Learning to Deconstruct Finally

Derrida seems satisfied if not happy with his contradictions, with having learned finally to live with them unencumbered by any implicit criticism. His primary concern in his last days appears to have been what comes after the final act of writing. After all, “there are, to be sure, many very good readers (a few dozen in the world perhaps, people who are also writer-thinkers, poets)” (34). Were he a blogger, would Derrida be thus assured of 36 followers? Jesus had only 12, but even they were not always reliable.

Can a writer ever finally trust any reader? Part of the problem seems to be that readers do have an unconditional freedom to read from their own particular singularity, always peculiar. It’s all they can do, as general readers, apart from the 36 carefully selected followers, who must leave their families behind. It’s not that whatever you say will automatically be misunderstood, but that conditions of freedom vary among individuals. But Derrida says at the same time, “You don’t just go and do anything with language; it preexists us and it survives us” (36). For Derrida, deconstruction was a form of “self-critique” (45). Before “learning to live finally,” one must deconstruct oneself.

In his idea of “The University Without Condition,” Derrida wants “absolute claim to an unconditional freedom to think, speak, and critique” (48). The presumption is there are conditions set by “political or religious power” (48). Kant’s solution that scholars be free to say whatever they want as long as they keep it in the University was not enough for Derrida. But the philosopher who leaves the University becomes an outsider, a blogger, as opposed to a scholar. Not that it matters, because

“…you do not know to whom you are speaking, you invent and create silhouettes, but in the end it no longer belongs to you. Spoken or written, all these gestures leave us and begin to act independently of us.” (32)

Jesus spoke to a general audience, asked for similar unconditional freedom wherever he happened to be located, but he was ready to give to political power what belongs to political power, while Christianity too often has turned into a University that, like the University of Kant’s that Derrida points out, is only free on its own grounds.

Any notion of finally can only be fantasy; life goes on with and without us. What happens finally is the words stop coming, we stop thinking with words, and must figure out some other way to deconstruct.

Learning to Live Finally: The Last Interview [with Jacques Derrida]. Melville House, 2007. 95 pages, including a 27 page selected bibliography of works by Derrida published in English.

On the Poem of Made and Unmade Beds

“Without grip or gripe, what bed thou hast, sleep in it, sleep, sleep, perchance to rest, for a sound bed is worth all the wine in France, all the beer in Germany, nay, all the ale in England.” (Polonius, The Collected Deleted Scenes of Shakespeare)

Introduction – the idea of the poem as an unmade bed:

Joe Linker on April 10, 2015 at 6:14 pm said
[in comment, having never heard of ‘My Bed’]:
But on the subject of Emin’s bed, which apparently last sold for $2.5 million, imagine a bed-selfie, and unmade at that, in such demand. But of course a made bed would never have fetched as much attention or money. People want to see unmade beds. In fairness, I suppose many poems are nothing more than unmade beds. But when did a poem, made or unmade, ever suck in $2.5 million in a single breath?
I may find myself later today attempting a bed poem.”

1: The Sonneteers

On the green barracks bunk,
a thin mattress on chain link
steel frame Army 30 foldable,
wrapped in ephemeral wool
as tight as a barnacle’s grip
against the red tide of sleep,
nothing personal save a letter
from Susan in the South Bay,
tossed into open foot locker,
touches the drab rolled socks,
no night light in the dull quiet
dark hall full of dunned boys,
roused by reveille’s mournful
made bed, hook up and wait.

2: The Makeshift Bed

“At Ease!
Thum that’s got ‘um, smoke ‘um.
In this next 30 minutes of instruction,
you will learn how to make a field bed.”

The sun crashed, and I climbed into the cab
of a deuce and a half, parked
in a field with a raw view
of the moon and the Pacific Ocean,
curled up in my fatigues
and fell asleep, my face to the canvas seat,
surrounded by coastal sage scrub
lit with a few Lord’s Candles.

3: The Water Bed

We drove down to Hermosa Beach and picked up one of the first
water beds, a giant surf mat. We took it home, put it on the floor
in the bedroom, and filled it with water from the garden hose
stuck through an open window. We went to sleep hushed
and soothed by one another’s jostle, canoeing over surf.
But early in the morning we awoke cold and colder.
The next day back at the water bed store, the guy told us,
“Yeah, you need a foam pad and a wood frame. If you sleep
on the bare mattress, you’ll wake up with hypothermia.”

4: The Money Bed

After the water bed experience,
whenever we needed a bed,
I made a frame out of 2×4’s,
upon which I nailed a sheet
of plywood, upon which we
plopped down the futon, a
bag of airy baffled cotton.

In bed, we are lodged in
one of two kinds of beds: one
easy to move, the other hard.
The hard ones cost much
more than the easy ones
and frequently must be
put asunder to move.

Tracey Emin’s “My Bed” now
takes several million dollars
to move, maybe so much
because the installers must
budge the bed without
disturbing the sleeper.
One might try making beds

for a living. People often seem
to prefer beds to poems.
Joyce sat in bed and wrote,
embedded in his spidery
notes and his family’s issues,
while McTeague’s Trina
slept solo on her bed of coins.

5: The Short-sheeted Bed

Some readers may feel
short-sheeted by this poem.
They probably would prefer
sleeping in their own bed
and writing their own poem.
Then again, someone may offer
forty winks for this poem.
Who will start the bidding?

The Lavish Land

“April is the cruelest month,” Eliot told
Pound all about it, Easter tide out,
but why brood on our days
unless we are made
of dry wood and worry,
each ring a memory of rain?
Does any month feel pity?

You called her a primrose,
your spiral spring shell.
The land tired of playing possum
opened in lavish blossom.
Meantime, you go from a funeral
to a game of chess?
No wonder you’re so depressed.

Hurry up! Indeed, it is time,
and there is no more time
for revisions of decisions and such.
Spit it out, that tooth that broke
on the hardtack bread.

Yes, the river, its currency
seems to bother you,
crossing the rough bar
in your tipsy canoe,
sipping sweet wine from a shoe.

Why do you drift so? Maybe
it’s time to seize the falling
yellow forsythia, catch and bundle
the candied pink camellia calling
a day a day alack-a-day day.

No, I won’t say we’re wasting time,
working up a dry thirst over an old city,
lamenting the past. We might have called
Big Dada and asked for a blessing,
a holy water sprinkling, and asked,
“Dada, how’s Nana?”
“Dada! Dada! Dada!”

Maybe we’ll see you in May.
Hopefully you’ll be feeling better,
and we can all spend a day
going a Maying,
if Corinna comes to town, everyone
looking forward to ordinary time,
the grassy bed spread with garlic greens.

A Brief Statement on the Comma

San Juan Islands FerryThe comma, which gives one pause; the comma which does not give one pause; the comma, at which point one pauses; the comma, a cockroach in the corner of the closet after all the clothes are cleaned out and the conversations are forgotten, hollow and cold; the comma that defies erasure, the comma that sticks; the comma that permits addition but sometimes subtracts; the comma a foot soldier, a drone wearily drove, the first key to fade; the comma a banana peal only a curmudgeonly grammarian with scruples would slip on; the comma a red light where turning right on the red without stopping is ok; the commas lined up like cars waiting for the ferry to return to cross over to the islands:

,,; ,, ,,; ,, ,,; ,, ,,; ,, ,,;   .     .       .         .           .            .            

Breaking Bad at Berfrois with Baseball and Stromboli

Breaking Bad

“I’m going over to Hip’s place to watch some old ‘Breaking Bad’ episodes.” “I thought we were going to play catch with Joe out in the backyard?” “Come on, man. Get hep. Playing catch in the backyard is no longer hep, if it ever was.”

The Toads post “Breaking Bad in Stromboli” was published today over at Berfrois. Turn off the internal infernal TV for a few minutes and click here to check out the hep stuff happening these days at Berfrois!

Long after Sappho

…forgot herself

that he would be like a princess
blessed across from you
blossomed lips
a breath away,

your laugh leaves
me cold with doubt
still your kindnesses
pink and blue flowers,

long after this dormant grass
past the fires and all the dead
batteries burnt matches
library books soot lathed,

long ago the last picture
show the last ’56 Chevy
out of the drive-in
absurd theatre

audience hammering home,
long after the rearmost look
will we remember
the kisses blown

from open hands
and flippant wrists
dissipating smoke rings
the papyrus of your skin

upon which critics crawled
to carve their handles
to try to lift you back
oomph circling overhead.

Breaking Bad in Stromboli

Breaking Bad in StromboliI walked down to meet Susan on Hawthorne late afternoon but arrived early and when I passed Nick’s and noticed baseball on the screen I ducked in to wait at the bar for a text asking my whereabouts. I ordered a glass of milk and a coffee chaser and the bartender asked me if this was my first visit to Nick’s. The game was in the 8th inning, a 3 to 3 tie, the Dodgers against the Cubs out spring training in sunny Arizona. A group of young folk occupied the north end of the bar, but I alone watched the game. The tables were all empty. The balls were breaking late, bad, away. The Cubs scored in the bottom of the 8th on a sacrifice fly to take the lead 4 to 3, and the Dodgers in the top of the 9th could not break away. My first taste this year of spring training TV was bad for a Dodger fan. I like the Cubs, too, and hope they do better than last year’s cellar close. Edging the Dodgers 4 to 3 yesterday marked the Cubs first win in seven games this spring training season. It’s still early, but the Cubs are off to a bad start. Cub fans are a forgiving bunch. Dodger fans live in baseball paradise at Elysian Park. But baseball and paradise broke bad some time ago, came the summers of our discontent, baseball breaking away.

One of modern baseball’s design problems, as McLuhan explained, is that it’s a poor fit for television. Baseball is not pixel friendly. McLuhan saw how vaudeville moved to radio and radio to television, where there will never be enough channels, the need for distraction being what it is, even though all channels do the same thing and distract in the same way. But he did not foresee vaudeville being rekindled by Lady Gaga and Madonna in the Super Bowl arena where the camera is now a drone following the collective unconscious eye of the audience. Meantime, the living room remains the electronic middle class mosh pit. The form of television is its art; the channel hardly matters.

Yet some said that “Breaking Bad” was television finally or finely elevated to art. The art of the installment, the fix, waiting for the next episode, the episodic adventure induced by Walter who like Fagin in Dickens’s “Oliver Twist” lives and thrives in a world of children. Is breaking bad an occupational hazard of teaching resulting from classroom isolation from the real world? Or “Breaking Bad” might have been titled “Death of a Teacher,” Walter White the Willy Loman who lives on TV fantasy to avoid the existential question imposed by being crushed beneath the wheels of contemporary financial, job, metaphysical, and medical malaise. We interrupt this post to bring you a full disclosure: I never saw a single “Breaking Bad” episode when the series was running. I did read a few reviews. I recently watched the first three episodes, borrowed from the library. I was thinking I might try to see the whole thing through, to its conclusion, and angle a post off it. But I don’t want to watch any more “Breaking Bad” episodes. Predicament may harden the romantic heart in all of us.

For one thing, the premise of “Breaking Bad” seems algorithmic. A high school Chemistry teacher with experience and talent gets an existential kick in the butt when he discovers he has terminal cancer. He sees an opportunity in the two years he has left to make some quick money as a meth chef and improbably takes to a life of violent drug associated street crime. Various critical reviews suggest something philosophical going on. His street name is Heisenberg, and it’s probably true that nowhere in contemporary life are things more uncertain than out on the street, certainly not in the living room, watching television. So the existential predicament is the close proximity to death, not to be confused with the close proximity of television. But everyone dies and knows they will; why wait any time at all to break bad and kill the TV? Most people break indifferent. No life is longer than the one spent in moiling drudgery.

Then I watched Roberto Rossellini’s “Stromboli” (1950). Essentially, Ingrid Bergman’s Karin’s existential predicament is similar to Walter White’s, though even more absurd, because she’s saved but ironically condemned to live in a place and with a man she believes she’s entirely unsuited for, which comes with the surprise of the epiphany. The island of Stromboli is a Mediterranean volcano. Life is harsh. Karin was expecting something a bit more pleasant, romantic, colorful. Life on Stromboli is inescapable sun or impervious shadow. The people on Stromboli live under the constant threat of volcanic eruption. Their values are kept immutable by the impossibility of change. Unlike the Mario by the end of “Il Postino,” Karin can’t see any beauty on her island or in the fishing life. It doesn’t take her long to realize she must break bad. But Karin breaks bad differently from Walter. She frantically climbs the volcano that Walter pedantically runs from.

Note: No commas were mistreated in the writing of this post.