Writing Exercise: Erasure, Interference, Noise, Distraction

Last exercise for my advanced creative non-fiction workshop. We’ve been reading Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Guantánamo Diary – riddled with redaction marks a government that couldn’t find him guilty of a damn thing, yet could not for 14 years see him to be innocent, saw fit to strike his voice through w/.

An ex on the eloquence of silence; on wrenching eloquence out of silencing.


First, to remind you of the assignment for your fourth and final essay, it’s

a text that incorporates erasure, interference, noise, or distraction. You can put a text of your own (it must be written for this course) under erasure like this or like this: ████. You can take another’s text and put it under erasure to elicit new meanings from it. You can do an audio essay and overlay a second track that makes your voice difficult or impossible to hear at key junctures. You can compose a hypertext that instead of offering a linear reading becomes a garden of forking paths. The possibilities are myriad. Crucial though is that your essay draw erasure, distortion, noise, or distraction into its formal body. In this way it becomes a study of how we make meaning at all.

For this exercise, make a first experiment towards that essay. No more than one page – if it’s on paper at all. I can’t imagine all the possibilities for you here. I can only say, I’m looking for language, written or spoken, that gets interfered with somehow, visually or aurally, in a way that sheds light on how we go about making meaning. (The redaction marks in Slahi’s book, included the way they are, do that, yes? How does Slahi insist on what he means, his humanity, when he’s shut up – imprisoned, silenced? He cracks jokes. He answers absurdity with absurdity. He writes, and gets his writing out there, replete with the redaction bars that speak his silencing.)

Learn too from examples posted – Johnson, Phillips, Bervin, Foer, Strickland, Wave Books. Ask yourself too, what’s missing from these examples that I wish were here? What could you add to this assemblage of interferences?

You could go entirely paperly, erase and/or illuminate a text, your own or another’s. If you erase someone else’s text, be sure to credit the source, and sure your work upon it’s transformative. You need not confine yourself to negation; consider illumination, á là Phillips; hands-on cutting or tearing, á là Foer; other ways of turning gap and omission into a sort of presence.

You need not pin yourself to paper either. I’m open to audio essays, hypertext essays, multimedia enterprises. Interference, noise, distraction can take the form – as we said today – of static, crowd noise, a robotic voice intoning “redacted,” many many things. (The MTA’s “mind the gap” comes to mind.) Our roundtables next week will be a chance to think through options.

I’d like to take these in Thursday, but if you are working off the page, and would like till next Tuesday to make that happen, I can give you till then.


I’m curious what they’ll come up with. It’s been a curious class, invented one week, enacted the next. Improvisatory. Creating a world one step ahead of what you see. I don’t mean I am, we are.

On abandonment

 

Been my work to report from the inside of what Winnicott calls “unthinkable anxieties” or “primitive agonies.” Others have said “annihilation terror.” The feeling I’m about to be snuffed out, next instant, makes no sense I’m going on being at all. Whole universe withdrawing from me in the mode of female rejection. Times I’ve wanted to help the process along, step in front of a truck. No, not now, not for a long time – I’m okay. This is a field report not a plea.

All the childs feel them. Belongs to being human, animal part stone part star. Most of us probably have echoes in us, form of nightmares, neuroses, phobias, premonitions. And some us saints been left with ’em more wholesale.

A rupture with my lover (screwy and I hope brief) and another with my mother (my choice and I fear for good) have me in a rough pinch right now. Add an intrusive procedure this AM to look at my bladder by the only route on offer – I fucking wept, not with pain, it hurt bad but was the intrusion got my sorrow on – and I really am in a way this evening.

A life’s work, wow, yeah. Tracing and reporting on it. How I hollow out inside. Or how the whole world, every perceptible instant, birdsong say, recedes from me, becomes alien, taunting, hostile.

Those who got stuck at this juncture with me will know it already. Those who made it through may not remember it. The forgetting is salutary, why should I ask you to remember. I have no good answer to that, right now.

But also, points of exit, relief. This terror, when I’m in it, is my ground – I’m looking to speak my ground. But also to find the ground under my ground and to soar from it.

Well. I’m sitting at Menace Brewing, trying to work on my Old English ms, due sooner than I fear I can manage, but this blog post called. I want to write about Winnicott, kindest of the psychoanalysts, but if I start I won’t stop, and I’m away from my books anyway. His interfusions with the buddhadharma are many. I have a feeling he underwrites, already, my Dura Mater.

And sorrows of these women I don’t understand, and have had a hand in, and feel held to account for. Sorry I’m mysterious there. The only life I get to strip mine here is my own.

I’m a man nearing 50 with a squalling inconsolable babe in me.

This grabbed (later) from Maggie Nelson’s Argonauts:

As concepts such as “good enough” mothering suggest, Winnicott is a fairly sanguine soul. But he also takes pains to remind us what a baby will experience should the holding environment not be good enough:

The primitive agonies

Falling for ever
All kinds of disintegration
Things that disunite the psyche and the body

The fruits of privation

going to pieces
falling for ever
dying and dying and dying
losing all vestige of the hope of the renewal of contacts

Mothers they got it tough. I don’t know how any of them do it. And its going wrong, well, Winnicott thought some of the world’s hurt could be explained there.

I say to me, you got to mother yourself, no one else will, you got to father yourself, no one else will. Everything that is here is here with you. What’s the practice of that though.

A lifetime looking, and I’ll be honest, not not finding.

Hard to remember when the fear sweeps through you as nebula.

 

Dura Mater

Been working on a new project, Dura Mater, tough mother. Membrane enveloping and protecting the brain and spinal cord. First poems to come have been visual. A cruddy ochre salvaged from nearby Sumas Mountain, ground under the tutelage of H. in mortar and pestle, watered and binded with some eggyoke, and smeared on wetted paper by finger and rocked about a bit.

This one wasn’t coming right so I planted my whole palm on it, the way I do sometimes on my mother’s frameless photo on my altar to comfort her, as if by magic I could somehow, and that again – patting, petting – and beings began to come.

Image 1 col groomed
Click once for some granularity, again for more. Some text to come.

Messages across seas

Delighted to share with you a translation just now out in the wonderful journal Asymptote. I love this journal, its global intention attention & compass. Check out this map of their scope and multiplicity.

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Click for a live version

My little poem is a pre-modern throwback in an issue otherwise on translation’s front edge. (Okay, there’s some Tzara, too, but he’s still.) Grateful they thought to find room for it. Thematically it does I guess fit an issue called “People from the In-between.” It’s got people at a loss, unbridgeable textual gaps, and runes – runes how to make meaning from which is all dispute.

Well see what you think it’s here. With floating footnotes, and the Old English, and me reading said Old English badly, should you wish to go there.

Whole issue’s rad. Especially worth your time and heart, the special feature on “literature from banned countries,” i.e. those seven or six singled out by the present US administration’s unconscionable incoherent & never mind that they’re unconstitutional travel bans. I’m having a little trouble finding the special section as a cluster, but here’s the headline piece, then you can just wander over borders, as surely mostly we should be.

Wander or sojourn or flee as our luck has it. I avoid the word “privilege” as calcified but I am luck-filled. Many on the map above are not. Many pressed against borders are getting fucked by the stick of the world. May you come to places of rest. You should have, & it’s in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, Trumpwad, so you’re a signatory, you should have a place to live that’s safe for you to love & work & love more & live & die meaningful lives and deaths.

Didn’t expect to go there. (As I say always to my students, boringly to them, let the track of your writing startle you.) Got to get to work on something blah & bureaucratic, plan for the annual fundraising drive for the Zen centre I somehow ended up on the board of, & what why me. But reading this article in The New Yorker has shocked the living shit out of me.

These women and girls and men are moving up Africa along the old slave-trading routes. And what they endure on the journey and when they arrive, if they do arrive, seems to this far away safely sheltered reader impotently empathizing no less than what the slaves did in olden days when they were fuelling the economic growth of the Americas.

Got more on this. For instance bringing it to my nonfiction workshop’s notice, and putting it beside Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, and his effort to broaden a indictment of systemic American racism into a critique of global inequality, including climate change. That’s for another post. God and damn it’s all connected. Where to snip the thread? Thank you friend. May I call you friend? If you’ve read this far.

Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts

Can’t tell you how moved I am by this book. Opens my head and heart and spirit and helps me to love the great bawling mess of meat and lust and loss and peace all at once I am. I hope it speaks to my students also. Assigned it because they are, as a body, far more engaged with and alert to questions of gender, identity, fluidity, than I, and I wanted a book that would meet and maybe challenge us all there.

We’ll see how it goes next week. I’m guessing it will. Here are the assignments I put together for my creative nonfiction students this morning.

Journal no. 1

On page 5 Nelson makes the first reference to her book’s title. “Just as the Argo’s parts may be replaced over time but the boat is still called the Argo, whenever the lover utters the phrase ‘I love you,’ its meaning must be renewed by each use.” So we have an image of a voyaging entity that changes in all its parts and yet persists under a single name. And Nelson has named her book, not for the boat, but for those who voyage on it. What is she saying (proposing, hazarding, trying out) about love here? Is the image of the Argo, the Argonaut, applicable to anything else in or about the book?

Journal no. 2

The content of The Argonauts affirms fluidity over binaries and rigid categories – continuities. Gender is fluid. Eros itself is fluid, bonding lover to lover, parent to child, human to animal. Meanwhile the form of the book is full of discontinuities. Every time we move from one collage element to another, we leap across a gap. (Often even within a collage element, there are gaps to be leapt.) What do you make of this difference between the book’s content and its form? How might it serve Nelson’s purposes?

Writing no. 1

Begin a collage essay by writing two discrete (they need not be discreet) collage elements. Each can be about whatever you like, but they should be substantively different from each other, in content, technique, tone, theme, and/or diction. The differences between them should be alive – you, we, should feel a pulse of curiosity or excitement or WTF as we move from the one to the other. If you don’t feel that excitement, start over, because you’re not going to want to keep working with this material.  ¶ Other pointers. Remember the distinction between scene and exposition. When you’re doing scene, use your arsenal of fiction-writing techniques; rely on concrete significant details; embody your meanings in acts and events. When you’re doing exposition, avoid banal generalities, make your thinking interesting, fresh, alive, your own. Feel free to tear a page from Nelson and incorporate found materials – Deleuze, Irigaray, Plato, Lady Gaga.

Found poem (w/ rune painting)

A near perfect haiku came from my love by text earlier this eve.

Im making my moms
moms cake for dessert , it
is called “my cake”

I get pissy about 5-7-5 for haiku in English. Wordy. Haiku’s genre for us not form, moment of unanticipated in-seeing. Count your blesses! not your sylls!

Also the search has been on since at least Kerouac for authentic American haiku. Now and then one’s found, and this looks to me like one.

Serendipitous also, her rune tanka, 5-7-5-7-7, pigments made of ochres from the whole planet. No fool I haven’t counted the sylls. It’s a five-realm rainbow.

Heidi - runes 2

H. painted it in quick accord with these runes in the OE poem “His Message.” The which no one knows how for sure to read

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Have a trans. of it coming out soon in Asymptote, will post a link of it when up.