from The Instructions of King Cormac (early 9th century)

‘O Cormac, grandson of Conn,’ said Carberry,
‘What were your habits when you were a lad?’
‘Not hard to tell,’ said Cormac.
‘I was a listener in woods,
I was a gazer at stars,
I was blind where secrets were concerned,
I was silent in a wilderness . . . ‘

translated by Kuno Meyer. Included in The Book of Irish Verse, edited by John Montague (Macmillan, 1974)


How it Starts
by Roger Mitchell

It starts with wanting to know something,
with wanting to stop being the baffled drifter,
with being the baffled drifter, of course,
in the first place, but then wanting to stop.

It’s not that I’m angry. It’s not that.
In fact, it’s a nice role, the baffled drifter.
There is so much to be baffled about,
if one chooses. And who wouldn’t, or doesn’t.

It starts with knowing enough already.
One can know enough already, and not
know it. One can go on knowing and know,
at the end of it, not how to chop wood.

Or to stand still. Sometimes I think
of standing still. For a year. Don’t worry,
it’s just a thought. But I think it anyway,
standing there thinking of standing there stone still.

from AdiRonDack (Bk Mk Press, University of Missouri-Kansas City, 1988)

I can’t seem to figure out what to do with my head. It is too small to carry the right sort of luggage and dangerously prone to spills and injuries. I was thinking I might rent it out for microidea transmission, but I’m not sure how well I’d like sitting on top of a metal tower during thunderstorms. Then there’s the whole issue of bird droppings. Perhaps I could put it in a breadbox to keep it fresh. But lately it has this alarming tendency to weep, which could promote spoilage.

It is a jealous head with only a vestigial sense of humor at best. But it has eyes only for me. I rap on it with the knuckles of my right hand, never my left. I take it on road trips as well as for short walks around the farm. It never went to obedience school, but in its middle age I find it has developed very regular habits. Loyalty is the only coin it trades in.

My head has led a tragic existence – kind of like the Ugly Duckling in reverse, I sometimes say. Imagine growing up expecting to turn into a swan, only to discover that – alas – you’re really just another puddle duck.

I do keep it fairly well groomed now. Just the other day, it occurred to me that some of the people I used to be friends with back when I let my head grow dreadlocks probably wouldn’t want to hang out with me now. Some people I hang out with now definitely wouldn’t want to be seen with me if my head still wore dreads. Then I started thinking: all my friends are really my head’s friends. Could that be where this loneliness comes from?

I never went to a shrink, because I figured s/he would try to convince me it’s all in my head. I refuse to stoop to that kind of sophistry: it’s not just wrong, it’s idolatrous. For the Freudians, especially, one wonders if a head can ever be anything more than a misdirected phallus, the body’s grotesque bolete.

Right now my head is tired and a little overwhelmed. I am feeding it a rare, late-morning beer as I write. It has been short on sleep in recent days and rather short-tempered as a result. I’m thinking that a little alcohol might short a few, over-sensitive circuits. And though my forehead remains an open book for those with the proper training, a slight flush always helps to hide the marks of abuse from that beast, my body.

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 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.

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.