Sunday, February 28, 2010

Human Varieties and Universals

TLS February 12 2010

from Ben Hutchinson's review of Frederic Hölderlin's ESSAYS AND LETTERS, edited and translated by Jeremy Adler and Charlie Louth:

Yet by 1797, Hölderlin is moving away from philosophy, writing to Schiller that "I now consider the metaphysical mood as a certain virginity of the mind". In 1798, he writes that philosophy is a "hospital where poets afflicted as I am find honourable refuge", and by 1799 he foes so far as claim hat he has made himself unhappy by cultivating "activities that seem to be less well-suited to my nature, such as philosophy". . . . Like the early Nietzsche, whose distinction between the Dionysian and Apolline he seems here to anticipate, Hölderlin looks to the Greeks to unite poetry and philosophy, speaking admiringly of the "strictness with which the ancient writers distinguished between the different kinds of poetry".
Achilles represents for Höolderlin the "ideal being", since Homer profanes him as little as possible in the tumult" by holding him back from the battle. This is indicative of Hölderlin's influential view of tragedy: "the tragic poem conceals the intimacy in the representation . . . because it expresses a deeper intimacy, a more infinite divinity". 

Nietzsche loved Hölderlin's poetry. The description of it here suggests the attraction: the attempt to unite philosophy and poetry, less in a system of thought than in a way of life. If the tragic poem expresses "a more infinite divinity" through its representational power, where does that leave the lyric poem? If the dramatic poem, as in Shakespeare's plays, exhibits a more infinite variety (in situations, characters and actions), the lyric poem must seem a smaller stage. The problem is also Keats's. How does a lyric poet create a world of infinities? Of passing moods, maybe.


TLS February 19 2010

from John Habgood's review of Jonathan Benthall's RETURNING TO RELIGION: Why a secular age is haunted by faith:

"Religion," [Benthall] writes, "is a human universal, and those who think they can eliminate it by scientific argument or ridicule are no more likely to succeed than those who would eliminate sexuality or playfulness or violence. These are the conclusions of an anthropologist whose academic discipline has convinced him that "a religious inclination is essential for the functioning of any society". Religious undercurrents and residues in supposedly secular organizations may take various forms, he claims, all of which bear a family resemblance, and which display many different degrees of religiosity. Rotary, for instance, with its motto "Service above Self", its ubiquitous logo, and its role in creating community, has the characteristics of a weak form of religion. At the opposite extreme, Chairman Mao's notorious Little Red Book, on the face of it an unlikely candidate for religious status, was for a time the basis for a full-blown quasi-religious cult. We humans, Benthall concludes, are driven by a fundamental need for religion to help us cope with the ambiguities and threats inherent in our human existence.


from Richard Marggraf Turley, Howard Thomas and Jayne Elisabeth Archer's Commentary piece "A tragedy of idle weeds: why Grigori Kozintsev's Lear is more faithful to Shakespeare's 'arable play' than most modern stagings":

One of the "idle weedes" that tells us much about the world, the environment, that Shakespeare has in mind in King Lear, is the poisonous wheat-mimicker darnel, which ripens--as one of Shakespeare's sources, Gerarde's Herball (1597) points out--in August. The play's climax, then, takes place during early harvest time--and not, as stage orthodoxy has it, in winter or spring. When darnel infiltrates the food chain, most often in the form of bead or beer, the results are symptoms resembling madness: blurred vision, hallucinations, incoherence, and disorientation. . . . 
Lear was begun in 1604, the year of King James's coronation and the beginning of the negotiations that would result in the Union of the Crowns. In this same year, Shakespeare was forty, and like Lear requesting "rayment, bed and food" from his daughters--he seems to have started making provision for his eventual retirement. . . . Anticipating his retirement, Shakespeare found that his personal "harvest time" was neither peaceful nor pastoral. Instead, when he sat down to devise King Lear, Shakespeare contemplated a turbulent Britain, in which food was scarce, harvests uncertain, and its subjects divided.
Dramatic orthodoxy follows the ground-zero conceptualizations of Lear so starkly exemplified by Brook, Nunn and Noble. However, it is in fact Kozintsev's Korol Lir that is closest, not just to the radical energies of Shakespeare's play, which interrogates the political uses of land, but also to our own twenty-first-century fears and preoccupations about what we do to the land--and what it does to us. The thought of an empty stomach . . . is every bit as creatively energizing as post-nuclear Angst. Shakespeare's Lear, like Kozintsev's Lir, is the Autumn King, the King of Wheat, and this arable play Shakespeare's unrecognized Georgic.

This interpretation makes a lot of sense. It makes sense of Lear's rich description of the land parceled out to his daughters after they declare their love for him. The description emphasizes the land as land, and not as political territory. It also makes sense of the play's concern with economic distribution between the rich and poor. In a moment of great lucidity Lear realizes he has taken too little care of the poor. He wishes to show the heavens more just by shaking "the superflux" to those in need.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Evident Merit

The New Yorker electronically rejected my electronic submission thus:

We regret that we are unable to use the enclosed material, in spite of its evident merit. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider it.

The Editors

Should I take consolation from the phrase "evident merit"? Or is this what they write on all their rejections?


Watched another play-turned-into-film yesterday. Unlike Doubt, however, Proof shows fewer signs of its theatrical origin. It is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Auburn, who also wrote the screenplay. The film, directed by John Madden, is about genius and its anxieties. But it is so much more. It is about the responsibility and heartache of taking care of a crazy parent. It is about detaching one's identity and work from a famous and loved parent, and how that detachment feels like killing him. Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, Hope Davis and Jake Gyllenhaal gave strong performances. In thinking about Doubt, I questioned the film's lack of doubt about the wrongness of pederasty. Despite its unambiguous name, Proof probes the grey areas of life that cannot be subjected to mathematical certainty.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Talking Head

Spent two hours in a tiny, stuffy, not entirely sound-proofed recording studio last night. Swiss artists Daniel Glaser and Magdalena Kunz sculpt head busts and animate them with facial expression and voice. I am to be one of their 21 Talking Heads in a new installation work which will be shown in June at a gallery in Turin, Italy. They are also looking to exhibit in New York.

The Heads will be divided into three groups of seven each, and I belong to the "Poets" group. Two of my ghazals bookend this group's script. In between, we sound out on environmental destruction, artificial foods, ennui, new methods of reproduction, death, and other exit strategies. First time I read from a tele-prompter. My most memorable line (besides my own poems) was "Marine marsh islands" read slowly as if it were a news headline. I also got to swear in Hokkien.

After two complete takes, the artists made me repeat some lines several times. Their desire to get it right was admirable.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Speaking Of The Teaching Life

Yesterday I spoke on an alumni panel at Sarah Lawrence College about life after the MFA. There were three other speakers, Joel Aure, who was my classmate, and two other women, Melissa and Karen. All three took the route of adjunct college teaching, whereas I represented teaching at an independent school.

I was fascinated and horrified by how they "glue" (Joel's neat word) together a living from adjunct teaching, substitution calls, and workshop gigs. At the very last moment, a college may call to cancel a course due to poor enrollment, or to add one. The adjuncts are also miserably paid. All the creativity and energy that could have gone into their writing have to be spent on networking and follow-up and frenetic lesson preparation and thankless piles of grading.

What was I thinking when I thought of taking that route after graduation? It is the kind of life that only a young person can sustain and enjoy. The speakers were in their late twenties and early thirties, and already they expressed a desire for more stability and certainty. They want full-time jobs. Listening to them, I feel lucky, yes, but also old.

But let the old ground keep sending forth new shoots. Plants don't grow when you keep digging them up. The obvious differences between the other three and me hide our more profound similarity. We all glue our lives together somehow. If it is not a call at 6 AM to hop down to Trinity to sub for a teacher, it is a tenuous application for permanent residency. The disjointedness we endure for the love of writing.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Zuihitsu with Kimiko Hahn

Wheeeee! I have been accepted for an 8-week workshop with Kimiko Hahn on Japanese poetic forms such as the haiku and zuihitsu. Cave Canem offers it free for African and Asian American poets. Hahn's bio from the website:

Kimiko Hahn is the author of eight collections of poetry, including Toxic Flora, forthcoming from W. W. Norton in May 2010; The Narrow Road to the Interior (W.W. Norton, 2006); The Artist's Daughter (2002); Mosquito and Ant (1999); Volatile (1998); and The Unbearable Heart (1995), which received an American Book Award. She is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts, as well as a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award, the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize and an Association of Asian American Studies Literature Award. She is a Distinguished Professor in the English Department at Queens College/CUNY. About her own work and its place in Asian American writing, she has said: "I've taken years to imagine an Asian American aesthetic. I think it's a combination of many elements—a reflection of Asian form, an engagement with content that may have roots in historical identity, together with a problematic, and even psychological, relationship to language."

I am eager to engage with a carefully thought out, richly imagined Asian American aesthetic. What would it look like? sound like? feel like? think like? I'll soon find out.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Out In Print reviews EQUAL TO THE EARTH

Jerry Wheeler from Out In Print reviews my book of poems:
The stark simplicity of the geographic formations which adorn the cover of Singapore-born poet Jee Leong Koh’s Equal to the Earth has much in common with the poems inside. They are products of their environment – rooted and grounded in water, earth and air –and all the more beautiful for it. . . . [Read more]

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Renewing an old devotion

Heard with EN last night the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, led by a young vivacious conductor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin. The strings were especially silky and bright. Jean-Yves Thibaudet played Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major (1859) with great panache, but the work strove too hard for effects and seemed to lack a coherent shape. I did not enjoy much either Richard Strauss's programmatic Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life) (1898), though the orchestra played it with gusto, and received calls for an encore after it. Three trumpets left the stage at one point, and played off stage to sound like faraway horns. Neat effect. The piece I liked best of the evening was the program opener, Messiaen's Les offrandes oubliées, méditation symphonique (1930). In contemplating the Cross, the Sin and the Eucharist, it renewed convincingly an old devotion. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Kim Cheng Boey's "Between Stations"

I knew from his poetry that Boey was a restless traveler, but I did not know how restless until I read his recently published collection of essays Between Stations (Giramondo, 2009). The essays range, with its backpacking author, from Xian in China to London, via Calcutta, Kashgar, Cairo and Alexandria. The essays and their migrant author finally settle in Australia. Despite the ground covered, the book is not so much about travel as the reasons we travel.

Boey has many reasons for leaving his native Singapore but his deepest reason is to find a Singapore he has lost. Calcutta, with its street life, reminds him of Singapore in the late 60s. The crumbling colonial buildings and the waterfront of Alexandria bring back Singapore's old Esplanade. And inextricably entangled with these childhood memories is the memory of a father who abandoned the family time and again, and reappeared each time to take the son on walks around the old haunts.

There are wonderful evocations of travel destinations in the book. The essays on Du Fu's Xian and Cavafy's Alexandria are particularly fine, both places presided over by Boey's tutelary spirits. Du Fu moved his family all over the country in order to feed them. Cavafy's poem "Ithaca" has a special place in the book. I will certainly be reading these two essays again.

The most valuable part of the book, however, is the restoration, in writing, of an older Singapore now rapidly forgotten in the drive towards modernization. This restoration is accomplished through direct and memorable appeal to sight, smell and hearing. We see Dinky's House of Russian Goods, one of many shops selling knickknacks of all sorts in the Change Alley Aerial Bridge. We smell the five spices Boey's grandmother loved to use in her cooking. We hear the sad yet hopeful tune of Guantanamera, that ruled the Singaporean airwaves in the late 60s.

Two essays take up the sensory experience of memory for their theme, "Passing Snapshots" and "The Smell of Memory." They provide a good change from the predominant approach of these essays, which interweaves descriptions of foreign cities with memories of Singapore. Some of these essays were written earlier for different newspapers and journals, and so show some overlap of material. For instance, the memory of sleeping besides a grandmother appears in two different essays. The repeated descriptions of the walks with his father could also bear some trimming. The language is usually supple, concrete and direct, except where the author is "fascinated" in too many places.

Seen another way, these essays reflect on the formation of a major Singaporean poet. Striking to me in this regard is the lack of reference to other Singaporean poets or writers. The poetic touchstones in this book are T. S. Eliot, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Lowell, John Montague, Pablo Neruda, Wallace Stevens, Dylan Thomas and Edward Thomas, besides the already-mentioned Du Fu and Cavafy. If I write about my own poetic development, I will show a similar lack of reference to Singaporean poetry. Poetry by Singaporeans just had not been a part of our growing up. Things may be changing but the change is slow, haphazard and uncertain. These essays by Boey Kim Cheng may help to make the change a little more permanent.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

John Patrick Shanley's "Doubt" (2008)

I did not see this Pulitzer-Prize winning play when it was staged on Broadway, and so thought I would see the movie, directed by the playwright, who also wrote the screenplay. The movie was shot in the Bronx, the play's location, in the Catholic elementary school Shanley attended. To bring that Irish and Italian neighborhood and the Sisters of Charity (who run the school) to life, the movie begins with a strong attention to detail that is not quite integrated into the action. As a result the opening feels slow, feels like scene-setting.

The confrontation between Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn over the latter's illicit involvement with a black student sizzles due to the sharp dialogue, and Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman's performances. I did not feel, however, that the issue of certainty in an uncertain world is explored to any revelatory depth. Sister Aloyisus's pinched certainty is vindicated in the end when Father Flynn resigns and so "confesses" his guilt. The moral thrust of the movie seems to be that we should not judge too hastily an unlikable faith in the truth.

Father Flynn, on the other hand, is shown up to be self-deluding. He is the kind of the person who does not know true regret for his actions, to paraphrase the good Sister's judgment. Such moral conviction is salutary when doubt in our time is so often used as a cover for wrongdoing. But the movie does not show us the nature of Father Flynn's secret relationship with his student. It sees everything through the eyes of Sister Aloysius and of young, innocent Sister James (Amy Adams). It admits no doubt that such a relationship must be completely wrong.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Poem: "Progress"


porque la luz canta con un rumor de agua, con un rumor de follaje canta el agua
—Octavio Paz, “El cántaro roto”

Not more light for dangerous streets but more light for staircases of the soul.
Not more leaves for shade from the sun but more leaves for the sake of leaves.
Not more water for botanical gardens but more water for broken water jars.

We do not say it is not progress to have safe streets, sunshade and gardens.
We do not say it is not progress to have hospitals, gas stations and stock markets.
We do not say it is not progress to pipe clean water to every thirsty home.

But the soul keeps to streets paved with light and fears to climb dark staircases.
But the leaves hold out the blistering sun and do not hold the lightest look.
But the broken water jars are unearthed, labeled and displayed after gardens die.

So let the soul climb dizzy staircases even when lying down in a hospital.
So let the leaves flex in their vigor the sun’s large energies at a gas station.
So let the water jars, broken and discolored, be valued by the stock market.

The light sings with the sound of water, with the sound of leaves the water sings
from the village well to the standing pipe to the running tap in all our homes.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Poem: "Hard Fire"

Hard Fire

duro fulgor resuelto ya en cristal y claridad pacífica
—Octavio Paz, “El río”

I burn my body up.
or rather it burns me,
not for a greasy plate
but brilliant clarity.

Not eye nor stub of toe,
not even strand of hair,
in lighting up the night
my furious heart will spare.

Not smoke nor flickering
but an unearthly blue
will pierce the veil of sky
when burning me is through.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Poem: "Cinema"


Allá del otro lado, se extienden las playas inmensas como una mirada de amor
—Octavio Paz, “¿No hay salida?”
We may pilot a refitted three-masted collier or a state-of-the art starship,
it does not matter which, when we have sailed too long at sea or in space,
the mission, to find breadfruit or survivors, shriveled to a hard monotony.
When land swings into sight, as it eventually does, in glorious Metrocolor,
the shore bristling with a thousand spears closely packed as a wheat field,
how can it not bear the look of love as well, a planet like Earth, but better?
There will, of course, be a father, a powerful king or a brilliant professor,
who raised love to perfection and shielded her from pricks of knowledge.
He will have a servant, a robot capable of producing silk dresses overnight
or a translator trusted by the island and wise in the ways of the intruders.
The natives are expendable. They can line up to hold a curious fishing net
or the planet can be all landscape and empty of people. Crucial to the plot,
however, is the sense of impending havoc. We bring the monster with us.
Whether the name of evil is Original Sin or Id, Colonialism or Patriarchy,
we don’t know but that does not stop it from murdering our companions.
We concentrate it in one person, captain or scholar, so we can destroy it.
And that frees us to settle on this island with beautiful men and women
or flee in the vessel, with love on board, and watch that planet explode.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Poem: "The Man Who Looks for Prophecy"

I hate list-poems and so I had to write one.

The Man Who Looks for Prophecy

el que pedío su cuerpo, el que su sombra,
el que huye de sí y el que se busca
—Octavio Paz, “Máscaras del alba”

The man who looks for prophecy in the bones of dead birds
The man who reads the nightly news with a crooked smile
The man who carries his daughter three days to a hospital tent
The man who leaves the sleeping woman to clean his rifle
The man who digs in his yard and hears his spade ring out
The man who thinks of the bad crop as he turns over the ground
The man who weeps quietly in his cell but not for his crime
The man who writes long novels and burns them for heating
The man who strides across the piazza just before day breaks
The man who waits on the train platform for what he does not know
The man who works in the library and jerks off in the stacks
The man who plies his ferry at the waist of the black river
The man who pans the river banks for gold deposits
The man who loses his salary at the mahjong table and slumps
The man who begs his wife’s exhusband for a job at the garage
The man who draws the faces of famous artists for a living
The man who creates masks for plays no longer performed
The man who crushes a soda can after finishing the soda
The man who hopes no one sees him, then hopes someone does
The man who reads to a dying man the stock market report
The man who benches his quarterback in the last quarter
The man who announces the announcers for the annual show
The man who forgets what he tries so hard to remember
The man who slices his finger while deboning a fish
The man who throws salt on the ice outside his deli
The man who demonstrates in the park against the poll tax
The man who rides the subway train between the cars
The man who collects photographs of little girls of different races
The man who photographs the soldier falling from the balcony
The man who gets one smash hit in his entire career
The man who makes his younger and better son the king
The man who walks out of the operation finally a man
The man who watches his soul as one watches a hungry rat
The man who stands in a lightning storm with an umbrella
The man who carves a towheaded doll out of a matchstick
The man who licks in order to find out what he likes
The man who disappears down the closing coal mine
The man who flies the drone over the burning oil fields
The man who hacks enemy computers to protect his country
The man who ties a boy to the stile and leaves him to the cold
The man who ruins a rival with a single stroke of his pen
The man who drops the right word with the right man
The man who sells cigarettes to the guards of the camps
The man who promises his children he’ll be back tonight
The man who studies beetles and discovers a theory
The man who believes God made us male and female
The man who calls on the spirits despite growing deaf
The man who opens the door for other men and closes it
The man who learns of his fiancé’s impregnation by God
The man who returns a jockstrap that is too big for him.
The man who has sex for the first time at age thirtythree
The man who hikes inland with nothing but a canteen
The man who grows up with wolves and couples with one           
The man who sacrifices his queen for a white-square bishop
The man who buries a painting of a man’s corpse
The man who sings through his nose a hymn for the wind
The man who mends the candle flames in the cathedral
The man who adjusts all the clocks in the skyscraper
The man who fixes his satellite dish outside my window

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Poem: "The Mountain"

The Mountain

palabras que son flores que son frutos que son actos.
—Octavio Paz, “Himno entre ruinas”

The mountain is too small to be a mountain
but the legend of a lovelorn princess who hanged
herself and drops from the trees like a fruit,
slows down the childish walk up to the top,
if childish heart dares leave the school’s wire gate.

The mountain in the school is friendlier.
One grade climbs naturally to the next,
affords a higher ledge on which to view
the world prostrate beneath the childish feet,
the word a flower becoming a fruit the act.

The deception of flowers! The lie of fruit!
What is full of life is also full of death.
The word refuses to live with the act.
The school, and its wire gate, lies in ruins.
The mountain flowers still, shading the sun.


Monday, February 08, 2010

Poem: "Bougainvillea"


Por un instante están los nombres habitados
—Octavio Paz, “Semilla para un himno”

When the island is starved for a hymn,
this land of bougainvillea, illegible graves, and car dealerships,
where eating has usurped the offices of sex,
where sun is oppressively silent and rain everywhere gossips,

as the ear remembers one musical phrase, we clutch our name,
given by a long dead mother, harnessed by a hardworking father,
and agonize over eating our name
or planting it in the soil.

We look over the wall to see what our neighbors do.
Their garden is smooth like a piece of paper.
They look as hungry as yesterday.
When they ask us pleasantly, “Have you eaten yet?” they sound obscene.

Shall we eat it? We are so hungry.
It will recall the satisfactions of lying with a woman or a man.
No! We must plant it.
But what if our name has grown too old to grow?

The bougainvillea puts out pink and purple flowers, paper-thin.
The graves settle back with defeat.
The cars exchange hands like trophies.
The sun is silent oppressively and the rain gossips everywhere.


Sunday, February 07, 2010

Poem: "No Dancer"

No Dancer

A la española el día entra pisando fuerte
—Octavio Paz, “Untitled”

We have no dancer to match the Spanish dancer.
We have no sport like the gold-plaid ceremony of bullfighting.

Day stumbles across the boards, a young ballerina, loses
her voice, the old wayang singer, for no one hears her sing.

The Emperor orders, “We will have singing and dancing,”
and singers warble his strain and dancers fall over his feet.

We snigger aloud at different volumes in different places.
We know we have no dancer to match the Spanish heat.

Day bends over hot factories and cold shopping malls
but all the water has been treated by treatment plants,

even the water in the river, by the Emperor’s order,
gargles in a cement throat and into the ocean rants.

So we watch in horrid fascination when one of us cuts
her throat in slow and fierce movement, to an order

implicit in the day the ball of her hand rises and falls,
to a voice that beckons from the center and the border

she sings back with an ancient absolute concentration,
the gurgling song redder than the robe of an Emperor.


Friday, February 05, 2010

The middle way between earth and fire

Not feeling too well, but chugging along. Curled up in bed last night, like a kid, to read Dick Davis's translation of Shahnameh, the Persian Book of Kings. Part of my project to read the ancient classics of all civilizations. I have read so far Gilgamesh, Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita, Zhuang Zi, the Analects, Beowulf, Iliad, and Odyssey. I appreciate suggestions for reading.

Shahnameh, the Persian national epic, was composed by the poet Abolqasem Ferdowsi in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries C.E. "Its subject matter is vast," writes Davis in the Introduction, "being nothing less than the history of the country and its people from the creation of the world up to the Arab conquest, which brought the then new religion of Islam to Iran, in the seventh century C.E." The scope is vast but the telling, in Davis's prose translation, interspersed with verse, is pleasingly simple.

The battle is between just kings and nasty demons who make themselves tyrants of the world. Hushang versus the Black Demon. Feraydun versus Zahhak. The story changes a little when Feraydun's three sons outwit another human ruler, the king of the Yemen, and win his three beautiful daughters. On their way home, Feraydun tests his sons by attacking them in the form of a huge dragon. The oldest runs away, and so is named by his father Salm (Salamat means safety). The second son is named Tur for his impetuous bravery. The third, always the favorite, who has both dignity and fierceness, "who chooses the middle way between earth and fire," was named Iraj.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Of Self

Fascinating and useful summary of the evolution of the word "self" in TLS January 22 2010. From Peter Hacker's review of Galen Strawson's SELVES: An essay in revisionary metaphysics:

The word "self" has a venerable pedigree reaching back to the tenth century. It was employed as a pronoun and pronominal adjective (akin to ipse) that evolved into "itself" or "the thing itself". Together with a personal pronoun (as in "Ic sylf") and "he sylfa") it evolved into the reflective pronouns myself, himself, herself. With the possessive genitive, as in "her self visage", it became equivalent in such contexts to "own" ("her own visage"). Used as an adjective, as in "this self knyght that" it became "same", and from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries "one self" had a use to mean "one and the same", which still survives in the phrase "the self same thing". The use of self as a noun originated in early Middle English, when "self", preceded by a possessive pronoun, began to be taken as a neuter noun governing the preceding genitive, rather than as a pronominal adjective in concord with it. So there was a natural drift from uses emphasizing identity or indicating pronominal reflexivity towards an independent nominal signifying "person". By the eighteenth century, "self" was also used to signify what a person is at a particular time, hence one's nature, character, physical constitution or appearance considered as different at different times. So we talk of our former self, one's later self, and of being or looking one's old self after illness. Concurrently with this diachronic use, the term was extended to signify a set of synchronic dispositions in potential conflict with each other within a human being--hence one's sinful self, one's natural self, one's lowest self and one's best self. And from this it was further extended to one's selfish and self-interested drives, and also to what are the most fundamental characteristics of a person, as in "one's true self".

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Chloe Miller and Blog Promotion

I am giving away free one copy of my book EQUAL TO THE EARTH, if you link to Chloe Miller's blog, and your name comes up in a draw. Details here. Deadline is midnight tonight.

Chloe and I were at Sarah Lawrence together, and I am glad we are still in close touch. She took the route of adjunct college teaching, whereas I was lucky enough to land a job teaching in an independent school. I was a guest at her wedding, and wrote a poem for her and Han afterwards, Ideas of the Real. Her mind buzzes with all kinds of creative projects, a real inspiration to the self-made writer.

Update: Marsha Pincus won the draw.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Talking Heads

Heard Joe Fritsch read at Bengal Curry last night. It was hard to hear him above the whining of the fridges in the Indian restaurant. But he gave me copies of the poems afterwards. Also met with Daniel and Magdalena, two Swiss artists, who are working on a sculpture installation piece called "Talking Heads." They asked me, and I agreed, to be recorded reading my poems in 6 one-minute segments. They would use the video to create an animated clay figure of me, one of twenty-one figures in the installation about the voices in a person's head. They also asked Joe to be a Talking Head too.


Jerry Wheeler of Out in Print, a queer book review site, asked me to send him EQUAL TO THE EARTH. Another connection made on Facebook.