Process and spatial constructions

There is a though that, being a writer, I can write from anywhere. I have had that thought, though I also know that my best work happens when functioning in a schedule that is fixed enough to be ritual.

It removes other thoughts and decisions from my world, so all the brainpower goes to what I am working on. Get up at the same time, eat the same thing, walk to where I am going, etc. In times of enormous productivity, even my clothing attain a uniform-like consistency

So being in Rome, without my studio space or my chalkboard walls has been an interesting experience. I find I am less effective without the studio, and without the massive wall. (I did always find the home wall even more useful, which I suspect is because I would sit with it late at night or pre-dawn, and those hours have magic.)

The Fellows and artists here are surprised to find I build and work on walls first, words second, which has had me pondering the process. I don’t think of myself as a visual person; what I have realized is that the walls are spatial, it has to do with how I organize thoughts and information.

A few months ago I realized I wanted to build orerries as physical representations of times and places. For example, a 1913 Vienna orerry would have von Hoffmansthal and Roth and the others who circled each other, built into their own little moveable universes. When I was pondering how these groups circles and interacted, that was the form that made most sense. If I’d had the materials in the studio I probably would have started building them. I paint maps on the floors, so I can move information around that way as well. Initially I had painted 1938 Europe on the floor, but it turned out I needed an earlier map, so that one went away, though I never got around to repainting the base map, in the chaos.  Then I can use chalks over them, to move the lines and also to note people.

I also hang maps, images, and other elements of this work on the walls, really, just to ponder. They don’t, in this case, turn into descriptions or other words in my work, it is the textured fabric, however that underlies how I think.

So, spatial organization. It’s a thing. Works in my head, but better to make some of it enormous and put it on the walls.

I thought I’d spend the entire summer in Rome, but the more I write the more I miss the studio, so now, flux. I will stay three more weeks here, for other reasons, but then it seems I have to reconsider the rest of the year.  Which is fine, clarifying process and ways to excel at the work is never a bad thing.

the siddhis go to sea

Lately I find myself writing very odd emails.   A few days ago I wrote one about siddhis and seasickness.

One of the five paths of this project is to return to the ancient texts of the Rgveda and those that came after.  Of late, I find myself more in that path than any of the others.  When I began I expected more balance, one step on this path, one step on the second, one on the third. But as it turns out, I get swallowed in chunks and things fly the way they will.

I was in my teens when I became fascinated with Sanskrit and the literatures originally written in it. Are they literatures? Are they religions? I am not going to say, lots of scholars have plenty to say.

The world, in these worlds, starts with consciousness. It’s the inside out, instead of the outside in, of the West.

The siddhis are what can be called superpowers, though it’s not my choice of word. They are, I suppose, a form of magic, except that they are already present in you, so if you cannot control them or use them, that’s on you.

I suppose, if you can’t tell the difference between ahem and atman, then I can’t say much for you either. But, what would I know of you? I barely know of me.


How far back?

When I begin this project I decided I did not know enough about the 1960s in Italy, to understand the cultural context of the creation of this house.  When I started reading Kubin, written in 1913 Austria, I decided that I had forgotten too much history and needed a refresher of the times, to understand why the book –and eventually, consequently all the books — was written in the time and place it was. What was it about these things, and this author, that made this book possible.

One can go back to the argument as to whether or not contextual knowledge of the creation of a text is something one wants, or if text alone is the thing. I have always been of the latter persuasion but since this entire project turns out to be about context and meaning and culture, here, I delve into it all. So let’s have that argument later, shall we?

I started reading backwards, the 60s Italy lead me backwards through this history of Italy, where I stopped, largely, at 1860. Of course, you can’t understand 1860 if you don’t understand everything that came before it, but it was my pause, for the moment.

With the Kubin, I went in both directions, forward into WWI and WWII, but again, also backwards. Again, to 1860. But 1860 wasn’t enough, as my friend Richard pointed out, what I had on my hands was an 1848 problem.

Today I picked up a book, a newish small edition on the Risorgimento, and the new ways of seeing that have come about with the historians in the past decade.

It starts out, in the first bit, explaining that one cannot understand 1860 without going back to 1789. Continually backward I go.

missing books

In considering the catalog for Biblioteca Adelphi, one of the things which struck me early on was authors who seemed missing. Initially, just those who seemed oddly not published.  Why no Beckett, I wondered, in the early days.  Why only one Kafka?

I collected authors who seemed of similar times and calibers, but weren’t on the list, to think about later. I also started to look in to those authors who had been published by the other big Italian houses, books already in translation, in circulation, wondering if this would keep Adelphi from publishing.

[n.b. I still haven’t yet still mean to look at the publishing history of all the non-Italian books, in Italy. Was Adelphi the first to publish the book in translation, the first to release it in Italy, in Italian? I am very curious about this, as it aligns to some thinknig I have been doing on the type of effects a publishing concern has on the culture, by the choices of books released. It also engages in a spatial imagination, was there a path of thought that Adelphi wanted to bring into Italy, and these books, in this order were the ones to carry along their readers? ]

Back, however, to where I was going. Missing books. I eventually realized that the books all have hope, the ones published, so hopeless books didn’t fit the pattern. (I am not done, so more data may change this assumption.) Beckett, pretty hopeless, right?

I am re-reading the 20th century chapters of A Universal History of the Destruction of Books by Fernando Baez which brings up the other side of missing. Which books were destroyed, never to have the opportunity to be published by Adelphi? So many books are from the early 20th century, mitteleuropa, that this must have created a notable loss. Right?

The other piece of this of course is the Vatican’s banned books list, which I would think had even more weight upon what could be produced in Italy. It was done away with in 1966. It is the question, I would think, not only of the books which were banned but of the authors who could not write.

Taking this further of course (and yes, I have pondered this), is all the books not written due to the deaths and wars and the like.  This becomes a different view in the 80s when AIDs starts to kill artists and writers in numbers, and there is the question of who thrived in the gaps, versus what was lost.

Thought exercises that don’t have bearing, really, because there is no data and it is all supposition.  But interesting to map gaps and loses, if only to regard the shapes.

i libri

I still have 16 books out of the library, and only nine days left on this hill. I need to have three essays done by Sunday evening. The odds don’t look good, for these books, my fellow travelers.

Except the coming conflagration has made the Academy suggest we all stay home tomorrow, as the police are warning that they expect violence. (My local friends tell me this means we do not have to worry, that one must worry when they tell you to expect it to be peaceful.) There are eight different protesting groups, which they have tried to cordone into separate areas, and an expectation of around 800 black bloc folks. Personally, such a warning makes me wish to dive into the city and see what it is like. When I live in France it was one manifestation after another and I grew accustomed to them, though at the time when I lived there, they were rarely violent. So I could stay in all day tomorrow and read. Or I could go see for myself.

Le manifestazione o i libri? La biblioteca o la città?

p.s. I also realise that I forgot to read some books, like the many volume History of Magic and Experimental Science. screen-shot-2017-03-24-at-17-33-42

studio marginalia

Today, for the first time, really, I miss my NYC studio, with all its books. Not just the books that comprise the Biblioteca Adelphi series, in all the languages I have collected them, but also all the tangential books.

Though I often find myself in front of the shelves which contain the series, just looking at them all, in order, most, now, in at least two languages.

You may recall, most books I try to read in the original, if I can, or English or French, if I cannot, depending on the translator. Then I have added in a lot of the Italian books, even those not originally in Italian. Those because, of course, the Biblioteca Adelphi books are gorgeous, and I like to have them around, not least for the cover image, and second, because I am slowly reading even the non-Italian ones in translation, out of curiousity for how they feel in Italian.

It’s been about four months since I have been in the studio regularly, and today, at least, I am itching to be there with all the books.

And the chalkboard. I am finding it hard to work without a massive wall to write on. I suppose this should be no surprise to me, considering I created them in both home and studio. But I wasn’t expecting it to feel quite so hard to keep track of things. I think, though, it is less that, and more that what goes on the wall is what I am pondering, so it gives me a visual stimulus and a spatial structure, to continue to noodle on whatever is going on in my mind.

I haven’t been reading the books here, in Rome. I have largely been writing, most of it not yet ready to share, but digging more into the things I find interesting or curious.

As I’ve moved away from the original path, slightly, I have a sense of wanting to go back and start again. We begin again, again. Even if that means just standing in front of my shelves and taking each book out, in turn, and looking at the notes tucked inside them.

Early on I made a decision to annotate the books. I started with note cards tucked into them, but eventually moved on to my blue pencils, writing directly in the books. They are comments, connections, questions, histories, references, and they like. They bind the books together and to the fabrics of time and culture.  The books I read more than once, I read different copies, so they each get annotated differently. Most annotations are in the language of the book, as my mind stays between the lines, though at times they stray, and when I look back at the straying notations, sometimes within a single sentence, I wonder how I can be fluent in any language, at this point. All my parts are broken, fragmented, into pieces of meaning, which I recombine into strange structures. I’d write you something in it, but it would just be a jumble.

Yesterday, I was walking (ok, maybe I was running), in the halls here, and I was taking to myself, and I realized that I was making sentences of multiple languages (in that case, Hebrew, Italian, and French) but I noticed that I slide agreement across them, depending on the language.

Neither here nor there, I ramble, but watching my language dissolve and reconfigure, seems, in fact, a significant part of what matters to me in this project. That is, how do we create and share meaning across languages, which initially was a view of translation, but apparently I am going to function, there, on a more literal plane.

read everything, learn everything?

I get fabulous emails about this project, recommending sources, locations, books, other comments. I love this. Yesterday, this arrived, and it is so spot-on, that somehow it must get included in something I am writing, but in the meantime, I wanted to put it here.  Andrea sent it because it “reminded him of my work” which honours me greatly. It is from Marguerite Yourcenar’s Notebooks and is about her writing of Memoirs of Hadrian.


the authors are in the asylum

One of the curious things, to me, is how many of the authors on the Biblioteca Adelphi list spent time in sanitoriums, asylums, and the like.  It seems to have been a bit more standard, in earlier centuries, that one would have a breakdown of sorts, and take a rest. Perhaps in the Swiss Alps, having long walks and tea, until ready to re-enter the world. Writing letters to other famous (or to become famous) folks, on what you are doing and what you think.

These days, commital seems to be a linear path to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Then, however, a pause, a break, a restructuring. It was more of a revolving door, and involved fewer drugs that dement the brain from its ability to think or dream. (I don’t include opium in that category, we can discuss this later, if we must.)

This morning my background listening is Warren Ellis and Kevin Slavin having a chat about Warren’s work. His latest book, Normal, is about the strategic planners who look at the end of the world, who forecast the demise, due to climate, politics, greed, or other forces, the abyss-gazers, who eventually end up medicated and in a camp in the forest, their heads too full of propriety knowledge to set free, but too broken to function.

This brought me back to this interesting pattern of breakdowns, and the meaning inherent in this. In fact, perhaps I should not call them breakdowns. That is a modern word for a cultural behavior that does not seem to have been quite so troublesome as it would today.

I wonder though, if in today’s world, a little sanitorium going might be good for us. Take a moment to walk the hills, and remember life.


english-italian-sanskrit part ii

This morning, with my coffee, I have been working with the many versions I have of the Zanzotto poem I am using as test case for the work I mentioned yesterday; the original Italian, the assorted translations I have pulled from the American Academy library, and the translation which started me off on this path, by Wayne Chambliss, also here, in the library. I thought you might want to know how I got here, so here is a story.

One day, when the chalk wall was blank, the Russian’s erased, inspiration waiting to suggest a new direction, a leaf of paper fluttered off my desk and on to the floor. It was Chambliss’ translation of The perfection of the snow, by Andrea Zanzotto. I decided to put it on my wall, so I could see it, in larger form.  Thinking it would be there for a day or two, I left it for weeks. I would return home in the evenings and stand in the room, repeating it out loud, over and over, back and forth with the words, their taste, their texture, how they fit.  I purposely did not go back to the original. I wanted only these words, their structure, their sounds. I wanted to space on my wall and their echo in my room, in my skull.

Andrea Zanzotto, The perfection of the snow, translation by Wayne Chambliss

I recorded the poem several times, listening, again, to the sound of the words. I’d repeat lines, move things around, ponder what the original words could be, still, not looking. Recreating, in my mind, possible structures of what the form of the thing was. Eventually, I realized, I had to go back to work. This was not my work. (Was this my work?)

I erased the poem and moved on to my next task, which was back to the Indologists and tracking the pathways of Sanskrit and Vedic concepts into the European literature of the 19th and 20th centuries (mostly). But the poem stuck, and while I worked through Vedas and Puranas, the poem which I had recited so many times, continued to recite itself in my head, and I found myself pondering the concepts of the words; which English word, which Sanskrit, how did they mesh, how would the shapes of the concepts fit or not fit?  Finally, I needed the Italian, as the middle step, the bridge, but not a bridge. Another universe, another way.  La perfezione della neve.

And here I had three languages, circling each other, differing in distances and meaning. Some words closer than others, some farther. Some barely related, even. And my mind started to create a three dimensional model, a collection of words, pulled out of words, forward to English, backwards to Sanskrit, notes appeared, on choices, and then, of course, it needed to be pulled, to be grasped on the edges and elongated over time. As this image continued to build in my mind, with greater detail, and structure, I started wanting to share it, to create it in a form that made sense, that explored my curiousity and awe. And so, on to paint. And the only way I can find to paint history, is oils, and so, I begin, I try. So far, I fail, but, if, but when, but.


english-italian-sanskrit part i

One of the many things I am working on, spawned from this project, is to map the movement of some language, across language, across time, and across meanings.

What I am trying to do is show, visually, an image of Italian poetry spanned between English and Sanskrit.  Why? I don’t know, it actually turns out to be beautiful, and I’ve been trying to make it work in oils, because there is something about the depth of colour that translates well to the depth of time, across these languages.

So the top level is the English, and to differening levels of depth there are words in Italian and Sanskrit. There are places where the meanings change or do not align, or where the earlier concepts would change the current sentiments, and so they blossom out from words, some obscured, some not.

I haven’t finished even one yet, not just the tracking of the words and concepts, but hell, oils are hard, and new to me. But it feels like the only medium to use — I am using them on wood — because of the way I can build depth. We shall see. I may need help! (And right now they are only in my studio in NYC, I brought nothing like that with me to Rome.) So here, for now, I keep working with the concepts, but not the outputs, except the drawings I have been doing.

I am working with a friend’s translation of Italian poetry into English, as with my knowledge of Latin and Sanskrit, to move these things around in a way that swirls greater meaning into the breathe of each word.

I’ll post images when I get back to NYC. Just thinking of this now, as I am working with some older Tantric texts here in Rome, that were hard to get my hands on in NYC, short of coughing up gazillions of dollars.