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Self-annihilating language in ritual & graphic incision: on goats, Moscona, crows, Gladman, dogs, Lutz, fish & Babenko

Dear Internet,                                                                           June 5, 2013

Our better half is on her way to Burma, or Myanmar, or whatever you call it (how bout 'BurMyanma' as a compromise?). We remain here, on the island of Manhattan .. where we have been now for the last six months .... except for brief trips to New Orleans or Boston. In a few weeks, though .. Nepal ....

We tried the Zip car thing last weekend .. zipped out to Long Island .. in a Mini-Cooper .... but it all seems more trouble than it's worth. Zip cars are only useful for weekday errands .. & then you may as well just take a cab. Being on the hourly meter & constrained to get the car back exactly at such & such o'clock is not our idea of a good time.

goat spread

lazing goats with swollen udders

We did see goats though .. somewhere on the north fork .. on the Catapano farm, supposedly renown for making some of the best goat cheese in America (stuff we got was pretty damn good, though it went moldy after 2 days .. maybe as it should).

Ate some pretty damn good lobster rolls too, from some food truck. Sat on a beach. Tasted some wines. Got some strawberries .. & rhubarb for which to make a pie. Listen to us .. we sound like, what?

goat mouth

We do these things because we feel we should 'get out' every once in a while, when mostly we just like being a recluse. We have nothing against the world .. just the people that populate it. You can't go anywhere anymore without encountering loads of them. We like goats though .. especially this particular one.


While we were stroking her neck we felt her cud come up her throat & then she resumed chewing who knows what. Perhaps this post is more apt for our sister site .. Goat Rodeo. This is supposed to be more about books & whatnot.

We 'read' Negro Marfil by Myriam Moscona this past week .. or Ivory Black. We put 'read' in quotes because it's not the kind of book you just sit down & read cover to cover .. it's more like something you wear for a while & let it rub off on you .... not a text, but a textile .. a garment. Over the past month or two we've worn it a few times through .. both in spanish & inside-out in english .. or just to marvel at the images .. & how the text looks on the page ....

Ivory Black

The version we have is dual-language (the native spanish & english) .. published by Les Figues. And they embedded some of the original images that led to the book.

Megro Marfil

What happened is Myriam Moscona filled a notebook with some sketches/collages. Then someone gave her a tube of Ivory Black paint. Then she started thinking about the corresponding words & phrases & started piecing them together into 'poetry'. Evidently she even wrote some of the texts backwards .. to reset her (& consequently our) comfort zone, our quotidian language full of words & phrases that we've agreed upon over & over until we lose sight of their original, virginal impact .. until Moscona comes along to wipe the slate clean ....

ivory black

Ivory Black drills down to the rhizomic roots of language & how it relates to the senses & art. It felt like scratching the surface of something .. a painting .. knowing full well that scratching the surface is all we ever do (& why pretend otherwise?). That when we write, or read, we erase.

They stretch out along the waves     Sustain us
The sluices now open
Crackle in this refraction
Movement toward the stain

What is black breathes black at the window

Like when you breathe on glass in the cold of winter to reveal hidden traces.

The narrator never appears. These are texts passed from reader to reader .. translated .. erased .. retraced .. etched again ..

Myriam Moscona

To the uninitiated, a text might seem like a permanent record. But if we think of a vinyl record .. of a needle scratching in the groove .. then 'record' .. the recording .. is just the trace. A scratch. It's mind-blowing that you can stick a diamond needle in the groove & get the music we hear. As we're typing this, Bauhaus (on shuffle) sings:

All we ever wanted was everything
All we ever got was coal
oh, to be, the cream

But the voice that popped in my head is Laurie Anderson:

Uh—this is your Captain again.
You know, I've got a funny feeling I've seen this all before.
Why? Cause I'm a caveman.
Why? Cause I've got eyes in the back of my head.
Why? It's the heat.
This is the time.
And this is the record of the time.

The last line explains why it popped into my head .. This is the record of the time. That, or because, like the diamond in the scratched groove making music, that we can even travel by airplane blows my mind every time. What we've never stopped to think about before is that the title of that song is From The Air.

What does this have to do with Myriam Moscona? We're not sure. Maybe because it's about pulling things out of thin air .. sublimation .. or precipitating from air to liquid.

They told me that with its mouth it would speak just once It was tongue marked by incisions  Graphically it had a cross at the middle it was an engraving in liquid abrasive 

Negro Marfil also reminded us of our incision days .. besides just being «marked by incisions» & «silvered in aquatint» .. this idea of being able to scratch a metal surface .. smear it with ink, scrape it & then press it .. all to reveal the original traces .. records of the engraving .. the action that put it in a grave. This becomes the job of the text .. to reveal (but not kill meaning). To reveil in revelation.

Megro Marfil Mosocona

This, this post, is our own record of the time. Pilotless, scrawling evidence of our existence .... like a prisoner in a cell sans art supplies .. a caveman .. & this blog is our cave. Sometimes it is not enough to just read .. but in the writing about the reading, the rewriting, what it meant to us is revealed & reveiled. As Jen Hofner says in regards to her translation:

The blackbird announces scattering sound—dissipating waves, liquid let loose, spilled, blottered, stuttered. We can't parse sound, spillage, slippage, sonorous ink to write speechlessness and to annotate what cannot be said, what must be said. Writing is rewriting. We rewrite (i.e. write, i.e. translate) in order to inhabit—bodily—what we cannot hear, cannot speak, cannot understand. In not understanding there is understanding.

ivory black

We write to inhabit .. a funny word in itself because of its habitual implications.

We also read Event Factory by Renee Gladman. If Ivory Black is about the physical traces, on the surface of paper .. Event Factory is event-driven, about the gestures on the surface of our habitudinal performances. Both are about language .. but in Event Factory language is used orally in interpersonal, ritualistic exchange.  What you get in Event Factory is not the record, but the story, the history.

I had to give up speaking to her in Ravic. She was trying, but with the barrier, we could not get enough done. I had worked out a way for her to accompany me, and we had to use her language to plug up the holes.

Ravic is a made-up language they speak in Ravicka, a made-up city beneath yellow skies where the narrator finds herself .. that she in-habits. And although she is well-versed in Ravic, she's a fish out of water when it comes to their customs. She understands the words, but the meaning of what is happening alludes her. For example:

Digla was a word I was very familiar with. It was in all the books. It meant "read" and "see" at once. As I said before, the simplest negotiations demanded some aspect of performance in Ravicka. Digla implied that to successfully cross the bridge (or not cross the bridge, depending on the meaning of the remaining words) we had to grasp the content of the message and integrate that content into an act or gesture made toward the bridge.

Whereas Moscona distorts & distresses every-day written language to induce us to rethink, Gladman alienates herself from the ritual, the custom, the every-day gestures that we all make .. whose underlying meaning we take for granted. The sensation you get is akin to learning a foreign language from an english-speaker in high school & then traveling to that corresponding country thinking just because you 'know' the language, literally, you'll understand what's going on.

The best bits are often lost in translation.

imagine a world where you had to remind yourself to breath.

Customs is a funny word. We use it to mean everyday gestures & rituals that become habitual, normalized (to the locals). But we also use the word to mean «the place at a port, airport, or frontier where officials check incoming goods, travelers, or luggage». We suppose it is not so strange when you consider both senses of the word imply something accepted.

Renee Gladman: The Event Factory

We read The Event Factory on a crowded subway to & from Brooklyn. It would probably be better read in isolation .. in a quiet empty room, free of distractions. We felt mostly detached reading it, finding it difficult to imagine the world the language was describing, as our senses were bombarded by the in-your-face customs of NYC.

We went to Brooklyn for a reading .. Gary Lutz, John Haskell & some others at Unnameable books. J & i went early & went to the Brooklyn museum .. mostly to see the exhibit on Life, Death, and Transformation in the Americas. We met Gary Lutz after at some Mexican place full of day of the dead kitsch. It seems every time we meet Gary we eat Mexican food in tacky dives .. & he gets tortilla soup. 


some crows we saw at the Brooklyn Museum

For the most part, we hate readings. But it's always a pleasure to hear Lutz read. And Haskell is an engaging reader as well. After Lutz read, we stole the pages he used to read from (don't worry Gary, we'll return them!). Here's one page to give you the idea:

Gary Lutz notes

The text becomes a sort of script for the performance .. with certain words & phrases marked as cues, reminders. And with Lutz we're not just getting a straight-up reading of the story, but an ever-morphing medley of sorts .. even though he was reading "The Driving Dress," the binder-clipped on paragraph is from the story "Middleton" (both pieces of which appear in Divorcer). As he was reading the spliced part, we sort of realized something was funny because «(I preferred brochures of things over the things brochured.)» is one of our favorite lines .. that we remember being in another story.

door full of dogs

some dogheads we saw spilling out of a door in Brooklyn

As we are writing this, our better half is probably somewhere over the North Pole. It is dark now & we have a belly full of black bean/tortilla soup & rhubarb pie. The History of Luminous Motion is due back from the printer tomorrow (let us know if you are interested in a review copy) .. & we finally got the final piece to finish the Sleepingfish puzzle .. this artist book by Dmitry Babenko from which we plan to make the cover: The Oikumene Fish Catalog. It's really something, truly 'one of a kind'.

And serendipitously, the same day we got Babenko's Fish Catalog, someone (Marvin Sackner) requested some pages from Ark Codex, the monetary exchange value of which almost exactly counterbalances what we spent for the Fish Catalog .... art as the ultimate form of currency.

  >> NEXT: American Betrayals: Black Elk, Big Brother, Sleepingfish 12 & Open Access for all

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