a dynamically indeterminate coastline

Fractal models (with their scalar self-similarities and unpredictable variations) bring into the foreground of our attention the large patterns and erratic details, the dynamic equilibrium of order and disorder in complex life systems like weather and coastlines. …I have begun to think of certain forms of art (for example, the post-1940s music of John Cage) as having a fractal relation to the rest of life. They are complex constructions that, among other things, present their material presence as a dynamically indeterminate “coastline” for audiences to explore via their own complex cultural and psychological dispositions.

Ocean beach and Steinian page are equally contingent and dynamic zones whose life principle is change. The beach changes in its conversation with the vagaries and variabilities of meteorological elements; the page changes in its conversation with variable epistemologies, grammars, and genres, as well as with the associative lements of a reader’s mind as that mind lives within multiple intersecting forms whose rules are neither simple nor readily apparent. All this occurs of course within another strange constancy—the changing cultural climate of the developing contemporary.

Or rather I sense that languages and coastlines operate with similar kinds of principles. If one thinks of a coastline as just one site of mutually transformative exchange between different kinds of complex dynamical systems, then language as it exists in the active mediation between neural network and world ecosystems is surely such a site. There are specific things one gains in thinking of language in this way, particularly when confronted by literature that won’t resolve into simple mimesis or tidy containments and conclusions.

It saves a certain amount of frustration to remember that you will never solve a coastline.

Retallack, Joan. “The Difficulties of Gertrude Stein.” The Poethical Wager. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. 153-4.

exploring a past diverted from the course of your memory

You do not write what you know, but what you are unaware you know and then discover, without surprise, you have always known.

As one knows that death is the end or that in a few hours it will be day.

As if you were, in short, exploring a past diverted from the course of your memory, but originally yours.

Jabès, Edmond. Rosmarie Waldrop, trans. The Book of Resemblances 3: The Ineffaceable, The Unperceived. Hanover: Wesleyan University Press/University Press of New England, 1991.

like gossamer or gold leaf

Let me now explain briefly what it is that stimulates the imagination and where those images come from that enter the mind.

My first point is this. There are a great many flimsy films from the surface of objects flying about in a great many ways in all directions. When these encounter one another in the air, they easily amalgamate, like gossamer or gold- leaf. In comparison with those films that take possession of the eye and provoke sight, these are certainly of a much flimsier texture, since they penetrate through the chinks of the body and set in motion the delicate substance of the mind within and provoke these sensations.

Lucretius. On the Nature of the Universe. trans, Robert Latham. Baltimore, Maryland: Penguin Books, 1951. 152-3.

to think is to enter the labyrinth

To think is not to get out of the cave; it is not to replace the uncertainty of shadows with the clearcut outlines of things themselves, the flame’s flickering glow with the light of the true Sun. To think is to enter the Labyrinth. . . . It is to lose oneself amidst the galleries which exist only because we never tire of digging them; to turn round and round at the end of a cul-de-sac whose entrance has been shut off behind us—until, inexplicably, this spinning around opens up in the surrounding walls cracks which offer passage.

Castoriadis, Cornelius. Les Carrefours du labyrinthe. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1978. pp. ix-x.

radically unfinished thought

The random function exercised by the writer’s/reader’s mind is the operating principle of the essay as form. One might ask how to understand forms whose pleasure it is to violate or exceed generic expectations. Perhaps the point is not understanding at all, at least not in the sense of grasping. Essays, like poems and philosophical meditations, should elude our grasp just because their business is to approach the liminal spectrum of near-unintelligibility—immediate experience complicating what we thought we knew. In this case “to write” means to engage in a probative, speculative projection of the often surprising vectors of words as they graze the circumstances of ongoing life. “To read” means to live with the text over the real time of everyday life so it can enter into conversation with other life projects. Forms that move the imagination out of bounds toward pungent transgressions, piquant unintelligibilities intrude into our tangible surroundings. They maintain an irritating presence, pleasurable or not, as radically unfinished thought. They give the reader real work to do. If the essay is a worthwhile wager, it is about startling the mind into action when much is at stake and intelligibility is poor.

Retallack, Joan. The Poethical Wager. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. 48.


on the point of or sooner or later

We feel an affinity with a certain thinker because we agree with him; or because he shows us what we were already thinking; or because he shows us in a more articulate form what we were already thinking; or because he shows us what we were on the point of thinking; or what we would sooner or later have thought; or what we would have thought much later if we hadn’t read it now; or what we would have been likely to think but never would have thought if we hadn’t read it now; or what we would have liked to think but never would have thought if we hadn’t read it now.

Davis, Lydia. Collected Stories. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009. 310.

le livre muté en rite

Mallarmé, qui a pensé toute la seconde moitié de sa vie au Livre Total, a opéré, quant à la référence, un glissement : ce Livre Total devait être lu en séances publiques, avec des permutations de vers (et de places) ; la référence n’était donc pas le livre (immobile), mais le livre muté en rite, en théâtre (“Le Théâtre est d’essence supérieure”) ; donc l’Ur-livre, pour Mallarmé, n’est pas la Bible, mais, si l’on peut dire : la Messe.

Barthes, Roland. La préparation du roman, Notes de cours et de séminaires au Collège de France. Seuil, 2003. 244.

precisely that…complete with all its parts perfect

The formal divisions of a proposition

Proculs writes: Every problem and every theorem, which is complete with all its parts perfect, purports to contain in itself all of the following elements: enunciation, setting-out, definition or specification, construction or machinery, proof, conclusion.

Readers will notice that most propositions conclude, “Therefore, etc., Q.E.D.”

Q.E.D. stands for the Latin quod erat demonstrandum, that which was to have been demonstrated…. However, the meaning of the Greek is slightly different: a better translation would be, “precisely what was required to be proved.”

Euclid. Euclid’s Elements. Thomas L. Heath, trans. Dana Densmore, ed. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Green Lion Press, 2010. xxiii-xxiv.

diagram showing

Figure 6.3. Diagram showing gold mine layout

Blackwell, A.F. (1998). Metaphor in Diagrams. Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Cambridge.