Saturday, August 30, 2008

Ninth Street and the Mirror Stage

On Friday, I was walking through downtown Columbia to teach my morning class, and watching the people, the diverse crowd that always seems to include some students, some homeless men and women, and some people whose jobs or paths or lives have given way to walking there for a few minutes. I saw a girl, who may have been about three, looking at her reflection in the window of one of the stores, and making this noise of joy at what she saw there. Her mother said, "Do you see yourself there?" She didn't answer for a second, and I walked past and didn't hear whether she said yes or no. Whatever she was thinking, I was thinking about Lacan's description of the infant finding a specular self in the mirror, that's separated when we see that the mirror is a naturally occurring thing that only represents what's put in front of it, and that this helps to break us away from the necessary narcissism of infant dependency.

I've been thinking, too, about how Lacan apprenticed himself to Freud, and seemed to find his genius not by a process of deduction but by this sense of entering his own mirror stage with Freud, after the infancy of being immersed in Freud's work, not leaving his sense of questioning behind but examining its continuities, its harmonies, and, finally, finding the place where the study of the mind and the study of the signifier met, both of them aligned in his thinking so that the imperative to start to speak to his community began, powerfully enough that his force and passion drew crowds to whom his reasoning came home. In this passing on of language, not solely for its logic but also for the beauty of its construction, he was carrying out the role of the poet that Plato describes in Ion, demonstrating it himself, first and foremost, by being a conduit for the ideas of Socrates.

The girl staring into the window, making a sound, was making poetry, and we can see her not being stumped by the question of who the girl is in the window, but seeing her own face superimposed on the colors and shapes in the store, the people moving there, at the point when the mirror turned into glass.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Is Poetry Matter?

There's almost nothing that I don't know about quantum physics, except that it involves all of these things that I normally consider mindboggling made even moreso, to that point just a twist short of mysticism where they don't be, but mean. But that idea that matter might be a substance all its own, in which all other substances can be found, feels like an analogue of the one that poetry is this one, distinct thing, and different subtypes and traits can be found in it.

What's remarkable about the second one to me isn't just that people think it, but that people have been thinking it at least as far back as Gorgias of Leontini, who calls poetry "speech with meter" while, maybe, doing what a quantum physicist does when he says something like, "I found a muon"--implying lots of unsignifiable dimensions and systems of order too chorded to the soul, or its verbal equivalent, to be set down as this one thing. But poetry is, for him, and roughly a zillion who come after him, even though it doesn't keep stable traits, aside from verbality, maybe being verbal art, like Jakobson says, but its linearity and functionality are championed too much for that to be it, either. The main thing that can be said to remain, maybe, is the term, the signifier bobbing there and trailing its shunt roots. Maybe.

Maybe it would be better to say, "Is matter poetry?" But asking whether poetry is matter brings not only lots of late 80's connotations and still-present questions about poetry's future, but the one that I'm going to call quantum to seal my ignorance of the meaning of quantum: the word poetry, uprooted from stable meaning, becomes a sort of material thing all its own, and confers that autonomy on what is then known by its name. If this thing is poetry, it becomes elusively knowable as such. If this thing is not, it may be far more easily defined, or its ineffabilities are too subtle, yet. It reflects a more fundamental approach than the one of negative capability, or postmodern skepticism, in which the text itself is a thing, a substance, maybe virtual, apart from its meaning and the various kinds of fiercenesses its deconstruction may lay bare.

But I don't really know. I do know that "Gorgias" lucked out with a name so close to "gorgeous," and may have won the Sophist-v.-logician battle after all by virtue of homophony.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

My Facebook Friendship With Leonardo DiCaprio

It started a few months back, and ended fewer months back. The whole thing left me as it was meant to, shaken, as I'm sure it did Leonardo. It began when I got a friend request from someone I'd never heard of, and I defied Facebook etiquette, even lying, saying "yes, I know this person," feeling like I did know her because my constellation of friends seemed to mirror hers, and because our becoming friends seemed less an act of will than a suggestion by the universe that we find each other. Proceeding that way, and still not quite believing my new network, I found a friend of hers, who had Leo and a whole slew of celebrities as friends. Something in me was now pulling me forward, and that something seemed to be confirmed by my invitation to the Paris Review benefit dinner, that had my name in the same list as his. While I couldn't think that he felt drawn by the same pull, I felt like Lacan must have when, before writing on the mirror stage, he saw the blank page that didn't show his face back to him, but suggested a host of possibilities in the form of this new exploration. Leonardo DiCaprio as text, but, more, as friend in the sense that nonreflection befriends.

I watched my hand send the friend request, and watched my own nervousness miraculously drain away. The thought that it had to happen, and that it couldn't, both dissolved in whatever came of the day itself--translating Ronsard, drinking good coffee, watching the flood of Mizzou students that seemed pulled by a similar poetics, composed of the same amalgam of sun and stone that rooted the campus buildings. I wasn't a pattern of electricity in the network, and neither was Leonardo. Both of us were going about our days, and I realized that he had days, and this reminded me for awhile that I did, too. My next day started, and then started again when I saw that he'd accepted my request. Maybe it had been his personal assistant, or one of the many members of his posse, but it was definitely his profile. It said, "I am what I am," like God did to Job from the thundercloud, like the meditator's thought says in its moving through and leaving on the page of the breath. I had only gotten as far as "I am not what I am not," but this let me move forward.

Soon, our brotherhood hurtled into its newest phase. I saw pictures of his vacation in Hawaii, and it's as if he knew that the turtle was a totem I'd come to find ambiguous--a jpg of a sea turtle in luminous aqua water, brandishing the fronds of its front legs, let me see what a womb-like kind of brine had supported me, and now looked back at me, asking for representation. I sent him my elegy for Heath Ledger, and let him know that I wouldn't be at the benefit dinner, but would be in New York, visiting a friend he'd once met, if he wanted to join us. I could sense him starting to embrace what, on Facebook, becomes the completely nonrandom, synchronous connection of people who otherwise wouldn't be connected, in a space where the star system merges with the earth. More, I could see the same in my inner Leo.

I started to sense that our relationship was in trouble when his status announced that he was "no longer adding random ppl!" I wanted to assure him that our relationship was anything but random, and that I knew how the kind of living mask that acting is is also a kind of poem that's practiced daily, and also knew that I could hold tight and let the universe, if there was such a thing, take its own shape. It did, and showed me the blue and white silhouette that meant a missing picture. I don't know if this means the end of our Facebook friendship, or just a time for me to move on, into the world of gorgeous French women and faciality that is his to me, where I, and we, have never not lived to begin with. I do know that Facebook is a kind of rhizome, and that its breath is unexpected human connection, its own poem, post-form.