In the spirit of reflection that often accompanies the turn to the new year, I’ve decided to cannibalize my blog and repost several writings—one from each year beginning in 2004. I created my first website with a blog just as I was finishing my graduate thesis in the fall of 2002. The fifth writing I’ve selected, titled “Miscellaneous”, was posted on September 20, 2008. At the time, my wife and I were anxiously awaiting the birth of our first child (who had nearly been lost the prior month at week 24 of the pregnancy), and it’s strange to read the content and tone of this writing with that as the backdrop. There’s an energy here that feels palpably connected to that experience.
Today is Friday, September 19, 2008. The miscellaneous preoccupies my mind. An onslaught of fragments, non-discursive missives from the ether, synapses popping like fireworks after our team wins the series. Thinking in terms of Twitter and status updates, most of which are never committed to the Archive at all, yet linger in the halls like boys late locked out of homeroom. Simply, I am mixed. Not mixed up — mixed. It is the drawer in the corner cabinet in the back room into which we throw…
“(a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.”
Borges, how wonderful it is to make a list! For what, for why? The most basic of organizational structures. A student reminded me today that even the analog reduces to the digital at a certain microscopic scale. Or was it vice versa? My brain feels digital, appears a thing separate, a digitized, pixelated representation of a thing we thought so smooth, of such fine resolution. A thing that should not be a thing at all, not something separate, not something to behold, to regard from a distance. Cleaved from consciousness by the Enlightenment and doomed forever to walk anti-animistically from point to point to point to point to point in Descartes’ denuded grid space. Then the gray beard emerges from the forest of Brookland — and why would I think of him now, after so long? — and his voice is familiar. We used to nod to each other on the ferry. It’s nostalgia doubled-down, I know. The swollen afternoons in a languid institutional classroom, a coolness on the faux wood laminate, the boisterous barks of an impassioned educator who gives you the bird, you bitch, cuz you just wouldn’t drive on through!
“The past and present wilt – I have fill’d them, emptied them.
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.
Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
Personally, I would have ended with an exclamation point, but my sense of timing is really so bad. A list is digital; it contains discrete elements. Patterns emerge. Provisional patterns. Patent, or tacit. I’ve looked for patterns, for meaning. The miscellaneous is lazy. The miscellaneous is a myth. One cannot escape the luxuriousness of the semantic web. With points for correct punctuation.
(What is — what has been — the voice here until this point?)
Whitman was an American poet, maybe the first. Melville was an American novelist. Near perfect contemporaries, they understood space. “I take SPACE to be the central fact to man born in America from Folsom cave to now. I spell it large because it comes large here. Large, and without mercy” wrote Charles Olson in Call Me Ishmael. The story of the white devil VS. the demon savior Ahab is the story of America. America the abyss. When he spiked the gold doubloon on the mast, our fate was set, our free will annihilated — we would all go down in the sinking ship. All except one: the one who lives to tell the tale. Ishmael. “God listens” — what perfect literary symmetry.
So, who you gonna vote for? Everything I’ve ever read I regurgitate and spew forth. A chewed cud of vile taste, formless and without color. I can imagine the fluid scrape of the pen on bleached and blue-ruled notebook paper, an endless itinerary of ascents and descents, loops and crosses, but all I hear is the dull and plastic tick tack of branded backlit QWERTY keys. Could someone possibly have made this for me? An exercise: let’s make a list of everybody in this place. Tens of millions of people — people beloved, genuinely beloved, by Whitman — millions of ideas and loves and hates and all the rest. Now let’s organize our list according to two categories so that we can really understand these folks. Strawberry cola drinkers or blueberry cola drinkers but we all like cola of course. I know you, you drink blueberry cola. But in that other place they only have blackberry cola to drink and only drink it in small draughts in between shifts working at the branded backlit QWERTY keyboard factory. Honestly, I don’t drink cola much these days…
Patterns of coercion. Square pegs in round holes. A worldview we did not choose infected us and made us trust it implicitly as the natural order of things. (We fancied ourselves so sophisticated, so savvy, so cynical as to be unmoved but the paradigm was fused with our very fiber.) The great tumultuous accumulation of everyone who ever said “No!” beckons us to break those patterns, to suggest provisional patterns, other ontologies. Chop down the main-mast, shred the sails, melt down the gold… embrace the waves, the thrill of being tossed to and fro. Seasick at first, but finding sea legs soon enough. Again, the poet sings:
Here are our thoughts, voyagers’ thoughts,
Here not the land, firm land, alone appears, may then by them be
The sky o’erarches here, we feel the undulating deck beneath our
We feel the long pulsation, ebb and flow of endless motion,
The tones of unseen mystery, the vague and vast suggestions of the
briny world, the liquid-flowing syllables,
The perfume, the faint creaking of the cordage, the melancholy
The boundless vista and the horizon far and dim are all here,
And this is ocean’s poem.
Nothing is arbitrary. Nothing remains miscellaneous.