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Monthly Archives: October 2016

It’s strange that of all the deaths in literature, the one I felt the most (and still feel) takes place in passing:  “[Mr. Ramsay, stumbling along a passage one dark morning, stretched his arms out, but Mrs. Ramsay having died rather suddenly the night before, his arms, though stretched out, remained empty.]” It’s not just that Mrs. Ramsay goes parenthetically that gets me, but the way that the moment of her going cannot be located even within this aside, the construction “having died” leaving a penumbra of presence around which the language tries and fails to throw its arms.

If we’re thinking about how language captures the force of living, then the absence of that force – and especially the moment of space at which it breaks off, the edge of the line between shadow and day, seems to me to be a necessary site to examine. Hooke writes of the point of a needle that it is “made so sharp, that the naked eye cannot distinguish any parts of it … But if view’d with a very good Microscope, we may find that the top of a Needle (though as to the sense very sharp) appears a broad, blunt, and very irregular end; not resembling a Cone, as is imagin’d, but onely a piece of a tapering body, wit a great part of the top remov’d, or deficient” (43).

Such a description reminds me of Mrs. Ramsay’s death in To The Lighthouse, and of the death of Hejinian’s father in My Life — although they are sharply felt, even under magnification the piercing point cannot precisely be seen as a point. “I wanted to carry my father up all those stairs. But the argument decays, the plot goes bit by bit.  A doddering old man on the street stops to smile at toddlers” (71), Hejinian writes, telling the reader her father is dying; “There was no proper Christmas after he died” (75), he remarks later, telling her reader that the moment has passed. But what lands in-between, to mark the passage? First, a passage (temporal): “Good lot of groceries, and the baby on one hip reaching over, 50 years in between, but that might have been a replacement, at least a comfort” (72). Then, a passage (spatial): “All reflections have depth, are deep. It seemed we had hardly begin and we were already there.” Then, a nesting-doll of suspensions: “‘How am I to choose between all the objects I have remembered because they once seemed beautiful to me, now that I feel much the same about them all,’ he answered” (73). The moment we are looking for doesn’t have any substance at all; death, it seems, does not take place, but rather leaves it.

So Hooke gives us a list of things sharper than the point of a needle, all of which are alive: “…though this point be commonly accounted the sharpest (whence when we would express the sharpness of a point the most superlatively, we say, As sharp as a Needle) yet the Microscope can afford us hundreds of Instances of Points many thousand times sharper: such as those of the hairs, and bristles, and claws of multitudes of Insects; the thorns, the crooks, or hairs of leaves, and other small vegetables; nay, the ends of the stiriae or small parapellipipeds of Amianthus, and alumen plumosum…” (42). He counterposes these to writing — specifically, to the “full stop, or period” (43) – and notes: “…among multitudes I found few of them more round or regular … but very many abundantly more disfigur’d” (44). Turning to other writing in minuscule, he observes that “…what the Writer of it had asserted of it was true, but with all [I] discover’d of what bungling scribbles and scrawls it was compos’d … it was for the most part legible enough, though in some places there wanted a good well fantsy well preposest to help one through” (44). Perhaps, then, science and text here conspire to show us the impossibility of marking the dimensionless point, the boundaries between living and dying and dead; can only give to us passing in passing. – Ilan

“She ate her pudding in a pattern, carving a rim around the circumference of the pudding, working her way inward toward the center, scooping with the spoon, to see how far she could separate the pudding from the edge of the bowl before the center collapsed, spreading the pudding out again, lower, back to the edge of the bowl.” (My Life, 11)

This detailed description of one’s style of eating/deconstructing pudding piqued my interest in the recurrence of patterns in Hejinian’s My Life, not so much in the patterning of language in the repetition and variation that occurs throughout the text, but in Hejinian’s own attention to and recording of perceptual patterns, which seem to offer other events (as with Hejinian’s understanding of dreams) where the opposition between subjectivity and objectivity dissipates in place of a “complex elaboration” between perceiver and perceived. Perhaps this style of eating pudding belongs to Hejinian’s mother, as the prior line reads “My mother’s childhood seemed a kind of holy melodrama,” allowing this reader to delight in reporting forward onto the event of the pudding a divine kind of stage-play. Yet Hejinian’s parataxis prevents a conclusive linking that would explain one sentence away with another (Stein: “A sentence is never displaced”). Rather, each sentence presents an observed phenomenon, and the sentences’ juxtaposition “preserves their discrete particularity while attempting also to represent the matrix of their proximities” (“Strangeness,” 155). So while reading the sentence that follows the pudding—“You could tell that it was improvisational because at that point they closed their eyes”—the “it” provisionally connects the pudding-eating with an improvisational process. Such a detailed process of carving and scooping could be improvisational. They (“she ate” and “it”) are proximate in their possibility of being improvisational. But the “they” swerves into a new particularity, which I link to Larry Ochs, Hejinian’s husband, who’s a jazz saxophonist—this is possibly the they of a jazz group (“the obvious analogy is with music”;).

While this pudding example offers an entry into Hejinian’s use of parataxis and the creation of  a synchronous present, I want to return to pattern more generally, to thinking what a pattern is, how it relates to perception and description, and how it might relate to a writing “in which acts of observation, as complex perception, take place” (“Two Stein Talks,” 93). To observe a pattern, “a discernible regularity,” is to already be negotiating among particularities and their differences. Instead of an overwhelming chaos of discrete singularities that in their proliferation would make a world whose contours were impossible to discriminate or perceive, perception is distinguishing: visual components are organized into patterns or wholes. There’s something about the temporality of this, too, the way perceiving feels like an instantaneous comprehension, but is in actuality a process occurring at a pace too quick for us to perceive, that brings us to that place of “complex elaboration.” Where does the pattern exist, in the world or in our perception? Hejinian returns a core question of perception to the domestic space: “…I felt as serene as when I had studied the irregular and slightly undependable patterns of the kitchen tiles as a child, to which I had so happily resigned myself when trying to find the place at which the pattern repeats” (56-57). Serenely, happily, Hejinian reminds us a pattern can be irregular and slightly undependable, further elaborating the complexity of perceiving, of organizing perceptions. This attempt to find the moment of repetition requires a sorting of differences in detail, and it is interestingly where play—where study, exploration—occurs. (I’m thinking here, too, of Hejinian’s noting that difference is the foundation of Stein’s wordplay, p. 102.) Approached with more disdain for such irregularity, “Is it a pattern that we see or only a random placement of the stupid little tiles” (76).

As always, I’m not narrowing to any useful conclusion here, but I want to expand this approach to the pattern in Hejinian’s thinking and writing-perceiving to consider: a) pattern’s relationship to chance/fate (which is a concept of interest to Hejinian); e.g., the tension inherent in the word “pattern”—a scientific pattern implies some underlying causative process, but pattern can also be understood as a natural or chance arrangement that’s particularly striking; b) pattern’s relationship to the decorative and to craft; c) Hejinian’s description of “patterned activity” instead of plot in Stein’s novel, how a pattern occurs in time, how poetry might allow a more capacious description of that differentiation and repetition.


“Although we live time continuously, although we are immersed in its movement so imperceptibly and naturally that our temporality, our irreducible movement forward, aging, is often unrecognized or automatic, we find it almost impossible to think or conceptualize temporal movement, to theorize it in its full implications” (Grosz, 6).

After I’ve read Galileo’s work, Elizabeth Grosz’s quote made me question time. Time is “the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole” in definition. However how can we fully define time? Isn’t it strange that we experience time every moment of our lives, and it has existed before us and surely will exist after. It’s so natural to us that time exists, and we always see it passing forward. It is a given in the equation. We observe cycles, we observe the environment around us and the people changing. We observe the effects of time, yet are we capable of clearly defining the intangible yet tangible time?

We assume that time is same for every one of us, yet our experience of time changes our understanding of passage of time. Without realizing we sometimes feel like the time has passed so quickly, yet someone else might have thought that it was a slow day, even though it is the same “time”. Thus time strangely is subjective, and trying to understand time is a challenge.

We live in the present, and the past becomes memory and our future is unknown. The future possibly exists in parallel paths and the decisions we make perhaps create a parallel universe (who knows!). Memories still come into the surface within present moment and are very connected to our present experiences, as our pasts have made us who we are today. Thus the question of time is very interesting.

Usually when someone asks me how to represent time, I would draw a timeline. However maybe time shouldn’t be represented as such. Thinking about Gertrude Stein’s understanding of time and repeating histories from last week, perhaps time evolves in circles. Perhaps time is all about cycles. Maybe time is just like the planetary movements, where at some point we go back to where we started. Perhaps this cycle is longer than our lifetime, and it is hard to realize at once. I know that ancient people observed skies and figured out what time of the year it was according to the orientation of the constellations, whether it was time to collect crops or go to war. Also the movement of the stars is not as apparent as stars exist very far, yet in longer durations of time they also are in a cycle.

Everything around us revolves: the Sun, planets, stars, and even Earth. Time also revolves, and maybe it’s more of a cycle than a line. Maybe all of us have a different “time” as all our experiences of time differ. It is very difficult to clarify this question of time at once, yet the idea of time remains very intriguing.


a vital component of Grosz’s argument, as far as she outlines it in the intro to Nick of Time, is that bringing an understanding of biology to philosophy, especially to queer and feminist theory, will aid in “augment[ing activism] with those dreams of the future that make its projects endless, unattainable, ongoing experiments rather than solutions” (14). Grosz argues that, through a specifically Bergsonian understanding of the virtual (and it seems to me that this Bergsonian virtual is equally Deleuze’s understanding and advancement thereof as outlined in Bergsonism), and an understanding specifically of the virtuality of the “events, problems and provocations that nature addresses to the living” (13), philosophers will be better able to “[focus] on the elaboration of concepts that elucidate as best they can the ongoing continuity of time” (13) and by extension, “reconceptualizing the dynamics of political change and social and cultural upheaval”, which is to be of use to activists. so Grosz’s really crucial reading of what’s-to-be-done, then, is that

[p]olitical and cultural struggles are all, in some sense, directed to bringing into existence futures that dislocate themselves from the dominant tendencies and forces of the present. They are all about making the future different from the past and present, in rupturing the continuity of processes through the upheaval posed by events. They are about inducing the untimely.

and then, that without turning to biology, or better perhaps, bio-ontology, which is for sure not biology qua academic discipline (Bergson and Nietzche are not that biology), these crucial manners of address are (I paraphrase to here) “precluded” (14).

I find myself buying Grosz’s argument, though feeling an initial bit of doubt. I’m still figuring through why exactly– I think it has a lot to do with this passage:

Operating at a different, a faster or slower rate of speed than much of the material universe, life is always challenged to overcome itself, to invent new methods, regions, tactics, and goals, to differ from itself, to continually invent solutions to the problems of survival its universe poses to it, using the resources the universe offers it, for its own self-overcoming(9)

It is, to my mind, unlikely that this passage does not look directly to the passage (which, I’m sorry, I know, I’ve quoted before) at 259 in Mille plateaux, re: the becoming-dog operative in Vladimir Slepian’s Fils de chien, and, crucially, its failure:

The plan(e) is infinite, you can start it in a thousand different ways; you will always find something that comes too late or too early, forcing you to compose all of your relations of speed and slowness, all of your affects, and to rearrange the overall assemblage. An infinite undertaking. But there is another way in which the plan(e) fails; this time, it is because another plan(e) returns full force, breaking the becoming-animal, folding the animal back onto the animal and the person onto the person, recognizing only resemblances between elements and analogies between relations. Slepian confronts both dangers.

part of my initial doubt was that Grosz might not quite confront both dangers. it is not even to say anything of the becoming as a paradigm for activist work; because the main concern there is that becomings, in and of themselves, are probably not inherently good (we have werewolves and viruses, &c.), because much more (or only) salient to Grosz’s argument, what they are is explicitly neither terminal nor utopian (to the contrary, optimally infinite), and so as a paradigm for activist work, that must suffice here. so, it is not the problem of taking what works for lycanthropy and offering it to activism, but more a problem of the second failure. Deleuze and Guattari have: “Slepian returning to his mother” (260), that is, “the psychoanalytic drift sets in” (259). in Fils de chien, as D+G see it, the failure arises with “the tail”, which “remains an organ of the man on the one hand and an appendage of the dog on the other; their relations do not enter into composition in the new assemblage” (259). Grosz, I think, must at times consider this passage of Deleuze (confessed, alongside Irigaray, “a kind of (ghostly) guide”(14)), and does confront, even in the introduction, this sort of failure. She is invested (apparently, in Chapter 3), in prodding philosophy to new understanding of Darwin’s articulation of “sexual bifurcation”, of an “ontology of sexual difference” (10). unfortunately, I admit I haven’t read any Irigaray, although have heard some anxiety about her work w/r/t sexual difference. Grosz is glib enough that I’m not sure where she’s going with this, at page 10. I’m actually just ignorant, and she’s not tipping her hand to someone in my position, exactly, and I like Grosz’s argument so far, but, so… so, because V. Slepian’s failure read by D+G, or more precisely, the becoming as it could be continued in spite of and in response to its failure (and maybe significantly, isn’t in Fils de chien), seems almost the optimal activist approach for Grosz… I guess I’m wondering what specifically Darwin’s ontology of sexual difference gives us, in terms of infinite becoming type activist work? Like apparently it gives life “maximum variation and proliferation” (10)… but what kind of feminism is the one Grosz ascribes to Darwin, exactly? what does it say w/r/t gender? I’m probably sorta an idiot asking these questions, but if someone could take like two minutes in class just to run over that, I’ll be grateful. It seems, for me and for so many people closest  to me, that the infinitely reconstitutive becoming that Grosz wants for activism, which is not terminal, is not utopian, is a becoming which can so easily be all about gender, and that this is often why so many of us turn to this sort of theory, even in spite of so much that is operative in it…

I want to delve into one poem, one entry in My Life. Somehow these poems repel a treatment of them in this manner. They are delimited, but we do not know why. We know they interpenetrate; we notice familiar threads. Sometimes their echoes prove elusive, other times we know we are meant to read the repetitions (I hesitate to use the word!) as items accruing meaning. I want to look at the poem on pages 26-27, It is hard to turn away from moving water. I want to look at this one because I underlined several of its lines. This personal poem resonated in moments with my person. I am trying to decipher the importance of “It being impossible to complete the thought, the idea of infinity or eternity elicited a sort of desire, the sexual side of thought.” The sentence lit up to me because I know I recently read a definition of desire, but I couldn’t remember where I read it or what it was. It had something to do with its difference from want or need. I questioned this foggy memory when I hit the word desire, then “the sexual side of thought” answered. I forgot what I was trying to remember and the sentence satisfied me. It’s an experience I have often while reading Hejinian, and I suspect she has it while writing.

Another statement that felt important to me was “Aesthetic discoveries are socially different from scientific discoveries, and this difference is political.” It contains words that I imagine I like and matter to me like “aesthetic” and “political.” It’s declarative, and I want it to be true. But it came from nowhere and disappears back into nowhere. Or maybe it was imminent in everything around it. What makes aesthetic discoveries socially different from scientific ones? Is it about the way in which they are presented and how we engage them? Are they socially different because we fundamentally doubt the possibility of an aesthetic discovery, certainly one on par (in terms of verifiability) with a scientific one? Is the difference political because “discovery” is fraught? There is no time to sort through all of these questions because Hejinian moves on, and I am moving on.

I was arrested by “Where I refer to ‘a preliminary’ I mean that until 1964 I regarded the world as a medium of recognition and I prepared for it to recognize me.” Why does this feel true? Why did I not even feel the need to question it? I trust the surefooted novelty of “the world as a medium of recognition,” maybe because recognition can mean many things. But it’s only abstract at first (something to be recognized and to recognize). She quickly inflects it: “I prepared for it to recognize me.” There is no realization of that recognition, only a preparation we can believe was not in vain.

A repetition: “What memory is not a ‘gripping’ thought.” This one is not as embedded or flexible as other recurrent phrases, but it enacts gripping every time it appears. It strikes one as an innocuous, knowing glance at the larger work. Speaking of recurrence, an earlier sentence leads me into the last one I’ll mention: “Because of their recurrence, what had originally seemed merely details of atmosphere became, in time, thematic” (8). Again reading theme into life, she says, “There might be some sort of thematic connection between the man you were and the monkey you become.” Why does thematic seem natural? Nobody imbued the atmosphere or us with theme. Do we make it real by succumbing to recurrence?

There’s more I could say about any of these lines and about how they all hang together. In keeping with the spirit of the text, I did what I could in the space I allowed; now it’s over.



“If the body is to be placed at the center of political theory and struggle, then we need to rethink the terms in which the body is understood. We need to understand its open-ended connections with space and time, its place in dynamic natural and cultural systems, and its mutating, self-changing relations within natural and social networks. In short, we need to understand the body, not as an organism or entity in itself, but as a system, or series of open-ended systems, functioning within other huge systems it cannot control, through which it can access and acquire its abilities and capacities.”

(Grosz, p. 14 in pdf)

I am fundamentally cautious about these cybernetics despite the operative intent. The curiosity starts at the “need to understand”– in an area where illegibility can often-times be a legitimate political out. Perhaps the networked theory is one way to offer an understandable conception of inter-reliant forms, but the syntax is far from an ideological pre-requisite…

I don’t mean to fixate on one facet. 

Less fixation than inquiry: it seemed like an ill-fitting insertion. I do have sympathy for the fact that a systematic view is intrinsically progressive and thus temporal and thus apt. Perhaps I am looking in vain for a bundle of pick-up sticks with black boxes on the ends. In this model: the indeterminacy occurs at interlocking lines (orbital convergences)– but also in the extra-material and posited bounds.

I would say that rather than with the clunky cybernetic thing (the systems tend to stack up on each other, it begins to wear and tear on a visualization), “the obvious analogy is with music”. And, further along the reference-cord, the analogy is with (through Hejinian, Wordsworth) description…

Music may describe and motivate around thematic intent and may also escape from the living-room or headphone set. A writing and/or re-writing (progressive in erasure) (composition as explanation) opportunity is: a second analog to evolutionary systems.

Description is an engine (driving the recording-tape between inside and out)

and it is also a machine (bigger, less humble),

which is more like an art (the harmonics-mechanics; standards, and arranged standards). This I see is the “range” of the pair of journals (Steinian melody is visible but far-fetched; having not been named as a problem and butted-against it is free to lurk and be savored).

“The sky spread over with one continuous cloud, whitened by the light of the moon, which, though her dim shape was seen, did not throw forth so strong a light as to chequer the earth with shadows. At once the clouds seemed to cleave asunder, and left her in the centre of a black-blue vault.”

(Wordsworth pg. 4, Jan 25 entry)

 Description is grasping for straws or pick-up sticks… the inoperative spaces of the particularities of a journalistic mode can short out but the short provides information vis a vis: potentials for overload. Agency granted to the moon creates a form of space interior to writing that is unmediated and awestruck. A moment of temporal uneasiness– a “nick”– (“cleave”) entered in the halting feeling of observation and memory…

Hooke’s first Observation provides us with a means of placing his scientific project in conversation with the more literary goals of Hejinian’s:

“As in Geometry, the most natural way of beginning is from a Mathematical point; so is the same method in Observations and Natural history the most genuine, simple, and instructive. We must first endevour to make letters, and draw single strokes true, before we venture to write whole Sentences, or to draw large Pictures. And in Physical Enquiries, we must endevour to follow Nature in the more plain and easie ways she treads in the most simple and uncompounded bodies, to trace her steps, and be acquainted with her manner of walking there, before we venture our selves into the multitude of meanders she has in bodies of a more complicated nature…”

Yet as soon as Hooke introduces this logical, linear course of study based upon a gradual extrapolation, he disrupts it entirely by calling into question the point’s very status as a “point.” What’s more, he complicates this progression from the particular to the systematic through the written “point”—the periods which demarcate the “whole Sentences” that were, supposedly, analogues to the very structures of nature towards which he is, supposedly, extrapolating:

“And could I have found Room in this Plate to have inserted an O you should have seen that the letters were not more distinct then the points of Distinction, nor a drawn circle more exactly so, then we have now shown a point to be a point.”

Hooke’s primary aim appears to be extrapolation, and his often successful deductive reasoning is certainly a landmark achievement for the era in which he wrote. Still, he often fails to identify a convincing relationship between the microscopic and the macroscopic, and sometimes he does not even try; in such instances, he offers very little insight into the utility or relevance of a magnified structure, and just contents himself with the beauty of its surprising disorder. He does not ask, for example, in Observation XXIII, what purpose the countless tiny “holes” serve for the seaweed plant, or how they combine to manifest as the round “spots” that we see with the naked eye. He simply describes rather than explains. Indeed, his frequent tendency toward observing beauty over utility is so striking, that I am genuinely unsure as to whether he is sincere when referring to the “productions of art” as “such rude mis-shapen things, that when view’d with a Microscope, [little else is] observable, but their deformity” (Obs. V). It would be strange, given the impressionistic quality of many of his observations, for him to believe that his project is inherently “less useless” than artistic representation.

As I see it, the only logic of extrapolation that Hooke proves to be universal is one based upon nature’s unresolvable disorder. Even in Observation 5, when he demonstrates a very impressive understanding of light’s interactions with reflective surfaces, he acknowledges that “in natural forms there are some so small, and so curious, and their design’d business so far remov’d beyond the reach of our sight, that the more we magnify the object, the more excellencies and mysteries do appear.”

Whereas Hooke’s project extrapolates the disorder of the microscopic “mystery” to the mysteries of our naked perception, Hejinian accomplishes an interpolation, which deduces the “point-lessness” of a momentary perception (that is to say, both its uselessness and the impossibility of its isolation) from the indecipherable mess that is accumulated memory.  She relies on individual sentences, as grammatical forms, to present this indecipherability through language. It is impossible to understand Hejinian’s verse, which could easily be described as (mistaken for?) prose, by depending on the logics of progression and extrapolation which usually underlie prose writing. Instead, she calls our attention to the sentence, demanding that we try to parse out the significance of individual observations from the jumbled associations surrounding them. Her choice to title her individual “poems” with a sentence that will then appear in a later poem is one of her more obvious means of achieving this.

One such sentence that serves as title, “Reason looks for two, then arranges it from there” (48), seems to impugn the logic of extrapolation that Hooke embraces in his preface. After all, how can we “find two” when “finding one” is such an arbitrary and undefinable act? When the point is not even a point, is the sentence even a sentence? When Hejinian writes that, “To some extent, every sentence has to be the whole story,” she is not encouraging an extrapolative process of inferring meaning from particular statements, but rather an interpolative thinking, which grants meaning to the individual sentence only by way of its place within a disordered whole.

In focusing on the indefinable “points” in time that accumulate into memory, Hejinian’s poetry compels us to place Hooke’s analysis of “points” in space in conversation with the movements of time, which motivate both Grosz and, according to Hejinian’s reading of her, Stein. It is interesting, and questionable, that Hooke never lets the fourth dimension complicate his effort to order the universe. His explanations of points would take very different forms if he were to account for “unpredictable emergences,” to quote Grosz (6). It is far easier to claim an undeniable connection between the beauty of the microscopic with the order of the macroscopic if we assume that nature is the predetermined construction of a “Creator” or, as Hooke personifies God in Observation V, a “Workman.” The modern era of quantum entanglements and probability functions demands that we rethink completely our understanding of the spatial or temporal “point.”


I’m interested in continuing to think about Stein’s language in relation to Lyn Hejinian’s “Two Stein Talks” and “My Life.” In her lectures, Stein lays emphasis on the paragraph as a structuring unit of language, particularly for the twentieth century. If we follow Hejinian’s reading that “language is an order of reality itself and not a mere mediating medium,” how does her own dissolution of the paragraph form order a different kind of reality (“Stein Talks” 90)? My Life is structured on the level of the sentence, with the number of sentences in each section reflecting the number of years she had lived, in an autobiographical form that grew as she aged and revised the text. That is, the text becomes a living, changing thing that grows alongside her. Each sentence is a kind of rivet, operating in its own context that speaks to the sentences around it only obliquely, rarely constructing a more solid narrative. Yet many sentences follow a comfortable realist logic of descriptions that feel as if they are leading us somewhere. If time, space, and language together construct a grammar (113), which in turn opens up as a kind of landscape (109), then Hejinian’s poetry forms a kind of dreamscape in which associative logic, repetition, and observation govern subterranean links between sentences. The grammar of these links, their positioning, in turn seem to establish a contiguity between the consciousness of poet and reader. What she names or describes only arises out of this shared space. In Stein as in Hejinian, “things take place inside the writing, are perceived there, not elsewhere, outside it” (105). Again, like in Stein’s work, this encourages detective tactics, a process of moving backward and forward within the text to isolate details – a practice that becomes endless in a text comprised of shifting details.


Looking closely at the section, “As for we who ‘love to be astonished,’” Hejinian lets surface several key terms from her Stein essay: veracity, landscape, grammar, verisimilitude, and language. Moreover, the anecdote about the German goldsmith who crafted the first button in the fourteenth century strikes me as an allusion to Stein’s Tender Buttons. Hejinian calls attention to the movement inherent in her words, the way connections are drawn between disparate places. She writes, “I don’t mind, or I won’t mind, where the verb ‘to care’ might multiply” (5) and further on, “Are your fingers in the margin. Their random procedures make monuments to fate” (6). There is a certain arbitrariness she highlights here in how the reader takes up and interprets her words, what our marginalia might care about, inscribing it as fated. As such, when she writes that “nothing is isolated in history—certain humans are situations,” she seems to gesture towards her own shifting, dependent autobiography as a site or an event where activity is allowed to take place indefinitely. The alliteration near the end—“The front rhyme of harmless with harmony. Where is my honey running”—also seems to suggest an acceptance of the text as a mobile entity, and of the kind of close reading that artificially isolates elements of a text in order to analyze it (which I realize is precisely what I’m doing here). Hejinian calls attention to the practice of reading as taxonomy, parsing a landscape for its grammar, when she asks, “Were we seeing a pattern or merely an appearance of small white sailboats on the bay, floating at such a distance from the hill that they appeared to be making no progress.” Her writing both invites and resists patterning, following its own motion that often feels near imperceptible. If Hejinian is taking up Stein’s mode of realism beyond representation, whereby language itself is responsible for internal veracity, then it challenges the impulse to impute narrative where there is difference, discontinuity, and repetition. As she puts it, “Why would anyone find astrology interesting when it is possible to learn about astronomy” (6). Yet the text simultaneously and playfully responds to the reader’s habit of assembling patterns, of mapping a grammatical landscape.


In her introduction to The Nick of Time, Elizabeth Grosz identifies the unique difficulty of understanding time as such: “Although we live time continuously, although we are immersed in its movement so imperceptibly and naturally that our temporality, our irreducible movement forward, aging, is often unrecognized or automatic, we find it almost impossible to think or conceptualize temporal movement, to theorize it in its full implications” (Grosz 6). Sunk into our everyday rhythms, we understand time most immediately—that is, most mediately—through its manifestations in substance. Time is understood as already imbricated with space, and the body’s interaction with and against it, and this double-situation of temporality has, in Grosz’s estimation, characterized much of Western philosophy. As “perhaps the most enigmatic, the most paradoxical, elusive, and ‘unreal’ of any form of material existence,” time is most frequently understood in relation; that is, it is held up to the light for comprehension (3).

Adequate light is a practical concern of many of this week’s thinkers, and obviously so. If the object of observation is optical, then one must have the light to see it by. Hooke constructs his microscopes for optimal visibility, identifying “the great and convenient” light cast by “the small flame of a Lamp” as “most proper for drawing the representations of those small Objects [he] had occasion to observe” (Hooke 12). Dorothy’s Alfoxden Journals register journalistic blanks in the absence of sunlight: “Nothing distinguishable but a heavy blackness,” she writes one dark evening (Wordsworth 143). Clarity is one of both conceptual and actual luminosity; it is no accident that Galilleo’s passing turn of phrase, “as clear as daylight” registers on both a literal and metaphorical valence in a text on the astrological (Galilleo 18). It is not just light, but constant light, that allows us to take things in all at once. The conceptual backdrop Grosz identifies in her introduction shines “the small flame of a Lamp” on temporality, time as it appears by daylight. This is, however, exactly what allows (in fact, forces) time to recede; it is on the days of static—and in fact, meteorological, astrological—mundanity that Dorothy has nothing to report: “We saw nothing very new, or interesting” (Wordsworth 146).

Totalizing stasis is opposed in Dorothy’s journals to another luminous paradigm (one we’ve visited before in our discussion of Conrad): the glittering, the gleaming. She writes of “the hawthorn hedges black and pointed, glittering with millions of diamond drops; the hollies shining with broader patches of light” (143) and the heath’s “surface restless and glittering with the motion of scattered piles of withered grass, and the waving of the spiders’ threads” (145). Once attuned to it, temporary flashes of light appear everywhere: in the sudden “burst” of the moon, the “gleam” of trees, the appearance of stars “all at once.” Glimmers disrupt, surprise, shock—in fact, they are not unlike “the nick” of time that Grosz identifies as the antidote to prior theoretical misrepresentations and submergences of time: “We can think it only in passing moments, through ruptures, nicks, cuts, in instances of dislocation…events that disrupt our immersion in and provoke our conceptualizations of temporal continuity” (Grosz 5). The nick clarifies, not by inscribing one into temporal rhythms, but by interrupting them. In the same way, an object is illuminated—experienced in its textural specificity—by sudden flashes. Glitter is a temporary investment in an object that nonetheless identifies something fundamental, permanent in its substance.

In this way, Galilleo’s tracking of shifting light patterns on the moon allows him to understand not just the light that is cast—this is ultimately secondary, if not incidental—but the surface onto which it is cast. Topographies are thrown into relief by the sun’s rays, in an “appearance quite similar on the Earth about sunrise, when we behold the valleys, not yet flooded with light, but the mountains surrounding them on the side opposite to the Sun already ablaze with the splendor of his beams” (Galilleo 8). Light is understood as giving concrete, substantive proof of lunar texture, citing the play of light “as a most solid proof of the ruggedness and unevenness spread over the whole of the bright region of the moon” (11). Changing and variable gleams thereby disclose something permanent about materiality, something that would actually be belied by touch or totalizing clarity. Hooke undertakes a similar analysis in his “Observation V,” the examination “Of watered Silks, or Stuffs.” He considers how the watering effects artificially produced in synthetic silks are observable under a changing light: “that those parts which appear the darker part of the wave, in one position to the light, in another appears the lighter, and the contrary; and by this means the undulations become transient, and in a continual change, according as the position of the parts in respect of the incident beams of light is varied” (Hooke 23). Optical texture is correlated to substantive texture, as Hooke recognizes in the patterned folding and weaving of textiles the production of characteristically silken visual effects. In his preference of natural to artificial materials, Hooke identifies this as a kind of detrimental artifice, an inferior optical illusion. And yet, such gleams indicate substantive, textural differences; if “a small breez or gale of wind ruffling the surface of a smooth water, makes it appear black,” this is not simply a trick of the eye, but an aspect of the water activated in and through its temporary relation with, and dislocation by, light. It is precisely these temporary states that are of most interest to Dorothy and Hopkins, facilitated by the journalistic form.

Glitter also operates as the determining logic of Lyn Hejinian’s My Life, in its repetition and repurposing of key lines, illuminating these refrains through their different framings and situations. It is poetry “for we ‘who love to be astonished’” by the momentary flashes, the substantive revelations occasioned by changing lights. “The universal is animated by individuality,” she writes, identifying the peculiar charge of the lightning flash that dislocates, interrupts (Hejinian 21). To Grosz’ vocabulary of the untimely—the nick, the rupture, the event—she might add the flash: that which re-locates precisely through its dislocation, as time ultimately “contains no moments or ruptures and has no being or presence” (Grosz 5). We might thereby import the language of Howe’s earlier “spontaneous particulars”—spontaneous because always a surprise, particular because interrupting—in order to understand the contrary motion that is always imbricated in it: “Individuality is animated by its sense of the infinite” (Hejinian 28). This is the contradictory logic of glitter, at one and the same time temporary and permanent, evanescent and substantial: a logic not unlike the one Grosz schematizes for her radical, forward-thinking temporality. If we can imagine a “politics of glitter,” this may be one step toward it.


Cornelia Hesse-Honegger’s interest in the Chernobyl disaster reminds me of a sound work by Jacob Kirkegaard from maybe nine or ten years ago where Kirkegaard took field recordings in Chernobyl’s “Zone of Exclusion” and then proceeded to replay these recordings in the same setting and record again, repeating this process dozens of times. This recording practice is nearly identical to Lucier’s famous “Sitting in a room…” recordings, in which Lucier sought to have the sonic resonances of a particular location drone out the particularities and irregularities of his own speech, transforming it instead into something of a stable tone.


I’m interested in the ways in which this sort of scrubbing, or smoothing out of sound—a recursive practice which attempts to remove the particular—relates to Stein’s interest in washing.


In the first section of Making of Americans, Stein notes:


“It’s a great question this question of washing. One never can find any one who can be satisfied with anybody else’s washing. I knew a man once who never as far as any one could see ever did any washing, and yet he described another with contempt, why he is a dirty hog sir, he never does any washing.”


Washing scrubs one clean of dirt and grime (things that might dirty up a lens for instance) in an effort to make the body known—that is, to better differentiate between what is and what is not our body. It’s a way of showing oneself to the world, of making a clear or clean impression, and to Stein, it seems to be a cornerstone of social life and behavior. It’s also a deeply personal act—not only because it’s done in private, but also, as Stein points out, the act is delimited in seemingly a purely subjective fashion, leavening no one “satisfied with anybody else’s washing.”


As Stein goes on to say, washing is not a genteel or luxurious act, but rather “it is a harsh duty … that is hard to follow.” Unfortunately, it’s perhaps not so hard to see the violence that Stein is gesturing towards when we consider words like “cleansing” or the way in which irregular anatomies are scrubbed from scientific atlases, as Daston and Galison point out.


There’s also, of course, Stein’s allusion to the bite of the flea, which I found to be a tricky metaphor. While the bite is connected to the sorts of rebukes cast from the supposedly “more washed” upon the supposedly “less washed,” the chain of ever-shrinking, yet always present fleas points towards the persistence of dirt and dirtiness itself. Perhaps similar to the way you can still make out Lucier’s distinct stutter even after successive rounds of smoothing.