Entries for May 16, 2007
The Urge to Revise
It's happened to most writers I know. You're in the middle of an essay/poem/story when you suddenly have the urge to go back and fix several problems with paragraph one. You resist the urge as best you can, but it gets harder and harder to wade through the final half of your work because your mind is constantly thinking of ways to improve the part that's already on paper. There's nothing wrong with giving in per se. The problem, for me anyway, is that as you start revising, you move back through that first half that you've already written revising as you go until you suddenly realize that your revision to the beginning doesn't really fit with what you've now changed in the second quarter of the piece and so the cycle starts over again without any actual forward progress being made on completing the piece.
If I'm on a deadline, such as with research papers for uni. or articles for a magazine or contest, I can generally fight through to the end and get something completed--often something whose first half is a sight better than it's second, but at least a whole work. With very short works such as formal poetry, I can generally complete a first draft before the urge kicks in. And of course, once the first full draft is complete I can revise to my heart's content knowing that I am revising a completed work and that whenever I choose to stop revising (if ever) the work will still be complete. [As it happens here I am revising this paragraph while this missive is still incomplete] I should also note, that I'm not talking about writer's block in the traditional sense. I know where each particular work needs to go next and I'm excited about getting it there. If I do run into that kind of block I certainly always have other projects on the table that I can resort to.
Nevertheless, I have never in my adult life managed to complete any creative work longer than about 2 pages (500 words). Never. There's no missing dependent clause here. I've started three or four novels, a good dozen short stories, and more than one creative essay. They are all incomplete. Some are still available to me, others have gone untouched (due to the molasses that was my forward momentum) for so long that I have lost the original file/notebook/envelope.
I'm writing this celebrate the completion of my very first children's story. It took only the spare moments during a one weekend retreat to complete it, but it has been hanging out in my brain for at least 4 years and hadn't made it out onto paper yet. (There were at least two abortive attempts, one in longhand and one on my blog using a draft post.) Finally the story of Princess Abigail and the Dragon is complete. It isn't finished yet. It still needs a lot of revising, but at least now I'll be revising a completed work! My greatest thanks go to Stephanie for typing it up for me so that I can do that revision more easily.
If you would be interested in reading the finished story and offering critical feedback, do please give me a shout. I'd love to hear from you.
Entries for June 9, 2006
Why the chicken crossed the road
Recently, I was reading on Slashdot about how Professor John Brookfield has told the UK Press Association that the "pecking order is clear" with regard to the age-old chicken and egg question: "Therefore the first bird that evolved into what we would call a chicken, probably in prehistoric times, must have first existed as an embryo inside an egg."
"The question "Why did the chicken cross the road" is invalid. It is invalid because "why" assumes that the chicken had some reason for taking the action "cross the road". This, in turn, assumes that the chicken has the concept of "road"; after all, if the chicken doesn't know that the road is there, then the chicken did not - from the chickens point of view - cross the road, and consequently it is meaningless to ask for its motivations for doing so.
"Since chicken is an animal, it is unlikely that it has the concept of road in the same sense than humans do; since it is a bird, whose ancestors were propably capable of flight in the near past, it is unlikely to have the concept of road in any sense - why would a flying bird need roads ?
"Therefore, the chicken can never have any motivation for crossing the road, since from the chickens point of view, it never does any such thing. It simply moves from one point to another, and these points happen to be on the opposite side of a flat area of ground. No road-crossing has happened.
"Think of it this way: if you walk over a scent trail left by some animal, and you don't know that the trail is there, it is foolish to ask your motives of crossing that trail. One can ask your motives for walking in the first place, but the crossing was pure coincidence and not something you chose."
Actually the question "Why did the chicken cross the road?" is perfectly valid. While you may be correct that the chicken does not have a 'reason' for crossing the road because reasons (used precisely rather than as in common parlance) require intentionality with regard to their object, causes do not require intentionality and yet are at least as commonly if not more commonly the object of the interogative 'why' as reasons are.
To put it simply, I may say that the cause of the chicken's crossing of the road was the action of a particularly strong gust of wind in that direction. This provides an adequate explanation for the phenomenon and answers the question "Why did the chicken cross the road?" without imputing sentience or intentionality to the chicken's actions.
I may further say (if I wish) that the chicken crossed the road to eat the grain on the other side. This both imputes intentionality to the chicken, adequately explains the phenomenon and answers the question "Why did the chicken cross the road?" But wait, you may be saying, you just told us that intentionality isn't necessary to answer the question. I did say that and I stand by it, but that does not mean that intentionality may not be involved in the answer to the question. In this case, however, the intentionality while needed to answer the question, is only tangentially related to the effect under examination. Specifically to answer the question "Why did the chicken cross the road?" we are pointing out that the chicken intended to consume a certain pile of grain, and that the road was between the chicken and that pile. We still have not imputed to the chicken any knowledge of the road "as a road". Rather we have simply explained the conditions and the intentions which led to the action of the chicken crossing the road, whether or not the chicken had a full understanding of those conditions.
Finally we must address the standard answer to the question: "To get to the other side." Again this answer imputes intentionality to the chicken's actions (the chicken did it 'to get' something) and it seems to imply a knowledge of the road (to understand 'the other side' the chicken must have knowledge of some object with two sides, understand that it is on one side of said object and desire to cross the object to reach the other side). Implied in this answer is that there is no further motivation other than getting to "the other side" and hence we cannot suggest that the answer simply left off the fact that there was a pile of grain on the other side which is the 'real' reason the chicken crossed the road. No. The chicken must have crossed the road for the sole and ultimate purpose of reaching the other side of "the road". How are we to reconcile this with the (most unassailable) assumption that the chicken has no knowledge of the road "as a road" and the need to allow this statement as a positive answer to the question "Why did the chicken cross the road?" We have specified that the chicken has no knowledge of a road "as a road". However, we have never suggested that the chicken has no knowledge of the road "as something". What then is the nature of the road as the chicken perceives it? We would not be unjustified in suggesting that at the very least the chicken has access to its own sensory data. It then must have a knowledge of the road as the "extended-hard-flatspace". We need go no further in our suppositions. We have here a chicken with an exploratory bent who wishes to discover what lies beyond the "extended-hard-flatspace". This adequately explains the phenomenon, assigns to the chicken a state of intentionality, relates that state of intentionality to the road, and answers the question "Why did the chicken cross the road?" with the statement "To get to the other side" all without in the least requiring that the chicken understand roads in the sense that we as humans understand roads.
Do you have a take on the Chicken Crossing the Road? Post it below. Feel free to post joke variations as well.
Entries for November 7, 2005
MovedMoved to new server new.allauthors.com. www.allauthors.com will be back online soon.
Entries for July 26, 2004
More Thoughts on Cyberspace
In “A Rape In Cyberspace” (Village Voice, 1993), Julian Dibbell discusses a virtual world in which a virtual person (representing of course an actual person) used the tools of that world to force another virtual person into an unwanted violent and graphic sexual encounter and how that encounter and its victims created a community out of an electronic database known as Lambda Moo. He does this by first relating what actually happened, as objectively as possible recounting the facts of the so-called assault as it occurred within the virtual world, then discussing the ramifications of the virtual world on the real world that it mimics and questioning where virtual crime falls on the moral scale of society, and finally discussing the after-effects of the events in both the virtual and real worlds, in both the public sphere and in his own philosophical musings. Dibbell attempts to determine the nature, purpose, value, morality, and importance of virtual worlds and virtual communities in order to explore the hazy line between thought and object, between physical and mental. He keeps a narrative tone throughout the piece, but the depth of his philosophical musings make it less than appropriate for a general audience; it seems to be aimed primarily toward philosophers interested in examining the nature of physicality versus mentality with respect to online communities, but to also attempt the inclusion of the average well educated member of an online community.
Having been a participant in many online communities of the type foreshadowed by Lamda Moo, and indeed, having visited Lamda Moo itself on occasion, I find it interesting to note the evolution that has occurred in these virtual communities since the time that this article was written. Primarily, there has been a stratification of virtual worlds, into those in which a community, much like that which evolved in Lamda Moo, self regulates through some form of semi-governmental process, and those in which there is a strange combination of anarchy and dictatorship where one or more “wizards” hold absolute power and occasionally make use of it to mete out arbitrary and capricious “punishment” on “wrongdoers” but in which there is otherwise no enforcement of any moral or legal standard. These latter types are often what is known as hack and slash MUDs, in which interaction between characters is limited to virtual fighting, and of course the perennial virtual sex. In the former on the other hand, players tend to form relationships with the other characters in the virtual world, and in fact, invest much of their emotional well being into that characters persona and life experiences. Much as the real-life woman who presented as Legba in the story above was literally in tears in real life over the experiences of her virtual persona, so many players invest themselves so deeply in the online world that virtual marriages have been known to lead to real life marriages, and virtual slights to lead to real-world retaliations. What the ramifications of all this are is beyond me, except to say that as the real-world gets uglier, and as interfaces move from text to graphics to true virtual reality, I think it likely that more and more people will find it important, therapeutic, and even vital to retreat into a fantasy world, where at least you can kill the villains.
Entries for July 16, 2004
A Virtual Commonplace: You Bet
In A Virtual Commonplace, "The Computer as a New Writing Space,” Jay David Bolter makes the argument that electronic hypertext offers a “revolution in writing” by allowing the writer to make use not only of linear words, sentences, and paragraphs, but also of larger and more diverse organizing structures which mimic or reflect the languages rich tradition of verbal gestures. He refers back to the Greek conception of topoi from which our word topic descends as a verbal unit or place whose meaning “transcends their constituent words.” This topical organization he suggests is intrinsic to logical thought but almost impossible to accurately reflect in traditional media. The closest that the ancients came to a truly topical organization was the Roman conception of outlining, which persists to this day as the primary “formal” method of written organization.
Other than the paragraph, which divides a paper up into high-level topics, traditional writing “flattens” or destructuralizes the content of an evolving text. Word processors move in the write direction by allowing structures to be defined, highlighted, and moved or deleted as a unit temporarily, but don’t go far enough. An outline processor goes a step further, by making this structuralization a permanent feature of the processor, and allowing the writer to play more easily with the overarching structure. Finally hypertext offers the writer the ability to create a “web of thought” similar to many “pre-writing” exercises which writers use prior to formally organizing their thoughts. The computer he says, “Can maintain such a network of topics, and it can reflect the writer’s progress as he or she trims the network by removing connections and establishing coordination until there is a strict hierarchy.” He goes on to argue that these types of topical association networks are an important part of writing which traditional media have been forced to suppress as having no outlet for them. The papyrus allowing them not at all, and the codex and printed book, allowing better and better access; and finally, the hypertext document allowing full and unfettered access to the “text behind the text.”
Bolter then goes into the benefits, and detriments of this new form of writing. The benefits include the ability to capture that structure of ideas in physical form, the ability to restrict the flow of information to the reader with regards to both speed and path, and the ability make the written word respond to the reader in a much more interactive sense than ever before. The disadvantages include the removal of the writer even further from the reader due to the abstract nature of electronic technology, and the transitory nature of technological writing with it’s tendency towards change evolution and extinction. Without ever coming to any definite conclusions, Bolter seems to end the article or chapter in an uncertain state. While the benefits and possibilities that hypertext offers are without a doubt valuable, there seems to be a note of caution that the unstable and transitory nature of the electronic medium are something to be wary of.
This text is, of course, decidedly out of date with it’s talk of outline processors (a concept which flopped dramatically in the early 90s) and hypertext as a “revolution.” The only revolution in writing which hypertext heralded was in the amount of freely available smut. It has turned out that hypertext documents like other documents are best written in the same highly structured, hierarchical, and “flattened” format as traditional texts. Those that attempt to become “networks of ideas” end up as quagmires into which the unwary reader sinks, and without divine intervention loses himself, never to arrive at any conclusion. In fact, the reader is likely to become so frustrated with the plethora of options that he gives up on the text entirely and moves on to something that is organized in a manner that he can understand.
The problem of course is that my “network of ideas” or ways of grasping a subject are drastically different from almost everyone else’s ways. Rhetoric has always been the process of bridging that gap between topoi and speech, between idea and communication, between thought and action. It seems unlikely to me that this process will ever be “swept away” by a new paradigm, but rather that it will simply continue to be refined and evolved to use, rather than be replaced by, new technologies. In fact, the best use of hyperlinks in online text is the use which Bolton scoffs at in his introduction: The judicious footnote made immediately available inline through a hyperlink.
The real revolution in electronic text will come from the plethora of opportunities for the author/artist to bypass the establishment, and deliver their work directly to the proletariat, whether for pay, or gratis, and in the ability of the audience to respond to and interact with their beloved author in real time. Communal works written by multiple authors in which no one part can be said to be the product of a single person will flourish, as will published “discussions” or debates between two or more respected individuals. Town halls, and virtual universes will allow the reader to be steeped in the authors work, and the author will be able to monitor such places and use them sources for further writing. In fact, all of these processes are already happening to a greater or lesser extent with various authors, especially in genre fiction. As such, it is bulletin boards, newsgroups, online communities, and e-mail lists that herald the revolution in writing, not mere hypertext.
Entries for June 2, 2004
Sonnet to a Cat, with Intra-linear Dispersions
up from empty
words. I burn
a page for you and
incense like, it
wafts up through
the air, particulate and
you, not like
the ink that every day
I spilled like
blood only to see you
a smidge of human-like
concern in the way your eyes
met mine and turned away.
You stalked off to
the kitchen, asked again
for food or milk or something; gauging
you is difficult.
Perhaps your age or mine’s
the barrier. Although
you’re masked by onyx eyes
and pointed ears and fur, it can’t be that
your feline incarnation could be
the cause of all my lives’
The above sonnet employs a nonce rhyme-scheme of abccbaabccbadd. After composing the sonnet as usual, I began to look for ways to break up the lines and change the wording so as to allow for doubling of meaning, abiguity, and intensification. In the process I found the opportunity to create an additional aspect in the concreteness (visually) of the textual arrangement. It was created rather off the cuff because I saw I hadn't posted in a very long while and wanted to put something original up, and it is a little too abstract even now, for my taste, but I enjoyed the diffusion and the layering of meaning that the self-developed workshopping allowed me to achieve. Now if I can just do the same with something a little more concrete (memetically).
This poem is best viewed maximized on screen resolutions of 1024x768 or better.
Entries for May 11, 2004
The Wife's Lament
So, as you can imagine, with Josely Baptista fresh in my mind, my thoughts are focused on translation. Add to that a class in Old English language and literature, and you've got yourself a dangerous combination.
I'm reading the Wife's Lament, right, which I can without affectation retitle Lonely Wife Blues. After all, the scholar who came up with the title "The Wife's Lament" back in the day was simply seeking a descriptive handle by which to reference a text which its scribe left untitled. Some people will tell you that authors weren't concerned with titling their works until the advent of the printing press and the possibility of widespread printed publication. I beg to differ. I think that SCRIBES weren't all that concerned with titles, but authors (in what small sense authorship as we know it existed in a pre-literate culture) always titled their works, and always shared that title with their audience (reader or listener). What, you think Homer just started strumming and people lined up to listen? Well, OK, maybe he could have, but I guarantee you that what he did was say something along the lines of "And now I give you the story of Odysseus and his remarkable journey," or something along those lines. It's basic; it's intrinsic; authors title their works. In any case, that was a humongous old tangent. The point is that you can give the Wife's Lament any old title you choose as long as people understand what you're talking about.
So I get to thinking, what modern poetic form most closely approximates the alliterative verse of Anglo Saxon culture, and I realize, we have a form today that is strikingly similar. When I say strikingly, you're not gonna belive how striking it is. So what is Alliterative verse? Basically what you've got is a "line" divided into to half-lines, each of which has two strongly weighted syllables, at least one of these syllables in each half-line alliterating with one in the other half line. Of course the rules for determining a strongly weighted syllable get pretty complex, as do the iterations that can be used within that basic pattern, but nevertheless, that's pretty much it. In modern verse, we have something commonly referred to as the blues line. Basically, it has two half-lines, often (though not always by any means) joined by alliteration on the stressed syllables, with the lines repeating and/or rhyming at the end. Remove the requirement for rhyme and you've got the updated version of Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse.
What follows is my translation (and I use the word translation advisedly; this is not a transliteration or a traduction or a paraphrase) of the first several lines of the Wife's lament into unrhymed strongly alliterated blues lines. I have tried to stay true as much as possible down to the word level, and always at least to the level of the half-line. I think it works as well as any translation can. What do you think?
Lonely Wife Blues
I'll sing you a song 'bout my sad sad life,
'bout my sad sad plight, though I say it myself;
and my miserable lot after i matured.
I've been there before never badder than now.
I've suffered torment been sent away,
just like my man was away from the masses,
when he caused a commotion and filled me with care.
I wanted to know just where he was,
So I went on a journey and looked for a job:
Couldn't make no friends in my miserable state.
My poor man's kin considered it great
(though they tried to hide it) that they'd parted our hearts,
as far away as the farthest lands.
My man's life was lousy; he longed for me;
he had me live like him in the horrible trees.
I didn't have no friends nowhere in this nation.
didn't have no friends didn't have no joy.
So when I found him and he made me happy
didn't know he weren't lucky that he'd lose his mind;
didn't know he's contrivin' a homicide.
He had a happy appearance we promised and vowed
we wouldn't be parted 'til death did his part.
We said we wouldn't be parted, but that was a lie,
cause I'm sittin here now, and just want to die.
[To be continued]
Entries for April 27, 2004
Reading: On the Shining Screen...
On the Shining Screen of the Eyelids by Josely Vianna Baptista, with translations by Chris Daniels is a volume of facing translations divided into two parts. The first part, "from Air," indeed seems to waft across the senses in a way that is in striking contrast to the blockiness of the typographical layout. The second half, "Corpography," begins to play with image, and the almost photograph like drawings by Fransisco Faria, incorporate text into the image even as they, as images, are incorporated into the text. There is a short introduction in which Daniels describes his process in translating, giving specific examples of the dilemmas he was faced with and the choices that he made about them.
I was much more interested in the introduction than in the poetry itself. I found that the uniform overspacing made the text difficult on my eyes, and while it certainly problematized the very ideational level of the text, rather than draw me into a deeper interest in and exploration of the sonic, sensory, and typographic levels, it merely turned me off to the work as a whole. On the other hand, the glimpse into the translation process was fascinating, and examining some of the poems as works of translation, even with my limited Portuguese, made the book much more fascinating. The drawings, too, were superb, and while Chris suggests that their photographic quality is a product of the medium of the glossy book pages and the offset printing process and laments the loss of the texture of the originals, I found the juxtaposition of the pseudo-real images with their canvases of skin which served up text inside of image inside of text, added an interesting dimension that would not have existed without the photo-realistic aspect.
Entries for April 19, 2004
Poetry ReadingI can't do better than to recommend the review that Chris Murray has written of the reading by Dale Smith and Hoa Nguyen. It was excellent. My only disappointment was that David Bart didn't have a chapbook to offer at the event. I picked up Hoa's book Your Ancient See Through (I already had Dale's American Rambler), and got both signed. Chris is not kidding when she talks about Hoa's presence. What a dynamic and engaging speaker.
Entries for April 15, 2004
Though I got it initially from Lime Tree, it originates in its current form from a Live Journal Entry by Elkins who apparently modified it (a much needed modification) from Amy's Journal which can be traced back to, if not its original incarnation, at least the start of this thread at, Tabouli, where it is part of a larger question and answer meme which is unattributed.
1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
"We pack the physical outline of the person we see with all the notions we have already formed about him, and in the total picture of him which we compose in our minds those notions have certainly the principal place."
-- Proust, Marcel. Swann's Way: In Search of Lost Time. Ed. D. J. Enright. Trans. C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin. New York: The Modern Library, 1998.
This is probably the most fascinating little meme I have seen in a while. I must admit that since I had several books in a stack which were equidistant from my current location I looked at page 23 of each before choosing my "official" response. Also up for the honor were:
1. "If we scan them, we will find that Hardy mixes iambs and anapests almost equally, as in the poem's third stanza:
The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing
Alive enough to have strength to die;
And a grin of bitterness swept thereby
Like an ominous bird a-wing . . ."
-- Timothy Steele, Missing Measures (poem is 'Neutral Tones' by Thomas Hardy)
2. "On these terms meter may be costing more than it is worth."
-- John Crowe Ransom, "Wanted: An Ontological Critic" from The Advocates of Poetry, Ed. R. L. Gwynn
3. "Mother kissed both tear-stained faces and led the twins away."
-- Mabel Betsy Hill, The Enchanted Playhouse
4. "Hashes are often called associative arrays, because a string index is associated with a scalar value."
-- Martin C. Brown, Perl: The Complete Reference
Don't ask me what the Perl book was doing mixed in with the others. My areas of discourse often mix.