Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Archetypal Energy Narratives: Low-Temperature Geothermal


Is there are particular narrative that accompanies low-temperature geothermal resources? If so, what is the structure of the narrative? What are the underlying assumptions? What are implicit causal relationships? How does the narrative cohere?

Elements of the narrative:

1. The idea of low-temperature geothermal is a conundrum, an oxymoron, even.
2. Can relatively tepid water be used to generate energy? Where's the energy?
3. Changes in temperature and extreme thermal differences can trigger energy generation. How? There is equipment that will move (and start to generate electricity) when the temp diffs between two bodies of water are as little as 50 degrees.
4. The water is being produced anyway -- in conjunction with oil and gas. Typically, it's simply reinjected into a disposal / injection well. Why not capture the energy on its way back down into the earth?

Assumptions (to reinforce or to combat):

1. Low-temperature geothermal means something like tepid water, which is bad. (combat this faulty assumption)
2. Low temp means low energy. (combat this faulty assumption)
3. Fluids co-produced with oil and gas can be exploited / harvested / put to good use. (reinforce this positive assumption)
4. The co-produced energy is "clean" and "alternative" (since it is from warm water) and is a cleaner source of electricity than the oil or the gas. Virtue / value implications here. The geothermal elements can add virtue to a decidedly "unvirtuous" energy source, at least in today's view, if one views all oil and gas production as a source of carbon emissions.

Because the world tends to classify energy as "clean" or "dirty," and "good" or "bad," would it not follow that the narratives will only escalate over time? We'll have a good vs evil narrative -- clash of titans grand showdown. At least that's what the narrative expectations would lead one to expect.

Real-Life Intrusion
I'm in Starbucks right now and I'm amazed, as always, in the flows of crowds / customers. It's never an even stream. Either there is no line at all, or there is a long line. It's not just that people come in groups, it's that the groups cluster together. Five minutes ago there was no waiting. There was no activity for 5 minutes. In the last thirty seconds, 4 groups (clusters of two or more) and 3 individuals came in, for a total of around a dozen people in line. It's pretty amazing. I'm also amazed at the range of apparel options. It was cold last night -- 30 degrees or so -- and today is sunny. It is supposed to reach 50. Most people are wearing long-sleeve shirts, pants, jackets, or hoodies. But, here comes a guy in baggy shorts and a t-shirt. It's hard to understand! I wonder f crowd behavior is somehow determined by internal narratives; predictive of where people will be and when they should be there. There's an adorable pug sitting on the brick sidewalk on a pile of dried oak leaves. His leash is wrapped around a metal post, and he seems to be waiting quite patiently.

Back to Energy Narratives --

The more people classify items into good or bad, the more quickly they put themselves on a path to narrative inevitability.

"Narrative inevitability" has to do with a narrative that is so ingrained that if you have a story / tale / set of facts that gets anywhere close to it, the narrative will pull you in, drag you downstream, and right over the falls. Think of falling into the river that flows into Niagara Falls -- that is the pull of narrative inevitability. The only way to avoid it is to try to make sure your set of facts do not start shaping themselves so that they fall right into the stream of narrative inevitability.

Somewhere along the line, it's important to start reshaping your story so that it fits a different, competing narrative that fits your needs and purposes a bit more clearly / adeptly.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Good Girl Messages


The "Humanities" could play a reformative role in the social and political field.
Love has kinetic origins.
Replacing the word with oil & metal.
I used to read everything Julia Kristeva wrote in her marimba & bone mallet academic French;
Old medical school photos:
Seraphim and Cherubim made music on exalted vertabrae (scoliosis)
You are what you want to be --
all protest and grumbling inner voices that you claim you no longer hear;
The mask wears thin.
Stand up straight.
I've been there with you.
Photos c. 1901 of San Francisco opium dens.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
(Actually, there is, but who's willing to question?)
Tennis for good girls.
Sports, poetics, listen closely.
The generation that ruined everything.
Stand up.
So they say, so --
Everyone ruined everything.
Everything and everyone breeds.
Faces for good girls.
The most successful are the most destructive.
Why is it always so? Flourish to the point of extinction.
Joy. Love. Happiness. Prosperity.
Humans have no fur.
What will we do or say?
Did you see the holiday traffic in front of the big box stores this weekend?
Thanksgiving and the origins of paper money.
Blueprints of the absolute:
& the internal combustion engine.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Memory Is a Problem: Perfume, "Our Song," and the Shifting Sands of Embedded Narratives


Jimi Hendrix. Voodoo Chile. Is it heresy to say that this song does nothing for me? Sure, I understand the greatness, the individual talent, the spiraling pass that makes it all the way to the endzone of a bliss that has appropriated and/or bowdlerized Romanticism all over it.

I'm only listening to the recording because I have no choice. I'm in a gritty, Bohemian restaurant that has a raw veggie wrap I like.

Long term memory is not static. Even autobiographical memory is dynamic, subject to change. I'm not sure if that means that one's ability to recall is variable, or if the memories themselves are variable.

Okay. I sort of like "All Along the Watchtower" and "Hey Joe." I have no idea what they're about. To me, Jimi Hendrix died when he was about 50. Of course he didn't. He was 27. But, his work has been around so long, it seems as though he's alive -- along with his music. I guess he'd be around 70 if he were alive today, perhaps as boring "pillar of the financial community" as Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger have become.

I'm intrigued. The implications of a protean, constantly morphing memory are fascinating.

Jimi Hendrix has now moved into "Easy Rider." I can't remember who did this song. I don't much care for it.

I'm at a table next to a window partially covered by a poster advertising a New Year's celebration. Two men have just walked by -- one is pushing a shopping cart with clothing and other possessions. They both have long brown beards. No gray. Does that mean they're in their 20s or 30s? For some reason, I always think of the homeless as being old, but the truth is, they're generally not.

I remember having contact with homeless in Oklahoma City. The parking lot I used was next to a detox center, and men would regularly ask for a dollar or sometimes odd amounts -- 15 cents. In New York City, the panhandlers were not homeless, nor were they in Baku or in St. Petersburg, Russia. Instead, they seemed a bit like carnies -- and very well rehearsed and organized.

One Sunday morning two years into the Iraq war, while visiting friends in Philadelphia, I came across a ragged young man who was leaning against a brick wall somewhere off Rittenhouse Square. For some reason, I felt compelled to give him a ten-dollar bill. I think I was influenced by my time in Azerbaijan -- it was fairly normal for people to stop and give money to people who were on the street corners who asked for help. I respect the generosity of the individuals who give out individual charity. There's something about the panhandlers here in Tulsa, though, that takes me aback. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that some are given to saying aggressive things, and to demand a cigarette.

Can I trust any of my memories?

I believe I can. But, one has to say that it could be that emotional connections to the memory could mediate it.

Some sort of seventies anthem is blaring across the speakers. It is equally repellant. Why do I dislike "Classic Rock"? Does it have to do with the associated memories?

Most people would say so. The would claim that the popularity of "greatest hits" compilations has to do with the fact that they trigger memories of one's pleasant times, formative years. Music is like perfume, in their eyes. It triggers deep memories that you can't expunge, even if you want to. So, what you do is find the music that has the most pleasant cluster of associative and associated memories and then you replay, replay, replay.

Good idea?

If memories are pliable and/or shape-shifting, doesn't it follow that every time you hear a song in a new context, the experience of listening to the song is mediated? Further, does it not follow that the emotional impact would also change? Then, your memory goes awry.

Concrete example: If I first listened to Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child" as a child in conjunction with confusing, rather menacing images and energies, would that always be with me? Would my experience change if I started to associate the song with exciting times in the summer -- sitting outside eating dinner with friends, drinking coffee at a bohemian java bar?

Another song, some sort of ditty that is a clear borrowing from an Irish folk tune: "hello mr blue sky -- welcome to the human race." Elton John admitted to having raided the Methodist hymnal for chord progressions and even melodies.

Memory turns into a self-delusion machine if we're not careful.

So, if we have associated memories -- what are they associated with? The updated melody? The original? The variations that came later?

Rolling Stones: Honky Tonk Woman. My memories associated with this song are of my older cousin from Vermont who came to spend a summer with us in Oklahoma. In my view, her presence was quite unwelcome. She occupied my bedroom. Her main goal was to go back bronzed and glamorous. This was before tanning beds -- and -- before she had experienced anything but a Northern sun oon her white, freckled hide.

The Oklahoma August sun did quick work of her, and when I think of her, I think of her listening to the Rolling Stones, then baking in the backyard on my mom's favorite chaise longue. Later, she burned to a crisp, or at least a blistering ball of pain. Second-degree burns. I felt nothing but schadenfreude at the time (I was 6 years old). Later, I got mine -- not realizing why the beaches of the Yucatan peninsula were empty at noon in March during Spring Break. I, a 16-year-old who should have known better, got so sunburned the tops of my toes peeled.

Memory is fallible. That's been demonstrated over and over again. It is remarkably easy to induce false memories as well. Why do I think I'm immune to it?

Perhaps "greatest hits" and perfume are reassuring simply because we rely on them as memory markers. They trigger memories -- authentic ones, we suppose -- and we rely on them to access a kind of "write-protected" part of our brains.

But, apparently, nothing is "write-protected" and your memories can be altered without any sort of physiological issue. So, there is nothing to say that my memories of my cousin and her taste for the Rolling Stones and the popular television shows of the day that featured teenagers in go-go boots and "mod" Herman's Hermits and the like have not been effaced or attenuated by my emotional need for a certain narrative to be associated with those days or times.

This seems fairly straightforward.

What is not so straight-forward is how I'm supposed to move forward in a world where everything is fluid and where everything reinvents itself, and not necessarily in a way that benefits me.

The other day, I was listening to a program on the radio -- the name of show was something like "Radio Lab" (see how I distrust my memory for my invented schema and the labels and short-hand retrieval, but I trust my memory implicitly for the narrative). It was the story of a woman who dated a man with face-recognition disorder. Coincidentally, the week before, there was a story about a professor who had face recognition disorder. They could not remember nor could they recognize faces. They would have intense difficulty in life because everyone was, in essence, a stranger to them. I suppose the pattern recognition part of their brains were sadly compromised.

I had a few questions for them. Could they read maps? Could they recognize where they were on a map? If face recognition disorder was anything like the problems I had in field camp trying to see in 3D with stereo pairs -- well, I can understand the frustration. When it came to verbal recognition / description of lithologies, I was completely on top of it. To me, geology was a language and a discourse of explanation. My brain is comfortable with that. My brain is not comfortable with making my vision go to 3D and/or contorting spatial relationships in order to make some sort of visual pattern. My brain is all about process analysis and language. I'm not saying that I can't recognize visual patterns, it's just that I think of the maps we were supposed to use back in the 80s required too much visual extrapolation. For me, it was like using a slide rule rather than a calculator; or, better yet, using an abacus instead of a computer.

I'm acting as though the most important aspect of memory is autobiographical memory, and I have to say that I'm uncomfortable with that thought.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of memory for me has to do with working memory - the place where short term memory and long-term memory have contact. How much of working memory is impacted by the limbic system -- raw, unmediated urge -- fight, flight, fornicate, feed. And, how much of working memory is affected by desire?

I have a feeling that desire plays a very disturbing role in the function of the brain, particularly when it comes to the retrieval of long term memories, and also the way that connections are made between prior knowledge, experience, and schema. I have a feeling that desire can re-route memories and make false priorities, which is to say that it make certain memories rise to the top, while leaving others to hover along the bottom along with the other catfish.

I also suspect that if one does not learn to discipline one's own desire, one is fated to be stuck in fantasy mode-- and eventually, one's memories will be only accessible through one well-trodden and very boring working memory road -- and you'll end up remembering only those things that make you feel good.

Hmmm -- does that sound like anyone you know?

I have a friend who has a favorite refrain -- everything was better in the 50s. He was born in 1949, so I really question what sorts of authentic memories he has. He claims to have a very in-depth recall of the economic downturn of 1958 (or one of those years). I do not doubt him; what I see is a convergence of belief, desire, and emotional conflict (a recognized state of innocence mixed with an anger at the loss of innocence). So, in the end, what is emitted, with clocklike precision, is a rant about how wonderful and innocent those times were, yet how disappointing and hard -- but the narrative that emerges from that uncomfortable juxtaposition is one that he invariably blends with a narrative of the Pilgrim's first winter, how honorable, pure, and heroic they were. I start to think how ultimately sacrificial memory and consciousness itself are.

And, well, while he never says it straight out in that way, but I will.

Memory and consciousness are sacrificial.

So, here I am -- writing this, surrounded again by music, but I'm in a different location -- one that is warm in the way that an Art Deco boutique hotel can be warm. You feel transported back to a time when you can feel comforted by the solid clink of gold in your pocket and oil under your feet.

The music is different. Karen Carpenter is singing "Merry Christmas, Darling" in a way that brings tears to one's eyes-- it's intimate and sentimental -- what her contemporaries would have called "square" --

and, well, being the "square" person that I am - (emotional and idealistic in a way that seeks approval from authority figures, rather than rejecting the approval of authority figures) -- I'm moved. I immediately think of my mother, and I'm sad that I can't call her and talk to her.

Perhaps I will, even though she's not in a place where she can easily answer.

How many people dial up and talk to their dear, departed mothers?

Ah, yes. I'm starting to go down that road of memory mediated by desire.

I'm not sure I'm brave enough right now for that journey. So, I'll stay on the surface and remind myself how much I dislike the "Classic Rock" stations and the way that people cluster songs around certain time markers.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Notes from Veracruz


So many things are simply a matter of point of view -- in Veracruz, the Plaza of the Heroes commemorates the valiant defense by the Mexican naval forces against four different invasions. Two were invasions by the U.S. -- one in 1847 -- during the Mexican-American War. That one did not surprise me.

The other invasion by the U.S. was in 1914.


That event never quite made it to the history books I studied in high school and college. It does not seem to make it to even the most politically inclusive undergraduate history texts (U.S. History after the Civil War). This I know because I've worked extensively in developing instructional materials -- overviews, lectures, quizzes, and podcast scripts -- for U.S. and world history textbooks.

I never saw any mention of the 1914 invasion by the U.S., although there is often mention of the U.S. military's meddling (or "helping") in political and economic affairs in Central America.
I will say that, if anything, the textbooks focus on the U.S. desire to maintain an isolationist stance during that time. However, I am not sure how that squares with the Spanish-American War (of 1898).

Times and attitudes change quickly, I suppose, and life in 1898 was different than U.S. daily life in 1914. Americans did not want to get into the "Great War" any more than they welcomed the enthusiastic rabble-rousers Emma Goldman and other anarchists.

Americans defend life, liberty, and justice for all.

That's the goal, at least, and it's the utopian side of a coin with two faces. Heads or tails? Liberators or invaders? Which do you prefer?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Narratives of Maturation: The Bildungsroman vs. Thermal Maturation of Hydrocarbons


How is the concept of thermal maturation of hydrocarbons in shales similar / not similar to a Bildungsroman?

Can the narrative employed to explain the process of thermal maturation, together with all its attendant assumptions, be applied to fiction? Or, to biographical narratives?

It would be easy to say that this is simply an exercise in tracking analogies. I think that it can be more than that. What we can examine are the underlying assumptions that inform human maturation, and geochemical maturation. We can also look at which we privilege -- do we give preferential treatment to the process? Or, the qualities that accompany each stage? What do we consider to be the triggering factors? What are the elements that are necessary for maturation? Because the Bildungroman is such a well-known narrative form, and such a well-trod genre, it is not a bad idea to start with the narrative of thermal maturation, in a rather skeletal form.

Thermal maturation:

The "immature" state is a shale that contains a high carbon content. Kerogen is a mixture of organic chemical compounds that make up a portion of the organic matter in sedimentary rocks.

Typically, it's an organic-rich shale. "Immature" signifies that the shale is in a relatively untransformed state. It is shale. Nothing has broken free from it -- and, the chemical that can eventually transform to hydrocarbon (methane to the more complex alkanes) has not yet undergone pyrolysis, etc.

Value judgment: "Immature" is valueless, except in its function as a "seal" over a porous rock that functions as a sponge -- it holds liquids (like oil) -- and the seal creates a trap for the oil.

Process is everything, especially when it involves trial by fire: How does natural gas emerge from carbon-rich shale? The key is maturation.

What kind of maturation? It's thermal. In other words, the temperatures must ascend to the point that the shale breaks down, physically and chemically -- it starts to become more fissile, have fractures (which function as conduits for the newly formed gas). The shale starts to change chemically -- the kerogen transforms, and starts to break down.

This sounds very straightforward until you realize that that triggering mechanism -- heat flow -- has to be at an ideal rate. Otherwise, metamorphosis takes place and the shale transforms into hard, non-hydrocarbon bearing metamorphic rock such as slate.

If the heat flow happens too quickly and intensely, any hydrocarbons that might have started to form combust. They burn off. They're simply gone.

If the heat flow is too mild, and the rate of heating is too slow, there may be a bit of in-situ methane, but not in commercial quantities, and it will be hard to recover because it's possible that fractures did not form.
Application to literary narratives:

1. Maturation requires a triggering event, and the event is never pleasant.

2. Heat is part of the equation -- not a low heat, or a fiery flash-point sort of flame-out. It takes time. It's slow-cooked. The heat is constant and it lasts a long time.

3. Application of heat (discomfort) has to be constant and continuous. Episodic heat, as well as episodic tectonic activity (movement of the earth) -- both are necessary in order to liberate the gas and to create rocks that have fractures through which the gas can move.

4. Too much or too little will result in a failure to mature correctly -- too much heat means a destruction of the organics. Too little means that nothing happens -- just a seemingly endless stasis. Paralysis -- emotional, physical, psychological.

Underlying parallels -

The Bildungsroman looks ahead to the end-point -- the making of the writer / artist, and at formative events.

The assumption that maturation is a process.

The assumption that maturation is linear and not reversible.

These are a few thoughts -- more to come.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Day After Thanksgiving


It's the day after Thanksgiving, and my dad and I went to the cemetery south of Noble off highway 77 where my mom is buried. I didn't want to go empty-handed, so I suggested bringing silk flowers. My dad had already donated all my silk lilies to the church, so that was not successful. We ended up going into the back yard to my mother's favorite rose bushes and cutting off three yellow roses and one red rose. We put them in a vase, which we brought with us.

The goal was to try to decide on a headstone. What dimensions? What color? What kind of design?

As we stood at my mother's grave, a woman drove up with a clutch of red and white silk poinsettias. She took out the yellow and orange chrysanthemums and replaced them with the red and white blooms.

"It's funny. Since my husband died, I don't decorate for Thanksgiving or Christmas. He was all about it. But, well, I don't know."

She placed the Thanksgiving chrysanthemums on the ground. "If they still look good, I like to share them with little Roger over there," she said. "He never has anything on his grave."

To tell the truth it was the first time since my mother passed away that I had brought anything out. It did seem very sad to see her grave -- no marker, except for the little temporary marker with a photo taken years before. The dirt was compacted with mud cracks and a couple of thick tire tracks. I blocked the intrusive thoughts that started to push their way in.

"It's tough," I said. "It brings back too many memories."

I invariably thought of my grandmother during Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. My grandmother made a few things for Thanksgiving that seemed to be fairly unique -- fruit and nut salad, and, if I remember correctly, pistachio jello. Lemon merengue pie was also a "must," with the most amazingly fluffy merengue.

Cooking is chemistry.

The day was not warm, but nor was it inordinately chilly. The cemetery had a remarkably warm, soothing feeling, due in part that it was bordered on three sides by pastures and a couple of herds of tranquil looking Black Angus.

At least 60 percent of the headstones had flowers or other decorations. There were a few flags, and one seemed to have an assortment of toys.

I was surprised to see how many names I recognized -- one was the assistant branch manager for the bank I have used for the last 20 years. Her husband was buried just three rows up from my mother. Her name was next to that of her husband, along with the dates of their marriage. He passed away in 2005 -- I remember her telling me about it, and how tragic his last few weeks were, with complications from chemotherapy. Five years ago.

Can she ever remarry? Does it seem odd that she would be buried next to her previous husband? I guess not -- I mean, I know they had at least a daughter together, and at least one grandchild.

I'll definitely bring something for my mother's grave sometime before Christmas.

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.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Flowchart for Creative Writing -- diagram with audio -- Livescribe

Flowchart for creative writing assignment (memoirs, autobiography) dealing with settings,contexts, blends of inputs.

Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Christmas Pop: Homage #1 to watakushi shōsetsu (20th century Japanese I-Novel)


It’s that time of year again. The holidays are approaching. The tunes you only hear at this time of year are trotted out and you’re trotted down memory lane, whether you wanted to do those particular mental and emotional laps or not. Do you like the traditional Christmas tunes, or a blend of old and new?

By "new," I mean all the Christmas "rock," but I don't mean the formerly "new" tunes such as those from movies. I love "White Christmas," and of course, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," which has the sweet, wrenching pathos of Judy Garland's voice...

the next self-destructively doomed singer to have such a voice was .. well... was it Karen Carpenter? "It's Good-bye to Love" stops me in my tracks every time.

I think I like the Christmas-themed 40s and 50s movie tunes even more than the old standards - "Adeste Fidelis," "Good King Wensciazslazs" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." Christmas rock tunes? Yuk. I have to say that I get pretty tired of the 80s "Christmas Rapping" and other "novelty tunes" ...

Weirdly enough, as much as I dislike "Christmas Rapping," and Jose Feliciano's "Feliz Navidad," they trigger very nice associations. "Christmas Rapping" brings memories of driving across town to see my mother, my dad, my brother Paul and my sister, Elaine, to open presents, to eat pumpkin pie, pecan pie, turkey, cold green beans and cranberry sauce. Then, wandering outside to look at the cold, clear sky.

Last Christmas, I was snowed in, along with the rest of the populace, by a colossal 12 inches snowfall. That was record-breaking for Oklahoma. The Oklahoma City airport was shut down for days. My mother and my dad drove over to my condo.

My mom was very frail and afraid to get out of the Suburban due to the ice and snow. If she slipped and fell, she might break her hip or some other bone. My dad loved the idea of helping me dig out of the snow. He grew up in northern Vermont, and he liked to discuss how / where / when to handle inclement (read snowy) weather.

I had to smile when he got stuck and I go to shovel him out -- bending his snow shovel in the process (not good). I'm no expert in shoveling snow, despite my 4 years in upstate New York. There, though, I relied on the apartment crew. Jimmy, a fiesty, short guy who invariably wore plaid flannel shirts and sturdy snow boots, always made sure the driveways were plowed, the walkways and sidewalks shoveled, and plenty of salt and calcium on the surfaces so they they were dry -- despite the snow pushed into mountains at the end of the driveways.

So, I learned nothing at all about shoveling or blowing snow during my sojourn in northern climes.

I did learn about the evils of ice, and for that reason, made sure my mother did not venture out alone on it. We drove back to my parents' house. We stopped by the Shell station near my parents' house & I grabbed a hot coffee. Then we went pulled up in the driveway, and then opened the garage door so my mom would not have to walk on the snow / ice very far.

We made it inside. Everyone was great. We opened presents. My mom got me an L. L. Bean flannel pajama set -- just the kind I love. Very soft, very warm. I apologized for not getting them much -- I think I got my mom soft socks and something else, but I'm not sure what. I brought my dad all kinds of organic crackers and snacks that I bought at the Reasors at 15th and Lewis in Tulsa right after Wednesday tennis drills.

I had bought food and then headed to Norman.

They said I should go -- there would be a huge storm. I had a hard time believing it -- it was 50 degrees and balmy. It was the 23rd -- we had the 24th off from work.

Thankfully, I trusted my dad's weather report. The very next morning, yes, it snowed -- it was a blizzard! I would have been trapped in Tulsa for the entire Christmas weekend, and I would have missed spending time with my parents.

Little did I know that a mere two months later, my mom would slip and fall (just before Valentine's Day) and would break her hip and shoulder. After 30 days in the hospital, most of the time on IV's and unable to even sip water, due to breathing and aspiration problems complicated by pneumonia, she would be released to go home -- to hospice -- basically to die.

Unfortunately (at least in my eyes), no one realized my mom would bounce back -- with the help of the 24-7 home health care, and so when the angels of death (hospice nurses) gave my mother massive doses of morphine and other drugs, they interfered in a dramatic and rather grotesque way on any chance at all of being able to keep going.

I still feel quite guilty. I should have taken a stand and compelled my dad to get rid of hospice. Get rid of the angels of death. As severely, and gravely ill as my mother had been over the last 22 years, I never expected her to not make it.

And, well, as much as I hate the corny "Christmas Rapping" song, it reminds me of my last Christmas with my mother, and all the bittersweet memories one has of a relative who was deeply and chronically ill for most of my adult life.

And, as much as I hated that she suffered, we were all codependent. When she had a good day, we had a good day. When she had a bad day, we all called each other and wrung our hands as we fretted and discussed how inadequate modern medicine is, despite all the advances.

Now, I would say that memory is inadequate, not medicine, and worse -- the postmodern human heart is inadequate; severely lacking.

If reality is a construct, and meaning is to be an iridescent sheen on the water of life, well, sometimes the multiplicities of interpretive possibilities are just too much for me.

I miss my mother.

I did not like to see her suffer. I would not want her to be consigned to a life of endless suffering.

I miss her anyway.


Note: this is the first of a series of writings inspired by Japanese watakushi shōsetsu, the I-Novel, a very special kind of autobiographical writing (see Naoya Shiga's work).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Notes on Translation from the Guarani

The experience of translating Paraguayan women authors into English for the anthology, First Light, a 3-year project that was finalized in 2000, was illuminating. In translating into English the work of Paraguayan women writing in Guarani, one must be aware of the temptation to fall into translating the work in a way that will lead scholars and popularizers of the discourse to read the work and use it in a facile manner to support notions representing ideological trends. This is not to say that the themes and/or ideas are not present in the work – but that the translator makes certain choices in the translation process that could lend themselves to appropriation.

Feminist / post-feminist gender issues: If one accepts the notion that the cornerstone of feminist theory is a phenomenology of oppression, then the work of Paraguayan poet Susy Delgado could be used in this manner. In Tata-pype (CLOSE TO THE FIRE), she addresses a poem sequence to her older lover, making a great deal of word play about the fact that he considers himself powerful, important, patriarchal, particularly in relation to her, a woman. In the Guarani, the wordplay creates an ironic dualism used to describe the male psyche – one in which a tender interior coexists with a puffed-up bragadoccio exterior. The Spanish version (written by Susy) more straightforwardly makes fun of the machismo of her companion. Over the years Susy and I have had many conversations on the subject – both about how to depict men in poetry, and the behavior exhibited by the typical Paraguayan male (which Susy described as having been warped by three generations of 10 women to every man, and irresponsible paternity, partially condoned by the church in an official attempt to repopulate the country after two almost genocidal wars). This is not to say that authorial intent has determined the final product, or to say that the translator should place much weight on the authors stated intent.

It was tempting to me, as a translator, to go to the extremes with this particular segment, and to translate it with words that would immediately catch the eye of a feminist critic. It was doubly tempting since I was still partially psychologically enmeshed with a lying, cheating dog of a Paraguayan boyfriend, and revenge fantasies were still percolating just beneath the surface. I even toyed with the idea of putting his name in my English version of Susy’s Guarani and Spanish texts, and making specific references to identifying characteristics (home, job, etc.). In the end, I resisted the temptation; probably because it took me so long to do the translation, and it was too much work to maintain rage, pain and indignation.

Environmental or “green” politics: Sadly enough, in the past century, the environment of Paraguay was misused by colonizers, despite the fact that it does not possess the reserves of gold, silver and tin of its neighbor, Bolivia. The delicate ecosystem found in the Chaco was disturbed, first by rapacious hunters who sport-hunt endangered species, and then by huge hydroelectric projects which result in a vast alteration of the ecosystem (Itaipu dam on the Argentina/Paraguay/Brazil border, and the damming of the Pilcomayo River). Luisa Moreno de Gabaglio writes poetry and short fiction in Guarani and Spanish, and much of them have to do with the abuse of the environment by outsiders. For example, in the story “Keter B.”, she speaks of Spanish-speaking outsiders who hunt and capture an indigenous child, considering her to be a “creature.”

In “The Hanneman House,” a German specialist in arachnids lives in a house where the search for treasure buried and lost during the Chaco War drives men into internecinely homicidal greed. In each case, the Guarani speakers are victimized, while the outsiders (speaking Spanish or German) are portrayed as predators and cruelly analytical in their approach. Science without ethics also characterizes the hunters in her collection of stories, “Cuentos.” Zoologists use their understanding of the endangered species they are hunting to first kill the mother, and to take the pelts of rare peccaries, or to kill truckloads of rare caimans, leaving the skinless carcasses to rot in the hot sun. Luisa, who has a doctorate in veterinary science, pays a great deal of attention to animals – and they are the subjects of most of the “Cuentos.” For that reason, her books have been adopted in the Paraguayan school system (the Guarani and the Spanish versions), where they are used in conjunction with biology / Paraguayan heritage classes. It would be tempting to be more direct in the translation, and to make the environmental agenda more direct. Translating Luisa is quite difficult – she often invents words in Spanish which gives, through distortion of the language, the Spanish a grotesque, surreal cast. It makes the Guarani even more warm and maternal, in contrast.

Further, it is clear that her stories can function as allegories of the lingering pre- and post-Nazi influences in Paraguay, where the disappearances and tortures of animals and indigenous peoples mirror what happened to after the Civil War of 1946 and during the dictatorship of General Stroessner, who used Nazis to instruct his secret police in methods of torture. As such, her narratives are deeply antinomian and deeply questioning of authority that comes from outside, or which has been instructed by outside. In this, Luisa demonstrates the tendency of Paraguayans to express xenophobic and/or isolationist perspectives, where isolationism was historically viewed as a shortcut to utopia. Needless to say, it didn’t work. As an translator, it is difficult for me to keep from letting my own opinions and /or perspectives influence my word choices. If I am honest, I will say that I selected works to translate which illustrate my own attitudes and opinions, which are “green” and aggressively anti-fascistic.

Critiques of dictatorships and the phenomenon of self-censorship: Renee Ferrer writes both in Spanish and Guarani. Two of her books, POR EL OJO DE LA CERRADURA and LOS NUDOS DEL SILENCIO, deal specifically with life under dictatorship, and internalized oppression, which manifests as self-censorship. In LOS NUDOS DEL SILENCIO, the protagonist is married to a man she knows to be a part of the Paraguayan secret police, whom she begins to realize is an expert in torture.

In a trip to Paris, the protagonist falls in love (at a distance) with a Vietnamese exotic dancer, whom she imagines has experienced the same sort of self-repression and self-censorship as herself. In a chapter which structurally replicates the improvisations of a jazz saxophone player to whom the Vietnamese dancer dances, Ferrer’s protagonist riffs on the them of “falsifying” or “faking.” This was an extremely difficult chapter to translate because there were so many options for the words, and the rhythm was so crucial to the narrative.

I realized while I was translating it that I could bring in more of the overtly political, but I decided against it. Perhaps that was not a good choice – but I chose to be more strictly “transparent” and “fluent” in the translation – partially because the author wanted to review the translation (and I acquiesced). In POR EL OJO DE LA CERRADURA, Ferrer writes of Faustian bargains made because people had no option, no opportunity for advancement – a man duped into taking the rap for a crime sits in prison realizing he’ll never be paid the money he was promised, and his sacrifice – all so he could build a house for his mother, his family – will be worthless, as he is reviled, and no one believes his innocence.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Big Wheels

It made no sense at all to be afraid of a man with the body of a child, paralyzed from neck down, who had no way of perambulating except by means of a motorized wheelchair that had a special air tube he could blow into and control the speed and direction of his special vehicle.

Nevertheless, he was intimidating. You could feel his drive and determination -- it was so intense as to be reckless. If you wanted something and happened to be in his way -- move aside. He was indominatable, or at least seemingly so.

I guess he always had been. After all, that's how he got in this condition in the first place. He possessed a daredevil will. When he was young, he raced four-wheelers -- the kind you see down in sandy riverbeds that tear up point bars and egg-filled nests of endangered turtles and sand tortoises.

For the most part, he was lucky and very skillful. He had a wall of trophies as testament.

One day, he wasn’t so lucky. He flipped. He landed on his neck and broke it in four places.

That was fifteen years ago.

Now, he was paralyzed from neck down. He could not move his hands, arms, legs, feet, toes, or anything in between.

He could still speak, but had to breathe through a tube. When you looked at him or spoke to him, you would never think “invalid.” I never felt pity. Instead, I had the distinct feeling that if I crossed him, something terrible would happen to me, my family, and/or my dogs.

Ordinarily, I would not care, but he was my next-door neighbor, and before I had a good sense of who and how he was, I lodged a complaint with the neighborhood association because someone had parked in front of my home and blocked my driveway, effectively imprisoning me in my home.

I blamed him. It was before I knew he did not drive.

When I realized my mistake, I started sneaking out the back door and taking the roundabout way to my garage.


His wife was what one might gracefully call "statuesque." She was achingly hot, with boom-boom breasts and an equally booming backside. She was more than a trophy. She was the red, roaring cherry light on the top of a police car.

She was what announced that the law was after you, when the law was inutterably corrupt.

You couldn't say "no." You couldn't say anything at all.

You just looked down on yourself, as though your spirit had already divorced itself from your body, and was sailing off to a world of no pain, no sorrow, no existence, while your hand dipped into your wallet and handed over whatever folding green or warped plastic you could, just to forestall the inevitable...

Right now, you look at her and you imagine she’s saying "thank you" with those fuel-injected lips, pink tongue flickering just within the bounds of your mind's eye.

You should have been with me -- I watched the whole thing from behind a crepe myrtle bush on the edge of my patio. I saw his wife on the miniature porte-a-cochere that partially encircled their home, their front lawn. He was there. I held my breath, and I could hear the backpack-sized breathing machine doing its mechanical wheezing from behind his neck.

You wondered how large he was before his accident. His body looked rubbery and childlike.

He knew everyone must think he had a lot of money to keep a hot piece like that at his side. Was that all? Was there something more?

She seemed almost afraid of him.
He seemed almost afraid of her.

She was wearing black lycra shorts, a shredded lace camisole, 5-inch platform spiked sandals. Her body was the color of cinnamon toast. Her knees spread apart as she dropped down into deep squats that might have been considered plies in a ballet class, but here, at the side of the motorized wheelchair, the kneebends looked earthy, sweaty, agonizingly hot, wet, and crude.

Beads of sweat ran down his forehead. She seemed ready to lick the sweat off his brow with her tongue.

I could swear he was laughing. He loved watching her. She knew how to pull him in.


Ted Bundy used to wear a cast on his arm when he was at his most predatory. He used it to elicit sympathy from young co-eds, who immediately felt sorry for the cute, fumbling, young man...

John Wayne Gacy use to dress up like a clown when he was at his hungriest. He would don his Pogo, the Clown costume, paint his face white, his lips red, his eyelids dark blue, and then hold up his goofy, half-helpless white-gloved hand and wave to the small boys in the audience...

The Pied Piper played cheerful and irresistible tunes on his flute...


My neighbor was napping in the sunlight. His wife was painting her nails.

In the distance, cloud piled up, bunched together, and threatened to combine enough to produce rain, perhaps even hail.


Click on the pencast for audio of this "palm of the hand" story (inspired by Kawabata)

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Confessions of a Dogfighter

Podcast - audio file

Like everything metaphysical the harmony between thought and reality is to be found in the grammar of the language.
--Ludwig Wittgenstein

"Do you want to hear about the summer I worked in a tampon factory, or the year I decided to start a dog-fighting business?" asked the woman sitting across the table from Tinguely.

They were in a small restaurant with high aspirations, self-styling itself "bistro" and mixing the Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar" on the sound system, and a menu replete with "nouvelle mix" with items like “pine nut pancake,” “chipotle remoulade,” and “prickly pear jelly andouille.”

Pure Austin, thought Tinguely. Tiresome, on the whole, but when one contrasted it with the usual Tex-Mex fare, which always left Tinguely muttering vile things about her breasts and their propensity to hot-air-balloon on her whenever she ingested too much salt and lard, it wasn't such a bad thing.

"Tiffer, I'm not sure," said Tinguely. The humor she injected into her voice was a bit false. It couldn't be helped. Tiffer, short for Tiffany, was a child of the 70s who had grown up in a privileged home, but who considered herself a brilliant businesswomen, a woman with a Midas touch, not realizing (or acknowledging the obvious) that all her business acumen and sterling successes were due to parental bankrolling.

Tinguely knew there were certain parallels between Tiffer and herself, but she wasn't sure which were true parallels, and which were specious proclivities - that is to say, that Tinguely and Tiffer shared something and they resonated on some level, but it was not so easily relegated to its particular pigeonhole... that is to say that they did not much care for each other. Tiffer, child of the 70s, and Tinguely, of an era two decades later, but of a self-reflexive, self-creating decade that loved carving its own chunk of the 70s into its own consciousness.

"Dogfighting? Tampons?" Tinguely resented Tiffer's desire to call attention herself by means of pseudo-scandalosity.

It was clear that the disharmony between Tiffer’s thoughts and Tinguely’s reality fell squarely somewhere in the way they used language. One was flamboyant, with undercurrents of violence; the other was impatient, ironic, mildly put-upon. One built a mildly hyperbolic reality; the other flattened, perhaps even purposefully deconstructed reality.

In the middle of it all were giant icebergs of ethics.

Life was easier when one could take a pass on ethics. Unfortunately, this was not one of those times. She would have to hear the Tiffer out. Tiffer had bought working interest in Dad's latest high-risk wildcat oil and gas prospects, and there was no real options.

Tinguely ordered the "Duck Debris," a tiny waffle with a quail egg sunny-side up. It was supposed to be an aphrodisiac. It should have included two "huevecitos" (little eggs). Was it even ethical to eat an egg?

As it was, with one egg, there was something wrong with the metaphor. How could they presume aphrodisiocity when all they could muster was one tiny egg, sunnyside up, perched atop bean dip and a sad fried chive and one quarter of a waffle of obscure origin?

Give me a break, thought Tinguely.

She was glad she was on an expense account.

Today was a strange day. The workshop she had been so eager to attend ended abruptly when the speaker looked at her iPhone and realized a call had come in from the breeder of champion pugs, who was set to deliver the black-and-white pig she had been awaiting for at two months.

The speaker, a professor from the University of Texas, ran a seismic geomorphology lab with 12 graduate students he pushed in directions that advanced the science and various and sundry scientific ambitions. He was intensely charismatic in a profoundly "Alamo" way that spoke to all free-wheeling, free-thinking Texans who imagined themselves capable of self-invention and free-thinking.

Never mind that Texas had become a myth. Never mind that the collective mythology was simply a tool for community building and bonding.

Never mind that one can't ever quite transcend the fact that they spend their entire lives trying to avoid consciousness, and yet consciousness is what we have when we're alive.

The only ones who truly seek unmediated, unmitigated consciousness are those who have been declared terminal, placed in hospice, and who have decided to rebel, fire their hospice nurses, flush their morphine down the toilet (before it is pilfered by teen-age grand-spawn)...

Life. Living. Consciousness.

Spend your entire life avoiding consciousness. Or at least "most" of your life.


Logic is not a body of doctrine, but a mirror-image of the world. Logic is transcendental.
--Ludwig Wittgenstein

"I need to predecease my mother," thought Tinguely. It was an intrusive thought, completely unsolicited and unwanted. It was also illogical. Tinguely's mother had died when she was three years of age, and she was raised by her wildcatter father and a succession of housekeepers and private violin tutors, which was to say she raised herself, or, as she preferred to put it, wolves, making her the "wolfling" -- incapable of nurturing or mothering anything except like-minded wild things, of which she had met a total of 3 in her entire life, which now spanned 30 years.

Logic was not serving Tinguely well these days.

A sad version of "Light My Fire" was playing on the sound system. The Doors? It used to be that recordings that 40 or 50 years old were wildly anachronistic. When did that change?

"Ah. Light My Fire. This brings back memories. I liked the original. I'm not sure I like this muzak / rave version," said Tiffer.

"What kind of memories?" asked Tinguely. Tiffer still intimidated her, and she thought it was best to ask quiet, polite questions, and dispense with the darker elements that were obviously poking their heads above the surface, but which Tinguely was not comfortable in addressing.

"Surgicate yourself to Nirvana." The phrase entered Tinguely's mind and she thought immediately of her best friend and others who had tried to convince her that Botox, eyelifts, and "mini-lifts" were something you started budgeting for by the time you were 30.

Might as well take up tennis when you're 50-something, and at least four decades too late for anything except nostalgia and self-congratulatory bouts of muscle spasms and incipient tennis elbow (if only you had sufficient attention span and muscle tone to acquire such a malady)...

"Tiffer, I don't want to hear a single word about dog-fighting," said Tinguely. Unfortunately, Tiffer had already left the room, so Tinguely's brave declaration was essentially moot.

The Psychic Sponge's Guide to Zeitgeistland: "Love Philtre"

Monday, March 29, 2010

Elevator to Nowhere

Audio File / Podcast:

It had been a long day. Tinguely Querer was ready to leave her office. But, the elevators were malfunctioning again.

Not relying on the technology to repair the new, streamlined elevator, Tinguely decided to take the old reliable workhorse, the freight elevator.

How appropriate, thought Tinguely, as she felt she was getting a bit husky these days. It was hard to keep up the level of exercise she needed in order to maintain her weight. She was nursing a strained foot from the “turbo Air” footware that failed to live up to its promise of an effortless, injury-free run.

"The will to mastery becomes all the more urgent the more technology threatens to slip from human control." (Heidegger, Die Technik und die Kehre, 1954)

The lobby of the high-rise office building smelled of the latest “green” biocide used to keep the mold and rodent problem in check.

The freight elevator door opened slowly. Tinguely saw two men tumble into the door from the street entrance.

“You need to give me back my wallet. Now. I am serious.” A 60-something man was shouting to a young black man wearing a dark brown shirt, tight khaki jeans.

“You need to have a little respect. Respect. Now.” The young black man was on the verge of hyperventilation.

Lalica, the evening receptionist, leapt to her feet. Lalica had dark brown hair, and she tended to wear floral blouses.

“Boys! Stop it right now! There is glass in here! You could get hurt!”

The young black man sank slowly to the floor, put his head on his knees. He was sobbing. The older man pulled the young man’s shirt. “Give me back my wallet. You had no right.”

The sobbing was disconcerting. Tinguely was uncertain what she should do.

“You had no right,” sobbed the young man. The 60s-something man was frantic to get his wallet. He tugged on the young man’s shirt, his pants, groped in his pockets.

“Don’t take that – that’s my new iPod!” wailed the young black man. “It’s the only thing I’ve got that works!”

The malfunctioning elevator door yawned open wide to the dark cavernous shaft.

Pulling something from the young man’s pocket, the 60s-something man darted toward the elevator, not realizing what the door had opened to. He plunged through the open elevator doors.

Tinguely dug out her BlackBerry. “911.”

Lalica nodded. The young man continued sobbing, oblivious. As Tinguely dialed, the foot injured by inadequate running shoe technology throbbed. The malfunctioning elevator door went into spasms of opening and closing.

“It’s going to be hard to get through that,” commented Tinguely.

“The fall probably broke his iPod,” said Lalica.

"Technology comes to presence in the realm where revealing and unconcealment take place, where aletheaia, truth, happens." (Heidegger, Die Technik und die Kehre, 1954)

Tinguely walked slowly toward the wall of mailboxes in the high-rise apartment building where she was renting a bedraggled two-bedroom apartment. A tenant holding a paisley backpack was fumbling for her key. A tall, slender 70-something man held his restless Pomeranian.

“Bella. Relax. We’ll take a walk soon.”

Tinguely read the notice on the wall:

“Water Off from 6:30 am to Noon. We apologize for the inconvenience. West chase only.”

“No water again?” Her voice was indignant.

It was better not to say anything. After all, there was nothing to add. Her words would not influence the functioning of the plumbing.

“Another suicide. They have to turn off the water. Some kind of repair,” said the paisley backpack girl tenant.

“Well. Having the water off again will surely inspire another suicide. I do not know why it takes them so long to flush out the drains.” The 70-something man was huffy.

“That’s the third suicide this month,” said Tinguely.

“The curling iron in the bathtub may have been an accident.” The man did not seem to like the conversation.

“As was the death of the guy whose GPS unit instructed him to jump off the balcony from the 23rd floor?” asked the paisley backpack girl.

“Our machines are turning against us,” said Tinguely.

“Machines still save time,” said the man. “I love my high-speed coffee grinder and my new microwave.”

“Save time for what?” replied the paisley backpack girl, darkly. “Degradation and mind games?”

The Pomeranian barked, whined, shook her head, rattled her collar.

“Bella, is your ear still bothering you?”

The man’s brown eyes watered, and he patted the dog’s head lovingly.

“We just implanted a chip in Bella’s ear. This way, I always know where she is. She can’t run away from me. Ever again.”

“I wouldn’t trust it. The tracking device,” said the paisley backpack girl, glumly. “Bella is a girl dog. Bella, tear that chip out of your ear! It will only oppress and enslave you!”

“My dear, your comments are most unwelcome. Bella wants me to be able to find her,” said the man. He pursed his lips.

“Me, either. You’ve got to know your machines. You have to show them who’s boss,” said Tinguely.

Bella leapt from the arms of her owner. Her reddish-gold fur shimmered. She barked fiercely at Tinguely.

“Don’t worry, Bella. I’m on your side. I know someone who wants to chip me.” Tinguely looked down at her new Google phone which had built-in GPS, synched to Google maps. People in her Facebook network could tell where she was at all times.

She sighed. It was time to pay someone to take her Google phone and to drive aimlessly to random places, just to teach anyone who would track her movements that she was not going down without a fight.

It was not right to reduce her to a pixel on a digital map, and make faulty conclusions about her supposed movements.

Unfortunately, freedom and privacy were going to cost her money. She would have to get a new cell plan for herself.

The girl with the paisley backpack pushed up her sweatshirt, revealing Japanese calligraphy tattoos. She addressed Bella.

“Look Bella, it’s like this. You are negotiating with a hostile nation. You can’t go in and offer concessions right off the bat. You have to have a few kills under your belt. That gets their attention. It garners respect.”

“Do you realize you are talking to a dog?” asked the man. He placed Bella on the ground, attached a leash to her collar and strode away.

The door to the street opened and closed as the man left, Bella leading the way. The glass panes were clear. The lights of the city were twinkling. The empty parking lot and the abandoned gas station across the street were bathed in an eerie glow.

“You’re going to go on a walk on a night like this?” asked Tinguely.

No one responded.

The door opened and closed again. The night air outside smelled like lilacs and burning plastic.

“This is the way things really are, I guess,” said Tinguely. The chemicals and particulates in the air burned her eyes.

For the first time, she noticed that charred polyethylene smelled oddly of brimstone.

She suddenly could not imagine herself living here long.


"Technology is a way of revealing" (Heidegger, Die Technik und die Kehre, 1954)

Mathematical Knowledge Is Constructed:

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679): Mathematics and the political state both constructed from arbitrary states

Giambattista Vico (1668-1774): History is made by humans in collective action

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804): The mind is active in the formation of knowledge, and creates categories.

Gottlieb Fichte: The mind “posits” reality and its positing is prior even to the laws of logic.

Hegel (1770-1831): Categories develop through time and history, focus on non-Being from Being to produce the synthesis of Becoming

Marx and Engels: Frameworks (or ideologies) are terms in which people understand the world; math is an ideology?

Poincare: Mathematics is built up from mathematical induction.

Jan E. Brouwer: Mathematics is built from the ability to count

Rudolf Carnap: Logical positivist – we build our idea of knowledge from sense data (logical constructions from sense data)

Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934): Cognitive development is in stages; focuses on the social dimension of the development of a child’s conceptual framework