples from every 200 miles or so of the ocean, Venter has discovered that his sea samples are 75% different from each other. In other words, the organisms that are present every 200 miles are 75% different from each other. Entire worlds of undiscovered life, more different than a mouse from a man. And these are just surface samples. Imagine the diversity in the ocean depths.
Now I wish my brother hadn’t pulled that prank when we were kids and replaced 35% of my genetic content with that of a birch. My skin is peeling. I burn well yet rustle as the wind blows. Traditionalists consider me for canoes. I am flexible, silver, hard to fit for shoes.
Monday, February 19, 2007
I was thinking about perfection, utopias, and paradise after I read this poem in the liner of Terry Riley’s classic CD, A RAINBOW OVER CURVED AIR and talked to my eldest son about his visions of Hippyish Sixties perfection:
"And then all wars ended. Arms of every kind were outlawed and the masses gladly contributed them to giant foundries in which they were melted down and the metal poured back into the earth. The Pentagon was turned on its side and painted purple, yellow and green. All boundaries were dissolved. The slaughter of animals was forbidden. The whole of Lower Manhattan became a meadow in which unfortunates from the Bowery were allowed to live out their fantasies in the sunshine and were cured. People swam in the sparkling rivers under blue skies streaked only with incense pouring from the new factories. The energy from dismantled nuclear weapons provided free heat and light. World health was restored. An abundance of organic vegetables, fruits and grains was growing wild along the discarded highways. National flags were sewn together into brightly coloured circus tents under which politicians were allowed to perform harmless theatrical games. The concept of work was forgotten."
I’ve never believed in perfection. It makes me suspicious. Ideologues and fundamentalists believe in perfection. People suffering from Obsession Compulsive Disorder believe in perfection. Sadistic teachers from my past believed in perfection. It’s too easy for people who believe in perfection to become inflexible and rigid or else cynical and despondent. “If we can’t do it right, then we shouldn’t do it at all.”
I remember being frustrated as a teen when asked to mow the lawn. I thought that there was some perfect way to mow the lawn, some Platonic ideal of a grid pattern. Why would I think that a perfect grid pattern was better than stream-of-consciousness mow-marks which took into account the real materiality of trees, hills, paving stones, and sleeping dogs, rather than some ideal of John Deere absolute beauty? I felt a secret guilt that I didn’t achieve perfection in my lawnmowing.
To be honest, as a father of two teens, I’d be delighted to have my lawn mowed at all --even if it looked as if had been mowed by a inebriated glacier peppered with boulders and snowplow blades.
I don’t want to know ahead of time what the perfect world might look like. There are too many things that I wouldn’t have taken into account. I want to remain flexible, open to surprises, to changes of mind, to Hopkins’ idea of “Pied Beauty*’, to the sudden appearance of squirrels in the underwear of progress.
I don’t want to hope for a utopia. I want to aspire to an OKtopia, a goodtopia, even a greatopia. I’m not expecting “the concept of work” to be forgotten (actually I’m not certain that that would be a good thing). I’d be happy if all wars ended, but I wouldn’t be disappointed if the masses didn’t spontaneously melt down their weapons. I don’t expect ploughshares on every street corner. I don’t expect to turn to police into country dancing experts and Tiddlywinks Tournament Supervisors.
Also, the perfect paradise is always somewhere else. I want to make THIS world better. Or good enough. Sometimes when I wash the dishes, I am seized by the notion that I can attain some kind of transcendent absolute, will have brushed my scrubby against a joyful, radiant beauty if I can just clean every speck, every burnt skirmish from the surface of the pots and pans. It’s a lovely idea really, but perhaps I’d be better off cleaning the dishes reasonably well, learning to appreciate the imperfections and burned on rice fragments, and then leaving the kitchen and playing with my children, or organizing poetry readings which have a stubby, spattered, ill-attended beauty all of their own.
I’m not talking here about making the handcuffs more comfortable. Beat those into cufflinks or miniature hand sanitizers. There are some non-negotiables here. Basic human and environmental well being, for example. I’m talking about not aspiring to paradise. I’d settle for parking my hybrid car on the service roads and parking lots on the outskirts of paradise.
If I hoped to able to swim “in the sparkling rivers under blue skies streaked only with incense pouring from the new factories,” I’d be disappointed and discouraged. I’d be happy to have clean rivers and non-polluting factories and leave the purple incense to emanate from my teenagers’ bedrooms.
*Here is Gerald Manley Hopkins’ poem:
GLORY be to God for dappled things,
For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow,
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls, finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced, fold, fallow and plough,
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange,
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim.
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change;
Saturday, February 17, 2007
THE FOUR HORSEMEN PROJECT
Conceived and Co-directed by Kate Alton and Ross Manson
Based on the poetry of The Four Horsemen: Rafael Barreto-Rivera, Paul Dutton, Steve McCaffery and bpNichol
Animation by Bruce Alcock and Global Mechanic
Musical Direction by John Millard
Dramaturgy by Ross Manson
Lighting Design by Itai Erdal
Starring Jennifer Dahl, Graham McKelvie, Naoko Murakoshi and Andrea Nann
I went to see this performance last night. Here's an excerpt.
I was amazed by the skill, energy, humour, and naturalness of the incorporation of multimedia. I truly enjoyed the first part. Particularly in the first two thirds, the performances and choreography were tremendous. I was also interested to see the Horsemen's work presented by one male and three females. Only one of them white. This changes one element of the culturally specific context in which it originally existed.
The opening played with notions of meaning, of the ability of language to convey sense denotatively or connotatively. They quote a Horsemen text to the effect that if a text has meaning then it should be treated until it has no signifying meaning; if a text has no signifying meaning, then it should be treated until it does. The projection began playing the rich possibilities of this statement. For example, it opened with on of the characters (a woman dressed in a 60s high school cheerleader-like outfit, replete with a large red H on her yellow sweater) introduced the show in Japanese. Non-Japanese speakers could only pick out the Japanese-inflected names mentioned but none of the meaning. We had to surrender to the music of the language, and understand the meaning based on formal structure.
So far so good.
The piece continued by creating an ironic parodistic hippyish sixties tone (costumes from Austin Powers and the Electric Company) which allowed the ernestness and seriousness of the Horsemen's intent to project without it seeming only 'of a time'. Their ironic foregrounding of the hippyish aspect was, I thought, a preemptive strike. For example, one video clip, from Ondaatje’s Sons of Captain Poetry, is an interview with a Scooby Doo-character bp replete with his LED lovebeads, lying back on his bed beside a Buddha talking about poetry in Sons of Captain Poetry. (Though, of course, I thought it was amazing.) The clip could seem very dated and irrelevant to the contemporary context because the viewer would be so preoccupied with the outward trappings of the time. Indeed they play a very funny, very earnest, wooden TV show featuring the host, Richard Kostelanetz, discussing of visual and sound poetry. However he seems ridiculous and dated, despite what he is saying. In terms of the presentation of the Horsemen’s work, The Laugh In hippy parody was funny and I went with it since I did read it as preemptive strike. I do think, though, I—and the rest of the audience—would have been able to take the work on its own terms without this ironic contextualization. Even if the Horsemen did seem like shaggy hippies.
There were some fantastic elements of the production. Naoko Murakoshi (the H girl) was particularly brilliant. The integration of the visual animations of visual poems and old live action were fantastic. It certainly did point to what is possible using a very large screen, modern computer graphics, and a live stage. The performances were altogether terrific. I was astounded to see all this on a stage, a completely integrated 65-minute performance, sung, chanted, danced, acted, spoken.
However, despite there being some lovely moments in the piece, in the last section, as soon as it became clear that the grunts and groans (the non-dictionarizable elements) were only supposed to refer to sex and orgasm, and that em ty and the love/evol poem were only about a kind of popsong love, I was completely turned off. I thought that the production gave only the simplest, most reductive meanings to the poems at this point, taking away their richness and depth. For example, I think it was the love/evol poem came after a set piece about a girl’s love/infatuation for a guy. She likes him/he jilts her/a little romantic sex comedy ensues. Right afterwards (I may have some of the order of the events confused, but the basic idea is there!), a video was shown, though very lovely in itself, of bp walking down the street with ellie which could have been out of a Monkees' video, (unless one had read and was thinking of bp's considerably more than popsong texts about love in all its aspects.) It became clear that the makers of this show –at least in the second part of the show—didn't get, or were unable to convey given the trope that they had set up— the larger possibilities and meaning of the Horsemen's work. The ostensible goal was to show, as the Horsemen did, "the idea that poetry is far more than words on a page; poetry encompasses sound, breath and the human body." But far more than Moon/spoon/June also.
But, at least by the end, I began to have uncharitable feelings that this was more The Four Little Ponies Project starring a few Fraggles, a Spice Girl or too, and bit characters from Austin Powers and the Byrds.
I really wanted to love this performance. Because I was deeply grateful that they created and staged this performance. Because of what the performers brought to their performances. Because of the ambition of the project. Because the project had me awash in Four Horsemen material. Because it took the Horsemen seriously. I did get the sense of everyone’s love of the Horsemen’s work. And it did remind me of how important the Horsemen’s material is, of how important it is to me.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Over at YouTube, there’s some kid in their bed room -- you can see their bed, their computer desk, etc. They’re up there while their mom and dad – if they have a mom and dad — are downstairs cooking and opening mail, maybe calling them down to do some chores. They record a message, a poem, a dance, some music, a plea. Some fantastic, some sad, some indifferent, some hilarious.
There are many of these kids. Of these people. It’s the drab frankness of their taupe coloured bedrooms, their fawn walls and pale brown bedcoverings. It’s the flatness of the light, the darkness under their eyes, the shadows on their face, the badly lit plainness of it all that moves me far more than what is being said, or shown, or performed.
This kid is a fantastic guitar player. But look around him as he plays. His face is covered. He’s some kind of YouTube everykid in a YouTube bedroom, his little computer desk with its mouse and computer, his normal drapes, his normal bed, his normal electrified Pachelbel passacaglia.
* * *
THIS NEW PLACE
the pants of contradiction
are filled with sunny days
when the dog is dog tired and lies
in the sleeping bag
yes and I’m a hundred thousand fridges old
and leak somewhere out back
but rejoice in the fluid
misshapen ice trays finding
their place in history
night’s basking canary
a parade of smudges and cracks
Friday, February 09, 2007
I have always loved infinity. And especially, the symbol for infinity – that Mobius strip that exists in one less dimension than it should. I don’t think of A as representing an oxhead as it originally did, but am always aware that the symbol for infinity is a visual representation of the concept of infinity. It is an endless loop, spacetime turning around itself, a conceptual ouroboros, doing a 360 twist before bending back to eat its own tail.
And I wonder what infinity has to do with eightness? Eight on its side. Is eight infinite when looked at in a certain way? What if I looked at W on its side – would it reveal something transcendent. Another forever?
And infinity makes me think of 6. A 6 is infinity broken, a forever halted halfway before the final turn.
Infinity represents the idea that something has no beginning and no end. But the writing started somewhere. Writing infinity means starting somewhere and beginning again without a trace.
The circle is traditionally the symbol for something that has no beginning and no end. When I got married, we exchanged rings. In Jewish tradition, the rings are supposed to be unadorned, a simple of endless and perfection. You don’t need chatkas to adorn your endlessnessness.
Which brings me to O. It’s nothing. Is it the enclosure of emptiness? An empty basket? A full moon but a blind eye? Is nothing a sense of getting nowhere? Is it half of infinity? O O O O that Shakespeherian dread nought.
Nothing is a sense of holeness. Of wholeness.
It’s easy to write O sans serif. But it is metaphysical to write O with serifs.
An endless serif. A hidden serif. A lost serif. An eternal serif. A secret serif. A single unbroken serif. An infinite number of potential serifs. O serifim of the possible. Font of the ineffable. O serifable O.
The name for the symbol is actually the lemniscate. (And so perhaps the above is solemniscate).
Monday, February 05, 2007
Friday, February 02, 2007
I was thinking about the Middle Ages. People in the Middle Ages didn't call it that. It was named after the fact. The Middle Ages came between antiquity and the Renaissance.
I think it would be helpful to consider our times Middle Ages. To think about what has come before us and to think about what is coming after. The feeling would be akin to imagining the feeling of the planet rotating or moving through its heliocentric orbit, flying past the stars. To be aware of our times as coming from somewhere but also as going somewhere. I don't think I do this, except when thinking of technology and the "what kind of world are we leaving for our grandchildren" feeling.
It's like that phonecall I got from the future, asking me if I'm going to be late.
Last night, I went to a concert of the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. It was fantastic. I wondered again, as I always do when listening to Baroque music about music's ability to evoke utopias, to evoke perfect moments, even if sad. I listen to Vivaldi and cannot hear a single note of cynicism, or negativity. But it's not like listening to a Pollyanna Sinfonia, it's more like a polyphonic one.
My grade five students and I looked at the sonnets which accompany Vivaldi's the Four Seasons as part of our CSI: Baroque or Not? unit. The text to the second (slow) movement of L'Inferno (Winter) describes sitting by the fire, content and satisfied yet the music sounds sad if very beautiful. Our notion of "sad" in music has changed. We, of course, conceptualize sadness differently now, not that it isn't informed by past culture. (But see "Doctrine of the Affections.)
A while ago, I came across BibleGateway.com and was mesmerized by the different effect and shades of meaning created by the various translations of the Bible, particularly the gamut of modern versions. The idea of a particular piece of scripture (especially the independent verses -- eg. an individual Psalm) as forming its own specialized "micro-grammar" (analogous to microclimate) was fascinating to me. Certain structures, idioms, and organizational principles which are identifiable and specifically organized in a certain text. The texts have not only implicit resonance, of course, but echo throughout the language, culture, and literature.
As a writer, the idea of using this micro-grammar is very appealing. I can create a new text which exists in a dialectic against the original text.
My children asleep, I imagine a beard on the piano so it can be shaved, put my hand in the wall, find the rain between this world and its black rest.
This is the middle ages, not what came before, not what’s next.