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 348 I/O proSSES feeding of reflexive differences to THE book, Darwin, Derrida, et al

blank black book on book cover

Dear Internet,

These posts seem to be stabilizing into weekly recapitulations of sorts. Perhaps we should begin these with a churning abstract, a self-enfolding summary of input vs. output ...

IN(x): {The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin, A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam, Troublers by Rob Walsh, Writing and Difference by Jacques Derrida, The Odyssey, Ulysses & various events of the day}

OUT(x) : {chapter 3 draft of 'SSES" 'SSES" "SSEY', Travel Notes by Stanley Crawford, The Static Herd by Beth Steidle, some failed covers & the continued deep freeze}

... where the i/o difference between IN — OUT = [this post]

INPUT Functions

The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin ... we started to read this appropriately enough down in Tierra del Fuego & as we made our way back up thru Chile, but we only talked about the first half. After rounding the tip of South America, Darwin (on the Fitzroy-commanded Beagle) makes his way up the coast of Chile. He experiences a major earthquake or 2 & goes on various inland excursions over the Andes ... before arriving in the Galapagos & well, the rest is history ...

The problem w/ this bloggy compulsion, this drive to document & recapitulate all that is input thru our senses, is that it encroaches on output time, t ... even if we only talk about a book or experience in how it relates to what we are working on. There's so much to say, but what really struck us about The Voyage of the Beagle is that we get unbridled access to Darwin's train of thought when he was in the field. We've been thinking a lot this week about something Deleuze & Guattari said in 1000 Plateaus, that «there is no difference between what a book talks about and how it is made.» This thought can be generalized to most any field ... in film, we've always felt the truly great 1s inevitably reflect the process it took to make them ... the greatness of Apocalypse Now (or Fitzcarraldo) has to do with the conflicts & catharsis Coppola & all the actors went thru in making the film, that got recapitulated into the final product. The output of Darwin's trip was his theory of natural selection ... but the cathartic process that led him to his theory was the trip he took around South America (& onward thru the South Pacific & New Zealand & Australia ...) & fortunately Darwin had the presence of mind to document his thought process as he went along.

In our previous post, we mentioned how Darwin alludes to inklings of his theory of evolution in his Beagle journals, not so much thru observation of animals, but by anthropological observation of the Fuegian peoples living in the harsh climate of Tierra del Fuego (which in itself is interesting, because it backhandedly puts humans on equal footing w/ animals). And then it's in the Galapagos where things really start to crystallize ... because of the isolation of the islands that enabled him to see differences ... & it is these differences that are the trigger. On page 326, Darwin observes:

«Most of the organic productions are aboriginal creations, found nowhere else; there is even a difference between the inhabitants of the different islands; yet all show a marked relationship with those of America, ...»

And then on the next page he shows the famous drawing of the finches & the differences in their beaks—adaptations driven by variations in their respective ecosystems.

Darwin's finches

Darwin's finches

Conceptually, it was the rhizomic doodling in his journal (another 1, after he came back from the Beagle expedition) that perhaps seeded his idea of natural selection (or at least the 1st direct expression thereof) ... an important enough doodling that we've considering getting it tattooed (but instead opted for the more refined phylogenetic tree on our belly).

Darwin rhizome tree of life

... which is not to say we still won't ink this somewhere on our person.

Another thing that struck us that Darwin said:

«It is the fate of most voyagers, no sooner to discover what is most interesting in any locality, than they are hurried from it; but I ought, perhaps, to be thankful that I obtained sufficient material to establish this most remarkable fact in the distribution of organic beings.»

We have felt this hurried epiphany, such a rush that you scarcely have time to document the impression as it spurns in your head—conflicted as whether to let yourself get wrapped up in the moment or to capture it—whether it was the 15 minutes we spent w/ gorillas in Rwanda, or a few weeks ago seeing a glacier calve in Patagonia. It's always hard to appreciate the moment in the moment, without risking some of the information to acquire. It's in the post-processing—the reflecting & assimilating—where you really make sense of things. But it helps to have data to jar the memory.

A Beautiful Truth

A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam ... someone from Soho Press gave us this book at the Brooklyn Bookfair last fall. It's about a chimp that's raised by a couple that can't have a child of their own—a story line similar to that of the recent Rise of the Planet of the Apes, in that after inevitably realizing the chimp is not fit to live in the world he's moved to a chimp research institute. But A Beautiful Truth is more introspective & philosophical, less science-fictiony. Inevitably it's about the human response, what we learn about ourselves. And there's interesting food for thought about language development—part of the book is written from the chimp p.o.v. Not sure their use of language is how we would've imagined ... not sure if anyone can pull this off w/out inevitably coming off as anthropomorphic, but a bold & interesting effort nevertheless.

Chimps are unique in that they represent the smallest mean difference between us & the rest of the animal kingdom.

Troublers by Rob Walsh

Troublers ... this is a crafty collection of stories by Rob Walsh, 1 of which («The Butcher and the Second Opinion») appeared in Sleepingfish 0.9375 & he's been in a few other issues, including the most recent issue 12. Brian Evenson describes him best in saying «Walsh's tautly elegant language renders a world at once iconic and strange, one in which every action and sentiment seems lovingly considered, mercilessly dissected, and expertly defamiliarized.»

& we've started to read Writing & Difference by Jacques Derrida, 1 of his earlier works published in 1967, that we don't think we'd read yet, at least not in it's entirety. We're still processing it (& only up to the 2nd essay), so we'll just pull passages here that struck us (mostly in the context of thinking about what we are currently working on, 'SSES" 'SSES" "SSEY' ...).

Derrida Writing and Difference

The first essay—«Force and Signification»—is mostly about Jean Rousset & structuralism, a field pioneered by Claude Lévi-Strauss (who we talked about a few posts ago in the context of Tristes Tropiques). Mostly Derrida talks about structuralism in the context of literary criticism, which he sees as a destructive force, a vain attempt to give form to a text.

«Form fascinates when one no longer has the force to understand force from within itself. That is, to create.»

Derrida likens structure neutralized of meaning to a city no longer inhabited: «This state of being haunted, which keeps the city from returning to nature, is perhaps the general mode of the presence or absence of the thing itself in pure language.»

Criticism as a violent destructuring.

«Structure is perceived through the incidence of menace, at the moment when imminent danger concentrates our vision on the keystone of an institution, the stone which encapsulates both the possibility and the fragility of its existence.»

He then goes on to talk about imagination, which he sees (w/ the help of Rousset & Gaeton Picon) as a sort of empathy between form & content, something that is not only requisite in the creation of artistic works, but also in accessing them.

«Imagination is the freedom that reveals itself only in its works. These works do not exist within nature, but neither do they inhabit a world other than ours.» & «The notion of an imagination that produces metaphor—that is, everything in language except [the] verb to be—remains for critics what certain philosophers today call a naively utilized operative concept

And sort of related/tying into the idea of disembodiment we went into in the last post, Derrida urges a separation or exile—a departure from the world to some sort of utopian state of limbo—to truly experience, whether by writing (output) or reading (input):

«Only pure absence—not the absence of this or that, but the absence of everything in which all presence is announced—can inspire, in other words can work, and then make one work. The pure book naturally turns towards the eastern edge of this absence which, beyond or within the prodigiousness of all is its first and proper content. The pure book, the book itself, by virtue of what is most replaceable within it, must be the "book about nothing" that Flaubert dreamed of—a gray, negative dream, the origin of the total Book that haunted other imaginations.»

Book on book cover mise en abyme

by our own hand holding the hypothetical book on the cover of the book

(about nothing but itself), ad infinitum

Where Book is init-capped because it represents the ideal book from which all others are derived. And the «eastern edge» is as close as we'll get to Derrida nodding toward the influence of eastern mysticism (zen buddhism in particular) in deriving such ideas. To Derrida there is 1 Book & each book can be reduced to the difference between the book object & this idealized Book (which can never exist for otherwise it would objectify itself & self-destruct).

«To write is not only to know that the Book does not exist and that forever there are books, against which the meaning of a world not conceived by an absolute subject is shattered, before it has become a unique meaning; nor is it only to know that the non-written and the non-read cannot be relegated to the status of having no basis by the obliging negativity of some dialectic, making us deplore the absence of the Book from under the burden of "too many texts!"»

Yes, it is overwhelming ... the number of books in our to read pile ... & then you come across 1s like this that demand so much, that seem so necessary, that in many ways encapsulate 10,000 other books, that makes it so when you read most contemporary fiction (like even the 2 titles above) they seem trivial & time-biding. And it is overwhelming (yet somehow calmly reassuring) as a writer, to think a book we can spend years laboring on is but just 1 of a million, likely to collect dust in The Library of Babel.

«If writing is inaugural it is not so because it creates, but because of a certain freedom of speech, because of the freedom to bring forth the already-there as a sign of the freedom to augur. A freedom of response which acknowledges as its only horizon the world as history and the speech which can only say: Being has always already begun.»

This last passage is particularly validating to us, personally in light of the sequence of our last 2 books ... 1, a wordless book of auguring & the next a primitive text of becoming (that we should note does not contain a single instance of the verb to be—per Derrida, the only verb that matters).

«This revelatory power of true literary language as poetry is indeed the access to free speech, speech unburdened of its signalizing functions by the word "Being" (and this, perhaps, is what is aimed at beneath the notion of the "primitive word" ...)»

See also our post on primitive & becoming.

The second essay—"Cogito & the History of Madness"—is mostly about Michael Focault ... although Derrida is somewhat critical of Focault, we don't even think Focault is worthy of critique. The take-away is that «The history of madness itself is therefore the archaeology of a silence.»


Over the past few months we've also been re-re-reading Ulysses & The Odyssey ... more directly in relation to the writing of 'SSES" 'SSES" "SSEY' (a recapitulation of our brothers 'SSES" 'SSES" thesis, which recapitulates Ulysses as it recapitulated The Odyssey). We've completed the outline (24 chapters more in line w/ The Odyssey than Ulysses) & before the new year's finished drafts of chapters 0 & 1 ... & this week we finished a draft of chapter 2. Coincidentally each chapter is 12 pages, so at this rate it will be 288 pages (& it's large format, 8" x10"). We're thinking we'd like to finish a chapter a week or so over the next half-year & blogging about it here might motivate us. Here's where we're at (as of January's end, 2014):

0: Summoning the Muse (Athene advises Telemachus)—establishing the framework & revealing background information, how the story will be told
1: Assembly & Departure (The Assembly of Ithica)—Kevin (channeling Telemachus) leaves on his trip in search of father
2: Rhizomatic Shattering (Telemachus meets Nestor)—Kevin's Transiberian trip (w/ our parallel commentary)
3. TBD (Proteus)—

It's an iterative process ... in writing chapter 2, we revisit & fine-tune the previous chapters. So we're reluctant to show anything here yet as it will likely change reflexively as we move along. And the above parallels are quite loose ... just as Ulysses is to The Odyssey ... & just as Kevin's thesis (many of the actual pages of which are included in 'SSES" 'SSES" "SSEY', in parallel) is to Ulysses. Serendipitously, the chapter we've been working on this week—«Rhizomatic Shattering»—enfolds a lot of Derrida, so the reading of Writing and Difference is timely. We've scanned in most of the original 'SSES" 'SSES" as part of the process ... here's the 1st page of his NESTOR chapter (which corresponds to & is in included in our 3rd «Rhizomatic Shattering» chapter):


The «unity continues its spiritual labor» heading & the quote below is from 1000 Plateaus ... in regards to Burroughs & his cut-up method ... speaking of D & G... & speaking of Burroughs & his cut-up methodology, if you are in the neighborhood of London, there's this.

Throughout most of his thesis, Kevin uses this sort of parallel narrative, which we've adapted (with our expository narrative (if you could call it that) at times side by side w/ his). This sort of duality is interesting to work with, especially in light of reading about Derrida & difference. It can be both constructive & destructive—having both perspectives side by side ... fits into Derrida's deconstruction model. It's also sort of like 2-party politics, whether you like it or not, it seems to be what works to keep things balanced. It's also interesting because our brother was/is a left-handed artist & i'm a right-handed «scientist» ... or at least i was—since his death i've crossed over to more creative endeavors ... & also have become somewhat ambidextrous ... perhaps we've become an amalgamation of both sides/ways.

Difference engine

difference engine (London science museum)

When we think of the word «difference» (maybe because of our recent reading of How We Became Posthuman), the term difference engine keeps popping into our head, the difference engine between the first analog forefather to the computer. See also our post on differential equations.

In other Calamari news, The Static Herd by Beth Steidle is more or less finished & ready to go to the printers. Since she is an artist & book designer (she works w/ the P.O.D. machine at McNally Jackson books here in NYC) she did all of the work, so wasn't much for us to do. Maybe soon we'll at least show the cover here ...Travel Notes by Stanley Crawford is due back from the printer this week. Niceties & Deep Ellum are both out for review, Niceties officially hits the streets in a few days (Feb 1). After making a cover for the Sasha Fletcher re-issue, things fell thru, but here it is ... maybe someone else wants to use it, tho not sure what other book it would work for ... or maybe it's awful for any context & that's why things fell thru ...

Tuba Murmuration

tuba murmurations

Some might recognize the image from page 59 of the book where the birds are the words ... w/ an added brass section partly because they seem to come into play a lot in Sasha's book & also because we have a neighbor that plays trombone at all times of day, so we have horns on our mind ...

under the auspices

We also made a cover this week for a CD of my nephew ... he's a trumpet player so makes sense we'd include a horn ... he's also a modern-day flower-child of sorts (& quite the trout fisherman), with a particular penchant for the pasionaria flower which the CD is named for.


He's off the grid (sin email) somewhere en route to Ecuador (due to be the next Che Guevara) so not sure what he thinks of it yet ...

While we're on the subject of failed, or at least, unused book covers, here's a cover we did for Light Boxes by Shane Jones ... not sure it's kosher we show it here, but seems enough time has passed. His publisher commissioned me to do it (after we ourselves had passed on publishing it) & after some back & forth decided they didn't want to use it ... for good reason probably, it seems pretty bad in retrospect, but we were off in the bush in Kenya & didn't have much to work with except some image we found on our computer (an ice cube from Angel Share).

Light Boxes by Shane Jones

failed cover for LIGHT BOXES

The stark cover they used obviously turned out much better, the book ended up getting optioned by Spike Jonze & then Penguin picked it up ... so perhaps we should regret not publishing it or doing a better job on the cover? And speaking of ice ... it's still cold as hell & the Hudson resembles a glacier more than a river. For a while there we thought we might be able to walk or skate to New Jersey ... then continue south by southwest to sunnier climes ...

Hudson Glacier

view of Hudson, January's end 2014 (w/ our to-read shelf unintentionally superimposed)


sunset over Hudson

sunset over the Hudson glacier


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