Looking Past the Other in Digital Communication

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When reading articles via the internet, it’s probably a good idea to just steer clear of the comments section. This is especially true when reading something that is related to issues of equity or accessibility for all. Trolling in the form of racist, sexist, and other fear-fueled rants can seem like the dominant mode of communication of many participants in this space. It can seem as if individuals are talking over and past one another, and communication is not founded on true dialogue.

Dialogue, Paulo Freire asserts, is an “existential necessity” that is inherently a vital part of learning (1968, p. 89). The act of participating in dialogue is an indicator of humility and the willingness to learn. It can provide participants the opportunity to recognize one another, the essential elect of identity development and respect. The willingness to think outside bias, to critically examine our biases, is at the heart of learning about the other and ourselves. It is our responsibility to one another (Buber, 1937). This may seem frightening, because it essentially places us in the unknown, the uncomfortable place of not being able too easily categorize and identify others. This identification makes life very simple. However, being uncomfortable is the only way we truly grow. The old saying reminds us that moss does not grow on a rolling stone. Stasis equates to a stillness that is not unlike death.

St. Johns River, Jacksonville, 2017


 

Margaret Wheatley expresses the significance of being uncomfortable: “We can’t be creative if we refuse to be confused. Change always starts with confusion; cherished interpretations must dissolve to make way for the new. Of course it’s scary to give up what we know, but the abyss is where newness lives. Great ideas and inventions miraculously appear in the space of not knowing. If we can move through the fear and enter the abyss, we are rewarded greatly. We rediscover we’re creative” (2002, p. 37). This discovery can help give meaning to our lives and enrich those with whom we interact. Basically, we learn more about ourselves through others. It sounds simple…and it is…if we are ready to be uncomfortable.


MIT Press, 2017


 

Byung-Chul Han’s most recent English translations, The Agony of Eros (2017a) and In the Swarm (2017b), both discuss the absolute need for our encounter with the other. He warns that the digital medium of expression “is taking us farther and farther away from the other” (2017b, p. 24). Our ability or inability to articulate ourselves is exacerbated in the digital medium, and “nonverbal forms of expression such as gestures, facial expressions, and body language” are lost almost completely (2017b, p. 21). Our inability to plan for this learning leaves us with no “other” with which we may view new perspectives and understandings of the world.The visual images are constructed for us to see ourselves (or our closest analogue), thereby making everything the same. This massive normalization ends the need for an other, and it destroys the possibility for imagination or fantasy (2017a). We must be able to perceive through another viewpoint, one that is truly the opposite of the one we hold, so that we may engage in thinking that is infinitely more complex.

Without confrontation with the other, we are doomed to live empty lives, lonely and incomplete. There is a small piece of a recent poem by Joshua Marie Wilkinson (that is part of his series of poems that begin with a line from Osip Mandelstam, The Easements) that reads:

“as I’ve found in the stars

no friend, the lake

no brother, the current

no story to live with.”

 

I don’t know why my thinking takes this path, but it reminds me of the other as being the source of desire, the source of a true narrative. Without the necessary encounter with the other that produces co-constructed knowledge for the benefit of both participants, our individual life stories are stillborn (Han 2017b).

Perhaps comments and social media posts are not really avenues for actual discussion. If that’s the case, I don’t understand the necessity of providing a vehicle for reader voice if it isn’t to inspire dialogue.

Embrasures at Fort Clinch, Fernandina Beach, Florida (2017)

 


 

Note- The article that prompted this brief line of though is located here. The comments section yielded some replies that were blatantly racist and sadly myopic.

 


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How To Become Who You Already Are

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“What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee;

What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage.”

    -Ezra Pound

To become who you already are, you’ll have

to go looking. Ridiculous as it sounds,

you won’t find it from there, and you won’t 

Find it alone. You’ll need to keep moving

to keep up with an ever expanding universe.

You’ll need to find an island, one

with fire still inside. You’ll know you’re there

with your fingertips. You’ll feel a

low volcanic vibration, unexpected

and elevating the earth beneath you.

Consider writing a play, one without end.

Your story should reflect like sunlight on water,

and be performed on an outdoor stage.

Create characters with storybook names, 

known only to you and your closest friend. 

Name your theatrical park after memory, and 

embellish it with angels both in flesh and 

in stone. This is where you’ll find your mirror.

Build a home that echoes your voices,

leave the windows open to a cappella birdsong. 

Finally, but most importantly

If you are going to believe in anything

               (anything at all),

believe that the rest of the world 

has changed with the both of you 

for as long as you possibly can.

(For Jason and Katrina Lewis)

Poem Beginning and Ending with Lines from The Doobie Brothers

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Somewhere back in her long ago

Every station moves to create

Time not made of now leaves life

She’s everywhere and nowhere


Swells sing above the static

Of pop songs misremembered

As oracles   dream lovers   dis

Associated       disappeared


She doesn’t identify us apart

From viscid evenings spent

Outside of one another again

Echo rises to her apology

A Partial Record of My Education

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“Those who love wisdom must investigate many things.” – Heraclitus

“I write-and talk-in order to find out what I think.” – Susan Sontag

In 2014, I graduated with my doctorate in education, and this seemed miraculous to me. A sustained focus, logical arguments, and the synthesis of an area of literature were inherent in the task of writing a dissertation, and I didn’t feel like I’d ever be able to live up to this challenge. As a child, I felt most comfortable with image and sound based communication. Music and visual art are such a large foundation for my thinking. I’m pretty certain this had to do with my mother taking me to museums and libraries, playing records in the living room regularly, and encouraging my growing interest in drawing.

Images could convey ideas that were both at the surface of my thinking and buried in my subconscious. Painting or creating something visually interesting and potentially communicative was something that came naturally. The imagery did not have to mirror reality. It could be completely conceptual. I was driven by the need to play with things that had an uncertain end. Not being driven to an actual destination, instead being propelled forward with intuition and curiosity, liberated me from having to make any sense of what I might be feeling in a way that would communicate to another. It was a drive to create.

This drive has pulled me in many directions at once. I have obsessively composed with sound, painted primarily textural (if not always aesthetically pleasing) images, and sometimes incorporated sound with paintings. Notes and small drafts of “diary” or journal entries have always been included as well. The outcome of these experiments was a amalgam of forms. I’m never quite certain how a thing may turn out…what form or hybrid it may take finally. I don’t even know if the outcome is the final version of a thing.

My default thinking is in fragments. If there are connections between the ideas or works, I have no knowledge of it during the process. It is always a dive into the unknown.

The past two months have included more than a few occurrences of fragmented thinking and organization that has not yet solidified into a coherent statement or group of thoughts. My regular lists of reading, listening, and watching have increased. I have rapid and incomplete connections between ideas and forms (text, image, sound, memory, etc.).

notebook march 2017

March-April 2017 Notebook, Thinking in Lists (more)

Recently, I have been reading Sloterdijk’s Spheres trilogy (Bubbles, Globes, and Foams) that have finally been translated, Hito Steyerl’s The Wretched of the Screen (2013), Kate Zambreno’s Book of Mutter (2017), Kafka’s late writings, Wittgenstein’s late writings on culture and aesthetics, Kadinsky, Susan Sontag, a biography on Eric Dolphy, so many disparate essays, and massive amounts of poetry.

Lately, I have been awed by the visual artwork of Rosy Keyser, Titus Kaphar, Fernando Zobel, Hito Steyerl, Julie Mehretu, Rebecca Horn, and Agnes Martin.

As I have written before, my sister told me once that whatever I put into my head must eventually come out. In what form will it arrive?

It eases my mind to know that others seem to have the same attraction to this process of discovery (like Sontag’s diary entry below).

From Sontag’s As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980 (with my scribbles)

Probably due to the Sloterdijk, the fact that Eleanor is beginning to trace the letter O, and my attraction to the simplicity of the ensō, circles and spheres have dominated my visual thinking. I seem to find them everywhere. From the Book of Genesis to NASA’s documentation of space trash, I seem to collide with imagery that represents a circular/spherical containment or a cyclical process.

 

Day 5 of Creation (Book of Genesis Illustration, 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle)

From Alberto Manguel’s Curiosity (2015)

Iannis Xenakis- from Formalized Music: Thought and Mathematics in Composition (1992)

Iannis Xenakis- from Formalized Music: Thought and Mathematics in Composition (1992)

Endless Rabbits

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Covering rabbits with shapes is only one way to change the landscape of our refrigerator. There may be infinite solutions constructed by moving the magnetic shapes. I often wonder if intentionality plays a role, magnetic or otherwise. Shapes are named while rabbits remain mysterious. Less of life seems within control despite the disproportionate number of shapes. Today, I saw a sign that read Little Rain Lake. My mind wandered awhile, though I can’t recall where. These three words were the most beautiful thing I saw today.

Used Book Ephemera & Marginalia

*, Used Book Ephemera & Marginalia

I am, by nature, very curious and can lose myself while reading. However, I am always reading several things at once, and I can vary my selection wildly in a given sitting. Today, I moved from poetry to philosophy to essays, picking up Thomas Merton, Christian Wiman, William Bronk, Roland Barthes, Georg Trakl, and William Gass. Between books, I read older essays online, including a great one by John Yau on Christopher Middleton at the Brooklyn Rail from 2010. However, the only reason I was reading this specific essay was the fact that I became interested in the editor/translator (Middleton) of the Trakl collection, a small, gorgeous green book from 1968.

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Sometimes, I find notes in these books after searching for them or happening upon them in used bookstores. The notes can sometimes refer to small stories in themselves, pointing to emotional and psychological connections or just seemingly mysterious notes jotted by strangers. The note below, found in the Merton book, is almost not a note at all. It is simply hotel notepad paper with a phone number of a woman named Rebeca.

merton note

Mysterious only due to the lack of any context, this note does provide a place to seek out for the curious. Hotel Mora does look beautiful, situated right next to a botanical gardens and a few yards from the Atocha Station of John Ashbery’s poem from his second collection, The Tennis Court Oath (1962), and Ben Lerner’s novel of the same name (2011).

ben lerner

Some of the notes I find are more fleshed out with references and names that are recognizeable. Take the one I found within the pages of William Bronk‘s Life Supports. It is written on stationary with the title of some oddly titled journal (that doesn’t sound like it’s real…and there is no finding it on the internet), Corona Mundi: International Journal of Comparative Mysticism, Visionary Poetics & Conceptual Book Arts. The journal calls Maine home, which is interesting to me only that it reminds me of Stephen King. It is dated as originating during May 1996 and refers to the poet, Joel Oppenheimer. Apparently, after Oppenheimer died, his library was up for sale. That would have been a pretty amazing collection, and the Bronk title was only a small element of the whole. The note seems like a friend sharing a nice find with another.

bronk note

Not all of the books I acquire have these little details tucked within their pages, but I am always happy to find one. I don’t discard these small treasures. They become part of the book’s hidden story, the continuing tale of its owners as it travels from reader to reader. The book becomes kind of a communication device/time machine that allows each new owner to discover something new about another place at another time. I’m thankful that “Greg” in the note above “passed ’em on” to eventually end up at Chamblin’s Bookmine in Jacksonville, Florida.

PicMonkey Collage

Searching through Language: Translations of Hadrian (W.S. Merwin) & Limits of Human Perception

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Below, I have included a couple of translations of the only poem ever to have been found attributed to Hadrian (A.D. 76-138). The first word in the original Latin, animula, translates to little soul or small soul.

These first three photographs capture the relatively hard-to-find Pheonix Book Shop chapbook, Three Poems. I have a copy (only 100 were ever made, and it is signed by the author in 1968). The second poem is Animula. This was a kind of translation, I believe. But, it was more of Merwin’s work than an actual translation of the original.

The fourth photograph is from Merwin’s Selected Translations (2013, Copper Canyon Press) and includes a small bit of description about the origin and attempt to truly provide an adequate translation of Hadrian’s work. This is also included at the end of Merwin’s 2009 collection, The Shadow of Sirius (also Copper Canyon Press), which won the author his second Pulitzer Prize. His first Pulitzer was for the collection, The Carrier of Ladders (Atheneum), in 1971.

unnamed23413

These variations on the poem are vastly different from one another in content, form, and intent. You can read a little about Merwin’s thoughts on translation and the impact of this act on the rest of his learning in his interview with Paul HoldenGräber in 2010 (here), or watch his discussion with Michael Silverblatt in 2012 (here). A nice, printable pdf version can be found at the Poetry Society website (here). The first version included here is probably (since it was published in The Carrier of Ladders as well as the chapbook) an attempt to create anew from the inspiration drawn from the original Hadrian poem. However, it could be the lifelong pursuit of understanding that sometimes takes the form of endless revisions. This is what I would like to believe.

Language, in one description, is a temporary attempt to articulate this experience of being alive and being human. Language may attempt to communicate; however, The most important things in this life are not easily communicated in any form (including verbal and written languages, visual representations in paint or sculpture or architecture, music, etc.). Language is temporal at best. It “works” well enough for a time. Then, it must evolve to something new. Sometimes, this can mean an entire language changing or being lost. With spoken and written languages disappearing at an alarming rate, we are reminded of the temporal nature of everything. Language, like our individual lives, does not last forever (here is a list of extinct languages).

This small poem that has interested Merwin for a good portion of his life could be symbolic of humankind’s attempts to grapple with larger meaning. But, it is only a poem, a short verse. How could it convey so much? I am reminded of Adrienne Rich’s (a friend of Merwin) title for her final book, Tonight No Poetry Will Serve (2011). Poetry can be fawlty. It can evolve. It is indicative of what it conveys. It is temporary. For me, this poem (and this author) are reminders to keep searching, to not completely become comfortable with what I believe I know. Merwin wrote (in “The Nomad Flute,”another poem from The Shadow of Sirius), “I have with me / all that I do not know / I have lost none of it.” Merwin reflects often on the limits of memory and language. The Shadow of Sirius is probably the collection which captures this so starkly throughout its poems. Here is the complete text of “Going” from the same collection:

Going

Only humans believe
there is a word for goodbye
we have one in every language
one of the first words we learn
it is made out of greeting
but they are going away
the raised hand waiving
the face the person the place
the animal the day
leaving the word behind
and what it was meant to say

There is a constant wrestling with the limits of communication. These very brief poems carry the weight of the world, prophetic and powerful, not unlike traditional religious texts. This is probably not accidental. Merwin wrote hymns as a young boy. His father, a Presbyterian minister, would have probably remarked on the following passage from Corinthians (King James Bible): While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Even as language is a temporal excercise, Merwin describes the thumbing through pages of his father’s 1922 copy of Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language “in search of meaning” (from the poem “Inheritence,” The Shadow of Sirius, p. 32). In one of his three “forwards” to each section of the Selected Translations, Merwin admits that this practice of translation (and, maybe all writing) has “evolved” and is essentially an “unfinished art” (2013, p. 281).

Maybe, I am rambling beyond what I attempted to describe in the beginning, which was just the dissimilarity of two translations by the same author. Maybe I’m searching for something that’s not in these texts, something that is just beyond them. Maybe it’s in the past, and I am wrestling with some existential questions that one of my favorite poets can’t help me resolve.

These “eternal” things (2 Corinthians 4:18) are perhaps the mysteries that will keep us pursuing clearer understanding…although Joseph Joubert (as translated by Paul Auster) warns that in some cases, it may “rob them of their illusions.” Of course, Joubert is referring to one of man’s symbolic preoccupations, looking at the stars. Merwin continues to search, not worrying of the loss of mystery. He knows that his attempts to capture the uncapturable are futile, but they are attempts nonetheless. Perception changes as we age, as we experience new things. We attempt to hold experiences, thoughts, and create things from these elements. They may not be good forever. But, as John Berryman told Merwin (and Merwin passed on to the reader in the poem, “Berryman”:

I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t

you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write

Knowing we may fail is not an excuse to try to communicate, to connect with others. That is where the magic is- in the trying. Maybe this is what Merwin meant when he admits in yet another poem from the life-changing volume that won him the second Pulitzer,”from what we cannot hold the stars are made” (from “Youth,” The Shadow of Sirius, p. 39).

 

Selected References

Auster, P. (1997). Translations (Selection of Joseph Joubert’s Notebooks). Marsilio Publishers.

Merwin, W.S. (2013). Selected translations. Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press.

Merwin, W. S. (2012). Interviewed by Michael Silverblatt on April 18, 2012. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/41266851

Merwin, W. S. (2010). Interviewed by Paul Holdengräber on October 22, 2010 at NYPL. Retrieved from http://www.nypl.org/sites/default/files/av/transcripts/merwin_transcript.pdf

Merwin, W. S. (2009). The shadow of Sirius. Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press.

Merwin, W. S. (1997) Flower and hand: Poems 1977-1983. Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press.

Merwin, W. S. (1970). The carrier of ladders. New York: Atheneum.

Vidal, J. (2014). As forests are cleared and species vanish, there’s one other loss: a world of languages. The Guardian (US Edition). Retrieved on April 28, 2016 from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jun/08/why-we-are-losing-a-world-of-languages

The Monkey’s Paw

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Monkey’s Paw (First Version)

1.

the stampede of lost lambs tore into the painting,

coloring the sky in Artaud ecstasy

loud & filthy with desire

strewn across the field

of bodies sewn through the fallen chain link fence.

Lifeless but full of motion,

they are a bloodless hymnal-
a flip book of photographs- discrete

images lie          sometimes, but these are at least

nine hours in the making.

Under no stars,           but so much swirling

sky drips into everything we drink now.

2.

Close your childhood, tightly.

A fleshy specter appears

in light circadian logic

behind your eyes

before everything cries through glass.

Where have you been, a sister asks

in language

woven into

water.

Everything’s slipping

falling

without

3.

                                          your boy.

Your boy has returned home

                              as broken geometry,

all angles in reflection.                   Open hymen

sounds too much like your surname,

too much like Hinderman.

Your sin sees damage like you

                              never did

(in reverse)

& no mysteries exist in these words.

Your son has returned home,

                               & he’s currently beating

prayer into the TV             while you watch.

You asked for this emptiness, he screams.

                  You’re shot talentless

into reality.

Bullets know distance
only matters in formal math.

   You have returned home in another body,

as energy,

             as longing.

You can stare into yourself       forever

              once he’s inside.

Look to the door           shaking

knocking

                 into your fingertips.

Your little boy has returned.

Your boy has come home

                 to a version

of you.

He’s waiting for you.

      Lambs will grow wild        in the absence

of good.

So,

go now.

                      Go right now.

Open your door,

                 & let him in.

Bergman Quote, 1964

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Why make art? Why write or photograph or paint anything?

“If you can take that first step toward communication, toward understanding, toward love, then no matter how difficult the future may be- and have no illusions, even with all the love in the world, living can be hellishly difficult- then, you are saved. This is all that really matters, isn’t it?” – Ingmar Bergman, 1964

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Recent Publications (since December 2012)

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 UPCOMING PUBLICATIONS, 2014

“Revisionism” at 5/Quarterly’s Tumblr in Spring 2014

“Wetlands” at Convergence: An Online Journal of Poetry and Art (Spring/Summer’14)

RECENTLY PUBLISHED POEMS, 2012-2013

“Occupation” at Convergence: An Online Journal of Poetry and Art

“Broken Consort” & “Silent Black Song” at Icebox Journal

“Amplifier” at NNATAN

Three Poems at Iridum Sound’s Churn Thy Butter

“Haunting” at Yorick Magazine, Summer/Fall 2013 Issue

RELATED

Painting and Process (short interview) at Draft Journal, 2013

 

Image

Creativity and Dr. Dorothea Lasky – Links and Appreciation

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Dorothea Lasky is a force for creativity.

Her poems burst with color and neccessity. Her short lines are full of fire. Earth, water, and wind are present in her most recent book, but there is much fire.

Not only a respected and established poet (her books- Awe, Black Life, and Thunderbird- can all be purchased at Wave Poetry), Dr. Lasky examines the role of creativity in learning. Her dissertation, her articles for academic journals, and her class syllabi all reflect this deep passion for the creative act. She creates spaces in her writing and her teaching that allow others to experience the power of the imagination and the possibility of experiencing something transcendent.

But, you can read for yourself.

Here is a small list of some of her articles, interviews, and her book on poetry in education:

Could Poetry Start an Educational Revolution?

2012 article in The Atlantic

Open the Door: How to Excite Young People About Poetry

Making Space for the Act of Making: Creativity in the Engineering Design Classroom

Examining small “c” creativity in the science classroom: Multiple case studies of five high school teachers

Interview w/ Phantom Limb

Interview w/ The Conversant

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This poem was written after a concert at the Stone during our honeymoon. We had taken a cab back to midtown, and there was a “supermoon” that evening. I was reading Paul Auster’s translations of Joubert’s writing at this time. The performers at the Stone were Ken Vandermark and Joe McPhee on clarinets, saxophones, and pocket trumpet. Later, she purchased the photographs of the event from Peter Gannushkin (http://blog.sonicbeet.com/ & http://www.linkedin.com/in/gannushkin), an amazing photographer who captures the music and the personalities of the evening perfectly.

East Village Evening (For Anna, 3-19-2011) with description

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East Village Evening (For Anna, 3-19-2011) with description

This poem was written after a concert at the Stone during our honeymoon. We had taken a cab back to midtown, and there was a “supermoon” that evening. I was reading Paul Auster’s translations of Joubert’s writing at this time. The performers at the Stone were Ken Vandermark and Joe McPhee on clarinets, saxophones, and pocket trumpet. Later, she purchased the photographs of the event from Peter Gannushkin (http://blog.sonicbeet.com/ & http://www.linkedin.com/in/gannushkin), an amazing photographer who captures the music and the personalities of the evening perfectly.