“How to be silent….The fall is into language” (Love’s Body, Norman O. Brown, 256:257).
Is language a technology?
“Henri Bergson, the French Philosopher, lived and wrote in a tradition of thought in which it was and is considered that language is a human technology that has impaired and diminished the values of the collective unconscious. It is the extension of man in speech that enables the intellect to detach itself from the vastly wider reality. Without language, Bergson suggests, human intelligence would have remained totally involved in the objects of its attention. Language does for intelligence what the wheel does for the feet and body. It enables them to move from thing to thing with greater ease and speed and ever less involvement. Language extends and amplifies man but it also divides his faculties. His collective consciousness or intuitive awareness is diminished by this technical extension of consciousness that is speech” (Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 83).
The fall is into technology.
Jessica Sequeira understands silence, and silence, the language of the ghost, is a necessary part of conversations and connections. “Other Paradises: Poetic Approaches to Thinking in a Technological Age” (Zero Books, 2018) collects essays Sequeira previously placed in various online venues, including Berfrois, Drunken Boat, Entropy, Gauss PDF, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Missing Slate, and 3:AM. The collected essays in hardcopy creates a reading emergence opportunity, where the whole is unpredicted by any one of the individual parts. Fragments are conjoined, scholastic and playful, connections clarified and augmented, and an original style, a way of being within the writing, emerges.
When I think of technology, of thinking about technology, I recall Norman O. Brown, Marshall McLuhan, R. Buckminster Fuller, and John Cage. In “Other Paradises,” Jessica mentions none of them. Yet she asks, “Why do people deliberately choose to play with ideas considered antiquated?” (Other Paradises, 1). Both O. Brown and McLuhan made startling discoveries rereading old texts and discovering or inventing new interpretations applicable to contemporary concerns.
Jessica begins with the fax machine (from a far different generation, I might have begun with the mimeograph machine). The fax machine requires sender and receiver, at odd ends. The confirmation “fax received” in no way implies fax read. So much for inference.
Melville’s Bartleby was a scrivener. Prior to that, he had worked at the dead letter office. A scrivener was a human copy machine. Bartleby works (and lives, as it turns out) in a law office, where his job is to handwrite copies of documents and proofread them aloud with the other scriveners. Bartleby winds up in the yard at the New York Tombs, where he “prefers not” to go on living, let alone copying. Bartleby’s ghost haunts today’s every copy and paste. Unlike the Sacramento writer William T. Vollman (who wrote his first book nights hunkered under an office desk in the insurance firm he worked at), Bartleby has nothing original to say, or maybe he does, but he “prefers not” to say it. Enter Kinko, University of Santa Barbara, I’ll bring the technology to ya, on the sidewalk, a copy food cart.
Inherited technology. Ibsen’s Ghosts. Oswald has inherited syphilis from his promiscuous father, now dead, the technology of euthanasia now Oswald’s only hope.
“Every technology contrived and ‘outered’ by man has the power to numb human awareness during the period of its first interiorization” (McLuhan, Guttenberg Galaxy, 187). McLuhan quotes from Curt Buhler’s “The Fifteenth Century Book: the Scribes; the Printers; the Decorators”: “What, then, became of the book-scribes? What happened to the various categories of writers of literary works, who practiced their trade prior to 1450, once the printing press was established?” (187).
Every technology absorbed and relied upon without adequate disaster plans creates potential detrimental reliance. We rely on the technology to our detriment once we abandon what we now perceive to be an antiquated technology. McLuhan considered technologies extensions of one of the five senses: eyeglasses extensions of the eyes, clothes extensions of the skin, etc. The computer was an extension of the central nervous system. Sequeira proposes that the abandoned technologies inhabit as ghosts the new machines.
The fall is into detrimental reliance. We want to get back to Paradise, any paradise will do, but we’ve lost the instructions, the skills, the magic prescriptions.
The Paradise, the one we apparently lost a long time ago, was probably a mosaic. It was not linear; it was not lineal; it was not literary. It was not sequential. It did not follow MLA, APA, or any other prescriptive styles. It was not an argument. There were no statements about which there would certainly be some disagreement. It was, in short, a paradise. But that’s not to say nights in paradise were not separate from days, not to say there were not ghosts (of angels, of devils), or that we were not part of a great food chain on land and at sea. I wrote a poem awhile back, which illustrates:
They do not want for something to say
They run around and play all day
Syllabicating back and forth
No one asks what another is worth
At night they climb trees to sleep
They dream of mouths of lips and teeth
And breath of a land where speech
Is silly and fluid and free
Having no bowels they don’t see
The lithe ape thinking in a tree
Who would trap them in a man
And call himself can
So what and where are these “Other Paradises” Jessica Sequeira takes us to? How do we get there? I wasn’t long into her book when I wished for an index of some kind. An index would collect the extensive reading list now scattered throughout the text. “Other Paradises” is a mosaic, another reason McLuhan and O. Brown come to mind, and full of anecdotes and stories, and packed with references, but each essay contains a structure and harmony that informs the whole work (as does the work of Fuller). And all of that reminded me of John Cage, whose work is littered with anecdote, references, and playful asides. And an index would give some insight into the breadth of Sequeira’s reading, research, and interview experience, and it would illustrate how “Other Paradises” is a rich resource work. And, well, I wanted an index. Here following then, as introduction and review of Jessica’s new book, is a kind of index (a page number follows each entry, usually just the first reference, though many appear only once, and I’ve not listed them all):
Annotated Index to Jessica Sequeira’s “Other Paradises”
- David Hockney: 1. Foreshadows California. With Pacific Ocean beaches easy drives away, still, backyard swimming pools are popular, or a Hockney print of a swimming pool, which is almost the same thing, since the pools are usually empty, anyway.
- Lafcadio Hearn: 5, 9. “Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan.” The ghost, or the idea of ghosts, is a keyword throughout “Other Paradises.” Says Sequeira, “Ghosts are everywhere, busy laughing, crying, loving, plotting, dancing and sleeping just like humans….Technology left behind takes on a phantom presence” 6.
- Bancho Sarayashiki: 6. Some spirits are restless, for one reason or another.
- Fukagawa Hidetoshi and Tony Rothman: 7. “Sacred Mathematics: Japanese Temple Geometry.” Sequeira is interested in forms, shapes, lines that intersect, cross. Her essays assume geometrical shapes that can be described as poetic.
- “Japanese temple geometry problems: Sangaku” (Charles Babbage Research Centre), 7.
- Charles Babbage: 7-10. “Passages in the Life of a Philosopher.”
- Ada Lovelace: 8, 12.
- Commodore Matthew Perry: 10.
- Hank Mobley: 11. “Soul Station.”
- Banana Yoshimoto: 12. I read Banana’s novel “Kitchen” some years ago. Though it takes place in Japan, it contains a wonderful reference to Disneyland. I don’t know why I remember this. I’m not sure I do, accurately. I can’t remember if Banana had been to Disneyland, and it had made an impression upon her, or if one of her characters had gone there, or wanted to go there. I browsed quickly through “Kitchen” just now looking for Disneyland. I found only one small reference, to the Jungle Cruise.
- Musil: 13, 21.
- J. Gordon Faylor: 13, 20. “Registration Caspar.” I’m not sure about so-called “conceptual writing.” Words are like the seven daughters of Eve, each containing a mitochondrial genome.
- Kathy Acker and Tan Lin: 15.
- Beckett: 15, 17.
- Dante, Beatrice: 15.
- Wittgenstein: 15.
- Franco Moretti: 16.
- Proust: 17, 88. Must one go out?
- Martin Ramirez: 19.
- Jess Collins: 19. “Narkissos” (a large drawing). I was happy to see this section on Collins, references to the Beats and San Francisco. The Beats brought poetry back to earth (after which Bukowski ran it into the ground).
- George MacDonald, Pythagoras, Goethe, Joyce, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, Jack Spicer, James Broughton: 19-20.
- King Ubu Gallery: 19.
- Manhattan Project: 19. Where Jess Collins had worked for a time. He apparently exchanged plutonium for poetry.
- Robert Duncan: 22. Poem, “Just Seeing.” Duncan lived with Collins. Missing from the conversation is Charles Olson.
- “The Macabre Trunk”: 1936 Mexican film, 24.
- Richard Lower: 26. “Tractatus de code item de motu et colore sanguinis.” Title apparently does not tell all.
- Mark Zuckerberg: 26.
- “Teche” (dance song): 27. An original song by Jessica: “Bad-a-bing-be-boom-ba!”.
- Schrodinger’s Cat: 28.
- Pascal: 29.
- Liliana Colanzi: 34. “Our Dead World.”
- Edmundo Paz Soldan: 35.
- Roberto Bolano, Joao Guimaraes Rosa, Philip K. Dick: 35.
- Juan Terranova: 35. “The Flesh.”
- Alison Spedding: 36-38. “Wachu Wachu”; “Cultivation of coca and identity in the Yungas of La Paz”; “Kausachun-Coca”; “Manuel and Fortunato”; “The Wind in the Mountain Range”; “Saturnia from time to time.”
- King’s College: 37. A lovely, lyrical description on page 41. Sir John Wastell, 43.
- “Downtown Abbey”: 37.
- Alexander the Great: 37. And introducing Alexandra the Great.
- Gaganendranath Tagore: 48.
- Partha Matter: 48.
- Henri Bergson: 49. Book on Laughter.
- Whistler: 50.
- “Resurrection”: 50. Painting.
- George Meredith: 52.
- Gonul Akkar: 54. “Silemezler Gonlumden,” pop song.
- Zeynep Karagoz: 54. (Maker).
- Zbigniew Herbert: 58. “The Bitter Smell of Tulips” in “Still Life with a Bridle.”
- The Flying Pigeon: 61.
- Chloe Aridjis: 61-63. “Topographia de lo insolito” (Robert-Houdin); “The Child Poet,” “Book of Clouds,” “Assunder.”
- Mary Richardson: 69. “Rokeby Venus.”
- Leonora Carrington: 70. “The Oral Lady,” “The Hearing Trumpet.”
- Arthur Eddington: 75. “Science and the Unseen World.”
- Richard Pearse: 75.
- Talleyrand: 78.
- Olivia Caramello: 80.
- Louis-Eustache Audot: 84. “La Cuisiniere de la Campagne et de la Ville, ou nouvelle cuisine economique” (recipes).
- Jean Lorrain: 85. “Monsieur de Bougrelon.”
- Willem Claeszoon Heda: 87. “Breakfast Table with Blackberry Pie” (painting, 1631).
- Svetlana Alpers: 90. “The Art of Describing.”
- Eva Richter: 90.
- Barbara Payton: 91. “I Am Not Ashamed.”
- Henri Roorda: 91. “My Suicide.”
- “Spontaneity: A History in 12 Volumes”: 92.
- Billy Caryll and Hilda Mundy: 94. “Scenes of Domestic Bliss” (radio sketch, 1934). The Hilda Mundy here is the performer, not the Bolivian poet. This section of “Other Paradises” is laugh out loud funny.
- Laura Villanueva Rocabado: 96. The Bolivian writer whose best known pen name is “Hilda Mundy” (see note 64, above). Jessica unravels the connection between the performer and the poet. Mundy’s “Pirotecnia,” page 98.
- “Bambolla bambolla”: Hilda Mundy’s journalism, 96. Phrase < Gongora, 97. Sequeira translates “Bambolla bambolla” as “look at me look at me,” a kind of ostentatious selfie.
- “Dum Dum”: 96.
- Brenda Lee: 97.
- La Mariposa Mundial: 96. Mano maravillosas: 97. Pagina Siete: 97 (Rocio Zavala Virreira). Jessica quotes Virreira who says that, “to speak of Hilda Mundy is to leave the path, change direction, try out new things. It is to think not in terms of books, but magazines. Not complete sets, but clippings or incomplete collections” 97. Something like that might be said of Jessica Sequeira’s work.
- “Impresiones de la Guerra del Chaco”: 98. Hilda Mundy text (“journalistic poetry”).
- “Decision”: 103. Poem by Jessica Sequeira.
- Srini Vasa Ramanujan: 104.
- Duchamp: 104.
- Carlos Fonseca, “Colonel Lagrimas,” 104. Sequeira quotes an interesting section from Fonseca’s text: “At one point, the colonel writes a postcard to his character Maximiliano: You know, Maximiliano, that this Ronald Reagan, man of a thousand facets and a dapper walk, illustrious president of the United States, had the most interesting job before he found success as an actor: he was an announcer for American football games. The strange thing, the magnificent thing, Maximilian – and here is the point of this anecdote – is that this future president didn’t watch what he was narrating: he simply received bits of information, strung like rosary beads, whose whole he never saw, loose bits of information about a spectacle he didn’t see, but whose tone he imagined in a kind of blind broadcasting. Our project is a bit like that. Broadcasting for an age without witnesses, a kind of blind narration of this dance of crazies. So, learn to tell without seeing, ”107. I wondered what McLuhan might have made of “learn to tell without seeing.” McLuhan thought with the advent of text we exchanged an ear for an eye. Hearing would have been the paramount sense in paradise, not seeing. Sight has come to dominate the senses, according to McLuhan, because of print, another example of detrimental reliance. But for Sequeria, the interest in the quote has to do with connections. She writes: “An obvious displacement exists everywhere, between mind and behavior, event and interpretation, fact and memory.” Just so, McLuhan said football was a more intuitive sport for television than baseball, more mosaic, less specialized. Television, it’s mosaic screen full of dots of which we only see a few and fill in for the rest, can not cover the specialized positions of baseball all at once. That all-at-once-ness becomes the value (what we want, even if what we want is not good for us) of social media programs. Baseball is a game of continuous lines, football of fragments. And learning without seeing is having the text before us, the illuminated manuscript – what is it that is illumined? The reader of “Other Paradises” may feel a bit like the narrator of a blind broadcast.
- Ricardo Piglia: 110.
- Horizontal: 110.
- Borges. His ghost is everywhere.
- Gabriel Josipovici: 112.
- J. L. Austin: 113.
- Christopher Priest: 114. “The Inverted World.”
- Rion Amilcar Scott, “Insurrections,” 116. “Satire doesn’t just mean ‘being funny’; it’s an existential mode that allows one to take on both joyful and painful subjects from inventive, oblique angles, allowing one to make almost anything one’s subject with good humor, precision and grace” says Sequeira, page 116. Scott is the satire editor at Queen Mob’s Tea House. When I was an English teacher, I was struck by how often my adult learners were slow to pick up on or were offended by satire. Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” was occasionally even taken literally. That is the power of the authority of text, as McLuhan explained, and it’s why “fake news” is so prevalent today. “Oh. Irony. See, we don’t get that here. We haven’t had any irony up here since ’83, when I was the only practitioner of it. I stopped doing it because I was tired of being stared at” (Steve Martin’s character, C. D., in the film “Roxanne”).
- Maggie Nelson, “Bluets,” 122.
- Janice Lee, “essays,” 122. Lee, the founder of the on-line “Entropy.” Says Sequeira of Lee’s essays: “…it’s the accumulated effect of phrases that’s of value here, not any individual quote.” The same might be said of the accumulated effect of my footnotes to “Other Paradises.”
- Fernando Diez Medina, 127.
- Roberto Prudencio Romecin, 127; “On books and authors,” 128.
- Jaime Saenz, 128. (Yes, I know, my format has changed. I got tired of the extra effort required of typing a colon where a comma will do. Consistency is another detrimental reliance phenom resulting from the printing press.)
- Sequeira is a reader and advocate for Bolivian poetry: Monica Velasquez Guzman; Oscar Cerruto; Edmundo Camargo; Raul Otero Reiche; Blanca Wiethuchter; Humberto Quino; Emma Villazon; Julio Barriga; Hilda Mundy; Edmundo Paz Soldan; Liliana Colanzi; Paola Senseve; Sergio Gareca; Pedro Shimose: 129-131. Says Sequeira: “Bolivia is an increasingly prosperous country with a growing middle class, widespread Internet connection even in the tiniest pueblos, and a population of educated and mobile young people with academic scholarships and international travel experiences. Traditional geographical and ethnic distinctions have begun to blur. A writer may fill page after page alone in her room, then take that notebook to a bar for a reading, one she will perhaps repeat later on in New York, Santiago, or Moscow. Perhaps – is this just a fantasy? – the poets of Bolivia form one small part of a world wide movement in which nations as we know them disappear, along with progressive ‘developmentalist’ thinking, to leave only the pure flow of cash, art and ideas,” 134. McLuhan did not think it fantasy. According to McLuhan, the printing press was responsible for nationalism, boundaries, margins, and the marginal man. But we may have to let go of text to realize the “blur.” We must wander (essay, assay) outside the margins, off the page.
- Pierre Bonnard, 134.
- Walter Benjamin, 139.
- David Winters, “Infinite Fictions,” 139.
- Escher, “Belvedere,” 1958 print, 139.
- Goethe, 135.
I will now add a list of “keywords” or short phrases I noted as particularly relevant to “Other Paradises,” and end with a few quotes:
Keywords to “Other Paradises” (in no particular order, but arranged as a mosaic):
arcadia, disappearing, antiquated machines, ghosts, slowness, loss of use, machine, prose, lyrical, satire, UFO’s, damage, violence, fiction, narrator, suburb (132), language as technology (113), questions and questioning (throughout), reading list (113), Snakes and Ladders, theory, comedy (53), Los Angeles, disconnectednesses, poetry, past, social realism, symbol, pop, irony, whimsical, play, playful, invention, language, food, text as horizontal ladder, paintings, hand (54-55), style example (56), sentence structure (shadow play), joke (57), tulip (58), modesty (58), guild, basic needs (59), writing like a lathe (59), a good example of Sequeira’s overall writing process (60), transitions (as unit of composition), interstices, intersections, interruptions, parentheticals, technique (62), first robot (61), Chloe Aridjis interview (61-64), defamiliarization (64), notebook (65), French poets (67), “eyes darting back and forth” (68) – this reminded me of Vonnegut’s Bokononism, technology (72), fragmented, linear (79), Mulberry flag (82), cherry jam (84), preserve, preservation, save, value, paradise of decay (92-3), ostentation (102), observing, questions (104), impossible connections (105), “seemingly disparate concepts, link (108), intelligence (109), reading, utopian, political action (110), metafiction (111), emergence lit (112), reading list (113), non-linear (113), magic (114), theory of everything (115 – but no mention of Lisi), hills, goodness, Highway 1 (19), language as technology, change, literature, words (113).
And here is something Sequeira says on page 71 I made note of because I think it speaks to her writing as well as Carrington’s 92-year-old woman: “Curious and open-minded, with a sense of humor, she can get away with being a little bit crazy, connecting everyday things in odd ways, and discovering the weird links and hidden situational puns fusing different tectonic plates of experience.”
“At what point does a multiplication of anecdotes transform into the unified vision of a book?” (112). Or of a book review, for that matter?
Another quote where Jessica could be talking about her own work: “…a means of creating a fictional life for oneself that is whimsical yet self-interrogating, sustaining argument but with soul breathed into it through humor and a healthy does of silliness” (122).
“What it’s about is an attitude, the creation of an atmosphere” (125).
“But recurring to lines of narrative history to ‘explain’ a style often has little to do with the way actual poets write” (128).
“Thinking in lateral, non-positivist, indirect ways, one can begin to engage with the ghosts of an occasion, starting with its imagined resonances and effects. Even as one enjoys the present, one can remain attuned to traces and echoes, histories and premonitions” (139).
Sequeira, Jessica. Other Paradises: Poetic Approaches to Thinking in a Technological Age. Zero Books. 2018.