patti smith young & free in new york city, 1967

I grew more desperate to find a job and started a second-level search in boutiques and department stores. I was quick to comprehend I wasn’t dressed right for this line of work. Even Capezio’s, a store for classic dance attire, wouldn’t take me, though I had cultivated a good beatnik ballet look. I canvassed Sixtieth and Lexington and as a last resort left an application at Alexander’s, knowing I would never really work there. Then I began to walk downtown, absorbed in my own condition.

It was Friday, July 21, and unexpectedly I collided with the sorrow of an age. John Coltrane, the man who gave us A Love Supreme, had died. Scores of people were gathering across from St. Peter’s Church to say goodbye. Hours passed. People were sobbing as the love cry of Albert Ayler spirited the atmosphere. It was if a saint had died, one who had offered up healing music yet was not permitted to heal himself. Along with many strangers, I experienced a deep sense of loss for a man I had not known save through his music.

Later I walked down Second Avenue, Frank O’Hara territory. Pink light washed over rows of boarded buildings. New York light, the light of the abstract expressionists. I thought Frank would have loved the color of the fading day. Had he lived, he might have written an elegy for John Coltrane like he did for Billie Holiday.

I spent the evening checking out the action on St. Mark’s Place. Long-haired boys scatting around in striped bell-bottoms and used military jackets flanked with girls wrapped in tie-dye. There were flyers papering the streets announcing the coming of Paul Butterfield and Country Joe and the Fish. “White Rabbit” was blaring from the open doors of the Electric Circus. The air was heavy with unstable chemicals, mold, and the earthy stench of hashish. The fat of candles burned, great tears of wax spilling onto the sidewalk.

I can’t say I fit in, but I felt safe. No one noticed me. I could move freely. There was a roving community of young people, sleeping in the parks, in makeshift tents, the new immigrants invading the East Village. I wasn’t kin to these people, but because of the free-floating atmosphere, I could roam within it. I had faith. I sensed no danger in the city, and I never encountered any. I had nothing to offer a thief and didn’t fear men on the prowl. I wasn’t of interest to anyone, and that worked in my favor for the first few weeks of July when I bummed around, free to explore by day, sleeping where I could at night. I sought door wells, subway cars, even a graveyard. Startled to awake beneath the city sky or being shaken by a strange hand. Time to move along. Time to move along.

When it got really rough, I would go back to Pratt, occasionally bumping into someone I knew who would let me shower and sleep a night. Or else I would sleep in the hall near a familiar door. That wasn’t much fun, but I had my mantra, “I’m free, I’m free.” Although after several days, my other mantra, “I’m hungry, I’m hungry,” seemed to be in the forefront. I wasn’t worried, though. I just needed a break and I wasn’t going to give up. I dragged my plaid suitcase from stoop to stoop, trying not to wear out my unwelcome.

It was the summer Coltrane died. The summer of “Crystal Ship.” Flower children raised their empty arms and China exploded the H-bomb. Jimi Hendrix set his guitar in flames in Monterey. AM radio played “Ode to Billie Joe.” There were riots in Newark, Milwaukee, and Detroit. It was the summer of Elvira Madigan, the summer of love. And in this shifting, inhospitable atmosphere, a chance encounter changed the course of my life.

It was the summer I met Robert Mapplethorpe.

- from Patti Smith, Just Kids (2010)

cortázar’s language of love: rearticulating sex as semantic & phonetic action

Here’s Beatriz Sarlo on Cortázar’s Hopsotch, in Franco Moretti’s massive and mandarin The Novel, Volume Two: Forms and Themes: “The romantic encounters . . . create a poetic environment that is achieved through a linguistic representation of the erotic. How does sexuality fit into phonetic and semantic material? Cortázar gives an experimental reply to this question. The erotic language of Hopscotch de- and re-articulates fragments of words, moving syllables and inventing new words with sounds that evoke sexual contact; the marks of sex on the body; and the humors, orifices, and material noises of the physical encounter . . .  This language of love strengthens the exceptional, extraordinary nature of true passion, something that the novel states repeatedly, attributing to eroticism a potential for knowledge. There is no doubt that Cortázar, a meticulous reader of Bataille, belongs to a tradition that groups sexual climax together with the religious and death . . .”

 

 

As soon as he began to amalate the noeme, the clemise began to smother her and they fell into hydromuries, into savage ambonies, into exasperating sustales. Each time that he tried to relamate the hairincops, he became entangled in a whining grimate and had to face up to envulsioning the novalisk, feeling how little by little the arnees would spejune, were becoming peltronated, redoblated, until they were stretched out like the ergomanine trimalciate which drops a few filures of cariaconce. And it was still only the beginning, because right away she tordled her hurgales, allowing him gently to bring up his orfelunes. No sooner had they cofeathered than something like a ulucord encrestored them, extrajuxted them, and paramoved them, suddenly it was the clinon, the sterfurous convulcant of matericks, the slobberdigging raimouth of the orgumion. (chap. 68)

—Julio Cortázar, Hopscotch, trans. Gregory Rabassa (New York: Pantheon Books, 1966)

wittgenstein: the words of the poets pierce through our lives

§155   A poet’s words can pierce us. And that is of course causally connected with the use that they have in our life. And it is also connected with the way in which, conformably to this use, we let our thoughts roam up and down in the familiar surroundings of the words.

—Ludwig Wittgenstein, Zettel


“for how can I go so far as to try to use language to get between pain and expression?”

Wittgenstein‘s ‘private language’ argument

§ 244. How do words refer to sensations? — there doesn’t seem to be any problem here; don’t we talk about sensations every day, and give them names? But how is the connection between the name and the sensation set up? This question is the same as: how does a human being learn the names of sensations? — of the word pain, for example. Words are connected with the primitive, the natural, expressions of the sensation and used in their place. A child has hurt himself and he cries; and then adults talk to him and teach him exclamations, and, later, sentences. They teach the child new pain-behaviour. “So you are saying that the word ‘pain’ really means crying?” — On the contrary: the verbal expression of pain replaces crying and does not describe it.

§ 245. For how can I go so far as to try to use language to get between pain and expression?

§ 246. In what sense are my sensations private? — Well, only I can know whether I am really in pain; another person can only surmise it. In one way this is wrong, and in another nonsense. If we are using the word ‘to know’ as it is normally used, (and how else are we to use it?), then other people very often know when I am in pain. — Yes, but all the same, not with the same certainty with which I know it myself! It can’t be said of me at all, except perhaps as a joke, that I know I am in pain. What is it supposed to mean, except perhaps that I am in pain? Other people cannot be said to learn of my sensations only from my behaviour, for I cannot be said to learn of them. I have them. The truth is, that it makes sense to say of other people that they doubt whether I am in pain; but not to say it about myself.

—Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations

 



“when we learn to tolerate boredom, we find out who we really are.”

exciting times at the boredom institute!

a nice painting called “ennui” by jack the ripper suspect w. sickert

Boredom Enthusiasts Discover the Pleasures of Understimulation

Envoy of Ennui Calls a Meeting; An Energy Bar for Everybody

By Gautam Naik

LONDON—”Brace yourself for five piping-hot minutes of inertia,” said William Barrett. Then he began reciting the names of every single one of 415 colors listed in a paint catalog: damson dream, dauphin, dayroom yellow, dead salmon…and on and on and on.

Mr. Barrett’s talk was titled, “Like Listening to Paint Dry,” and to judge from the droopy faces in the audience, it was a hit. He was speaking, after all, at a conference of boredom enthusiasts called Boring 2010, held here Dec. 11.

For seven hours on that Saturday, 20 speakers held forth on a range of seemingly dreary diversions, from “The Intangible Beauty of Car Park Roofs” and “Personal Reflections on the English Breakfast,” to “The Draw in Test Match Cricket” and “My Relationship With Bus Routes.” Meanwhile, some of the 200 audience members—each of whom had paid £15 (about $24) for a ticket—tried not to nod off.

Not many did, surprisingly. “It is quintessentially English to look at something dull as ditchwater and find it interesting,” said Hamish Thompson, who runs a public-relations firm and was in the audience.

Boring 2010 is the handiwork of James Ward, 29 years old, who works for a DVD distribution and production company. In his other life, as the envoy of ennui, Mr. Ward edits a blog called “I Like Boring Things.” He is also co-founder of the Stationery Club, whose 45 members meet occasionally to discuss pens, paper clips and Post-it Notes.

For another of his projects, Mr. Ward over the past 18 months has visited 160 London convenience stores and made careful notes about a popular chocolate bar called Twirl, including the product’s availability, price and storage conditions. He publishes the details online.

Boredom has become a serious subject for scientific inquiry. For example, a 25-year study of British civil servants published earlier this year found that some people really can be bored to death: People who complain about “high levels” of boredom in their lives are at double the risk of dying from a stroke or heart disease, the study concluded.

The “Boring Institute,” in South Orange, N.J., started as a spoof. Its website says it now plays a more serious role describing “the dangers that are associated with too much boredom and offers advice on how to avoid it.”

Tell that to the Marines. It’s a well-known fact that soldiers who experience war trauma in the field are at higher risk of displaying antisocial behavior, such as getting into fights or neglecting their families, once they return home.

But a survey of more than 1,500 U.S. Marines, published in September in the journal Aggressive Behavior, suggests that being bored may be a bigger risk factor for such behavior than war trauma is.

Boring 2010 sprang to life when Mr. Ward heard that an event called the Interesting Conference had been canceled, and he sent out a joke tweet about the need to have a Boring Conference instead. He was taken aback when dozens of people responded enthusiastically.

Soon, he was hatching plans for the first-ever meet-up of the like-mindedly mundane. The first 50 tickets for Boring 2010 sold in seven minutes.

“I guess the joke is on me,” said the laid-back Mr. Ward. “I’ve created this trap and there’s no way out.”

Proceedings at the sell-out event were kicked off by Mr. Ward himself, who discussed his tie collection at great length, accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation.

He noted that as of June 2010, he owned 55 ties, and 45.5% of them were of a single color. By December, his tie collection had jumped by 36%, although the share of single-color ties fell by 1.5%.

“Ties are getting slightly more colorful,” he noted. Also, apparently, his taste was improving. By December, only 64% of his ties were polyester, down from 73% in June.

Even less stirring was a milk tasting. Ed Ross, an actor, swirled, sniffed and sipped five different milks in wine glasses, commenting on each one’s flavor, finish and ideal “food pairing.” (Cereals got mentioned a lot.)

The eagerly awaited talk was about writer Peter Fletcher’s meticulous three-year—and still running—sneeze count. With the help of graphs and charts, Mr. Fletcher disclosed that he had sneezed 2,267 times in the past 1,249 days, thus gaining “a profound understanding of the passing of time.”

I’ve even sneezed when recording a sneeze,” he said.

Karen Christopher of Chicago, who now lives in London, found at least one presentation so wearisome that she stopped paying attention. “I started thinking about Swedish police procedurals instead,” she said.

The organizers did their best to keep the audience alert. Many viewers brought coffee, and each received a goodie bag containing an energy bar.

After a much-needed break, a drawing was held. Some of the winners got a DVD called “Helvetica,” a 2007 documentary about typography.

To mix things up, Mr. Ward and his colleagues set up a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle depicting British cereal boxes from the 1970s. Each attendee got a few pieces of the puzzle and was asked to help complete it.

For all its archness, the conference occasionally veered from the ridiculous to the philosophical.

Journalist and author Naomi Alderman spoke about the difficulty of having to observe the Jewish Sabbath as a child. Her talk, “What It’s Like to Do Almost Nothing Interesting for 25 Hours a Week,” ended on an unexpected, touching note. “When we learn to tolerate boredom,” she said, “we find out who we really are.”


Read the rest of this article (Dec. 28, 2010) & watch related video
at The Wall Street Journal.


Visit the Boring Institute’s
blog.

from Thomas Bernhard’s Frost (Knopf, 2006)

“The landlady is disgusting to me. It’s the same disgust I felt when I was a child and had to vomit outside the open doors of the slaughterhouse. If she were dead I would, today, feel no disgust—dead bodies on the dissecting table never remind me of live bodies—but she’s alive, and living in a moldy ancient reek of inn kitchens.”

First published in German in 1963, and translated a few years ago by the fine poet Michael Hofmann, Frost may be the bleakest of all of Bernhard’s works, which is of course really saying something.

The unnamed narrator, a young medical student, is assigned by his boss to observe the boss’ brother, the eccentric painter Strauch. The painter abandoned Vienna for the dismal alpine village of Weng, with its “climate that engenders embolisms” and depraved local populace. The narrator’s first order of business is to take a room at the local inn, where the foul landlady trades sex for dog meat (her husband is away, imprisoned for killing a guest).

Strauch, it turns out, no longer paints, preferring to read Pascal, which perhaps accounts for his talent at producing gnomic and often depressing utterances, such as “People always say: the mountain reaches up into heaven. They never say: the mountain reaches down into hell.”

Not surprisingly, the narrator quickly becomes unhinged . . .

First Day

A medical internship consists of more than spectating at complicated bowel operations, cutting open stomach linings, bracketing off lungs, and sawing off feet; and it doesn’t just consist of thumbing closed the eyes of the dead, and hauling babies out into the world either. An internship is not just tossing limbs and parts of limbs over your shoulder into an enamel bucket. Nor does it just consist of trotting along behind the registrar and the assistant and the assistant’s assistant, a sort of tail-end Charlie. Nor can an internship be only the putting out of false information; it isn’t just saying: “The pus will dissolve in your bloodstream, and you’ll soon be restored to perfect health.” Or a hundred other such lies. Not just: “It’ll get better”—when nothing will. An internship isn’t just an academy of scissors and thread, of tying off and pulling through. An internship extends to circumstances and possibilities that have nothing to do with the flesh. My mission to observe the painter Strauch compels me to think about precisely such non-flesh-related circumstances and issues. The exploration of something unfathomably mysterious. The making of sometimes very far-reaching discoveries. The way you might investigate a conspiracy, say. And it is perfectly possible that the non-flesh-related, by which I don’t mean the soul—that what is non-flesh-related, without being the soul, of which I can’t say for certain whether it exists, though I must say I assume it does, that this thousand-year-old working assumption is a thousand-year-old truth—but it is perfectly possible that the non-flesh-related, which is to say, the non-cell-based, is the thing from which everything takes its being, and not the other way round, nor yet some sort of interdependence. Continue reading

a warning to death-haunted women


“Mother Goose”
by Stan Rice

If you are death haunted
never drink beer, my
dear, or you might drown
in your unshed tears.
I take my tone
from Mother Goose,
who was a sot, and look
what it got her: shoes
full of children, talking
foxes, crooked men,
fornicating spoons and dishes,
most of chaos, compulsively
rhyming. Everything
had so much meaning
naturally she was death-haunted.
all she wanted was to
stop dreaming, but that being
an empty wish, she kept on drinking.
At least it made her woes delicious.
When the beer cans reached her ceiling
They started bleeding, of course.
more chaos, more meaning.
she was as fecund as fear
and beer was her semen. So
if you are death-haunted too,
don’t drink beer, dear, or like
Mother Goose you might forget
How to cry out ” Enough!”, go berserk,
sleep with your sons as soon as they’re born
And slip down and break your hip in the afterbirth.

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