strange sea creatures

Strange Sea Creatures

Erased from “Strange Sea Creatures,” in Pleasant Ways in Science, by Richard A. Proctor. New York: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1905. Courtesy of Project Gutenberg. [click to enlarge]

so-called fabulous animals
the merman, zoologically possible, of course,
the unicorn, the dragon, the centaur,
the minotaur, the winged horse,
recognized as known forms.

the sea has been misunderstood,
land cannot long escape.
the most powerful and ferocious beasts struggle.
savage man must be killed
and the true appearance of the animal determined.

powerful winged animals remain mysterious,
a mighty bird might swoop down and disappear.
from time to time the strange winged monster
would be seen hovering.

savage races of man, animals now extinct.
power of the winged enemy,
sea creatures monstrous.
we remain ignorant.

hidden beneath the waves
creatures of the deep sea expose themselves,
men counter-attack.
great sea creatures, monsters of the deep
seen only for a few moments,
sinking back into the depths, a mystery.

repetition of the story
the creature, its true nature recognized.
understand then the fabulous creatures,
remarkable, the monsters of the deep sea,
understand the truth.

the demise of i-san

In these uncertain times, the demise of the International Society for the Appreciation of the Nonexistent (I-San) was inevitable. Whenever things begin to get real, as they say, there is always an immediate backlash against the rigorous examination of absent phenomena that I-San engaged in. This is tragic, for if ever there is a need for an intellectual exploration of what’s not here (but still could be) it is in moments when we are faced with extreme reality. For example, think about that empty space above you while you sleep. What if it were actually filled by a grand piano strung up to the ceiling by a length of dental floss. Or a herd of buffalo silently grazing in a green field. Have you ever wondered why it’s not. See, this is why I-San exists, or rather existed until quite recently. I-San took on the hard questions, the ones you’re too busy (or afraid) to entertain.

Now, you may be thinking, yes, but wasn’t I-San a voluntary organization? And if so, why would its committed members suddenly choose to cease and desist their operations, especially now when many feel they’re needed most. Well, it’s a fair question, albeit one not easily answered. First, one must sort out the facts from the conspiracy theories. Of the latter there are many. Some say an undercover agent infiltrated the organization and planted the seeds of self-destruction. Others speak of an elaborate I-San plot to feign public disintegration while retreating to the underground. The truth, as it usually does, lies bloody and mutilated in some forgotten alley. There are no facts to be sorted out. I-San eschewed facts like it eschewed all else real. It did not try to obscure them nor did it deny their existence. Facts simply fell outside its investigative purview.

The good news is that there is something you can do to help. Before I-San officially disbanded it released a brief statement. Despite attempts by the powers-that-be to suppress it, the statement has been disseminated through back channels and, during yesterday’s windstorm, a printed copy of it chanced to blow into my face, resulting in a paper cut that despite its innocuous appearance shed blood for some time afterwards. When I returned home lightheaded from blood loss, I transcribed the statement into electronic form which I now share with you below.

Attention Fellow Citizens: We are living in troubled times. Some say we’ve come face to face with the ultimate reality. (We at I-San hope we’re at least facing only the penultimate reality, so that there might still be one last period of unreality for us to study prior to TEOTWAWKI). But never mind that. The point is that for reasons we are not at liberty to disclose I-San is shutting down its operations effective immediately. The good news is we are transferring our investigative powers into your hands. May the crowdsourcing of investigation into the nonexistent begin! We’re counting on you to make a difference. Leave no empty space unexamined. In the face of so much reality, there can only be one response: turn away and concentrate on what isn’t there. We hope to see you on the other side.

In solidarity,

I-San

‘the source we have forgotten’

The road. When I could drive no more for weariness I huddled in the back of the car and uneasily dreamed for a few hours but I did not do that often, I was in a frenzy that precluded rest. I felt that I was in a great hurry but I did not know I was speeding toward the very enigma I had left behind–the dark room, the mirror, the woman. I did not know this destination exercised a magnetic attraction on me. I did not know I could not stop.

In the mornings, the ground was white with hoar frost for it was now late October and a crimson sun rose over plains that rolled as far as the pale hem of the sky. There were no trees. The radio in the car fed me an aural pabulum of cheapjack heartbreak; this nasal country music was interspersed with voices that sang the praises of innumerable articles of consumption and sputtered out frequent news bulletins. The Harlem Wall grew longer, taller, thicker; the National Guard was on permanent call. Riots, incendiarism. I could not have picked a worse time for my trip. Only fatality could have possessed me to go high-tailing off in such troubled times, fatality and the unknowable impulsion of the destination ahead of me, a destination of which I was entirely ignorant although it had chosen me long ago for our destinations choose us, choose us before we are born.

And exercise a magnetic attraction upon us, drawing us inexorably toward the source we have forgotten. Descend lower, descend the diminishing spirals of being that restore us to our source. Descend lower; while the world, in time, goes forward and so presents us with the illusion of motion, though all our lives we move through curvilinear galleries of the brain towards the core of the labyrinth within us.

—Angela Carter, The Passion of New Eve

‘to reduce the fever of feeling’

Outside the wind howls. Inside a trio of snowmen converse in the vicinity of a conference of paper birds. Last night the ‘artsy’ neighbors continued their grand tradition of slamming doors and other unidentifiable objects against floors and walls for several hours between approximately midnight and the archetypal 3 AM hour. Result: current state of apathetic grogginess. Desire for absence of shared walls swells with each passing night of lost sleep.

Days less measureless than before. Crystalline structure of incipient routines inches out beyond the borders of a now worn and tarnished impersonation of L.B. in Rear Window. Except there never was anything even vaguely menacing to observe, only a sea of moment-waves rocking gently against the fragile hull of this origami sailboat.

Return to Pessoa’s words: no novelty in the universal, no comprehensibility in the individual. The old ruse of intentional obfuscation falls flat. But still the urge to fit words together roils inside. Maybe to do it, like Pessoa says, ‘to reduce the fever of feeling.’ Yet if all is unimportant (which it is), why bother describing any version of it. Unless perhaps to merely locate and handle the words themselves. To dive to the bottom, seeking words buried deep in a consciousness whose mirrored surface rests fathoms above undisturbed layers of sediment. Yes, perhaps it is for that reason: to extract anything worth contemplating from the granular level, to slip some small truth from the interstices and examine it from all sides, even if only to then return it unseen.

Pessoa hits the nail on the head

“What is there to confess that’s worthwhile or useful? What has happened to us has happened to everyone or only to us; if to everyone, then it’s no novelty, and if only to us, then it won’t be understood. If I write what I feel it’s to reduce the fever of feeling. What I confess […]

via ”I make landscapes out of what I feel.” — Time’s Flow Stemmed

doonaldjtrump.com

Click the face.

Click the face.

(Thanks, rjohn)

1946 short film on despotism

 

Sources: Public Domain Review and Internet Archive

(‘It is happening again…‘)

a feeling for all living things

It is odd that we have so little relationship with nature, with the insects and the leaping frog, and the owl that hoots among the hills calling for its mate. We never seem to have a feeling for all living things on the earth. If we could establish a deep, abiding relationship with nature, we would never kill an animal for our appetite, we would never harm, vivisect, a monkey, a dog, a guinea pig for our benefit. We would find other ways to heal our wounds, heal our bodies. But the healing of the mind is something totally different. That healing gradually takes place if you are with nature, with that orange on the tree, and the blade of grass that pushes through the cement, and the hills covered, hidden, by the clouds.

Jiddu Krishnamurti, Krishnamurti to Himself, p 10

hooded merganser

Male Hooded Merganser at Quarry Lake, Pikesville, MD © 2016 S. D. Stewart

Male Hooded Merganser at Quarry Lake, Pikesville, MD © 2016 S. D. Stewart

2016: my reading crisis year

This year I suffered a crisis of faith in reading fiction. It began early this summer and lasted for several months. At its deepest point I thought I might not ever read another novel. Its origins lay in a complex amalgamation of factors, including a long run of uninspiring reads, the completion of the final stages of a three-year writing project, and a profound deepening of my Zen Buddhist practice. The details of how these factors intersected are of a personal nature that I won’t explore here. Ultimately, however, I weathered this crisis and am pleased to report that I returned to fiction this autumn, albeit with a radically altered view of how I approach my reading and what I hope to extract from it. Perhaps I will write more about these changes in the future, but for now here are the highlights from my reading year, most of them from before the crisis hit. Most links are to my Goodreads reviews, but in cases where I didn’t write a review I’ve provided a publisher link when available.

I enjoyed spending more time with the British avant-gardists of the 1960s, including B.S. Johnson (Travelling People), Ann Quin (completing my reading of her slim output with Berg & Three), Alan Burns (Europe After the Rain & Dreamerika!), Rayner Heppenstall (The Greater Infortune / The Connecting Door), and those others included in the excellent anthology Beyond the Words.

The lost American Modernist Margery Latimer captured my attention, although after reading most of her published output, I found that We Are Incredible was the only work of hers to linger long with me.

Robert Coover’s The Origin of the Brunists was an expected winner in the spring. I look forward to moving on to the sequel The Brunist Day of Wrath, of which I’ve already read a tantalizing excerpt in Conjunctions (#60) a couple of years back.

At the end of the summer I confronted my crisis head-on and approached fiction again through the lens of some old favorites, namely Thomas Bernhard and Marguerite Duras. It was a bittersweet experience with Bernhard, as I was closing out his novels with his final opus, Extinction, and I had a mixed reaction, as I discuss in my review. With Duras, I discovered a new favorite of hers in Summer Rain, which regrettably appears to be out of print, though easy enough to find on the used market (or through interlibrary loan).

But it was Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren that truly immersed me in the wonders of fiction again. This one had been on my to-read list for several years, but its length led me to keep putting it off. I knew, though, that the frenetic pace of my reading had contributed to my crisis and I suspected that a long book might force me to slow down and allow proper digestion to take place. My hunch was correct, for Delany’s storytelling, while compelling and highly readable, demanded the downshift in pace that I so desperately needed to make. Review here.

Other favorites from the year:

Kassandra and the Wolf by Margarita Karapanou – defies description.

Tales of Galicia by Andrzej Stasiuk

The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz – one of those books whose word count belies its depth. Plot materializes like a squid undulating in its own inky emissions.

The Quest for Christa T. by Christa Wolf – “The paths we really took are overlaid with paths we did not take. I can now hear words that we never spoke. Now I can see her as she was, Christa T., when no witnesses were present. Could it be possible? –The years that re-ascend are no longer the years they were. Light and shadow fall once more over our field of vision: but the field is ready. Should that not amaze us?” (p. 23)

My reading goal for 2017 is to maintain a more leisurely pace—no more gobbling down prose like a pig at the trough. I want to allow literature to seep into my consciousness and take root instead of finishing with restless haste before moving immediately onto the next book. I see more long books in my future, where there is space to lie down and rest awhile, where the last page doesn’t come too soon, leading me to veer off in yet another direction before first taking stock and reorienting myself.

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