20 August 2012


"The creation of an integral self is the work of a lifetime, and although that work can never be completed, it is nonetheless an ethical responsibility."
(Gary Saul Morson & Caryl Emerson, Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics)

Bakhtin locates this project, the project of self, in language. Asking us to fully experience the words we use and how we use them. He asks us to not simply swallow the prose of life but to chew, spit and sometimes throw it up.

What narratives do we accept in the way we frame and express our thoughts?

What stories do we invoke?

Which authors?

Which authorities?

He asks us to question the way we breathe—the thoughts that inspire us, giving our lungs their ability to transport the substance necessary for life. Thought and spirit have an oxygen of their own. Anyone sucking thoughtlessly on the pipe of life refuses to accept their responsibility as maker. Life is a creative project requiring a morality and ethics of answering back (to what has already been spoken). Life requires voice—a voice of one's own.

Bakhtin insists on this project, allowing no alibi in being. He declares each individual's ethical responsibility to do more than claim existence, saying we must engage in the intimacy of giving our lives shape—shape in the process of taking on the authoritative discourse, and working at the substance of our own internally persuasive discourse.

16 August 2012


Iannis Xanakis: Metastasis
Order to Complexity to Disorder

Kundera on Xenakis. Xenakis severed relations between himself and music. Music as defined by a certain tradition, a heritage. He was not "new" he was "other." Unlike.

Xenakis "does not stand against some earlier phase of music; he turns away from all of European music, from the whole of it's legacy."

In this turn he locates a new origin for sound, not in the notes of man, but in nature. The sound the world makes, alive with rain, with dry heat and machinery.

Xenakis looks to the world of sound, sound with origins not confined to the heart of one man, or his intellect. In this turn he breaks with the authoritative notion that man is the heart of society, a person elevated above other life forms. In this turn from the lie of sentient beings, he takes his place within nature, where man and woman are small parts that do not define the whole.

Bakhtin also takes a turn from the I of writing to the world of speech. In his turn he locates the world of sound within an utterance— man at once a part of the grand dialogue, no more or less than a speaker.

About Xenakis' legacy: "Will he be remembered by music lovers?"

That is a question of music: what harmonies and scales are being agreed up, what instruments played, what opportunities for vocalizations, what beings expressed and realities explored.

They both fondle the dichotomies that have divided Nations, thoughts and music: man/nature; man/woman; oral/written; civilized/savage.

About Xenakis: "What will remain is the act of enormous rejection: for the first time someone has dared to tell European music that it can be abandoned. Forgotten."

So many parts of life are accepted as inevitable, events that cannot be avoided or evaded, certainties. This may be why some twist themselves around the barbed wire of free will and original sin. They are so certain,—as sure to follow as night follows day— of the story of their life, an appropriate score, an authority to empower their position.

Kundera mentions the circumstance of Xenakis' life: being sentenced to death, civil war, disfigurement. In his mind these circumstances "Led Xenakis to side with the objective sound of the world against the sound of a soul's subjectivity."

Many artists and many children of war (especially survivors of wars of extermination) break open in the attempt to understand. Arahon Appelfeld writes, "The numerous books of testimony that were written about the Holocaust are, if you will, a desperate effort to force the Holocaust into a remote recess of madness, to cut it off from life, and in other cases, to envelop it in a kind of mystical aura, intangible, which must be discussed as a kind of experience that cannot be expressed in words, but rather in a prolonged silence." (Beyond Despair)

The first time I heard Xanakis I thought of Beckett. I also think of Broch, beginning The Death of Virgil while interred by the Gestapo, finishing it in poverty and exile. None of these artists accept the inevitable. They have lost the certainty of day following night. And they respond with compositions: Metastasis. Pas Moi. The Death of Virgil.

15 August 2012


"And again I think the obvious idea (that astoundingly obvious idea) that everything that exists (nation, thought, music) can also not exist."
(Milan Kundera, Encounter)

Kundera wrote the above to intervene (from 2008) in his original text: The Total Rejection of Heritage, or Iannis Xanakis (originally written in 1980). His intervention mentions Thomas Glavinic's novel Night Work, a novel about a 30 year old man who wakes to find humanity gone. Left alone he wanders the empty structures of what he knows as civilization: apartments, streets and storefronts.

Night Work takes its place among other somewhat clichéd last man on earth stories. Many people are obsessed with this scenario because they live in ways that make it inevitable. They are taking their place—in an oral and written tradition of destruction. I don't read these works. I was raised with the definitive and authoritative text on the subject, The Bible.

Roman Catholic Doctrine met, married and argued with an old coyote when my Grandmother married my Grandfather. She explained the way it was, and he said, it didn't have to be.

Authority. Be'ashniih. They both had it. Each one undoing the other. I stood between them and saw the power they had, to create one world, and destroy another. Each one did it. They did it over and over again. Every morning. Every evening. In the fight for each others soul they were defeated by two words: no divorce.

14 August 2012


"be'ashniih: I am an authority on it (and thus know how to counteract it)

Authority on it, to be an—(in the sense of knowing how to counteract it; to know how to counteract it)

Colloquial Navajo: A Dictionary (Robert W. Young & William Morgan)

NB: not the power to enforce
NB: not the power to make sure it is followed through

I am an authority on it, in this view means I have power over it, in the very least by means of making it no longer true, by means of loosening its rein, by means of lifting the yoke, by means of direct action.

"Counteract: vt., to act directly against; check, neutralize, or undo the effect of with opposing action."

Webster's New World Dictionary, Second College Edition (Simon and Schuster)

To then say, I am an authority on poverty, severed relations, and hunger, would mean I have the means to undo the effects of these afflictions, by some opposing action.

Thought. Music. Language. Art.

I have the means to neutralize these conditions via action. I give generously. I maintain relations. I feed the dirt. I feed the Gods.

Be'ashniih. What possibility does this bring for Nations, thoughts, and music? For people and artists? For every one living inside several mouths and several languages? How can we apply our authority, our ability to counteract, to direct action, at the level of recognizing what needs to be done and doing it, to what needs to be seen and seeing it, to what needs to be said and saying it.

13 August 2012


"Both the authority of discourse and its internal persuasiveness may be united in a single word—but such unity is rarely a given—it happens more frequently that an individual's becoming, an ideological process, is characterized precisely by a sharp gap between these two categories: in one, the authoritative word (religious, political, moral, the word of a father, of adults and of teachers, etc.) that does not know internal persuasiveness, in the other internally persuasive word that is denied all privilege, backed up by no authority at all, and is frequently not even acknowledged in society (not by public opinion, nor by scholarly norms, nor by criticism), not even in the legal code."

We confront these authorities every day—consciously or not. Sifting between these words and worlds is not difficult. The authoritative word is familiar, it grows everywhere, rusting the substance of people, and the substance of conversation. Authoritative words and worlds don't go down easy—they choke, they stretch the esophagus, stripping the sides, and making it difficult to pull in the oxygen required of thought. If you do not agree—you cannot go forward. When you agree, you go only where your movement is required. Is that motion or relocation?

"The struggle and dialogic interrelationship of these categories of ideological discourse are what usually determined the history of an individual ideological consciousness."

Struggle, dialogue, and history, each of these words open and close of their own account. Considering Bakhtin's point here, "are what usually determine the history of an individual ideological consciousness," the use of the word determine whispers a declaration, you are shaped in ways you can be significantly unaware of and still feel you've come to some conclusion.

But, "It is not a free appropriation and assimilation of the word itself that authoritative discourse seeks to elicit from us, rather, it demands our unconditional allegiance."

I return to the process of sifting. Sorting through language in this way is not difficult, but few take the smallest amount of time to do it. Instead we speak, we think, we pledge allegiance to the flow of words, the exchange of ideas, the pattern of interaction the authoritative discourse demands of us. But we think we are speaking, thinking, exchanging. Why?

"It enters our verbal consciousness as a compact and indivisible mass; one must either totally affirm it, or totally reject it. It is indissolubly fused with its authority—with political power, an institution, a person—and it stands and falls together with that authority. One cannot divide it up—agree with one part, accept but not completely another part, reject utterly a third part."

Political power determines citizenship, mobility, economies and to a large degree basic safety. Political power defines necessity and then applies those definitions to our bodies (earth, human, plant and animal). Political power requires a licence. Institutions and people serve the same functions, standing and falling by the authority of these words (business hours, days of the week, languages, and ceremonies). There are innumerable worlds outside of these, but this world of words refuses to recognize their existence.

"The authoritative word demands that we acknowledge it, that we make it our own; it binds us, quite independent of any power it might have to persuade us internally; we encounter it with its authority already fused to it."

To some extent, when we are not sifting and sorting, we are agreeing. That agreement is coerced, but it is agreement nonetheless. Disagreements are punished, severely—but disagreement allows for dignity.

"All this renders the artistic representation of authoritative discourse impossible."

We must moan, scream or cry. We must cough, and spit. We must retain something capable of bearing life.

"An independent, responsible and active discourse is the fundamental indicator of an ethical, legal and political human being."

all quotes are from: M. M. Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, Edited by Michael Holquist, Translated by Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. (pages 342-4)

10 August 2012

Letters to the Editor

Mail bag empty.

Ahéhee'. Thank you, dear readers, in the United States, Russia, Germany, France, Macedonia [FYROM], United Kingdom, South Korea, Latvia, Canada, and Colombia.

Life or Honor: Life As Stranger

The consequence of severed relations, the loss of origins and clans, are common and relevant to all peoples who have been enslaved or survived their own extermination (via starvation, relocation and detainment). Every person, especially survivors, must answer the question: How do we live now?

In the choice of life or honor, how do we remain human in a Kaputt world? What is life? How do we consider the choices we make, or have made for us. Do these choices lead us toward or away from ourselves? What are the consequences? And, can we bear them?

21 days to raise 98%--it ain't over till it's over.

09 August 2012


"The crows maintain that a single crow could destroy the heavens. There is no doubt of that, but it proves nothing against the heavens, for heaven simply means: the impossibility of crows."
(Kafka, Reflections on Sin, Suffering, Hope and the True Way, No. 32)

I remember hearing a story about Sitting Bull. A prominent missionary, devoted to conversions, was attempting to frighten him into submitting. He explained the particular nature of heaven and warned—he would be denied entry into paradise should he retain his ways. If he wanted to go to heaven he needed to take the waters, and become born again in Christ. Taking his time to consider the matter, carefully, Sitting Bull asked, "Will you be there?" The missionary replied, "Yes. Of course."

"In that case I prefer not to go."

The impossibility of crows.

"Land acquisition and missionary work always went hand in hand in American history."
(Deloria, Custer Died for Your Sins)

We are crows bringing light. Hear us traveling in a community of clouds, a black bevy, a convocation of language. Time means nothing to our customs, they are older than a memory of origins. Here is a box. Let me open it. The answer: food, fun and fornication. There is no greater puzzler than I. The question: what is life?

"Social in impact, most Indian religious experience was individualistic in origin. Visions defined vocations in this world rather than providing information concerning salvation in the other world."
(Deloria, Custer Died for Your Sins)

08 August 2012


"Certain artists of our time, casting a serious look upon what surrounds them, devote themselves to painting wretchedness, the abjectness of poverty, Lazarus's dung-heap. This may belong to the domain of art and philosophy; but when they paint poverty so hideous and degraded, sometimes so vicious and criminal, do they attain their end, and is the effect wholesome, as they would have it."
(George Sand, The Author to the Reader (I.), The Hunted Pool, translated by Frank Hunter Potter)

The question of content dogs the ethical writer aware that words have power and stories shape reality. There are ethics in storytelling, seasons that define when each story can be told, and societies responsible for certain knowledge. Everything is not everyone's domain.

I was raised with this knowledge: it is a shield I walk behind. I was also raised under the influence (colonialism, alcoholism, mental illness and domestic violence). When I encountered the work of radical women of color feminists I felt like I was given breath and in that breath, life. Audre's writings in Sister Outsider and Dorothy's work in Skin pushed me to confront, publicly, what I was ashamed of, in myself and in my family. I've come to understand that life is not an either or, but a balance between each point on the line that defines what seems extreme to some and normal to others.

"When it comes to wars you can never tell who is going to lose their life."
(José Saramago, The History of the Siege of Lisbon)

Welch's Fools Crow, Beckett's Molloy, Gertrude's Three Lives each speak eloquently to and about poverty, both hideous and degraded, but their purpose is neither vicious or criminal. Their end is not to exploit. They do not raise themselves above the world of their work. They take their place within and set a place for you to join them.

During the siege of Leningrad 750,000 people starved in 900 days. When Anna Reid began her archival project many of the younger generation had a sterile notion of the siege and felt it represented the strength of the people and their survival. They were aware of what they had been told: people came together and made it through, alive, mostly. We should honor their fortitude and forget the rest. The survivors themselves knew more. The siege was a "cold, cruel, time when people lost their personalities, relationships broke down, people broke down, [and] turned into beasts."

"There was nobody who escaped death completely."

"Your world becomes smaller and smaller: the apartment, water source and food shop."

These survivors wanted Reid to comprehend and reveal the scope of the damage and the nastiness of that moment. They wanted her to tell their story so that we could not forget it.

"What determined whether someone lived and died?"

After the siege the survivors knew: " A great work had ended, impossible deeds had been done. We all felt that. . . But we also felt confusion. How should we live now?" (N.B.: the images in this link are formidable and dreadful.)

This question informs my work inside and outside of the archives, among the stories I am a part of, and the stories my stories are related to. Sometimes our worlds feel small: the apartment, water source and food. And sometimes we must remember to step outside of what we know and what we are afraid is true and write.

"Except that it still has not been established whether it is the novel that prevents the man from forgetting himself or the impossibility of forgetfulness that makes him write novels."
(José Saramago, The History of the Siege of Lisbon)

07 August 2012


"How shall I respond to another person's suffering?"
"To the extent that such empathy is possible it is also sterile, 'What would I have to gain?' Bakhtin asks, 'If another were to fuse with me? He would see and know only what I already see and know, he would only repeat in himself the inescapable closed circle of my own life; let him rather remain outside me."
(Gary Saul Morson & Caryl Emerson, Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics)
(M. Bakhtin, Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity)

"to be means to communicate"
(M. Bakhtin, Toward A Reworking of the Dostoevsky Book)

"For any individual or social entity, we cannot properly separate existence from the ongoing process of communication."
(Gary Saul Morson & Caryl Emerson, Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics)

I spend most of my time reading about people unlike myself in translation from languages I do not speak. I do my best to know them, at least to listen.

I have been silenced by interruption, often, especially as I've had to detail my physical needs to medical professionals who believe patients talk too much and know too little. Last year, particularly, I kept saying "I am a human being and this is my body." My statements were only heard as further indication of my position as a novitiate in medicine.

My reading and life have taught me to attempt to follow the details and to keep those details in mind. Learning, in my house, was a process of observation. I was never told what to do, though I was certainly expected to do something. The content of my actions were to be shaped by the content of my life, which was shaped by the details of my observations.

What I do not understand I save for later. Sometimes understanding comes. Sometimes I recognize a turn of phrase, a look, or a feeling in my body I can locate in language. What I do not understand I save for later. Sometimes understanding never comes, but I still maintain the conversation, if only in savings.

A world confined to myself is an impossibility, and my idea of torture. I don't want to fuse or dissolve into you. I desire to retain my own shape. I have the same desire for you. In communicating, in being, we can then share those shapes and the changes they make over time and a consequence of experience. I find compassion a better word for this than empathy. It speaks to the level of awareness, the attention to detail, the process of listening and manner of reaching for meaning I pursue.

06 August 2012


"It is. . .inaccurate to speak of entering into dialogue, as if the components that do so could exist in any other way. To be sure, particular dialogues may break off (they never truly end), but dialogue itself is always going on."
(Gary Saul Morson & Caryl Emerson, Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics)

Dialogue is the key. Bakhtin understands dialogue in several ways, and I am in conversation with his work. Dialogue require people. People who speak, listen, and respond. "There can be no dialogue between sentences. " When we speak we "turn to someone." Without this turn, the utterance "does not and cannot exist." (Bakhtin, The Problem of Speech Genres)

I am turning to you, and in turning I face the language of your life. According to Bakhtin every utterance (speech genre) is dialogic by definition. Words do not pop into an existence where nothing has been spoken. The world, in this view, is not made of up signs, but of transformative speeches. When we speak we enter the stream. When we are silent, we enter another. Like all energies in motion we can allow ourselves to be moved, we can resist, and we can join the energy we have into the conversation. Together we exchange words, words carrying their own energy with them.

"No word can be taken back, but the final word has not yet been spoken and never will be spoken."
(Gary Saul Morson & Caryl Emerson, Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics)

Often people want to suppress dialogue, by declarations: it's over. Enough has been said, and I've said it. These authoritative means wield power over speakers and listeners and claim to be (not represent, but actually define for all time the content and form of the world) undeniable. If we remember the lie underlying these authorities and participate in the dialogue we can face life ethically and communicate.

"The very words [we use] carry the intonations and evaluations accumulated in daily life, in diverse contexts and heterogeneous speech genres whose existence has not been recognized."
(Gary Saul Morson & Caryl Emerson, Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics)

I am speaking of speech. Every day talk. Sometimes the dialogue is familiar, we recognize and agree on the terms. Sometimes the dialogue is strange and we are required to invest some aspect of ourselves (time, patience, intellect) to finding a way to relate, a means of offering some meaningful response in return. These processes are never complete, life requires that much of us. The dialogue goes on. We utter our words. The dialogue continues.

"The most interesting and most unfinalizable aspects of any interaction arise from the relative disorder of the participants."
(Gary Saul Morson & Caryl Emerson, Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics)

The relative disorder requires each of us to show up: awake to the shape of each moment, aware of our place, and willing to "turn to someone." From Coltrane's Ascension and Meditation to Auten's Sense and Sensibility, "we all need someone to listen to us." We speak, we moan, we take a moment to catch our breath and blow.

03 August 2012

Letters to the Editor

Mail bag empty.

Life or Honor: Life As Stranger (day three)

The consequence of severed relations, the loss of origins and clans, are common and relevant to all peoples who have been enslaved or survived their own extermination (via starvation, relocation and detainment). Every person, especially survivors, must answer the question: How do we live now?

02 August 2012


"It is our belief that no writer can improve his work until he discards the dulcet notion that the reader is feeble-minded, for writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar. Ascent is at the heart of the matter. A country whose writers are following a calculating machine downstairs is not ascending—if you will pardon the expression—and a writer who questions the capacity of the person at the other end of the line is not a writer at all, merely a schemer."
(E.B. White, An E.B. White Reader)

I love Henry James. He writes sentence I can get lost in. I like being lost in a work. Really lost, not just so completely immersed that the toast burns. Style is a gift we give each other.

I've developed a punctuation fetish. Largely as a result of having my English corrected.

I spend a lot of time studying the comma. In a punctuation book I love, the writer cautions against using too many commas, as the reader today has a short attention span and will not suffer these long sentences. The author's suggestion is to keep it simple. Vary sentence length, yes, but don't ask too much of the reader.

The authors I like ask a great deal from me. In reading them I attempt to meet those expectation. I am grateful to them for having the faith, not only in their own work, but in me, a dear reader. Books, and stories (when retold every season) allow you grow into them, to look over them, searching for lost moments and striving for more complete understandings.

01 August 2012

Life or Honor: Life As Stranger

Writing a novel takes up a whole era in a writer's life, and when the labor is done she no longer is the person she was at the start.

Join me- support my new project Life or Honor: Life As Stranger - let's make it happen.


"The one discipline you need in the first draft: to follow where anger, or delight, or laughing take you."
(Carol Bly, The Passionate and Accurate Story)

The one discipline needed of any artist is to follow—themselves. This is also the one discipline that requires the most vigilance and courage.

The way of the artist is unpaved. Each artist must make their own path through terrain known only to them. Vigilance is required as many editors, critics and audiences ask you to be, see, write, and feel something you cannot. They then ask you to create from this space, a space that negates you and your vision.

When you experience a person's art you follow them, and the choices they've made. In writing I've heard it say you follow their breath. As you shape the words, reading out loud or even in your mind's ear, you pause and shape the words they've laid before you.

When working, writing, I follow the voices. They come to me and I scramble behind. I've always respected them and devoted, to them, my full attention. I'm not sure I follow anger, delight or laughter, but I've learned to work without an immediate knowledge of direction. Sometimes, when I write, I think this is crazy. I'm cannot write this. If I wasn't destined for hell, I am now—with this chapter I have made my fate certain. During those moments vigilance is required—hush now—keep writing. And I do. In this way the writing asks more of me than I thought I was capable of giving, revealing aspects I had never considered. I've learned to let my idea of the work go and listen.

Like Coltrane I practice everyday, aware that scales (reading and writing, speaking and listening) keep me agile of mind and spirit. Creating requires agility, endurance, and strength.

(In the history of Jazz men and Blues men)
"Who had to find their voices, and not be echoes.
Who had to have a vision, not just a stand.
And in the end, had to be true to themselves.
Because all imitation is suicide.
All emulation is a sign of an adolescent mind.

All of us imitate.
All of us emulate.
But the ones who love us,
the way Monk loved Coltrane,
you don't need to imitate. . .
go on and find your voice
(Cornell West)

"It's all about the choices "
(Terrance Blanchard)