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De-rivering a monolithic corpus from Burial & Solip .. in light of late-80s corpses

rosetta tablet library

Dear Internet,

Towards the end of the last entry we stated that The Becoming was ebbing at 43,205 words as we finally entered into the revision phase .... we have managed to widdle down hundreds, if not thousands of words since (for some reason 40,000 seemed like a nice number to shoot for) .. but for every word we step back, we step forword twice. It's like a cancer, imploding from the inside out .. currently at 45,827.

2,622 words might not seem like a lot to write in a week .. but in the non-linear way we write, measuring & breaking down each word .... it's tedious & taxing. We started piecing together bits & pieces for The Becoming just over a year ago. In April 2012 we stated this:

¢ Woke up & started writing a new book today. Working title is The Raft Manifest & working author is Remus. Remus might pilfer & salvage pieces from this & that, otherwise it's something entirely new. Not that Remus has put anything to paper—mostly looking at pictures of bird flight patterns to get the 10,000 foot view of Remus's headspace.

The flight patterns bit ended up in this book, but there were no words to write for that. Otherwise, the idea was planted then & there (with a name change). We forgot about the author being Remus, perhaps we'll bring him back to the table by name ....

bird body

(undoctored .. aside from stray punctuation)

So lets say 45,000 words in 365 days .... that's about 123 words per day on average, or if we say we worked on it 8 hours a day (a bit of an over-exaggeration, but even when we aren't working on it we are thinking about it), that's 1 word every 4 minutes. Which is pretty much how we write, we put down a word somewhere then sit there & think for four minutes, then put a word somewhere else.

By June of 2012, we were getting error messages from MS Word that: «There are too many spelling or grammatical errors in Raft Manifest to continue displaying them.» So we had to turn the spell & grammar checks off .. as we had no intention of fixing any. All we've done since is create more & more errors.

We don't think we've written a single complete sentence in the same sitting. Mostly we just put words & phrases around here & there .. like a fractured collage of misspelled words. And with each word or phrase come distractions, looking up the etymology, how to say it in French or Chinook jargon, etc.. or just generally what associations you, the Internet, have with the word or phrase.

Here are some of the words & phrases we've typed into our search bar in the last day or two:

{ haida wolf, quadnary counting system, buffalo bill wild west show, constitution, every revolution robes, why are caesarian sections named after caesar, Bas Jan Ader boat, haute couture, leonid storms, types of nets chinook used, wet dog fragrance, playdough, silly putty, native american ghost dance, itlwillie, take this bread to be body, different ways to spell fish, cock-a-doodle-do in french, cybernetic, lepome chinook, quaker construction nails, science of birth, rack and pinion, trademark symbol, nucleic acid sequence, pastry crust egg-white french term, mesostic cage, hearse, 100 year flood, century natural events, meteor shower leonid, laughing gas, what do you call junk washed up on beach, terrestrial locomotion dinosaur, types of sentences, cowboy coders, phineas gage, run up the flagpole, pineal gland, dungeness, crab anatomy underside }

... this of course doesn't include all the non-book related tangents we end up on. One of these post we should show our complete surfing history, like a trail of breadcrumbs for the reader to reenact .. an online footprint. The events of last week got us to thinking about these things .... everyone scrambling to make sense of those Chechen guys by every single link they clicked on, every video they watched, the last tweets, etc.

If ever we were to commit a crime, the media would have a lot to sift thru to make any sense of 5cense. Or if the police looked thru our search history they might see strings like «dead body found along the river». If they happened to be investigating a crime concerning such a murdered corpse, our words could be construed to incriminate us.

There are so many links between words & actual context that almost anything could be construed to mean anything. Since you can read into almost anything, it's better to just not give any meaning whatsoever to words.

monkey monolith full of stars

You, the Internet, need more language for the sake of language. That scene in 2001 where Bowman says the monolith is full of stars, we think what he really meant was language .. the monolith as a tower of babel: «The thing's hollow .... it goes on forever .... and .. oh my god .. it's full of language

This pretty much sums you, the Internet, up. And we are a bunch of monkeys banging on keyboards .. each of us creating or recreating monoliths of our own. It doesn't matter what the monoliths are about, it's more about the act.

When we google «monolith as tower or babel» we don't come up with much, except some band wrote a song saying you needed a tower of babel to decode the meaning of the monolith .. but they got it wrong .. you need a babelfish maybe .. but the monolith IS the tower of babel.

Every time we try to watch 2001 we usually end up asleep. Maybe that was Kubrick's intention.

When we die, hopefully we'll enter into a stream of language. Just pure ungrounded language with no meaning or quotidian facts to nail them down .. a river of language. River is another of those words we could get hung up on for days .. just like brother Markus.

A book object could be a monolith .. a pure one, that is full of language & not meaning. A monolith running with a river of language .. this describes a book at its best, like this book of mud.

The book brother Markus is talking about above we read right about the same time we started to collage together The Becoming, so the language is perhaps inspired in part by his language. We talked about the book here, though these were in times where we refrained by calling things by their names.

When we think of the word corpus, the first that comes to mind is a story our better half told us when she was working with some dairy farmers in New Hampshire. One of them had to extract the corpus luteum from a cow, which involved sticking his arm all the way to his shoulder, into the cow's vagina until his face was pressed up against he cow's ass (& a razor blade delicately cupped in his hand the while, so he could scrape the corpus luteum out) .. but what really struck us about the story was the word, corpus luteum.

corpus luteum

«Figure 10a: Corpus luteum in a 35-year-old woman. (a) Transvaginal US scan demonstrates a typical appearance of a corpus luteum within the ovary. It has a slightly thick, crenulated wall (arrows) and a small cystic center. (b) Color Doppler US scan shows abundant flow in the wall of the corpus luteum.»

We had no idea we would be blogging about monoliths & cow vaginas when we started this post. We titled this blank page "river_corpse.htm" thinking that's what we might end up talking about.

But you can never tell until you start writing. It's true we have been thinking about corpses lately, especially ones washed up on river banks .. bodies by bodies of water. Maybe it was this post on Montevidayo that stirred our imagination, about The River's Edge. Or maybe cuz a few weeks ago we rewatched the first episode of Twin Peaks .. or cuz we just read BurialBurial by Claire Donato.

body in twin peaks

the Lynchian uncollapsed wave function

We got to wondering why in the 80s/early 90s this motif of finding a dead body (female)— usually by teenagers (male) & usually near a body of water—was so prevalent .. Twin Peaks, River's Edge, Stand by Me, Short Cuts (the part based on Carver's So Much Water Close to Home) .. what was it that triggered the American psyche in such times?

corpse short cuts

so much water close to home

Before this post even, we've been thinking about the word corpus a lot. And corpse. Corpus is the 8th word appearing in The Becoming (though in this elimae excerpt, before we deleted/rearranged 2 words, it appeared 10th). Corpus appears 15 other times through the book. Corpse is used 18 times .. & various misspelling/variations .... corp, corps, cors, core, cœur, corporeal, etc.. that all seem derived from a morphemic core, which is the Latin corpus, meaning body. But what's interesting is when the word is used to mean a literary body of work, or a «collection of facts or things».

The monolith as a corpus .. as a mausoleum (the one we stare at out or window, the one where lies buried Ulysses S. Grant).

claire donato burial

Yes, we wear wrist sweatbands when we blog. We treat writing like a tennis match. And yes, the foliage is filling in .. we've been taking daily time-lapse photos .. by next post perhaps we'll be ready to show all of April in 30 seconds.

Right off the bat in BurialBurial, Claire Donato goes into the etymology of morgue.

«Repeat the expression: Life is the body of death. 'Morgue,' borrowed from the French, is a mortuary: a hard and insensitive building where dead bodies are kept, where mourners gather following death. But from what does a morgue borrow its form? To whom does it owe a debt? Say 'morgue.' The word is a trap. It wreaks havoc upon the brain, the mind and language.»

Burial is one of these monolithic book objects that is full of language .. that is not about anything in particular that can't be summed up in its one sentence description: «Set in the mind of a narrator who is grieving the loss of her father, who conflates her hotel room with the morgue, and who encounters characters that may not exist, Burial is a little novel about an immeasurable black hole.»

Burial is a flood of language that pours out of the narrator, echoing of Woolf, Cixous & Nathalie Sarraute (though perhaps because Sarraute is fresh in our mind). With passages such as:

«Shock, which dons the guise of laughter, pollutes the body, is cacophonous. Disassociation hugs the mind, and it is impossible to call attention to the morgue without describing its scenery. Its carpet is baroque. Beneath it rests a colony of dirigible ants that, regardless of the season, steers together. During the rainy season, the ants steer together, wander through corridors in search of sugar, syrup, honey. In summer, a tidal wave overturns the beach; one finds oneself lost in loops: designs that are brightly colored, however colorless: loop loop. One cannot get lost in carpet without being thrown for a loop, a vortex, a swirling eddy, and so many things to call to attention: the antique mantle, painted white; the countertop, marble, cool to the touch; hardwood banisters that loop and climb the staircase, then spiral down from the brain's never-ending collection of rocks.»

The entire books was refreshingly devoid of proper nouns .. references to real-world things. The only name of person or place mentioned that we remember was California (where the narrator is from) but we don't really know where she is, geographically. There are a few characters, but they are not mentioned by name so much as function, such as the groundskeeper.

This monolith, in a perfect world, we should be able to chisel a chunk from it & from this chunk recreate the original monolith. The monolith is also a tombstone.

here lays one whose name was writ in water

Keats wish was to be buried in an unmarked grave (in our old stomping grounds) with only the inscription «Here lies one whose name was writ in water». His friend Joseph Severn sort of honored his wish, but unfortunately there's a bunch of stuff written above this that explains Keats wish .. which seems to defeat the whole point. Keats would roll over.

Why can't friends just honor wills & the death bed requests of writers? Like Kafka asking his friend Max Brod «My last request: Everything I leave behind me . . . in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others’), sketches and so on, to be burned unread.» And what did Brod do? I suppose we are just as guilty as Brod for reading these books. Just like looking at pictures of dead corpses encourages you, or the media, to post such images.

We've never seen a dead body in person. We'd have opportunity to, for example to identify them in morgues, but have opted out. We should say, we've never seen them up close, or in full view. The first day we moved to New York we saw a body with a sheet throw over it .. five or six stories above it was an open window, the kind that angled out so you'd have to jump head first. The closest we've come to seeing a dead body in the flesh was when we were a teenager in Mexico .. from about 10 meters away we saw a drowned woman being pulled out of the water up onto the beach. We don't remember much about it, for some reason what comes to mind first is that it was a beach nearby to Mazatlan, famous as a place where they canned baby sharks.

For the most part we try not to look, when presented with a corpse. Viewing a dead body kills the living memory of that person. Like that famous cat in quantum mechanics, we prefer to keep things in undetermined states.

This dead body motif in the late 80s was perhaps because people were living sheltered in lala land, in denial of the ugliness in the world. If we googled around we're sure we could find something written about this, explaining it .. but on the other hand .. like the dead bodies .. maybe it's better to just let them lay .. or lie.

Solip by Ken Baumann

We also read Solip by Ken Baumann. The cover is lovely .. you can judge the book as such. Not sure what the tiny object in the middle is but it seems like a pineal fractal .. a fucked pine cone (our own shown to the left for reference) fractured out like broccoli romanesco. We've google-imaged «pineal gland» before & what comes to mind is the Egyptian third eye thing & lampreys (that represent how far back you have to go before the pineal gland disappears from the gene pool). We don't know if we can think of a more obscene sight than that of the pineal gland-less lamprey (mid-right below).

pineal gland

Solip is all these things & more .. another one of these monolithic books about nothing but language .. rivers of it, like bifurcating fractals, dendritic tendrils, branching deeper into meaningless chaos.

«Small hands emerging from hands, birthed and sprouting from all our fingertips, men with half a mouth enormous and full of teeth in retro, money floating and combusting in sharp tones, tar rain, the floor wet then upside down, my feet phosphorescent, my toes wrenched, oddly spaced claps at the highest resonance, ear quaking, everything in sequence, cancerous wire balls and mesh, bottles on the walls, the roof, wobbling back and forth in super seed, a man above light and smiling, the cell heaving out its carried by a double procession, elderly beggars marching toward something furnaced, black char, porridge spotted with white eyes and maggot eggs, white pouring from my ears, rainbows.»

Solip is like a corpse washed ashore .. leaving no clues as to its history. It's dead, it can't speak .. we mean, it speaks .. but it speaks only for itself, which is to reveal its corpse, its corpus. It's a self-describing kernel, a pinecone, an artichoke, an onion that by reading you peel off layer by layer .... until you get to the middle & find there's nothing there except another tiny replica of the very kernel you started with .. a microcosm .. a closed system demonstrating Lishian consecution.

«Like a bulb emulsed in kerosene, from which the bastard roots grow: The rhizomes grow heavy among each other. The roots sprout then curl into themselves. The roots behave under just law set out among the other bulbs set in kerosene. The roots have no fingers. The roots can breathe. The roots are quantic and contained. The roots have no metric.»

rhizomic root

It's weird to talk about Solip (as in the philosophical ism where only one's own mind can be certain to exist) being as we sort of know Ken & he reads this blog. Not that we feel compelled to say 'nice' things about the book .. to the contrary we tend to be harsher with those we know. One can easily get frustrated trying to read Solip, if you are trying to find any meaning in it .. but this is the point, we think. You have to give yourself up the language & just let it wash over you. The problem is when you know the author, you tend to read into a book thinking you know why they are saying the things they do. Like at times we see his metabolism, his stomach, taking possession of his writing hand, Ken being afflicted with Crohn's disease as he is. His pineal gland being pinged by his gut to eat, eat, eat or purge, purge, purge. Writing is probably an outlet in this sense, as it also seems to be a cathartic release from his day job, as a successful actor on a prime-time teen drama, wherein he has to act out scripted language that is probably the last thing he wants to make his body say. So writing is perhaps an exorcism, to say all the things he, the actor, has to suppress during the course of the day.

We all have our preconceived pet-peeves about language & a few of mine Ken uses/abuses frequently, namely the heavy use of question & exclamation marks, and the use of the word god. Whenever we see these things, !, ? & god (especially when written as God) .. or phrases like 'oh, my dear'. These are distractions more than anything, that to us disrupt the flow, stop us in our tracks. It's hard to pull off copious use of exclamation marks .. Nietzsche is the one tolerable exception that comes to mind. Otherwise they, !!!, seem contrived to get the reader excited about something. The question mark is necessary in everyday language, but in such a book it comes off as pulling back your punches, as lacking authority. Though in the case of Solip, the questions are to himself. Again, these are just our own shortcomings, the lingual prejudices we carry.

The use of the word god on the other hand .. we all do it unknowingly in everyday spoken language .. but there's no word we hate more to see. The word only serves to alienate people not sharing in your belief system, especially when you upper-case the word, like your God is The god. Not that Ken means anything by it, besides it just being figures of speech, habit. If we saw whatever it was that Bowman (not Baumann!) saw in 2001, we would probably also say, «oh .. my .. god.»

Claire Donato's book, however, used the g-word in a way that was jolting .. half-way thru the book, amidst a nice passage about how her father (or Father, as she writes it) kills a deer on a frozen lake, and she seems in a trance, flooded by language & suddenly, out of the blue, says «The Book of Mormon is the word of God. It joins the Bible as one of the most remarkable texts in the world.» We were on our spin bike reading this & almost had to stop & throw up some, maybe we even threw the book across the room (fortunately the window was closed). We picked it back up & reread it & the part before & after & the context is not totally clear .. but it wasn't said in quotes & there was no explanation for why this offensive sentence was included in the mix. This sort of threw us for a loop & invalidated a lot of what she said after, suspicious as we were of some subversive agenda she had.

Reminds me of another memory from Mexico .. this time Yucatan, at the Tulum ruins. We'd seen them before & others nearby without a guide, so we figured this time we'd treat ourselves to a proper tour (licensed guide & everything). It was a long & informative tour about the history of Tulum & what everything meant, etc .. nothing out of the ordinary .. until they very end of his spiel .. with dramatic pause .. he said, pulling a book out of his back pocket for emphasis: «.... and all this, my friends, is written in the Book of Mormon.»  And he just walked away leaving us standing there staring at each other with jaws dropped. You can be assured that we reported him to the tourism board .. for what it's worth.

We have a right to despise the mormon cult, er .. religion .. «some of our friends» & relatives are mormon (our mother was even baptized as such) .. we don't hate them, but we despise & resent their fucked belief system. We hate all religions for that matter, equally, especially those whose mission it is to convert others. So when we hear or read words like god & mormon, we cringe & are as deeply offended as mormons might be in reading this .. & everything the person says after that becomes invalid, as if they are not even their words, but the word of whatever god has washed over their brains to keep them from having their own thoughts.

Mormon temple garments

(secretly we long to wear such underwear to bed)

Sorry for the digression (if you, oh Internet reader, were offended, then good .. you deserve it for all the times you've spit the g-word in our face) .. none of this has anything to do with Ken Baumann or Solip. .. if he does use the g-word, we don't think he means anything by it. His words are his own .. if there is divine intervention it comes from his own hand (or stomach) .. or for that matter, they are not even his own words, so much as the book's, the book speaking for itself in soliloquy.

«Invisible ink. A hat brimmed with hairless hair, only dirty and seen when washed. An all or nothing proposition, surely; I put the paper down and rub it around and the grime leaches, the hand comes, and the paper says black, remains, a bodily brine, or: A message. Revealed! And then placed back on the tray? Back with the hand? Or no! With me? Benevolently or indifferently looked upon; looked upon at all; oh let the poor boy use the light off of love to see the little message, cough, I mean it's arbitrary after all—entertainment! Or: Let ye who hold no faith look upon Him, and find that He is good? Ringing from something lickable, the world will never know. We could, though! So, too, for, us, is, a, man, made, in, tomb—tomorrow. Now there's a word that has lost its meaning.»

It's not easy to write meaningless text .. we've been grappling with 45,827 words of meaningless text for the past year. Though meaningless not an accurate way to put it .. meaning is not a binary operation, to get it or not. The states, that at least we strive for, lie somewhere in between, in flux, uncollapsed, in a temporary third state, or fourth even .. a holding pattern, held together by the unopened book object .. until the reader comes along to collapse the text as his/her own.

But how to write such ambiguous text .. that on one hand does not impose its will .. & on the other that is collapsible, readable, accessible. We can't speak to Ken's methodology (we remember him saying somewhere that the text of Solip felt alien to him, as if exorcised) .. but what we do, as mentioned at the beginning of this post is collagic, piecemeal .. the opposite of, say, how Sherwood Anderson wrote Winesburg, Ohio (supposedly, spur of the moment, in one continuous sitting thru one night).

To us it's all in the revision process, of which there are countless iterations .. if we read something we wrote that makes sense, our inclination is to destroy it .. or alter it until any semblance of meaning gets buried. If we read something we wrote & we completely don't get what we wrote .. to the point that it distracts us from continuing .. then we destroy it, or alter it until some semblance of meaning is revealed .... all until it «looks good on paper» .. neither dead or alive, but somewhere in between. Any meaning, any revelation, is left for the reader to discover for his/her own, to collapse the corpus ....

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