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Interview with Jake Berry

 Jake Berry


Tim VanDyke in Butch Gets Schooled: Conversations with Jake Berry

The excerpts below were culled from a series of correspondences that took place Feb. 2006 to late July 2006.

They originally appeared in issue 3 of Fascicle, ed. Tony Tost

Jake
I have a moment here to respond. First, an excerpt from an e-mail I just sent to Hank Lazer. Here was my response:

"Your take on reality is pretty much mine exactly. I realized growing up in a system that wants to place the whole of creation in a tight little box that even a single aspect of reality cannot be contained. It's difficult to wrap one's mind around what is wrapped around one's mind. How can you contain something that contains you? All closed systems depend on tricks that numb and destroy imagination. The truth is much messier, incoherent and chaotic (from our very limited perspective). I think we do the best we can to disengage from our preconceptions and tendencies to close into a system and then open the actual experience of the world directly to us.”

Modernism, specifically 'abstract art', Stein, Pound, Joyce, Dada, Surrealism, the Futurists, and all their predecessors from Blake and Poe to Rimbaud and Lautremont, is about the break down of the concrete mind that begins probably with Plato and also monotheism. The first little broadsheet I did, back in 1985, was called Murderer's Work - the byline was: Hacking away at the concrete mind with a bloody ax. This is more than the project of liberation of people, the revolutionary age (which usually fails), but about unwinding the western neurosis of the last 2500 years that has now spread around the world. It is dangerous work to be sure, one must live without orientation toward any specific bias. It's like drifting in zero gravity inside and out. From the perspective of the western neurosis itself it is a kind of madness - that old, wasted cliché, in an insane world a sane person will appear insane. I've been thinking about bringing back Murderer's Work as a blog title for work that attacks the concrete mind or its control mechanisms.

Butch
You mention the Futurists. I’ve been reading lots of that, the Russians, and focusing in on Velimir Khlebnikov. Were the Futurists much of an influence in Brambu Drezi or have they been in general? What range of influences went into the book itself?

Jake
I responded to Futurism and the Russian avant-garde as entire movements. Of those movements, Boccioni made the biggest impression. Marinetti and Boccioni's manifestoes didn't matter much beyond their bluster and swagger, especially in hindsight seeing how the love of the futurist machine slides into the nationalism of WWI that destroyed so many artists and poets. With the Russians there were those that were originally associated with it whose work I love for their own importance, specifically Chagall and Kandinsky. Of these Kandinsky's work has been the most influential in almost all his periods. His book Concerning the Spiritual in Art was a big influence as well. His approach to shape affected me, especially in Brambu Drezi: Book One. Also there's no escaping Malevich taking the idea to its ultimate extreme, but more as an idea than the execution.

However, coming out of all of that, the artist that shook me the most was Duchamp. I saw an art documentary when I was a teenager that dwelled a bit on “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even” (The Large Glass). It completely reoriented me towards the arts. Before that I had seen the abstract expressionists, and one could see how art might eventually arrive at that point, it was quite obvious, and I love that work. But Duchamp's work and later his ideas in a couple of long interviews did for me what they did for so many artists and poets, etc. in the 20th century - they erased it and rewrote what was possible. Like the Italian Futurists and the Russian avant-garde, Duchamp incorporated the machine, but there was that sense of play in his work, and chance, that kept him from taking himself too seriously. That is one of the things that keeps Duchamp interesting to this day. Also he never really thought of himself as a professional artist. Even when he received an offer to produce one painting per year for a generous price he turned it down because he didn't want to be in a position where he felt obligated to create the work. He preferred instead to do what interested him. Often he preferred to play chess or do nothing at all. That, to me, signals the end of romanticism or perhaps a reorientation of it.

Jack Foley's work was introduced to me shortly before I began writing Brambu. We had appeared in the same audio cassette magazine and I told the editors that I wanted to get in touch with him, so Jack wrote me. Jack's work is, for me, the best of what is possible in poetry in the wake of early to mid-20th century poetry and everything that came before it. Especially in his poems for more than one voice that he usually calls Choruses. It was one of those that appeared on the tape and it ran the gamut from the book of Ezekiel to particle physics and did it in an intense collision of voices that was unlike anything I'd ever heard in poetry. So I pretty much consumed everything Jack sent my way and everything he published. I still do. Jack's work always kept me open, prevented me from closing down on a single way of working, and beside that it’s just so fucking good, so intelligent and musical and from such a depth of erudition and experience. There aren't many people alive that measure up to the great poets of the 20th century or of the ages. Jack is one of the few. He also turned me on to poets like Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, Larry Eigner and James Broughton that became big influences. I also read the bulk of C. G. Jung's work during the 80s, so that had a big effect.

Having said all of that, there is much more behind Brambu Drezi: Book One. There is the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Kabbalah (by which I mean The Zohar and Sefer Yetzirah in particular), alchemy, the medieval grimoires, the Bible, especially the Old Testament, Rimbaud, Appolinaire, Burroughs, Kerouac and McClure. There is also the influence of music, especially jazz, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, Sun Ra, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk - it's a long list. In classical music there is the strong influence of Bartok and Stravinsky, Ives , Cage, and George Crumb.

But these influences are meaningless outside the context of life as lived, especially as lived by way of creating the work. The poem (Brambu Drezi) is not about a subject or an idea. It is a creature that came to life by way of my being available to do the work. All of these artists were around, they were in my head, but what happens in Brambu Drezi is beyond anything I might conceive. If I conceived it and then executed the concept there would be no point, no discovery. That is the call of the work, to discover something that you would never be able to conceive - it lies beyond and immediately before what we call thought. I participate in the process, but I am only a part of it, a collaborator - often a minimal collaborator. If I could simply conceive it then I would just write a book about what I thought and I would try to make it as clear as possible. Brambu is not about clarity or elaborating an idea; it's closer to a weed that grows in your garden, it happens whether you want it to or not and it takes its own course. The garden is all well and good, and necessary, but a neatly trimmed garden is dead boring. It's the wild, the unexpected, reality taking its own course that makes things interesting.

Butch
Murderer’s Work. Care to mention others?

Jake
There have been so many books if I include the chapbooks (and I should since they each represent a distinctive phase) that you may not have the time, space or inclination to hear about all of it. I'll try to hit the high points.

The first book The Pandemonium Spirit was published by Mike Miskowski, through his Bomb Shelter Props (http://scorchyworld.com/pubs.html) in 1985. It was dense poetry similar to the beginning of Brambu: Book One (where I developed that approach) and collages. It contains a kind of maniacal rejection of closed systems and any aesthetic that becomes an orthodoxy. It was a very spontaneous and organic act of revolt.

In the mid 80s I ran across deconstructionism, in particular Derrida, probably Grammatology or one of the other early works. That generated a response called Unnon Theories, also from Bomb Shelter, in 1989. It was divided into three parts, the first of which was something of a parody of deconstructionism, but the book quickly took its own course and evolved into something else, specifically an attack on language as conventionally used and understood. The poems took on a Zen koan aspect – I was also reading D. T. Suzuki at the time – but without reading like a koan. Essentially, in the first section, what the book did was unwrite itself as quickly as it was written so that it became impossible to constitute a coherent argument. It was a practice in the failure of language. Having accepted that, I went on in the next two books to practice what comes after you reach that point.

Butch
That point being the acceptance of language as a failure. After that came koan?

Jake
I think you’d just have to read the books. They are only what they are. Spin theory as I might, I’d only explain my ideas about them today. Tomorrow I’d probably have a new line on them. In both cases I would fail.

Butch
I think my question with koan is the idea that koans traditionally defy interpretation and that their utterance is more a kick in the pants, something that attempts to focus the recipient towards a personal awakening rather than an understanding of what was actually said. I know my responses to Brambu Drezi often seem to bring out my own gut thoughts rather than any particular understanding of the text.

Maybe the notion here that a breakdown in language and one’s acceptance of that failure…. one hand clapping still makes noise.

Jake
Your responses to Brambu are authentic because they are your own experiences with the work. That’s why I value them. The book (Unnon Theories) also contains a series of visual works Mike dubbed "coblages" which were very abstract and geometrical with more naturalistic elements thrown in to keep things unbalanced. Michael McClure said at the time that the book was a kind of playing. I agree(d), and suggested they might be a development of Jarry's pataphysics.

Butch
Jarry’s Pataphysics?

Jake
Jarry’s Pere Ubu plays are the best place to go for Pataphysics in writing. But there was also the way he lived. Being a short fellow allowed him to live in an apartment with extremely low ceilings. You can imagine the effect this had on visitors. Maybe a quick way to explain Pataphysics is to call it proto-Dada. In the first line of the first Ubu play, if I remember correctly, the actor walks out and says, “Merde!” (Shit). I think that was about as far as the play went the first night – the audience rioted. This was 1890s Paris. So the Unnon Theories had that element of absurdity and discordance. I suppose that after you pass the failure of language you come to the gate of absurdity.

I did a couple of collaborative projects around this time also. Gris Gris Malkuth with John Eberly for Xexoxial Editions (http://www.xexoxial.org) in which John and I co-wrote poems and collaborated on drawings. John and I were on the same plane at the time. I can't tell you what John was reading then and I can't remember any specific books myself, but from the look of the text I think I must have been reading the Zohar by this time and probably various experimental poetry that was around, turning up in my mailbox. I also "illustrated" Xexoxial's second edition of Crag Hill's SIXIXSIX by drawing directly onto the pages of his poem.


There was also Hairbone Stew, published by Chris Winkler's Plutonium Press (http://plutoniumpress.com), a collection of wild spontaneous poems combined with a series of Mike Miskowski's drawings called "Applianoids."

It must have been shortly after this that Brambu Drezi: Book One appeared. It was written between late 1986 and early 1990 but it took a while to get it published, a year or so. Bob Grumman published it through his Runaway Spoon Press. I think I've probably said enough about it already to give you some idea about what was going on at the time.

Species of Abandoned Light appeared next from Pantograph Press thanks to Ivan Argüelles. Jack (Foley) did most of the leg work on that project and I think put quite a bit of money into it as well. It is a kind of miscellany of poetic approaches I had taken up until that time. It includes poems there that are direct responses to Jack’s work, to Michael McClure, to Ivan, Harry Polkinhorn and others.

In 1995 Hank Lazer was writing a series of poems called Days and I really liked them. I still think they are among his best work. We were hanging out a bit and talking about them and I got the idea that he was writing at least one per day. This wasn't the case, but he was producing them at a pretty good clip. Anyway, I took the idea and ran with it and for 144 days wrote at least one short poem a day. I called them PhasEosStrophes. Juxta Press (which was Jim Leftwich's press) and 3300 Press (was Don Hilla) started bringing them out in sections as chapbooks but they only got about 35 poems or so into it before the publishing fell apart. I never knew what happened. I lost track of Don, but Jim and I are still great friends, still fans of one another's work and still collaborate. I'm sure Jim's work is an influence on that series as well as Hank and whatever I was reading at the time, which could have been anything from Yeats to Olson to the Odyssey and all points between. Things start to get blurry.

Butch
What about Idiot Menagerie? TheTongue Bearer’s Daughter?

Jake
Idiot Menagerie was my second book for Bomb Shelter. It consisted of short, dense, more or less spontaneous poems. They had a lot of humor in them. They were intended to be poems that you could dig into deeply, but they were also intended to be funny. Most people didn’t get the humor, but some of them got it right away. They’d start laughing three lines into the book. The text was accompanied by visual poems made with the plastic and rub off letters we were using at the time for titles. And I think the first of the “poetic talismans” were in that book as well. These were pieces that looked like talismans in grimoires updated to the present so that there’d be lines of conversation, or lines of poetry running through the shapes at all angles, juxtaposing in odd ways.

The Tongue Bearer’s Daughter was my half of a chapbook published by Luna Bisonte Press. The other half was In The Velvet Darkness by S. Gustav Hägglund. The two halves began at opposite ends and met in the middle with a collaborative drawing. The writing in my half was a prose poem short story in nine parts.

Butch
Which brings us, more or less, to the early 90’s. Brambu Drezi: Book Two.

Jake
I've always loved Ivan Argüelles's poetry. I started reading it in some of the mags I was getting published in back in the 80s and 90s. Ivan and Jack (Foley) are close friends so I must have eventually met him through the mail by Jack's introduction. Ivan can really make the long line sing, his multi-book Pantograph is an example of what he can do with epic narrative. It becomes a new animal in his hands. He writes completely by intuition but one that has been fed all manner of literature, ancient to modern, in a variety of languages. Ivan and I started swapping poems in the mail in the 80s. When he read the first few pages of Brambu Drezi: Book Two he made it clear he wanted to publish it.

I can remember wanting to become increasingly organic with the poem. At the same time I was reading books on astrophysics, philosophy, I think probably Heidegger and Nietzsche among many others and I'd read several books on Vodoun by this time, most significantly Maya Deren's Divine Horsemen. The opening page contains references to Vodoun, the book of Genesis as read in the Zohar, and an experience I had in a sweat lodge ceremony where I almost passed out. The ceremony was led by a Sioux pipeholder by the name of Solomon Beareagle, a true sage, but with no presumptions, you'd never pick him out in a crowd as anyone distinctive. He was very kind and generous.

A vision of Charles Olson also figures prominently in Brambu: Book 2. One evening when I went to bed I was lying there, still not asleep when I noticed a tall man standing at the end of the bed. He kept repeating the word "umgathama". I had never heard the word, but he was saying it with great urgency. Needless to say, the experience stayed with me and the next day when I got up and walked into my office I saw a photo of Olson on one of his books and I realized it was him that had appeared to me. You can take this as subjectively as you like. It's just one of those things that happens. During the writing of the second book Sun Ra also appeared to me in a dream. He told me he was going to give me a new name and whispered it in my ear. I woke up and had forgotten it so I went back to sleep and asked him to repeat it, which he did, and though I got the sound of it I'm not sure I ever got a spelling that would accurately reproduce the sound of the name.

Butch
The visuals are prominent throughout all three books and, as you said, the drawings in Book Two grew a more organic line compared to Book One. What do you see in the relation of these visuals to the text, your evolving process? Did dreams, visions play a role here in the visual shift?

Jake
Yes, some of them. There is a figure on page 13, I think, of the Pantograph Press edition. The pages after that are a kind of zooming into that image so that you get deeper levels of detail. That came from a dream. But most of the visuals were created in an in-between state. I was awake but not entirely focused on the visual. I intentionally created them when I was distracted by something else. This is also true of Book Three, only more so. I let my hand find its own way. I might observe some element and manipulate it, but usually I let it drift and find its own way. I was often using bottled ink and a nib, sometimes on a wet piece of watercolor paper. This gave it a life of its own and insured that my personal intention was only one contributor.

Butch
I know there are differences between knowing and doing, and knowing what you are doing, and doing what you know, but let’s forget all of that right now. Your process of composing while distracted reminds me of Stein’s automatism experiments. She concluded there was no second personality beneath the first. I could go either way myself. First or second. Any thoughts on all of that? Experientially or otherwise?

Jake
Well, Stein’s personality was so strong that I’m not surprised she would draw that conclusion. Obviously, she didn’t need anything else. I would disagree with her though if she intended her conclusion to apply to everyone. Then again, the others we encounter might not be personalities or personas. They may be more subtle than personality. It might be more appropriate to call them forces or voices.

Butch
Echoing Chris Mansel here. How are your dreams lately? The waking ones, I guess.

Jake
My dreams haven’t been particularly pleasant. There was an interesting perception that came out of a dream a few nights ago. I realized that from the point of view of the dream all stimuli had the same value. It didn’t matter if it came from something I read, a movie I’d seen, or something that actually happened while I was awake. To the dream all of it was just raw material.

The waking dreams vary greatly depending on what is happening, but most of them have been constructive, I suppose, since I continue to do new work.

Butch
In his review of Book Two Jack Foley states: "Berry is attempting to create not only a book of poetry but a book of scripture; he is attempting, at various levels, to name the 'holy'. (http://www.alsopreview.com/columns/foley/jfberry2.html)

Jake
Yes, well, the word holy is very problematic which is why Jack placed it in quotes. It's a loaded term, though not nearly so loaded as the word God, which has been rendered pretty much useless by organized religion. But if we take the word 'holy' to mean the sacred, which may be the same as saying whole, then I think Jack is accurate. In another review I think he said I was trying to say everything. It may come to the same.

I am not sure I or any one else can name the holy, though that doesn't keep us from trying. Naming tends to declare that its object is limited to the qualities of how the name may be interpreted. One of the reasons the book is called Brambu Drezi is that there is no definition for it. It can only be known in terms of the poem. Likewise the poem can only be known in terms of your experience of it and how it connects to the world, however you might imagine it to be.

In terms of thought, I don't think about the work rationally during its creation and my preconceived ideas about the holy or anything else are only small tributaries to the whole. And because I am allowing this process to happen instead of trying to control it or shape it by preconception, then my thought about what is holy is constantly reshaped by what happens in the poem. I am discovering it by means of working, making the poem. I am trying to get out the way and let the poem reveal itself.

I wish I could give you a more definitive answer, but my thoughts about what is holy follow the work and can't be stated with any more clarity than the work itself. For Blake, "Everything that lives is holy." I would respond to that by saying that everything is alive, so…

Butch
I agree with the idea that the term, like many others, has lost many of its older meanings. Or at least people seem to connect to it differently these days. A muddied meaning achieved from many fronts: religion, pop culture, political culture, etc. Conservatives digging in with blinders on, liberal agendas pushing toward further polarization, and the rather beleaguered majority in the middle footing the bill. For the ill communication.

Perhaps the question becomes less one of what is holy and more a question of what is being made holy and for whom, what that confers back on the one acting. Holy through the act of make (it) holy.

Jake
You say "holy through the ACT of making it holy." Yes, that is something like what is happening in Brambu. On the other hand, once we make something holy then there are things that aren't holy, and I am not attracted to that idea. I don't think Brambu makes that distinction between sacred and profane. In fact, it appears to defy that notion. So it is again only limited by what each person brings to it by way of imagination.

Butch
I’d like to say an imagination that hints at, moves toward some sense of totality, but that sounds way too prescriptive and is chock full of loose terms. I guess that speaks more for my own imaginative predilections. But any individual accepting that and navigating that loose territory, something a shaman might do, and in that sense ‘holy’ seems to be the most democratic of undertakings.

Jake
I agree with your statement, but, again, the word "shaman" has been so misused, especially by the New Age writers and also critics and reviewers, that we have to define the word every time we use it. I think Brambu participates in processes and welcomes forces that give it qualities that we associate with shamans from the place where the word originated, in Siberia. Sometimes the pages from Brambu even look similar to drawings made by shamans from that area. This was unintentional.

Shamanism as a general idea of an experience of something beyond our everyday existence is probably necessary to all humans at all times. It may be a biological imperative. That is, imagination disrupts our lives to the extent that we refuse to use it. If we constantly use our imagination then when something "otherworldly" happens it doesn't seem strange at all. But if we dismiss anything eccentric and refuse to allow it into our sense of the world it will return sevenfold as they used to say of demons, and rightly so, because the people that were saying this had demonized almost everything.

Butch
Yeah, I guess the image most folks get with a word like shaman is some hippie guy in the woods wearing bear skins and smelling smoky. And hell, some are still out there, some genuine ones. I think another problem, maybe stemming from that image, is a general disengagement with, the thought that that sort of poetry is played out, tapped dry. A friend of mine told me that reading texts like the Zohar or the Upanisads was great, but that it wasn’t poetry. And that he didn’t dig Robert Bly, whose poetry I don’t dig, either. But I think you miss out on a lot if you dismiss Bly along with guys like Artaud or Duncan, or even Roethke, poets who were able to carry a natural, religious, or mystical impulse into their poems with a greater degree of complexity than Bly.

And maybe that is more a performance issue. Difference being a performance with teeth versus a performance that too easily meshes with a given social context. Defanged, maybe, by the pop culture sense of the word. Grizzly Adams versus a real Rothenberg.


Jake
I haven't read Rothenberg's statements, but I've read enough of his work, poetry and otherwise, to know the general drift of his thinking. I actually have a bit of his blood on a book Jack Foley had him sign for me. There's a bit of shamanism for you. But I do see shamanism as contextual to society. Or it is a phenomenon that is experienced through the lens of the social conditions of the group. You can call an aspect of reality Brigid or St. Bridgit, but it's the same aspect.

Regarding Bly: I like some of the things he has done, some of his work and some of the poets he has brought back to light. Still, I don’t find myself returning to him often. I was reading Bly at the same time I was first reading Creeley and McClure. I still read Creeley and McClure quite often. One reason may be a personal disinclination toward people with an agenda. Bly had the men’s movement and all of that, Creeley and McClure were/are involved with various causes, but not identified with them. I still come to them as poets above all else.

Butch
I was looking at this specifically of Rothenberg:
Rothenberg, from “Pre-face to a Symposium on Ethnopoetics”:

http://www.durationpress.com/archives/ethnopoetics/alcheringa/alcheringa.pdf

“So, among us the poet has come to play a performance role that resembles that of the shaman. (This is more than a coincidence because there is an underlying ideology: an identification, as Gary Snyder has it, with late paleolithic ideology & organization, seen as surviving within the “great sub-cultures” within the later city-states, civilizations, etc.) The poet like the shaman typically withdraws to solitude to find his poem or vision, then returns to sound it, give it life. He performs alone…. because his presence is considered crucial & no other specialist has arisen to act in his place. He is also like the shaman in being at once an outsider, yet a person needed for the validation of a certain kind of experience important to the group. And even in societies otherwise hostile or indifferent to poetry as “literature,” he may be allowed a range of deviant, even anti-social behavior that many of his fellow citizens do not enjoy. Again like the shaman, he will not only be allowed to act mad in public, but he will often be expected to do so. The act of the shaman- & his poetry- is like a public act of madness. It is like the Senecas, in their great dream ceremony now obsolete, called “turning the mind upside down.” It shows itself as a release of alternative possibilities. “What do they want?” the poet wonders of those who watch him in his role of innocent, sometimes reluctant performer. But what? To know that madness is possible & that the contradictions can be sustained. ….. It is a “mode of thinking” & of acting that is “substantially concrete, existential, and nominalistic, within a personalistic context” & “supremely able to sustain contradictions.” It is the primal exercies of human freedom against and for the tribe.”

Jake
Rave on Jerry Rothenberg! I think he captured the essence of the thing. You could extract practically any sentence from that quote and do an entire thesis.

I learned a lot from Rothenberg’s anthologies as well as his poetry, especially The Big Jewish Book. A bit of his translation of ancient Mesopotamian ritual poetry appears in Brambu: Book Three.

I wish he hadn’t used the term ‘postmodern’ in the anthology he did with Joris, Poems for the Millennium. He even said in an interview that he didn’t care for the term. I think we should just ditch it. I remember when they asked Miles Davis if his new music (circa 1970) was jazz or rock or what? He said, “Why don’t you just call it music?” In an anthology of poetry written in the 20th and 21st century you really need no more designation than the time period. People really don’t require extensive labels. They can decide for themselves what to make of the work. If poetry is “the primal exercise of human freedom against and for the tribe,” then we should live within that tension and celebrate the contradictions.

Butch
I'm getting some pretty interesting texts. I grew up in Colombia (folks were missionaries). It occurred to me a few weeks ago that the people I grew up with are the same people who have done the bulk of translating several tribal languages into Spanish and English. So I emailed them and they are going to compile a bunch of Macu and Piapoco primers, translations of biblical passages, stories, myths, etc.

Jake
Ah, I thought there was some Christian background in you. Same here. My father's a preacher. When they went off to the mission field, in northern Kentucky of all places, I figured it was time to part company. I hope your folks are more open minded, but mine are insane. I don't mean they utter the words "praise Jesus" after every word, they aren't the charismatic type, but very legalistic, chapter and verse folks.

Butch
Did you want to continue with that? A little auto-bio?

Jake
I grew up in a small town in North Alabama, named after an Irishman I assume, by the name of Killen. Parents were devout Church of Christ, taught Sunday school, etc. We never missed a service. I attended a Bible school from third through ninth grades. It was expensive to attend so most of the kids there came from upper middle class families or were church charity cases. I was neither. My parents struggled mightily to keep three boys in school there.

It was very easy to be a bad apple in that environment. I did manage to learn quite a bit about the Old Testament though, and the academic standards were higher than public schools, so I actually had to do homework occasionally. I finally plea bargained my way out of it to attend the local public school in order to play football. About the time I was a junior in high school my dad began schooling to become a preacher. He excelled at it, got his degree and agreed to start a church from nothing in Georgetown, KY. This looked like my way out so when they left I stayed behind. If I hadn't felt so constrained by the church ethics I would have been glad to get out of Florence, but this was a way to get out of church so I jumped.

Spent a few years hanging out in the local studios (big musical history there, the Muscle Shoals sound, equated with Stax in Memphis for great soul and R & B in the 60s and early 70s. The Stones wrote "Wild Horses" here so the story goes, that sort of thing.)

The studios were looking for people who could either write for established artists or play on sessions. I was more interested in writing what came to me and recording it. That was far too risky for them. I watched them break my songs apart only to have me rewrite them the way I wrote them in the first place while they took credit. It's a dirty business. A friend shopped songs around again in the early 80s, same results.

I started writing poems and songs when I was 14. I never made much distinction between the two until I started reading Eliot and other modernists in the 12th grade. My literature teacher that year noticed that two or three of us had some potential so he challenged us a bit. We had a great time.

In 1984 Rolling Stone accepted a poem I'd sent them as a lark just to show someone I could cop the short poem style they were publishing. So I sent them a couple of poems for real and they published those as well. Then I discovered all the small journals, mags and zines being published at the time and began to be able to publish poems about as fast I could write them. That lasted until 1991-92 when the center fell out. It eventually resurfaced online, is still resurfacing. I also met people like Jack, Mike Miskowski, Ivan Agüelles, Neeli Cherkovski, Malok, John Bennett, Michael And, Liz Was, Chris Winkler, Bob Grumman, Geoff Huth, Richard Kostelantez, James Broughton, Michael McClure, Hank Lazer, Karl Young, Amy Trussell, Willie Smith, Al Ackerman, David Crowbar, Vincent Ferrini, and at least a couple of dozen more that became regular correspondents.

Jack and I have as close a friendship as I have ever had with anyone. Even though he lives in the Bay Area and I live in Alabama we've managed to get together every few years and visit in person, have done several performances and readings together. I published a few small mags, some cassette mags and recorded several cassettes of poetry and experimental noise, etc. I continued writing more or less conventional songs all the while. Occasionally I'd get a chance to record something in a studio. Van Eaton had me come up to Bristol VA/TN (it's literally on the state line) and recorded some of his songs and some of mine with a good band. Amy Trussell was one of the people I'd been corresponding with and when she heard the recordings I’d made at home for a set of songs called Shadow Resolve she offered to put up the money to have the recordings duplicated as a CD. To promote the CD I needed to do gigs so Wayne Sides and I formed a duo called Bare Knuckles. He had an inside track to the studio at the local college so we recorded a couple of Bare Knuckles CDs there, inviting friends in to complete the sound as needed. We played coffee houses, lounges, parties, small venues, traveled a bit. It was pretty exhausting. We either played to almost empty rooms and made no money or to full rooms and made no money.

Somewhere along the way I had a breakdown. Still working on climbing out of that and several similar breakdowns following. Between the mid-80s and now I've run across enough generous people who were also publishers that wanted to publish my books, so I've managed to get several volumes out. I'm not sure how many are still in print. I think the first chapbooks I did with Mike Miskowski's Bomb Shelter Props may still be available. And the books I did with Bob Grumman's Runaway Spoon Press can still be bought. Also the Pantograph Press books. As for CDs, I've put out six solo, three with Bare Knuckles, four with The Ascension Brothers (ambient and noise), and just last year a new collaboration effort with the Finnish composer, poet, visual artist Jukka-Pekka Kervinen under the name Catachthonia. We have one CD, The Blood Paradox Variations available and another CD ready to go. Out this summer sometime I hope. Still playing gigs with the Ascension Brothers once or twice a month. We should be recording a new CD soon.

Butch
You mentioned the floor fell out or something to that effect in the mid-80s. As far as zines, being published, etc. What happened?

Jake
What I meant was the collapse of things in the early 90s underground: There was a magazine edited by Mike Gunderloy, in MA I believe, called Factsheet Five (I think it may still be around in some form, in the Bay area, run by another person entirely - no longer the same zine). Factsheet covered the underground like a blanket. Everyone sent a copy of everything they published to him and he reviewed it all. Eventually he had to add a few people to help write some reviews. There were literally thousands of publications and everyone read Factsheet to keep up with what was happening. As you can imagine, after a decade or so Mike was exhausted. So about 6 months after Factsheet gets an article in USA Today he sells the mag to a guy named Luce who more or less killed it. At this point the underground broke into various factions. There was an experimental review called Taproot Review. I was a contributing editor for that one for a while. It reviewed all things experimental. I think some parts of this may be available online. And there was a mag called Gajoob that reviewed the audio underground, at that time only cassettes because CD duplication was held up in the courts. Other mags like Mike Miskowski's MaLLife published reviews too. I wrote for that one as well. But after Factsheet went it all really fell apart. The guy who eventually picked up Factsheet started doing things like republishing reviews we wrote for Taproot without crediting either the mag or the
reviewers.

The resurfacing is taking place in websites, e-mail mags, and blogs. We're doing now what we were doing back in the mid-80s, creating a cognitive map of creativity that falls outside the increasingly narrow mainstream. Bob Grumman named it "otherstream."
There's no one who can take on the enormous task of documenting it all in one place, though some have tried. The thing about the internet is that is eschews centralization. Its nature is to move out in all directions exponentially. You could spend a week following one or two tracks and miss dozens of developments in another direction. This kind of thing is happening everywhere. When I was in high school if you knew what was in the Top 40 and read Rolling Stone you knew what was happening in rock, folk, pop, country, all the popular forms. And jazz and classical were just as easy to trace. But CDs are so much cheaper to manufacture and the recording technology is cheaper and cleaner (if not actually better) that CDs are coming from everywhere at once. To make matters even more complicated CDs are vanishing in the direction of digital downloads which require only recordings. There's no way to trace it all. August Highland tried, still is trying I think, with his Muse Apprentice Guild to at least capture some essence of what is happening, but his website has become so extensive that it is impossible to even begin to read or see it all. I wrote some reviews for him early on. I was prepared to write a dozen reviews every couple of months, but it quickly became obvious that I would have to write at least four times that many reviews to keep up with what was coming in. Probably the best we can do at the moment is just participate where we can, absorb as much of it as we can and hope that it all means something in some way in the long run.

Butch
How much was Brambu Drezi a technology driven poem?

Jake
Technology affects the work initially to the extent that any medium shapes a work. With Brambu the medium is the page and sound mediums, usually recorded sound mediums. Most people so far have experienced it as a book, a few as sound also, and a fewer still as a three dimensional performance that uses eye, ear, tongue and nose. We performed part of it once in Tuscaloosa in a small theater at the University of Alabama. Two of us read excerpts from the poem, glyphs from the poem hung on the stage behind us, three screens of video images running simultaneously, music played by musicians on the stage, dancers, incense and a cigar I smoked briefly during the performance. We used every bit of technology we could lay our hands on. I think that comes closest to a full experience of the poem. A friend suggested afterward that it should have had moments of audience participation. She was right. That would have made it more available. Maybe we can do that when Brambu is published as a single volume including Book Three and revised versions of Books One and Two by Barrytown/Station Hill.

I also have an idea for Brambu as an installation. It would be composed of a series of tall round obelisks that are equipped with motion sensors. Whenever someone walked near one of them the obelisk would project moving images and make sounds. The sounds would consist of myself and others reading the poem with musical accompaniment and sometimes it would be sound only. The images would sometimes be images of parts of the poem, words or images, and sometimes it would be video that could not be contained in a book.

So technology figures into Brambu as a limitation and as a stream of possibilities limited only by space and what I can afford.

There are a few words in Brambu: Book 2 that were generated by recording some of the Brambu langage, the glossolalia of the work, into a sampling keyboard, reversing the words then spelling those reversed sounds. Those words would have been impossible without that technology. There are also a few images in Book 2 and Book 3 that were augmented by computer imaging programs. Those images would be impossible without the technology.

Butch
The bulk of Brambu Drezi was written during the web’s infancy. Any thoughts on the Internet now that it is maturing as a medium? Google sculpting, that sort of thing.

Jake
I wouldn't totally disagree with McCluhan when he says the medium is the message, but the medium was created by humans and is a manifestation of human activity. I suppose what happens is that we create a technology then it overwhelms us then we adapt and create another technology. People fear television, but I think we are quickly adapting to video saturation, and TV in particular. The result is that the medium changes, it either expands or it falls out of use. It's another feedback loop.

Butch
I’ll agree with that. Though I think with the net it will be a long time before any full adaptation/assimilation happens. And a lot of sorting out in the future as to what artwork, etc. is unique to the medium and what will get carried over and thrive from other mediums.

Take maybe the Dadaist roots in some of the Flarf stuff I’ve read while usually on the same day hearing or seeing some new political rhetoric from wherever I come across it (mostly on the net). Unlike Dadaism’s response to WWI, say, we have a response to a political Dadism. Whereas the WWI and II ethos saw a menace presenting itself as an adult menace, an evil that knew what it was, we now have a domestic menace in our President presenting itself as a sort of well-meaning, blundering father figure (I often think of the footage of the awkward door exit Bush gave us in his visit to China). So Flarf reacting to this political context. The images and rhythms and absurdities given to us by Flarf seem less harsh, less honestly dark, more tongue in cheek, when compared to the bulk of its Dadaist predecessors. And more of a slippery surface. Not a psychological manifestation. Appropriation from technology rather than direct assimilation. And sure we can chalk that up to the medium and its changes in how we appropriate and “read” reality. And sure O’hara. Great. I mean, if that was the artist’s question in the first place. Rambling speculations here.

Jake
These shamanistic tendencies or psychological manifestations or whatever you want to call them will use whatever medium is at hand. The more available the medium the easier it is to use until it may become the medium of choice until something else comes along. It seems, however, that the result is the same. Whether I alter my consciousness by video, written word, spoken word, by drugs, physical exertion, or if it happens in a spontaneous dream or vision doesn't matter. It's an aspect of our biology rising to the surface. It will appear regardless of context.

Butch
I love that concept of biological imperative. Slower than the growth of technology, for sure. The two growths, one outpacing the other, hand in hand very deadly.

Another speculation: That google could be (is) used as a shamanic tool as easily as it is used for those flarfy surfaces. But then you get into those questions of simulation. And maybe reach a point that thinks what is in vogue is taking credit for an entire medium when actually what is in vogue just sort of dropped several lines of previous inquiry. In the name of context, sure.

Jake
I find the notion of google sculpting and google or any search engine as a shamanistic tool very interesting, especially since it would be available to anyone who had access to a computer and the internet. The work would be the result of what everyone did together. I'm not sure what kind of parameters you should set up though. Perhaps the idea would be to use the search engine in completely random ways initially and then the result of that randomness could be fed back into the search engine and that result fed back for as long as you wanted to continue doing it. That would be interesting.

I think this might be a playful way to reflect the way tools effect us in ways we never intended. The Chinese used gunpowder to make fireworks and continued to wage war with swords. Europeans used gunpowder as a tool of war. The idea of incendiary device as weapon continued until we had enough bombs to annihilate ourselves and most other species at the push of a button. All those politicians, generals and artists that rushed headlong into WWI had no idea what they were getting into and the result has shaped everything that has happened since that time. It made WWII inevitable and by carving up the old Ottoman Empire arbitrarily and colonizing it for oil it set up resentments that are the source of middle-eastern animosity toward the west today. For the past 25 years American neo-conservative foreign policy has only validated that animosity. We have to be careful with technology. If we use it to play, generate, or create we do much less damage than if we use it for "defense" or another deadly serious purpose.

Political power, on whatever scale, tends to take itself so seriously that it becomes completely exclusive and is threatened by anything that is "other." Play, art, and so on tends to go in search of the other in order to embrace it. This doesn't mean that many artists don't take themselves too seriously. Maybe even most of us do. But if we have spats over the internet usually the most damage we do is hurt one another's feelings in some small corner of the world that is really of no consequence to the world as a whole.

Butch
Ok Jake, here’s my smart ass shot:

In a recent conversation with Jack Foley (Genius and the Individual, Conversari 1/25/2006) you have this to say in your opening remarks about genius:

"I think we have to consider genius from the Romantic/Classical perspective as an inhabiting force, an in-spirit, inspiration. In this case genius is not a condition of intellectual brilliance, though it certainly doesn't exclude it. There are many kinds of intelligence and many kinds of inspiration. A poet may be inspired, inspirited, from something outside himself, and create poems under the spell of that inspiration - and, too, the result may make him more intelligent generally since it engages his or her mind deeply. However, when confronted with the poem after the fact the poet may be no more capable of finding its meaning than any one else, and since the "spirit" came from elsewhere there is no absolute meaning."

And, in “Convocation: The Failure of Tongue and Text,” you have this to say regarding the written word:

“The word becomes something more than natural – it becomes supernatural. By a trick of sound and inscribed gesture one has transferred the position from which to be superstitious from the affect of powerlessness before nature outside to the illusion of power over nature held inside and that power is centered in the one that uses those inscribed gestures/words as a means to and expression of authority.”

I’m juxtaposing the above; I would like to take your train of thought here to be an inquiry, broadly put, into the shift of the idea of “genius” from one inhabiting the writer to one inhabiting the technology the writer uses. First, would you agree with this assessment?

Jake
Not really. I am talking about two different things.

The first, the notion of inspiration, or of being overwhelmed by an outside force, is akin to possession. I was making the point that the artist was not necessarily intellectually brilliant, but could be possessed by something that was creatively brilliant and not of his own ego.

In the second instance I am not asserting that the written word is supernatural but that it seems to be supernatural by those under its influence. As such it is an element of control, usually by an organizing power – a government, religion and so on. It is my contention that language, whether written or spoken, removes us from the possibility of direct contact with the world.

There is an exception in art to this tendency toward control, at least in some art, because it is a work that can only really be experienced as itself without the imposition of ideas and definitions. This is more likely in the visual arts because they have retained their plasticity, both in the mediums used and in how those mediums are applied. The same thing can also happen with words. In a prose poem I said that, “Poetry is the only language that does not kill.” By that I meant that poetry does not have to follow the function we normally ascribe to language. Instead of naming things it can un-name them and reveal them or liberate them. It can also turn language inside out so that it becomes an organic utterance and very like an abstract painting that is an animal that behaves according to its own nature. Poetry is the only language that does not kill the world because it destroys what language ordinarily does.

I don’t think that there has been a shift in the idea of genius unless we collectively decide there has been since genius is a term we invented and can be applied any way we choose to apply it.

However, I do find your suggestion that genius can inhabit a technology to be very interesting. I don’t see why not. Again, using the word genius to describe a force that inhabits. One might ask, “What is the genius of the internet, or a portion of the internet, at a given time?” The beautiful thing is that no single individual or coordinated group of individuals controls it. It is the result of multiple individuals acting for their own reasons unaware of everything else that is happening. As long as a system, whether it is the mind of a single person or the complex interaction of many people, as long as the system remains open to outside influence then there is always the possibility that things will happen that lie beyond the abilities or imaginations of the contributors.

Butch
Second, the idea of inhabitance and its shift of authority here. The stance of the Romantic that the affect of powerlessness towards nature and the author’s subsequent engagement, in spite of that powerlessness, is source enough for the word’s authority and its author. Shifting to the word’s authority, in and of itself, achieved through disengagement from the author.

When thinking specifically of the word “genius,” my departure comes when you say that the power shifts from the Romantic stance to that power still being centered in the one using the words. Wouldn’t that first act of disengagement, the written alphabet, enact a powerlessness for the writer as well? “Genius” as a word that delegates social status, if not power, back onto the writer? A delegation of power by way of meme and economic manipulation, merely the economy doing its job?

Jake
It would depend on who was doing the writing, or dictating the writing, and for what reasons. But writing that is not open is generally designed by its writer to express something specific and therefore control the shape of the ideas in another person’s mind. I am doing that right now. I am trying to convince you of a particular point of view. If I am a very persuasive writer, or if I speak from the perspective of an authority you recognize, then I will shape the direction of your thoughts. I might even be able to persuade you to behave in a way quite different from what you would have if you had not read what I wrote.

Butch
But then again: could the act of writing, despite this powerlessness in the face of a written language and the disengagement it entails, despite the equal usurpation of the writer’s authority by its economic modes of distribution, be considered the same stance the Romantic took towards nature?

Jake
Yes, but it depends on the circumstances. If the Romantic is overwhelmed by some natural force, whether it is a very obvious natural phenomenon, like a thunderstorm with rippling lightning, or something much more subtle then he or she is subject to that force. On the other hand if an animal is trying to kill me then I am either going to try to escape that animal, drive him off, or kill him. What I mean is that one has to be a willing accomplice. One has to submit and join the natural operation. The same is true with words. One has to submit to its influence at some point. By extending the idea of nature we could say that language that influences us against our will, that overcomes our individual will so that we submit to it, is like being overcome by a greater force. One might be injured or killed by a storm or by an animal. One might also be intellectually injured or killed by language. One might be persuaded to behave irrationally, or in a way completely out of character. This too may be considered a natural phenomenon. But then so is rebellion or fighting for your life in a storm.

I want to be clear on this subject though. I think that the written and spoken word is often used to persuade people to ignore realities and destroy other people or themselves. Words do not have to do this, but to some degree they are most often used toward destructive ends to the person that is the intended audience. Different people would choose different manifestations of this. A scientist might say that religious texts are used to convince people to ignore the truth while a religious person might say the same thing about a scientific text. In both cases the language is the result of an attempt to lens the world according to a specific prejudice. That makes it an element of control. Control over other individuals happens with other species as well, so we could say that control is an aspect of nature. But we have a choice. I think that people rarely recognize how powerful that element of choice is. We often appeal to a higher authority either to tell us how to live with regard to the world or to confirm the way we are already living. This is not necessary. While it is important to know what others have said, each of us has the ability to reject or accept those words and finally, hopefully to think for ourselves, or better, allow the world its place and constantly adapt to the changes. That is, not to be bound by internalized words, whether our own or someone else’s.

Butch
And let’s not forget that, while compiling this, I had to stop and unplug the computer several times so the lightning from the storm didn’t short out the hard drive.

Jake
Identity means different things depending on what the moment calls for, but my take on it is pretty similar to your statement here. Olson, sure, whether in his letters, Maximus or other poems, is obviously multiple. I like the word fluid better than multiple because identity changes spontaneously, it arises, its moment is more like water.

"Tumescent" yeah, well we all get a bit swollen from time to time.

In our recent conversation posted on the Coversari blog Jack Foley refers to ego/identity as an ideology. That seems to be true, especially in western civilization. The development of the ego is wrapped up in Platonic idealization, phonetic literacy, and monotheism. It is part of a neurotic closure of the mind that we associate with things like success, heroism, fidelity, and responsibility. Capitalism and manifest destiny, and so forth would be difficult to sell to someone who wasn't shaped, driven, toward a singular notion of self. The concept of one self, an "I", creates selfishness. If you remove selfishness from the culture you alter its structure completely. This selfishness is the result of profound ignorance – not simply the ignorance of not knowing something – but the ignorance of being blind to the rest of the world in favor of a single aspect of it. It means to literally ignore the world in favor of self. If I convince myself that I am on the path to greatness then I can dismiss the rest of the world and develop into the hero I believe I can be. Fame is one way this manifests. Unfortunately, our idea of fame is not the same as the Homeric which means something closer to a good reputation. By the ideals of the romantic artist a good reputation could be ruinous. You have to be a scoundrel that nonetheless makes great art. Because of your art your abuse of friends and others close to you is forgiven. If you can succeed in convincing people that you are brilliant then you can literally get away with murder, especially if you are "brilliant" enough to become wealthy. On the other hand, if you just get up and go to work every day like every one else, or worse, you don't work at anything, not even "art", then your sins will be held against you.

To get at what I mean by failure of language I might have to take the long way around, but I'll try to be concise. Language probably originates in two ways, the desire to communicate and the desire to name. And you need to name things in order to communicate with language. (By language I mean words. Obviously, our species and many others have other kinds of language.) In order for words to be effective we have to decide that a word means something specific. Similarly with written language from hieroglyphs to alphabets we have to decide that a given symbol means something specific. Language then is a representational device. So far so good. The problem begins when we know the world by means of language instead of direct experience. That is, if I read about an animal, or about the human animal and base my ideas about the world on what I read then what I know is only representation. (I know I'm running over well worn ground here but I think it bears repeating.) Once literacy became the primary means of education and the primary means of knowing it began to superimpose itself on our experience of the world. Eventually we define the world based on what we have read rather than experiencing the world without names and categories and symbols. This makes us very susceptible. If we believe the word more than we believe the world then whoever controls the word controls our perception of the world. By the time we get to the end of the first century A.D. or thereabouts a Christian writer can write "In the beginning was the word, and the word was God." (There's the whole debate about what logos means, but we'll assume for now that the writer meant what we mean when we say 'word'.) Rationally, this doesn't make sense. No one begins with a word. No animal, vegetable, mineral, star or planet begins with a word. It's an interesting evolution. In Genesis God creates the world by speaking words, but by the time of the Gospel of John the word is God. I think they're both wrong though they both read beautifully. These are very attractive ideas. However, the universe, this planet and all its forms were here long before anyone ever conceived of something like a word. But we know what we know primarily by reading words or by hearing them. This is representational knowledge, not actual knowledge, unless we are talking about knowledge of words, in which case word in the abstract is the point. When we behave toward the world based on this representational knowledge we behave out of the abstract not out of the real. Consider how difficult it would be to convince people to kill one another if they trusted direct knowledge of one another more than what they had read or heard about one another. As long as you are a stranger, isolated from my direct experience, if I know you only as a concept and that concept has been shaped by whoever controls the words, then you are not very substantial.

Language is very useful in a technical way, as a tool. But tools are something we manufacture. If we allow ourselves to be defined by our tools, or distinguished from the rest of the world as the animal that makes tools then there is a disconnect and the world becomes more distant than the tools we use. The more complex our tools become the more alien the world becomes until we are so isolated from it in our minds that we fear it and seek to control it with our tools. Of course with this alienation we also isolate ourselves from ourselves so that the aspects of ourselves that remain unknown – drives, like sex and hunger become a threat as well. A kind of madness establishes itself.

From the time we begin to be educated until that education completely defines who we are, both to ourselves and to the world, we go through a process, by way of language systems, of isolation. What we know, we know as isolated individuals. So language fails in the sense that it establishes this isolation. As a tool it succeeds grandly, but tools are only a singular aspect of the world. We are in reality subject to the world, not the other way around. We cannot control something, or someone, by naming it. The world is beyond the control of any single feature of it.

With poetry we can undo this conventional tool aspect of language by returning it to the world. Sound poetry is one way to do this. It returns poetry to pure sound and liberates it from naming and any intention of control. Almost all my poetry begins with sounds that settle into words. For this reason those words do not contain meaning the way we have been taught. They may be channels for meaning, they may release meaning, but they are not attempting to tell the audience something definite. They are closer to music than they are to abstract literacy as a tool. Poetry of this kind is more ludic, it is like playing music, emphasis on play.

Butch
You mention that with poetry we can undo the tool aspect of language. We had earlier been discussing the idea of ‘concrete mind’ and the use of poetry to dismantle that collective perspective.

I'm not quite getting what you mean by concrete mind. My understanding of it seems to be exactly opposite.

I guess concrete for me has to do with a perspective that takes objects, whatever is around you and can be sensed, and gives them weight, meaning as befitting their use in an immediate environment. Hand:tool but also, on a (necessary) level Lascaux:spirit tool.

Didn't monotheism take us away from this? Took our spiritual focus away from a spiritually imbued concretism and turned it into a rift? Casting spirit out of the immediate and into a Heaven, a transcendence that was to be grasped at but never grasped? 2500 year old psychosis: taking an intrinsic human function, spirit, and making it a carrot on a stick?

Or is it concrete:literalism that you are getting at? Monotheism casting such a powerful uniformity (along with its bedmate capitalism) across cultures that its mythos has become too literal in the collective minds of the West?

Jake
I suppose what I meant was mindset, or the idea that the world always behaves in a specific way. So it is any kind of literalism, even a materialistic literalism, i.e. replacing religion with evolution and being just as dogmatic about it as literalist religions.

I think monotheism is concrete in the sense that it disallows anything else. It is hardened against multiple gods, multiple interpretations and so on.

Mind is not really concrete, but if we restrict our thinking, our whole experience, to these hardened systems then we create a concrete shell, a concrete mind around what mind may actually be in all its fluidity. The idea was to destroy these hard, restrictive systems and open up to whatever the world and mind may be. The primary target for this destruction was/is always myself, to keep breaking free of my own tendency to settle on one interpretation of reality. This was more a problem 20 years ago than it is now. I suppose one improves with practice.

The current global politics figures into this as well. An obvious case is neo-conservative idealism, but any politics that tends toward totalitarian control is a concrete that should be dissolved. China, the Taliban, all over the world.

Butch
I think I’m taking my idea on conrete mind and monotheism from a specific historical track within the development of Christianity itself. Here are the barebones: Joseph Campbell in The Inner Reaches of Outer Space:

“However--- and here is where the West begins--- a radical and enormously influential ethical protest against the uncritical submission to the will in nature that is implicit in this finally mystical world vision broke forth in Iran, some time in the second or first millennium B.C., in the dualistic religious view of Zarathustra (known to the Greeks as Zoroaster). The dates of this earliest known prophet of an absolute distinction between good and evil—in contrast to the cosmological, mystical insight--- are in dispute. ….. In either case, the god of light and truth and justice, whose gospel he preached, Ahura Mazda, was the god professed by the Persian King of kings, Darius I….. during whose reign the first moves were taken to return the Jews to Jerusalem; and that Zoroastrian patterns of thought and verbal stereotypes were absorbed into Pharasiac as well as into Essene Judaism, there is today no question. ….. (It) fused, however, with the Jewish tribal notion of themselves as the one and only people of God. (These) “Sons of Light” ….. are to attack and overcome ….. with help from the great hand of God.”

Jake
Monotheism certainly. But I think the problem may be much older than that and may reside in the beginnings of what we call civilization, which is the beginnings of cities. As long as the community is very loosely bound, either as nomadic hunters-gatherers or settled agriculture, things tend to remain fairly fluid. One has to remain open to the drift of the herd, changes in the weather. There are patterns, but the patterns vary and there are apparently random chaotic interventions like drought, plague and other natural disasters that keep one open toward the unexpected and unknown. Once people settled in cities a very definite order was required. Class systems, castes, specialization, administrative hierarchies of power would be necessary to keep the city running. Monotheism was a further development, a refinement toward absolutism.

Butch
So my view of the concrete has to do with the historical act of making Western religion a concrete mythos, against the nature of myth itself. Abstract art, Dada, all the rest— attacking that result, these concrete minds. In effect hacking away at a thing frozen in time to the detriment of all still living, who are not even aware they still have a part in the engagement and creation of a mythic life.

Jake
Yes. They are the beginning of the erosion of the old lies and power structures. What is happening with the current union politics, religion, and capitalism is a backlash, a reassertion of those so-called values. But regardless of how dominant it may become it’s too late to return to obviously oppressive systems - even under the Taliban people continued to circulate information freely. They just had to reroute it underground. The neo-cons have tried to label anything they disagree with as unpatriotic. Their surveillance system is just Hoover's old system of tracking the opposition. Power of this kind becomes so concentrated on its enemies that it misses anything that falls outside their limited range. The world eats away at it until it crumbles. Reality does not reside in solid states, or closed systems.

Butch
A slightly different track: I see Surrealism say, say a painting like “The Elephant Celebes” (Ernst), to be a concretization of what was previously not, the psyche and its images, even if it is an idiosyncratic concretization. Also instances of this type outside of art. Kekule dreaming of a snake eating its own tail. Seeing in this Uroboros a carbon ring structure for benzene.

Jake
I love Ernst. I think The Elephant Celebes and similar paintings are appearances of a concretization, but Ernst dismissed them as soon as he created them. He understood and celebrated the erosion of static conditions. Kekule, if he was a good scientist, would also greet the death of his model. Science is always provisional. When it isn't it ceases to be science and becomes a replacement for religion or some other orthodoxy. The scientific establishment is only useful as a means to challenge any new theory to make sure it is thorough. Most theories don't hold up, sometimes because of popular bias, sometimes because the scientific community isn't ready, and sometimes because they don't, at least not yet, correspond to any experience of reality. String theory or some adaptation of it may or may not be the next major step in lensing the physical universe, but it has to find some correlative beyond itself in order to be useful.

Butch
I read this book Zero once that said Pythagoras was murdered by a rival math cult because he had a neurotic fear of beans. Farting and fire and all that. When they attacked his students he ran but he refused to cross a beanfield in his way. So they caught up and gutted him. That story has stuck with me. Probably the whole sacred math hero doing something stupid because of his fear of the profane.

Jake
That's a good story and as likely true as not. Our knowledge of the pre-Socratics is so sketchy we'll probably never separate fact from legend. The numerical systems associated with Pythagoras were probably originated by him or a student. Heraclitus is a personal favorite, but he's even more difficult to trace than Pythagoras.

​​Visionary Art for the new Brambu Drezi series by Jake Berry