A Lacan villanelle

There Is No Speech Without a Reply

Language functions not to inform but evoke
Like it or not, the symptom is a metaphor
There is no speech without a reply

Full speech is not a question of reality, but of truth
Truth unsettles us; we are used to the real
Language functions not to inform but evoke

From the knife-edge of chronological certainties
To the classic music hall turn of collapsing plates
The world of speech demands a reply

Am I that of which I speak, or the shadow
Of the great winged hornet of narcissistic tyranny?
Language functions not to inform but evoke

The child who strikes another, cries
Reading Freud cannot be considered superfluous
There is no speech without a reply

Souls heavy from hardy shoots of wounded drives
Perfect love is a fruit not of nature but of grace
Language functions not to inform but evoke
There is no speech without a reply


This villanelle is based on phrases taken from Écrits by Jacques Lacan, translated by Alan Sheridan, W.W. Norton & Co, New York, 1977

If you enjoyed this, you may want to read my Wittgenstein villanelle.

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Anger Is an Energy

Anger is an energy
–John Lydon

Once when I was going through a crisis I sought advice from an older friend. He told me, “Emotions are never wrong.” That may be a platitude (it sounds like one) but I had never heard it before. I recall it often even though I don’t agree with it completely. I think hatred can be based on profound errors of reasoning, and therefore wrong, but as a general rule my friend’s remark has helped me pause and think before I judge people for the feelings they express.

That does not mean, however, that emotions and the expression of them are one and the same or that they have equal value. In fact it seems to me that people often act and speak as if feeling and expression are one. This conflation can lead from minor disagreements to war. Continue reading

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Cold Brains

The idea has crept into my mind that time wears at a person until the point comes when they’re ready for it to be over—they want it to end. Or don’t care if it ends. I also have the idea—true or not, I don’t know—that at a certain point the body fails in a manner that brings one to a natural approach to death’s threshold—food loses its taste, colors and feelings aren’t vivid, surroundings lose their appeal and enticements, etc. And maybe we don’t have a lot of information about this stage because the interest in making a firsthand report on it is naturally utterly lacking. The slough of the undone, the slag pressed in the cracks of the accomplished, the half-formed thoughts—it all falls away like mud down a slide, a song written for Johnny Cash that he’ll never sing—c’est la vie.

Before one gets to that point (but how far?) is the mind-numbing weariness of one’s internal repetitions: the thoughts that won’t go away, the memories that keep returning, the same reactions to the same situations, etc. Beckett evoked much of this in his later work. By the end the self has had enough of itself. The will or the physiological means is lacking to make another effort to repeat the same old round. It’s over.

Even the absurd loses its taste. For a long time I could not understand why a specific childhood memory kept coming back to me in the midst of work. I was at a friend’s house and we decided to hop on bikes. He gave me his brother’s bike which I had never ridden before. It was dark, we were at the base of a gravelly hill. The bike was in a higher gear. I struggled to get it going. In the darkness the bicycle light flapped back and forth like a flashlight searching for a clue and my friend laughed at me. Why should this memory come to me again and again at work? And then it occurred to me. It was so obvious. I knew the work—that is my body knew the work as well as riding a bike. But the conditions of the work environment always push it into awkwardness and discomfort. I thought, Good! Now that I understand the memory it won’t come back again. But it did and it does—now because I associate it with the moment of figuring out its secret. Next time it comes back it will no doubt accompany an image of myself sitting down to write and the triad will spin in the bicycle wheels that turn behind my eyes. Because my eyes can’t role at themselves, only over themselves and so I can’t just say, Oh brother! and move on.

One doesn’t move on. One keeps coming back. Back to absurdity. Nothing clever or funny about it. Just dumb absurdity. Until the brains turn cold.

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Signaling Through Flames

Lucas van Leyden, Lot and His Daughters, circa 1520

I’ve been reading the new Atlas edition of the internal papers of the Secret Society of Acéphale with lectures to the College of Sociology. The lectures and the articles from the Acéphale journal have been published before. The internal papers are published in English for the first time. The commentaries are thoroughly, and I would say lovingly done.

At the same time for no particular reason I pulled my copy of Artaud’s The Theater and its Double off the shelf to read over lunch one day. I noticed that the book was published in the late 1930’s, same as the texts in the Atlas anthology. I noticed further a certain correspondence between the two. Continue reading

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Al Gore’s Cowboy Boots (part 2)

Picture Al Gore’s cowboy boots wading
through the streetwater of Miami

Marching toward you, actually
with a sense of urgency

Getting closer and closer
until they fill the screen

And you, like everyone else watching
protected by a shield made mostly of distance

An overburdened imagination
and fudged perceptions

Fresh white receipts
smeared by the smell of pizza

A shiny silver six-shooter
inside another cardboard box

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Al Gore’s Cowboy Boots

Until recently I had never taken note of Wittgenstein’s parenthetical remark in the Tractatus that aesthetics and ethics are one. According to Google it would seem that academic discussions of the question focus on either contrasting the differences between the two or puzzling over what Wittgenstein could possibly have meant.

I became interested in the question quite unexpectedly Continue reading

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A poem inspired by Faith No More

I’m happy to say my poem, Velveeta! has been published by Razor Lit. On their “About” page they cite Anton Chekhov’s advice about revising: “Throw out the first three pages. Slice them off with a razor.” Razor Lit publishes poems and stories and asks for a backstory about what occurred before the razor was applied. I had relied on memory for the backstory.

Funny thing though, there are numerous files entitled “Velveeta” scattered in my hard drive (variations on the poem) and one of them contains notes I had forgotten writing. After reading it I recalled that the notes had birthed the poem. So there’s another layer to my backstory. Having failed to write a more formal essay on Faith No More, I had attempted a personal essay, an appreciation of the band. But some of the words and phrases convinced me a poem was better use of the material. Here are a few slices from those notes: Continue reading

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