Monday, December 14, 2009

You Are Here

Since it may not be important
enough to bother you
about my resume,
and since a page cannot enlist
or sell or repeat or parrot
or ring a bell over a pot
like the Salvation Army
at Christmas

all one asks is that you find yourself
in this little rhyme
and that you not get lost
for any long or costly time
but learn your way out again, slaying
any Minotaur you may meet along the way
and not forgetting to hoist white sails
on the day of your return.

[copyright EAC 09]

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


This sentence is about war.

This sentence is about grammar.

This sentence is about the grammar of war and the grammar of this sentence.

This sentence is about surplus repression.

This sentence is about capitalism and imperialist aggression.

This sentence is about dream catchers and self-hatred.

This sentence is propaganda.

This sentence is anti-propaganda.

This sentence is your sentence.

This sentence is jingo.

This sentence is bingo.

This sentence is redacted.

[copyright EAC 2009]

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Fly (Adieu)

I killed a fly today with some regret.
It lies among the ashes yet,
a delicate wreckage,
as if crashed upon an alien planet.

[copyright EAC 09]

Sin Base Cuatro (The Fourth Wall)

To the Raft

To the raft in sunlight
in one piece blue green knit
shimmering Raphael
flaunting breasts and hips
overflowing with rose aureole
bathing you were always the better swimmer.

La mujer de mi hermano

We ran away from home
to Mexico not once
but twice.

In the taxi, mi hermano of the opposing gender
along the wide avenue to the Plaza:
“It looks just like Rome.”

“Habla usted español?”
“Poquito”, I say.
“Bueno”, says the cabbie tenderly, “that is good.”

A bottle of rum
gets us over the mountains on a bus.

We become the race.

It was December.

You were a virgin then, my brother,
Do you remember?

Buddha On Big Bureau

In the high heat of June
by the afternoon’s lazy edge
sits on still water Buddha
in leggy spotted green.


To gusts of gnats
flitting lazily in the sunlight
her merciful tongue.


Later in the moist night air
over warm earth
the song of wanton bedfellows
chorusing sex and rebirth.

Brekekekex koax koax….

Winter Park

So seldom postcarded
in the snow
just the two
not a word
side by side
motor running
heater on
burning rubber
out front in the Ford.

[copyright EAC 09]

Thursday, November 26, 2009

World Radiation Messenger Service: Warning

To Whom It May Concern:


Whoever you are reading this, especially if you are human (see illustration) and direct descendants, we screwed up royally ten thousand years ago and where you are now standing while reading this message is one of our radioactive waste dump sites.

It's a long story, so let's just cut to the chase.

Do you folks understand "Geiger Counter"?

If not, have you noticed that people who hang out in this area have high rates of cancer, still births, and deformed births?

Okay, if you are one of these mutants you are not supposed to look like that. Two eyes, two arms, two legs, one head, and so forth--that's the ticket. Got it?

Look, we are really sorry but nobody's perfect.

Please pardon any inconvenience this may have caused.

All the best and have a nice day.


[text and graphics copyright EAC 09]

Monday, October 12, 2009



Do you really believe
that I could not
with one wave of a word
defrost the cold glass
of your immensity
and show you on the other side

[copyright EAC 09]

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Exile On Main Street (In Memoriam Walter "Terry" Klein)

Exile On Main Street (In Memoriam Walter “Terry” Klein)

Shoryo ni
iza tsuredatan
nishi no sora*


In the midwest in winter
they spread their highways
with an ocean of salt.

In spring like clockwork
gray sidewalks exhale waiting
for the ferry to the Martha’s Vineyard
they have never seen.

He passes an elderly Japanese
striding easily with a soldier’s air.
Eyes meet. The slightest bow.

He too smells the sea.

[copyright EAC]
N.B.: A short notice on the Chinese character 德 (Te/De), "Virtue", "Character", "Integrity", may be found at wikipedia below:

A translation of the lines in Japanese above with an important note from Yoel Hoffman is available online below:

À bientôt, Terry, mon ami.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Hylozoist

The Hylozoist

Does one atom of hydrogen give birth to another atom of hydrogen?

Do universes meet in cocktail lounges over shots of vodka and beer?

Does one thing lead to another until one of them asks, “My place or yours?”

Why aren’t there selfish nuclear reactors whose teleology is to go forth and multiply

until they cover the planet and dispense with humankind?

Are ants campaigning to be the next great apes, husbanding atomic aphids and milking them for electric power?

Is the moon in her barren milkiness protectress of earth from stinging meteors?

Is she Diana, chaste huntress of asteroids?

When worlds age do they retire to Mexico, learn a little Spanish,
and read the Aztec Gazette?

[copyright EAC]

Thursday, October 1, 2009



It is not the point of a poem
to persuade an idle moment of September.

What time is it in your world?

There is simply no one here to tell you
there is another year on Mars
when the canals that are not canals
bloom with Martian mushrooms.

Because there is thinking have you thought?

Because there is love have you loved?

Because there is Spring does it mean there is no equator?

Trees wrap their arms warmly about themselves
discovering sunrise.

Eyes see deeper light in briefer days.

[copyright EAC]

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Aphrodisiac Telephone

Aphrodisiac Telephone

Dali says:

There is a Mexican mystic
Who paints only the rear ends
Of hugely corpulent Indian women
bulging like tumescent tamales.

And I am that mystic pillowed in prehistory
Who riding behind inflames the hydrocarbons
Of your eyes and becomes Venus
To your flesh.

Gala stares blankly and says:


Dali says:

The vegetative axis of the blastula
Arises from the egg prick of my
Spermatozoic brush where begins
The enantiomorphism of our mirror.

Lobster have big and little hands,
Left and right, and are golden green
With tetrahedra between veinous thighs,
Like yesterday’s rent.

Gala stares blankly and says:


Dali says:

I sport vibrissae on my upper lip,
One for each of your legs, and wax fair
In the holy eucharist of your public hair,
Like an ass braying in the wilderness.

Barren in poesy,
You are Zeus gravid with Milky Way,
Unhatting the foreskin of the wine-dark sea,
Czaress of aubergine.

Gala breathes like firestone and says:


[copyright EAC]

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Mansion (Q.E.D)

"A mansion has many rooms,"

said James.

"There were many things going on

during the time of the bombings,"

said James Jesus.

"I am not privy to who struck John,"

said James Jesus Angleton.

[copyright EAC 09]

Monday, September 14, 2009

Huo (火)

"The atrabilious, like long-distance throwers, owing to the vehemence of their natures, hit their aim. And owing to their mobile disposition they have a quick fancy for sequence. For as Philaegides in his poems and insane persons recite and think out sequences that depend on similarity, as illustrated in the song of Aphrodite, so these dreamers string together a series of events. for owing to their passionate nature they are not swerved aside by extraneous movements...."

[Aristotle tr.Hammond]

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Shui (水)

Shui (水)

It is the way of woman to flow

as the moon on water,

as the willow softens with wind,

as clover at dusk whispers with dew.

[copyright EAC 09]
N.B.: T The animated .GIF was composed in part using Sqirlz Lite 1.4, a 2D freeware available at

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Es Gibt

And so we pretend to talk
as we walk forward toward nowhere,
footing the bill for all in coin of the realm,
whelmed by empty air:

"At the root of all, a coming into being of not one damned or blessed thing..."

[copyright EAC 09]
N.B. The Chinese is a line from the Sixth Patriarch, Hui-Neng.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Man Who Lived In A Shoebox (Size 10)

With a special guest appearance by Bertha Lee.
[Text and video copyright E. A. Costa]

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tuesday January 25, 2005 3:15 AM (Sandstorm)

"Tuesday January 25 2005 3:15 AM (Sandstorm)" from The Chronicle Of Repetitive Events [copyright eac]

Thursday, July 23, 2009


“You see how unpedestrian and what a gentleman he is
when the chips are down?”
[Bruto Cavendish]

Cleaning Head

Across roomful of isolated eyes
in the apartment yellow he naked and wiry
of a thousand smiles still sleeping with wolves

unless paper story in unease and familiar
accepting him as one of their own
who does not devour them

drab like the dark hall
glinting as she talked and used her hands
fresh back from Italy
as a point remembered later

full-breasted flowing with condensed milk
sweet and intense in the same woman.
The other half is true.

Over the city in ice-yoked dance
never short of breath
swollen, about to ejaculate.
straight into her
always the gentlemen
my with such big teeth.

he meets her in a bar
sidles up to her crablike
(boy can those fucking little critters skittle)

“Hello”, he says,
“My name is Gertrude Stein,
and I want to write your autobiography.”

on the floor they explore buttons
skin breathing in
grace bending to answer.

not reached the mainstream
because they once had been truck
had lived in fall out
were limber and could touch
licking all afternoon in the wet heat

That is the illusion of the one
could always feel some other proposition
though others and deny this or that
snack to prove a point
with pure factual.

Here is something hidden about
and which can be talked out of
to others eventually, undermines
elect and openly consorting.

She will not see the doctor. She says
the street in front charged with any necessary vulgarity.

Carry it on all afternoon
far away as the border and smell
white mind, like a cloud,
covered in flesh-colored
hands clasped in front of her

To the backstairs
lives across the racial border
god bless formica!
From aliens that has to be
cost, but possibly also by
sty organic smell.

The whole place over the still
alive beyond her when she dances we amuse one another
I bet on her killing.

You like to hear a poem
sound modest
surprised by the long wait
of a kind of limping pseudo-aluminum foil
in a window dresser’s mind.

It is not about sex. It is about species.
How much harder to reach across a room in brick
face and no substance.

Not much was exchanged
or mysterious events.
those were the days
when he talked to trees
it was a date, a time, an appointment
often by the chemist who made the world.

They lived in the fallout
waiting for nuclear war.

Subway Interruptum

Intricate intersex
At the edge of the parapet
Become stiff, dancing…

Sings the canary of liberty

Will mineshaft empty
Will he jump ship
Will he get out in time

Or will he bump and grind on company time?

She punches the clock. 9:15 AM in the Moon of Blood.

“Time’s up, boss,” she says looking at her stopwatch,

“The shuttle will be along presently.”

They are virgin snow in its size, ice cold
Dual footsteps in smooth butter tango….

But, dear reader, did you exit there the underground,
at the fourth dot?

Humility [The Rendezvous]

You ask about old age and humility.

I answer thus: a young man still stands in awe of Neruda.

You wear spectacles and do not speak Spanish.

So I am at a great disadvantage.

[she is unmoved before bare fact]

How then burnish the clang and sharp angles
Of rude private language to snare nude rose lips,
To bare the sly blush of cheek…

[she touches the frame of her glasses]

How dare the deep of liquid hips…

[which may or may not
to himself
have drifted down from

or percolated up,
leaving you divided

higher and lower,
without fertility

born between]

[she had leveled a mountain of boys unthinkingly, and rightly]

To ride the lolling tide of white watered body…

[unseen blush spreads. she nods and voices the invisible text]

You ask again then?

And I say again: I am a child of Neruda,
neither young nor old,
whom you do not know.

And so, we are at a disadvantage…

[assent and resistance electrically, like live wire in bath]

Do I not give you my word to make cunt

[blue iris dilates]

the quaintest and most treasured corner of this tongue?

Do I not unfold your inner thigh?

Do I not whisper pleasure upon your most secret unhooded sigh…

[she gestures “Enow!”, now stands unknowable for long seconds. He is still. She moves bare-faced toward podium. He holds out hand. They exit the empty lecture room slowly, nor yet arm in arm]


Once upon a time
There were three swallows called Cornpone.

They smelled butane and sang for supper.

Nobody listened.

L’Age D’Or

Is there nothing left of her
I wish to take with me?

Is there anything left of me to take it?

I talk to whiteness as witness now
imagining black-clothed bodies
on the snow.

It is much too dark
to see red.

We will sleep soundly this December
pretending to be dead.

We will separate universes
drawing a line through the house—
that yours and this mine.

We will have real time away from one another,
in different Milky Ways, in different spirit worlds
in severed common futures.

You will go your way,
I will go mine.

All will be fine.

I will steal away with every memory
and you will be warm stove in predicates
with her arms wrapped around herself
like a deck of cards.

The wolf will be mine,
the dog yours.

The bear paw and zebra skin will be mine
the parrot who chewed
the molding yours.

You take the beaver too
and watch the bite.

What to do about the comet we saw
on the blue prairie you sold?

Flip a Persian gold dinar—heads it is mine,
tails it is yours.

The border will be airtight
sealed five times with beeswax
and half a kiss.

Your crew will make silent films
And build snowmen with coal-black eyes.

I will take a sleighful of clowns
and angels in the snow.

You can have the canoe
the steak knives
and all the butter and jam.

I have no use for them anymore,
with my curly left-handed Cyrillic lambda
just being born in a manger floored with hay.

You can have Xmas and the tree and three wise men too.

I will keep the camels and the tea.

You can take one Good Friday and Easter per annum.

You may want Thanksgiving too.

I am off with a revolver of new months
to Leningrad.

If there is life under the warming ice
I will send you a telegraph from the ledge.

If Spring jumps up green
and speaking with night flowers and roulette
we can stare at one another giddily in the sun
awaiting fireflies and crickets
in warm nude cafe over cream.

Food Group

He in anger, she in lies,
we feed on one another,
one to uncover, the other
to hide.

Dawn Of The Unold

L'orecchie attente allo spiraglio tenne,
e l'aria ne sentì percossa e rotta
da pianti e d'urli e da lamento eterno...

Ears pricked to hissing.

(Do you see?)

Hear the kiss of forest floor.

(It is a crash of many colors with a dash of smoke)

Missing love-sick pair?

There Panpipe:

Where we meet smiling in the crisp air of now
under ancient indices of quick brown ire
and bodies anodyne in lust,
let it be out in open blue sky

free of wiles and hid again in rain,

for barely living gray has space
under the dome of past ignoring,
soaring bittersweet with the round face of sound.

Owl-eyed is Athena,
and would you be else
it is only in wise silver hair
mined antic in Greek
that eyes may speak
smiling of a book with no begging or beginning.

Power bores.

Weakness twitters.

Let your glittered lying abed leaves be light-feathered in owl fur,

warm as winter and deceitful as an opossum.

[E.A. Costa copyright 2009]

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Curse Of Circe

“Prince of swine,”

(she whispers)

“lie back in lissome ease
and let me act your implicit skin,
your own hard won fleshly envelope.”

Toothsome in twilight,
bright of eye and rouge of lip,
swaying breast and hip,
she shimmers softly
as an antic antelope at dusk.


(she whispers again)

“Send him word if you wish
and tell him:

‘Make ready for my return.
Your father outlasted Troy
and every aftermath, and surrenders
now the sweet paradise of half-life,
less than god and more than man,
to take again his throne in Ithaca
or die.”

Quietly as the waterpourer at dawn
she glides, mirroring moon and
infusing color into the lie of life.

“Your lady Penelope?”

(she finds full voice)

“That dodgy unraveling hypocrite! Listen:
I will have your own image sail to Ithaca,
carved itchy, crack-brained, and ancient,

hairy-nosed and hairy-eared,

lurking to uncover whose scent and faith
are true.

Afterward, a truer image will astound
the bitch, slay salivating suitors, and
lynch your lady’s maids,

to live unhappily with her ever after,

and so preserve your name and fame and honor
avenged and shining.”

(Odysseus laughs.)

“In the while,”

(Circe lisps)

you, truest Ulysses, most lying and wiled of all Greeks,
will have Circe of a hundred ivory thighs,
many-eyed and bowing, serve you goddess-like
day and night in this glistened palace.

(Ulysses listens.)

Stay a spell, Odysseus! Home is here where
maddest lust is!”

Cunning trinity
masking as the hinge
of many unities slowly fades away.

E.A. Costa

[copyright eac 09/88]

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Progress By Stove Lid: A Walk Back With George Santayana

El hombre es el único animal que tropieza dos veces en la misma piedra... 

Walking backwards, if nothing else, yields clear prospect of what is left behind.

The unimaginative may instantly remark the possibility of falling over a cliff.

This is plausible. That is, among other things, why it is so unimaginative.

Indeed, it is so plausible few have seen it for what it is, to wit: a systematic psychology of cause and effect.

The unstated assumption seems to be that, if one looks ahead carefully enough, one may be able to avert the unpleasantness of falling over a cliff.

This assumes that one: (1) sees the cliff; (2) sees the cliff for what it is; and (3) stops before one falls over it.

No one in right mind would deny that all three events in sequence were not possible, even likely.

On the other hand, there seems nothing that makes them necessary, nor even necessary in that order.

In the universe of the unstated assumption walking off a cliff may be considered bad form.

At some point one ordinarily hits bottom and, if thereupon defunct, becomes unable to do much else, including walking off another cliff, whether walking forwards or backwards.

The cause of falling over a cliff when one is looking dead ahead is usually given by those who survive as, "One was not paying attention.

It is not clear how the dead ones explain it.

One would think that falling off one cliff and surviving would be sufficiently impressive to make falling off the next cliff more unlikely.

That last is the thrust of the cat sitting on a hot stove lid, which, according to Mark Twain--quoting from Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar—“will never sit down on a hot stove lid again”, adding, “but also she will never sit down on a cold one" either.

The gist, according to Twain, is to be careful to get out of experience no more than the wisdom that is in it.

Looking deeper establishes that cats may be far smarter than many people.

For one thing, the cat may have no way of telling whether a stove lid is hot or cold really--without jumping up and sitting on it.

Having experienced the cold, it can be forgiven for having jumped up on the hot for a sit.

The unstated assumption here is that the future will be like the past.

Having experienced the hot, on the other hand, foregoing all stove lids may make eminent sense for a cat, for stove lids, however amiable as places to sit when cold, become risky and unpleasant when hot.

This might be nicely christened: the strong application of memory to the future.

Without memory the cat just keeps jumping on stove lids, hot and cold, without learning anything from the experience.

Without memory, and some category by which to apply it to what one is about to do, would it make the slightest difference whether one walks through the world looking ahead or behind?

Or is it necessary to look behind successfully to make out what one sees looking ahead?

The word “successfully”, it might be noted, is in the last sentence grammatically amphibolous. To wit: it may apply backwards, forwards, or—after William Empson’s analysis of the types of ambiguity in much poetry--both backwards and forwards, as when a poet constructs a sentence that can be heard or read in many different ways, all of which pertain.

In speech, as opposed to writing, the amphiboly may easily be averted by rhythm or tone.

It is in speech too, it almost goes without saying, that it is backwards or forwards (sequential), while on the page, actually, it stands left and right (spatial).

It was actually the progessiveness of the past that seems to have been what George Santayana was after in his much too often repeated—and so widely misunderstood—dictum about the past:

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Santayana’s savages as perpetual infants are the savages of his day and his culture, which considered itself very unsavage indeed. They are safely disregarded for the moment.

The passage is from Reason And Common Sense, and the context is repetition:

These natural formations, tending to generate and realize each its ideal, are, as it were, eddies in the universal flux, produced no less mechanically, doubtless, than the onward current, yet seeming to arrest or to reverse it. Inheritance arrests flux by repeating a series of phases with a recognizable rhythm; memory reverses it by modifying this rhythm itself by the integration of earlier phases into those that supervene.

In short, the cat without a memory keeps jumping on the hot stove lid because that is its nature, while remembering being burned the last time prevents the next time, short-circuiting repetition.

But that too is repetition, for it is the repetition of memory in context that prevents the repetition of act.

Santayana is almost musical in reference. Again after Empson, note closely how easy and pleasing it would be to replace “phase” with “phrase” with a musical sense in the preceding passage, retaining the same sense.

Santayana was an occasional poet, so it is no surprise if this musical substitution were elicited deliberately.

The idea that repetition seems to arrest or reverse flux is subtly stated, as befits a philosophical mind that has thought deeply on the matter.

Seeming is key: were each instance of the repetition the same, flux would not be flux at all, in the sense of unqualified randomness at least.

Then again, does anyone truly know what unqualifiedly random might mean?

Santayana clarifies, so:

Inheritance and memory make human stability. The stability is relative, being still a mode of flux, and consists fundamentally in repetition. Repetition marks some progress on mere continuity, since it preserves form and disregards time and matter. Inheritance is repetition on a larger scale, not excluding spontaneous variations; while habit and memory are a sort of heredity within the individual, since here an old perception reappears, by way of atavism, in the midst of a forward march. Life is thus enriched and reaction adapted to a wider field, much as a note is enriched by its overtones, and by the tensions, inherited from the preceding notes, which give it a new setting.

So the cat that has learned not to sit on hot stove lids produces other cats that sit on hot stove lids by nature and and by memory swear themselves same abstinence.

This itself becomes a rhythm.

Were cats given to socializing by writ, there might even be a sacred text on the subject, say, “Thou shalt not sit on stove lids, for thou shalt be burned.

The temptation to make an historical analogy is nearly irresistible: are there human cultures analogous respectively both to cats without memory and cats with?

The more serious question is—how many times may a human culture or society, or the whole species, walk over a cliff?

Again purely as a matter of style, one notes that this last passage of Santayana, which precedes the one on remembering the past in Santayana’s text, prepares the ground for the occurrence of “phase” as “phrase” with marching bands, notes, and overtones.

Was Santayana a fan of John Philip Sousa and his marches? Interestingly, the name Sousa is Portuguese but nowadays sounds as American as apple pie.

Santayana, on the other hand, though it is the name of the slightly lesser of the two great American philosophers, who both wrote in English, a little strangely still sounds Spanish.

This may be symptom of how much the United States has traditionally valued great bandleaders and marching bands over philosophers.

Santayana has been dead since 1952.

One knows of no recordings of him reading his work.

There is extant a silent film of Santayana at the Clinica della Piccola Compagna di Maria in Rome, a hospital run by the Blue Nuns, where the philosopher and poet spent his last years.

In the film he is visited by an unidentified American serviceman after the liberation of Italy from the Germans.

One of the Americans known to have visited George Santayana many times in the same hospital at Rome was Gore Vidal.

This resounds to the credit of both Vidal and Santayana.

Vidal records the visits in his autobiographical writings.

How interested Vidal was in Santayana’s philosophy is not easily decided. But he was surely drawn by Santayana’s only novel, The Last Puritan, subtitled, A Memoir in the Form of a Novel.

The novel was published in 1935. It was made a selection of the Book of the Month Club in 1936, and that year was the second largest selling work of fiction in the United States, after Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind.

One cannot recall reading the novel. One has, on the other hand, read Santayana's philosophical writings closely, many of them over and over, and a few of his poems.

A common judgment of Santayana’s literary qualities is that he stands, with Emerson, at the head of the best prose writers of the so-called American Classical period.

It is easy enough to concur.

It is doubtful that anything but a small part of the reading public knew Santayana either as a philosopher or as the second greatest philosopher of the Americans after Charles Sanders Peirce. Indeed, that judgment may seem doubtful to many still today. Several who understand the subtly and closely honed logic of Santayana’s thought have pointed out that it is perhaps exactly his superb prose style that may interfere with many appreciating his logical and philosophical acumen.

That is a great pity and also speaks volumes about American philosophical and literary life, such as it is.

Santayana worked with words, it is true, not numbers. For all that his consistent and punctilious use of words rivals that of any master of the woodpiles of, say, symbolic logic.

One’s opinion on this matter is more specifically that Santayana’s Scepticism And Animal Faith is not only the single most important systematic treatise of American thinking (Peirce wrote in short and scattered notices mainly, many not published until after his death), but also one of the most original and decisive volumes in the history of modern philosophy, from at least, say, Descartes.

On the other hand, one has read most of Gore Vidal, including essays and novels, and some of the novels more than once after hiatus of years.

One supposes that, with a bit of Latin, one might take the preceding hiatus as plural.

is surely his most impressive novel, and that from someone who struggled with Libanius' densely allusioned, often cryptic letters and speeches in Greek.

After Julian, it would have to be Burr.

Of his lesser known works, one of the more interesting is a short novel, published in 1954, titled Messiah.

This is the tale of a mortician's assistant who has the enlightenment that death--taken as death of the body--has no dread.

He shares the enlightenment and thereby becomes a prophet, marketed by mass media and with one character who has a touch of Paul.

The tone is very light and the logic of it all plays havoc with matter and spirit, among other things.

Having now recalled it, one almost wishes to find time to read Santayana's novel to see how it fits with Vidal's, if at all.

According to Vidal, the last words Santayana said to him were, “I think you will have a happy life. Because you lack superstition.

One is surely to understand a pause after “life”.

To have a singular prophecy about one’s future from George Santayana is in itself no little distinction.

To have Santayana's prophecy hinge on the connection between happiness and superstition, or its lack, is even more distinctive.

As for Mark Twain's cat, in order for it to sit on cold stoves and avoid hot, and do it fairly regularly, would not the cat have to remember not only when it was burned but also when it was not burned, and have to connect it to a clear idea of a stove lid which is now this, now that?

This sounds almost Platonic.

An intriguing dimension is that unconscious and natural, and doing whatever a cat does thus, how would the cat bother to remember when it was not burned, let alone that it was not burned sitting on the stove lid?

At one end that almost sounds Nietzschean, at the other Epicurean.

Both are put off to another day, another stove lid.

By E. A. Costa (June 2009)

[copyright eac]

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Note On R. D. Laing's Knots: A Song Of Trees, A Labyrinth, And The Sea

The voice seems to begin innocently enough:

The patterns delineated here have not yet been classified by a Linnaeus of human bondage.

The voice is that of R. D. Laing. It has already told two things. First, that it is not the voice of Linnaeus. Second, that no Linnaeus has yet classified the types of human bondage of which the voice of R. D. Laing will delineate some patterns.

The "not yet" of the page is dated 1969. This is patently play on the “Knots” of the title, immediately deepened by “delineated” and “Linnaeus”.

In fact, the surname of Carolus Linnaeus, author of the System Naturae, descended from the Latin name his father assumed after a large Linden tree on the family’s land, Linnagård.

The Swedish linn or lind is in German the Linde of Walther von der Vogelweide:

Under der linden
an der heide,
dâ unser zweier bette was,
dâ mugt ir vinden
schône beide
gebrochen bluomen unde gras.
vor dem wald in einem tal,
schône sanc diu nahtegal.

Under the linden
On the heath
Where we two bedded—
There you still may see
pretty broken blooms and grass.
In a hollow on forest’s edge
Sang the pretty nightingale:

Did R. D. Laing know von der Vogelweide’s Linden?

What matters is that Linnaeus himself was by the late Nineteenth Century known as much for his style as for his scientific classification.

So August Strindberg--Swede, playwright, and apophenic—judges: Linné var egentligen en poet, som råkade bli naturforskare—“Linnaeus was in reality a poet who decided to become a naturalist.”

Through Linnaeus and the Linden—let there be no doubt about it--Laing metamorphosizes into poet, expanding the ambiguities of “knot” from the “knots” of binding and bondage, through the “not” of what does not yet exist, and most subtly, to the knots of trees, where branches used to grow, and which evidence themselves visually as gnarled patterns in planed wood.

Once poet, Laing’s polysemy expands naturally to the nautical, wherein knots as a measure of speed in fluid media ultimately derives from the knotted rope to which was tied what was called in English the “chip log’, a wood panel weighted at one end to float upright. As the chip log stayed relatively still and resisted the water, the sailor who held the rope counted the knots played out on the line, tied 47’ 3” apart, while another hand timed the playing out with a sandglass measuring a period of about thirty seconds.

Is that enough for a poet and his beginning?

The allusion to Somerset Maugham’s Human Bondage, and its protagonist, Philip, clubfooted like the poet Byron, orphaned young and raised among cold surrogates, retreating into reading “as a refuge from all the distress of life”, later schooled in Heidelberg--is pedestrian and almost afterthought.

Starting out the poet offers patterns and no types or system.

“Delineated” the patterns are sketched out as lines and are visual like knots in wood, as well as thrown out as chip logs to measure speed by knots in rope playing out astern.

If Linnaeus is poet become scientist, Laing is scientist become poet. He exists on the page where he binds himself to his own past and what he has seen, familiar as a matter both of recognition and the habits of his own family. His purpose, however, is to remember and name, and the bind becomes double, for that is half the task of the Linnaeus who does not yet exist:

They are all, perhaps, strangely, familiar.
In these pages I have confined myself to laying out
only some of those I actually have seen. Words that
come to mind to name them are: knots, tangles,
fankles, impasses, disjunctions, whirligogs, binds.
I could have remained closer to the ‘raw’
data in which these patterns appear. I could
have distilled them further towards an abstract
logico-mathematical calculus.

The promise of an almost calculus, empirically derived, as something the poet could do, but would not, returns again to almost Linnaeus and his family’s Linden. “I hope that they are not so schematized”, he goes on:

that one may not refer back to the
very specific experiences from which they derive;
yet that they are sufficiently independent of ‘content’, for
one to divine the final formal elegance in these
webs of maya.

From what has gone before, the specific experiences must be what Laing has seen. If there is any reference back, how can the reference be to anything but Laing’s own memory and experience?

On the other hand, to be empty of content is to be stripped of particulars and becomes formal elegance.

What eventually comes to mind is the construction of typologies, that is, of types that are generalized from specifics and applied to a much larger scheme.

Both as a poem and as a study in psychology, Knots treats the games Laing has seen people play, including his own family, with one another and in language. No small number of the games involve what Gregory Bateson called the doublebind, a form of damned if you do and damned if you do not, but unfolding from greater power over lesser and designed both to obtain obedience and obedience seen as an act of free will:

It is our duty to bring up our children to love,
honour and obey us.
If they don’t they must be punished,
otherwise we would not be doing our duty.

As a typology of the thinking that manifests itself in the tyranny of authoritarian parents over their children the passage is clearly analytic and Linnaean:

If they grow up to love, honour and obey us
either we have brought them up properly
or we have not:
if we have
there must be something the matter with them;
if we have not
there is something the matter with us.

So too with Jack and Jill, who went up the hill but soon fell out in the tangles of their feelings expressed in words:

it hurts Jack
to think
that Jill thinks he is hurting her
by (him) being hurt
to think
that she thinks he is hurting her
by making her feel guilty
at hurting him
by (her) thinking
that he is hurting her
by (his) being hurt
to think that she thinks he is hurting her
by the fact that

da capo sine fine

The last is a logical and psychological loop, phrased neatly as an infinite refrain by way of the play on the musical notation da capo al fine--roughly, "Return to the beginning and conclude where you find the word fine."

In this case the band plays on sine fine--without end, and thus without the word fine anywhere to be found on its own.

What more apt as poem, typology, and almost calculus ad infinitum:

Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.

da capo sine fine

If this sounds like a broken record, that is exactly what it is, a record of broken people and their speech.

Is there any way out?

Laing ends his work curiously enough, with a direct allusion to the Zen topos of Yoka Daishi (Yongjia):

Foolish, with wrong interpretations,
they miss the pointing finger of the empty hand.

Mistaking the finger for the moon
their practice is confused
and they fabricate complexity with senses and objects.

[tr. Yasuda Joshu & Anzan Hoshin]

which becomes in Laing's poem first the logical complexity of the pointing finger:

Put the expression
a finger points to the moon in brackets
(a finger points to the moon)
The statement:
‘A finger points to the moon is in brackets’
is an attempt to say that all that is in the bracket
(.............................................................................. )
is, as to that which is not in the bracket,
what a finger is to the moon

and then the denouement of yes or no and simple presence:

What an interesting finger
let me suck it

It’s not an interesting finger
take it away

The statement is pointless

The finger is speechless

Whether Laing knew Walther von der Vogelweide or not, his final advice to Jack and Jill, it would seem, is very much that of the Minnesinger, to wit: to stop talking and bed down under the linden or not, as one chooses.

R. D. Laing died of a heart attack playing tennis in 1989.

Which is more curious--psychiatrist ending as poet, or poet issuing as remedy the psychiatric and logical prescription of Far Eastern monk?

In fact, in many ways R. D. Laing and Jacques Lacan paralleled one another, though is much different modes. Lacan, having spent the last years of his life modeling the psyche he investigated according to Knot Theory and Topology, closed all his clinics before his death and declared the clinic to be the world.

R. D. Laing, on the other hand, marginally, if very rightly, identified with the anti-psychiatry movement, declared the psychiatrist no more or no less patient than those he treated and investigated knots with the voice of a poet.

Does it amount to the same resting place approached from two different directions?

Ultimately, it is clear, the purpose of Laing's poem was not to tie knots, but to unravel them by description according to type.

There is another strange and striking dimension to Laing in Luis Borges' work, of all places, specifically in his short story, "The Garden Of Forking Paths", wherein the Englishman Stephen Albert unlocks the legended labyrinth of Ts'ui Pen:

"An ivory labyrinth!" I exclaimed. "A minimum labyrinth."

"A labyrinth of symbols," he corrected, "An invisible labyrinth of time. To me, a barbarous Englishman, has been entrusted the revelation of this diaphanous mystery. After more than a hundred years, the details are irretrievable, but it is not hard to conjecture what happened. Ts'ui Pen must have said once, 'I am withdrawing to write a book'. And at another time: 'I am withdrawing to construct a labyrinth.' Every one imagined two works; to no one did it occur that the book and the maze were the same thing....Two circumstances gave me the correct solution of the problem. One: the curious legend that Ts'ui Pen had planned to construct a labyrinth that would be strictly infinite. The other: a fragment of a letter that I discovered."

[tr. D. A. Yates]

Borges' story was translated into English in 1958. Does not R. D. Laing's poem seem the Englishman's version of an infinite labyrinth, constructed as a work of poetry and unraveled with the metalogical unknotting of Zen?

The letter Borges' character discovers is but a line, though one is to imagine it written in a fine and caligraphic Chinese hand:

"I leave to various futures (not all) my garden of the forking paths."

"[T]hey are sufficiently independent of ‘content’", Laing says about his typologies, "for one to divine the final formal elegance in these
webs of maya.

For one to divine? Is that the reader or the writer or both? Or has not one been pleasantly tricked by this bridge builder into constucting as one reads not just a quasi-Linnaeus and quasi-calculus, but in its knots, an enlightening infinite labyrinth unraveled in the process of the poem itself?

Jack and Jill went up the hill. And did what came naturally. Da capo sine fine.

by E. A. Costa (June 2008-9)

[copyright eac 2008]

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Res Novae (en el mundo, en la lluvia...)

Res Novae (en el mundo, en la lluvia..)

In the world
in the rain
a train quiet and vain

In the forest
in the treetops
thickly limbed
a jaguar…

In the city
in towns and villages
spider weaving

E. A. Costa (June 2009)

[copyright eac]

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

From Ant Men To Ekpyrosis: Culture And Tradition In The Sixth Dimension

By E. A. Costa (June '09)

At the root of culture is a metaphor likening society to a tended field in which crops are tilled and animals bred.

Ants are highly organized socially and some species not only cultivate fungi but breed and milk aphids.

How this originated is not known.

One presumes ants did not begin with such advanced techniques. The social instinct, on the other hand, may be genetic.

In any instance there seems to be change over long eons even when the only controlling elements, so far as one can see, are genetic and instinctual.

Do ants have culture in the human sense?

Young children grow into less young children intertwined with the world around them, whatever that world happens to be. It is not separate from them. It is a part of their mental and spiritual growth and of their molecular structure.

To make mention of Massachusetts, for example, will be most commonly taken as a mention of Massachusetts now, whenever now happens to be. Massachusetts then, on the other hand, may mean any number of things not at all obvious without reference to time, space, and context.

What is the last time one looked a bedroom suburb of Boston was, at one time, the largest political unit in the world still run by town meeting.

Railroad tracks ran through the small downtown.

A campaigning Adlai Stevenson, stranger from faraway Illinois, came through and spoke to a large crowd from the back of a train.

The automobile was already dominant but there were still a few horse-drawn vehicles. The rag man, for example, went from door to door in a horse-drawn cart with pneumatic tires buying rags that he sold to be made into fine paper. The knife-sharpener also went door to door sharpening knives. He had just switched from a horse-drawn wagon to a small white panel truck, as one recalls.

That is the then, and it is not as long ago as it sounds.

Space is wood-frame houses clustered close to the town center, with much surrounding woods and many ponds. In the Midwest they would call the woods stands of timber.

There were also small farms with stone walls between the small rocky fields.

Five miles through woods from the town center there was the colonial cemetery of a miniscule New England village. The first dated tombstone was slate. The marker read “John Death.”

The cemetery was surrounded by a wrought iron gate. It was in the middle of the timber off a narrow paved road. There was not a house in sight. In the forest in Fall to a child given to long secret walks alone the foliage and air were quiet and electric at the same time.

That is the where, and it is not as far away as it sounds.

The context is a volume the title of which one cannot remember in the hall bookcase. It was well printed and sturdily bound and was an anthology of some sort. In it cheek by jowl stood a short excerpt from Homer’s Iliad and one from Thoreau’s Walden titled—by the anthologist, as one realizes now—“The Ant War.”

Given that one is not an ant, nor a participant in the language and literature of ants, in order to attribute ants culture—as opposed to agriculture, which they have apparently given themselves—one can only apply the metaphor of the cultivated field externally.

Who can say whether ants themselves employ the metaphor, that is, that what they do together and how they change over time is analogous to tending fields or breeding other insects?

If, on the other hand, human society too is more or less genetics and instinct, the thrust of the metaphor is illusory and the point becomes moot.

It is also moot whether ants engage in war according to any human definition of the term, whatever the human definition might be. That they do have battles has been recorded by a long line of human observers, including Henry David Thoreau:

I was witness to events of a less peaceful character. One day when I went out to my wood-pile, or rather my pile of stumps, I observed two large ants, the one red, the other much larger, nearly half an inch long, and black, fiercely contending with one another. Having once got hold they never let go, but struggled and wrestled and rolled on the chips incessantly. Looking farther, I was surprised to find that the chips were covered with such combatants, that it was not a duellum, but a bellum.

It is no surprise that a young child, just beginning extensive reading, would not immediately understand the cryptotype of the Indian wars in the ants’ battle of colors or, before any Latin, follow the fine point, including hidden etymological learning, between duel—duellum—and war—bellum.

The contending attracted immediate attention, on the other hand, and the sudden surprise of first being treated to a duel, man to man, and in the next sentence having it evinced as but a trivial part of a much vaster conflict.

Too, this was long before the child had seen an ant war of his very own, which the child stumbled upon on the concrete slab at the bottom of the backstairs porch many years afterward.

Even here questions occur in retrospect.

Concede that ants do battle, do they really duel, one on one? In other words, are they individual enough to be spoken of as fighting one to one except by accident and to an external observer like Thoreau, and as a metaphor of what he first saw, and which a wider glance immediately turned into war?

The excerpt from Homer was only cursorily read by the child. Was it the parting scene of Hector and Andromache, who, still unfound by her husband, in Pope’s translation:

…stood on Ilion's towery height,
Beheld the war, and sicken'd at the sight;

One cannot clearly remember much from that first reading beyond the image of man and woman on Trojan walls talking, speaking in strange English and naming unfamiliar names.

To the child Thoreau and his ants were much more striking, both to eyes and memory.

For years afterward he gobbled up anything he could find on ants, fiction and non-fiction, including Eric North’s The Ant Men, a pulp novel with a still striking cover etched in memory.

North’s ants, dated to the mid-1950’s, were six feet tall, walked upright, had language, cities, organized armies, and “devised weapons that could destroy all mankind.

Curiously enough, they also had only four legs, or, more precisely, two legs and two arms.

It never occurred to the child that they were anything but giant ants, or that in the terror they inspired they reflected the new atomic age and near universal fear of nuclear holocaust.

In non-fiction the biggest surprise, even for pre-pubescent, was that most ants were not male, as any child would expect well-armored warriors to be, but neuter females, any one of which might, if the necessity arose, turn into breeding queen.

In fact, it turned out, both males and queens were winged as well as six-legged. But the only flight was pure mating ritual, in which an unfertilized winged queen was pursued by hordes of winged males, to be inseminated by one, come crashing down, and then breed the rest of her egg-laying life.

And the males—what was the fate of both the successful male and the horde of failures? To return to the anthill for a warm winter and another try? On the contrary, all soon died—of exhaustion?—after the mating flight.

The child stumbled into one mating flight of ants on a summer’s day.

He noticed a strange winged insect he had never seen before bumbling on the concrete of the driveway by the garage. He looked more closely and saw that it was in all respects very much like a black ant, except it had wings.

Two and two make four—was not this an exhausted male after a mating flight? He scanned the air closely and discovered the flight was still in progress, a horde of males after the queen in a long arc in front of the garage.

Had he not seen the defunct male on the pavement it is very unlikely he would have seen the flight, or, seeing it, have been able to identify it for what it was.

Later he got a much closer look at an ant queen and the inside of the nest.

The child’s own ant war was a few years later.

He was sitting on the bottom step of the back porch when he looked down and saw a long battle line, perhaps three feet long, of red and black ants on the pavement. The line was literally seething with combat.

Curiously enough, knowing more of the Iliad then, the sight struck him as much more like a passage of Homer than of Thoreau’s little essay.

The red ants were rushing in long lines from under the stairs, seemingly to defend themselves from the onrush of masses of black ants coming out of the grass from left and right. Without Thoreau’s looking glass he could make out little of the hand-to-hand gore and mutilation as both armies rushed into the pile that defined the line.

The most riveting aspect was the way the line grew longer over time, wriggling like a serpent, now the red ants pushing the black back, then the black ants on the flanks turning the line into a crescent, bodies strewn over the ground.

This was not the duello of Hector and Achilles but the mass rush of common soldiers at one another, mimicking battle as a matter of physics, with force and momentum in the bodies of the massed warriors.

What had set them off? As he found out much later, no longer a child, probably the pressure of overpopulation leading to competition for food in disputed territory.

The war lasted longer than a young boy’s attention could bear.

He cannot remember how it ended. Did he just pick up and leave or viciously scatter the viciously fighting and dying masses with his foot?

Was this not how the Olympians from far above viewed the massed battles before Troy?

For days he talked of seeing an ant war, just as in Homer or Thoreau, with no one that he can recall displaying more than passing interest.

Until recently that human beings walk upright and talk would have been considered strictly genetic and instinctive by many.

There are now known many exceptions to walking upright, including feral children who walk on all fours or, because raised by dogs, bark instead of talk.

This suggests the degree to which individual behavior is learned by imitation.

Imitation is a handing over from one to another. If one walks upright only because one is imitating others who walk thus, then even something as basic as bipedal motion is cultural in a certain sense.

A dispassionate look at human physiology, on the other hand, surely establishes there is a genetic disposition toward walking upright on two legs. If nothing else, the physiology of the foot would tell one as much. It looks much more carefully evolved to bear weight than to do needlework or hold infants at the breast while standing or walking.

Even there, however, there are known cases of human beings, born armless, who have learned to do an enormous number of highly skilled activities with their feet, including putting food or foot in mouth, and even typing.

At the other end, there are known cases of dogs, bears, and chimpanzees trained to walk on their hind legs as their main form of locomotion. As far as is known, however, there is no such case with ants, who are, on the contrary, sometimes seen to rear up on four legs.

Culture is synchronic, tradition diachronic. There is nothing new in saying this. Combining the two in another easy cliché, one might say that culture is the whole way of collective behavior of some society or tribe or hive or ant hill over an extended present while tradition is the mode in which such culture is handed down over time.

In fact, “handing over” or “handing down” is the root meaning of the word in Latin, tradere, from which the English “tradition” is derived. Interestingly enough, tradere itself seems to be a combination of the roots trans—“across”—and dare, “to give”.

The word tradition, along with most human language, is also handed down. In that sense, the word “tradition” also counts as a tradition. It is thus, as the logicians have it, autological—that is, its meaning and reference include itself both as word and as sense and meaning.

Tradition is giving across time. The elemental signification says to the future, “Look back, we have something to tell you.”

At this point, one might be tempted to distinguish between giving across time and giving across space, which space is by definition seemingly contemporaneous.

Is war and devising weapons that could destroy all mankind any less instinctual among men than battling over food among different tribes and clans of ants, real and fictional?

To return to the ants, the behavior they might be considered to learn from one another, by imitation, is a giving across space, from one or more ants to one or more other ants, while what is given across time, from generation to generation, is tradition, even if it is strictly genetic and instinctual.

How is handed down what is destructive to those upon whom the gift is bestowed?

Given enough time, the question takes care of itself.

A truly destructive tradition eventually destroys its inheritors, thus also destroys itself as a word and a tradition, as well as even the possibility of any further handing down.

This does not mean that any and all tradition is either good or necessary. All it means is that tradition, insofar as it still exists and is handed down, whether genetically and instinctually by ants—or culturally and symbolically by men—has not yet committed suicide.

If and when it does, who will be left to know?

The child grown into youth and still occasionally visiting cemeteries made another discovery.

Someone suggested to him, hearing of the "John Death" he discovered in the village cemetery, that there may not have been anyone at all under the stone, but that it was simply the first, morbidly mordant tombstone erected--idiosyncratically or conventionally--by New England colonials to christen, so to say, a brand new burial ground.

[copyright EAC]

Monday, May 25, 2009

Neruda Is Neruda Is Neruda

by E. A. Costa (May 09)

Dime, la rosa está desnuda?

There’s no trick to it in Spanish unless one desires translation.

In the está is the question, not whether the rose is unclothed by nature, but whether at the moment the question is asked that happens to be the case.

“Tell me—are you undressed?” asks Neruda barging into boudoir of rose in full bloom.

Poet sees what he sees, and seeing asks—ultimately himself--what he may properly say about it.

It stands as open allusion to Gertrude Stein’s “A rose is a rose is a rose.

Is it a statement of Rose’s nature or what she happens to be for the moment, which is without clothes?

Stein addresses the matter with two instances of “is”. Are they the same, and thus in echo of Wittgenstein’s tautology, thus also otiose?

Neruda possesses and is possessed of Picasso in the long moment of getting to the essence of Stein in his portrait while she repeats to him, calquing Spanish, “What you see is all there is.”

Rose clothed and Stein undressed stand pat.

Die Welt ist alles, was der Fall ist”--and this is the case after all and after the fall.

She opens her note tactically, and in seemingly concessive, unstonely mode: “Many of the things you say are true.”

What to do with that? Is this another game of mother tongue? Is that all there is? In a roundabout way she then demands a commitment of one hundred thousand dollars.

Money, like God, is serious business on both sides of the family tree.

All that’s missing is the salesmanship of such a deal I have for you.

He long ago lost interest in carnality become adjunct of cold mask he no longer knew.

He didn't drink much and he never went to bed with strangers.

Her new girlfriends, he guessed, were surely telling her that all men are all men and all they are after is sex with them and nothing else.

He was a man. Therefore that is how he might be defused and dominated.

There is something ultimately biological about it.

Certainly it seems true in many instances of men, especially American, who have little to offer in the ways of women who have little to offer in the ways of men.

He responds as paper doll—her weapon of choice—and adds the tail of Neruda’s perro muerto in another e-mail:

...No hay adiós a mi perro que se ha muerto.
Y no hay ni hubo mentira entre nosotros.
Ya se fue y lo enterré, y eso era todo.

This is not written with lazy or unlearned in mind. It is unlikely ever to inspire mass hysteria.

The assonance from dog to death to lies to buried like a bone underground is not Neruda’s densest, strongest sentence but impresses nonetheless.

At the bank some of his little, long ago Spanish began to revive in still native if infantile Italian accent, itself far northern and with Lombard stress and Piacentine clipping, sometimes sounding as if every statement were a question and every question a statement.

Or is that the only dress she has: O sólo tiene ese vestido?

Neruda’s “O” rolls onward, Latinate only in the question of which “Or”, vel—“as you wish”, that is, one or the other or both, or “aut”, one of these and not the other?

Irritation lingers but staying power is gone.

“Many of the things you say are true”, the saleslady writes, trying to get a commitment to a cool hundred thousand.

He is not buying. But there is a flash of momentary charm as if a Munchausen (an English spelling) with bite.

“Perish the thought”, he smiles, “that anything I say could seem true to a lady like you.”

Is Gertrude nude or is that her only dress? Translation into mere English is impossible.

(EAC copyright 09)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Wayang Purwa

Intricate cut-outs
duet of raging shadows
dance across the page

Trace of what is
concealing divinity
in the self-same dream.

In the tribal God
they were possessed as children
betrayed now own all.

[copyright eac]

Sunday, May 17, 2009

e.e. & me

by E. A. Costa (May 2009)

e.e.cummings' father was a professor.

his mother was very intelligent.

he went to cambridge latin school where he learned--you guessed it, latin.

he then went to harvard and graduated magna cum laude in greek.

he wrote his first poem when he was three.

both parents encouraged him.

2 little whos
(he and she)
under are this
wonderful tree...


if learning ancient greek is no magic like voicing GOD! in illinois why does the putative cream of the cream send their kiddies to prep schools that teach homer?

ecclesiastical latin at ecclesiastical schools does not do the trick.

that is because the professors at catholic and protestant schools know before they start that alcman is WRONG.

one has to learn to READ with open eye and ear.

if it is a classic you uncover new every time.

it is like the little cars at the circus.

clowns just keep emerging.

if you ask a silly question of a book the book won't answer.

try it some time. open up moby dick and ask a question, it won't answer unless you trust it.

put your finger on the random page and read aloud.

that started with vergil and is called the SORTES VERGILIANAE.

it only works with living classics.

there are no spare words in living classics.

but you cannot tell what a living classic is until you READ it.

try it.

there is a trick to it.

living classics are homuncular.

it's like fractals. every passage is a microcosm of the whole.

i pick up herman melville's moby dick, open it randomly, close my eyes and put my finger on the page:

No: but here thou beholdest even in the dumb brute, the instinct of the knowledge of demonism in the world....

[Herman Melville]

there i told you so.

i am itching to say something about gogol but i have not read enough of him.

i have figured out why the communists loved dead souls.

it's not obvious.

but i will husband it for when i know more gogol.

loyola had a good library and despite partying across europe she had a good beginning in a very quick and agile mind.

that was what he saw in her eyes the first night.

a smile.

smiling eyes.

all bright minds smile when they are cruising full speed ahead even the eyes of lunatics.

she had trouble reading to herself. he had a primitive cure--reading books aloud together.

they read the three musketeers aloud in one sitting through the night.

how does three become four?

they later noticed an echo in the seven samurai.

he remembers flashing golden light in her eyes.

for the most part he never held it against the soldiers who were sent to NAM. that is why he and sarge got along.

sarge asked him at the table once: do you know how many men this hand has killed?

sarge was a canadian scot and roman catholic as an accident of history.

he showed me pictures of his daughters.

i never saw three children who looked more as if they were from three different fathers.

sarge saw that look in my eyes.

he heard my voice.

he knew i understood.

later i realized that was why he showed me the snapshots.

most of the veterans i knew during the NAM years had become virulently antiwar.

the one exception was my cousin the admiral who once ran the dock in saigon.

he never had the time to think or ask questions. the job paid handsomely.

why greek? strangely enough the answer is not about money or class.

i have seen her a stealthily frail
flower with its fellows in the death
of light, against whose enormous curves of flesh
exactly cubes of tiny fragrance try...

[e.e. cummings]

it is about humanitas which neither christians nor jews nor muslims know anything of.

neither do japanese.

but japanese are learning as other human beings learn more japanese.

e.e.cummings was not wed to lower case.

it was an accident of the typewriter he used according to one story.

he wrote many poems with CAPITALS.

i first met e.e. cummings outside an anthology in cambridge where e.e. was born and raised.

i walked from my rooms past the club mt.auburn where joan baez sang to an apartment where the lesbian with the page boy read gertrude stein and e.e.cummings between work and fascinating I..

I. was fascinated by gays and lesbians.

that was interesting because at that time fascination with gays and lesbians was not an ordinary part of polish-american experience.

In those days gay meant mostly cheerful as in la gaya scienza which Nietzsche borrowed from the minstrels of provence.

minstrels are always gay. did you ever hear of a dour minstrel? dour minstrels tend to go into other professions like medicine.

The bedside manner is different.

later I. became a rabid feminist.

i figured gays were like other people. not gay or dour mostly.

mostly gray.

i was not fascinated. if i was fascinated they might as well have been straight.

when the feminism started it was very intelligent.

the hydrophobia came later.

if strangers meet

life begins-
not poor not rich
(only aware)
kind neither
nor cruel
(only complete)
i not not you
not possible;
only truthful)...


once when i walked by the club mt.auburn i looked in. someone was singing folk music. they used to keep the doors open. the singer was petite with dark hair. she was wearing bell bottoms.

later i realized it was joan baez.

the memory persevered on its own for some time before i made the association.

the way everyone talked it never occurred to me that baez was a spanish name, like nixon.

that should have told me joan baez would one day be famous.

i was much younger than my years at the time.

I. and i and the lesbian read e.e.cummings aloud. that is how i first met buffalo bill and his blue-eyed boy.

no one at the time knew that lower case was an accident.

everyone thought it was a deliberate innovation.

maybe not everyone. maybe e.e. knew.

maybe his typewriter wanted to be famous.

one's not half two. It's two are halves of one:
one's not half two. It's two are halves of one:
which halves reintegrating, shall occur
no death and any quantity; but than
all numerable mosts the actual more...


e.e.cummings really knew how to make words count.

he knew arithmetic.

i spent thirteen years investigating logic and mathematics and came out with the same answer for three.

i have no formal proof.

neither did e.e.cummings.

all i can say is that logically it is impossible to derive three from one.

i dedicated the parts to people who had helped me. the whole i wrote for her, who helped me more.

universe begins in subtraction.

cosmos is multiplication.

(my magna cum laude at harvard was in roman history).

after dropping out of biochemistry and almost dropping out of school that was not easy.

T. and i were great friends when we were sophomores.

T. was drunk most of that year and says he doesn't remember.

drunk he was still very intelligent and had a projector and showed silent movies of naked women from german underground films.

his father was german and had a degree from a gymnasium in Vienna.

T. suddenly dropped out.

later i heard he joined the marines.

the next semester i almost dropped out as well.

T. told me many years later the next thing he knew he was at danang and there was a war on.

he repaired radios and drank.

the beer joints for the enlisted were full of combat vets returning from jungle patrols.

to survive a radio repair man had to be entertaining if he were going to be a regular drunk.

T. learned a lot of tricks.

he used to drink beers, then chew up the glass with his teeth.

that earned some measure of surprise from combat vets.

then he could just keep on drinking.

I. as i was adamantly anti-war.

we came to it from different directions.

war was not why T. joined the marines.

I. was one of the first hippies. she looked like carly simon. she wore bell bottoms well. she could sew. she was close friends with the sandal-maker.

she never wore bras but her breasts were small. they could fit in champagne glasses.

she was dark for someone ethnically polish on both sides.

she was friends with a singer in a band.

singers always get the girl.

she was very sweet on him. i could tell.

in martha's vineyard we stayed at the same place every summer.

what do drummers get?

one summer there was a rock band in the next room. they asked I. to iron their hair so that they would look like the beetles.

she did.

i was never any good at ironing.

my mother had established that it was an art form not to be trifled with.

i still don't own an iron.

when we went to illinois we were already married.

we drove west with a trailer.

I. cried all the way through indiana, one of nabokov's states beginning with "i".

i asked her why she was crying.

she said because there were no hills and no people and we were going to some wild frontier and she would not be in cambridge anymore.

E.'s sister A. who moved to cambridge from chicago now feels the same way.

i don't know if E.'s sister A. is friends with a singer in a rock band.

i took the southern route through indiana. she cried even more.

i did not understand this.

i did not hold it against her but i did not understand.

the whole way through indiana i began to wonder what i had got myself into.

not with the state that began with "i" but with I..

when we got to illinois I. did fine.

there were lots of hippies in and around campus.

I. fit right in.

I. got a job working for a sociologist who did statistical work and was one of the first to use computers.

I. was very logical and very intelligent.

she had not gone to college.

being a hippie was like that.

hippies always had marijuana and sometimes hashish in cambridge.

I. had dropped acid.

at harvard leary and alpert were giving their students lsd.

they were warned not to experiment with students.

they promised not to but then did it anyway.

they were immediately fired.

for lying. leary then became timothy leary. alpert became baba ram dass.

lying was one of the reasons you would be kicked out of harvard quickly and never allowed back.

at the time no one connected it with veritas.

plagiarism was one of the worst things you could do.

suicide was bad for the school's reputation and they tended to cover it up.

but they did not expunge people for suicide.

now and then they did expel people for lying and plagiarism.

i never knew anyone expunged.

perhaps millions of people have been expunged from harvard.

how would anyone know?

it can't be a good thing to have on your record. "expunged from harvard 1963". how could it ever be verified?

the ancient romans had a similar punishment called abolitio memoriae.

they tended to do that occasionally after the person was assassinated.

writing a paper for another student was also severely punished.

usually both students were kicked out.

but they would often be let back in.

very few plagiarized.

the sociologist at illinois showed us his slides from afghanistan.

he had us to dinner often.

he was interested in ancient history, particularly alexander the great.

that's where i first learned the word BAKSHEESH.
he explained it was an Persian word in origin and how it worked in afghanistan.

he was trying to set up a university program there. all the fathers visited him with an offer of BAKSHEESH to get their sons in.

he told them that was not the way americans did things.

afghans were not acquainted with the way americans did things.

no doubt anthropologists among them composed oral epics on the strange customs of american sociologists.

afghans could not believe a man could be treated fairly like a number in a structure that took no account of whether it had been paid BAKSHEESH or not.

BAKSHEESH was personal, eye to eye, seal of a promise between men.

some of the afghan tribes are direct descendants of alexander's soldiers.

it is possible alexander himself may have direct descandants in afghanistan.

the university likely did not look too promising to descendants of macedonians either.

the statistician and sociologist was in afghanistan in the early 1960's.

I. helped write and edit one of the first books on using computer languages for statistics in sociology.

i helped I. proofread.

i advised her to get her name on the book and also to get part of the copyright.

the sociologist was a fair man and agreed.

he died the next year of parkinson's disease.

he was in his forties.

later i realized that showing us afghanistan was a kind of last will and testament.

i could never stomach much robert frost.

he was good at his craft but he writes in a persona with false nostalgia.

you can write as if a persona but you cannot write as a persona.

It is hard to open a book of robert frost’s poems and randomly uncover a homunculus.

he cannot hold a candle to my friend e.e.

they are not all one woman.

all women are not one woman.

they are not all one man.

all men are not one man.

all men are not brothers.

all women are not sisters.

they are not all brothers and sisters.

they are not necessarily all ones.

they are all little interrogative pronouns.

[copyright eac]

Monday, May 11, 2009

Making Marks

by E. A. Costa (May 2009)

There is no look backward without moving forward.

Is the reverse also true--that there is no move forward without looking backward?

It is a question of envelopes, sealed and unsealed.

Wittgenstein did not prove that a private language is logically and formally impossible as a thing in itself.

What he unveiled were some of the logical implications of such a concept, if it is a concept.

Descartes was about an analogous problem without knowing it.

Does the bottle send messages to itself?

Eventually Jacques Lacan, after long feeding on Freud and the Surrealists, advanced into topology as a model--not a metaphor--for mind.

In that context it is not pertinent whether "mind" so defined is psyche or nous.

It may be that private language is possible, according to some definition of "language" that is itself undefined or otherwise obscure.

In one aspect it is akin to marking one's locale by drawing a line on the side of the boat.

Is such a mark purely formal or is it mere noise?

If the envelope is completely sealed formality is also lost, or is ever in flux, which amounts to almost same thing.

Like those who attempt to mark progress or regress with tattoos, is there added mystery having one inscribed where it cannot be seen, or seen only in a mirror?

Angelina Jolie, an American actress who may or may not be remembered as a name in half a century or so, happens to be daughter of an American actor, John Voight, about whom the same may be said.

Jolie has a large assortment of tattoos, including a record of the longitude and latitude where all her children, natural or adoptive, were born or legally adopted.

However naive, that seems one possible outside of the envelope, with reference to a symbolic and mathematical coordinate system yet another step removed.

Who knows what will remain of the envelope in fifty years? The probability is that longitude and latitude will remain understandable coordinates, but even that is uncertain.

How quickly did modern Dalmatian disappear with the death of its last living speaker, Tuone Udaina, in 1898.

In those last lonely years an Italian recorded a long list of Dalmatian words, and some small part of the language is also known from earlier texts.

Was it living or dead when Udaina was its only living speaker?

It is not recorded, so far as one knows, whether the last Dalmatian had any distinctive marks, whether birth spots or tattoos.

Perhaps the burial place is known and a few bones can be found by hard looking.

It is also not recorded, so far as one knows, whether Udaina had any surviving children. If he did they were not, apparently, speakers of Dalmatian.

Even were there records they would be reliable only in the matter of what was known and documented and in regard to what Udaina claimed.

However none of this, if recorded at all, seems to have been recorded in Dalmatian.

The real curiosity is why the Italian did not become a speaker himself. Having recorded thousands of words, why did he not learn the language and pass it on to someone else?

Or, were he not competent enough linguistically for that, and given the fact that he could never become a native speaker, did he make any effort to inform others, who may have been interested, that the Ragusan language was about to die a natural death, with no friend among the local people or ecclesiastics or the faraway scientists and academics to save it?

How many other natural languages have died in the same way?

At the other end of the scale is the so-called "Ice Man", whose body was discovered a few years ago in the Alps a few yards over the Italian side of what is now the border between Italy and Austria.

The remains, well-preserved because frozen, were dated to the Third Millennium B.C. The fellow was extremely well outfitted for a mountain walk, including wearing well-made, insulated boots of various animal hides, formed in several parts, with vertical strips stitched together with sinew.

The vertical strips and the area where the fellow was found suggest to some investigators that the boots were part of a snowshoe rig whose frames were misidentified as part of the Ice Man's back pack.

The Ice Man had more than half a hundred tattoos, mostly groups of parallel lines, with dots also, and two crosses or X's.

Forensics has established that the fellow was perhaps forty-five years old and had a number of physical ailments which he seems to have been treating with various herbs and mushrooms he carried.

One of the researchers made a correlation between the fellow's known ailments and their symptoms, the location of the tattoos on his body, and contemporary Chinese acupuncture points. One theory is, then, that the tattoos are part of Copper Age medicine, which included acupuncture.

This is tentative.

There is also no lack of magico-religious and Shamanic explanations of the tattoos, based on no evidence whatever.

Another possible connection that no one else has made, as far as one knows, is that the tattoos are correlated with the Ice Man's age in years, with the two crosses perhaps being anomalies or marking the first two years of infancy.

Though this may seem unlikely, in the face of so much unknown there is no way to determine that this correlation is any more meaningful than that.

Most of the tattoos are on the Ice Man's back, near the spine. This suggests two things: (1) he did not make the tattoos himself, and (2) he could not see them without a mirror, if he had access to mirrors.

One thing is almost certain: the Ice Man's tattoos likely do not mark the longitude and latitude of the birth and adoption of his children.

Fifty-three generations is a long time.

Should Angelina Jolie's tattoos survive in comparable form for like time will they be any more readable or meaningful?

[copyright EAC May 09]