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elegant variation

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negative wingspan
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tony tost's america

Via Negativa

whiskey river
with hidden noise
Witold Riedel
Wittgenstein Jr
August 27, 2015

Man Ray
b. August 27, 1890


Carina del Valle Schorske

Melancholy is a word that has fallen out of favor for describing the condition we now call depression. The fact that our language has changed, without the earlier word disappearing completely, indicates that we are still able to make use of both. Like most synonyms, melancholy and depression are not in fact synonymous, but slips of the tongue in a language we’re still learning. We keep trying to specify our experience of mental suffering, but all our new words constellate instead of consolidate meaning. In the essay collection Under the Sign of Saturn, Susan Sontag writes about her intellectual heroes, who all suffer solitude, ill temper, existential distress and creative block. They all breathe black air. According to her diagnostic model, they are all “melancholics.” Sontag doesn’t use the word depression in the company of her role models, but elsewhere she draws what seems like an easy distinction: “Depression is melancholy minus its charms.” But what are the charms of melancholy?

The Point Issue 10


Man Ray


Found in translation: giving voice to those who wrote ‘Hebrew Bible’
Eavan Boland

In the years after the second World War, a generic literary figure emerged. This was the translator. Travel and the aftermath of war had combined to turn a bright light on the necessity for cultural exchange. Texts previously shut away in foreign languages now became available. In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s a visible industry emerged. Through small presses and new publications essential writers – Eugenio Montale, Anna Akhmatova, Anna Swir, Christa Wolf and many others – were conveyed to new audiences. “Translators are the shadow heroes of literature,” wrote Paul Auster. And so it appeared.

And then a strange thing happened. As the conversation about new voices in different languages grew louder the conversation about the translator fell into confusion. What was the exact definition of the role? Were translators simply vendors and sifters of words? Mediators between cultures? Something more? Something less? The questions appeared to hang in the air and then vanish. With the result that an essential figure slipped into the shadows even though what George Steiner said remained true: “Without translation, we would be living in provinces bordering on silence.”

These issues and omissions are brought into focus by this book, Strong as Death is Love, Robert Alter’s latest volume of biblical translation. They are also part of what makes him such a remarkable figure.
via the page


Dust Breeding
Man Ray


Green Nihilism or Cosmic Pessimism
Alejandro de Acosta


This customary speed, which we share with many with whom we share little else, is what necessitates the yes-or-no operation. Whatever the response is, it has to happen quickly. (We are the best of Young-Girls when it comes to the commodities we ourselves produce.) To do something else than mechanically phagocyte Desert (or anything else worth reading) and absorb it or excrete it back out onto the bookshelf/literature table/shitpile, some of us will need to take up a far less practical, far less pragmatic attitude towards the best of what circulates in our little space of reading. In short, it is to intervene in the smooth functioning of the anarchist-identity machine, our own homegrown apparatus, which reproduces the milieu, ingesting unmarked ideas, expelling anarchist ideas. Of course all those online rants, our many little zines, our few books—the ones we write and make, and the ones that we adopt now and then—are only part of this set-up, which also includes living arrangements, political practices, anti-political projects, and so on. All together, from a few crowded metropoles to the archipelago of outward- or inward-looking towns, that array could be called the machine that makes anarchist identity, one of those awful hybrids of anachronism and ultramodernity that clutter our times. But, trivial though the role of Desert may be in the reproduction of the milieu, its small role in that reproduction is especially remarkable given that it directly addresses the limits of that reproduction, and, indirectly, of the milieu itself. Its reception is a kind of diagnostic test, a demonstration of our special obtuseness. If I am right about even some of the preceding, then the increasingly speculative nature of what follows ought to prove interesting to a few, and repulsive to the rest.


... if our rejection of society and state is as complete as we like to say it is, our project is not to create alternative micro-societies (scenes, milieus) that people can belong to, but something along the lines of becoming monsters. It is probable that anarchy has always had something to do with becoming monstrous. The monster, writes Thacker in another of his books, is unlawful life, or what cannot be controlled. It seems to me the only way to do this, as opposed to saying one is doing it and being satisfied with that, would be to unflinchingly contemplate the thing we are without trying to be, the thing we can never try to be or claim we are: the nameless thing, or unthinkable life. Which is also the solitary thing, or the lonely one. The egoist or individualist positions are like dull echoes of the inexpressible sentiment that I might be that nameless thing, translated into a common parlance for the benefit of a (resistant, yes) relation to the social mass. That the cosmos is not our natural home is a thought outside the ways in which we might survive here. To say we survive instead of living is in part to say that we have no idea what living is or ought to be (that there is probably no ought-to about living). But also that we resist any ideal of life, including our own. Becoming monstrous is therefore the goal of dismantling the milieu as anarchist identity machine. Being witness to the nameless thing, to the unthinkable life or Planet or Cosmos, is not a goal. It is not a criterion of anything, either. It is more like a state, a mystical, poetic state (though in this state I am the poem). It is the climatological mysticism Thacker describes and Desert hints at for an anarchist audience, both deriving in their own way from the weird insight that the Planet is indifferent to us. So read Desert again as an allegory of the self-destruction of the milieu, of any community that, as it runs from its norms, places new, unstated norms ahead of itself. Such is the slippage from green nihilism to cosmic pessimism, which gives us occasion to continue speaking of chaos. Well, one might say that I have merely imported some alien theory into an otherwise familiar (if not easy) discussion. Of course I have. My aim, however, was not to apply it, but to show in what sense one play that is often acted out in our spaces may be anti-politically theorized, which is to say cosmically psychoanalyzed. Our place is not to apply the theory of cosmic pessimism (or any other theory; that is not what theory is, or is for); our place is to think, to continue speaking of chaos, not being stupid enough to think we can take its side. There are no sides. We might come to realize that we, too, in our attempts to gather, organize, act, change life, and so on, were playing in the world, ignorant of the Planet, its unimaginable weirdness.



How Forests Think:
toward an anthropology beyond the human
Eduardo Kohn

from the Introduction [pdf]


Footing for the unsteady, a guide for the blind, a cane mediates between a fragile mortal self and the world that spans beyond. In doing so it represents something of that world, in some way or another, to that self. Insofar as they serve to represent something of the world to someone, many entities exist that can function as canes for many kinds of selves. Not all these entities are artifacts. Nor are all these kinds of selves human. In fact, along with fi nitude, what we share with jaguars and other living selves—whether bacterial, fl oral, fungal, or animal—is the fact that how we represent the world around us is in some way or another constitutive of our being.

A cane also prompts us to ask with Gregory Bateson, “where” exactly, along its sturdy length, “do I start?” (Bateson 2000a: 465). And in thus highlighting representation’s contradictory nature—Self or world? Th ing or thought? Human or not?—it indicates how pondering the Sphinx’s question might help us arrive at a more capacious understanding of Oedipus’s answer. Th is book is an attempt to ponder the Sphinx’s riddle by attending ethnographically to a series of Amazonian other-than-human encounters. Attending to our relations with those beings that exist in some way beyond the human forces us to question our tidy answers about the human. Th e goal here is neither to do away with the human nor to reinscribe it but to open it. In rethinking the human we must also rethink the kind of anthropology that would be adequate to this task.


via synthetic zero


Man Ray


Horror of Philosophy
Eugene Thacker

In a world which is indeed our world, the one we know, a world without devils, sylphides, or vampires, there occurs an event which cannot be explained by the laws of this same familiar world. The person who experiences the event must opt for one of two possible solutions: either he is the victim of an illusion of the senses, of a product of the imagination – and laws of the world then remain what they are; or else the event has indeed taken place, it is an integral part of reality – but then this reality is controlled by laws unknown to us.

  - Tzvetan Todorov
While Todorov is primarily concerned with analyzing the fantastic as a literary genre, we should also note the philosophical questions that the fantastic raises: the presumption of a consensual reality in which a set of natural laws govern the working of the world, the question of the reliability of the senses, the unstable relationships between the faculties of the imagination and reason, and the discrepancy between our everyday understanding of the world and the often obscure and counterintuitive descriptions provided by philosophy and the sciences. The fork in the road is not simply between something existing or not existing, it is a wavering between two types of radical uncertainty: either demons do not exist, but then my own senses are unreliable, or demons do exist, but then the world is not as I thought it was. With the fantastic – as with the horror genre itself – one is caught between two abysses, neither of which are comforting or particularly reassuring. Either I do not know the world, or I do not know myself.

August 25, 2015

Brume apres la Pluie
Gustave Marissiuax

via Arsvitaest




Truancy. Second innocence. We will regain our innocence. We will forget language. We will un-name the world. We will wander the world in its sacred anonymity. Soon, we’ll know nothing at all.

Truancy. We wander the woods under the white sun. The air is pure. Everything, gathered to the brink. The whole Creation, as a gift to God, glorious before god. And we are as atoms of God. We are particles of the whole – the divine whole. The Vessel has not been shattered. Beauty is everywhere. Goodness is everywhere.

Truancy. Wandering without map. This is the true path, the errant path, the path that wanders through everything, and is the wandering of everything.

Truancy. God walked the world into existence, we’re sure of it. God walked, and the world was born as he walked. And we, walking, will recreate the world. We, as walkers, will re-enact the Creation.

Nietzsche And The Burbs


Wislawa Szymborska
translated by Clare Cavanagh


A few trees stand for ancient forests,
you couldn’t lose your way among them.
In the east and west,
above and below the equator --
quiet like pins dropping,
and in every black pinprick
people keep on living.
Mass graves and sudden ruins
are out of the picture.

Nations’ borders are barely visible
as if they wavered -- to be or not.

I like maps, because they lie.
Because they give no access to the vicious truth.
Because great-heartedly, good-naturedly
they spread before me a world
not of this world.


Eugène Trutat


Nick Admussen Translating Ya Shi
Anti-Birthday Poem


Of course, what I am saying, it is a kind of memory.
If you are a nurse, please cross it out with a red pen.
(the subject awakens; being collapses like an edifice of sand) Today, an early morning dripping with cicada song,
my old mother calls, says it's my lunar calendar
birthday, she will celebrate me with steamed pork.
But the isolated god sinks too deeply into his stage drama,
aloneness can be more than the last act...
Even at a play, it's no good to laugh too loud.
Pah, what I mean is: a simpler sentence
has complexity that you cannot control.
When it pierces the vein, will our vanity get crossed out too?

Drunken Boat 22

Three Poems by Ya Shi
translated from the Chinese by Nick Admussen

Cha: An Asian Literary Journal

Nick Admussen on translation


NA: With these poems, I drafted the whole series as well as I was able, accumulating a long list of questions from the detailed to the general. Then I went to Sichuan in 2014 and sat down with Ya Shi for a few hours to drink tea and ask all my questions, and the answers shaped the final set of revisions. Meetings like this—this was the third one I’ve done translating Ya Shi poems—are incredibly high pressure for me, even though he’s more than patient with my errors; I’m not just listening for the answers to my questions, but the way in which his responses to my questions indicate whether I’m traveling in the right direction, and have a basic grip on the spirit of the poem. The worst answer an author can give to a translation question is always “why do you care about that?”—to me, such a response means “you do not yet understand this piece. Start again.”

In general I think my translation process requires me to come to a really clear and concrete conclusion about what I’m giving up by putting a poem into English. With Ya Shi, the number one thing that gets lost is his genius for the intercultural. The best example is that when he reads aloud, he chooses to read in rich, musical Sichuan dialect, which is separate from (and superior to, I think) the “standard” dialect that you hear on TV in the PRC. So poems like these have three layers: an inventive adaptation and translation into Chinese of the Italian sonnet form, written in modern Mandarin Chinese, and pronounced in a centuries-old local language. I’m never going to get that same layering effect, that fusion, in an English version, but I need to know it’s there, so that my sensation of its absence can influence the decisions I do get to make.


Eugène Trutat


The Chimera Principle
An Anthropology of Memory and Imagination
Carlo Severi
Translated by Janet Lloyd
Foreword by David Graeber

Available in English for the first time, anthropologist Carlo Severi’s The Chimera Principle breaks new theoretical ground for the study of ritual, iconographic technologies, and oral traditions among non-literate peoples. Setting himself against a tradition that has long seen the memory of people “without writing”—which relies on such ephemeral records as ornaments, body painting, and masks—as fundamentally disordered or doomed to failure, he argues strenuously that ritual actions in these societies pragmatically produce religious meaning and that they demonstrate what he calls a “chimeric” imagination.

Deploying philosophical and ethnographic theory, Severi unfolds new approaches to research in the anthropology of ritual and memory, ultimately building a new theory of imagination and an original anthropology of thought. This English-language edition, beautifully translated by Janet Lloyd and complete with a foreword by David Graeber, will spark widespread debate and be heralded as an instant classic for anthropologists, historians, and philosophers.

via Monoskop Log


Eugène Trutat

August 24, 2015

The Octopus
Graham Sutherland
b. August 24, 1903


Two Poems [pdf]
Anne-Marie Albiach
1937 - 2012
translated by Peter Riley
The line       the loss

the account would be blind
the spasms of the oracle structure
in the working of colours
the margin constrains the circle
the evidence on the ground
in a perfect liquidity
where the language
goes back on its word
the heart in the rhythm of denial
the light rejoins weakness
in the former declaration
the facts of the case withdraw to the horizon
a term found wanting
driving accusation of the air full of gestures
dedicated to the embrace
the subject shrinks
sleep bears them into the clearing
In scarlet draperies
they presided on the theme
of an absence

Delineation of desire
Discourse, relapsed murmuring
the representation:
soundless expanse of vocabulary
space, a morning datum
the cold imprints the contours
the witness gives out the theme
facing discredit
this coolness troubling to the eye
The simulacrum opens the wound
disavowal, bestiary
the partition
where childhood’s alphabet
watched by a stranger
the numerical parallels their connections
it transpires
of the word
a notch
an attentive duplicity
the fall of a body is lacking
genre adjustment
the random displacement
: the objects
flood onto the table at low tide

Bird over Sand
Graham Sutherland


The Weatherproof Cape
Thomas Bernhard
Translation by Douglas Robertson

... as we were climbing the stairs it became clear to me that "you have been seeing this person for two full decades, always the same person, always the same aging individual in the Saggengasse, at around midday in this weatherproof cape, in this quite ordinary but quite definitely worn-out weatherproof cape"; still, as we were climbing the stairs it was not yet clear to me why the weatherproof cape in particular was arousing my attention; suddenly, at close proximity, the weatherproof cape was arousing my undivided attention…but it really is quite an ordinary weatherproof cape, I thought; there are tens of thousands of such weatherproof capes in these mountains, there are tens of thousands of such weatherproof capes; tens of thousands of such weatherproof capes are worn by the Tyrolians…no matter who these people are, no matter what they do, when they come here they wear all these weatherproof capes, some of them gray, some of them green; because they wear all these weatherproof capes, the numerous loden factories in the valleys keep flourishing;
via biblioklept

Pecken Wood
Graham Sutherland


Kant’s Depression
Eugene Thacker


What Kant doesn’t consider is that reason might actually be connected to depression, rather than stand as its opposite. What if depression – reason’s failure to achieve self-mastery – is not the failure of reason but instead the result of reason? What if human reason works “too well,” and brings us to conclusions that are anathema to the existence of human beings? What we would have is a “cold rationalism,” shoring up the anthropocentric conceits of the philosophical endeavor, showing us an anonymous, faceless world impervious to our hopes and desires. And, in spite of Kant’s life-long dedication to philosophy and the Enlightenment project, in several of his writings he allows himself to give voice to this cold rationalism. In his essay on Leibniz’s optimism he questions the rationale of an all-knowing God that is at once beneficent towards humanity but also allows human beings to destroy each other. And in his essay “The End of All Things” Kant not only questions humanity’s dominion over the world, but he also questions our presumption to know that – and if – the world will end at all: “But why do human beings expect an end to the world at all? And if this is conceded to them, why must it be a terrible end?”


Graham Sutherland


March Ample Life
Stephen Rodefer
(November 20, 1940 – August 22, 2015) 

Methought I saw my late live-in theory
    crossing the fireplace like a train
For the Headless Horseman is bald
    in the grave where the hair grows long
And Maud was the androgyne without a club
    on the path to Willy Beach
Dear George, the attitude was glued
    myopic and is a myopic clue
Dear Lesbia, dyslexia lives
    The schizophrenics clap for their sunup
But what is the name of your parrot?
    We’ll call it Carriage for Two
Squeak, dear parrot, sing
    etcetera, a number of songs etc.
Illusory Town where Mad Tom lives
    whose lungs are fucked by God and such
Where signal fires code Aurora
    referring to just another ducking
Lake at the edge of sleep
    the deathless equestrienne sees
Her namesake singing his hunger
    as one spouse signs for another
Sorting out this endless fragment of sky
    the curtain has hung on our roots