Saturday, November 9


"The prosperous middle classes, who ruled the nineteenth century, placed an excessive value upon placidity of existence. They refused to face the necessities for social reform imposed by the new industrial system, and they are now refusing to face the necessities for intellectual reform imposed by the new knowledge. The middle-class pessimism over the future of the world comes from a confusion between civilization and security. In the immediate future there will be less security than in the immediate past, less stability. It must be admitted that there is a degree of instability which is inconsistent with civilization. But, on the whole, the great ages have been unstable ages."

--Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (1925)

Sunday, May 12

North American Journeys, 9

I see we are at the left turn onto US 12 and John has pulled up for gas. I pull up beside him.
     The thermometer by the door of the station reads 92 degrees. "Going to be another rough one today," I say.
     When the tanks are filled, we head across the street into a restaurant for coffee. Chris, of course, is hungry.
     I tell him I've been waiting for that. I tell him he eats with the rest of us or not at all. Not angrily. Just matter-of-factly. He's reproachful but sees how it's going to be.
     I catch a fleeting look of relief from Sylvia. Evidently she thought this was going to be a continuous problem.
     When we have finished the coffee and are outside again the heat is so ferocious we move off on the cycles as fact as possible. Again there is that momentary coolness, but it disappears. The sun makes the burned grass and sand so bright I have to squint to cut down glare. This US 12 is an old, bad highway. The broken concrete is tar-patched and bumpy. Road signs indicate detours ahead. On either side of the road are occasional work sheds and shacks and roadside stands that have accumulated through the years. The traffic is heavy now. I'm just as happy to be thinking about the rational, analytical, classical world of Phaedrus.
     His kind of rationality has been used since antiquity to remove oneself from the tedium and depression of one's immediate surroundings. What makes it hard to see is that where once it was used to get away from it all, the escape has been so successful that now it is the "it all" that the romantics are trying to escape. What makes his world so hard to see clearly is not its strangeness but its usualness. Familiarity can blind you too.

--Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Saturday, May 11

North American Journeys (Thailand Division), 8

A few Sundays later I agreed to go with Brooks and our friends to Ayudhaya. The idea of a Sunday outing is so repellent to me that deciding to take part in this one was to a certain extent a compulsive act. Ayudhaya lies less than fifty miles up the Chao Phraya from Bangkok. For historians and art collectors it is more than just a provincial town; it is a period and a style--having been the Thai capital for more than four centuries. Very likely it still would be, had the Burmese not laid it waste in the eighteenth century.
     Brooks came early to fetch me. Downstairs in the street stood the three bhikkus with their book bags and parasols. They hailed a cab, and without any previous price arrangements (the ordinary citizen tries to fix a sum beforehand) we got in and drove for twenty minutes or a half-hour, until we got to a bus terminal on the northern outskirts of the city.
     It was a nice, old-fashioned open bus. Every part of it rattled, and the air from the rice fields blew across us as we pieced together our bits of synthetic conversation. Brooks, in high spirits, kept calling across to me: "Look! Water buffaloes!" As we went further away from Bangkok there were more of the beasts, and his cries became more frequent. Yamyong, sitting next to me, whispered: "Professor Brooks is fond of buffaloes?" I laughed and said I didn't think so.
     I said that in American there were no buffaloes in the fields, and that was why Brooks was interested in seeing them. There were no temples in the landscape, either, I told him, and added, perhaps unwisely: "He looks at buffaloes. I look at temples." This struck Yamyong as hilarious, and he made allusions to it now and then all during the day.

--Paul Bowles, "You Have Left Your Lotus Pods on the Bus"

Thursday, May 9

North American Journeys (Italy Division), 7

The car, which was a big Renault, a tourer, slowed down and pulled off the autostrada with Brenda asleep in back, her mouth a bit open and the daylight streaming off her cheekbones. It was near Como, they had just crossed, the border police had glanced in at her.
     "Come on, Bren, wake up," they said, "we're stopping for coffee."
     She came back from the ladies' room with her hair combed and fresh lipstick on. The boy in the white jacket behind the counter was rinsing spoons.
     "Hey, Brenda, I forget. Is it espresso or expresso?" Frank asked her.
     "Espresso," she said.
     "How do you know?"
     "I'm from New York," she said.
     "That's right," he remembered. "The Italians don't have an x, do they?"
     "They don't have a j either," Alan said.
     "Why is that?"
     "They're such careless people," Brenda said. "They just lost them."

--James Salter, "American Express"

Monday, May 6

North American Journeys, 6

By the evening of Wednesday, August 11, all save for Captain Pollard were safely aboard the Essex. Anchored beside her, just off the Nantucket Bar, was another whaleship, the Chili. Commanded by Absalom Coffin, the Chili was also to leave the following day. It was an opportunity for what whalemen referred to as a "gam"--a visit between two ships' crews. Without the captains to inhibit the revelry (and with the Bar between them and town), they may have seized this chance for a final uproarious fling before the grinding discipline of shipboard life took control of their lives.
     At some point that evening, Thomas Nickerson made his way down to his bunk and its mattress full of mildewed corn husks. As he faded off to sleep on the gently rocking ship, he surely felt what one young whaleman described as a great, almost overwhelming "pride in my floating home."
     That night he was probably unaware of the latest bit of gossip circulating through town--of the strange goings-on out on the Commons. Swarms of grasshoppers had begun to appear in the turnip fields. "[T]he whole face of the earth has been spotted with them . . . ," Obed Macy would write. "[N]o person living ever knew them so numerous." A comet in July and now a plague of locusts?
     As it turned out, things would end up badly for the two ships anchored off the Nantucket Bar on the evening of August 11, 1819. The Chili would not return for another three and a half years, and then with only five hundred barrels of sperm oil, about a quarter of what was needed to fill a ship her size. For Captain Coffin and his men, it would be a disastrous voyage.
     But nothing could compare to what fate had in store for the twenty-one men of the Essex.

Nathaniel Philbrick, In the Heart of the Sea

Friday, May 3

North American Journeys, 5

Between Terlingua and Lajitas, the road continues to cross various limestone units of Cretaceous age. After passing white, thick beds of steeply-dipping Cretaceous limestone of the Pen formation in roadcuts about four miles west of Terlingua, you will see the roadside topography open out into a broad valley where huge alluvial fans slope toward the river. Intrusive volcanic rocks are seen to the north as odd-shaped hills and mesas, whereas Mesa de Anguila and its battlement walls of solid Cretaceous limestone fortify the sky to the south. Imposing flatirons of tilted Cretaceous limestone are also seen along this stretch, where they border the south flank of a large fold called the Terlingua monocline.

Tilted sections of flaggy-bedded, yellow-tan Boquillas limestone still you around the town of Lajitas, located at the base of Lajitas Mesa, where Comanche Creek joins the Rio Grande.

Lajitas is developing as a small tourist resort, and the new museum and desert garden east of town is a pleasant stop. Across the Rio Grande at Lajitas notice how the large mesa surface curves downward toward the river giving the distinct impression that rocks can bend, fracture, and break, if pressure is applied slowly, rather than quickly, in the earth's crust.

Darwin Spearing, Roadside Geology of Texas

Thursday, May 2

Works in Progress, 55


getting in touch with the cable guys
swinging the birches
testing the waters
pushing radical music agendas

rewriting the country's labor laws
seeing a psychic map of our obsessions
building electoral coalitions that will win
emphasizing the overlapping interests of the affluent

cleaning up after Gustav, Hanna, Ike
cleaning up after Bush, after Cheney
rewriting the history of consciousness
blurring the possibilities

supporting any effort to reunionize
failing to generate meaningful responses
becoming one with the centipede in oneself
getting some good poems out of it

slumbering well until after nightfall
setting this brain of mine afire
reaching irritably after fact & reason
shunning easy consolations

subsidizing extraction industries
helping women victimized by male violence
doubling the sign-up bonus for volunteers
supporting the troops while doubting the war

counting the dead
waiting for them to break silence
descending the steeps of the soughing twilight
assimilating foreign cultures

demilitarizing outer space
completing the application and mailing it back
reviewing our few remaining options
showing off poetry's "extreme generosity"

maneuvering pothole-sized cars around
designing more effective marketing campaigns
speaking solely in terms of racial justice
examining burial pits and naked skulls

getting out the vote
fetching water from the well
educating the masses
confessing to our personal demons

clearing minefields from past wars
laying them for wars yet to come
staying executions, pardoning the innocent
blurring the boundaries, the borders

reading maps in the dark with the top light off
folding them all back up rightly
cramming them into the glove compartment
getting moving again in the right direction

cooling our wardheelers
voting early and often
keeping our fingers crossed
paying full-price for our journey

assembling a glossary of oft-used phrases
keeping silent while the tea is poured
maintaining an inventory of our beliefs and unbeliefs
finding time to clean up around the house

making the world safe for gerontocracy
clearing the minefields and cow pastures
converting analog files to digital
rereading An Anatomy of Melancholy

fighting the high cost of prescription meditations
comparing the works of Proust, Gide, and Sartre
putting something aside for a rainy day
asking for another user's name and password

scanning the shelves for news
cleaning up after the latest tsunami
trying not to think about elephants
looking forward to end-of-life decisions

reassessing works already completed
exterminating the brutes
chipping ice from the windshield of the car
rebuilding the old road from Fredrikstad to Skjeberg

getting more bang for the buck
setting something aside for that rainy day
worry about what to really worry about
getting back to the Bang, the Big One

teaching the Chinese how to speak English
learning about Putin, reading his soul
cashing in on Homeland Security
making that list of things to make lists of

deciding whether or not to escape to Canada
enhancing revenue without raising taxes
learning more about hematology--its life, its times
mapping talk-free zones in public parks

making the punishment fit the criminal
recovering our census-takers
fitting the glove to the velvet hand
dialing for (four) dollars

laying mines at the Prose/Poetry border
celebrating the rebirth of death
transferring funds to overshore accounts
counting the years from start to finish

unpacking after the last long/short journey
saying goodbye to the undead
finding trusty pocket tools for indoor use
pleasing others in letters

recouping ancient losses
moving data from there to over here
scanning the text as rapidly as possible
keeping Kandinsky in mind

replacing old maps with new ones
preparing the cat for summer camp
paying the bills in advance
brushing up on our Spanish

stealing stones from the temple
building a nearby church
stealing stones from the church
building a nearby bank

filling the sandbags
repairing the levee
spreading plutocracy around the world
counting and bagging the dead

cleaning up after Rita, Katrina
remembering we must pay our bills
washing windows of opportunity
trying to find the snows of yesteryear

covering up the latest cover-up
rereading all we've reread as of now
reviewing the plays of Pinter, their silences
uncovering the cover-up of the cover-up

comparing apples to orangutans
criminalizing conservative politics
finding new ways to profit from disasters
rescuing painting from the dead end of Pop Art

robbing Peter and Paul to pay Mark and Luke
waking up to a brand-new day
forgetting that old Underwood we once loved
overcoming inertia and ignorance

freeing the slaves
admonishing those who do evil
stamping out political brushfires
democratizing the US

closing the books on the old year
balancing the checkbook (first time ever)
remembering to reshape my face (yet again)
changing course (as always)

securing the seaports
transfiguring the night of the prom
seeking an audience with His Holiness, the President
bombing the Middle East into freedom and democracy

telling civil war from your garden-variety insurgency
recognizing our deepest needs, wants, and wishes
finally getting that poodle to the groomer
learning to live on self-serve island

keeping an eye on the military-industrial complex
reseeding the lawn for the nth and final time
staking out claims on the future
moving the party toward a more radical center

restoring the Gulf to its pre-US condition
administering flu shots to every chicken in every pot
studying studies on the results of previous studies
reducing the pulse of alien shadows

reducing light pollution in our major cities
rescuing the castaways
creating unwanted database gaps
accommodating carbon dating to Biblical truth

bombing our way to an "endurable" peace
retelling the tales of bygone wars
seeing what might be learned there
measuring the manatee

returning that defective broadband router
speaking kindly of those we no longer respect
giving up keeping up as a modus vivendi
putting our thoughts into action

sticking to issues that directly affect us
bemoaning the cautiousness of today's athletes
co-opting the arguments of their opposition
welcoming Latino immigrants at the border

throwing our hats in the ring
translating our actions into thought
seeing that Anna Nicole Smith achieves sainthood
rehanging Saddam and getting it right

paying off our debts, incurring new ones
getting the MS of the new book out into the mail
preparing ourselves for our press conference
seeking an end to cross-pollination

hammering out justice, all over this land
disturbing the neighbors by night, by day
enjoying privacy at our place in the country
transmuting dross into gold

pronouncing the names of the dead
bringing Elian back to his Miami relatives
rejuvenating all those pre-aged youngsters out there
throwing our hats in the ring

finding our way to the next whiskey bar
extending that fence to both east and west coasts
revising our previously revised revisions
building the ark to end arks

preventing its dividing itself up
realizing our potential potential
spending more time with the family
waking up to unreality

finding the photos of the old house
rowing the boat ashore
thinking things through again
keeping the guard up

parsing the genome
flinging sweets down the staircase
exhaling only when necessary
tearing myself away

parsing the genome
fleshing out the diagram
refilling the lungs, yet again
reacquainting ourselves


getting the genie back
refreshing the screen
barking the dog
crying over spilled beans

making up our minds
testing the waters
arousing the base
exchanging dollars

stealing rain from the clouds
reexamining the x
recounting the votes again
building a foetus from scratch

sequestering the sequesterators
getting Syrian about seriosity
dancing for rain . . . again
redefining ingenuity


Wednesday, May 1

North American Journeys, 4

               Friday June 7th. 1805,--
     It continued to rain almost without intermission last night and as I expected we had a most disagreable and wrestless night. our camp possessing no allurements, we left our watery beads at an early hour and continued our rout down the river. it still continues to rain the wind hard from N. E. and could. the grownd remarkably slipry, where we had passed as we ascended the river. notwithstanding the rain that has now fallen the earth of these bluffs is not wet to a greater depth than 2 inches; in it's present state it is precisely like walking over frozan grownd which is thawed to small debth and slips equally as bad. this clay not only appears to require more water to saturate it as I before observed than ny earth I ever observed but when saturated it appears on the other hand to yeald it's moisture with equal difficulty.
     In passing along the face of one of these bluffs today I sliped at a narrow pass of about 30 yards in length and but for a quick and fortunate recovery by means of my espontoon I should been precipitated into the river down a craggy pricipice of about ninety feet. I had scarcely reached a place on which I could stand with tolerable safety even with the assistance of my espontoon before I hear a voice behind me cry out god god Capt. what shall I do  on turning about I found it was Windsor who had sliped and fallen ab[o]ut the center of this narrow pass and was lying prostrate on his belley, with his wright hand arm and leg over the precipice while he was holding on with the left arm and foot as well as he could which appeared to be with much difficulty.  I discovered his dinger and the trepedation which he was in gave me still further concern for I expected every instant to see him loose his strength and slip off; altho' much allarmed at his situation I disguised my feelings and spoke very calmly to him and assured him that he was in no kind of danger, to take the knife out of his belt behind him with his wright hand and dig a hole with it in the face of the bank to receive his wright foot which he did and then raised himself to his knees; I then directed him to take off his mockersons and to come forward on his hands and knees holding the knife in one hand and the gun in the other this he happily effected and escaped.
     those who were some little distance b[e]hind returned by my orders and waded the river at the foot of the bluff where the water was breast deep. it was useless we knew to attempt the plains on this part of the river in consequence of the numerous steep ravines which intersected and which were quite as bad as the river bluffs. we therefore continued our rout down the river sometimes in the mud and water of the bottom lands, at others in the river to our breasts and when the water become so deep that we could not wade we cut footsteps in the face of the steep bluffs with our knives and proceded. we continued our disagreeable march th[r]ough the rain mud and water untill late in the evening having traveled only about 18 Miles, and encamped in an old Indian stick lodge which afforded us a dry and comfortable shelter. during the day we had killed six deer some of them in very good order altho' none of them had yet entirely discarded their winter coats. we had reserved and brought with us a good supply of the best peices; we roasted and eat a hearty supper of our venison not having taisted a mo[r]sel before during the day; I now laid myself down on some willow boughs to a comfortable nights rest, and felt indeed as if I was fully repaid for the toil and pain of the day, so much will a good shelter, a dry bed, and comfortable supper revive the sperits of the w[e]aryed, wet and hungry traveler.

--The Journals of Lewis and Clark

Tuesday, April 30

Paragraphs from Stein, 16

The room was soon very very full and who were they all. Groups of hungarian painters and writers, it happened that some hungarian had once been brought and the word had spread from him throughout all Hungary, any village where there was a young man who had ambitions heard of 27 reu de Fleurus and then he lived but to get there and a great many did get there. They were always there, all sizes and shapes, all degrees of wealth and poverty, some very charming, some simply rough and every now and then a very beautiful young peasant. Then there were quantities of germans, not too popular because they tended always to want to see anything that was put away and they tended to break things and Gertrude Stein has a weakness for breakable objects, she has a horror of people who collect only the unbreakable. Then there was a fair sprinkling of americans, Mildred Aldrich would bring a group or Sayen, the electrician, or some painter and occasionally an architectural student would accidentally get there and then there were the habitués, among them Miss Mars and Miss Squires whom Gertrude Stein afterwards immortalised in her story of Miss Furr and Miss Skeene. On that first night Miss Mars and I talked of a subject then entirely new, how to make up your face. She was interested in types, she knew that there were femme décorative, femme d'intérieur and femme intrigante; there was no doubt that Fernande Picasso was a femme décorative, but what was Madame Matisse, femme d'intérieur, I said, and she was very pleased. From time to time one heard the high spanish whinnying laugh of Picasso the gay contralto of Gertrude Stein, people came and went, in and out. Miss Stein told me to sit with Fernande. Fernande was always beautiful but heavy in hand. I sat, it was my first sitting with a wife of a genius.

--Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

Monday, April 29

North American Journeys, 3

Dezi drove her to his apartment on Northside Drive. He drove a tan Celica, and the whole ride he talked on a cellular phone in the deep voice of a midnight deejay. He mostly talked about some ball game, but sometimes he would just say, "Yeah," in a way that seemed shorthand for things he didn't want her to hear.

The staid stores of Virginia Avenue gave way to grillwork-caged liquor stores with names like Max's or The Place, and more to the point, Liquor Here. Some businesses gave no indication as to what they might be selling, their signposts were signless, their neon neonless.

The only spots of color were the billboards and the prostitutes. The billboards all advertised Kools or Newports, and against the green backdrops, beautiful black people wore toy-colored clothes. They were shown sledding, or skiing, or some other activity involving snow, all of them somehow managing to hold on to their cigarettes.

--ZZ Packer, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere

Saturday, April 27

North American Journeys, 2

They among Englishmen who best love and most admire the United States, have felt themselves tempted to use the strongest language in denouncing the sins of Americans.
Who can but love their personal generosity, their active hatred of ignorance, the general convictions in the minds of all of them that a man should be enabled to walk upright, fearing no one and conscious that he is responsible for his own actions? In what country have grander efforts been made by private munificence to relieve the sufferings of humanity? Where can the English traveller find any more anxious to assist him than the normal American, when once the American shall have found the Englishman to be neither sullen nor fastidious? Who, lastly, is so much an object of heart-felt admiration of the American man and the American woman as the well-mannered Englishwoman or Englishman? These are  the ideas which I say spring uppermost in the minds of the unprejudiced English traveller as he makes acquaintance with these near relatives. Then he becomes cognisant of their official doings, of their politics, of their municipal scandals, of their great ring-robberies, of their lobbyings and briberies, and the infinite baseness of their public life. There at the top of everything he finds the very men who are the least fit to occupy high places. American public dishonesty is so glaring that the very friends he has made in the country are not slow to acknowledge it--speaking of public life as a thing apart from their own existence, as a state of dirt in which it would be an insult to suppose that they were concerned! In the midst of it all the stranger, who sees so much that he hates and so much that he loves, hardly knows how to express himself.
     "It is not enough that you are personally clean," he says, with what energy and courage he can command,--"not enough though the clean outnumber the foul as greatly as those gifted with sight outnumber the blind, if you that can see allow the blind to lead you. It is not by the private lives of the millions that the outside world will judge you, but by the public career of those units whose venality is allowed to debase the name of your country. There never was plainer proof given than is given here, that it is the duty of every honest citizen to look after the honour of his State."

--Anthony Trollope, An Autobiography (1883)

Tuesday, April 23

13 Sentences by John Cage

John Cage's "On Robert Rauschenberg, Artist, and His Work" includes, in no particular order, the following sentences:

1.   A canvas is never empty.

2.   The icicles all go down.
3.   Would we have preferred a pig with an apple in its mouth?
4.   He is like that butcher whose knife never became dull simply because he cut with it in such a way that it never encountered an obstacle.
5.   Shortly the stranger leaves, leaving the door open.
6.   Setting out one day for a birthday party, I noticed the streets were full of presents.
7.   Does his head have a bed in it?
8.   He is not saying; he is painting.
9.   I know he put the paint on the tires.
10. Ideas are not necessary.
11. As the lady said, "Well, if it isn't art, then I like it."
12. What do images do?
13. I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I am doing. 

Thursday, April 4

North American Journeys, 1

One summer day, Merce Cunningham and I took eight children to Bear Mountain Park. The paths through the zoo were crowded. Some of the children ran ahead, while others fell behind. Every now and then we stopped, gathered all the children together, and counted them to make sure none had been lost. Since it was very hot and the children were getting difficult, we decided to buy them ice cream cones. This was done in shifts. While I stayed with some, Merce Cunningham took others, got them cones, and brought them back. I took the ones with cones. He took those without. Eventually all the children were supplied with ice cream. However, they got it all over their faces. So we went to a water fountain where people were lined up to get a drink, put the children in line, tried to keep them there, and waited our turn. Finally, I knelt beside the fountain. Merce Cunningham turned it on. Then I proceeded one by one to wash the children's faces. While I was doing this, a man behind us in line said rather loudly, "There's a washroom over there." I looked up at him quickly and said, "Where? And how did you know I was interested in mushrooms?"

--John Cage, Silence

Monday, March 18

Jack Spicer

Sporting Life

The trouble with comparing a poet with a radio is that radios don't
          develop scar tissue. The tubes burn out, or with a transistor, which
          most souls are, the battery or diagram burns out replaceable or
          not replaceable, but not like that punchdrunk fighter in the bar.
          The poet
Takes too many messages. The right to the ear that floored him in
          New Jersey. The right to say that he stood six rounds with a 
Then they sell beer or go on sporting commissions, or, if the scar
          tissue is too heavy, demonstrate in a bar where the invisible
          champions might not have hit him. Too many of them.
The poet is a radio. The poet is a liar. The poet is a counterpunching
And those messages (God would not damn them) do not even know
          they are champions.