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On Discussion

IMG_2347 "Let's dialogue"
“Let’s dialogue!” “Oh, please.”

What is there to discuss-ion? “Music as discourse (jazz) doesn’t work,” John Cage said.* “If you’re going to have a discussion, have it and use words.” As both a jazz and Cage fan, I’ve often reflected on the paradox, for discourse, “running to and fro,” seems an accurate description of jazz, with or without words.

According to Google’s Ngram Viewer, the word discussion in American English is on the decline, following a peak around 1960. Interested readers may follow the link to an Ngram Viewer chart that graphs the word discussion found in “lots of books” from 1800 through 2008 using the corpus “American English.” But what is the difference between being involved in a discussion and having a conversation? Again using Ngram Viewer, we find conversation and discussion crossing just after 1900, discussion on the rise, conversation falling off, but recently apparently headed for another crossing, discussion dying, conversation on the upswing, beginning around 1980. What does all this mean, if anything? But it looks interesting, even if it does not provoke a good discussion question.

Are discussions weightier than conversations? We may not associate the chitchat, the tete-a-tete, with discussion, but with conversation. Do we gossip during a discussion? We prattle on. Are you still with us? Maybe conversations are more intimate than discussions. Can we have a conversation question in the same sense we have discussion questions? If words have meanings, then perhaps a discussion on discussion might mean something. But is mere meaning ever enough, or must we have entertainment to boot? To mean is to mind, as we mine for meaning. And Cage added, immediately following his seemingly anti-jazz comment, in parentheses, “(Dialogue is another matter).” What did he mean by that?

What are discussion questions, and should we have them? Can we have a discussion without a question to prompt one? What is the discussion question that can only result in silence? And is that the discussion we desire?

                                                 Give any one thought
                a push       :     it falls down easily
          but the pusher  and the pushed    pro-duce      that enter-
tainment          called    a dis-cussion       .
                  Shall we have one later ?

Cage, "Lecture on Nothing," Silence, 1961 (1973), 109 (the text is 
arranged in four columns, here approximate).

Without further ado:

7 Short Discussion Questions with Equally Short Suggested Answers:

  1. Q: Are discussion questions deconstructive? A: Pour the lecture neat.
  2. Q: Where would you like to sit? A: In separate sections.
  3. Q: Has education become entertainment? A: You’re taking me out tonight?
  4. Q: How can we improve the world? A: How long is this supposed to last?
  5. Q: What can we learn from randomness? A: Noise counts – percussion discussion.
  6. Q: Why even when diligently minding our own business are we often snared by a discussion question? A: “Do you know the way to San Jose?”
  7. Q: Does wasted time pay for itself? A: Time will never tell.
* John Cage, "DIARY: HOW TO IMPROVE THE WORLD 
(YOU WILL ONLY MAKE MATTERS WORSE) 1965," 
A Year From Monday, 1967, 12.

Favorite Recipes from “An Eminent Poets’ Cookbook”

Poets' CookbookExpecting a hungry poet to visit for a few days, and worried what you’ll dish up?

Here are a few tasty recipe suggestions, taken from the venerable

An Eminent Poets’ Cookbook

“Ezra Pound Scrambled Eggs and Pine Nut Casserole”

Go to a dark wood and collect a cup of pine nuts. Soak in vinegar. Secure a dozen duck eggs. In an overwrought crockpot, scramble eggs. Add pinch of gall or to taste. Grate one ode over eggs. Sprinkle pine nuts over top. Bake in pre-heated oven at 500 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve with cornbread laced with peperoncini, cappuccino, and a canto of Chianti. Feeds one starving poet.

“Torqued Tongue Dylan Thomas Beer Fried Bread”

Crack a dozen or so large, farm fresh goose eggs into a copper kettle. Pour in pint bottle of fuggles double hopped ale over low heat. Stir and simmer while drinking pint bottle of Fat Cheek IPA. Slow fry half pound of thinly sliced rabbit breasts and pig tongue in palm oil in separate skillet. Add pressed garlic and green tobacco juice and open a bottle of Pig’s Knuckles Lager. Cut thick slices of molasses bread. Slosh bread slices in runny egg batter. Let soak. Turn up heat under rabbit and tongue, careful not to set oil afire. Pour tablespoon of hot rabbit and tongue and palm oil juice into saucepan. Add tablespoon of butter. Dip and douse egg and ale soaked bread in rabbit and tongue palm oil butter mix. Cook over medium-high heat until bread turns crisp. Flip and fry other side. Open a bottle of Curly Hair Ale. Serve bread covered with rabbit and pig tongue open faced with mustards and quart bottle of In My Craft and Sullen Brew Ale. Stout, bracing snacks for poetry reading.

“Richard Brautigan Boozy Brunch Brouhaha”

Catch a bunch of fresh trout with metaphorical flies in the falls of your basement stairs. Gut and clean fish. Cook fish outdoors on a stoop in a cast-iron skillet filled with Saint Francis of Assisi Ale. Drink what remains of ale while cooking fish. Red table wine may be substituted for ale if fish fail to bite.  After eating fish and downing ale or wine, take a long nap.

“Bukowski Barbecued Braised Lamb Brisket with Whiskey Cider Sauce”

Build a fire by setting a match to rejected poems squashed under briquettes in the bed of a cast iron typewriter. Cut and skewer the whiskey cider sauce soaked lamb with pencils and pens. Hold briskets over typewriter fire until charred around the edges and pink in the middle. Eat hot from fire while drinking whiskey neat out of a used beer can.

“Marianne Moore’s Chocolate Moose Palm Balls”

Unstitch three horsehide baseballs and remove innards. Sew baseballs back together with typewriter ribbon, leaving small opening. Into opening, stuff bits of bittersweet chocolate, rolling ball around in palm until baseball is full and firm. Sew baseball closed. Place baseballs on cookie sheet in 90-degree oven for three hours while listening to Yankees game on the radio. Remove balls from oven and let cool. Open small hole in ball. Suck out chocolate through a straw.

“Stolen Plum Tart Dessert”

On an early Fall evening, during suburban supper hour, sneak through neighborhood back yards collecting plump, purple plums fallen from ignored trees. If caught stealing plums, apologize and offer to pay for the plums with poems, one each. Explain that you are a doctor making house calls. Get invited inside the house. Check the kids’ ears, noses, and throats. Whip up a plum whiskey lemon sour and share some TV game shows. Carefully examine family members for poems while your plum pudding cools in the icebox.

“Li Po Midnight Snack”

On the warm summer night of a bloated moon, walk down to the river with a jug of rice wine. Drink responsibly until the jug is empty and the moon has swept down river and over the falls. Return to your shack and sleep until the pony’s whinny wakes you to the smell of scrambled eggs, pine nuts, and hot black tea, and no one is reading poetry.

The Audience

The AudienceThe audience appeared waving umbrellas from drinking happy hour beer, or hurrying from work or dropping off the kid, driving in from the aloof burb or sliding down from the hep pad on the hill, making a splash, alighting from cab or bus amid the rush. Coming from everywhere, the audience began to cohere.

The audience entered the hall dressed to its drollest: dressed in red down gown, hair whiffed and coifed like a pastry croissant, smelling of perfumes; dressed in jet-black tuxedo, in tight shoes and diminished socks, with small bottle of whiskey packed discreetly in coat pocket, hair polished with floor wax; dressed in polka dot shift over silver flats; dressed in loose corduroy and plaid flannel; dressed in pressed denim pants over soft loafers or heavy boots. In any case, dressed: dressed to the nines, dressed to the gills, dressed to kill or to be killed, dressed like a cat or a pig, dressed and de-dressed and redressed, but not to digress.

The audience performed a wave. The swell rose from the back rows and swept forward down the aisles, rising and falling until it broke upon the stage. The audience pulled at its hair, feet patting the flowered floor. The audience was absorbed in felt. The audience was loosely packed, like popcorn, knee-to-knee, and bounced up and down in its box.

The audience yawned. The audience fidgeted. The audience teared. The audience popped bonbons and sucked jujubes. The audience cheered. The audience hissed. The audience levitated. The audience milled. The audience was blindfolded and applauded by the players. The audience walked out. The audience considered what fun to yearn through the years the discerning one.

The audience abandoned its mess. The audience crawled beneath seats, searching for lost touches. The audience stuck wet purple platitudes under seats. The audience retreated patiently without panic up the slow aisles. The audience left behind a coin purse of cough drops, a pair of plastic reading glasses, an empty bottle of whiskey, a set of earphones, a Moleskine pocket notebook full of lists, a psychedelic scarf, a citizenship test study guide, and a paisley golf umbrella.

The audience walked out into a breezy evening on the neon avenue, and a few unpopped kernels fell from wrinkled lapels. The audience went this way and that, for cigarettes or toilets, for coffee or cocktails, whistled for a taxi or waited for a bus, climbed into a cold bed or gave the babysitter a ride home.

The audience disagreed with the critic’s review in the morning blog. The audience told the coworker all about what was worn the night before. The audience the following weekend was unable to remember. The audience slept through the off-season, dreaming of animated spring costumes, of walking through the park, watching for peacocks, down to the theatre, the marquee illuminating the wet pavement, the hot buttery popcorn freshly popped. The audience awoke and wanted more.

The Tooth, the Whole Tooth, and Nothing but the Tooth

The Tooth IMG_0055The tooth was an expert, a specialist. He knew one thing, inside and out, and kept to his own. He seemed happy with his place, his lot, but he could be very exacting. He took peer review extremely seriously. He didn’t like being pushed around. He met his opponent squarely. He was polished; he was bald. He didn’t like stray hairs in his face. He thought all teeth should share his tastes.

In his last article, the tooth articulated a taste, a feeling, really, testing for hardness and size an assortment of round hard candy. He usually preferred chances for the soft stuff, but he could pass off a lollipop like a soccer striker. He knew just when to bite down hard. He waited. He had tasted tongue and cheek.

I remember the time he reduced my 1,000-page novel to a single tweet. Hilarity. I knew something was up. Then there was the time he reduced my grand slam dream to a sacrifice bunt. And then he squished my perfect wave to something like backwash out the Hyperion Treatment Plant outside El Segundo. The tooth was a master of the sedate.

The tooth knew the end was near. He slinked back and waited. I thought he was sedated. Bad idea, eating the ice from the iced tea. That ice was the beginning of the end, that and the peanuts, the peanuts and corn nuts and sunflower seeds. I’d have been better off chewing tobacco or bubblegum. Baseball is bad for the teeth. Anyhow, the tooth did not chew. He stole and hoarded and hid his spoils.

I called in McTeague, who shushed the tooth, his vice grip fingers grasping the truth. My tongue seemed to come unattached as I rubbed it softly one last time over the top of the tooth, like walking barefoot over a tide pool barnacled in black plaque.

And where is the tooth now? Reduced to the cliché of a gaping hole and the source of a bad pun. How stealthily love deteriorates into a source of pus and infection (Yuch!).

That gap the tongue now feels, a place apologists go to investigate past cultures.

Your Poem Will Start in 21 Seconds

Green and pink building with red lamp post.Your poem will start in 21 seconds.
You can skip this ad in 5 seconds.
Or now: click away. Or watch video:
A two-tone building, seen from the street, light lime green with aqua-mint green trim over sunned-pink, with red double lamppost, a scotch of blue sky, a wedge of blue, a swizzle of blue. Just past noon shadows. Jet black ladder.
Your poem will start in 21, 21 videos Your poem will start in 21 days Your poem will start in 21 years Your poem will start in 21 centuries Your poem will start, but it will not end: The rest of the poem is below the paywall, mercifully.

Selections from Foulings Phonebook

Selections from Phonebook for Foulings Neighborhood of SE Portland:
     
     1: Foulings Tavern: 33 Foulings Street, Eastgate-3218.
     2: Jack Foulings, 33 Foulings Street, Eastgate-3218.
     3: Foulings Car Repair Shop: 20 Third Ave. No phone.
     4: Foulings Music: LP Specialists. Fourth and Foulings.
     5: Foulings Grocery: Corner of Foulings and Third.
     6: Flowers by Joyce: Sidewalk outside Foulings Grocery.
     7: Joy Number, 19 Foulings Street, Apt. F. Eastgate-3550.
     8: Foulings Cafe. Breakfast Daily, 5-11. 27 Foulings St.
     9: Foulings Books. Call for Appointment. Eastgate-1022.
     10: Foulings Plumbing, Repair and New: 9 Foulings Street.

Cowboy Guitarist

Tales of X & Y: 1 – Teeter-totter

X thinks Y imperfect.

Y thinks X exaggerates.

X tells Y, “Why can’t you be more like me?”

Y replies, “You have no balance. You don’t know how to share. Life is a teeter-totter.”

“I’m walking down to the tavern for a beer and some darts. Want to come?” X asks.

“I think I’ll stay here and practice yodeling and yoga,” Y says.

Y                                   Y = Light
  _
     _
        _
           _                        /\ = Teeter-Totter
           /\ _
                 _
                    _
                       _
                          X         X = Heavy

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).

Online # 1

Lots Of Fun For EveryoneI’m online, browsing. I’m cruising for a new pair of slippers. I’m sitting on the love seat, in the living room, slouched down, my feet docked on the ottoman. My location is public, living room, slipping down, gliding for a new pair of slippers, my purpose public.

I enter “cruising slippers” into my search engine. I feel good. I’m plugged in, lit up. I’m online. My socials are open. The drones are swarming. I’m not alone. I twitter something fast: “Online slippers, what? Come on back!” Immediately, there’s a response.

I’m in a mood, an online mood. Mood indigo. What’s that? I enter “mood indigo” into my search engine. Oh, yeah, the Duke. I jump over to JazzStandards.com and click on the song, give it a whirl. Oh, yeah, the melody comes back to me, haunting. The piano notes sound like ice cubes clicking coolly in a cocktail glass.

“The Duke of Earl.” Who was the Duck of Earl, anyway? I enter “The Duck of Earl” in my search engine. It ignores the typo, corrects my search, thank you. I click on Urban Dictionary and start to scroll down. Some nice peer reviews going here, mostly thumbs up, a few down. Then an ad pops up: “Have you ever been arrested?”

I don’t like ads. I try to ignore the ad, but I can’t. I feel arrested. My mood shifts. I’m like a boat on the open sea, at the mercy of variable breezes. I open my facebook, enter “variable breezes” in my status and click. I get a few likes. Someone in Dansk says, “Breezing?”

Yes, that’s it, I’m breezing. I shift back to Twitter and enter “Breezing,” just the word, not even a period. No response. I’m not surprised. I don’t have that many followers on Twitter, but what’s a lot? I change lanes, back to Facebook, and enter “Breezing.” I have 500 friends. What time is it in Dansk, I wonder.

There’s a new tweet, from some cat in Belgium. I enter “slippers” into Google Translate: “pantoufles,” if I want a pair of French slippers, which I don’t, necessarily. I switch Translate into Dutch: “slippers.” Slippers in Dutch is slippers, same as English. Who knew? I enter “Slippers in Dutch is slippers in English, too” into Facebook. I get a bunch of likes and a few comments like it’s a joke or something, but I’m serious. I get a bizarre comment from some kid I went to high school with I haven’t seen or talked to in years. She claims she’s a lawyer of some kind. Probably under some kind of house arrest.

I open my search engine and type in “ottoman” and poof comes the story via Wiki: “Thomas Jefferson’s memorandum books from 1789.” Now there’s a trip, speaking of high school. I parachute out of Wiki and land back in my living room. I’m thirsty. I’m thinking of walking down to the coffee house. They have Wi-Fi there. What’s Wi-Fi? I don’t understand beyond having a general idea. I enter “Wi-Fi” into my search engine. What if we could see radio waves? I Tweet, “waves, pulsing.” I was going to tweet “radio waves,” but I didn’t. We can’t see these waves, at least I can’t, but I think I can feel them. Sometimes songs just pop into my head. That ever happen to you? Suddenly I’m singing some song in my head, not singing it, really, but it’s there, playing, playing in my mind, like my head is a transistor radio picking up the wave of the song. But if I try to sing the song, out loud, the words won’t come. A few might, but not the whole song, not unless it’s a song I’ve gone to the trouble to memorize, to commit to memory. This paragraph is too long for its purpose.

Location, living room. Purpose, slipping through time online for a new pair of slippers. Open: socials, check; three search engines, check; Wiki, check; my word processor, check. All systems go. Where does that term come from? I enter “word processor” into my search engine. What ever happened to WordPerfect? Do we process words? Do we perfect words? Mot juste. The word frozen. Justice.

I enter “All systems go” into my search engine. The dictionary calls the phrase cliché. Really? I don’t hear anyone using it much anymore. I enter “All systems go” into both Facebook and Twitter. Nothing, no response. Interesting. Maybe I should have typed, “All systems are go.”

I saw “Argo” not too long ago, on the Big Screen. What a trip. I had not been to see a film in some time, not in a big screen theatre. I had forgotten how big the screens could seem. We sat in the first row of the second section, not too close, in the front middle, so to speak. I like the front row. I like to slouch down and stretch out my legs. A message filled the big screen just before the lights dimmed: “Please put out your cell phone.” No, not right, “turn off,” it said. I did. I turned off my cell phone. I had thought I might maybe send out a few tweets during the film, but I thought better of it.

So to speak, thought better of it, all systems go. I should look these up. I’m bored with all that. I check out the news. First, the weather: slight chance showers. Slight, what is slight? Parse. Can you parse the showers, please? I tweet, “Parsing showers.” No one’s on Facebook. 500 friends and no one’s on. That’s a first. I check the news.

The news. I type “the news” into my search engine. I’m reminded of the scene in the Steve Martin film “Roxanne.” Charlie is strolling down the street and stops at a newsstand to buy a newspaper. He pulls one out and glances at the front page. A look of shock and horror pops up on his face. He scrambles back to the newsstand and fumbles in his pocket for another coin. He opens the newsstand and sticks the newspaper back into it and continues his stroll, his calm smile back on under his big nose.

1987, the year “Roxanne” was released. I just looked it up. But the thing is there are no newsstands anymore, no phone booths either, and mailboxes appear to be disappearing.

+++

Notes: This post is part fiction, part real. It was inspired by a conversation I really had last Friday afternoon over at Stark Street Station with some colleagues. I do have a Twitter account, but I’m not on Facebook. I didn’t think of tweeting during the movie. That’s not something I would do. In any case, my cell phone can’t do that, tweet. And I’m not really in the market for a new pair of slippers. I don’t even have an old pair of slippers. I don’t wear slippers. Meemin retweeted “Parsing showers,” over an hour ago. A good post takes time.