Friday, August 26, 2011

The old and the new

Greetings. If you're visiting here for the first time, please feel free to look around. I have nearly 8 (!) years of blogging archived here, but as of August 2011, I'm no longer updating this site.

You can find my current personal blog at gavinjcraig.com (which includes links to my other writing), and I also write frequently for The Idler.

Or, of course, I'm on Twitter at @craiggav

If you need a good place to get started, check out my "Best of Wordwright" post from July 2010, or my list of publications at gavinjcraig.com.

Happy reading!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Z is for zed

The name is the thing.

Thou whoreson zed! Thou unnecessary letter!

It is an unnecessary letter, that anomalous hard consonant end. Like Ned and Ted for Edward—superfluous, silly. No wonder Z was on its way out. If you don’t use it, just lop off the end. But sometimes even the unnecessary survives in archives and on maps. Sometimes a good paring is all that you need to thrive. Sometimes you just have to change the name.

The name is everything. Speak for five minutes and I can tell you your hometown and what your parents did for a living. Speak for ten and I can tell you your future. Speak your name and I can do both at once.

The name’s the thing. If I call it driftwood, you will not sit on it. If I call it a chair you will not break it up to burn. It’s a chopper, baby. If you cannot name it properly, we’ll never get anywhere.

Zed’s dead, baby. Long live Z.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Y is for yawn

You yawn
as a sign of yielding.

Giving way
is still a way to give.
Movement is creation, and
a yawn is a nod
to the physicality
of language,
difference in space
as well as time,

but it is also a way to say not yet.

Yes,
we are not
quite
at the end
just yet.

Yes,

not yet.

Yes.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

X is for xeating

X is for cheating. It is the letter of abbreviation and shorthand.
X is a signature and a saint, manifestation and incarnation, a use of the body to prove the existence of spirit.
X is impossible, a remainder, redundant.
X would be the first to go.
X is a shortcut, a marker, a way around the crosswalk.
X is a line, a single dimension.
X is the cross and double cross, convergence and divergence.
X is never the same thing twice.
X is not equal to Y.
X is the proof of the primacy of sequence, as it may be both added to and subtracted from depending on the placement of I.
X is the nothing that is, and thus is not the empty set.
X is the necessity of a new zero.
X is the transcendental signified, and thus X is cheating. QED.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

W is for writing

(A version of this piece was originally posted on March 13, 2008)

The writing that I have to write is of a kind. One of those kinds is a writing to be read, a writing that disappears into meaning and conveyance, that carries a load and when the load has been carried it is the load which is meaning which is remembered and the writing disappears. Another of those kinds is a writing which is for writing and for words and is not for conveying. This is a writing which is for reading but is not for being read. The writing which I have to write is mostly of the second kind. Writing which is for reading does work, but it is of a different kind than the first kind of writing. This writing also disappears but its disappearing is of a different kind than the first kind of writing. Writing that does not disappear is made to disappear. Writing which disappears is made, which is to say that writing which disappears is made to disappear, but the writing which is not made to disappear disappears as well. The disappearing is of a different kind because the making is of a different kind. This is a history of not being read.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

V is for Victoria

There can be no arc of development between the times I lived abroad. I was not a small Channeltown boy who moved to the city and came home only once. I was a visitor, a tourist, even as I ate handmade sandwiches from a local vendor and drank English beer. Only a tourist can really love a place, because only a tourist can see a place as it really is instead of how it was or how it was meant to be. My affair with England was perfect: passionate and brief, and I long to return largely because there is little opportunity to do so. I was someone else in England, which is to say that I was truly myself. I was a true cosmopolitan, unaware almost to the end that Victoria Station did not serve the whole of the island, but only the area southeast of the city. I traveled to London to see all of England, and learned my lesson so well that when I returned I hardly left Bloomsbury. The British Museum is the world entire. I will never go back again.

Monday, April 25, 2011

U is for un

Un, in English, is a prefix of negation. Un, en fran├žais, is the indefinite masculine article. There is no direct English equivalent for un. A single indefinite article encompasses both the masculine and feminine forms, since English, as a language, is ungendered. Like un, un is not unique within the language—a single word for a single function—but unlike un, the choice of prefix is determinative and not determined. Un cannot be une, but the word itself chooses the article. The distinction between in and un, however, is one of connotation. Undistinguished is not the same as indistinguishable. The underlying truth is that negation is far more than a simple absence. It is complex, and infinitely variable.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

T is for Tom

I can tell you about Tom. Like most of the people I know, he is a writer. Like most of the people I know, he doesn’t write much. He wrote a story once about a girl he knew in high school. He gave this story a romantic ending, not so much in that he and the girl ended up together, but in that the story ended with Tom crossing the continent to follow his art. This, of course, didn’t really happen. Tom is the sort of guy who says “know your bartender” and means “know your dealer.” He doesn’t drink very much, and he doesn’t know any bartenders. Tom lies to his parents about his religion, even though only one of them would really care. The only way to keep a secret is to not tell anybody. Tom’s favorite color is red. He works in Chicago writing dust jacket blurbs for a small press. He finds this difficult because he objects on principle to adjectives. Tom has a friend he has tried to write about, but every time he tries it sounds like he is in love with him. All those adjectives. Tom and I go a long way back. We live in different cities now. Tom and I write to each other a lot, but it isn’t the same. He hasn’t met my wife. Tom’s friend has red hair, and he and I go way back too.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

S is for silence

Can an argument be made for silence as an aesthetic virtue? To be successful, such an argument would have to be sincere. Irony may disarm, but a contingent, ironic virtue would be troublesome. The argument should not be that some art is to be silenced, but that silence itself may be productive, expressive, and beautiful. Similarly, silence as an aesthetic tool can be useful only if self-imposed: a method and not a qualitative distinction—a provocation and not a response. Unfortunately, this last position is untenable. Silence is always a response to the inadequacy of speaking and can only be meaningful in the context of that speech.

Friday, April 22, 2011

R is for respiration

Respiration and spirit share a common root. This reflects a fundamental misunderstanding in history, language, and religion. The truth is not so much that spirit and breath are similar or somehow linked in nature, but rather that the reference is the linguistic remnant of a logical fallacy in which the cognitive tendency toward reification resulted in the attribution of substance to a property.

Bodies breathe, but in the heavens there is only air.

There can, however, be insight even in misapprehension. Respiration is evidence not of soul, Geist, but the deep physical and material connection between all living things. I breathe the breath of your lungs, and the mine-ness of my breath is a contingent matter of relation and proximity. Our spirits mingle, and each breath is a repetition. In and out. Again and again. Between every breath there is a little death. A rehearsal, if you will, and a resurrection.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Q is for quandary

A quandary is the place where a river, flowing downstream, meets an obstacle and is divided into two parallel courses, never to be joined again. While the term is generally attributed to Archimedes, there has been, historically, a great deal of controversy in its usage. Most commonly, the term is used only to apply to rivers which never rejoin and continue independently to the sea, but a certain school, informed by Heraclitus, insists that any river, once divided, is a new river and, thus, all points of division in all rivers are properly described as quandaries. The non-Heracliteans argue that such a position stands wholly against cartography and navigation, for every river contains such a multitude of islands, diversions, and bits of debris that if each of these creates a new river at each occurrence that the proliferation of names required for these apparently independent bodies of water would be beyond human catalog and comprehensibility. Whatever the merits of their position, it must be acknowledged that the non-Heracliteans have provided the most useful observation that the sum of the force exerted by the water flowing in the two rivers resulting from a quandary is less than the total force exerted by the single river before the quandary. While most often applied to industry and agriculture, this law of quandary, abstracted and homologized, has also informed the stratagem known vulgarly as “divide and conquer.”

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

P is for Patriarchal Poetry

(This piece was originally published in Red Cedar Review)

I got up in the middle of reading Patriarchal Poetry. In the middle of reading patriarchal poetry I got up to use my hands to fold clothes my hands to fold to fold clothes to clothes to fold to fold to clothes to fold my hands to fold clothes to use my hands to fold to use to fold to use my hands to clothes.

I do not think that Stein would mind.

I use the word I too much in my poetry.

There is sound in Patriarchal Poetry sound and rhythm in repetition in the way that we use sound to make words we use sound to make words mean different things the sound in patriarchal poetry makes words mean different things we use sound in patriarchal poetry in Patriarchal poetry we use sound we use sound to make words mean different things in patriarchal poetry.

I do not think that Stein would mind, but we use sound in Patriarchal Poetry to make words mean different things.

I use the word I too much in my poetry in my poetry I too much is I is he in my poetry I is he is he is I is he in my poetry is he he said in my poetry is patriarchal poetry my poetry is patriarchal poetry I mind I too much in my poetry.

It is natural to mind in my poetry.

I got up to mind in my poetry I got up in the middle of reading patriarchal poetry I got up in the middle he said I do not think that Stein would mind getting up in the middle of patriarchal poetry.

I folded clothes he said. I got up in the middle of my poetry he said to fold clothes. I thought about sound and rhythm and to rearrange. I fold clothes he said not as a political statement it is a political statement it is a sound it is a political sound it is political a sound a sound to fold clothes.

Even when I fold clothes his poetry is my poetry is my patriarchal poetry.

When I was a child I would repeat words in my head until they broke down into sounds. At first glimpse two has a meaning but repeated it is a shape and a sound. Two. Even when broken down it can be said quickly and has meaning again. Thought and meaning are not always compatible.

Even when broken down two can be said again quickly even when broken down it can be said even when broken down it can be Patriarchal even when broken when down when broken even it can be said it can be broken be quickly even when broken down patriarchal poetry can be said quickly and has meaning again even when broken down Patriarchal Poetry can be said again quickly even when broken patriarchal poetry can be said again.

I do not think that Stein would mind he said.

Have it as she said she said.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

O is for originality

Originality, like nature, is an illusion. Novelty—an unfamiliar or unrecognized combination—while often mistaken for originality, is simply a result of mathematical permutation in time, which allows the repetition of individual results to be far enough separated so as to provide the semblance of the new. In fact, the elements are the same. It is the contemporary communication explosion which has revealed the undeniable limitation of the set from which all cultural, social, and political combinations are drawn. We breathe, and each breath is a repetition. Within experience, difference exists only as an accident of space. Geography alone separates my footsteps from those taken on the moon. It would, however, be a logical fallacy to conclude from this argument that similarity is somehow more essential than difference. Each is a comparative quality, imposed by cognition. The object itself is unaffected.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

M is for midpoint

M is for midpoint, which in the modern English alphabet is not occupied by a single letter but rests between m and n. Unless, of course, w is counted as a true double letter (“vv,” as it was originally typeset), in which case n marks the exact midpoint. Alternatively, one could eliminate j as the historical straggler, which would also shift the midpoint to n. Otherwise, in lieu of any change or revision, the midpoint of this project, the place of exact balance, lies not in this entry, but in the white space after the period at its end.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

L is for logos

1. In the beginning was speech, through speech could man approach god, and speech was a god. The world, when created, was spoken and then named. We know this because it was written down.

2. The word has two natures, spoken, and written; atemporal, and historical; ideal and formal. There is a reason why scholars and academics resort to langue and parole to discuss this dual nature. In English, language and speech have trouble drawing the same distinction. We have only mots.

3. There are, of course, no mots in English.

4. Language is a hidden thing. Every letter is purloined, artificial. Nowhere is this more apparent than in English, where every letter is stretched and twisted, and correspondence between sign and sound is largely accidental. Identical combinations of letters, pronounced differently, mean different things.

5. The word logos, in Greek, does not mean “word.”

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

K is for Kafka

It is difficult to think of Kafka as a model for emulation. Even Walter Benjamin, who adored him, said that “to do justice to the figure of Kafka in its purity and its peculiar beauty one must never lose sight of one thing: it is the purity and beauty of a failure.” Kafka’s most famous work, The Trial, is an incomplete, unsequenced draft, which Kafka was unable to destroy as he intended. In this way, Kafka is not Kafka alone, but must be seen through the filter of his literary executor, Max Brod. Is it even asked these days whether Kafka’s papers should have been burned? Is there still any room for guilt and uncertainty? Or does the author, like Josef K., disappear into the system that preserves and dissects his corpus? While I may mourn the loss of such an inquiry, I cannot dispute the verdict. Flame touches the page every time Kafka is read. That is enough.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

J is for Jonah

My name is Jonah, and I’d like to set the record straight. I was a paying traveler to Tarshish when we were becalmed. In their superstition, the sailors cast lots, and when that failed to draw a breeze, they cast lots for the crew, and then the passengers. When I belittled their ignorance, they turned against me. “Tell us,” they said, “for whose cause this evil is upon us; what is thine occupation? And whence comest thou? What is thy country? And of what people art thou?” Offended by their presumption and familiarity, I spoke with disdain. “I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.” Having heard that I was a Jew, they raised their hands and cast me from the ship.

The part about the fish is true.

Monday, April 11, 2011

I is for index

An index is my finger pointing. As knowledge and referability begin to exceed the limits of short-term (and long-term) memory, we need to create new ways to organize and access information. The index is the first step in this direction. By creating a list of places in which a particular idea or thing is discussed, we designate points of entry into a text, and implicitly, may begin to draw conclusions. If the index states that E. M. Forster (homosexuality) is mentioned on pages 37, 41, and 285, then one may consider page 79 as not taking part in such a discussion. If the posthumous novel Maurice is not listed, then it does not exist at all. As citation becomes itself essential as content, the index becomes a movement toward the Index, just as every object is only a pale, imperfect reflection of its ideal Form. The Index, long awaited, can only come as the ability to compile and cross-reference transcends the limitations of the individual text, which is unavoidably isolated and peculiar, beset by typographical errors. We seek to escape these limited bodies. The Index is the end result of all science and art, the sum total of all human knowledge. Compiled in real-time, the Index, which requires the unceasing labor of all those who live, is the logical and glorious result of the combined labor of all those who have ever lived. Through the Index we resurrect the dead. Through the Index we live forever.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

H is for hero

He liked his fiction like he liked his eggs—
Hard boiled. He liked a hero. With Swiss cheese.
Happiness is a noun
which can only be found
in stories where no one is happy.
Homer is my hero
Both of us are bald.
Hyperbole. Hyperbola.
Archaeologists have a wealth of Paleolithic axe heads.
I am not aware of a Paleolithic hammer.
The head is hafted to the helve.
For Hero I swam the Hellespont.
One night she blew out the flame.
I love a woman with a sense of humor.

Friday, April 08, 2011

G is for glass

A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. We put the tree in the powder-closet, and draw a curtain when the candles are lighted, and with the looking-glass behind it looks quite pretty. A glass is of any height, it is higher, it is simpler and if it were placed there would not be any doubt. Just as if some one was kissing the window all over outside. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face. It is a symbol of Irish art. The cracked lookingglass of a servant.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

F is for father

I will not write about my father, my physical, biological, material father. The affections and resentments I describe have nothing to do with the person whose name appears on my birth certificate. Ink is insufficient: too thin a fluid. My stains are indelible. My father on paper is like the God of the Bible—reduced, constrained, a lie. He has not done what he has been said to do. His qualities do not describe him. He remembers, and the traits I ascribe to him are my own.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

E is for exile

The idea of exile implicitly assumes that a condition of belonging exists. If one has never belonged, then one cannot be alienated. One can only be.

Monday, April 04, 2011

D is for deus

The idea and name of God are inseparable. It is no accident that every religion contains echoes of nearly every other religion. Resurrection is reincarnation. Akhenaten worshipped the sun alone. The Elohim of Genesis is plural, and is translated as both God and gods. The Tetragrammaton is unpronounceable. Horus is Ra. The literal translation of Baal is Lord. The word “trinity” does not appear in the Bible. The Jesus of medieval art wears a solar disc. A god that you cannot touch is no god at all. We have quantified infinity. We have calculated the age of the sun. He ignores us entirely.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

C is for centripetal

Centripetal force, as opposed to its counterpart, centrifugal force, as best I can recall is defined as the center-seeking force in a rotating system. I was never able to make any sense of this, as the man in the locally-filmed science show spun milk in a bowl to demonstrate how it would flee from the center, making a ring, a torus, a three-dimensional body with a single hole. The man would try to explain that centripetal force in this system was represented by the sides of the bowl, but I could never understand how that was an internal force and not an external, imposed constraint. It was the centrifuge that I could understand, the impulse to flee, even as I was told that centrifugal force was an illusion. It didn’t exist. There was nothing pushing the milk from the center of the bowl. It was much later that I learned about inertia and the attraction of the void. Nothing is a force of its own.

Friday, April 01, 2011

B is for bookbinding

The advent of the art of bookbinding was a consequence of the creation of the codex. The scroll, while seemingly free and unbound, is an imposition of sequence—each page made inextricable from the page before and the page to follow. The codex, which may have been informed by the practice of folding scrolls for easier transportation, is in fact an innovation of kind. A single edge of each leaf is bound, leaving the other free. This freedom, alone, can prove destructive, and damaging even to the book itself, which suffers from being read. Thus binding became a process of containment and not simply sequence.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A is for archive

Archive—n. A collection, especially of ephemeral, partial, unfinished manuscripts, performances or other texts intended primarily for long-term storage or preservation. This stands in contrast to a library or collection, one of which is intended to be read, and the other to be seen. An archive is not an archive if there is no question of accessibility. It is one of the bodies, buried.

An archive is the unity of form and content, a text without an author, an unconscious collaboration between everyone who has ever filed, collated, paginated, annotated, re-categorized, or deleted.

An archive is a necropolis.

An archive is an assertion, not that a particular set of texts somehow provide context to each other or together contain informative value, but that the grouping itself is both informative and sufficient. It is the authority of that which is unavailable to the eye.

An archive, when opened, is no longer an archive.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Another fantasy political speech

I'm just sick over the attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona over the weekend, which left six people dead, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl.

I don't have that much of depth to say about the whole thing. The shooter, Jared L. Loughner, seems to be a genuinely disturbed individual, whatever consolation that may be, who cannot really be categorized as "left" or "right."

However, it's more than a little unsettling how much violent political rhetoric has been flying around in general over the past few years, and in Gabrielle Giffords' district (among others) in particular. This included a poster produced by Sarah Palin's PAC with a gun's crosshairs over Giffords' district, and Giffords' opponent using as a campaign photo a picture of himself in military fatigues holding a combat rifle, and a campaign event in which attendees were invited to fire "a fully automatic M-16" to "get on target" to remove Giffords from office.

I don't think it's reasonable to blame either Palin or Jesse Kelly for the actions of a single unhinged individual. However, I'd really love to see Palin or someone stand up and say something like the following:

"In addition to the condolences I've already expressed to Representative Giffords, her family, and the families of all those who were injured and killed this past weekend in Arizona, I believe that these tragic events demand that each of us do something more than express sympathy. This is a chance for all of us to take a minute and look at ourselves, and the culture that surrounds the way we elect and evaluate the people who represent us in our government.

"While there's no evidence that the shooter had any connections to any political group, in light of what happened I deeply regret that my Political Action Committee created a poster with an image that could easily be interpreted as placing a gun sight on Representative Giffords' district.

"This act of terrorism—and let's be clear that this was an act of terrorism— hasn't changed my core beliefs, and I remain committed to the many freedoms we cherish in the US, including legal and responsible gun ownership and freedom of speech. But it's time for us all to take a moment to reaffirm that in the big picture, we're all on the same side. Without ignoring our differences, we're all Americans, motivated by our love for our country and what we believe is best for it.

"In recognition of this fact, from today forward I and all campaigns associated with me are making a commitment to refrain from violent imagery or rhetoric aimed at any individual.

"We will never stop fighting for the things we believe in, and to convince those who disagree with us. But it's time to reaffirm what patriots on both sides of the aisle have always known: Our tools are words and ballots, not threats and violence.

"We will continue our struggle to be worthy of the political system we have inherited, and to do honor to the ideals enshrined within our Constitution. We will continue to debate when we disagree, and vigorously, with a commitment that those who serve our nation should do so without fear of violence."


That's my dream, anyway, and while there's no real danger of Mrs. Palin ever earning my vote, she would earn my respect.