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arcades photo one

arcades photo two

Thrilled to receive my copy of Arcade Materials: Blue, in which you will find my piece “U is for Head: an Alphabet Adventure!” (here printed as “U is for Head: an Alphabetic Collection”). This volume is the third of a trio of monographs on Walter Benjamin’s arcades project. My piece engages with convolute H. I consider the magic-alphabet quality of the practice of art collecting—as usual I am concerned with the perfect individuality and unintelligibility of each figure in such an alphabet. Purchase this volume or all three here.

Mi Casa

mi casa

Last night I dreamt that my lover died. I was amazed by the news. At first I didn’t weep. I wept when I had the thought that he could no longer speak his own name.

What a relief to wake up. In real life I head home in the late afternoon. I am turning toward Ventura from a side street. It is very hot and the light is papaya-colored. Above and beyond Ventura there are slanted hills, real laundry-piles of hills, green and white. Houses on the hills’ angles, facing various directions like kids on round sleds, rotating as they descend by the weird laws of snow, which is not solid or liquid (snow is a little like sweating skin). The houses are white like soft animals’ bellies, and fish-pink, and fish-orange, in the light and because they are as usual stucco.

On Ventura beneath them there is a long white sign above a storefront. The shop sells lamps. Cursive lettering, “Mi Casa”, and at either end a little faded posey of roses. Lamps are not on yet. Stalks of palms.

 

Color

jean shrimpton

Image: Jean Shrimpton by Irving Penn for Vogue, 1966

The designations of experience were ad hoc and we have done ourselves a disservice by allowing them to become customary law. We had at some point to say, for the sake of efficiency, “this experience has mostly to do with the nose and so we will call it smelling”, and “our means of deliberately conveying messages is most often word, and so we will place language in the domain of word and call word’s duty the conveying of messages”—Adam hit the ground running and you can’t blame him for these choices. Presumably he thought he’d have time to refine them later.

The fact is that our designations are inaccurate and their limits criss-cross and dent the real forms of things. Possibly no designation can exist—possibly the lines are only misplaced. At any rate, we are badly dividing a big alive thing when we talk about touch or sight—or sensation, or color—or language, or word. The act of involving information with concept is language; and of involving information with the body; and familiarity is language.

I grew up around Hair. My mother was important in that world. The rolling sound of scissors through hair, like a marble over pleated iron; the smell of dye mixing; the artists with their fingers stained blue to the bed, like they’ve been digging graves bare-handed. The conditions of childhood shape the brain: these facts are elements of my internal grammar.

A chart of the woman’s head, sections labeled. Runway music so loud that it is more impact than what is called sound. Proofs of a model straight-on, 3-quarter, profile; the same woman in three shapes. Hair which is not meant to be worn—it is expressive of strategy and skill and sometimes a gigantic speech of trend (satire or education or omen or force). Red dust on my pillowcase and red in the drain: the color of my hair, not-on-my-head.

I was an adult when I realized that by “synesthesia” is meant my ordinary experience of understanding things which are not, materially speaking, things which can have color as having color or being colorful, and things which are not understood to take form as having dimension. In fiction, synesthesia is psychedelic: I cannot overstate the homeliness of synesthesia in actual experience. It certainly isn’t a hallucination; nor would I call it an artistic trait, at least not in the customary sense of artistry. Letters have colors and numbers have colors and the year and history and my lifetime exist in space and are faintly hued. The fact that the year is orange is not an act of naming on my part any more than it’s an experience from an altered state. There isn’t a relationship between orange and the year which could be called literary (relationship of character, expressive of meaning) or logical (likelihood of sameness, naturally related). In fact I don’t say it is a relationship at all, but rather that the year has qualities, and one of these qualities is Orange.

Synesthesia is an expanded understanding of designation. I think it is true that there are plastic differences between my experience of the world and others’. I think this thing which is called synesthesia is the reason my memory is spatial and sensual. Maybe it is why I am prone to absorption. Maybe it contributes to my religious sense.

Hair artists and talk about “the chair” as a means to describe the career and the practice of the career and to orient the subject and the actor. I hear about the chair more than I hear about the head or body. Hair work is on the body and for the body—this contributes to the mockery of hair artists and “beauticians” and barbers. Popularly, the body is where we have come from and out-of-the-body is where we are going, to a space of completely delineated ideas which no longer have anything to do with growth or loss or my shape or yours. People who work with the body are back there, like our mothers’ wombs—you’ll notice that it’s only with the technologicalization of doctoring that doctors have become admirable. Back in the day, the doctor and the midwife and the beautician and the whore and the cook were all in the same gutter together, tending the thing we aim to leave.

And what if there is no leaving the body? What if the experience of memory and sensation has to do with the encounter we will make with time? What if there is a big land I already stand on, which includes my hair and the color of the alphabet, and my womb, and my hopes?

Sun

limbourg page

Image: a page from The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry, ed. Timothy B. Husbands. The images I discuss here come from fols. 211 and 212.

Squinting bares my teeth. My head is tracking the clouds: I am on the balcony in the afternoon in May and where it is clear the sky is blue as rubber. Clouds cover the sun and so I am cold.

I don’t understand the Limbourg Brothers. The colors of Belles Heures seem distinct to the point of isolation—like a wide blue sky on plains of snow, and people in red jackets and blue hats on the snow in the sun, regarded from below or watched from high above. The bewildering experience of “this shape is only these elements which are seen and easily handled, and that’s all entirely.” You think some evasive shape must be inside the shape of the color, but the shape of the color is excessively limited. A world in which the shelves at an office store comprise all sensibility.

In fact a dominant strategy of the Limbourgs is to grade colors from a pure hue into a black of hatch-marks, and a darker shade beneath. Christ, bare as a shaved bough, stands in a little rush-lipped pit symbolizing a lake. John drops blue strings of water over him: the water stripes Christ’s head and face and clavicle and lifting hands, then crowds his crossed forearms and falls in paint-straight lines toward his long thighs and active knees.

The sky is a rope of gold and red and blue, and in reproduction the gold looks black—gold in reproduction always looks black. At the summit of the scene, a half-circle of God’s-sky, and God too, collared by red seraphim, really the orange of sun-dried tomatoes but red in effect—seraphim, lucky square knots who circle against the sky like planets on a Swiss clock. Blue sky brushed with clouds, and fine blades of light from God, down to the baptized man.

John in his furry coat, curved at the knee in motion rather than grace, robin-blue bucket in his right hand. An angel with wings colored like thick German bread has Christ’s robe ready: blue as chalky pills, draped from the angel’s two hands in the shaded half-moons that frocks with triangular hems fall in. The open neck of the robe shows cool inside.

John flops on his breast out of the wall of the palace in the next image, neck spraying blood onto the blade of the sword. The blood goes with more pressure than water, and drives angular toward the foot of the pillar. The head is on the ground, hair rolling. On this page—if the head were on the body and the body were standing, this John would look with some symmetry into the face of John baptizing.

The last of the cloud network has passed over, and the sky is open and the sun is hot as summer. Sun like a hot shower.

Jazz

jazz photo

In the jazz club I am talking to the saxophonist. He is a friend of my friend the Irishman. We are talking about Richard Ford.

The jazz club is small and mostly purple. The saxophonist is dressed like a man who has been kicked to death. He is a genius. He played using a reverb pedal; the sound was like an animated architectural pitch: the overpass slides over the fresh highway; the onramp includes itself. The musicians do not care for me but the Irishman is well-liked and so they are polite.

There is a bar somewhere beyond my shoulder out of which I have been drinking gin and tonic. I become aware that we are being listened-to by the last point of the bar, furthest in the corner. The saxophonist is famous amongst jazz people and so I assume that he is the object of interest: but when the shape moves in, it is my arm it touches.

“I want to get to know you,” the shape says. It like being talked to by the bureau from Beauty and the Beast. “You seem interesting.”

He is wearing a leather hat. He is extraordinarily drunk. It comes on him that he should feign interest in my friends. “What’s your name?” he says to the saxophonist, who takes a step backward. The giant man goes around the circle and demands to know each man’s name. Then he takes my hand (my hand is a pebble down a well). The giant man looks like actor X. “I’d like to get to know you,” he says, moved.

Quickly he wants to know if the Irishman is married to me. “We’re mutual acquaintances,” says my enemy the Irishman.

The giant has a friend who wants to leave. The giant moves with his friend like an executive toy in zero g. Paused at the door, light is on the pronounced T of the friend’s cheeks and nose; he is smiling tight as a kroisos. He is unmistakably actor Y, which means that the huge drunk man is actor X.

Actor X tidals back to us. “Are you English?” he realizes at me, but I am not. “Are you English?” he asks the Irishman, who says “Not quite.”

After this I am a hit on the LA jazz scene. All the unkempt men with their big black cases want to hear my story. The jazz club is in Japantown, in a storied courtyard, up the little layers in an elevator. The shops are shut. Pink toys, slim notebooks and whitening masks in the windows, clean and deep in plastic as a drugstore.