Friday, June 29, 2012

Jaime de Angulo, from the Taos Papers, ed. Gui de Angulo

Monday Morning [1924].

Anyway, here it is, all over this region of Arizona and New Mexico, a highly developed sense of art, and it is expressed in everything; in the designs of blankets, in ceremonies, in dress, there is color, there is form, there is pattern. All of the psychological stuff, I mean that mess of material that comes from all the outer world and is there cooking, par-boiling, simmering the bottom of their souls, all that stuff here seems to get projected once more into the outer world, in the shape of pattern, of form, of design, in everything, in dancing and in ritual, in weaving, in pottery. —It seems almost as if these people could not stand the existence in their souls of the psychological reflection of the outer biological world . . . something too strong, too powerful, would make you vomit, have to conjure it, to exorcise it, get it out, “fix” it in pattern, in outer form, —there it still lives, it’s not dead, it lives for anyone who can understand the heart, not with the eyes, the pattern on the blanket, or in the ritual, it lives for him, but it is not dangerous any longer.

That’s how they impress me, and I think this is true not only of the Pueblos, of the true Pueblos, but also of the Hopi (who live in pueblos also, and have all the culture of the Pueblo, but are Shoshonean by language) and also of the roaming Navajo and Apache who are Athapascan by language.

Now most of this country is the picturesque Grand Canyon type of landscape, chuck full of colour and form, where erosion has produced grotesque monstrous shapes everywhere, where instead of the multitudinous variety of trees, shrubs and hillocks, valleys with woods and streams and boulders—indeed of that nature broken into an infinity of small pieces, there are immense spaces, desert, no trees, no shrubs even, but the result of erosion in stratified rocks, in violent colours, definite lines, many parallels, many perpendiculars, other angles also, but always well defined, a merciless sunlight and sharp shadows from the luminous to utter black. Our artists try to paint it, they can’t, they are too subtle, they know their art too well, they see too many colors, too many shades—worse, they try to imitate the Indians but they don’t understand fear, they are afraid of material dangers, of snarling dogs, of a rushing train, of the flu, of their boss or their wife, but they are not afraid of the spirit that walks silently in the shimmer of the sunlight, and so they can’t paint the desert. You can’t paint the desert or even talk about it, you can only put it in a blanket design, and the Navajo know the desert better than the rest and their designs are fierce and uncompromising—that’s why Lawrence (and Mabel too) don’t like Navajo rugs. Lawrence is jealous of everything that is wild and untamed and strong. He thinks he has a copyright on it. Mabel both because she is under his influence and because she has identified herself with these Taos Indians, who are the least wild, the most bourgeois of all.

Well, to come back to my sheep, I mean: Is it perhaps that this kind of geography (high plateau, dry, sand, light, etc. etc.) is responsible for the external form, I mean rather for the aspect of the form into which these people had to exorcise, to fixate, to crystallize and externalize their inner feelings? I don’t think much of the sort of explanation that is always trying to reduce psychology to a question of climate and economics. But that factor must also be remembered.

And now I think of the California Indians. (I speak of the Achumawi especially). Have they externalized their inner feelings? They have no pottery, no blankets, no houses, nothing to put pattern into, not even dances or ceremonials. They go around naked (I paint them as they were before ’49); all they have is a piece of flint for a knife and a bow and arrows. They do not till the soil. They just collect what the soil grows: roots, bulbs, acorns, pine-nuts—and whatever is an animal, from worms to bears—they eat anything, and almost raw. Why, they are hardly differentiated from the trees and the brushes and the deer and the antelope and the rain and the snow and everything that is Nature. Where is the line of demarcation between a juniper tree and an Achumawi Indian? What’s the difference? Not much. But there is a hell of a lot of difference between a Taos Indian and the corn he has planted and raised! He already controls nature (or tries to control it)—he is no longer nature itself, like the Achumawi Indian. The Achumawi (especially he who is more or less of a “doctor,” who has “power”) is in constant relation with the living part, the “spirit” part of every tree, every rock, every cloud, every shrub, every toad, and every deer who lives around. I doubt very much whether they have any image inside of them, in their souls, I mean. So he is afraid of them and of their possible malignancy (just as he is afraid of every other Achumawi Indian, or any Indian), he is afraid of them, and tries to keep them well disposed and on good terms of intercourse, he even feels them as rather weird and dangerous and too powerful (like electricity with us); but he is not so damn scared, blue scared of them and their inside image (maybe just because he has no inside image) that he must needs exorcise them out into objective reality. The Pueblo Indian takes everything that is aweful, terrible, powerful in nature, Sun, Moon, Earth, pollen and flower, and he corrals it into a ceremony, or a pattern, now he doesn’t have to deal with it anymore at every moment of his life, like the Achumawi, now he can become a gentleman, safe and sane.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"Incantation XXXII: A Worm in the Tooth, a Flaming Worm" Ritual of the Bacabs: A Book of Mayan Incantations, trans. Edgar Garcia

         rash noxious come claim now thy game
         harsh to become chained to cheating so become
                           quick to speak
                           scarlet speak sable speak kernel speak
say it man how brazen thy purport to puncture corely the splash fabacea
                                                      the chimpy shrub
                                                      the coffee firebush
                                                      the blackshelled conch and
                                                      the calyx sky-knurl
                                                      bedstraw of flint quartz
to take then the second to come back to split with lip-axe spit analysis
                                             the symbol for beaks
                                    for instruments of copper
                                    speech are brackish roselle
                                    and the roselle tinged rose-peach

and each to each now bail back to no climax
                                    caterpillars masticating man
                                                               his mom
                                                               and his dad
                  drizzled from the stamen
                  to a chunk of bark illumed
just like that stretch of earth had been painted by a brush
dipped in the night sky’s reddest looming
                           constellation painted
                                             bark of our mangrove
                                             red gumbo limbo
                                             dogwood and
                           that painted also
                                             the sunburnt strips of the gumbo limbo and
                                             the blazing mohawk of the chestnut woodpecker
                                                                        caught like a symbol
                                                                        striking at the bark
                                                               where my head-feathers redden

Waiting I perch in wait to take the fire
                                             crystalline to my patient
                                                               who too coaxes
                                    with a figure constructed
         by my speech of scarlet speak sable speak and kernel speak
                                    but which wood is of this the patient’s?
                                             bark of clear speech of
                                             scarlet gumbo limbo
                                             sable gumbo limbo
                                             kernel of the gumbo limbo

                                    and of birds which to this patient belong?
                                             woodpecker of clear ontic of
                                             scarlet collision
                                             sable collision
                                             kernel of colliding bird-heads against the bark
                                    libations set upon the furnace
                                             clear liquid
                                             my stone scarlet
                                             my stone sable
                                             my kernel-stone furnace
                                                      into which I throw your eye

                                                      the steam becomes my speech
                                             quick to speak
                                             scarlet speak sable speak kernel speak

                                    in flint-quartz cast be you
                                             scarlet flint sable flint kernel flint
                                    be you cast into a clear conch
                                             scarlet conch sable conch kernel conch

                                    be thus lichen upon the firm heartwood
                                             of the dogwood its
                                             scarlet heartwood
                                             sable heartwood
                                             kernel heartwood

                                    be thus upon the furnace
                                             clear liquid
                                             my stone scarlet
                                             my stone sable
                                             my kernel-stone furnace
                                    be thus my acacia needle-bush
                                    lift thus frantic this fire
into which I throw your eye and feed lunatic speech in-
         to your tooth tooth tooth

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Augusto de Campos, "Concrete Poetry: A Manifesto," trans. John Tolman

——concrete poetry begins by assuming a total responsibility before language: accepting the premise of the historical idiom as the indispensible nucleus of communication, it refuses to absorb words as mere indifferent vehicles, without life, without personality, without history——taboo-tombs in which convention insists on burying the idea.

——the concrete poet does not turn away from words, he does not glance at them obliquely: he goes directly to their center, in order to live and vivify their facticity.

——the concrete poet sees the word in itself——a magnetic field of possibilities——like a dynamic object, a live cell, a complete organism, with psycho-physico-chemical properties, touch antennae circulation heart: live.

——far from attempting to evade reality or to deceive it, concrete poetry is against self-debilitating introspection and simpleton simplistic realism. It intends to place itself before things, open, in a position of absolute realism.

——the old formal syllogistic-discursive foundation, strongly shaken at the beginning of the century, has served again as a prop for the ruins of a compromised poetic, an anachronistic hybrid with an atomic heart and a medieval cuirass.

——against perspectival syntactic organization where words sit like “corpses at a banquet,” concrete poetry offers a new sense of structure, capable of capturing without loss or regression the contemporaneous essence of poeticizable experience.

——mallarmé (un coup de dés——1897), joyce (finnegans wake), pound (cantos, ideogram), cummings, and on a secondary plane, Apollinaire (calligrammes) and the experimental attempts of the futurists-dadaists are at the root of the new poetic procedure which tends to impose itself on a conventional organization whose formal unity is verse (even free-).

——the concrete poem or ideogram becomes a relational field of functions.

——the poetic nucleus is no longer placed in evidence by the successive and linear chaining of verses but by a system of relationships and equilibriums between all parts of the poem.

——graphic-phonetic functions-relations (“factors of proximity and likeness”) and the substantive use of space as an element of composition maintain a simultaneous dialectic of eye and voice, which, allied with the ideogrammatic synthesis of meaning, creates a sentient “verbivocovisual” totality. In this way words and experience are juxtaposed in a tight phenomenological unit impossible before.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

“The Lacondón Song of the Jaguar,” dictated by Mateo García to Phillip and Mary Baer, trans. Edgar Garcia

my backpaws I lift and let fall
my forepaws I lift and bring down that
which always stirs my tail
to hear from far off your voice coming this way
almost stupefying
I look for and find myself a fallen tree
to stoop over into sleep
its strips merge into my hide
its strips merge into my forepaws
its strips merge into my ears

Monday, June 4, 2012

Simon Ortiz, "Out of the Canyon near Two Turkey Ruin"

We walked up towards the sky.
From some millionth year to the present.
Cold rock under our feet
and all around us.
You breathe the same wind which is kin to sky.

Croak. Off the stone cliffs.
Crow. Black rag.
"Do you think I'm pretty?" asked Crow.
"You think too much," said Coyote.

Look back
down into the canyon, horses, winter cottonwoods,
silver stream, across the canyon, shadows,
red cliffs and white snow.

Crow slips past the edge of the canyon,
all the way into the sky.
"I wish I wasn't so scorned," said Coyote.
"You wish too much," said Crow.

Talk about life
all the sun and blue sky time
and smile.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Walter Mignolo, "Signs and their Transmission: The Question of the Book in the New World"

This long detour through the house of words leads me to believe that a more accurate translation of amoxtli would be biblos, papyrus, liber, or boc, rather than “book” or “libro,” as shown through a closer look at some of the Aztec words related to amoxtli:

Amoxcluiloa, whose roots are amoxtli and icuiloa, “to paint,” “to inscribe something;”
Amoxcalli, whose roots are amoxtli and calli, “house,” “room;”
Amoxitoa/amoxpoa, both of which have as their roots amoxtli; itoa means means “to say” or “to narrate something by heart;” and poa means “to tell,” to “summarize a process,” “to count.”

The translation of amoxitoa/amoxpoa, offered by Simeon as “lire un livre” (to read a book), is quite misleading if it is understood either in the sense of “to go over a written page with the eyes” or “to pronounce out loud what is written,” for the romance words “lire” or “leer” (to read) come from the Latin legere meaning “to collect” (lectio, a gathering, a collecting). The sense of “collecting is absent from the Nahuatl word designating the “same” activity, and the emphasis on “telling or narrating what has been inscribed or painted on a solid surface made out of amoxtli.” The difference is not trivial. It gives us a better understanding of the idea of the sign carriers in societies with alternative literacies.[1]

Now it is possible to attempt a definition of “book” which, contrary to that of “sign,” will be culture-specific: (a) a solid surface is a book as an object to the degree to which it is the sign carrier for some kind of graphic semiotic interaction; (b) a book as an object is also a book as a text to the degree to which it belongs to a specific stage in the development of writing (“pure writing,” according to Diringer’s classification) and the members of a given culture represent the system of graphic semiotic interaction in such a way that it attributes to the sign carrier (the book as an object) high and decisive functions (theological and epistemological) in their own organization.

According to this definition, the book as text implies “pure” writing, although “pure writing” does not necessarily imply the idea of the book. The necessary connections are founded in the presuppositions underlying cultural expression. A rereading of the seminal chapter by Curtius on “The Book as Symbol” (in his European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages), will show that he devotes a great deal of time to metaphors about writing; and he seems to assume that they are plain and simple synonyms of metaphors for the book.

Be that as it may, some example needs to be drawn from Curtius in order to back up our definition of the book as text. In 1948 Curtius called attention to the amount and the significance of the images that different cultures had constructed to represent their ideas about writing and the book. He began his survey with the Greeks, noting that they did not have any “idea of the sacredness of the book, as there is no privileged priestly caste of scribes.” What is more, one can even find a disparagement of writing in Plato. There is the familiar last part of Plato’s Phaedrus in which Socrates attempts to convince Phaedrus that writing is not an aid to memory and learning but, to the contrary, can only “awaken reminiscences” without replacing the true discourse lying in the psyche of the wise man, which must be transmitted through oral interactions. It should be emphasized that Socrates is mainly concerned with “writing” in its relationship to knowledge and transmission, but not with the “book.” If one thinks of the rich vocabulary associated with graphic semiotic interactions inherited from the Greeks and also remembers that the idea of the sacred book was alien to them, for they were more concerned with “writing” that with the “book,” it should again be concluded that to translate “biblos” as “book” implies imposing our meaning of what a book is upon theirs, rather than fully understanding their meaning of “biblos.” This observation, amounting to the general problem of “fusion of horizon” or “fusion of cultural expressions,” is also valid in the case where amoxtli is translated as “book.”

Contrary to the corrupted nature of writing in which Plato represented graphic semiotic interactions, nothing is found but the utmost praise (and with God as the archetypal writer) in Christianity. In this form of representation, the tongue becomes synonymous with the hand[2] and the Universe with the Book. While Socrates anchors knowledge in the psyche and conveys it through the oral transmission of signs, Christianity secures knowledge in the Book and conveys it through the graphic transmission of signs. One could surmise that “the idea of the book” may have entered into the system of representation of graphic semiotic interaction at the point when “writing” gained its autonomy from orality and the “book” replaced the “person” as a receptacle and a source of knowledge. It is quite comprehensible that when the word was detached from its oral source (the body), it became attached to the invisible body and to the silent voice of God, which cannot be heard but can be read in the Holy Book. However, the theological view of writing developed by Christianity and the epistemological view of knowledge provided by Socrates/Plato (where God is not only the archetype of the writer but also the archetype of wisdom) joined in the Middle Ages (Le Goff 1957: 90-97; Glennison 1988: 115-163) and continued into the Renaissance. Nature is the book that God wrote, and to know nature is the best way to know God. Curtius quotes a telling passage from Fray Luis de Granada’s Símbolo de la fé, in which Granada uses the expression “to think philosophically in this great book of earthly creatures” to mean that because God put us in front of the “marvelous book of the entire universe” we must read the creatures as live letters and thus, through them, come to know the excellence of their Creator.

Christianity is not, of course, the only religion having a holy book or scriptures (take, e.g., the Koran, or the Torah). But it shares with these others the disequilibrium of power between the religions that possess the Book and those that do not. What is at stake here is the role played by “the book as a text” during the process of colonization carried on by literate societies. As a matter of fact, the role of the book in our understanding of the colonial period in the New World may not have been entirely exploited. One could, perhaps, profit by taking an example from J. Goody as an analogy. To practice the Asante religion, observes Goody, you have to be Asante. Due to the lack of written narrative that traces the border between the internal and the external space, between what is prescribed and permitted and what is proscribed and forbidden, the “idea” attached to the Asante religion varies considerably over time. Religions founded on alphabetic writing and the corresponding idea of the book are, concludes Goody, “generally religions of conversion, not simply religions of birth. You can spread them, like jam. And you can persuade or force people to give up one set of beliefs and practices and take up another set” (Goody 1986: 5). What is important here is not the “content” of the Book but rather the very existence of the object in which a set of regulations and metaphors were inscribed, giving to it the special status of Truth and Wisdom… Speaking, writing, and sign carriers, as well as their conceptualization, constitute one set of relations or network in which colonization took place. Thus, the spread of Western literacy linked to the idea of the book was also linked to the appropriation and defense of cultural territories, of a physical space loaded with meaning. The Western book became a symbol of the letter, in such a way that writing was mainly conceived in terms of the sign carriers: paper and the book, and the practices associated with reading and writing more and more came to be conceived in terms of the sign carrier; reading the word became increasingly detached from “reading the world,” as the tlamatinime would have preferred to say... Printed books facilitated the dissemination and reproduction of knowledge and replaced, in the New World, the practice of the tlacuilo and the function of the amoxli, thus contributing to the colonization of languages.

[1] I cannot resist the temptation to recall that, according to Curtius ([1948] 1973: 313), exarare (to plough up) could also mean “to write,” which, on the one hand, explains the comparisons between “book” and “field” and, on the other, the fact that legere is used in noncultivated Latin in the sense of “gathering and collecting.”
[2]Lingua mea calamus scribae velociter scribentis” (My tongue is the pen of a ready writer) (Curtius [1948], 1973 p. 311).