“This pure future without content”

This will be the last post here until August 2. I’m going hiking in the Adirondacks. If you miss your daily fix, why not check out a few of the vaguely compatible blogs in my blogroll? Or re-read some of the posts in the archives here, if you like. (Remember that you can use the table of contents, down near the bottom of the sidebar, for aid in browsing.)

I was just talking up the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas to my blogger friend N., over at Immolation.org. Levinas isn’t hard to read, but being a lazy sort my favorite way into his thought is through a book of interviews, Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Philippe Nemo, translated from the French by Richard A. Cohen (Duquesne U.P., 1985).

The following passage is interesting in part because it shows the philosopher reacting to his own words. Ellipses in brackets are original.

Philippe Nemo: Here are several lines from the chapter in Time and the Other devoted to the loving relationship: “The difference of sex is not the duality of two opposing terms. For two complementary terms presuppose a pre-existing whole. Now to say the sexual duality presupposes a whole is to posit in advance love as a fusion. The pathos of love consists, to the contrary, in an insurmountable duality of beings; it is a relationship with what forever slips away. The relationship does not ipso facto neutralize alterity, but conserves it. [ . . . ] The other as other here is not an object which becomes ours or becomes us, to the contrary, it withdraws into its mystery. . . .

“The transcendence of the feminine consists in withdrawing elsewhere, a movement opposed to the movement of consciousness. But this does not make it unconscious or subconscious, and I see no other possibility than to call it mystery. By positing the Other as freedom, by thinking of it in terms of light, we are obliged to admit the failure of communication, that is, we have here only admitted the failure of the movement which tends to grasp or possess a freedom. It is only by showing in what way eros differs from possession and power that we can acknowledge a communication in eros. It is neither a struggle, nor a fusion, nor a knowledge. One must recognize its exceptional place among relations. It is the relationship of alterity, with mystery, that is, with the future, with what in the world where there is everything, is never there.”

Emmanuel Levinas: You see, this last proposition attests to the care of thinking time and the other together. Perhaps, on the other hand, all these allusions to the ontological differences between the masculine and the feminine [I skipped most of them – D.] would appear less archaic if, instead of dividing humanity into two species (or into two genders), they would signify that the participation in the masculine and in the feminine were the attribute of every human being. Could this be the meaning of the enigmatic verse of Genesis 1.27: “male and female created He them”?

Ph.N.: You follow with an analysis of voluptuosity: “What is caressed is not properly speaking touched. It is not the softness or tepidity of this hand given in contact that the caress seeks. It is the seeking of the caress which constitutes its essence, through the fact that the caress does not know what it seeks. This “not knowing,” this fundamental disordering, is the essential. It is like a game with something slipping away, a game absolutely without project or plan, not with what can become ours or us, but with something other, always other, always inaccessible, and always to come. And the caress is the anticipation of this pure future without content.”


This was prompted – I won’t say “inspired” – by the comments thread to yesterday’s post.

Two needles knitting and not an eye between them.
Click click, the path turns in upon itself,
a field of knots.
This is the sound an eyetooth makes
before it breaks.

Bodies aren’t as finished as we think.
A third eye can open anywhere.
Certain navels allure
with a permanent wink.

There’s hardly a part of the body
that can’t learn vision, clock stopped
at the center of a hurricane,
all-seeing shape that plays for keeps.
It shines.
It weeps.

Today’s text

Rehearsal to Ourselves
Of a Withdrawn Delight –
Affords a Bliss like Murder –
Omnipotent – Acute –

We will not drop the Dirk –
Because We love the Wound
The Dirk Commemorate – Itself
Remind Us that We died –

Emily Dickinson


Occasionally I like to venture outside the comfortable environs of the laupe portion of the blogosphere and see what else might be brewing hither and yon. A few bright and shiny stories recently caught my eye:

ï‚· A number of geophysicists agree that the Earth’s magnetic field is fading;

ï‚· A woman in Iran claims to have given birth to a frog;

ï‚· A Japanese toymaker is marketing a device to help sleepers program their dreams;

ï‚· New DNA studies suggest that chipmunks in Wisconsin and Illinois may have weathered the last Ice Age, challenging assumptions about species’ abilities to withstand global climate change;

ï‚· Prostitutes converging on Boston for the Democratic Party Convention expect to earn up to $1000 an hour;

ï‚· Protesters at the convention will be herded into a “free speech zone,” which the District Judge who approved the arrangement likened to an internment camp;

ï‚· Florida is still working hard to keep African Americans off the voting rolls;

ï‚· Seymour Hersch says that unreleased films from Abu Ghraib show young boys being sodomized by U.S. troops, in an effort to extort information from their mothers;

ï‚· And late last month, Microsoft patented the human body.

The worst part of it is that none of this really surprises me. Except for the bit about the chipmunks, that is.


Not hot, but so humid the rocks sweat. I go for a very slow walk around the trails. On top of Laurel Ridge, an agitated pair of cardinals chaperones a fledgling across the trail in front of me. Only half-grown and dull brown in color, but s/he already has the crest.

I stop to admire the clumps of horn-of-plenty mushrooms sprouting through the moss of First Field Trail. Up close they look almost velvety, very dark gray to my eye – or is there such a thing as “light black”? In shape they evoke not cornucopias – there’s no twist to them – but old-fashioned ear trumpets. The fungus is hungry for news of the daylight world . . .

The two turkey families that have been going around together start up from the edge of the woods opposite the gate to the exclosure. I am torn between the desire to watch all the youngsters burst from cover so I can get a rough count, and the desire to create as little upset as possible. The latter impulse wins out; I open the gate and walk through the deer exclosure, taking the longer route back. The ground is riotous with mushrooms of every shape and color.


Ratatouille for supper. I never thought I would say this, but I love eggplant. Not so much for the taste or texture – though I do love its ability to sop up olive oil – as for its shape, color and overall weirdness as a vegetable. Pity that Neruda didn’t include an “Ode to Eggplant” among his Elemental Odes. I love the sound the peeler makes on the firm sponge of its flesh.


There’s a campfire; we are each introducing ourselves to the group.

–I am a mustard seed.

–I am the excrescence of a star.

–I am the blackening of a name the devil himself would not be able to rub out.

Whoa! Where the hell did that come from?

Just then I have to get up and go to the bathroom, so I stop at the desk on my way, scribble it down on my little pocket notebook by the light of the computer monitor: I am the blackening of a name . . .


But already, even as I write, I realize I have lost the image that went with it. Perhaps an Indian pipe? Immediately after pollination, Monotropa uniflora ceases the narcissus-like contemplation of its navel and points its flower-head straight up at the sky. In a few days the head grows bulbous with seeds and the whole plant turns black.

Other names for Indian pipe include “ghost flower,” “corpse plant,” “fairy smoke,” “birdnest” and “American iceplant.” Herbal usage has produced still more names: “convulsionweed,” “eyebright” and “fitroot.” John Lust (The Herb Book, Bantam, 1974) describes the “Properties and Uses” of Indian pipe as follows:

Antispasmodic, nervine, sedative, tonic. Indian pipe root makes a good remedy for spasms, fainting spells, and various nervous conditions and may be helpful in remittent and intermittent fever. Mixed with fennel seed, it makes a good eyewash and vaginal douche.

I hadn’t realized the eye and the vagina could be treated the same way, but there is a certain appeal to the idea. If anyone wants to experiment, here’s Lust’s recipe.

Infusion: Use 1 tsp. Indian pipe root and 1 tsp. fennel seed with 1 pint boiling water. Steep for 20 minutes and strain.


If you missed Monday’s post, In the forest of the meantime, that’s where I first started thinking about Indian pipes, a common saprophytic plant in the eastern U.S.

From a distance

This is a rough, first draft . . .

God knows how many times
I have stood frozen in the hot street
with rifles pointing at my crotch

& watched myself – small
& impossibly thin – in the oil-black
mirrors of their sunglasses.

They never take them off, not even
to enter a mosque. God knows
they are easy to hate.

But after the explosion when
I ran with the others to look, suddenly
I felt shame for all the things

I had thought. One howled, the other
bled in silence, eyes naked
to the sun. I bent down.

Above the smooth cheeks
such a clear, pale blue! I felt as if
I were looking down from heaven:

Here is our sky, soldier,
here is yours. Hold on.
Help will come.