Saturday, September 28, 2013

The View From In the Out Here

This is the view from the upper reaches of the Tower of Babel.*The horizon stretches far and you are not alone. This year's BABEL Critical/Liberal/Arts gathering showed me again. The workers - the haulers of bricks, the carvers of stone, the facilitators of the great machine that is the tower, pause. What prompted them to do so? The tedium of the work? The glory of of it? I've certainly felt both in the Grand Project of Academe. So we stopped, we looked, and this is what we saw. Henry Turner and the Hollow Earth Society made invitations, strategized an open, reaching university: Henry with the Society for the Arts of Organization (consider the medieval body that is the corporation, join this one, grow the idea!), the HES with an introduction to the edurganism, academe as spreading slime mold instead of ivory tower (or even underground rhizome), academic practice as para_site, doing its work _next to_ the institution (feed your students, hike with them, publish wild things!). Eleanor Johnson with Toad Poetry (look closely, care until it's creepy and then ask all the questions), Ammiel  Alcalay with Lost and Found (gather the archive until it's no longer an archive but a place). Bruce Holsinger with Chaucer and Gower's critical friendship (and yes yes yes, this brilliant scholar's long-awaited historical fiction novel, A Burnable Book, is coming out, and yes yes yes a brilliant scholar wrote a work of fiction), and Allen W. Strouse with Sir Orfeo (and the idea of potential pilgrims which made me think of perpetual potential pilgrimages and made me realize I was on one). Jamie "Skye" Bianco with Q3C (Queer, Creative, Critical Compositionalism with things that have affect, let's start with the flotsam and jetsam that makes it to shore, let's be "para-academic DJs," compiling and collecting, gathering and curating)' and Eirik Steinhoff making "Nothing Happen" (and I held a pamphlet for the first time in forever and there was Rosa Luxembourg and the idea of sabotage, and Kafka, so it got complicated and good). And Michael Whitmore with Fuzzy Structuralism (when software starts to read Shakespeare) and Marina Zurkow and Una Chauduri with Inner Climate Change (and yes, for 7 minutes we listened to a soundscape meditation, and no, it wasn't easy).

And for one of the first times in a gathering of academic to talk about academe, the emphasis was not on despair, but on action. There are Things We Do, and there are Things To Do. You _are_ institutional change, but you are also parasite and collector, producer of pamphlets and writer of wild words, gatherer of students and toaster (!) of friends. You are in the tower and of the tower, but the view from Babel/BABEL stretches out to sea to see a lush island and strong currents. And from there we'll wave to Eileen Joy and Allan Mitchell and Julie Orlemanski and Myra Seaman who got us up here in the first place. Tomorrow, we'll go to Oceanic New York, where Steve Mentz started us thinking Thursday night. For now, I'm going inside to see the art that's clinging to the walls and the objects humming under pools of light.

* This is also my first time composing on my iPad, so pardon the absence of links. I'll get those up tomorrow, because you'll want to visit. I'll try to keep weird autocorrect miscorrects to a minimum.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Whatever this might mean

very far away from anywhere else
A year is not an entirely arbitrary cycle. The planet does spin pretty decidedly all the way around the sun once, give or take that bit that adds up to Leap Year, for that amount of time. But a year anniversary does seem arbitrary: whatever it is you're marking, it was the same five days ago and it will be the same five days from now. It's really only the original day itself that matters. Still, I'm not going to fight the insistent call to let myself remember sitting with you, and holding your hand, and smoothing your hair, and telling you you were doing great and that it was going to be so wonderfully all right, and wanting so badly for your labored breathing to stop being so labored and not ever wanting your breathing to stop. And then it did, and that moment of a year ago has already passed because it was 4 a.m. and this year I slept through it. The hardest part was actually remembering last year and two days ago, when you no longer had the strength to raise your hand to shake Mac's like you did every single time. You just shook your head no and I think the three of us adults in the room knew, while the kids chatted on like it was any other meal with you. Now that the moment has passed, I can think about the slow, grand machinery of the funeral: my first phone calls, all those arrangements taking place, everyone coming down to very far away from anywhere else. The momentum of commemoration. A year later, there's nowhere for it to go, save for the stillness of remembering or Eleanor's wonder that it's already been a year. She's right to wonder - that was fast. There's been a rush of things, and even as I write that, I think of things that are happening right now, the rush I need to rejoin in about 5 minutes. Thus. I'll mark this time with words much better than my own that will help safeguard this moment of wonder. Brian Dolye is a gentle and meticulous caretaker of his dying characters. There are several passages I could quote, and my very very favorite is actually another, but that character is kind of a rotten guy and my dad was the gentlest most loving guy and so I can't copy those words about him. But what Doyle writes about the nun (and my beautiful friend Nancy was moved by these same words in the parallel universe of another blog post) is perfect. As I reread the words to write them down, I know that it's what I fervently wished for for my dad, even the mundane things, as, to use another borrowed phrase, this mortal coil loosened its hold on him. I hope (and there is still room for naïveté, there isn't that much wisdom gained in a year) that his dying might have been like this, that any dying might be like this. So. This is from pages 94 and 95 of Mink River, which is a marvelous place.

The priest left and the manager, who had much admired the old nun, knelt for a moment at her bedside, and then he left, too, locking the door behind him, and the room was still again.  The old nun, or whatever she was now, had seen and heard all this, indeed she could see and hear far better than she could when she was alive, everything in the room now unbearably clear, everything its absolute self, everything rimmed with light like frozen dew rims twigs and leaves, the toaster shining, the refrigerator magnets shining, her coffee cup shining, the painting of Moses shining, her to-do list with fix fan! on it shining, and she could hear for miles and miles, every sound crackling and distinct, every sound announcing its origin in a way she had never heard before. She heard owls, girls, trees, radios, fish, a fist landing hollowly on the chest of a boy, the suck of a baby at a breast. She heard a thousand thousand thousand sounds she had never heard before and would never have been able to identify before but now she knew them and loved them and had always known them and they were delicious and holy and necessary.