Wednesday, July 23, 2008

LETTER TO JIM WAID (re: evolution)



I woke up this morning dreaming about one of your paintings and one of Philip Guston’s paintings standing side by side and coming out of that same Abstract Expressionist search for the purity of, as Clement Grenberg put it, “the fuliginous flatness of the picture plane.” Remember how SERIOUS all that stuff was back then? Philip's and your work are so different in form and yet seemed in the dream at least to share an emotional equivalency. And I was thinking about how you said you come back from a trip and, working on a painting, the colors & lines & forms from the trip start coming out on the canvas, not by conscious intent…but as if the body imitated all the landscape it saw, heard, smelled and otherwise sensed. Art by most definitions is to some extent imitation of life. Whether or not the imitation occurs before or after conscious intent, is probably moot (and mute), but of course the landscape images could all come from the more intellectual selection & improvisational REvision process after the first paints have been laid down & dried.

And it could also be viewer imitation/imagination. For instance, there’s how your mother used to look at some of your purely abstract paintings and say,

“Well, there’s a squirrel going into a hole in a tree, and that little bird over there, and a rabbit in that bush. Honest to God, Jim, I don’t know how you do it!”

But the way your seemingly random, abstract expressionist motions somehow end up looking so exactly like realist landscapes just happens to correspond with a long held theory of mine, that people, beneath their minds, imitate the landscape around them. That’s my explanation for variations in speech, song, dance, craft, art, building methods and culture in general. If it sounds romantic & mystical, as Chas Olson said, “I plead so.” It’s the subject of a book, vilified for similar origins, called “The Song Lines”. The theme of said book is the song lines of an aboriginal clan in Australia are an exact topographical map of the territory of the clan to which it belongs. You can say some of that is romanticism, but I don’t see how none of it can be true, because it’s such a human thing. For instance there’s a woman who rides the busses in Manhattan and sings the landscape before her. You move one mountain over in Appalachia and dialect and song and dance and culture itself are changed.

I believe our mirror neurons, (most life forms have them) which decide what we will buy from a salesman, or potential friends and lovers, are also operative in our relationship to the land. I think we’re each and all of us, artists, (which would explain a LOT of human incompetence), involved in an endless dance with our particular landscape. What makes our art “good”, a moment to remember, some HOW resonates with the rest of the world, the rest of ourselves.

Which, of necessity, is a long story, so bear with me, I’m doing the best I can to shorten it.. I think unconscious imitation goes even deeper, to the process of evolution, itself, which, to me, has always had something missing….not a link so much as a WHY. Why change in the first place? But aren’t we always picking up and moving on? But as they say in the theatre, what’s my motivation? I happen to think nature’s primary motivational force for change is imitation. All of it? Yeah, it sounds crazy, but just follow along with me (IMITATE my thought), “Walk this way.” for awhile:

It took just five generations for the finches in the Gallapagos to grow their beaks an inch in correspondence with a change in the depth of a flower. I don’t understand how this could happen by random selection. Random selection LITERALLY would have beaks growing out of the back or rear end, kind of like a cancer found in a patient that grew a tooth and some hair. Now THAT’S random, but even as natural selection, how’s it supposed to work seemingly so purposefully in concert with the size of a certain flower? Why would the beaks get longer instead of shorter? Why wouldn’t they grow sideways? What is that growth responding to/with/in just five generations? How, on the other side of the equation, would a PLANT evolve to turn the base of its leaf into a stomach, the ends of the leaf into teeth in an ersatz mouth that could close, with a millisecond response triggered by the lightest touch of an insect’s leg or wing, and “learn” to secrete not just digestive fluids but a substance with the odor of rotting meat by which to attract flies and other insects?

That’s a whole lotta Random for one little plant to turn over even in centuries of survival of the fittest into something that fits its environment the way a key fits a lock. What happens to those in-between plants who just develop a stomach, or mouth, or, like me on a day when I haven’t had a shower, just a stench? Is something else going on here? A something else that the professor doesn’t want to tell me about in science class, a something else that, like the Venus Fly Trap, also REEKS….of intention, (TELEOS, end seeking, intelligence) and a making manifest (LOGOS, logical, serial, homologous acting out of something SORT OF pre determined or at least pre patterned)? Something that might lead us into the realm of philosophy, precision guesswork, romanticism, mysticism, paganism and omygod! Not spirituality!

Don't CALL me an Intelligent Designer, cause that'll make me MAD! I’m just hypothesizing an intelligence inherent in nature just to see where it gets me. . But what do we really care whether the universe is matter becoming self reflexive by design OR NOT, as long as nobody comes along and dogmatizes it? I don’t want that anymore than I want the teacher dogmatizing Darwin for me by saying categorically that all evolution can be explained in terms of pure, dumb, random mechanics…as if even THAT were not a contradiction in terms.

Darwin himself is remarkably design oriented and anthropomorphic in his1862 essay, “On The Various CONTRIVANCES By Which British And Foreign Orchids Are Fertilized by Insects”. From our time I note that plant growth & fertilization requires the cooperation of fungi & other microorganisms. From his time he notes it requires the cooperative effort of a male part & female part of two separate Orchids AND an insect, and different “clever” designs by different Orchid species that guide the insect first into entering a pollen trap and then into exiting in such a way that it leaves some of the pollen with the female part. (And what are we to make of flowers that arrange NOT to need to trap the insects into becoming cross pollinators?) Why GO TO all this trouble to cross pollinate, he asks and answers, IN ORDER TO HAVE THE ADVANTAGE of the hybrid vigor from two sets of parent genes. (Why use words suggesting intention and intelligence to describe a random, or mechanical natural selection process?)

And then Stephen Jay Gould adds THIS anthro-chauvinist engineering critique: “Orchids are not created by an IDEAL engineer, but JURY RIGGED from a limited set of available components”

Right, and certain species of sparrow have “poor” voices, and a moth’s and butterfly’s wings aren’t “sturdy” enough but they’ve kept them in the air longer than Boeing knew about metal fatigue, and a “flimsy” dragonfly’s wing can propel it 40 MPH, the “ungainly” trap jaw ant can jump the human equivalent of 44’ high by 130’ long, the “poorly designed” Swift can fly 100 MPH, the hawk that “can’t walk good” can pull out of a dive at 300 MPH, the “awkward” Tiger Beetle can run the human equivalent of 285 MPH, bees “engineered” to fall still fly, a “stupidly designed” ant can carry things many times its weight and size the human equivalent of 100 MPH, but there’s nothing provincial or prejudicial about OUR esthetic, nothing stupid about OUR engineering. And the human powered plane, “The Gossamer Albatross”, is not a good F-16, and an Apple is more macho than an Orange. And certain species of butterflies and frogs with dead on MIMICRY of leaves and knots on branches aren’t fit or don’t fit enough to survive, especially not since we came along, and muddied their waters with our sewage. But where on earth is there enough sewage for our hubris to feed on? Who the hell do we think we are? What do we think we know?

In his essay “The Panda’s Thumb”, Gould goes on to say, that thumb is not a thumb but an enlargement of the radial sesamoid bone with a corresponding but “useless” smaller enlargement of the sesamoid tibia bone in the foot. (SEE! Even WITHIN the organism, DNA echoes, works on theme & variations!) Said “thumb” is actually more like a sixth finger that, if the universe were not “dead” matter, might also be a “contrivance” for stripping the leaves from bamboo to get at the tiny shoots beneath, but that way lies non mechanistic madness.

My question still is: does that something else, that seems to be operative in evolution, have something to do with mimicry or mimesis? For instance how does maybe 2 % of the ordering genetic sequence (DNA) for the Bait Crab “learn” to grow a small fish on its head which attracts other fish? Similarly how do the genes of the Bait Fish “learn” that it can attract small fish to eat by growing a small fish on ITS head? Could they, or their bodies, somehow be imitating the little fish they want?

Some forms of life just naturally imitate other forms. In a documentary on Orangutans, narrated by Julia Roberts, (in one of her best i.e. least self conscious roles for me anyhow) a female Orangutan saw her washing her clothes on a dock on the other side of a river, got in a boat and, using her hands as paddles, rowed over to where Julia was washing, got another tub, filled it with water, put soap in, and started dipping and wringing out clothes exactly like Julia. Why? Later on, an old male Orangutan decided he would just haul Julia off into the jungle and adopt her as a member of his harem. She stopped acting at all at that point while the entire crew grabbed his hands to pry them loose from her mouth and waist. On the other end of the mimetic attractions between species there’s Jane Goodall imitating chimp calls, and biologists, hunters, photographers, birdwatchers, and artists who spend their entire lives following and identifying with one species or another. Birdwatchers have a “life list” which is a list of all the birds they’ve seen in their lifetime. And there’s a reason why that matters to them and to us, which I hope we shall get to know better.

Other adaptations may not be mimetic, but it requires a violation of Occam’s Razor to see them as purely random and mechanical rather than as some kind of learning through stress. For instance how did the stickleback fish develop a dorsal sprig in deepwater to keep other fish from eating it and lose that spiny appendage in shallow water where harmful bacteria could use it to climb up into its asshole, how did cacti adapt to “a dry heat” to turn their leaves into something in between skin and bark? (AND! “learn”? or “contrive”? to protect that skin from animals with thorns? How cleverly this unintentional, unintelligent, “random” progresses.) Generally as the environment desertifies, leaves get smaller and smaller until sometimes they turn into needles. How would the chlorophyll production function randomly, and/or for the sake of survival, fairly suddenly, just spread itself thin all over a plant? Even radical changes like this don’t fit Random so much as they fit musical themes and variations. The cacti are still homologous, i.e. they “progress” from/like all other plants and, as Leonardo Da Vinci noted, even geological processes are like biological processes.

British Biologist, Gregory Bateson, developed a more refined analysis of the themes and variations and likenesses of life forms by cataloguing and dividing them up into different kinds of symmetries: radial, like a spiral snail or spiral nebulae (or then there’s also the fractal fribronacci branching in plant life), or bilateral, like most mammalian life forms in which the left and right side of the body imitate but are never exact replicas of the other. Bateson also catalogued homologies, such as the resemblances but not exact likenesses of feet and hands from dinosaur to human. But also isn’t it AS IF the Venus Fly Trap, Bait Crab and Bait Fish somehow learned internally, by a kind of proprioception, what was out there in its particular environment and developed a strategy by which to carve a niche for itself in that environment? Autistic savants, other different intelligences in species & individuals make it seem as if they picked up bits and pieces of an intelligence that runs through all of nature. All of it dancing, from atoms to galaxies, “dead” matter to duende, but universally flowing out to its own level or STASIS, (just as Bateson says) balancing tense and tension in a moMENT, a turning, in and/or toward, when body language matches mind language, and our whole presence here GETS WITH IT. Because we, as humans, artists, whatever we want to call ourselves, like plants, have our tropisms, our turning moments, toward lights and weathers we know not of.

Do we want the universe to be mechanical AND random, if so why? Kenneth Burke in his GRAMMAR OF MOTIVES said we may never find a universal truth. But sometimes we can find what our motive (or mo-ment) was---as if we were characters in a play---for wanting to believe one thing or the other to be true in the first place. So OK I’ll give up my idea that the universe is alive means I have a soul, if you’ll give up your idea that it’s dead means I don’t. And we can both give up the idea that anything means anything, and start over. Trouble is, that’s been done. Wittgenstein & the Logical Positivists, after their attempt to invent a language as precise as mathematics, ended up with nothing more precise than Ludwig’s “Blue Book” of essentially devotions and prayers: “All propositions are false. All propositions are true.” (The question remains, How?) “If we can ask a coherent question we can find a coherent answer. That which we cannot speak of coherently, we must pass over in respectful silence.” Well shut mah mouth, or as “the wide mouth frog said, (thru PURSED lips when the alligator said ‘I EAT Wide Mouth Frogs!’) ‘NOOOOO SHIT!’ Or would it totally bring us down to say all language depends on a leap of faith and some kind of MIRRORING of motion between speaker and listener? AND there aren’t just THOSE synaptic gaps to cross. 98% of the universe is “nothing”. In the quantum world, space & time are “nothing” across which photons, quarks, muons, gluons etc. interact as if they were dancing together and things were interconnected in ways we can only guess at.

Robert Duncan said, “There is a place I can return to.” And you seem to have a place you can return to that is uniquely not all mixed up with machinery. But machinery and biology are still ALL mixed up OUT THERE. There’s a biologist who studies the ways non human nature interacts with technology, edible fungi that grow in atomic radiation, microbes that eat oil, insects and small animals that live in dumps and industrial ponds, life forms that live on our sewage. And there are humans in junkyards, and many of us, as artists or just people, inside ourselves, are still trying to negotiate that difficult passage from chaos to order, and from nature to machinery and back. In my refrigeration work, I’ve noticed small bugs on the roofs of malls, and in asphalt parking lots, which made me wonder, why would they go where there’s the least possible chance for food, shade, shelter, plants, other life forms, biodiversity itself?

“On the other hand,” I said, “what the hell am I doing up here?”

Sometimes cockroaches or dung beetles get in between the moving poles of contactors and electrocute themselves and cause the contactors to arc and burn up. Pack rats make homes in washing machines and old cars and eat the wiring. I’ve found insect cocoons in carburetors and in small open pipes of all kinds. Like moths to open flames, this all seems like a twisted idea of a survival strategy. Air conditioning techs in Texas sometimes open up an A/C unit’s control compartment and swarms of dead fire ants fall out. They theorize that the ants go in there because they’re attracted to the EMF, but I think that’s the reason the TECHS go in there. Like killer bees, wasps, rattlesnakes, cobras, black widow spiders, and other forms of life in general, I think the fire ants just love us very much. I’m joking. Sorta.


Meanwhile back at the ranch, there’s your canvas, and it still looks like the ritual platform or dance theatre of the 60s abstract expressionists, dependant on its physical relation to the body which is to perform an improvisational expression of something within and upon it. Maybe an imitation of life or maybe the “dancer”, like Jackson Pollock, says, “I AM nature!” No need to render, or portray. My motions and emotions, like the song lines, ARE the territory. My, the way things don’t change, eh? And Jackson was also HIS nature. Computer analysis of imitations of his paintings showed that they had a different kind of random than the originals. So what is thishere random stuff anyhow? In the age of fractals & the Fibronacci series, shouldn't we be thinking about defining degrees of instead of lusting like an old testament prophet after the pure sweet absolute vision version? . More and more there seems to be a case (yet) to be made for a call & response between genes & their environment. And the idea that intelligent and stupid design are mutually exclusive is too wooden (& "neanderthal" if you will) to ever come to terms with the variety & flow of natural processes. And what do said processes have to do with the religious & atheistic dogmas imposed on them?

Sitting on the John & looking at a 1970 Art News, one of the hand me downs I regularly get from you, I noticed a watercolor by Charles Burchfield (one of your important influences, you said) (speaking of imitation). It was little more than a drawing of spider webs, the moon, houses and trees, and yet they all had a unifying and energizing vibrating rhythmic line running through and forming them. His other works express radiance coming from knotholes, sun and moon through clouds, turning geometrical into natural shapes and vice versa like a ballet dancer. I think he would catalogue his expressions of mystic interdependence, interconnectedness, patterning, imitation, proprioception under “the presence of God in nature” which would of necessity raise the hackles of any decent defender of Evolution against the barbarians poised beyond the gate for a suicidal attack with their sloppy primitive mystical weaponry, but I’m a pacifist in this scene.. Like that other faux battle between waves and particles, Korzybski and Kant agree, these are mere semantic conflicts between metaphors, myths, fables, maps for a territory beyond our reach, approximations of the evidence of things hoped for, the substance of things vaguely sensed by this body in which we find a limited version of ourselves, trapped in its temporal vision and helplessly invested in all its far flung spatial nothingness.. .Sitting on the John I’m sensually reminded that Evolution, like shit, happens, and so does teleos, intelligence in nature, the moving center expressing something familiar to and yet always moving (like shit) OUTWARD beyond all our sense and sensibility. Burchfield’s starry nights and grey winter days in 1930s Ohio are disturbing and comforting at once. They seem to say, we’re all trapped in the joke of time, drawing lines and thinking way too hard, but somehow we all know, it’s still all one thing, it’s all connected, and like it or not we’re all in this together, all one with the universe, and scary or not, here comes death with the final proof, one way or the other, and as the Bach fugue “Come Sweet Death” seemed to know before Freud said it, there is fear of and desire for meeting ourselves coming and going from the limits we each in our individual ways are inside of. Maybe I could have said that better, but what the hell, everything, as far as I can see from here, is temporary. Everything Burchfield saw, mechanical or natural, was unified by an underlying energy

Which begs a question (said the “yes, but” man) I’ve asked you before: when does geometry enter the (i.e. your) picture? If this painting and that one and that one have somehow EVOLVED into landscapes, and no matter how they were derived, at this point they sure LOOK like landscapes--- begs another question:

If you’re no longer “breaking your mother’s heart” are you still an abstract expressionist?

They’re imaginary landscapes, but somehow anchored just the way we need them to be, to the real, minus Disneyesque synthetic flying pigs and neo con rats, “with dicks THIS big!” Good as that gets in cartoon language, and contrary to what the woman said on watching TV for the first time, we always will want to have a place we can return to where we will desperately want “to watch real life again” Because we don’t just want “the fidelity”, we NEED that so called real world, it’s what we’re here for, and what we, just like all the other life forms, “GOTTA DANCE!” in. And a world minus that “place” is the definition of failure to bring our essence into existence.

BUT….what happened in thisherenow painting world that it never progressed into the industrial age? Why was there never a time when a native lodge, miner’s shack, or a pioneer’s lean to, or sod roofed dugout somehow appeared, and then a railroad track, and a Western Union and a general store and then suburbia and then New York & Chicago? That’s nature too. And there are still places untouched by humans, but I, personally, have been changed by contact with the urban landscape and I can’t seem to write like I used to. I remember a beautiful, simple world in which thoughts could be expressed without having a mental jam session, but I just don’t live there anymore. MY body is imitating something in between nature & Ginsberg saying near the end of Howl,

“Who digs Los Angeles, IS Los Angeles?” And as Johnny Cash said,

“I don’t like it but I guess things happen that way, uh huh huh.”

Don’t forget the “uh huh huh” because that’s part of our topographical map of our territory mimed in breath. Maybe as an occupational hazard, my dance goes to the turn of the wheel, turn of the twentieth, with transportation, communication, dislocation producing a world both more together and more broken. We no longer live in one time & place & culture. The world is smaller, but by the same token, our continuity with, (and the continuity of) the place in which we live is a far cry from that of the Dineh much less the Hohokam. And with more communication, we sometimes, ironically, feel more isolated and powerless. I feel sometimes like I’m sitting in a little room in a jail or gulag, the walls full of bullet holes, the fabric over the windows shredded and flailing in the wind, my voice hoarse with screaming, but nobody can hear me.

“And so I entered the broken world.” Hart Crane.

“No use jokin, everything is broken.” Robt. Zimmerman.

Even our “moments”, as if F.H. Bradley’s artificial dichotomies were real, are each torn from the others and the stream of time. And my thought was, the form within which I dance ought to reflect where my body really lives. (One problem is it’s JUST an ought and a thought.) Where that “where” IS would have to be a different place for each person and not necessarily subject to intellectual decisions. What exactly ARE each of us imitating? And why? I bet Harry Sachs would love to ask in his next book. Speaking of neurology and choice, they have instruments now that can measure the timing of the decision of a subject to move his arm. It turns out the impulse to move the arm occurs BEFORE the conscious decision arrives at the cortex.

So then is the artist’s/poet’s cortex like the director screaming,

“CUT! Some extra was smoking a Pall Mall when the posse came thru the valley. Damit there were no Pall Mall’s in Texas in 1867. Do it over! Jesus CHRIST!”

Or is there a director in another room we don’t know about? Like the times we sit around having made up our minds to move, or to do something, but we’re waiting for another decision…waiting for some vegetative function in the body to grow to the point of moving on I think. Or flip it: there are times we move the body, and the body moves, but the mind lags behind. An African bearer says to the great white hunter:

“We must sit and let our souls catch up to us.”

The body seems to choose where we will live, physically, mentally, spiritually. The Hopi say each child has its spiritual family and its material family. How wonderful when they’re the same, and body and mind are unified with place, time and family, but OUR question is: where do WE go from our HERE? We dance OUR mountains, and THEIR lonesome valleys….

The way the body politic of Russia danced its great sprawling land mass in the turn of the century revolution, everybody coming to Moscow to vote in huge, manic, sweating herds, with intractable shouting and chaos….demanding Lenin and Stalin, as the untamed spirit of the U.S. & its vast empty spaces demanded the half vast sense of entitlement of Texas politicians for one instance, which then demands its corruption, like the children’s rhyme:

“And in the end the age was handed, the kind of shit that it demanded.”

Which puts us right square in the middle of evolving by mimicking our own soil, spreading ourselves thin over a plethora of soils, and being soiled by the resulting cognitive dissonance, or like Muriel Hemingway says in “Manhattan”:

“Everybody gets corrupted. You gotta have faith in people.”

Speaking of corruption and huge, sweating herds of people, Hobbes’ Leviathan envisions the body politic as a great stinking beast that rolls over in its sleep, kills innocents, brings down elected democracies for money, poisons its own land and self, laughs about spending its children’s inheritance, decides what the figureheads of its ego will be the way a herd “chooses” which individual will be its Alpha Male or Female, and can’t settle down and act “sane” or happy until the fight is settled even if it’s not in its favor. POWER! ORDER! Don’t we all need it, with a little kiss of justice, and the kiss of habit to see us through?

And this beast in its waking life declares itself a reasonable, egalitarian citizen of the world. Its laws are codified custom. Its “democracy” is a joke that walks with a will that comes from all of us and gives back individual will to none of us, responds to style more than substance, tone more than content, loves people as synthetic and phony as itself, wants to die with a needle in its veins and not a thought in its head and will probably get its wish. I can rail at it all I want, it is programmed not to be subject to reason.

Well ok, all intelligence is stupid on its blind side, but stupid as any design must be because it can’t sail in ALL the winds that blow, there is still the way each intelligence fits a certain location, a place it WANTS to return to. A bat’s wing is positioned something like a hundred times a second to catch exactly the optimum vacuum and airflow. The flagrant daring delicacy of a wasp wing is perfectly at home in its niche. The shape of a dolphin, or bird exactly agrees with the graph of drag coefficients we’d figure to understand the laminar flow around their bodies in an air tunnel. A hang glider can’t even do all the vector calculations he’d need to ride the thermals a buzzard manipulates without thought. We can’t calculate how the car flew off the road or how we got it back on, if we were lucky and didn’t try to think about it. The calculated NON calculations of the zen archer or Tai Chi master, “do”; so they can bypass that slow clumsy organ wobbling like a bobble head clown on top of the brain stem, moving the steering wheel and pushing buttons like they were actually connected to something. Think about that, & then tell me intelligence isn’t inherent in nature, and then to make things even funnier, talk to me about who’s in control, and of what. Does the body or the mind decide when it’s time to go to the studio and just mess around a little, and how often is that weatherman in the mind correct in assuming it’s going to be a good or a bad day in the studio?

It’s AS IF the body KNOWS, and the body chooses….in your case, a place where, so far, nobody else has come. To have geometry enter in, might not be a bad idea, just as you said, might even be beautiful, if, as you said, you “could draw a straight line”, or you MIGHT feel like a Chameleon on Scotch Plaid.

But let’s just say, good or bad, it would be a whole lot more complicated, considering how the farther we get from our connection to the land the stupider we seem to get in certain ways. BUT, regardless, something is happening here before the mind can even try to get “a word” in (“isn’t it, Mister JONES?”) The soul selects her own society. The body selects its own landscape, or just fits into the landscape it comes out of---as if both were consciousness and both were in motion, dancing, telling stories and singing songs---chooses, against all advice from psychology, science & thought in general, the pathetic landscape of Country & Western music, its handling of love & all other human relationships fatally flawed, designed for maximum and utter failure, but the outcry & pathos remain original and real, and even more tragic than that for human politics in general, we need them exactly the way they are.

And what is this all too familiar and similar message of pathos and sympathy we get from “our” land, as expressed by America The Beautiful, that says we need to waste other countries in order to install democracy against the cultural and political grain? It’s our song line about our territory. When chimp tribes commit genocide are they hearing a similar song?

Sometimes it feels like a sympathy and “a hurtin thang” runs through it all like a cry in the dark: I feel so because I know that certain forest insects can sometimes act like one big brain and then just as suddenly go their separate ways so like ants, bees and that proud, weird mammalian species, so called human beings. And so it makes me wonder sometimes, if it’s a brain in agonized abstract unity like a political rally, or a brain in complete denial & delirium like a pep rally. Ducks, cats, dogs, horses, can imprint on other species or even machines or dummies with the appropriate texture for their ancestral sense memories. Dolphins can come together and plan a stunt in just a few seconds that would take the Bolshoi a month. They can analyze the contents of a ship’s hull from a hundred yards away. A scientist made a recording of a dolphin communication and played it back to a wild dolphin in the ocean. Talk about imitation! The dolphin STOOD on its tail on the ocean floor and exactly mimicked the body attitude of the scientist dude and repeated the message back “word” for “word” but added a couple of “words” at the end. The scientist was dumbfounded. It wasn’t just,

“Tweet tweeeeet click click tweet” it was,

“Tweeet, tweet click click tweet twooo twoo.”

What was said scientist supposed to say? How stupid can you get, the next sentence is,

“Tweet tweet click click twooo twoo click CLICK.” EVERYBODY knows that!

And whales can communicate from pole to pole through sound waves we can’t hear. SIMILARLY Elephants can communicate for miles through the jungle with sound so low we can’t hear. Pigs, Apes, Cats, Pigs and Killer Whales are smart but just don’t want to play our stupid games. Apes and chimps can sign and teach sign, lie, make neologisms, collude, assassinate, indulge in acts of genocide (THAT’S intelligence!?). Chimps, dogs & dolphins like to play our games, and win our prizes, but WHY do they, and not other species, put up with and sometimes even LIKE to work with us? Parrots and crows can do math on the level of a 4 year old child (and how many words and numbers do we know in “Parrot”? There’s a parrot on U-Tube right now that can solve a mechanical puzzle faster than I can even though it can’t even read the card in my billfold that says I’m a “Universal Refrigeration Tech” because I passed a test that means next to nothing about how I can perform in the field. In ”The Parrot Who Owns Me” a woman ornithologist talks about a parrot she adopted who selected her as his mate. Male dolphins get boners interacting with human females. And human history is replete with stories of gods screwing humans, humans screwing & getting screwed by other species & the horror & wonder of the mostly imaginary offspring of such unions. “The Wild Parrots Of Telegraph Hill” each had their own distinct intelligences and personalities and (I think sexual) allegiances to the human who fed them. Monty Roberts can tame wild mustangs in a ring, using techniques developed from watching the matriarch of the herd. Women who’ve been abused start crying when they see the horse start to follow him. I just watched a video of an Elephant methodically painting a cartoon like picture of another elephant carrying a huge flower in its trunk. So some animals can do art….

Yeah, but is it GOOD art?!

Elephants remember bad treatment forever. A tribe of baboons in India stoned a motorist to death who had run over one of its members a year before. African mole rats develop the place in their brain that would normally be the visual cortex into a touch-cortex-computer that works with sensations transmitted through hairs sticking out from their noses. They have topographical maps, similar to song lines, of their entire intricate tunneling system, laid out in the visual-touch cortex of their brains. A bee returning to the hive does a dance to make an action map for the other bees so they can find the flowers it has just found. It reminds me of the way Jack Kerouac used to act out an entire trip for an audience of friends.

Topiaries prove our need to make nature imitate nature. We have never been as different from the barbarians and the “dumb” creatures our old man in the sky which we created in our own image so conveniently gave us dominion over. Matter of fact the more we learn the more we find out, to hell with free will, or choice, we don’t even control our own minds & bodies and the lack of real progress in technological progress suggests that our mastery of our external world is mostly a symbolic gesture. There’s a computer repair firm that has its employees wear buttons that say,

“Technology. It almost works.”

The moralists and preachers will have a problem with the consequent lack of praise and blame in that proposition, but don’t worry about them, they’re like Willie Loman “out there riding on a smile and a shoeshine”. They can make dogma and money out of anything.

Don Imus once asked Wolfman Jack how the hell he knew in the fifties to do things like locate a cheap, million watt transmitter just across the border in Mexico but close enough so he could run a cable across the line so he could “legally” broadcast from Del Rio, Texas, and sell culled chicken eggs and cockroach traps where you had to put the cockroach in them by hand.

“Well Don,” he rasped, “I was born knowin stuff other people ain’t gonna know till they’re dead.”

He had his specific niche-survival genius and with a few more brains he coulda had an idiot’s sense of ethics, but, one way or another, isn’t that the way it is with all of us? It’s as if the whole living world is composed of bits and pieces of a larger, overarching intelligence. But what’s so intelligent about the body’s “wisdom” that can put us in love or road rage, depression or mania? And what’s so smart about the “super intelligent kindness of the human intellect” of which Allen Ginsberg sang, that can lead us to dissatisfying "consensus" and dry intellectuality?

There’s an artist who uses ash from the WTC, blood from Katrina victims, scraps of cloth from border crossers, hair etc. from other disasters to make paintings which I don’t like as much as I “know” I oughta. Like using menstrual blood to paint with, the ritual arena and materials are all set, but the dance just “needs something” like rhythm and resonance, a lot more than it needs a free ride on a political drama. I REALLY do feel for artists like that because that's the kind of ritual, myth making, resonating action I yearn for & somehow can't even get to the point this guy's got least he's got stuff up on the wall & all I got's this lousy conceptual T shirt.

And there’s always what to say to them at the opening: “Interesting, nice textures, blood and guts, right on, man, they look almost as real as on TV.”

Sometimes we get all the materials together to connect us to the world, and still can’t get with it. The mind and the body are there but we lack Coordination, the unconscious leap of faith of a tiger , Muhammed Ali’s punch to George Foreman’s head that made an aura of white sweat fly out into the dark where the crowd waited below for illumination. We gotta “just keep working the material” and practice until that so called “natural sense of rhythm” resonates with the rest of the world, the rest of ourselves down there in that darkness, rests its case, finds Stasis, as Bateson might say. .

And there is no line we cross but we do look back, sometimes, and realize we’re in another place, vibrating, bouncing off the “walls” between life & death, or the “MOMENTS to remember” we sang about in high school, or working the rhythm between mind, body and world until they’re synchronous. How we get them together is the same tantric tantrum miracle as how people find each other, mostly by letting go and just falling into life. Sometimes we have these moments when in tragedy or comedy there’s a certain distance that comes over us and it feels like we’re touching the whole world.

A lot of times taking a trip, or any other kind of moving on is what allows us to SEE. Facing the sad fact of our leaving is what lets us see the ground rushing past us and the mountains in the distance, like Lightnin Hopkins says,

“You got to bottle up and go.”

And then like you say the colors and lines come out. And sometimes it ALL goes past all the lines we draw between and from mind to body as we drive out of town, past the big buildings, the suburbs, the mines, the scattered houses, the man made playas, the “nothing” beyond, from which everything we are comes….not to even mention the 98% of the universe beyond that from which the 2% of the material universe that we know something about came screaming,

“Well, here goes nothing!”

Thinking of that, it was probably presumptuous of me to ask where your landscapes came from, where they were going, and why they don’t change in any “logical” fashion. God help any writer trying to make verbal sense out of art. Especially if the artists are friends, they can see him coming a mile away. But as with questioning the movements of the social body, and life in general, presumptuousness & idiocy never stopped me before. But I can’t DO or even touch much. We usually can barely participate as coherent observers, much less figure out, much less change anything. It’s as if we were participants in a cosmic witness protection program, kind of lonely, exhausting and exciting at the same time.

Body/mind, teleos/logos, moment/motion, aren’t “real” dichotomies because it’s all connected but the wonder is, we all more or less know what we mean when we use those terms. It took us a long time to learn there’s a line you can see right through but absolutely cannot cross to control mental illness and clinical depression with talk therapy or other intellectual exercises. The mind can choose all it wants, the muscles, immune system, neurotransmitters & digestive processes just say,

“We’ll see what we can do.”

Some abuse victims repeat and mimic their childhood scenarios throughout their adult lives, thinking each time they’re going to make it come out right this time. As Mezz Mezrow said, as explanation for a long boring solo, kind of like the one I’m struggling with right now,

“Any minute there, I just knew I was going to get it.”

The bodies of PTSD victims repeat scenes from “the THEATER of war” seemingly without even that much therapeutic intent. They can be retrained, as can depressed people’s bodies, to more appropriately compartmentalize and reconsider every mimetic dance they automatically do and start over, “pause and then, begin again” (Kenneth Patchen) but it’s a long hard road. (And you can’t complain. Because other people will automatically imitate your mood.) Old tapes play for the rest of us ad infinitum, sometimes with a little more variation than ad jingles but always with enough repetitive nausea to drive us to a vacation or major move or maybe even an early grave, in the search for new material.

We REALLY need those NEW and different colors and lines and rhythms, you talked about. If medicine makes it possible to live another fifty years, it will have to come to grips with how we can keep our old tapes and song lines of the same old same old territory from boring us to death.

Why do dogs like us and cats not particularly give a shit? Why do we like certain animals and certain individual animals of the species we call, for lack of a worse word, “humans”? And why are our feelings sometimes answered and sometimes not? As Jung might say The SHADOW knows, and as Freud might say, the body knows, and as I’m trying to say, the mirror neurons know but by definition none of those things are talking. Are there really gods or a god or a body and a mind or a line between life and death? Or are those all just fables, metaphorical coordinates we use for shooting in the dark? Do organisms and environments and abstract expressionist paintings grow in an improvisational dance or are they only mechanically and randomly interactive?

Why should it bother us if the body or, for that matter, ALL matter is just another form of consciousness and possibly infused with a greater intelligence than our own? From which could come any number of different and greater intelligences? Watching the traffic and the political scene, and seeing how cabbages and walnuts look like brains & brains act like they were cabbages & walnuts, it doesn’t seem like our level of “intelligence” would be a hard bar to get over.

Without equivocating I believe I can say I see an equivalence in Charles Burchfeld's, your and Philip Guston's paintings, and hear an equivalence in Mozart's Requiem Mass, Fred McDowell's "Worried Blues" and a video of Muddy Waters’ brother talking and playing guitar and singing in front of an irrigated field of cotton in Mississippi I get the feeling body, mind, earth, song and dance are definitely all connected, and it all does go back to gesture. That which a child does in exact harmony with the world around it that we find so charming and hard to follow with our more developed and at-odds brains.

If we believe an intelligence inheres in nature and our intelligence evolved out of that, and could do so over and over, then life and death, like destruction and creation, become one process. We can draw lines between but in reality there are no lines, and our worries about life after and before death are just our little ego problem, mostly a trip we lay on ourselves. Everything, including these words, is just a dance, the rhythm, timeless, resonating back and forth thru the ages, and so how much more, is the motion of hand, wrist and arm tied to the eye and ear, touch, taste and smell, the pain of love, the whole body, and all its memories?


At 4:50 PM, Blogger C3POq said...

I reckon that Julia Roberts really wanted the camera and crew to disappear when the Orang Utan put the hard word on her. It made me think that beneath it all she had bad acne and these were working like a great colud of phermones and it would have made a great trial of survival of the fittest when her ranger offspring were released into the wild - whether or not they would take to the trees or chasing cars.


Post a Comment

<< Home