Three trees that fall from the sky: confetti, propaganda, burning paper wings.
Triad written by me and Rob Mitchelmore (@kerastion).
My good friend Mr. Porss, of andreasporss.wordpress.com, gave me a painting and in return I have written him a poem. Decades from now, art historians and literary historians will uncover this post, printed out and tattered, and they will wonder about the past. Did we really wrestle octopodes together in Cyprus, in an underground and very sexy establishment? Is it true that we invented the pizza salad? What is it with swordfish? None of these questions are answered, or even brought up, in the following poem.
To a Pervert
I know your heart is not some cunt heart
To sheathe a sword in; your young blunt heart
Still sizzling the teflon wok pan:
I cannot eat out your undone heart.
So eat! Eat your own damn heart out, man,
At least feast your eyes. My unwrung heart
Plays Prisoner’s Dilemma, cut-throat,
No Nash equilibrium, some heart.
So shove a microphone down your throat
And learn to speak from your unstrung heart,
But hearts make poor cufflinks, rough red sand
On those you greet, mess, with but one heart
You’d say, today I wanked with this hand.
Today I’m ribs and spine, lung, lung, heart.
Be softer yet, wrap silk round your unspun heart;
And give away your well-hung punk heart.
by your secret accomplice, Johannes Punkt
— a yearning for life (@johannespunkt) April 28, 2015
You too can have a tweet analyzed for five bucks, just contact me. It’s like I’m your therapist, but cheap.
Tomorrow is another day, full of possibilities, a blank slate, completely empty, a void, a deep abyss, a cold and unforgiving waste.
— Magister Mediocritas (@ineffabilliken) June 19, 2014
This is a tweet that we read, which traps us in a room. The first thing that strikes us upon reading it is that it starts out full of hope, which soon diminishes until nothing is left but despair. The appositives, a certain grammatical stucture, are stretched almost to the limit. We read the tweet again, for we are trapped in this room and the key is elsewhere, if existent at all.
The second reading lets us understand that the things which at first sound hopeful aren’t intrinsically imbued with hope, but the memory of the first reading overwrites their naïveté. This underlying shadow-meaning is even more clearly pronounced upon reading the Lockean “blank slate” again – we know that the tabula rasa is a palimpsest. This idea, traced out by the palimpsest, of retaining dead patterns from old lives, in turn brings us to the Groundhog Day nature in which we read the tweet:
We read the tweet again, the third time. In the movie Groundhog Day, as you know, Bill Murray can’t escape a time loop until he does it all just right (after a long hard look at his life). So too it is for us as we read Amos’ tweet again & again, or when we just live in general. To our great frustration, every day we live our life the “tomorrow” moves apace with us and displaces itself when we arduously climb the midnight threshold. Reincarnation, of course, is the same thing but on a grander scale. At the same time, we know that all life ends –
if we do not know this, we can crush ants between our fingers until it is known.
— a yearning for life (@johannespunkt) April 28, 2015
When upon another reading and another reading and another reading the meaning dies down to a dull hum, the shrill sound of form is heard. We can now see that the appositives from earlier are not the only form in need of analysis. The strucutre of Amos’ appositions is, chiasmic. Chiasmatic. Some such thing. (A chiasmus is, essentially, an X structure, that goes AB then BA, or ABC then CBA, &c.) The first 4 elements of the sentence are hopeful, the latter 4 are hopeless. Observe: [A|Tomorrow] is [B|another day], [C|full of possibilities], [D|a blank slate], [D|completely empty], [C|a void], [B|a deep abyss], [A|a cold and unforgiving waste]. (With four on each side, if you draw lines between the same letters, you will see the multiple X-shape.)
We begin in the centre, and eat our way out.
— a yearning for life (@johannespunkt) April 28, 2015
The “blank slate” and “completely empty” are two ways of saying the same thing, though their connotations are the opposite. (A “blank slate” has to be hopeful, for it is contrasted with original sin.) The same is true for the next, a void full of possibilities. Trickier to figure out are the next 2: how is “another day” opposite “a deep abyss”? The answer, as with many things, lies in Shakespeare. In The Tempest, one can hear Prospero ask: “What seest thou else / In the dark backward and abysm of time?” The abysm of time is present. I’ve explained why “tomorrow” represents the lies of time – a cold and unforgiving waste, by contrast, is the only thing time can promise:
When we read the tweet one last time we realize how we can make everything right again and stop reading the tweet: we step out of the microcosmos built up by his tweet, walk away from the internet into the larger chiasmos surrounding it, trusting that when our semantic structures are gravestones in the universe’s zero-k night we can step out of even this reality.
This is just a quick note to let you know that yesterday, two of my poems were published by Vagabond City Journal. Perhaps you did not know I wrote poetry! What a pleasant surprise for you, then.
You can read them here: vagabondcityjournal.wordpress.com/2015/04/16/2-poems-johannes-punkt/
I just want to let you know that I also have a newsletter called Airport Tattoo Parlour over here at this link: tinyletter.com/distantstations. I write there about as often as I write on this blog, that is once a month. Except the newsletter is better than the blog. Below is one of the letters which sets the tone for what I try to atmospherize with them:
Once, my sister got a chemical burn on her hand. Turned it all bumpy and crimson. It stayed like that for a week until it went away one night, but it flares up every time she’s stressed. She stressed a lot more after the burn, of course. One day she went back to work and stole a bucket of that chemical. She found an airport tattoo parlour and asked one of the artists there to paint something pretty with it. Now her hand goes useless and filigrees blossom up her arm but it happens less often and it’s not ugly.
There is a little seaside city in a soapbubble, which you cannot touch of course. You touch it:
She is you of course, of course. She steps through the cobblestone streets uncertainly because everything reminds her of a puzzlecube halfway between phases. Redbrick stores could slot into the ground with a smooth iterative motion so another house could emerge elsewhere, and rooves become streets. Movement is only possible forwards or backwards in one dimension; the shift between second and third person still grates on her when she steps into the store that sells fishing supplies, dodging two dead pixels that hang like disembodied pupils in the air outside. Most of the fishing supplies aren’t there yet. “We got a delayed shipment this month,” explains the old woman behind the counter. She gets the impression the woman is standing behind the counter because she has no lower body, like a mermaid. “We lost a whole ship in the forest, but we’re confident it’ll find its way back to us. Perhaps you would like to place an order?” (If she tries to touch the space where the missing items will be she is met with resistance.)
“I’m here to investigate a murder.”
“Oh.” The woman does not know what to say for a while. The sun gleams in an unrealistic way off empty glass jars that are supposed to contain lures. “A particular one, or will any old murder do?”
“I got a telegram.” Written in invisible ink, she had had to hold the telegram up against the sky that was not the same alpha-grey as the paper it was written on, and it said: GRIM MRDR SPBL CITY LOVE ERIC in clouds and optimistic blue.
“You might wanna head down to the docks.”
“I tried, but this is the only street I can walk on and your store is the only one open. All the others are out of reach.”
The old woman made a grimace and her mouth got stuck, killer crystals spreading across her face. “I’ll let you use my backdoor,” she said, her voice ventriloquized. Then the woman froze opening the door. She passed her carefully, avoiding the coral reef growing where the woman’s head used to be. She remembered the old woman’s voice clearly as if she’d spoken a few seconds ago: “Be careful, I don’t trust that Eric, and neither should you.”
The harbour is full of toothpicks. The cobblestones here lean toward the sea. A man looks distressed on one of the bridges, and a shift is coming up. Do you ask him if he is Eric? You do. Eric asks you to come closer, and points toward the sea. The water laps against the closest stones and it is the first music you hear and you smile. You stop smiling when you see the outline of the body three metres into the water. The body must be elsewhere, but the water respects the outline of the air pocket. Three harpoons jut out from the stones down there, which must be what killed her. Do you look toward Eric to ask him what happened? The harbour shifts like a puzzlecube, forwards, dragging you down into the water spearing you on the harpoons. The cobblestones here no longer lean toward the sea – they are at right angles.
but not flashy. Something that grabs attention without tricks. Something actually imposing. And when I die I want you to sell me out. I have cultivated a scandalous existence and each of you have your own key to the puzzle. The puzzle pieces won’t fit, of course, all of this will be carefully thought out. Everyone will get to believe what they want to believe, but I want you to profit off those beliefs. You’re all fighting to keep my image true to life, you all have your own nefarious agendas. Agendae? Perhaps one of you will leak this email and one or two of the others will question its legitimacy. You need to keep that up. There will already be a trove of scandals piling up, things I’ve been keeping out of the papers. Things I’ve let into the papers because someone sympathetic to me wrote it, misguidedly. There are people I’ve been paying off; you all know who they are. Collectively, at least, you can scrounge up a list. Stop paying half of them. Let them squirm. And I want you to hold more than one funeral. Can you do that? All of them closed-casket, don’t let any outsider know the real date you put me in the ground. Let my secrets spill out, let me live in the collective imagination. Spread rumours that I faked my death. Refute those rumours. Anything. As for the suit,
Here is my bachelor’s thesis, with my own words removed. It is titled “Androgyny and the Uncanny in Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice” and if you’d like to read it you can reach me at johannes.punkt at gmail dot com. I don’t bite, I promise. Apparently quotes take up roughly 15% of the thesis. Is that good? No-one knows. The sources for all these words are also in the full document.
“man” “woman” “eliminated gender, to find out what was left. Whatever was left would be, presumably, simply human”
“science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender” “much-needed models for non-binary characters” “out of date”
The uncanny is queer. And the queer is uncanny.
“a foreign body within oneself, even the experience of oneself as a foreign body” “foreign body” “strange, peculiar, eccentric,” “homosexual”
“The ‘Uncanny,’” “Das Unheimliche.” “intellectual uncertainty” “ought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light” “something familiar unexpectedly arising in a strange and unfamiliar context, or … something strange and unfamiliar unexpectedly arising in a familiar context,” “the uncanny is that class of frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar”
“The Uncanny Valley” “distinguish[ing]” “creating an artificial human is the true goal of robotics”
“[t]o discover our own disturbing [O]therness”
“Queer” “one’s so-called … ‘sexuality’”
“conservative, if not misogynistic” “approaching it from the masculine end of the spectrum [or] the feminine” “vacant[ly]”
Wavering Definitions of Human in The Left Hand of Darkness
I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination. The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling: like that singular organic jewel of our seas, which grows brighter as one woman wears it and, worn by another, dulls and goes to dust. Facts are no more solid, coherent, round, and real than pearls are. But both are sensitive.
“uncanniness occurs when the borders between imagination and reality are erased” “as if I told a story”
“as [his] landlady, for he ha[s] fat buttocks … and a soft face, and prying, spying, ignoble, kindly nature” “I saw a girl, a filthy, stupid, weary girl looking up into my face as she talked, smiling timidly, looking for solace”
“king-bee,” “queen-bee” “man I must say, having said he and his” “soft supple femininity that [Genly] dislike[s] and distrust[s]” “it was impossible to think of him as a woman … yet whenever I thought of him as a man I felt a sense of falseness” “effeminate deviousness” “effeminate” “[Estraven] was the only one who had entirely accepted [him] as a human being … and who therefore had demanded of [him] an equal degree of recognition
“the very use of the pronoun in my thoughts leads me continually to forget that the [Gethenian] I am with is not a man, but a manwoman” “experiment” “[t]he somer-kemmer cycle strikes us as degrading, a return to the estrus cycle of the lower mammals” “loaded with meanings”
“as if they did not cast shadows” “shadow” “just a little bit unreal,” “vast stone semi-cellar with one door locked on us from outside, and no window … perfectly dark” “locked in the dark with uncomplaining, unhopeful people,” “ignored that black cellar and gone looking for the substance of Orgoreyn above ground, in daylight” “substance”
“Estraven the Traitor” “Long ago, before the days of King Argaven I” “a Domain’s pride is the length of its borders, and the lords of Kerm Land are proud men and umbrageous men, casting black shadows” “umbrageous” “shadow-fight” “murder is a lighter shadow on a house than suicide,” “shadow” “curse” “curse”
“shifgrethor” “prestige, face, place, the pride-relationship, the untranslatable and all-important principle of social authority,” “played” “waive shifgrethor” “never even really understood the meaning of the word” “It comes from an old word for shadow” “black shadows” “proud … umbrageous men” “murder is a lighter shadow on a house than suicide”
“the Unshadow” “there’s no lying” “neither [Estraven] nor [Genly] cast any shadow” “[t]he king shortens no man’s shadow” “[s]ome shadows got shorter and some longer, as they say in Karhide”
Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way.
“[l]ight, dark. Fear, courage. Cold, warmth. Female, male. It is yourself, [Estraven]. Both and one. A shadow on snow”
The Machinery of the Empire in Ancillary Justice
“nonhumans … include[s] quite a number of people who [consider] themselves human,” “it’s so easy, isn’t it, to decide the people you’re fighting aren’t really human” “civilized” “doesn’t mark gender in any way” “invariably … offended when [she] hesitate[s] or guess[es] wrong”
“it” “its,” “any sort of individual,” “person,” “human,” “corpse soldier”
“used to wonder how Radchaai reproduced, if they were all the same gender” “They’re not” “inadvertently genders”
them all, suddenly, for just a moment, through non-Radchaai eyes, an eddying crowd of unnervingly ambiguously gendered people. I saw all the features that would mark gender for non-Radchaai … Short hair or long, worn unbound (trailing down a back, or in a thick, curled nimbus) or bound (braided, pinned, tied). Thick-bodied or thin-, faces delicate-featured or coarse-, with cosmetics or none. A profusion of colors that would have been gender-marked in other places. All of this matched randomly with bodies curving at breast and hip or not, bodies that one moment moved in ways various non-Radchaai would call feminine, the next moment masculine.
“captain” “cast[s] the Gethenian protagonist, Estraven, almost exclusively into roles that we are culturally conditioned to perceive as ‘male’” “mother,” “daughter,” “sister,” “sir” “parent” “parent,” “sir,” “captain”
“a generation or two” “the head priest of Ikkt,” “not seen her way clear to demoting her god in its own temple, or identifying Ikkt with Amaat closely enough to add Radchaai rites to her own” “normal practice to absorb any religion the Radch ran across, to fit its gods into an already blindingly complex genealogy, or to say merely that the supreme, creator deity was Amaat under another name and let the rest sort themselves out” “ma[kes] the strange god familiar and br[ings] it safely within her mental framework” “we go to the top of the local hierarchy”
“no control over the new body” “it” “I” “it” “’Help,’ I croaked … It was shivering, still cold from suspension, and from terror” “I can bring you back” “he” “she” “it,”
Unifying, Disunifying Telepathy
“the notion that any given moment … depends on the fiction that everyone is experiencing the same moment, uncannily interconnected, sharing the same ‘now’” “fiction,” “presumed analogy between the novelist as creator and the Creator of the cosmos, an omniscient God” “God knows everything because He is everywhere – simultaneously … [a narrator] does not ‘know’ simultaneously but consecutively” “telepathic” “clairvoyant” “same ‘now,’”
“now,” “the constant of simultaneity” “produce[s] a message at any two points simultaneously” “[m]indspeech [is] the only thing I ha[ve] to give to Estraven, out of all my civilization” “consists largely of simple communication [via ansible] rather than of transportation” “the rapport [is] there” “now” “now.” “now”
“now” “identity is never absolutely pure or singular” “Estraven the Traitor.” “as a dead man’s, his brother’s voice” “disturbed” “[p]erhaps a Gethenian, being singularly complete, feels telepathic speech as a violation of completeness” “now”
“every breath, every twitch of every muscle,” “very nearly” “possesse[s] thousands of bodies, all of them genetically identical, all of them linked to each other” “She’s been secretly moving against herself … the whole time all of her has been pretending not to know it was happening, because as soon as she admitted it the conflict would be in the open, and unavoidable” “prevent the knowledge from reaching the parts of her that aren’t [t]here” “and the rest would have to trust that” “now,”
“hiding what she'[s] done from herself,” “if there [are] now two Anaander Mianaais, might there not also be more?” “[c]orrupted” “No-one is subverting the Lord of Radch except the Lord of the Radch”
The sun had just set behind a hill but Hafiz knew that if he got on a quick camel, or if he could steal his neighbour’s moped, he could drive out into the desert and watch it set once more. This time of year it would roll gently along the edge of the hill as if it was made for this before plummeting into the depths below and casting the world in darkness. For now, the sky was a watercolour palette in the process of being washed out, blue streaks mixed with pink and red, green over white, everything eddying together. He shook his head and walked toward the sunset. Marya would be home by now, and she had said tonight was the night.
(When you sleep, your dreams escape through your mouth. Sometimes they get caught in your throat, trapped between dimensions, and they get into your blood and escape through your eyes instead. If you open the eyes of a dreaming person they cast colourful images on the nearest wall and it’s the most dangerous thing you can do, because raw dreams are not meant to be recycled like that. Somewhere faraway there is a legend of a man who gets a piece of cheese stuck in his throat, which makes his dreams go awry. The faraway people have got it wrong; likely the piece of cheese would pose no harm at all, because you can’t get cheese in your bloodstream. It’s offensively wrong.)
When Hafiz reached her hosue, he calmed himself down a little. Climbed the vines up to her balcony on the third floor and watched the colour fade from the windows opposite, and then waited. She would notice him soon enough. He could hear her cat meowing from her bed. And when she did, she would put her hands around his throat. He relaxed his muscles one by one, like they did in certain kinds of yoga. Deliberately falling asleep.
There’s something mythic and fragmentary about the ouevre of Gaston Glencastle, and I am not just referring to how his they found most of it, damp and nigh-unreadable in unorganized piles in the bottom of a disused well. Though that, too, deserves mention and is quite mythic and fragmentary on its own. No, I am referring to the conceits, the symbolism and the imagery that run through his stories like the artifical clouds that criss-cross the sky in his Liaison of Leaves and Lives. Glencastle’s stories are told in ways that suggest that the narrator is telling you something you already know. Like the texts are something we’ve already read before, like they’re a grandfather stuttering on his last reel of tape. The aggressively anti-Jungian and almost Markovian links of reasoning suggest to the open-minded a vast machine of logic half-buried in the desert.
Take the main character of Liaison, for instance, whose history shifts with her memory and the perceptions of others. Recall the famous scene where Antoniev asks if she were a dancer in a previous life and she becomes a dancer in a previous life. She becomes someone who has once been, long-before. Think of the worlds where the future is set in stone and the past is mutable as putty. I am saying this because I have been very impressed with the excavated works of outsider art that this well-dwelling man produced. In the latest work that Glencastle’s brother has been able to piece together, Zero Dark Ennui (and given how a chronology of his work would be an impossible task for anybody, as Émil points out, this work is composed of things that make sense together and where the handwriting suggests they were written around the same time, we can simply consider this a loose sequel to Liaison or Dusk in New Orleans) we are once again asked to accept an entirely new series of unarchetypes, a new tome of creation myths, and a new well of desires and human instincts.
Some people accuse Philip K. Dick of writing all his myths from the same trauma, that of his twin sister dying in the womb. With this, the third book of the Glencastle mythiad, I am beginning to see what I once thought was separate scars connect. It is all adding up to one disjointed picture, and the effect is somewhat ruined. In essence, my complaint is this: It is hard to believe, as Glencastle seems to write from beyond the grave, through his brothers ghostly and descolatory fingers, that all human longing and loneliness stems from that one time that Gaston Glencastle got separated from his favourite cuddly toy in a supermarket. It was still there when he got back. You should really be over this by the time you are old enough to write such stunning descriptions of deep forests and suppressions of empathy as can be found in Zero Dark Ennui.
Take the operation scene in the moon colony where we are treated to the glorious image of a person entirely disembodied, almost abatomed. Why does he feel the need to spend two paragraphs on the similarity between a spleen and a well-loved toy rabbit. This is the spleen that Raschcha loses in the beginning of the book, mind. The monoliths of capitalism stand tall around her until the moon colony scene, where she is reunited, though by this point the spleen has been in no less than three bodies, that just keep dying. Are we really supposed to believe that the spleen engineers its reuiniting with its real owner? Why are we supposed to believe this? I am disillusioned.
It turns out that what I mistook for the shadows that great thoughts cast in words was just dark crayons on pavement.