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