Saturday, November 3, 2012

commingling promiscuously with routine

"We adore chaos because we love to produce order." by M.C. Escher, quoted in The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges' Library of Babel

Take any five words, says Stanley Fish.  How many sentences can you make from them?  This is a game.


That was the first word, or rather it was two words:  tal vez.  But for English it counts as one. Maybe. (If you prefer the alternative translation.)
  1. tal vez
  2. pozos
  3. barandas
  4. cualquier
  5. caras 
These are the first five words, not randomly chosen, but the first five I can't immediately translate during my first day's reading of La biblioteca de Babel.  
  1. perhaps (maybe)
  2. wells
  3. railings
  4. any
  5. faces
And what's strange is that it's only now I realize how strangely fitting to have culled my first five words for this experiment on Fish's words from Borges' "Library of Babel."  More exactly, from Borges' "La biblioteca de Babel," because I'm un-fluently reading it en espaƱol, a story that begins with an English epigraph from the 17th century Art of Melancholia by Robert Burton:  
By this art you may contemplate the variation of the 23 letters . . . 
I contemplate the variations of 5 words only, because the variations of even a reduced alphabet (23 letters are all those Latin hombres had) are unimaginably numerous, as Burton continues to explain " . . . which may be so infinitely varied, that the words complicated and deduced thence will not be contained within the compass of the firmament; ten words may be varied 40,320 several ways"

So what can be made of my first five words?
  1. Perhaps any other faces, swollen with the railings of rage, in which the mournful eye wells up too readily with tears, would be at most bathetic. 
  2. At any time, their faces would appear, perhaps too startlingly, above the railings around the poisoned wells.   
  3. Perhaps wells without any railings are nothing compared to what she already faces.
This is an exercise in chasing revelation by way of routine.  Part of the 1000 words a day.  Word games.  Comminglings.  Transcendence, if we are lucky.  

"We who look at religion from the outside think of transcendence as something that occurs at special moments in bursts of illumination but people raised in homes where ritual occurs over breakfast and at dinner and in school and throughout weekends know that revelation commingles promiscuously with routine"  from The Sabbath World by Judith Shulevitz.

I have lived this past month with Judith Shulevitz' The Sabbath World.  A playful work of erudition and autobiography and economic history.  Witty and spirited, ambivalently spiritual and ambidextrously wise.  Like some delightful house guest whose gracious appreciation for what you had thought mundane and merely required reveals the extraordinary in all the daily routine.  I'm not ready to say good-bye to her good company.

Though it may get crowded soon, now that we have Donne declaiming in the shower in the mornings: "No man is an island"  and Borges feverishly pulling books out of the bookshelves: "I know districts in which the young people prostrate themselves before books and like savages kiss their pages, though they cannot read a letter . . . "

"La luz que emiten es insuficiente, incesante."  La biblioteca de Babel by Jorge Luis Borges                                        "The light which they emit is insufficient and unceasing."      

And already on the second day, my 1000 words had to be recorded by voice into my phone as I drove two hours from the Ft. Clatsop coast where I spent the day teaching hides & furs at Lewis & Clark's winter camp to a peppy, crowded women's convention in Portland with dancing in the aisles.  The five random words that day came from the road:

  1. material
  2. surveyor
  3. fuller
  4. yield
  5. stop
 Which can be made to say
  1. To yield a fuller material report, the surveyor must stop and take time actually to see.
  2. Material want led the surveyor to yield up a fuller account of field output in order to stop corruption.
Which sounds like so much legalese that I think it can get me nowhere.  Too much chaos, too heavy-handed the order.

Today, W.S. Merwin's Selected Poems gives me
  1. over
  2. same
  3. yet
  4. behind
  5. thistles
Simple words unlocking bigger doors.
  1.  Summer is over and yet the mountains are the same behind the thistle.
  2. The thistle behind the fence is the same, yet not the same, as the other over the road.
  3.  Perhaps thistles, each a stubborn surveyor of material reality, are glad they must stop where they stand,must stand the same as always behind the reflector-flecked railings of the road, over hidden wells of water, standing there to yield up their airy fluff of seed across the fuller field as they witness winter's unrolling, facing yet without any faces.
Or something like that.

3937 words down |  46063 words to go


Anonymous said...

Got me thinking and researching:

A fuller was someone who cleaned and thickened (to make it "full") freshly woven ( usually woolen) cloth. The process required cleaning, bleaching, wetting, and beating the fibers to a consistent and desirable condition. Fuller's earth was a variety of clay that was used to scour and cleanse the cloth. Fuller's soap was an alkali made from plant ashes which was also used to clean and full new cloth. Since fullers required plenty of running water, a fuller's field was a place where all three were available for the fullers to conduct their profession.

Old Testament passages mention the “Fuller’s Field” as a well-known spot outside the city walls of Jerusalem. 2 Kings 18 reports that King Hezekiah’s messengers met a delegation from the king of Assyria “by the conduit of the upper pool, which is on the highway to the Fuller’s Field” (v. 17). This meeting was to secure peace, but it also provided occasion for Hezekiah to proclaim his trust in the Lord’s provision of security in the face of the Assyrian threat (see 2 Kings 19:14-37). It was a place of meeting and (from the prophet’s perspective) encouragement in the Lord. One might go to the fuller’s field (or be called to the fuller’s field) to undergo purification, to pursue holiness—to encounter the Righteous God.

At the transfiguration, Jesus' clothing appeared brighter "as no fuller on earth could bleach them." (Mark 9:3)

Material, surveyor, fuller, yield, stop? My sentence is:

Sabbath Prayer

Oh, Divine Surveyor,
As you view your fuller's field,
Never stop your labor,
Though painful,
To purify my poor material
And yield a peaceful meeting with Thee.

Thank you,

Emma J said...

Thank you, Mom. I like it!

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