josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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12 Apr '04 10:41:22 AM

Walter Benjamin, 'Post No Bills':

The Writer's Technique in Thirteen Theses

I. Anyone intending to embark on a major work should be lenient with himself and, having completed a stint, deny himself nothing that will not prejudice the next.

II. Talk about what you have written, by all means, but do not read from it while the work is in progress. Every gratification procured in this way will slacken your tempo. If this regime is followed, the growing desire to communicate will become in the end a motor for completion.

III. In your working conditions, avoid everyday mediocrity. Semi-relaxation, to a background of insipid sounds, is degrading. On the other hand, accompaniment by an étude or a cacophony of voices can become as significant for work as the perceptible silence of the night. If the latter sharpens the inner ear, the former acts as a touchstone for a diction simple enough to bury even the most wayward sounds.

IV. Avoid haphazard writing materials. A pedantic adherence to certain papers, pens, inks is beneficial. No luxury, but an abundance of these utensils is indespensible.

V. Let no thought pass incognito, and keep your notebook as strictly as the authorities keep their register of aliens.

VI. Keep your pen aloof from inspiration, which it will then attract with magnetic power. The more circumspectly you delay writing down an idea, the more maturely developed it will be on surrendering itself. Speech conquers thought, but writing commands it.

VII. Never stop writing because you have run out of ideas. Literary honor requires that one break off only at an appointed moment (a mealtime, a meeting) or at the end of the work.

VIII. Fill the lacunae in your inspiration by tidily copying out what you have already written. Intuition will awaken in the process.

IX. Nulla dies sine linea - but there may well be weeks.

X. Consider no work perfect over which you have not once sat from evening to broad daylight.

XI. Do not write the conclusion of a work in your familiar study. You would not find the necessary courage there.

XII. Stages of composition: idea - style - writing. The value of the fair copy is that in producing you confine attention to calligraphy. The idea kills inspiration; style fetters the idea; writing pays off style.

XIII. The work is the death mask of its conception.

10 Apr '04 11:59:28 AM

Things on McCoy Tyner's first album sound thin. Though I know that this is in part due to his playing, to the way it had yet to develop into what I expect from his later (after 1962) time with Coltrane, at the moment I feel like attributing a lot to Art Davis, perhaps totally without reason. There are plenty of passages where Davis walks and Tyner tools along just fine, but missing Jimmy Garrison's thing for pulses, suspensions of movement for Tyner to dig into, I keep getting the sense that the ground is missing.

10 Apr '04 10:23:47 AM

Maybe the point of criticism, Maryann says, is to help us stop being thrilled by literature. And if that seems prima facie wrong—thinking maybe about all those times you've seen a book or a poem in a new light, come to find something sweet or clever or impressive about it, because of something a critic said—don't forget to compare those moments of appreciation to the complex relationships you have that outstrip, laughably so, mere 'appreciation', to the books that you read five, ten, fifty times, the ones that you never stop reading, the ones that infect and inflect all your subsequent thoughts, the ones in which you find for the first time someone writing things that you never before suspected anyone else in the world might have thought, except you. You know, whatever. Those books. What I say about them is loaded, to say the least, for—what if it's not such a positive thing, to have that kind of a book? To become mired in it, tied to it, forever affected by its gravity? And not merely because of the subsequent effect of it on your etc. etc.—not in that sense. No; in that, in that brighter book's sun everything else is dimmed. Including, most selfishly (i.e. not some liberal humanist line about the greatness of great literature and tradition and whatever), your own experiences of reading. Of reading whatever, anything. Even these can be brightened, but it takes hard work and dedication and commitment and openness, big things to call for in the face of the resentment and malaise that come of reading book after book where it just doesn't click, and you get the tired feeling of reading yet another book about which you will have yet more thoughts which you will recall a few of, perhaps, a few months on down the road if you are lucky. Even where the most abstractly intellectual is concerned, you want the lightning. And you want it to strike you down dead in your place. You want to be that moved. That affected.

10 Apr '04 09:06:45 AM

'Ulrich says: "When two men or women have to share a room for any length of time while traveling - in a sleeping car or a crowded hotel - they're often apt to strike up an odd sort of friendship. Everyone has his own way of using mouthwash or bending over to take off his shoes or bending his leg when he gets into bed. Clothes and underwear are basically the same, yet they reveal to the eye innumerable little individual differences. At first - probably because of the hypertensive individualism of our current way of life - there's a resistance like a faint revulsion that keeps the other person at arm's length, guarding against any invasion into one's own personality. Once that is overcome a communal life develops, which reveals its unusual origin like a scar. At this point many people behave more cheerfully than usual; most become more innocuous; many more talkative; almost all more friendly. The personality is changed; one might almost say that under the skin it has been exchanged for a less idiosyncratic one: the Me is displaced by the beginnings - clearly uneasy and perceived as a diminution, and yet irresistable - of a We."

Agathe replies: "This revulsion from closeness affects women especially. I've never learned to feel at ease with women myself."

"You'll find it between a man and a woman too," Ulrich says. "But there it's all covered up by the obligatory rituals of love, which immediately claim all attention. But more often than you might think, those involved wake suddenly from their trance and find - with amazement, irony, or panic, depending on their individual temperament - some totally alien being ensconced at their side; indeed, some people experience this even after many years. Then they can't tell which is more natural: their bond with others or the self's bruised recoil from that bond into the illusion of its uniqueness - both impulses are in our nature, after all. And they're both entangled with the idea of the family. Life within the family is not a full life: Young people feel robbed, diminished, not fully at home with themselves within the circle of the family. Look at elderly, unmarried daughters: they've been sucked dry by the family, drained of their blood; they've become quite peculiar hybrids of the Me and the We."'

10 Apr '04 07:55:47 AM

Kept wary by my misconceptions, it took me months and months to finally listen to the new Aceyalone album. As far as beats go, it's about as contemporary as you could expect from any given rap album, and so much more than I ever expected from an underground ('underground'?) album. Likewise Acey's rhymes: his flow is agile, adaptable, complex, though with a slight tendency toward overemphasizing the end rhyme, like someone who puts too much pressure on a single foot when walking. Whenever I catch myself noticing this it seems to be because he hits the rhyme to provide himself an anchor for whatever more-showy thing he's done immediately before the end of the line. To provide it for himself, unfortunately, not me. But this is minor, something more for me to be interested by ('oh, so here I can see him paying the cost of the way he's pushed the limits of his flow') than annoyed by. The only thing that actually bothered me about the album (even the Anti-Pop guest verses were good!) was the remainder of the production, the part excluding the beats. Particularly earlier on the album, everything was just so flat, monochromatic. I would like to say 'austere', but I consider that an honorific word, and I don't want to imply that I heard the sound on the record as anything like an underground we-all-live-in-a-house-together-and-eat-only-rice fetish or anything of the sort. It's just... plain. 'Plain' in this way doesn't sound all that bad, but if you were ever to say it directly to a person, in the form of a reluctant admission, its peculiarly devastating character would be revealed. There's an air of disdain.

3 Apr '04 10:15:52 AM

'Philosophy is the most serious of things, but then again it is not all that serious.'

1 Apr '04 11:37:38 AM

And has any poet ever written about listening to the radio so much as him?

1 Apr '04 11:31:46 AM

I wonder if there isn't something a little deliberately willful about Frank O'Hara naming so many of his poems 'Poem' (fifty-seven of them!); making it so by saying so.

1 Apr '04 10:58:08 AM

I found it encouraging tonight to find Robert Creeley, aged 24, worrying in a letter to Charles Olson over his lack of accomplishments to the date of writing. Saleable accomplishments like completed writing, reputation, and prestige, that is; he was by that time already corresponding with Olson, Pound, Williams, and others, which in retrospect seems like something, at least.