In this connection, I may mention a famous essay by Father Hugo Rahner, in which he has shown how the Fathers of the Church could beautifully interpret the heroic travels of Ulysses as a type of the Christian's journey through terrestrial life. Ulysses had himself tied to the mast so that he would not be lured to disaster by the songs of the Sirens. Similarly, the Christian stranger on earth, the peregrinus, could be said to travel through strange and awesome seas in a ship, which is the Church, affixed to the mast of the Cross, absorbing the sweet and far from meaningless Siren songs of the world, without being deflected from the right course.The essay is in Rahner's book, Greek Myths and Christian Mystery, which was published in 1963 and sounds as if it might be really interesting...
Tuesday, 8 December 2009
Tuesday, 1 December 2009
The metaphor [...] of the viator, the traveller, who seeks only temporary comfort in an inn on the road is found in Augustine's works, whence Gregory the Great may have taken it. The topoi of xeniteia and peregrinatio, of pilgrimage, of homelessness, of strangeness in this world, are among the most widespread in early Christian ascetic literature, and not a few ascetics, monastic and otherwise, practiced it by voluntary and migratory exile from their fatherland.In a footnote Ladner refers to a work on self-exile as spiritual discipline that I so want to read but which sounds so long and German that it really might defeat me!
H.v. Campenhausen, Die asketische Heimatslosigkeit im alterkirchen und frümittelalterlichen Mönchtum (Tübingen, 1930).Will see if I can even find a copy...
Sunday, 29 November 2009
The mention of the inn in the first quotation made me think of the motels we stayed in in Minnesota and that you've occasionally stayed in during the journey. One may rest in them bodily but, to be a viator, one must mentally be 'already somewhere else'.
There the great Pope says that temporal comfort on this earth is to the just man what the bed in an inn is to the viator, to the traveller on his journey: he will rest in it bodily, but mentally he is already somewhere else. And sometimes the just on his travels through life will even seek out discomfort and refuse to dwell in the pleasantness of transitory surroundings, lest by delight found on the journey he be delayed from reaching his fatherland, and by attaching his heart to the road of peregrination he lose his reward when the heavenly patria finally comes into sight. The just, therefore, do not settle for good in this world - they know that they are only pilgrims and guests in it. They desire to rejoice where they belong and cannot be happy in a foreign land. [...]
According to that great anonymous document of the mentality of the early Church which is the Epistle to Diognetus, the terrestrial lot of Christians is eminently that of strangers:
They reside in their own fatherlands, but as if they were non-citizens; they take part in all things as if they were citizens and suffer all things as if they were strangers; every foreign country is a fatherland to them and every fatherland is to them a foreign country ... They dwell on earth, but they are citizens in heaven ...
Thursday, 26 November 2009
It's the language of inclusion and exclusion that Alison's interpretation particularly focuses on.
9:1 And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. 9:2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? 9:3 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. 9:4 I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. 9:5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. 9:6 When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, 9:7 And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.
9:8 The neighbours therefore, and they which before had seen him that he was blind, said, Is not this he that sat and begged? 9:9 Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: but he said, I am he. 9:10 Therefore said they unto him, How were thine eyes opened? 9:11 He answered and said, A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash: and I went and washed, and I received sight. 9:12 Then said they unto him, Where is he? He said, I know not.
9:13 They brought to the Pharisees him that aforetime was blind. 9:14 And it was the sabbath day when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes. 9:15 Then again the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. He said unto them, He put clay upon mine eyes, and I washed, and do see. 9:16 Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them. 9:17 They say unto the blind man again, What sayest thou of him, that he hath opened thine eyes? He said, He is a prophet.
9:18 But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind, and received his sight, until they called the parents of him that had received his sight. 9:19 And they asked them, saying, Is this your son, who ye say was born blind? how then doth he now see? 9:20 His parents answered them and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind: 9:21 But by what means he now seeth, we know not; or who hath opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself. 9:22 These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue. 9:23 Therefore said his parents, He is of age; ask him.
9:24 Then again called they the man that was blind, and said unto him, Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner. 9:25 He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see. 9:26 Then said they to him again, What did he to thee? how opened he thine eyes? 9:27 He answered them, I have told you already, and ye did not hear: wherefore would ye hear it again? will ye also be his disciples? 9:28 Then they reviled him, and said, Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses' disciples. 9:29 We know that God spake unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is. 9:30 The man answered and said unto them, Why herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes. 9:31 Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth. 9:32 Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. 9:33 If this man were not of God, he could do nothing. 9:34 They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out.
9:35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? 9:36 He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? 9:37 And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. 9:38 And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him. 9:39 And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind. 9:40 And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also? 9:41 Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.
Wednesday, 25 November 2009
I'll try to find a way to get the relevant material to you but, in the meantime, this is a website that provides access to what of Alison's work is available online:
Sunday, 22 November 2009
Saturday, 21 November 2009
Friday, 20 November 2009
Wednesday, 18 November 2009
At the end of the service, they have a tradition I like a lot: the preacher and deacons get into a receiving line, and the congregation goes down to the front, greets those already there, and then each person joins the line themselves, so that by the end, every single person has greeted every other. There were a couple of people in the congregation who greeted me only perfunctorily, perhaps not so delighted I was there, and it got me to thinking: if I were a black person, I’m not sure I would want to see my white self in my church. If I were a child of slavery and sharecropping and lynchings and all that, I’m not sure how much loving-kindness and openheartedness I would be ready to muster for every white stranger who walks in the door.I've thought about this a lot too and, once again, it seems to me connected with Raymond Williams' idea of 'unlearning'. It is possible to listen to the criticism that we are 'determined to lay our hands on life and force it into our own image' but then think that the solution is to rush out and 'learn from the oppressed'. Part of the unlearning is, I think, to understand what it means not always to be welcome - not always to be seen as the 'nice person' that one is in one's own mind.
Now that's got me thinking about Mark Ravenhill's 'epic cycle of short plays', Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat, but I think that's enough for today.
A knot is tied, that has come near to strangling our whole common life, in this century. We live in almost overwhelming danger, at a peak of our apparent control. We react to the danger by attempting to take control, yet still we have to unlearn, as the price of survival, the inherent dominative mode. The struggle for democracy is the pattern of this revaluation, yet much that passes as democratic is allied, in spirit, with the practice of its open enemies. It is as if, in fear or vision, we are now all determined to lay our hands on life and force it into our own image and it is then no good to dispute on the merits of rival images. This is a real barrier in the mind, which at times it seems almost impossible to break down: a refusal to accept the creative capacities of life; a determination to limit and restrict the channels of growth; a habit of thinking, indeed, that the future has now to be determined by some ordinance in our own minds. We project our old images into the future, and take hold of ourselves and others to force energy toward that substantiation. We do this as conservatives, trying to prolong old forms; we do this as socialists, trying to prescribe the new man.I think this relates quite closely to what you said in your post in the sense that the ideas circulating in liberal circles of influence - let's say 'liberal' rather than 'socialist' here - are not that different from the ideas circulating in conservative circles of influence to the extent that both are articulated with the goal of 'laying hands on life and forcing it into our own image'. Yet we - the privileged of this world - barely notice this fact. And this is why some 'unlearning' is called for. As you imply, the liberal intelligentsia often know remarkably little about the people whose interests are allegedly asserted in the drive to 'prescribe the new man', and the gesture of 'demanding an old man to change his vocabulary' risks being nothing more than an empty gesture. To recognise that important stuff is happening elsewhere requires an act of unlearning on our part. (I might as well come out and say 'our' not 'their'.) We have learned that we are at the centre of things. Somehow we need to learn that we are not.
The discussion at the BB King Museum the other night was full of talk about the complicity of the North in racism, claiming that Northerners, even abolitionists, didn’t actually like black people any more than Southerners did, and in certain ways understand black culture far less than Southerners do. Martin Luther King said he was more scared of the white racists in Chicago than he ever was down South. And of course, there are proportionally so many more black people down here than up North, and I do think there’s a complexity to the whole question of racism that I’m not going to address productively by demanding an old man to change his vocabulary so as not to wound my sensibilities. That man has lived and worked side by side with black people all his life. Let’s be real here: his daily life is in certain ways more integrated than the new music scene in New York City, uptown, downtown, or midtown. That’s part of the reason I’m not in New York right now, I’m trying to get some perspective on my own provincialism.
Saturday, 5 September 2009
I'm really touched and delighted by this article about the river trip
in the New York Times:
I send greetings from the excellent town of Wabasha, MN, which was
once called Tipiota, meaning Many Teepees in the Dakota Sioux
language, for the large encampment that was once here on the shore of
Lake Pepin and the Mississippi River...
I hope your fall is starting out wonderfully!
Only if it's not likely to
Can the believed-in happen.
PO Box 1677
Old Chelsea Station
New York, NY 10011
Wednesday, 2 September 2009
Tuesday, 25 August 2009
It is no longer to be doubted that there is real beauty in Indian music - in that of the Ojibway tribe, at least; and on of the most capable of our American composers, Frederick R. Burton of Yonkers, N.Y., is engaged in his summer home in Desbarats, Ont., studying the musical system of the Ojibways, reeducing it to notes and, to please the civilized ear, making harmonized arrangements of it which bid fair to become classic. The word "system" in the foregoing is used advisedly, for, notwithstanding that the Ojibway musical scheme does not recognize harmony, the Ojibways have unconsciously attained an artistic end. The singing of the Zuñis, the Omakas, and other tribes of Western Indians leads very nearly to the conclusion that, while rudimentary melodic ideas of a pleasing nature might be found in aboriginal music, no such thing as a well-defined, coherent Indian tune exists. Indian music, like Indian poetry, consists in the indefinite repetition of a single brief idea. Art music, on the other hand, is distinguished by repetition or imitation of a single melodic idea with various other melodic phrases as links to bind the essential fragments into a complete whole. This feature of art music is palpably manifest in the structure of Ojibway songs. They attain unity by the repetition of a definite melodic phrase, or motif, and they attain variety by the alternation of other phrases or by the familiar device of imitation of the main phrase on another interval of the scale.
Desbarats, since prehistoric times, has been the summer playground of the Ojibways, and it is there that the scene of Longfellow's "Hiawatha" is laid. It is there, too, that the Ojibways give from July 10 to September 1, their annual performance of their own play of "Hiawatha". Mr. Burton's successful dramatic cantata "Hiawatha" has been selected for combination with the Indian "Hiawatha" for the later delectation of audiences in the great cities, and the composer and conductor has been adopted into the tribe and given the appropriate name of "Neganne-Kah-boh" - "the man in front." Himself an Indian by adoption, it is peculiarly fit that it should fall to his lot to uncover to the civilized world the remarkable inherent beauties of the music of his tribe.
In the opening years of the twentieth century, at the instigation of one Louis Olivier Armstrong, a company of Native American performers had begun to enact scenes from "Hiawatha" with dialogue in Ojibwe. The performances took place at Desbarats, Ontario, and subsequently also at Little Traverse Bay, Michigan. Armstrong worked for the Canadian Pacific Railroad and the performances seem to have been, at least in part, intended to draw tourists. Burton became involved with these productions when a tour of urban centres was planned for 1903 and he agreed to arrange the music. So, I guess the article in The Evening Post must have been part of the publicity for the tour.
I'll post something about the article in The Evening Post later. What's pretty cool is that our man, Michael McNally, who wrote the book about Ojibwe hymn-singing, did an article on these Native language performances of "Hiawatha" in a 2006 edition of the journal, American Quarterly. I can probably get hold of that through the university library but, at any rate, the abstract is freely available and this is it:
Each summer from 1901 to 1918, and intermittently thereafter through 1965, Odawa and Ojibwe actors in Northern Ontario and Michigan took part in operatic Native language performances of Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha financed by area railroads and captured on silent film. While audiences and reviewers understood the pageants to validate the reality of Longfellow's representations of vanished noble savages and while Native actors peformed this script for pay in lean times, a closer look at their offstage lives, their onstage improvisations, and especially their humor reveals that these were also Indians playing Indian for Indian reasons. In an era of assimilation policies that outlawed drumming, dancing, and ceremony in public, and on stages designed to render them absent as twentieth century Native people, the actors insinuated their presence in heavily ramified, if subtle, ways. Crucially, performances enabled them to embody and thereby maintain a musical and dance repertoire associated with peoplehood and power, that could be rekindled with greater sovereignty by subsequent generations.Interesting, no? And worth bearing in mind while reading the account of Ojibwe music developed in the 1902 newspaper.
The interest lies in the fact that it constitutes a huge act of ventriloquism by which the missionary gives readers a sense that they are hearing the voices of Native Americans when, of course, all the voices of the book are mediated through the author himself. And the text presents us not only with *speaking* voices but with *singing* voices too in that, scattered throughout the narrative, are five songs:
Song of the Medicine Lodge (p.40)
Dance Song (p.57)
Love Song (p.168)
Peace Meeting of Ojibways and Dakotas (p.361)
Gambling Song (p.451)
They are all described as 'transcribed and harmonized by Edwin S. Tracey'. I'm a little curious about who Tracey was and whether he worked on Native American music regularly or just did this as a favour for Gilfillan. Will try to post copies of the songs now!
Saturday, 22 August 2009
On the shores of Lake Breck and almost overhanging its waters, two American eagles have built their nest in a tall, yellow pine, and as we came bursting through the dense undergrowth they came sailing a long way to meet us, as if inquiring what this unusual intrusion upon their solitary haunts meant, and when we got to Lake Itasca itself there was another American eagle flying and circling over its waters, as if the national bird were keeping watch over the cradle of the national life. Strange to say, the only American eagles we saw in a journey of several hundred miles in the wilderness, we saw at that spot.
Friday, 21 August 2009
116. Winnibigoshish is correct; means miserable-wretched-dirty-water, (Winni, filthy; bi, water; osh, bad, an expression of contempt; ish, an additional expression of contempt, meaning miserable, wretched).
119. Cass lake is Ga-misquawakokag-sag, or The-place-of-red-cedars-lake, from some red cedars growing on the island; more briefly Red Cedar Lake.
120. The large island in the lake was anciently called Gamis-quawako-miniss, or the island of red cedars. It is now called Kitchi-miniss or Great island.
121. The little pond, nameless on the map, two miles south of the extremity of lake Itasca, from which the furthest drop of water comes to the Mississippi, has no name given to it by the Indians; it was first named by the writer lake Whipple in honor of the first bishop of Minnesota.
122. Elk lake – on the map so called – separated from lake Itasca by a narrow piece of land and south of same is called by them Pekegumag-sagaiiun. The-water-which-justs-off-from-an-other-water.
122½. The river (nameless on the map) running from above lake is Pekeguma-sibiwishi, or brook-of-the-water-which-juts-off-from-another-water.
123. Itasca lake has been called by the Indians, from time immemorial, Omushkozo-sagaiigun; Elk lake.
124. The Mississippi running thence is called Omushkozo-sibi from lake Itasca till it reaches the lake.
125. Lake Bemidji is Bemidjigumag-sagaiigun, or the lake where the current flows directly across the water, referring to the river flowing squarely out of the lake on the east side, cutting it in two as it were.*
[*footnote: Others interpret it as meaning the same as the French Travers, i.e. where it is necessary to go directly across the body of the lake in passing up or down the Mississippi. —[N.H.W.]]
126. From lake Bemidji to Cass lake the river is called Bemidjiguma-sibi, or Cross river. [For fuller description see No. 439.]
127. From Cass lake to Winnibigoshish it is called Ga-misk-quawakoka-zibi; Red Cedar river, or river of the place of red cedars.
128. From outlet of Winnibigoshish to mouth of Leech Lake river it is called Winnibigoshish-zibi; Winnibigoshish river.
129. Below the junction of Leech Lake river it is called Kitchi-zibi, or Great river.
[N.B.—I can not find by inquiry that the Chippewas have ever called it Missizibi (Mississippi) or Missazibi. But I consider it very probable that in remote times they did, for Missa-zibi (Mississippi) would express the same idea in their language, and would be proper, as witness Missa-sagaiigun (Mille Lac) meaning Great lake. It so exactly corresponds with their language that it must have been taken from it.]
439. The part of the Mississippi – nameless on the map – which flows between two points in Cass lake, where the church is on one side and the chief of Cass lake’s house on the other – being less than half a mile long – is called by the Indians Wub-itigweia-zibi. The-river-that-flows-through-the-narrow-constricted-place.
Thursday, 20 August 2009
To one studying the language it is a matter of extreme astonishment how such a rude people ever constructed such a highly inflected system of speech for expressing every thought of the mind with such delicacy and the slightest variation in a shade of meaning, or how they have ever handed it down among themselves, even if originally made and given to them. As a clergyman once expressed it to the writer, that is as much a surprise as it would be to find a beautifully sculptured Corinthian temple, with all its delicate carving, standing on one of our bare prairies. Yet a child, even, who does not know a letter and has never heard of grammar will use those forms with accuracy, and any step outside the grammatical rule will be instantly detected.Later he considers the question of whether Ojibwe can function as a vehicle for the expression of Christian doctrine and, again, he begins by anticipating the reader's prejudices:
It might be thought that having been constructed and used by a rude nation of hunters the language would be an insufficient vehicle of religious truth, employed on a new and strange subject of which its constructors never thought. But it is found to be a perfectly adequate vehicle by which to express any religious truth, however lofty or subtile. The Epistles of St. Paul, for instance, which strain all language to express the ideas which were struggling in his mind for utterance, and which sometimes deal with things above the region of sense and of all ideas of men in this world so that they are a critical test of the capacity of any language to express them, those sometimes lofty flights of his above all language of earth, almost into things of a to us incomprehensible sphere, are yet found to be as capable of expression in the language of the Ojibways as in our own, or the Greek in which they were written. Yes; from the wonderful precision and delicate shades of meaning obtained by the nice distinction and almost innumerable inflections of the Ojibway, it often seems to possess a superiority in conveying definite religious ideas to the mind.Eve: I may be wrong but I have a feeling that, in your book about Ojibwe hymn-singing, the author quotes the guy who re-translated the Ojibwe hymns into English and he says something that is almost the opposite of this. I *think* he says something about Ojibwe leaving meaning open in a way that is particularly conducive to religious discourse?
Wednesday, 19 August 2009
The lake itself is not remarkable for beauty, there being many much more beautiful lakes in Minnesota, and it would not, therefore, but for its being the source of the great river, attract the tourist. But in another way it is very remarkable, namely, in that in shape it is a very striking emblem of the Holy Trinity. It is composed of three long and narrow arms, nearly corresponding in length, width and volume, and meeting at a central point. Roughly speaking, it may be described as a three pointed star. There is no other lake, of the 7,000 in Minnesota, so far as a perusal of the map shows, anything like it in shape, and the first thought of any one who looks upon it is, that here God had stamped Himself and His own mysterious nature on this, the fountain head of the great river of the continent. Here, one is almost tempted to exclaim, is the baptismal formula graven, not as Job wished, with an iron pen, but with the finger of the Almighty Himself, in the heart and centre of this continent.I thought the reference to Job was interesting. It's actually to a passage that is well known because Handel set part of it in the Messiah:
Oh that my words were now written! Oh that they were printed in a book!
That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever!
For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:
Whom I shall see for myself,and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my veins be consumed within me.
I think it's quite sweet that he thinks 'the first thought of anyone who looks upon it' will be that the shape of the lake is an emblem of the Trinity!
Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Sunday, 9 August 2009
At one point he mentioned the campsite at Gambler's Point and I asked him about the name. It's pretty obvious that the name comes from the fact that people used to gamble there but I was interested to see if he'd have anything else to say about it. He said that they used to have a 'fine old time' at the point and that a couple of people even got shot there. But then he said, 'There's a reason for everything'. And he repeated it a number of times.
I like this because, as I said in my last post, I've been having some problems seeing the connection between the present experience and the history. 'There's a reason for everything' is a nice assertion of the connection that I'm sometimes missing.
Saturday, 8 August 2009
HOWEVER, in the interests of getting going, I'm just going to record the strong contrast that I've been experiencing between my sense that the headwaters are essentially a wilderness area in which one can pass long stretches of time without being reminded of the human presence at all and my growing awareness of a very human history that has unfolded across the same landscape in the past few centuries.
On my first day of kayaking, I found myself lost in a wetland area where the river channel divided with little clue as to which route was the right one. Later in the day, looking down on the area from a road bridge, it looked far more benign - as if the gentle, and not particularly extensive, territory visible from up there were superimposed on a more disturbing one that could only be entered by water. I think this works well as an image for my sense that the present wilderness somehow occupies the same space as a very human sphere of action. It is as if there were more than one space somehow occupying the same place.
Tuesday, 28 July 2009
some of you already know that I've developed an obsession with the
Mississippi River and its place in American culture, politics, and
geography. I've spent the last several months getting ready to journey
down the river at a human-powered pace, investigating what the river
means at this particular moment in our shared lives. I'll be starting
at the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minnesota on August 1 and expect to
arrive in New Orleans in late November or early December. I'll make
work in response to the journey, and then next season I imagine
traveling back up the river retracing my path, performing the work
I've made in response to the first trip.
I have designed the trip not as a solo journey but as a shifting set
of collaborations with various friends and colleagues who will be
traveling with me for shorter or longer periods, shaping my
perspective in varying ways depending on their passions and interests.
My first two collaborators are the linguist and historian Richard
Steadman-Jones, with whom I will be working on a project called
Archive of Exile, and Mac Walton, a musician and adventurer with whom
I share many interests that will undoubtedly take shape in some fun
way I can't yet predict.
we will be making the trip by a combination of kayak and bicycle, with
a backup car carrying our gear. the three of us just spent a couple of
days in Minneapolis getting outfitted with a kayak, (see below for
evidence) and we're leaving tomorrow for Lake Itasca, and I am so
excited about all this I can barely speak!
I won't be sending email announcements like this very often if at all
over the next few months, so before heading out, I'm inviting you to
follow along with me on the blog I've set up at http://evbvd.com/riverblog/
I think it'd be really great if we can create a community of virtual
wayfarers or something like that! you can also follow me on twitter
(evbvd) and/or facebook (eve.beglarian) if that's your thing. and if
you want to meet up in person along the way, let me know! while part
of this trip feels like some kind of quest or pilgrimage, I don't
imagine it as a retreat in any sense, but an engagement, a seeking,
and I invite you to join me in whatever ways might be meaningful to
you, whether vicarious or actual.
in the meantime, I hope you have a great rest of your summer!
Only if it's not likely to
Can the believed-in happen.
PO Box 1677
Old Chelsea Station
New York, NY 10011
Friday, 10 July 2009
It was out in the sticks that the fire
Of my existence began
Where no one had heard the Messiah
And no one had seen a Cézanne.
I learned a prose style from the preacher
And the facts of life from the hens
And fell in love with the teacher
Whose love for John Keats was intense
And I dreamed of writing a novel
With which Tolstoi couldn't compete
And of how all the critics would grovel
But I guess that a guy gotta eat.
I can think of much nicer professions
Than keeping a ledger correct
Such as writing my private confessions
Or procuring a frog to dissect
Learning Sanskrit would be more amusing
Or studying the history of Spain.
And, had I the power of choosing
I would live on the banks of the Seine
I would paint St. Sebastian the Martyr
Or dig up the Temples of Crete
Or compose a D major sonata
But I guess that a guy gotta eat.
The company I have to speak to
Are wonderful to me in their way
But the things that delight me are Greek to
The Jacks who haul lumber all day.
It isn't because I don't love them
That this camp is a prison to me
Nor do I think I'm above them
In loathing the site of a tree.
O but where are those beautiful places
Where what you begin you complete
Where the joy shines out of men's faces
And all get sufficient to eat?
Thursday, 9 July 2009
Gold in the North came the blizzard to say
I left my sweetheart at the break of day,
The gold ran out and my love grew grey.
You don't know all, sir, you don't know all.
The West, said the sun, for enterprise,
A bullet in Frisco put me wise,
My last words were, 'God damn your eyes'.
You don't know all, sir, you don't know all.
In Alabama my heart was full,
Down to the river bank I stole,
The waters of grief went over my soul.
You don't know all, sir, you don't know all.
In the streets of New York I was young and well,
I rode the market, the market fell,
One morning I found myself in hell.
I didn't know all, sir, I didn't know all.
We didn't know all, sir, we didn't know all.
In the saloons I heaved a sigh
Lost in deserts of alkali I lay down to die
There's always a sorrow can get you down
All the world's whiskey can never drown,
You don't know all, sir, you don't know all.
Some think they're strong, some think they're smart,
Like butterflies they're pulled apart,
America can break your heart.
You don't know all, sir, you don't know all.
Brogan quotes the third stanza - the alto solo by the woman from Alabama - and says:
For a moment the true sorrows of the frontier and the cotton-fields as they affected women come to life, but the hint is never followed up. The "Blues" is only a warning - one which the operetta's characters ignore.
Wednesday, 8 July 2009
In these successive frontiers we find natural boundary lines which have served to mark and to affect the characteristics of the frontiers, namely: the "fall line"; the Allegheny Mountains; the Mississippi; the Missouri where its direction approximates north and south; the line of the arid lands, approximately the ninety-ninth meridian; and the Rocky Mountains. The fall line marked the frontier of the seventeenth century; the Alleghenies that of the eighteenth; the Mississippi that of the first quarter of the nineteenth; the Missouri that of the middle of this century (omitting the California movement); and the belt of the Rocky Mountains and the arid tract, the present frontier. Each was won by a series of Indian wars
I think it's also interesting that Turner envisions a process of 'becoming-Indian' taking place when a new frontier is first opened up:
[The frontier] takes [the colonist] from the railroad car and puts him in the birch canoe. It strips off the garments of civilization and arrays him in the hunting shirt and the moccasin. It puts him in the log cabin of the Cherokee and Iroquois and runs an Indian palisade around him. Before long he has gone to planting Indian corn and plowing with a sharp stick; he shouts the war cry and takes the scalp in orthodox Indian fashion. In short, at the frontier the environment is at first too strong for the man. He must accept the conditions which it furnishes, or perish, and so he fits himself into the Indian clearings and follows the Indian trails. Little by little he transforms the wilderness, but the outcome is not the old Europe, not simply the development of Germanic germs, any more than the first phenomenon was a case of reversion to the Germanic mark. The fact is that here is a new product that is American.
[Auden's] libretto is in many respects as brilliant and beautiful as the music [...] but the theme he expounds sticks in my craw. Once upon a time the New World, he says, was nothing but virgin forest. Then Paul Bunyan, the giant, was born, and dreamed of felling trees - of being the greatest logger in history. And such he became. When the forests had all been cleared, "America" had emerged - the America of the farmer, the clerk, the hotel manager, and Hollywood. Paul Bunyan therefore moved on, leaving his followers with the message, "America is what you make it."
The difficulty is not simply that this myth of America seems ecologically and historically unsound to anyone who knows something of the pollution and despoliation inflicted by American logging companies; nor even that the total elimination of the natives from the story (except for one reference to fighting Indians) is a grave falsification; nor even that the accumulation of these and many other simplifications produce an effect that in today's terms is politically incorrect and in 1941 seems to have been thought patronizing. It is that to anyone with actual knowledge, however slight, of American history, Auden's myth is so inaccurate as to make any suspension of disbelieft largely impossible. To take but one detail: as Auden said himself, Paul Bunyan is a post-industrial-revolution myth: he is a product of the nineteenth-century frontier, in the tall-tale tradition. The loggers, like the mountain men, the boatmen, the cowboys, and the slaves, were at the mercy of large economic forces; they consoled themselves for their impotence by developing the legend of the giant lumberjack who was invincible and omnipotent. The forests were far from virgin: if they were silent it was because first the game and then the original inhabitants had been driven off by the process of European settlement. Even in 1939, when the influence of F.J. Turner was at its height, Auden could have discovered these points - probably did discover them. But he chose to ignore them.
Tuesday, 7 July 2009
[A] huge statue of Paul, 18 feet tall weighing 2 1/2 tons, stands on the shore of beautiful Lake Bemidji. Next to Paul, stands a statue of Babe, the Blue Ox, all five tons of the mightiest Ox that ever lived!
Tuesday, 30 June 2009
Saturday, 27 June 2009
Friday, 26 June 2009
wow. somehow I want you to have this, richard...
Thursday, 25 June 2009
- There is a beautiful paradox in the idea that to find out where you live you have to leave home. This seems to me entirely true and yet strangely riddle-like.
- The statement that we live in 'a land of road markers and guide posts' through which 'every man must still find his own way' expresses a tension that I also think is powerfully real.
- When I join you for the first part of the journey, I won't exactly be finding out where I live because I will come to the US as a foreigner. (Unless one thinks in terms of living in the world or the west, but that isn't quite the point, I think.) What is interesting, though, is that in Doing Documentary Work Robert Coles consistently connects James Agee - one of the archetypal American figures in the documentary tradition as he conceives it - with George Orwell. And I find it difficult to think of anyone more British than Orwell. This is an interesting idea to me. I think I'm going to read The Road to Wigan Pier or Down and Out in Paris and London in the next few days.
Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Here on the last puzzle-piece of wall
the plaster's molded in designs
of knots and tangles like the graffiti tags
scribbled in quick unbroken strokes
across bridges and subway cars
They are your heart stutters to see
the letters of another alphabet
a vast lace of calligraphy
a hundred thousand characters of praise
When you look up the wind has changed
as sudden as the twisting of a lens
back into focus everywhere you look
seems otherwise you no longer
see yourself over your own shoulder
in the second person you have snapped
back into your body
Oh my god
where have I been To pay the world
so much attention Where have I been
To be your own puppet Where
have I been To fall and let yourself
be caught Where have I been To god and back
from Mistral, from Made Flesh, p. 42
The lake is 678.2 acres, a little more than a section, fed by cold springs and drained from the southeast by a creek, the Lake Wobegon River, which flows to the Sauk, which joins the Mississippi. In 1836, an Italian count waded up the creek, towing his canoe, and camped on the lake shore, where he imagined for a moment that he was the hero who had found the true headwaters of the Mississippi. Then something about the place made him decide he was wrong. He was right, we're not the headwaters, but what made him jump to that conclusion? What has made so many others look at us and think, It doesn't start here!?
Actually, there's something about this that I *really* like. I'll have to find some way to use it :o)
Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Thursday, 18 June 2009
Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Monday, 15 June 2009
Mike Pidd - from our Humanities Research Institute - is currently building the site for the 'archive of exile' project, and I'm hoping that will be in place by the time we get together on July 17/18. There will also be a blog on that site but I think the best thing would be to select material from your river blog to post there and I can also put stuff up there as and when I want to. (We probably don't want quite as much posting there as on our other blogs because it should be balanced by stuff from Jess/Pam and Frances/Hannah. And perhaps also from 'friends' of the project, i.e. people you'll meet when you're over here in July.) I'm not sure how easy it will to post on the 'archive of exile' blog remotely but hopefully this will become clear fairly soon, so we can make appropriate plans.
Glad you like the idea of reading together! Yes, it would be good to put together an interesting selection of material. Perhaps shorter pieces and excerpts so that there's some variety as we go along? I'll open a folder and start putting things in it :o)
Sunday, 14 June 2009
anyway, I spent many hours yesterday making widgets that play both my music related to the project and a selection of music by other people: hopefully, updating those things won't be so time-consuming!
and I think I will copy some of our posts and links from this blog to that one. maybe I should also set up an automatic rss feed of that blog to this one, but not vice versa? since that is the more public blog and this the more private? we'll see how it feels over the next few weeks, okay?
anyway, I also wanted to comment on your idea of reading texts together: I LOVE that idea, and hope we can come up with a fun list of things to read together that way!
Thursday, 11 June 2009
- I like the idea of keeping a book of notes and sketches. Not that I draw particularly well, but I'd like my written notes to interact with evocations of the space in another form (sketch maps, diagrams, drawings, etc). I'd also like to make my own recordings as we go. So, I'm effectively talking about documenting the journey in three media: text, image, audio. [It strikes me that this formulation is oddly reminiscent of Roland Barthes' title - Image-Music-Text, which wasn't in my mind at all when I started writing today:o)]
- When I talk about written notes *interacting* with images (or, indeed, notes with images and images with audio), certain processes come to mind: annotation, cataloguing, illustration, and so forth. These have their own histories and philosophies and I'd like my practice to pay some kind of attention to them. After all, annotation, cataloguing, illustration etc, are constituent processes of the overall practice of making an archive.
- I don't want to be too prescriptive about *what* I document or record. Serendipity is important. At the same time, I think I need to keep in touch with a certain point of reference, namely the complex that i think of in terms of VOICE-SPEECH-LANGUAGE.
- I want to treat Voice-Speech-Language as a very open-ended category. It might include such things as:
- transcriptions of texts seen in the environment: memorials, signs, graffiti
- notes on placenames, which are, in themselves, short texts
- traces of languages other than English in whatever form
- notes on overheard conversations
- more formal recordings of interviews to be transcribed later
- historical texts read in 'significant' places (e.g. the Eastmans at Fort Snelling)
- new texts discovered en route
- my own writing as a response to place
- transcriptions of texts seen in the environment: memorials, signs, graffiti
- My idea of reading historical texts in 'significant' locations is one that will need some preparation. I shall have to get a file of materials together in advance. It would appeal to me to do this collectively - read the stuff *to* each other - but if that doesn't seem an attractive proposition, it isn't a problem :o)
- Back when we thought we might use recordings of our own families, we wrote about the connection between past, present, and future. In particular, we talked about the limitations of a nostalgic focus on the past or an entirely future-directed kind of attention. I want to bear these things in mind as I make my document. I think it's easy to slip into a sort of romanticising mode as one writes, sketches, records, and I want at least to be aware of that.
- This romanticising dynamic seems to me particularly likely to assert itself in that first month of the journey precisely because of the nature of the terrain. The early stretches of the Mississippi pass through what are, by all accounts, areas of extraordinary natural beauty. It will be tempting to see them through the lens of the picturesque.
I'm going to stop for the moment. More later, perhaps...
Monday, 1 June 2009
[A] lesser-known fact about Armstrong is that, along with the medicinal supplements stowed in his carry-on, he toted reel-to-reel recording decks with him everywhere. With them he committed to tape concerts, conversations, his own playing and talking, audio flotsam from the Satchmo Universe. Even more impressive, Armstrong adorned the audio tape boxes with alluring and vivid Romare Bearden–esque collages layering photos, news clippings, concert programs, handwritten captions and other graphic elements. Armed with scotch tape and scissors, Armstrong spent countless hours entertaining himself, squirreled away in the den of his home in Corona, Queens, making visual music.The collages are great - do click on the link and take a look :o)
Tuesday, 26 May 2009
Many words also are used by both the Chinese and Indians, which have a resemblance to each other, not only in their sound, but their signification. The Chinese call a slave, shungo; and the Naudowessie Indians, whose language from their little intercourse with the Europeans is the least corrupted, terms a dog, shungush. The former denominate one species of tea, shousong; the latter call their tobacco, shousassau. Many other of the words used by the Indians contain the syllables che, chaw, and chu, after the dialect of the Chinese. There probably might be found a similar connection between the language of the Tartars and the American Aborigines, were we as well acquainted with it as we are, from a commercial intercourse, with that of the Chinese.
Friday, 22 May 2009
In it, he discusses the 'origin' of the indigenous peoples of North America and considers the views of one James Adair, who, as Carver puts it, 'resided forty years among the Indians , and published the history of them in 1772'. Adair thought the Native Americans were 'descended from the Israelites, either whilst they were a maritime power, or soon after their general captivity'. This kind of speculation is very typical of the age, but, even in its 18th-century context, the latter idea makes the mind boggle! After the 'general captivity', by which I take it Adair means the exile in Babylon, one group of Israelites, rather than making their way back to the Holy Land, went into some new kind of exile in North America?
Carver runs through the evidence that Adair cites for this view and - very interestingly from my point of view - he includes some discussion of language:
The Indian language and dialects appear to have the very idiom and genius of the Hebrew. Their words and sentences being expressive, concise, emphatical, sonorous, and bold; and often, both in letters, and signification, are synonimous with the Hebrew language.Carver himself does not agree with Adair's view and I'll write more about that later :o)
Thursday, 21 May 2009
As usual, I'm completely open to other ways of doing it - just starting the conversation :o)
Unfortunately, I can't find an online version of the map of 1697 but the Library of Congress offers digitised versions of other maps by Franquelin here, here, and here.
I particularly like the second one :o)
Tuesday, 19 May 2009
'The name sprang fresh out of his fancy, and though a few of his pedant followers were troubled that the word was not listed in their Hebrew dictionaries, most of the Saints were pleased with the choice. "Nauvoo" had the melancholy music of a mourning dove's call and somehow matched the magic of the site.'
It seems that Brodie was wrong to say that the word 'sprang fresh out of [Smith's] fancy'. It really is a Hebrew word. From what I can gather, if there's anything strange about it, it's the fact that it's transliterated using Sephardic conventions. And this is because that was the system used by Smith's Hebrew teacher, Joseph Seixas. Here is an excerpt from the relevant page of Seixas' grammar. (I 'borrowed' it from a site on Mormon apologetics.)
Seixas seems to have been an interesting character. I found an article about him in a 1993 edition of the journal, Jewish History. It's by Shalom Goldman and the introduction gives something of his life:
In the roster of prominent American Jewish apostates of the early ninteenth century Joshua/James Seixas (1802-1874) remains something of an enigma. His contemporaries, both Jewish and Christian, differed widely in their descriptions of his religious convictions and affiliations. We find him described by Jews as a convert to Christianity and by some Christians as a 'devout Jew.' Evaluations of his ability as a teacher of Hebrew and a scholar vary widely, and the researcher in search of the biographical details of Seixas' life is confronted with conflicting and confusing data. For his life was a restless one. Seixas moved around the United States in search of employment and professional satisfaction and one is struck with the feeling that the subject of our investigations deliberately obscured the details of his personal life.
With that in mind, I thought I'd record the fact that the name, Itasca, which sounds as if it might be Native American, was in fact made up Henry Schoolcraft, who traced the soure of the Mississippi to the lake. It is a blend of the Latin words verITAS (truth) and CAput (head). (The Ojibwe name is apparently Omashkoozo-zaaga'igan - Elk Lake.) It seems that Schoolcraft was given to making up names with a Native American sound. Those wonderful people at the Minnesota Historical Society have a short article on this here.
Monday, 18 May 2009
There are many layers of irony in play here, I think!
Sunday, 17 May 2009
In Nick Lichter's book about his journey down the river, The Road of Souls, he describes a plaque in Itasca State Park that commemorates the first sermon preached at the headwaters, in May 1881, by a Reverend Joseph A. Gilfillan, who had traveled "through sixty miles of wilderness from White Earth, Minnesota to conduct the ceremony." Lichter, page 6
The text he preached on was "then had thy peace been as a river." (from Isaiah 48:18)
The idea of speaking about PEACE in the context of the history of Native Americans in this region for the previous fifty years (at least?) is pretty ripe, no?!
Mississippi Blues Trail
also, I think Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited might be its own secret map of the Mississippi as well, I'll look into this soon.
I was actually wondering what you thought about signing up for a short course on canoeing or kayaking at an outdoor centre in Minnesota - say a couple of days, if we can find one? I notice that the St Cloud State University can organise training:
This might be a good opportunity to pick the brains of the instructors about the river - St Cloud being on the Mississippi they would presumably be able to give us lots of advice - and also about gear we might not have thought of. If we then headed up to Lake Itasca (I'm assuming you'd want to start from source?) we'd have a period of fairly easy paddling to get used to the canoe etc.
There seem to be quite a lot of 'outfitters' in northern Minnesota who will work out what you need for the trip etc. I don't know how much these cost but would it be a good idea to email a few of them, just to see what they say? If there are any near Lake Itasca (which I guess there must be), it might be worth starting with them.
Anyway, just a few thoughts. Very happy to do some emailing - what do you think?
Wednesday, 13 May 2009
One of the illustrations from Mary Eastman's book.
Tuesday, 12 May 2009
Having written before about hand-drawn maps I was delighted to find this beautiful one, drawn by the missionary, Samuel Pond, in 1834, when he and his brother, Gideon, first started to work in Chief Cloud Man's village near Lake Calhoun. There they devised a way of writing the Dakota language - the 'Pond-Dakota alphabet' - which seems astonishingly obliging of them, given our previous discussions about alphabets and transcription. Like a lot of missionaries, the Pond brothers went into a kind of self-imposed exile in order to bring Christianity to the people they had chosen as 'theirs' (although admittedly Fort Snelling wasn't very far away). But, a few years later, Chief Cloud Man and his people were forced into a more radical exile because of conflicts with the Ojibwe, who themselves had been displaced by settlement further east. There's a good site on the Pond brothers here.
Sunday, 10 May 2009
(Interesting that Sinclair took the title of his book, Lights Out For the Territory, from the end of Huckleberry Finn - it's what Huck does *after* his Mississippi journey.)
Then there is a journal/blog/podcast (of words, music, visual images, and whatever else) of our responses to what we experience, which is ALSO in some way an archive of exile, because we ourselves are travelers in a more or less foreign land.
I think this is a very productive idea. I'm not going to try to say much about it right now but it seems deeply important to me: exile is often profoundly painful but, as we said here (your post and my comment), adulthood is a kind of condition of exile and you have to leave the house to grow up. To make a journey and look at the world as you go, particularly the experiences of others who have made journeys under greater duress, might be a working out of that insight.
If we're going to think about memory here - and, in particular, the idea of the layering of memories onto a map, i think the fact that the journey will be a collective, collaborative, companiable experience is interesting. It might lead to a work, or a document (?), that is structured by *your* consciousness - because you'll almost certainly be the only person who makes the whole journey - but that also includes material, "memories", made by *others*. And I suspect that memory IS, in fact, like that - I don't think i made my memories all alone. Far from it. Memory is a kind of collaborative process, isn't it?
It consists of a series of recollected fragments and often he will return to the same material in a new fragment, developing it slightly or altering it a little in the way we do when we recall moments of the past. The fragments are not uniform in style - in fact they vary considerably - and again that evokes the lack of uniformity in actual memory (some memories are vivid; some are vague; some are detailed; and others are sketchy outlines). There is a pattern of assocation among the fragments, so the mention of, say, a tap in one fragment will be echoed by the mention of a tap in the next, even though the memories are otherwise unconnected. And there are sometimes multiple blocks of text on the page, bringing different fragments into some kind of assocation that is not explicit but implied by the structure of the page itself. Of course these page layouts aren't maps. But they *are* map-like in that they organise memories visually. Here's an example:
Maybe my description makes Simon's novel sound so avant-garde as to be unreadable. But the extraordinary thing about it is that it's *very* readable, despite its unusual organisation.
Thinking about a work that evokes the structure of memory in its own form made me think of Simon's novel, which has impressed me a lot.
Saturday, 9 May 2009
Regarding maps and rivers and sound, you definitely want to know about Annea Lockwood, who made a piece called A Sound Map of the Hudson River in the late 80's, and recently did one of the Danube. I really love her work.
The metaphor of making a sound map of the Mississippi is a good one: going down the river, I imagine collecting/creating multiple layers: actual sound documents of the river like Annea's, interviews like say the WPA writer's project, sound recordings of musicians like Alan Lomax. then there is a journal/blog/podcast (of words, music, visual images, and whatever else) of our responses to what we experience, which is ALSO in some way an archive of exile, because we ourselves are travelers in a more or less foreign land. (and if this project continues the way I'm fantasizing, there's a further layer created by the performances/collaborations that happen traveling back UP the river in this spring/summer of 2010.)
I think the idea that all these disparate kinds of information get layered onto a map is really rich. something about a map as a metaphor for the brain, how memory gets layered on the brain.
(and I think our informal tagging has already earned its keep!)
Friday, 8 May 2009
Having made a start, I thought it would be good to share this with you and so I've uploaded it to Google Docs and, later today, you should receive an invitation from Google to become a co-editor of the document. I'll also put a link to it in the sidebar of this blog, so it becomes a satellite of the blog rather than something totally separate. As I say, I'm thinking of this as something I particularly need to do to organise my developing knowledge, so don't feel I'm pushing you to use it. On the other hand, if you'd like to add to it, I'd be delighted!
My plan is:
1. To give the material some structure by dividing it up state by state, moving south from Minnesota to Louisiana.
2. To give it still more structure by organising the material for each state in loosely chronological order.
3. To summarise the material into bullet points of not more than 3 or 4 lines so that it remains a kind of overview and doesn't become a huge sprawling essay.
So far I've just put in seven brief points that have caught my attention over the last couple of days. Will add more as I carry on reading :o)
Tuesday, 5 May 2009
Mississippi River Challenge 
Display Date: Saturday-Sunday, July 25-26, 2009 (with volunteer shifts and check-in beginning July 24) Location: The Twin Cities stretch of the Mississippi River
The Mississippi River Challenge is a one- or two-day canoe or kayak event on the amazing Twin Cities stretch of the Mississippi River. This unique paddle was begun in 2004 by Friends of the Mississippi River to foster appreciation of the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities region and raise funds to protect it.
The Mississippi River Challenge promises a unique excursion: pass through locks, paddle with voyageurs and camp overnight inside Historic Fort Snelling! to find out more about participating in the only pledge event of its type in the upper Midwest, visit the Mississippi River Challenge Website  to find out more and sign up! Read more… 
Volunteers are critical to the success of this large-scale event. At 11 different riverfront locations along this 44-mile route, volunteers help paddlers come in off the water to refuel and refresh. You can sign up for just one three- or four-hour shift, or take two to earn free entry into the party at Fort Snelling Saturday night (a $20 value), or make a weekend of it and earn FMR SuperVolunteer status (20 hours in a year) and t-shirt. For more information, visit the Challenge volunteering page .