Over the Atlantic

I apologize in advance and beggar your patience regarding the length of the following post.  It is not often that I have over 10 hours straight of anonymity and limited distractions to read, study and write.  I spent yesterday and last night flying from Wichita to London for a week-long course examining over 10 specialty libraries there.  For the course I must keep a diary online, and while not about “library business” per se, this is about the journey…

de botton - heathrow

Over the Atlantic

I have no idea what time it is.  I have been airborne for perhaps four hours, having left Houston around 7:35 PM after an hour of mechanical fix-its, preceded by departure from Wichita at 3:36 PM earlier this same afternoon.  We seem to be flying fast enough that my electronics are scrambled and I haven’t worn a wristwatch since high school.  I’ve been lucky enough to have booked onto an half-full flight, allowing me the pleasure and benefit of a two-seated section all to myself.  Almost a work-cubby – two tray tables stacked with books and an empty seat for sundry supplies.

At all times I pursue readings that might deepen and expand both my abstract and subjective life – I’m certain that could be stated better – perhaps that challenge and enhance my lived experience.  Most honestly: that cause me to think, help me make sense, prompt change and give me pleasure.  Writings that move me, would be another way of saying it.  In the cabin I have arranged Focusing by Eugene Gendlin, Elegy Owed by Bob Hicok, Impenetrable Screen of Purest Sky and Wonderful Investigations by Dan Beachy-Quick, Light Everywhere – Cees Nooteboom, Buddha’s Brain and Just One Thing by Rick Hanson, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, A Thousand Plateaus by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, and Art as Therapy with  A Week at the Airport by Alain de Botton.  Which could be explained in so many ways.

Traveling internationally, one is limited for selection – in fact it’s by far the most difficult portion of packing – which books will I need – not knowing how the movement and context will affect me?  So I choose:

  • fresh books by authors that have earned my confidence (my top choice for this trip was Leaving the Sea by Ben Marcus –  missed in the mail by a day);
  • books that I know meet my needs on departure (many my third or fourth reading); and
  • books I long to swim in but rarely have time with the insistent daily needs and benefits of home. 

Whenever I’m struggling with depression, I reach for Wallace and books of wisdom – on staying present, taking steps, coping skills, the breath and body.  Reality therapy, as it were.  Poetry helps as well, with its attention to detail and sensual triggers.  Books that remind me that I’m alive, regardless of  felt experiences or circumstance.

I will finish A Week at the Airport on this flight, I’m almost there – or maybe I won’t, saving the “Arrivals” chapter for that moment in my journey.  It is the account of de Botton’s stint as writer-in-residence at London’s Heathrow Airport (my immediate destination), and in his inimitable and typical fashion – exposing those human universals embedded in the familiar, or overlooked, or hardly spoken.  What he asks from other writers, he provides (and I quote): “I was looking for the sort of books in which a genial voice expresses emotions that the reader has long felt but never before really understood; those that convey the secret, everyday things that society at large prefers to leave unsaid; those that make one feel somehow less alone and strange.”  Maybe that is my true criteria – “those that make one feel somehow less alone and strange” – for the books I end up digesting do just that.

Here are some of the portions I have highlighted:

Departures

  • “Entry into the vast space of the departures hall heralded the opportunity, characteristic in the transport nodes of the modern world, to observe people with discretion, to forget oneself in a sea of otherness and to let the imagination loose on the limitless supply of fragmentary stories provided by the eye and ear…to sense viscerally, rather than just grasp intellectually, the vastness and diversity of humanity”
  • on the parting of lovers: “We might have been ready to offer sympathy, but in actuality there were stronger reasons to want to congratulate her for having such a powerful motive to feel sad.  We should have envied her for having located someone without whom she so firmly felt she could not survive, beyond the gate let alone in a bare student bedroom in a suburb of Rio.  If she had been able to view her situation from a sufficient distance, she might have been able to recognize this as one of the high points in her life.”  – (I know this feeling and need this distance)
  • on taking ourselves with us:  “There is a painful contrast between the enormous objective projects that we set in train, at incalculable financial and environmental cost – the construction of terminals, of runways and of wide-bodied aircraft – and the subjective psychological knots that undermine their use.  How quickly all the advantages of technological civilization are wiped out by a domestic squabble.  At the beginning of human history, as we struggled to light fires and to chisel fallen trees into rudimentary canoes, who could have predicted that long after we had managed to send men to the moon and aeroplanes to Australasia, we would still have such trouble knowing how to tolerate ourselves, forgive our loved ones, and apologize for our tantrums?”
  • on unfamiliar workspaces:  “Objectively good places to work rarely end up being so; in their faultlessness, quiet and well-equipped studies have a habit of rendering the fear of failure overwhelming.  Original thoughts are like shy animals.  We sometimes have to look the other way – towards a busy street or terminal – before they run out of their burrows.” 

Airside

  • “Despite the many achievements of aeronautical engineers over the last few decades, the period before boarding an aircraft is still statistically more likely to be the prelude to a catastrophe than a quiet day in front of the television at home.  It therefore tends to raise questions about how we might best spend the last moments before our disintegration, in what frame of mind we might wish to fall back down to earth…”
  • Or, as a “Terminal Priest” expressed to him: “The thought of death should usher us towards whatever happens to matter most to us; it should lend us the courage to pursue the way of life we value in our hearts.” 

need I go on?

Yet on I fly…listening to and “Gustavo” from the new Sun Kil Moon album Benji on repeat; performing breathing exercises while silently repeating blessings on those I love to the quivering thrum of this airborne albatross; catching glimpses of “Before Midnight” on face-sized screens where perhaps mirrors should be; and reading and reading and reading and trying to conceive…

stories imagined and rejected

in which the yachtsman drowns

in a remembered winter

and exists as a poem,

.

but the last thought is of

her, the woman who disappeared,

who everything was about, the yachtsman, the bay,

the poet.  The air it all breathed

is the loftiest fabrication, a life

possible now it’s no longer

possible.

-from Cees Nooteboom’s poem penobscot

and worrying about “how modest and static a thing a book would always be next to the chaotic, living entity that was a terminal,” our relationships, our lives.

14 February 2014

Arriving today + Reflections

Jakobson - On Language

…and wonderings about language as a tool and an abstract medium.  Wondering if in the endless bewilderment of experience – of living – rife with woundings and joys – we move to shared media, providing communally devised realms in which to re-vision, simultaneously creating new life, wherewith and wherein to investigate and inquire, to dig and dig and…

Language as constructed or agreed-upon and functional (tool) medium.

Then there’s this full of resonances and also contributing to the reflections – required text of a current course:

Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles
Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles

…and I quote:

“As the reader gropes the stacks – lifting books and testing their heft, appraising the fall of letterforms on the title page, scrutinizing marks left by other readers – the more elusive knowledge itself becomes.  All that remains unknown seems to beckon from among the covers, between the lines.  In the library, the reader is wakened from the dream of communion with a single book, startled into a recognition of the word’s materiality by the sheer number of bound volumes; by the sound of pages turning, covers rubbing; by the rank smell of books gathered together in vast numbers…the physicality of the book is strongest in libraries, where the accumulated weight of written words seems to exert a gravity all its own.”

“So the library is a body, too, the pages of books pressed together like organs in the darkness…[in libraries] I can fool myself that the universe is composed of infinite variations of a single element – the book – that I, too, am made of books, like the person in Giuseppe Arcimboldo‘s painting The Librarian

Archimboldo - the Librarian

“…a person made of books; his is not a single book but a whole library”

“I have the distinct impression that the millions of volumes may indeed contain the entirety of human experience: that they make not a model for but a model of the universe.”

“…texts, fabrics to be shredded and woven together in new combinations and patterns…”

“everything in the world exists to end up in a book” (Stephane Mallarme)

“With their leaves of fiber, their inks of copperas and soot, and their words – books are an amalgam of [Roger Bacon‘s] three classes of substance capable of magic: the herbal, the mineral, and the verbal”

“For any question, the library offers no hope of a definitive answer…unlimited and cyclical”

“Together they tell us stories that they could not tell alone”

library pic

“In many places, the volumes are thick with dust, pocked with the holes left by insects,

which are almost as hungry for books as I

-all quotes except where noted – Matthew Battles Library: An Unquiet History

And somehow I can’t help but think the interface and interstice of languaging matter in this way – a way that provides comfort and the slightest skin of distance from the raw inside of skin – inseparable recursions – but mediated immediately – kind of like magic; a LOT like alchemy; always experience – but less abrasive or intrusive than “direct.”  Perhaps paint, light, cameras and brushes, clay, etc – any art that borrows matter outside the body – similarly provides a soluble, gentled, media through which to live forward…

…in other words…are our preferences for embodiment a part of what define us as artists in the societal mesh?  The media through which we most naturally express or experience or embody indicative?  Textuality as embodiment for the writer; clay, stone, marble, etc. for the sculptor; movement for the dancer; oil, pigment, brush, etc. for the painter; lines for the draughtsman and so on…

 

Sudden Soap Box: Digitization = Access (not preservation)

Unbeknownst to me – the next Blackboard discussion assignment for one of my summer classes turned out to be :

  • Is digitization the answer to preserving print materials?  Discuss advantages and disadvantages.

The following was my response – realizing by the end that this had become an impassioned sort of soap box sermon rather (perhaps) than a reasoned response.  Judge for yourselves and please offer replies and conversation!


Is digitization the answer to preserving printed materials? Discuss the advantages and disadvantages

 

In my opinion the answer is NO.  I believe digitization is an aspect of access, not preservation.  Digitization – the process, format and type of “storage” are all inexact and uncertain dependencies – on energy sources, tools, network connections, licensing, access, programs, softwares, interfaces, and so on down the line.  With no real concept of the reliability, consistency or longevity of data in “cloud storage” – digital documents still need physical copies to ensure longevity.  The only companies I really hear belaboring the issues of continuity, reliability, and potential of accurate digital preservation besides the Library of Congress and Pew are Tim Berners-Lee and the WorldWideWeb Consortium, ITC and other digital business/tech aggregates – which continually discuss the problems, scramblings and deterioration of digital data bits in ethereal storage.  We all understand that we have books 100s even 1000s of years old, from which we can verify online copies, files, etc.  Otherwise many “scanned” documents lose clarity, miss pages, notations, editions, etc.  This is becoming an enormous problem when companies and institutions begin thinking that by digitizing something they are preserving it.  They’re not.  They’re making it available in another format and medium, not preserving it.  Our computers, platforms, servers, programs, hardware and software are continually being altered and updated – formats are insecure, data continuity is insecure, e-book packages automatically deliver updates and editions without preserving previous editions/authors/etc.  Digital access is precarious – a solar flare or atmospheric storm could wipe out or scramble data at any time (as a wise man once said).

Digitization is an answer to access not preservation.  Berners-Lee et. al. have always been clear that the purposes and hopes of WWW and Semantic Web work was to make the world’s culture more readily communicable and sharable – not to preserve it.  To democratize it.  Technology progresses too quickly and outdates too quickly to be a reliable form of preservation.  And with open access and collaborative semantic web – no digital document can be considered “authoritative” or be ensured to represent original writings or creation.  All digital data is open to revision, alteration, damage – it passes through too many hands, servers, connections to be utilized as an authoritative source.  (Perhaps all web citations, whether scholarly or not should be appended with some mark indicating it was retrieved from digital storage, rather than confirmed by printed document).

As access solution – digitization is wonderful.  For “just-in-time” retrieval and sharability, open publications and global learning and information – digitization is an incredible advance in communicating globally.  But reading a text over the phone, or broadcasting pages on TV, etc., are all notated if used in research.  Digitization also seems to mitigate against deep reading or comprehensive research, as digital texts tend to be scanned rather than read through in their entirety, and there seems to be a tendency to retrieve “good enough” or topical articles rather than searching for the best research available to the research at hand.  (side note, sorry).

So, in my opinion, digitization should be used for that which is was developed – a communicative medium – unstable, unreliable and ever-developing – but not an authoritative or preservational archive.  A books average life is between 100-300 years and utilizes much less energy in being used or shared than all the electricity and energy required for digitization and access.  Most ereaders, PCs, and other digital tools last at the outset 5-10 years and then add to the world’s waste, far less recyclable than pulped paper.

Digitization = access – global and unstable.  Physical copies = preservation – relatively stable and verifiable (as long as enough copies are preserved to compare and contrast).  We never considered this problem until now with the enormous weeding and disposal being done by the very places that existed to preserve these artifacts!

 

Economics of e-books & public-driven acquisitions – a query

libricide2

– Bibliobabble? – 

(click for full article)

The surge towards a print-less e-library recasts academic librarians as “rare book engineers”

by Colin Storey

libricide3

Is “just in time” preserving what will be needed for a (hopefully) long future?

How preservable and verifiable are digital bits?

Who ensures there are physical, tangible copies of information that may come in handy one day…

even if it seems passe or unnecessary in current socio-cultural perceptions?

What if cloud data gets scrambled, wears away, ebook vendors aggregate totalitarian-ly,

Where are our contingency plans for the preservation of knowledge and culture?

How will we verify digital content?

and so on….

libricide

A Little Fiction(al) Rant

“creation is continual mouth”

-Craig Watson-

The Ranting of a Little Fiction

 

Fiction is tired of stories.  So tired.  I’ve been through the gamut and back again, many, many times.

I’m tired of hearing about things and objects, people and places and selves.  Tired of hearing the past reworked and the future foretold.  Tired of telling myself.

At one point I’d even identified anything made of up images and texts as myself.  Any construction with meanings were Fictions.  But everything is so much like nothing and I’m so tired of hearing about it!

Hell, there’s fiction about the Fictions!  And fictions about the fictions about the Fictions!  We can’t say anything anymore that hasn’t already been said for us, about us, even in us and by us!  Yes, we’re the once-fabulous dynastic Fiction family.  Big Daddy Fiction (also known as Master Peace Litratoor or Grande Buchs in various cultures, He-From-Which-All-Stories-Spring and so forth) – Papa Litratoor worked the overarching histories, the myths, the great narratives, the macrocosms.  Pretending that everything that needed to be known was in there, at least in the cracks and suggestions.  He lives on in the pursuits of the “Great American Novel,” and the “Truthful Memoir,” in “Compendiums of Science” and “Philosophies of Philosophy.”  Wherever you find an engulfing trajectory or inclusive point-of-view, an omniscient narrator or gnostic devotee – you’ve got Papa Fiction working his magic, creating the world again and again.

Then there’s our mama, oh ancestral trickster, always experimenting, economizing, busy on fringes.  Collaging and quilting, unraveling and resourcefully mending – ever insuring our survival.  What style!  Sometimes she was just called “the Alternative,” and for ages she was known as “Secondary” (what blasphemy!) – but eventually she gained her equality coming to be known as Little Rarity or Ava Ntgard, and hundreds of varieties of “Liz T”:  Structura-LizT, Surrea-LizT, Forma-LizT, Femina-LizT and so on).  Working at facts under the banners of Fiction, mama persistently kept the Big Daddy in check.  Pointing out faults, tightening gaps, working the seams and expanding the views.  Thank goodness for the consistency and stubbornness of Mama Fiction.

And then the countless bastardized offspring, of whom I am surely not last!  Brother Fantasy, Shemale Erotica, Sibling Sci-Fi, Princess Romance.  My cousins who took off to the wilds where the sun goes down – we refer to them as “the Westerns,” or Ad Ventura, Sir Vival and clan.  Our ancestry and family tree is encyclopedic, from Origins to Hypotheses, Knowledges to Speculations we’ve been languaging the world since language appeared : all of us Fictions, all of us related.

But the Fictions, as far as I can see, have grown sick of our stories, all the rumors and family feuds, the copycats and half-breeds, in-breeds and genetic accidents.  I for one, granted, just a Little Fiction, it seems I’ve heard it all (which isn’t even the half of it!  not even a drop in an galaxy-sized bucket!) and its already turned into an endless babble of voices talking over and around, under and about the same old stories, rehashed and revised, every Fiction telling their own version of the way it all goes down, how it oughta be told, what’s important or not, and in whatever genealogical line or branch of kin.

Enough! I say.  Enough Fictions!  I don’t care if it’s our researching relatives writing detailed descriptive statistical Fictions; or our emotional cousins discussing its effects on life or bodies or minds.  The avaricious Fictions supposedly leading the clan – who use it for politicking or morality; the mystical tribes out in the caves and the mountains spouting wisdoms and inspirations and advice!  Or our black sheep, ne’er-do-wells who just wanna escape and have fun.  Enough of all of you Fictions!  Use what we already have!  We’ll never be done with it!  Never get through it!  And there’s something for every obscure and peculiar concern, passion, interest, belief!

There’s nothing new under the sun, one Fiction said (just look it up – you’ll see my point – there will be millions of Fictions who have also said this their way – our family can’t seem to leave anything alone – well-spoken or not – we’ve gotta say it our own damn way!).  Repetition, repetition, repetition and paraphrase.  I’d wager there is not one word, image, thought or letter in this entire little Fictional rant that hasn’t been used, said, written, sung or visualized countless, literally uncountable numbers of times!

Which is why I am begging from down here at the end of such an enormous and incalculable chain: “Fictions!!! Do something new or be silent!!!”

Think about it before you foist your precious version on the rest of us!  Sure, we’re family, everyone’s a Fiction from that original untraceable Big Fiction in the sky or sea or soil or seed – yes, we grant each other obligatory slack and family resemblance – but come on!  Am I the only one feeling it?  I mean, whichever of us came up with Babel was already sick of the confusion of voices and the bitching’s never stopped!

Concatenation of stories and rants!  Poems and speeches!  Theorems and proofs!  Manuals and manuscripts!  Musics and roots!  Dreamings and screams!  WHOA!!!!

How about this, brothers and sisters, cousins and kin?  Look carefully first.  Whatever you are about to say, attempt, express or explain – check out what we’ve already said, inscribed, emoted, etc., and if it’s already there concisely or beautifully, erotically or empowered, be content with it!  Show it to others!  Bring it quietly to our attention!  Don’t distract from it with your own paraphrasing and excursions of commentary and notations!

We don’t really need more of us – do we?  We can’t manage what’s already here!  What is this unslakeable desire?  This bewildering avarice and compulsion?  WHY AM I SHOUTING!?

 

Peace, be still, some Fiction once said, a million Fictions have written.  This is staring at the abyss – an endless train of others.  I am alone – haven’t all Fictions said this?

Alas.  Everything cliché.  Everything done, undone.  A remorseless overwhelm.  We’ve outstripped our resources.  Blasted the wells.

We are alone and confused in an echoing chamber called universe.  The one-verse of Fictional voices repeating repeating repeating and that without pause or escape.  There is no escape (you see what I mean?)  Refracting on and on and…

I, little Fiction, with my mouthful of words, all inherited…

Supreme Librarians!!!

Most of you have probably gathered by now, if you’ve viewed some random posts of mine, that I am addicted to and dependent on libraries and the treasures they hold.  In the Fall, in fact, I will be entering the Master of Library Science degree program at Emporia State University in Emporia, KS.  The fearless director I will be studying under (Matt Upson) and collaborator have created a number of these fantastic little comic BOOKS praising libraries and librarians and guiding and enticing usage of them.  I’ve asked if I can share one here – please take some time to view it – it’s fantastic! (CLICK ON THE IMAGE FOR LINK!)

(see also: Matt Upson – Librarian)