What I Write

Having addressed, as it were, most recently, Why and How I write, we now turn our attention to What. Yesterday, I said that when and where writing is written are not important. I rush now to correct that. When and where are maybe more important than why, how, or what. Consider, for example, Beckett’s Watt, written in double exile (from Ireland, his homeland, and from occupied Paris, hiding out in Southern France). But Watt does not seem to be about the war. But I don’t want to write about Watt this morning. I want to write about what. But it may not matter what’s intended; readers are notorious twisters of words, collecting twine into a ball, where to twine is to moan, complain, whine.

The problem lies with linearity. Where there are no straight lines. At the moment, I’m typing on the keyboard of a laptop computer. A MacBook Pro, circa 2010, so an old one, as these things go. Directly into a WordPress block. Such my brass. I watch the cursor flicker, waiting. I should slow it down, but I forget how that’s done.

When, yesterday, reader and old, old friend Dan commented regarding paper and pen, “it almost seems a quaint nod to a passing phenomenon,” I thought of McLuhan and his analysis of the printing press (see his The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man), also now a passing observable fact or event. A machine we understood how it worked. It made everything the same, uniform. Straight lines. Single point of view. That sort of thing.

Outside, through the second story window, I can see a Camelia, pink and white, just coming into bloom, and a weeping Cherry in full bloom, and some scraggly plums not boasting just saying bring us your bees, your flies, your birds, your squirrels. The plums are just over the back chain link fence, up against it, ignored. Occasionally a branch breaks, ice or snow laden, or heavy near the end of summer with fat purple plums that fall into my yard, more than I can eat. I should learn to make plum pudding, jam, or some sort of plum soup. Plum Clafoutis. That’s it.

There you have it. I would not have mentioned plums this morning had I not decided to write from the upstairs window instead of the downstairs nook where I usually set up.

F/Z 2: Doubt & Surety

In part 3 of his encounter with Zizek’s “A European Manifesto,” Jeremy Fernando returns to the question of the picture we have of another’s picture of us that is not the same picture we have of us. In other words, the question of art, tinged with doubt, the opposite of faith (62). We all have a particular picture of ourselves, more than one, perhaps, but, in any case, seldom the same picture others have of us. This is of primary concern to the artist who realizes his lack of vision inhibits the transparency that informs nature (i. e. the primordial picture). The painter of the still life bowl of peaches fails to see the molecules drifting off the rotting fruit, but captures the glossy black fly attending to the rusting red peaches with verisimilitude the critic who likes this sort of thing calls ultra-realism. Of course it’s hardly real at all. It’s a painting, oils that never completely dry.

To have put down yesterday a few of my thoughts on Fernando’s recent book (S/Z Jeremy Fernando: A European Manifesto Slavoj Zizek, 2022, Delere Press), this morning, upon reflection, causes me to pick up the book again and open to:

“…one cannot be sure not only if one has mis-read, over-read, or under-read, one cannot be certain if one has even read.”


An “illegitimate” (63) reading, then. Well, after all, this is a blog:

Thus we can only impress upon our readers (all dozen or so of them, if we are a best-teller) our impression of what we’ve read. My impression is that we’ve no need to fear the monster. And to keep in mind always that the monster is precisely not Frankenstein. All art is science fiction. In fact, all science is science fiction. What do we think we are seeing when we look at these new photographs of scenes taking place in far far away space?

“Where what << Europe >> is, might be, could be, might well already be, is both from yonder, perhaps even beyond the pale, but at the same time – since it is named such – within its possibilities. Where, in response to ‘Was heibt Europa?’ [What is Europe?] one might posit, un pas au-dela [a step beyond].”


The artist (the surety, the guarantor) assumes the responsibility for the debt of the reader who brings suit (calling upon his solicitor – i. e. the critic), as he surely must, for he can never get to the bottom of it on his own, yonder his own limits, beyond the pale, outside any jurisdiction. For the artist, who stands alone, is both surety and principal, the one who performs the obligation and the one who guarantees the performance, and the one who defaults, all three parties to the contract. What became of the reader? Lost in space.

To be clear: Frankenstein is the artist; the book is the monster.

Thus, while Fernando starts part three with questions about the artist, he quickly moves to a discussion of Adam and Eve and the question of the tree of knowledge, of good and evil, and wonders how either (Adam or Eve) could have possibly made an informed decision to eat of the forbidden fruit, since before that act they had no knowledge – they didn’t know what they were doing; as innocents, they could not make an informed decision – they had not reached the age of reason: thus their plea of nolo contendere. And they plea guilty to a lesser charge, that of being human.


The book is a little monster, the text its mask. It will fit into your pocket, the deeper the bigger, where economy is a hole in one’s pocket. The tiny book is in. The small venue. Intimate. Indeterminate intimacy. Fernando’s imperative.

“…one has to jump straight into the story; even if doing so seems like we are merely leaping from one tale into another, feels like we are doing less than nothing. After all, we should recall Slavoj’s lesson that the classic scene in horror movies is the moment when the monster takes off its mask, only to reveal that under the mask lies exactly the same face.”

54, S/Z Jeremy Fernando: A European Manifesto Slavoj Zizek, 2022, Delere Press.

To unmask the text is the work of Theory, influenced by algorithms developed in the Social Sciences, which replaced Freud. “What is to be done?”

One might begin, could certainly do worse, by reading Jeremy Fernando’s latest little monster, S/Z, a McLuhanesque mosaic that follows (explicates, explores, examines, includes) Slavoj Zizek’s A European Manifesto (first published in an abridged version in French as Mon manifeste europeen in Le Monde on 13 May 2021):

“My thesis is that precisely now, when Europe is in decline and the attacks on its legacy are at their strongest, one should decide FOR Europe. The predominant target of these attacks is not Europe’s racist etc. legacy but the emancipatory potential that is unique to Europe: secular modernity, Enlightenment, human rights and freedoms, social solidarity and justice, feminism … The reason we should stick to the name “Europe” is not only because good features prevail over bad; the main reason is that European legacy provides the best critical instruments to analyze what went wrong in Europe. Are those who oppose ‘Eurocentrism’ aware that the very terms they use in their critique are part of European legacy?”


We are at the intersection of Zizek and Fernando, which is to say, there are no streets and no intersection. There is a path that runs (meanders, zigzags, convolutes) like a clear stream over profound stones through a part of the woods we may have never been before. We pass the huts of Badiou, Barthes, Derrida, Dufourmantelle, Kierkegaard, Cixous, Baudrillard, and others

“And by doing so, calls for a reading (lit) that is aware of itself as reading, that – by foregrounding its form, its making – quite possibly undoes itself as one is reading, is potentially under erasure (sous rature) while being read” (strikeouts added).


This is what we do: Reading (23 to 42); Writing (43 to 55); Fainting in Coils (57 to 73).

“Which is not the standard call for multiculturalism – for that still maintains the notion of a single Europe, of a Europe in which many different kinds and types of peoples have to fit themselves into – but a more radical one that attends to Europe itself, that reads what it might be to be European. Bringing with it echoes of wideness, broadness (eurys), certainly encompassing many, but also a matter of seeing, of the eye (ops): of one that sees in the light of the setting sun.”


Thus we arrive back to McLuhan, who explains the effects of technology on the sensorium, who might prefer going back to a time when, before the printing press, men were men and boats were boats (appropriated from another Mc in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”).

We take what we need, when and where we find it. We are building a map not out of the woods, but further in,

“Where, a true disruption comes through reading the notion that we are dealing with – responding to it, conversing with it, turning-with (versare) it, quite possibly occasionally turning it against (versus) itself, but never severing it, tearing it completely from its boundaries, its form. Thus, transforming it in a manner in which it is both recognisable, not-beyond, but also pushing it a step-beyond at exactly the same time.”


Any number of syllabi might be created from this short Delere Press text (81 pages). Such is the depth of the footnotes. As an example, possibly my favorite:

“This line was uttered in a conversation about literature and reading – probably at a bar – with my old friend, Neil Murphy, in June 2006. During the course of the evening, Neil also reminded me that, << reading literature with your head is always a mistake >>.


To find out (discover, uncover, read, listen, study, research, join the conversation), what Neil Murphy “uttered,” Dear Reader, please, you won’t regret it, get the Delere Press book: ISBN 978-981-18-1987-2

The Myth of Syllabus, Cartoon by Joe Linker

The Dream of Baseball

“And the phantom crowd’s horrific boo
dispersed the gargoyles from Notre Dame.”

“Dream of a Baseball Star,” Gregory Corso, from The Happy Birthday of Death, 1960

Yesterday, July 23, was opening day of the pandemic delayed Major League Baseball season. That’s about four months later than normal. The abnormal, short 60 game season is underway. Welcome to the virtual ballpark. I missed the first game, the Yankees vs Washington Nationals in New York, which already tested one of the new, shortened season rules: the Nationals lost in only 5 and half innings, timing out due to rain delay. One of the new short season rules eliminates any chance to play the game out to 9 innings.

But I caught the second game, the Dodger game, against the visiting Giants, played in a fanless Dodger Stadium on what appeared to be a typical sunny late July LA evening, but quiet, still, the air clear. What is the opposite of standing room only? Empty seats.

But not exactly empty. Cardboard cutouts of fans filled the seats behind home plate. There was Tommy Lasorda, former Dodger player and manager, leading the cheers to the Dodger late innings 8 to 1 win. Fans can buy a selfie cutout. Maybe Paul and Ringo will spring for a whole pavilion section devoted to cutouts from the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover.

Baseball has never been a good example of an effectively televised sport (McLuhan explained why). But the season opener last night underscored the importance of a fan filled stadium, smelly beer and greasy hotdogs, peanuts, and Cracker Jack, also the importance of ceremonial hoopla to major league sports. The fans are part of the game, as William Carlos Williams suggested in his poem, “The crowd at the ball game“:

“It is summer, it is the solstice
the crowd is

cheering, the crowd is laughing
in detail

permanently, seriously
without thought”

Aging, and working on mindfulness, one may find one’s lackadaisical waking mindset similar to one’s sleeping condition. Normally (not necessarily as a rule but on the whole and customarily), the logical links connecting thoughts create continuity and coherence and one feels in control, though who or where that one is, where one feels it, or to what extent any feeling of control is fantastical, gets instant replay once the lights go out – replay in slow-motion, surreal angles, calls reversed. That helps explain why poets have always had an affinity for baseball.

Photo: Portland Beavers, by Joe Linker

Birdbrain, Bird-witted, and more on Thought

Reflecting yesterday afternoon on my morning post, “On the Coast Starlight,” in which I suggested thought, if we are to try to compare it to anything, seems more bird-like than the train of thought first found in Thomas Hobbes’s 1651 “Leviathan,” I thought, to force thought onto a track where ideas are coupled one after another in forward motion toward some predetermined destination results from printing press technology, as McLuhan has shown. Thinking like a train does produce advantages, but the linear notion of thought may put us in a cage. Then it came to me that a reader might have commented that I seem birdbrained.

Since I’ve had comments and likes off for recent posts, no such reader was able to suggest it, so I’ve come forward to suggest it myself. (Readers intent on comment, like, or dislike, btw, will find an email address at the bottom of the Toad’s About page.)

But why we have come to disvalue flightiness to the extent we have, I’m not sure. Birdbrain, according to Google Ngram, is a word product of the second half of the 20th Century, while bird-witted has a more storied past, with interesting spikes of usage in both the 1720s and the 1820s.

I readily agree that my brain seems to be more bird-like than train-like. But upon discussion with Susan, she informs me that only the hummingbird is able to fly backward. Trains, of course, can travel forward or backward, but not at the same time. Yes, but trains can’t leave the track (except to switch to another track), and two trains running in opposite directions on the same track – well, in a quantum train world, perhaps a train may indeed run forward and backward at the same time. In any case, the intelligence of birds is not in question. The question is whether to think like a bird offers the human any advantage over thinking like a train. But we are only speaking to the metaphors, of course, because of course trains don’t actually think at all, and people don’t and can’t and will never think like birds any more than they’ll be able to fly like a bird.

It’s probable that in the era of trains, people did think more like trains than bird-like, while before artificial locomotion was mass produced, people thought more like other animals think. Now, people no doubt think more like automobiles. And we might update Hobbes to suggest an automobile of imagination.

The poet Marianne Moore, in her poem “Bird-witted,” leaves no doubt that to think like a bird is to think like a human:

parent darting down, nerved by what chills 
  the blood, and by hope rewarded -  
of toil - since nothing fills 
  squeaking unfed 
mouths, wages deadly combat, 
and half kills 
    with bayonet beak and 
    cruel wings, the 
intellectual cautious- 
ly creeping cat.
The last stanza of “Bird-witted,” from The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore, Penguin, 1982, p. 105-106.
Photo: Susan and Chicken, Culver City, circa 1952.

The Fall is into Technology: Notes with Index and Keywords for “Other Paradises,” Essays by Jessica Sequeira

“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:

Cadmean Victory

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”

  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. Bancho Sarayashiki: 6. Some spirits are restless, for one reason or another.


  1. 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.


  1. “Japanese temple geometry problems: Sangaku” (Charles Babbage Research Centre), 7.


  1. Charles Babbage: 7-10. “Passages in the Life of a Philosopher.”


  1. Ada Lovelace: 8, 12.


  1. Commodore Matthew Perry: 10.


  1. Hank Mobley: 11. “Soul Station.”


  1. 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.


  1. Musil: 13, 21.


  1. 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.


  1. Kathy Acker and Tan Lin: 15.


  1. Beckett: 15, 17.


  1. Dante, Beatrice: 15.


  1. Wittgenstein: 15.


  1. Franco Moretti: 16.


  1. Proust: 17, 88. Must one go out?


  1. Martin Ramirez: 19.


  1. 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).


  1. George MacDonald, Pythagoras, Goethe, Joyce, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, Jack Spicer, James Broughton: 19-20.


  1. King Ubu Gallery: 19.


  1. Manhattan Project: 19. Where Jess Collins had worked for a time. He apparently exchanged plutonium for poetry.


  1. Robert Duncan: 22. Poem, “Just Seeing.” Duncan lived with Collins. Missing from the conversation is Charles Olson.


  1. “The Macabre Trunk”: 1936 Mexican film, 24.


  1. Richard Lower: 26. “Tractatus de code item de motu et colore sanguinis.” Title apparently does not tell all.


  1. Mark Zuckerberg: 26.


  1. “Teche” (dance song): 27. An original song by Jessica: “Bad-a-bing-be-boom-ba!”.


  1. Schrodinger’s Cat: 28.


  1. Pascal: 29.


  1. Liliana Colanzi: 34. “Our Dead World.”


  1. Edmundo Paz Soldan: 35.


  1. Roberto Bolano, Joao Guimaraes Rosa, Philip K. Dick: 35.


  1. Juan Terranova: 35. “The Flesh.”


  1. 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.”


  1. King’s College: 37. A lovely, lyrical description on page 41. Sir John Wastell, 43.


  1. “Downtown Abbey”: 37.


  1. Alexander the Great: 37. And introducing Alexandra the Great.


  1. Gaganendranath Tagore: 48.


  1. Partha Matter: 48.


  1. Henri Bergson: 49. Book on Laughter.


  1. Whistler: 50.


  1. “Resurrection”: 50. Painting.


  1. George Meredith: 52.


  1. Gonul Akkar: 54. “Silemezler Gonlumden,” pop song.


  1. Zeynep Karagoz: 54. (Maker).


  1. Zbigniew Herbert: 58. “The Bitter Smell of Tulips” in “Still Life with a Bridle.”


  1. The Flying Pigeon: 61.


  1. Chloe Aridjis: 61-63. “Topographia de lo insolito” (Robert-Houdin); “The Child Poet,” “Book of Clouds,” “Assunder.”


  1. Mary Richardson: 69. “Rokeby Venus.”


  1. Leonora Carrington: 70. “The Oral Lady,” “The Hearing Trumpet.”


  1. Arthur Eddington: 75. “Science and the Unseen World.”


  1. Richard Pearse: 75.


  1. Talleyrand: 78.


  1. Olivia Caramello: 80.


  1. Louis-Eustache Audot: 84. “La Cuisiniere de la Campagne et de la Ville, ou nouvelle cuisine economique” (recipes).


  1. Jean Lorrain: 85. “Monsieur de Bougrelon.”


  1. Willem Claeszoon Heda: 87. “Breakfast Table with Blackberry Pie” (painting, 1631).


  1. Svetlana Alpers: 90. “The Art of Describing.”


  1. Eva Richter: 90.


  1. Barbara Payton: 91. “I Am Not Ashamed.”


  1. Henri Roorda: 91. “My Suicide.”


  1. “Spontaneity: A History in 12 Volumes”: 92.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. “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.


  1. “Dum Dum”: 96.


  1. Brenda Lee: 97.


  1. 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.


  1. “Impresiones de la Guerra del Chaco”: 98. Hilda Mundy text (“journalistic poetry”).


  1. “Decision”: 103. Poem by Jessica Sequeira.


  1. Srini Vasa Ramanujan: 104.


  1. Duchamp: 104.


  1. 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.


  1. Ricardo Piglia: 110.


  1. Horizontal: 110.


  1. Borges. His ghost is everywhere.


  1. Gabriel Josipovici: 112.


  1. J. L. Austin: 113.


  1. Christopher Priest: 114. “The Inverted World.”


  1. 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”).


  1. Maggie Nelson, “Bluets,” 122.


  1. 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.”


  1. Fernando Diez Medina, 127.


  1. Roberto Prudencio Romecin, 127; “On books and authors,” 128.


  1. 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.)


  1. 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.


  1. Pierre Bonnard, 134.


  1. Walter Benjamin, 139.


  1. David Winters, “Infinite Fictions,” 139.


  1. Escher, “Belvedere,” 1958 print, 139.


  1. 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.











Notes on the Art and Style of Whiskey Radish

To my odd ears, usquebaugh, from which whiskey derives, reminds me of the wedding party that year in Berkeley, and he…, and he couldn’t say…, or, he could not pronounce…, but that was nothing to the question of how he got the overstuffed hotel room chair through the bathroom door and up to the toilet, where he “addle liddle phifie Annie ugged the little craythur” (Joyce, FW), the toilet bowl, that is, speaking or repeating “usquebaugh” to us when we asked if he wasn’t good to go. Meanwhile, Beckett seemed always ready and able to pull a root fruit from one of his pockets, a turnip or a radish, and we went back into the sleeping space, where we had a lovely view of the hotel gardens and of the ocean in the distance. The night crashed like a wave in slow motion. In the morning there were a few stale beers and day old croissants for breakfast, and everything seemed fine, but we no longer hear from Usquebaugh, who over time seems to have grown uncomfortable with the dearth, in the belief, no doubt, that wealth is Thee all purpose cleaner, and it’s no doubt true that to get things really clean you must first grow so small.

I suppose I could give Beckett a call even now and we might go off for 9 holes of pique or a day of thought at the beach or river. He was, after all, a man of action, someone who made something. But what he made had to have a use. It wasn’t enough to be a man of action; you had to be a man of practical action. What would be the point of wedding dearth?

All of which may serve as an introduction to Whiskey Radish – in as much as I actually don’t know much about whiskey, how to speak Usquebaugh, or the comics artist Whiskey Radish. So I looked it up, as James Thurber, nearly blind and with no idea “You could look it up” would evolve into “You could Google it,” suggested. Thurber was a comic who wrote and made drawings. So that’s the angle and the segue I’m going with here, as these things go, if they go at all. Segue does not at all mean uninterrupted. It simply means follows, even if what follows does not follow. You follow? What does not follow is not necessarily non sequitur. What follows is only non sequitur if your expectation was somehow otherwise. What else could he have said sitting in the big chair pulled magically into the tiny bathroom and conveniently and suitably up to the commode over which his head dangled, whispering “usquebaugh”? In any case, we were unable to repeat the magic the next morning before checking out and had to leave the chair abandoned in the bathroom. I suspect they must have had to remove the bathroom door to get the chair back out into the hotel room. There’s a cartoon there, Beckett in the plush chair pulled up to the awful all full bowl, but I’ve no caption for it, no text. “This seat taken,” maybe.

Whiskey Radish makes drawings, comic style, but with the telling swipe of a Picasso line, pen brush and ink, which include handwritten text. Comics. The narratives are characterized by obscure and everyday references, personal or learned, street lingo punctuated with French phrase suggestion. The characters are sometimes identifiable but always original, as is the case with the banjo playing “Sam Cat,” a bartender’s assistant, the lines and text sometimes sparse, laconic, suggestive, but often detailed, loquacious.

Satire and romantic themes, unrequited lines, drawings, jobs, entertainments. The life of the artist thematically underscored. There’s a “whozwho” of Whiskey Radish characters on the Whiskey Radish website. The text includes what is left out.

In the drawing enclosed, “une joile pose abandownee” (a pretty pose abandoned), we see, in black India ink over a thin acrylic base on rice paper, simple Picasso-like lines fulfill a statement that is an argument. There is a sleepiness in the eyes, a sadness, a triest, a torpor, a disappointment perhaps, or maybe that is the sense or touch or expression of abandonment, not of abandon, but of the abandonment that follows abandon, when one is not sure about one’s body, after all. And about the mouth, the lips, there is the indecisive shape of a pout that becomes a grimace that settles into a disregard, also after all. After all is said and done, whether we are finished or not, it’s over. Certain lines are crossed, crossed out, a kind of permanent erasure.

Technique is not style. Technique is something that has a beginning and an end, a procedure, a program, a convention. Technique can’t be abandoned. It can be unfinished, but that’s not the same as abandoning a work. Look at Kafka. Abandoned cartoons. Joseph K is Buster Keaton. Style is usage. Cartooning is vaudeville. You can only abandon style, because style can’t be finished. “A pretty pose abandoned” (the Whiskey Radish version) is graffiti over the 1897 “Baigneuse,” bather, by Jules Scalbert. It’s a study of a study. Do bathers pose? Is there a technique to bathing? Water paints. And the Whiskey Radish version is abandoned. Only abandonment can create style. Technique is inherited. The slow bath becomes the quick shower.

McLuhan explains: “The structural qualities of the print and woodcut obtain, also, in the cartoon, all of which share a participational and do-it-yourself character that provides a wide variety of media experiences today. The print is clue to the comic cartoon, just as the cartoon is clue to understanding the TV image” (McLuhan, 1964, “Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man,” Chapter 17, “Comics: Mad Vestibule to TV,” p. 151). Touch, McLuhan says, is the most involving of all the senses. And television, like the cartoon, is tactile; the cartoon requires audience participation. This is why we are drawn to drawings; we can participate. We must participate. We have to fill in what’s missing to get what was abandoned. We can listen to the radio while doing chores around the house, but if we turn on the television, we have to sit and watch and listen and participate, and the chores have to wait. That, for McLuhan, is the difference between hot and cool. We must get involved in a mosaic, the opposite experience from the detachment we might enjoy reading a book. “…the hot form excludes, and the cool one includes” (p. 37). Hot is technique; cool is style. The old newspaper cartoon pages were mosaics.

Considering the art and style of Whiskey Radish, we sense the abandon, the abandonment. The artist tries to bring something under control, only to give in to that control. The artist gives technique the deep-six. The cartoon disclaims and disavows, disses.

“Une joile pose abandownee” (abandonné?) is somewhere between cartoon and drawing. It’s Warhol technique; Andy was able to take a style and turn it into a technique easily reproduced. You walk away from the academic and the analysis and enter the real world, the world of cartoon and abandonment. Youth culture results from abandon and abandonment. One of the first oppressions to rebel against is the monotony of the anxiety of adultism, the balloon of the body now fully taut and now can only lose air and wither and wrinkle, lose static and fall to the floor where not even the cat will play with it anymore. The body is abandoned in cartooning. A new school of antic frantic fish frolicking in the warm water around the whale. Youth dreams are old dreams, just the same.

The copy abandoned, the idea of realism given up on, realism a losing argument, translation never finished, what’s abandoned is the drawing, a pretty drawing abandoned, that the viewer may be free.


Breaking Bad in Stromboli

Breaking Bad in StromboliI walked down to meet Susan on Hawthorne late afternoon but arrived early and when I passed Nick’s and noticed baseball on the screen I ducked in to wait at the bar for a text asking my whereabouts. I ordered a glass of milk and a coffee chaser and the bartender asked me if this was my first visit to Nick’s. The game was in the 8th inning, a 3 to 3 tie, the Dodgers against the Cubs out spring training in sunny Arizona. A group of young folk occupied the north end of the bar, but I alone watched the game. The tables were all empty. The balls were breaking late, bad, away. The Cubs scored in the bottom of the 8th on a sacrifice fly to take the lead 4 to 3, and the Dodgers in the top of the 9th could not break away. My first taste this year of spring training TV was bad for a Dodger fan. I like the Cubs, too, and hope they do better than last year’s cellar close. Edging the Dodgers 4 to 3 yesterday marked the Cubs first win in seven games this spring training season. It’s still early, but the Cubs are off to a bad start. Cub fans are a forgiving bunch. Dodger fans live in baseball paradise at Elysian Park. But baseball and paradise broke bad some time ago, came the summers of our discontent, baseball breaking away.

One of modern baseball’s design problems, as McLuhan explained, is that it’s a poor fit for television. Baseball is not pixel friendly. McLuhan saw how vaudeville moved to radio and radio to television, where there will never be enough channels, the need for distraction being what it is, even though all channels do the same thing and distract in the same way. But he did not foresee vaudeville being rekindled by Lady Gaga and Madonna in the Super Bowl arena where the camera is now a drone following the collective unconscious eye of the audience. Meantime, the living room remains the electronic middle class mosh pit. The form of television is its art; the channel hardly matters.

Yet some said that “Breaking Bad” was television finally or finely elevated to art. The art of the installment, the fix, waiting for the next episode, the episodic adventure induced by Walter who like Fagin in Dickens’s “Oliver Twist” lives and thrives in a world of children. Is breaking bad an occupational hazard of teaching resulting from classroom isolation from the real world? Or “Breaking Bad” might have been titled “Death of a Teacher,” Walter White the Willy Loman who lives on TV fantasy to avoid the existential question imposed by being crushed beneath the wheels of contemporary financial, job, metaphysical, and medical malaise. We interrupt this post to bring you a full disclosure: I never saw a single “Breaking Bad” episode when the series was running. I did read a few reviews. I recently watched the first three episodes, borrowed from the library. I was thinking I might try to see the whole thing through, to its conclusion, and angle a post off it. But I don’t want to watch any more “Breaking Bad” episodes. Predicament may harden the romantic heart in all of us.

For one thing, the premise of “Breaking Bad” seems algorithmic. A high school Chemistry teacher with experience and talent gets an existential kick in the butt when he discovers he has terminal cancer. He sees an opportunity in the two years he has left to make some quick money as a meth chef and improbably takes to a life of violent drug associated street crime. Various critical reviews suggest something philosophical going on. His street name is Heisenberg, and it’s probably true that nowhere in contemporary life are things more uncertain than out on the street, certainly not in the living room, watching television. So the existential predicament is the close proximity to death, not to be confused with the close proximity of television. But everyone dies and knows they will; why wait any time at all to break bad and kill the TV? Most people break indifferent. No life is longer than the one spent in moiling drudgery.

Then I watched Roberto Rossellini’s “Stromboli” (1950). Essentially, Ingrid Bergman’s Karin’s existential predicament is similar to Walter White’s, though even more absurd, because she’s saved but ironically condemned to live in a place and with a man she believes she’s entirely unsuited for, which comes with the surprise of the epiphany. The island of Stromboli is a Mediterranean volcano. Life is harsh. Karin was expecting something a bit more pleasant, romantic, colorful. Life on Stromboli is inescapable sun or impervious shadow. The people on Stromboli live under the constant threat of volcanic eruption. Their values are kept immutable by the impossibility of change. Unlike the Mario by the end of “Il Postino,” Karin can’t see any beauty on her island or in the fishing life. It doesn’t take her long to realize she must break bad. But Karin breaks bad differently from Walter. She frantically climbs the volcano that Walter pedantically runs from.

Note: No commas were mistreated in the writing of this post.

Memories and Hallucinations, Real Nostalgia: Bill Bryson’s “The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid”

Electric WaterfallThe notion things change fast doubles in intensity roughly every two days. It takes a couple of days for most changes to sink in. “Who moved the cat dish?” I ask, combing out dry crumbs from between my toes. “Oh, I changed that the other day,” Susan says. Moore’s law observed amplifying speeds doubling every two years. Too bad the Market hasn’t managed as well. If we understand the laws influencing changes, we’re able to merge smoothly into the new wave. Joe’s law says internal speeds slow inversely to external speeds. As the speed of life increases, what we’re feeling inside slows to a crawl. I can feel the cornstarch thickening in my spinning stomach. The waves keep coming. We can roll under, ride up and over, dive through, or turn around and catch one. We get out of the water and consider our memoir, what just happened, what just changed. The waves look different from the beach, not what we remember at all. We get our breath back. We consider the last wipeout.

What is change? Do things actually change, or do we simply wake up one morning and remember things differently? Oliver Sacks, in “Speak, Memory” (New York Review of Books), his title borrowed from Nabokov’s memoir, said, “There is no easy way of distinguishing a genuine memory or inspiration, felt as such, from those that have been borrowed or suggested.” Our experiences – real, imagined, vicarious, read, heard – become stories we retell. “Memory is dialogic,” Sacks says (made from communication with others), “and arises not only from direct experience but from the intercourse of many minds.” I’ve only read a portion of Sacks’s latest book, “Hallucinations,” an excerpt, “Altered States: Self-experiments in chemistry,” in the 27 Aug 2012 New Yorker. How does Sacks remember anything? Stories like Sacks’s always remind me of a Salvador Dali interview. When asked if he took drugs to produce his surreal art, Dali responded: “Why should I take the drug? I am the drug.” But Sacks obviously has a good memory, or memories. What’s a good memory?

Speaking of hallucinations and memories, I’ve just finished a Bill Bryson book, recommended by Susan, “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir” (Random House, 2006). Bryson was born in 1951, and the book is about him growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, in the 1950’s. We see his memory at work, his memory assisted by a bibliography of books about the world he was born into. That world is given particular focus through his witty anecdotes of home, neighborhood, school, and town, personal reflections mixed in with the historical, researched view. It’s an easy to read, enjoyable book, almost subversive the way he works into the telling what might otherwise be a dry history book. We learn, or are reminded, of much of 1950’s culture, politics, family and societal values. Most of the telling, while written for an adult audience, sounds like it’s coming from a kid’s attitude. The kid reports what’s happening to him, but he doesn’t always understand why it’s happening – several levels of irony at work. Susan set me up. “Read this page,” she said, handing me the book one day, “out loud.” I did, and when I got to the bottom I laughed out loud. I didn’t see the joke coming. Bryson figures things out, like the rest of us, a kid on the go. It helps to remember some things. Other things, it helps to forget. “Grape was the one flavor that could actually make you hallucinate; I once saw to the edge of the universe while drinking grape Nehi” (278) Bryson says, blending Dali with Sacks.

Bryson is a prolific writer with an encyclopedic style. It’s sometimes hard to keep track of all the details, facts, numbers, all startling, though you might have been there, too. The chapter on the Bomb brought back memories of the classic classroom aid raid drills where kids practiced scrunching under their school desks in preparation for atomic attack. No wonder the generation grew cynical. Really, these desks were going to protect us? From what? Not from our memories. Here’s an example of how Bryson blends the personal with the researched: “I watched a lot of television in those days. We all did. By 1955, the average American child had watched five thousand hours of television, up from zero hours five years earlier” (279). And then he lists his favorite shows, a bunch of them. His favorite show was the “George Burns and Gracie Allen Show,” which pretty much spanned the 50’s. The key word back there is average, which Bryson was not, but no one is average. Individuals are too unique for any kind of averaging that makes sense (“People are Strange,” sang The Doors, a decade later). For one thing, it doesn’t sound like Bryson watched much TV with his family, but alone, in his bedroom, after he had collected enough cash on a paper route to buy his own TV. Most families I knew had but one television set, and it occupied the living room, an electronic shrine. In our house, it was a shrine, a statue of Mary on top standing on a doily and leaning against the antennae – its tips wrapped in tin foil to improve reception. For a time, it’s where we prayed the rosary together, for which the TV had to be off, though. But the concept of average is a Madison Avenue marketing ploy, and in school, average was a way of keeping kids in line. Anyway, remember the end of the broadcast day, the eerie signal that accompanied the black and white lined diagram on a field of gray, the tubes glowing red-orange like stationary fireflies? Or did I hallucinate that? Then came the teen years and kids grew subversive by not watching TV, while their parents watched the war every night around 6, just before prime time.

The notion that decades of years fix boundaries of anything is silly, but as we leave Bryson’s book on the 1950’s, we are reminded that everything the decade is remembered for is all gone. There is nothing left of the 1950’s. Everything has changed, and while the 1950’s certainly rang up a toll of bad stuff, all dutifully set down by Bryson, the fact that everything changed is not necessarily a good thing. Gone is the closeness, the walks downtown to the grand theatres, the churchyard dinners, the thousands of family owned farms, the tiny farmhouses under trees alongside two lane roads that passed through small towns. Bryson’s view of the 1950’s is a view of a kid growing up in the 50’s. His preference for something like the “Burns and Allen Show” points to something important: George and Gracie were not products of the 1950’s. They came from a different era, their TV show an example of McLuhan’s theory that every new technology takes its content from the content of a previous form: picaresque to vaudeville to radio to TV. It might have looked new, but it was already old. But today things move so fast that we can hardly calculate those changes. Certainly it doesn’t any longer take a decade. Already everything from two days ago is changed, if not two hours ago, if not from the beginning of this post. Dang! I just put my foot down into the kitty litter box. I would like to say I’m going for a swim, but someone moved the ocean.

Online # 2: Laptop Notes From Underground

Notes from an Underground LaptopImagine Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man with a laptop…

“‘Why you’re . . . just like a book,’ she said, and I thought I caught a sarcastic note in her voice again.” Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man is with Liza, a prostitute, but what he wants is to talk to her. He finds her ellipsis revealing. She pauses, and she’s caught the mouse in a trap, even if she didn’t mean to. He mistakes her uncertainty for sarcasm: “I didn’t understand that sarcasm is a screen – the last refuge of shy, pure persons against those who rudely and insistently try to break into their hearts” (174), he says. Four pages of rant follow, and he makes her cry. But she’s his perfect audience. Had he a laptop, he would have pulled something up to show her. But was she being sarcastic, or was she reading him literally? What she says is accurate; he is just like a book.

“It goes without saying that both these Notes and their author are fictitious,” Dostoyevsky says in a footnote to the first page of “Notes from Underground,” which begins with “Part One, The Mousehole” (90). If it goes without saying, why does he say it? Another paradox. The typographical man develops a voice, even if he has nothing to say. Online, we feel a part of something, but of what? It’s enough to feel connected. In any case, these men do exist, in spite of this one being fiction, Dostoyevsky wants to make clear, and he wants to mark the difference between narrator and author. But in trying to distance himself from his narrator, Dostoyevsky adds another note to the pile.

I’m online again, going with the flow, superslow though, gliding, electri-gliding in the cerulean world of blues. “I’m so lonesome I could cry,” Hank Williams sang. But does he cry? He doesn’t tell us that he cries, just that he feels like crying. If only Hank had a laptop. How high the moon? He could look it up.

“Suffering is the sole origin of consciousness” (118)*, the Underground Man says. Later, Jung takes up this theme, that consciousness is born in regret, in memory. But how does man express his regret, which is his suffering? “The fall is into language,” Norman O. Brown said (257). What do we think about if we can’t remember anything? After reason, the Underground Man explains, “All that’ll be left for us will be to block off our five senses and plunge into contemplation” (118).

We were talking about the possibility that online culture diminishes memory because the “onliner” (i.e. someone online, not necessarily a reader, since one can go online without reading – but what is reading?) is constantly looking things up, one thing leading to the next, seemingly random. Nothing is memorized; the bookmarks are endless. If the fall is into language, browsing is free falling. But why all the notetaking in book culture? Can’t the readers remember anything? Non-literate people, McLuhan explains in “The Gutenberg Galaxy,” have much better memories than those born to books. Is there suffering being online? “The most obvious character of print is repetition, just as the obvious effect of repetition is hypnosis or obsession,” McLuhan says (47).

“I was so used to imagining everything happening the way it does in books and visualizing things falling somehow into the shape of my old daydreams that at first I didn’t understand what was going on. What actually happened was that Liza, whom I had humiliated and crushed, understood much more than I had thought. Out of all I had said, she had understood what a sincerely loving woman would understand first – that I myself was unhappy” (197). The Underground Man is stuck in a literate view. McLuhan: “The new collective unconscious Pope saw as the accumulating backwash of private self-expression” (308). The Underground Man’s literacy has turned him into an individual, and he’s nowhere to go. This is another reason he appears when he does; his point of view is his own beacon.

The sufferer comments. This is why the Underground Man “has appeared, and could not help but appear” (90), to explain why he has appeared. The browser joins the Internet commute, changing lanes compulsively but leisurely. Summer is near, and in the distance one can hear the Internet Highway and superfast modems melting across asphalt desks backlit with electric candles. A commenter interrupts the flow, but for the Underground Man with a laptop, comments are closed. Go start your own blog. I’m in the slow lane here. Go around me, he signals out his laptop window. Go around.

“I knew that what I was saying was contrived, even ‘literary’ stuff, but then, that was the only way I knew how to speak – ‘like a book,’ as she had put it” (179). The Underground Man is literate; Liza is not. But Liza intuits what the Underground Man must read. McLuhan explains the difference: “The visual makes for the explicit, the uniform, and the sequential in painting, in poetry, in logic, history. The non-literate modes are implicit, simultaneous, and discontinuous, whether in the primitive past or the electronic present, which Joyce called ‘eins within a space'” (GG 73).

“Enough,” the Underground Man says, but the closing footnote says there are more notes. “But we are of the opinion that one might just as well stop here” (203), Dostoyevsky says.

* My text (Signet Classic CT300, 1961, Seventh Printing, translation by Andrew R. MacAndrew), reads, “Why, suffering is the only cause of consciousness.” But I exchanged just this line for the Constance Garnett version of the line, which I prefer for its sole (solo) and soul homonymy (not to mention the suggestion of the sole of a shoe).