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– Welcome! Thank you all for coming We are delighted to have you here for the first night of the Critical Theory conference, Visualizing Theory I hope you’ve enjoyed the panels throughout the day And for those of you just joining us at this conference, welcome, and I hope you’ll come back tomorrow for day two of our conference for Kaja Silverman’s keynote tomorrow night But for tonight, we are absolutely delighted to have Anne Carson here giving the keynote lecture (audience laughing) So thank you, Anne Thank you so much for being here My name is Claire Sommers, I’m the deputy coordinator of the Critical Theory Certificate And as a classicist myself, I’m really just very excited to have you here tonight with us This conference is the 7th annual Critical Theory conference and I remember starting this conference all the way back in 2012 And we very optimistically put first annual conference on the call for papers And we were calling it that, and we really wanted to make it a tradition And here we are at year seven So thank you all for being here with us This conference is featuring 75 papers from panelists coming from the U.S., from Canada, as well as from as far away as Europe, the UK, and even Australia We have a presenter from there And it features faculty from all over the world and scholars at all career stages, from PhD candidate to instructor and lecturer to full-time professors So we are very happy to have you here to our crowning event as part of the Critical Theory Certificate The Critical Theory Certificate, it was a very, very long process to create from start to finish It was a four-year process to have it approved We were approved in August of 2014, and we are currently the fastest growing and we are also the largest certificate program here at The Graduate Center We now have 200 students enrolled from 20 different departments And just to give you an indication of how quickly we’re growing, last year, I stood on this stage, and we had 163 students, and the year before, we had 109 students So we’re really just growing and I just wanna thank you all for being here I hope you enjoy the talk and you come back tomorrow And I’d like to introduce Andre Aciman who is the coordinator of the Critical Theory Certificate He is also a professor of comparative literature as well as an author and essayist himself So thank you (audience applauding) – Claire? We all wear glasses This has been a wonderful event with so many panels, so many graduate students, and an ever-increasing number of faculty members from many institutions We know we’re doing something right when instead of asking a first-year graduate student to chair a panel, we have an embarrassment of riches of tenured professors from so many colleges and universities across the nation eager to sit and contribute and give generously of themselves So thank you This year’s event is the best and most successful one that our Critical Theory Certificate Program has had so far So it is a bit with a heavy heart that I bid farewell to my position as chair to make room for its new director, John Brenkman, Professor John Brenkman, who is a comparatist and a well-known and established literary theorist We’re lucky to have him We’re lucky he accepted You may not know this, but being chair or director is a heavy, burdensome task You handle so much paperwork and you have to coddle so many frail egos (audience laughing) that at the end of the day, you’ve got every right to ask yourself has a single idea crossed my mind today? And the answer is nope (audience laughing) But maybe one day soon, and that day has come for me Now I have no excuses for having no ideas The certificate program exists because almost eight years ago, as Claire said, I welcomed a new group of first-year graduate students by promising that we would hold every Friday a conference with a guest speaker And in addition to that, we were also going to create a certificate program in critical theory It sounded good, and I’m sure I was sincere But as the chair of comparative literature, at the time, I had loads of papers to shuffle and staple Within two weeks, an intrepid first-year student knocked at my office and asked, “About the critical theory thing.”

“Oh yes,” I said Within weeks, she had managed to gather a group of first-year students to draft a brochure We were efficient, but we are a slow, bureaucratic institution, and it took many years for putting the thing through Today, the Critical Theory Certificate is the most dynamic at The Graduate Center, and we owe it all to one person, not me, who basically, I had the fantasy, but to Claire Sommers whom you just heard Claire is depositing her dissertation in September and will no longer be the deputy director of the program I do not envy my successor because he’ll need to find a Claire and Claires are difficult to find But I envy the university that will hire her because she will not only prove a great scholar, but a capable and ever resourceful administrator I expect one day soon to receive an email from her saying not that she has published a book, but she’s publishing a book, and by the way, they’ve made her the president of the university (audience laughing) We are a happy place We have wonderful students here We are also happy tonight to have Anne Carson among us Anne Carson is a poet, essayist, and translator and professor of classics She also teaches ancient Greek, which I only did three years of and therefore cannot appreciate what a fourth year is like She has published 20 books which blend the form of poetry, essay, prose, criticism, translation In other words, something very fluid and very interesting, actually I think And her first book, Eros the Bittersweet, was named one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time by the Modern Library, and so on and so forth And I decided before she came to speak that I would read something that is not irrelevant to today And it’s something she wrote, so bear with me if I read it wrongly And Anne, please forgive me if my rhythm is wrong Sunlight slows down Europeans Look at all those spellbound people in Seurat Look at monsieur sitting deeply Where does a European go when he’s lost in thought? Seurat had painted that place, the old dazzler It lies on the other side of attention, a long and hazy boat ride from here It is a Sunday rather than a Saturday afternoon Where am I? I lost myself, okay (audience member chuckling) Well, because it’s not printed right, okay? (audience laughing) Seurat has made this clear by a special method, (speaking in foreign language) he called it rather testily when we asked him He caught us hurrying through the chill green shadows like adulterers The river was opening and closing its stone lips The river was pressing Seurat to its lips Thank you, and Anne, welcome among us (audience applauding) – Thank you And thank you for coming, and thank you Claire for arranging everything, and thank you Andre for reading a short talk That was a short talk And I had the notion, I’m gonna give a lecture in a minute, but I thought since this is a conference and nobody is yet having a very good time that we could begin with a short talk (audience laughing) of the interactive nature So a short talk when it’s an interactive one is a 13-second lecture that has a part by me and a part by you which comes together to form a short meaning So in this one, your part actually has two parts So I have to divide the room in half, which I will do silently (footsteps clicking) Here, chorus A, chorus B, okay? (audience chuckling) So chorus A, chorus B Chorus A, your line is let’s buy it, with an exclamation mark at the end One, two, three – [Chorus A] Let’s buy it! – Super Chorus B, your line is what a bargain, exclamation mark at the end (audience laughing) One, two, three – [Chorus B] What a bargain! – Okay, got your lines? (audience laughing) Short talk on the sensation of airplane takeoff Well, you know that could be true love running towards my life with its arms up, yelling – [Chorus A] Let’s buy it! – [Chorus B] What a bargain!

– Thank you (audience laughing) (audience clapping) That is the most fun you’re gonna have for an hour (audience laughing) Okay, now we’re gonna do the lecture This is a lecture on corners Corners, part one The man comes into the kitchen It is just before dawn There is thunder outside which pleases him There is a woman sitting in the corner of the room I can see her shadow reaching up the wall The text does not say this, and yet I can see it The woman is grinding corn, bent over a mill wheel The other 11 women responsible for grinding the corn of the house are in bed asleep But this one, who is the frailest and slowest of them, did not finish her portion of grinding during the day, so she grinds at night She too hears the thunder and is pleased Thunder from a clear sky means the gods are paying attention The woman stops her wheel and addresses the gods Father Zeus, ruler of gods and men, things are bad here Accomplish a prayer for me as I say it Let this be the last and final day on which the suitors feast in the halls of Odysseus Every time I reread Book 20 of the Odyssey, every time the man comes out at dawn to find the woman in the corner grinding corn, I am returned to the days of living with my father in his dementia years I was familiar with kitchens at dawn in those days I had the gun to get up earlier and earlier in the morning to avoid Dad No sooner did he hear me in the kitchen than he appeared, dressed in pajamas and fedora, to begin the barrage of questioning that was his defense against inner chaos He needed to control something And if I were going for a walk, he wanted to know every twist and turn of the route I would take If I were going for a swim, we lived on a lake, he insisted on coming down to the shore with me, launching the rowboat, and following me up and down the water as I did my laps Odysseus is a stranger in his own house in Odyssey Book 20 I have come to place this scenario in my mind alongside myself stealing about a sleeping house at dawn as if to collapse the two scenes into a single false memory where I was in the kitchen grinding corn one morning when interrupted by my father, and delightfully, we both went swimming Memory can edit reality in some such way, and then the edited version is too good to let go Memory makes what it needs to make The fact of the matter was, however, that I swam up and down the lake while he rode along behind me, and no good omen, thunder or other, appeared The lake at that hour was still as glass, Dad and I, the only commotion At a certain point, one day, I paused my front crawl to turn around and look back at this man in pajamas and fedora, rowing doggedly after me on the silent lake I can still see this in my mind as if it were a scene in a play Not an epic poem of Homer after all, but a stage play As Dad, dementia, and I contemplated one another from three corners of what might be called a Pinter pause, the theater of the absurd presented itself, not just because of the early dawn silence and weirdness of it all, but the feeling that we could not do otherwise, the whole sensation of being caught in a script with moves blocked out for us and characters inescapable, for a Pinter pause rests on silence and suppression, “the abyss under chat,” as somebody called it But it also makes use of movement and precise blocking of characters “I do think choreographically,” Pinter said in an interview Living within the bizarre daily choreography of someone else’s dementia, it was a relief to feel that Harold Pinter had been there first in works of art with a beginning, middle, and end I have sometimes wondered if this is what Aristotle meant by catharsis,

but I don’t really think so Corners are what make a grid different than a line, a plaid shirt different than a striped one, a soccer pitch different than a field, an elbow different than an arm, light as a wave different than light as a particle Corners make personalities out of persons, maps out of surveillance, and a healthy brain into a demented one Brain cells depend on nutrients delivered by a cell transport system that has straight lines like a railroad track The tracks are normally kept straight by a brain protein called tau, unless its function is disrupted by plaque, which tangles, disrupts, and disables the lines Then clumps and corners form and the brain starts to starve a bit The starving brain is surprised It doesn’t know itself or know the world It keeps arriving at difficulty Difficulty is dealt with in different ways by different brains And all of this happens bewilderingly gradually A common feature is to keep pretending everything is normal as long as possible You know what daily life is supposed to sound like and look like and taste like You can put that surface together, keep it running long after there stops being anything inside You can act the parts There is a kind of drastic psychic economy to it, a costume of standard behavior constructed out of shreds of the original person and tatters of his old relationships with other people He is becoming an X-ray of himself You work with that His language diminishes to word salad You converse with that His fatherliness dissolves a pace with your daughterliness You fake it You both fake it, maybe You wonder this Heroic and deeply funny, he sends out coded messages from the interior of himself using whatever tools he has left One evening, I was in the kitchen making salad He drifted through the room in his vague way, in his fedora, and over his shoulder, as he left, he said, “The letters of your lettuce are very large.” And he laughed I laughed It was a good evening Speaking of faking it, here is a passage from Antonia Fraser’s memoir of life with Harold Pinter, her diary entry from June 14, 1975 A summer’s day of unusual heat, and the day after, she had agreed to marry Harold Pinter without yet informing the current husband, whose name was Hugh (audience laughing) Quote, “The next day I had to tell Hugh “It was beyond ghastly, “beginning with the moment “when I fetched him inside “from the thunderous garden where he was smoking “and reading the Financial Times “It now thundered inside “In the end, I summoned Harold round “Harold drank whiskey, “Hugh drank brandy, I sat “Hugh and Harold discussed cricket at length, “then the West Indies, “then Proust “I started to go to sleep on the sofa “Harold politely went home “Nothing was decided.” (audience laughing) We could quote Oscar Wilde here, but Aristophanes of Byzantium said it earlier, addressing the comic playwright, Menander “Oh Menander and life, “which of you imitated the other?” Clearly, Lady Fraser’s diary entry from June 14, with its surface of mad affability, its undertow of pain, its thunder inside and beautiful triangular economy, would make a great Pinter play Economy in particular was important to Pinter He said in an interview that he prided himself on economy of movement and gesture, of emotion and expression, both the internal and the external, so there is no wastage and no mess So, too, did the ancient Greek playwrights value economy and make decisions about stagecraft based on this, which returns us to the topic of corners Three corners make a Sophoclean play work His extant plays consistently present a triangle of three speaking actors

According to Aristotle, it was Sophocles in the 5th century BC who introduced the third actor to a dramatic tradition that had contented itself with two until then It seems that the practice of using three actors became canonical Scholars refer to this as the three-actor rule No one knows why it was a rule Why did they stop at three? One hypothesis is economic Actors were highly trained and highly paid professionals with salaries underwritten by the state Since the plays were presented in the context of a competition, the Festival of Dionysus, as soon as one playwright decided to use three actors, everybody would want three actors and the annual theater budget would sharply rise Besides that, the evidence of Sophocles’ stagecraft might suggest that three actors are really all you need to make a tragedy work Each of his plays presents harrowing triangular situations where two characters bring pressure to bear on a third who is trapped between them and cracks open, or two knowledges that collide together to force out a third that nobody wants to see We can think of the opening scene of the Ajax, where Athena and Odysseus hunt down poor mad Ajax, or Oedipus the King, where the king, the messenger, and the herdsmen lock in a conversational pattern that spits out the guilt of Oedipus No one can operate this three-cornered machinery better than Sophocles So I wonder what it was like to be one of his rival playwrights in the year Sophocles decided to demand a third actor Suddenly, the other guys too would have to come up with a new way to make a play work, having a third body on stage, a third psyche in the chemistry of the cast, a third corner to the concept Circumstantial evidence suggests this took place in 458 BC Sophocles’ principal rival that year was Aeschylus, who was 67 and two years away from death He had spent the last 40 years producing plays for the Festival of Dionysus and had won first prize 12 times None of these plays had any use for a third actor But in 458, Aeschylus produced the Oresteia trilogy, which makes use of a third actor in all three parts Sadly, we don’t know what play Sophocles presented that year, but Aeschylus’ Oresteia won first prize Let’s look at two of the scenes where his third actor figure is There is a gleam of one-upmanship in the manner of it The Agamemnon opens with an announcement of the fall of Troy Then Clytemnestra comes on stage to await the return of her husband Clytemnestra, first actor Next, Agamemnon enters with an entourage of prisoners of war Agamemnon, second actor Amid the prisoners is Cassandra, princess of Troy and concubine of Agamemnon, third actor But this third actor doesn’t speak for a long, long time Husband and wife trade apologias of their virtue back and forth for 192 lines while Cassandra listens, or doesn’t listen It is unclear whether she is stubborn, stupid, psychotic or doesn’t know the language (audience laughing) All of these possibilities are advanced by Clytemnestra, who interrogates Cassandra after Agamemnon has gone inside Cassandra’s silence remains impermeable Clytemnestra, in a rage, exits As soon as Clytemnestra leaves the stage, Cassandra screams and launches into 258 lines of prophecy, outlining the past, present, and future of the House of Atreus as well as the imminent doom of all three major characters Aeschylus has taken the device of the third actor, introduced by Sophocles for who knows what technical reasons of his own, and used it to transcend normal limits of space and time and intelligence Cassandra shines with mental power, which is also moral power, and she has more forms of truth than she can live with She is merely a third angle of the tragic triangle, but her silence pulls all the focus of the story

into her corner and explodes it Silence is a big, crude, theatrical substance Pinter uses it to Aeschylean effect in a play from 1961 called A Slight Ache, in which a husband and wife, Edward and Flora, interact with a man who sells matches in much the same way Clytemnestra interacts with Cassandra in the Agamemnon The match seller stands silent for the entire length of the play while Edward and Flora interrogate him Violent forms of truth emerge from both husband and wife The end is tragic Edward suddenly, for no reason, falls to the floor and is replaced as husband by the match seller It is a typically unpleasant Pinter play The characters exist in a suspension of humaneness Edward and Flora strike poses rather than talking or touching It’s hard to feel pity or fear for either of them, or for the match seller, whose silence pulls all the focus of the story onto himself, but them swallows it He never speaks We never know what things are like on his strange side of reality Pinter has said in interviews that he thinks most human talk is an evasion, a desperate rearguard attempt to keep ourselves to ourselves He intends his characters who speak to speak the language of what we say instead of what we mean The silent match seller is a step beyond that He neither speaks nor means anything He has given up on language In the Agamemnon, Aeschylus uses Cassandra’s silence, at first to tease us into thinking she has given up on language, and at the same time, perhaps, tease us into thinking this playwright doesn’t know how to use his third actor Then her mouth opens and language pours all over the place Aeschylus does something equally adept in the Choephoroi, which is the second play of the Oresteia trilogy It has a third actor in only one scene, the scene where Orestes murders his mother The third actor is Orestes’ trusty comrade, Pylades, who enters the play beside Orestes at line 20 and stands unspeaking, unaddressed, and unmentioned through 898 lines of action and dialogue Then at line 899, Orestes, hesitating to murder his mother, turns to Pylades and says, “Pylades, what should I do?” And Pylades, from his all but forgotten corner, utters three lines of encouragement, and the tragedy plunges on to its grizzly end It would be hard to mistake Aeschylus’ dramaturgic control of Sophocles’ newest innovation Corners, part two The person I live with says our house is too dark It’s true we have no big overhead fixtures or lighting tracks, just small thrift store lamps placed here and there It constitutes a main difference between him and me, between extroverts and introverts, generally, between people who prefer to live in a centrally and democratically-lit open space and people who like a darkish room with a small pool of lamplight in one corner, between exposure and retreat To be withdrawn into one’s corner can be a situation of personal peace if we think of the corner as a sort of half box, part walls, part door That is, as a place offering defense at the back and mobility at the front, a perfect middle term in what Bachelard calls the dialectics of inside and outside One thing I noticed about my dad as he disappeared into his dementia, he lost the sense of the personal peace of corners A seriously introverted man who had always preferred to sit in a rocking chair in the corner of his room with the cat on his lap, reading or thinking or watching the world go by, began to be found perched all alone on a folding chair in the middle of the front lawn, or standing halfway down the driveway

with a baffled look, or simply wandering room to room with his hat on “I am the space where I am,” says Bachelard Demented people do not seem to experience the self as a shelter There is some basic animal certainty that you are who you are and it’s okay that is deleted from them No more dialectic of inside and outside You are simply exposed You are open to all the winds Your life is taking place in that space that the ancient Greek philosophers called to apeiron, the unbounded, which was synonymous with chaos for Hesiod While to Shakespeare it might be the heath, to Emily Bronte, the moors, to Samuel Beckett, a late evening in the future, but which my dad acutely described in the last complete sentence I had from him in this way, “Fires are the furthest in you are “and the worst you are.” Notice the direction of the fires I’m pretty sure Emily Bronte and Shakespeare and the Greek philosophers would chart a course for the unbounded by going out, not in But when the unboundedness comes after you, when you can’t escape it outwardly because it is already inside and already burning, then you really have no shelter This is a question commonly asked by the last character left alive at the end of a Greek tragedy Now where can I go? Most extant Greek tragedies have substantially the same set The action takes place in and out of a house as human tragedies take place in and out of a mind The house of a Greek play is most often the home of the protagonist, Agamemnon’s palace, for example, or else a surrogate home some place the protagonist feels safe or locates their identity like the tent of Ajax in the Ajax “Our house is our corner of the world,” Bachelard says The house of Greek tragedy though is also a kind of riddle With its dialectic of inside and outside, the house is a container holding an answer to some question that is posed on the space of the stage The aim of the play’s action is to bring the inside out to expose what lies hidden in the house, some knowledge contained there Remember the warning remark of the watchman in the opening scene of the Agamemnon He says, “The house itself, “could it but get a voice, “would speak out all too clear.” When the house speaks, it will ruin the people inside We look forward to that ruination from the time we take our seats at the start of the play Greek tragedians found a sensational way to maximize the theatrical effect of that moment when the house speaks by making it explosively plastic and visual Aeschylus is sometimes credited with the invention of a piece of stage machinery called the ekkyklema, which means a thrust out thing or rolled out platform Experts disagree on this, but we know that the device, a wooden platform on wheels, was used in the centuries after Aeschylus, and think how spectacularly well it would have worked at the climax of the Agamemnon when Clytemnestra makes her final appearance on stage, standing over the dead bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra, and launching into her famous declaration, “I stand where I struck.” Presumably when she says this, she is visible to the audience, amid a tableau of bloody victims At any rate, the violent extrusion of inside to outside would effectively cap the suspense of the action so far, which Aeschylus has been ratcheting up for 1,300 lines as we watch people go in and out of the house, saying ominous things about it and sending back the odd blood-curdling scream It is a mark of Pinter plays that he achieves an Aeschylean effect, a sense of some private horror extruded to public view with ruinous consequence, without blood-curdling screams or dead bodies on view or mechanical platforms

The action is inside a house The violence is inside chitchatting characters The explosion of knowledge, if there is one, happens inside the audience The dialectic of outside and inside has been reabsorbed by the play as an atmosphere of menace pervading banal conversation and light gestures There are questions and answers everywhere, but they don’t fit together When Edward, at the end of A Slight Ache, suddenly falls to the floor, the play gives no reason for this If he has been felled by the ax of his wife, it was done internally The big riddle of the match seller remains unsolved All our knowledge of these people and their motives is left mysterious And yet another interesting thing about Pinter, for all its repression and menace and horrible emotions, there is something cozy in a Pinter play Compare a Beckett play, say, Waiting for Godot What is so immediately desolate about Waiting for Godot as soon as the curtain rises? Maybe simply the fact that it has no house Pinter plays generally take place in a house Each character starts out in their little corner of the world, however ruined, psychotic, or hopeless The stage set for the opening act of Waiting for Godot is given as an undefined place with tree Bachelard says a house is a psychic state Waiting for Godot offers no state Here is no inside or outside, no structure that might open up to reveal something else If the play contains a knowledge or opposes a riddle, it is a riddle distributed everywhere structurelessly I wonder why he added the tree Beckett wondered this too, eventually In 1961, when the play was revived in Paris, he hired Giacometti to make the tree One can see the attraction (audience laughing) Well, not just the desolation and gashed surfaces and primordial manner of Giacometti’s figures, there was also a sense of self-consciousness, almost despair about the limitations of their art that Beckett and Giacometti shared Beckett wanted a tree that cried out as Giacometti did once in an interview, “I don’t know if I work in order to do something “or in order to know what I can’t do “when I want to do it.” It’s a lot to ask of a tree (audience laughing) Beckett did not, at first, like the tree Giacometti made It was reconsidered, redesigned, and remade, ending up as a straight, spindly white plaster thing that one spectator likened to a drain pipe The tree had six leaves In the end, Beckett called it superb Looking at pictures of this stage set and this tree, I was reminded of something told me by a friend who is a child psychologist When children get therapy, they’re often asked to draw a picture of their house, as this is believed to be revelatory of life in the home and life in the mind Most every kid draws the same house: a square building with central doorway, pointy roof, and chimney exuding smoke Children of happy families draw the smoke as billowing, cloudy curves Children of broken or difficult homes are inclined to make straight, thin smoke Straight, thin smoke is regarded as worse, more depressing than no smoke at all or refusing to draw one’s house (audience laughing) When the Swiss novelist, Max Frisch, was dying, he gave a final interview in which he described a dream he kept having In the dream, he sees Max Frisch balanced on the curve of the earth, but starting to slide off An empty stage with white plaster tree gives just enough curve to the earth, just enough boundary to the unbounded to suggest the beginning of real terror The unbounded, in Greek, apeiron, a word formed by adding the negative prefix alpha to the noun peirar,

which is thought to mean rope end Unboundedness is a rope not tied off at the end to prevent its unraveling The first person to use this word as a metaphysical value, the philosopher, Anaximander, described to apeiron as the arche of all things Arche meaning origin, first cause, first principle or beginning And in Aristotle’s account, the unbounded is abhorrent because it is nothing but beginning Aristotle says, “Nature flees from the unbounded “The unbounded is imperfect or incomplete, “and nature always seek completion.” Corners, part three So on the one hand, we might regard corners as shelter, comfort, containment, completion, what Stevie Smith calls four walls and a pot of jam, something valued for their boundaries and useful in their form On the other hand, the phrase to be cornered can signify a wish to escape or dissolve or deny the threat of angles closing Let’s say you’re losing an argument or retreating from an enemy army or you’re a fox on Saturday morning in a ditch outside Downton Abbey And then on third hand, there are people who want or need cornerlessness for its own sake I once gave a lecture at the European Graduate School located in a small town, high in the Alps, and was taken by a car up one of those death-defying switchback mountain roads that circles round and round the edge of an abyss We were passed by several buses hurtling down the road in the opposite direction I asked our driver about accidents on the road and he confessed he had wondered the same thing when he first moved to the area and had gone to the local bus company to ask for actuarial statistics (audience laughing) The bus company told him they’d in fact never had a bus crash on the road, but that four times in their history, a driver at some point mid-route had steered his bus to the side of the road, stepped out, and quietly dropped himself over the side of the mountain The lure of the abyss may be fatal or it can be domesticated into a desire for infinite going, restlessness, wanderlust, walks You don’t have to hit the ground to experience cornerless space Legend and literature offer a number of examples of people who could not sit still, like Saint James, the son of Zebedee, who walked from the holy land to the Iberian Peninsula in the first century, inaugurating a famous pilgrimage route to Compostela Or Matsuo Basho, the 17th century Japanese poet whose Narrow Road to the North is now available in a Penguin paperback, or as a nine-day, eight-night fully guided tour (audience laughing) Or the English poet, John Clare, who took it into his head one July day of 1841 to walk from High Beach Asylum, a private institution near Epping where he had committed himself in 1837, to London, a journey of eight days and 90 miles, during which he subsisted on grass and tobacco The walking impulse had something to do with his sense of humor “In the madhouse, I could find no mirth pay,” he opaquely said And then there was Holderlin Early December, 1801, Holderlin set out from his mother’s house in Nurtingen to walk to Bordeaux, a distance of some 600 miles, having accepted a post as tutor in the house of a certain Herr Meyer He arrived at the end of January, but resigned the post in mid-May and took to the road again, reaching Stuttgart in early July His friends did not recognize him when he came in the door His report from the road was, “Apollo struck me.” Holderlin explained his walking in a letter of 1802 Quote, “I am pulled as rivers are “toward the end of something, “something expanding like an Asia.” He had, for some years,

been working on translations of Sophocles’ Oedipus plays, and in the process, began revising his own early poetry as if it, too, were a foreign language, trying to travel ever deeper into German, into his own sentences as if into another country Men learn more in the scorch of deserts, he wrote in a late fragment His manuscripts are sometimes illegible palimpsests of versions, revisions, and afterthoughts Whether he improved his poems by treating them as infinitely unraveling rope ends is unclear He had an absolute and religious faith in the powers and process of nature, and seemed to believe his poetry was part of that process, able to dissolve and reform as organic phenomena do But perhaps Aristotle is right, that there is something abhorrent in endless beginnings Holderlin’s psyche felt the pressure The state of dementia in which he lived the final 37 years of his life in a tower overlooking the river Neckar is well documented This is the comment of a friend who visited him in his tower Holderlin seems to be still walking Quote, “For the last six years, “he goes back and forth “from morning ’til evening in his room, “murmuring to himself “At night, he gets up and walks about the house “or sometimes stops to blacken “any piece of paper he finds “by covering it with words “At the stairs, we had a final glimpse of him, “striding in his room, pressing on.” Holderlin not only denies confinement by going for walks inside his room, he cancels the conventional corners of legibility, blackening any piece of paper he finds by covering it with words It is a different kind of restlessness, crowding the paper with words all the way to the edge so there’s no difference between text and margin “Language,” he said in a late fragment, “is the most dangerous of good things.” I wonder if the danger he feared has to do with control Too little control, too much control, or just the very, very, very intoxicating idea of control itself You may be familiar with the story by Borges called the Exactitude of Science, in which a guild of cartographers decide to make a map of their empire that is drawn on the same scale as the empire, and coincides with it point for point My question about that would be where do you keep such a map? (audience laughing) Do you roll it up and store it in the cupboard of another empire about the same size as the original one? Or does it lie over top of and coextensive with the original empire as if to pin down every real-world coordinate with the corresponding cartographic coordinate like a kind of lunatic Xerox copy? Which is what my dad decided to do with his real world towards the end of his time with us That is, to pin down every moment of his day by writing little scribbled notes to himself, mapping out almost simultaneously with his life the landscape of every action, responsibility or fear Turn out the lamp Put the keys in a drawer Go eat supper We found these notes all over the house after he was gone in books, in his pockets, under the cat’s dish, behind the clock He was going for control Like Borges’ mapmakers, he had a bit of a problem with the scale The first person credited with drawing a scaled map of the world was Anaximander, that pre-Socratic philosopher quoted by Aristotle, as we saw earlier, for his views on the bounded and the unbounded Anaximander’s views are breathtakingly unclear Nothing of his writing has come down to us except one fragment and a bunch of paraphrases That Anaximander did not like to explain himself is a complaint already voiced in ancient times Whether his apeiron, his unbounded, should be interpreted as spatially

or temporally without limits, or perhaps as that which has no qualifications, or as that which is unable to be exhausted remains controversial What comes through is that he saw the cosmos as a kind of contest between the bounded and the unbounded But then again, who doesn’t? My dad and Holderlin are not the only people desperate for more control of the world around them, not to say the world within them in an ongoing daily way Yet it remains puzzling and provocative why Anaximander, in his famous fragment one, insists on assimilating this contest to the language of justice and injustice His fragment one says this: Whence things have their coming into being, so they have their passing away, for they give justice and recompense to one another for their injustice according to the ordinance of time It is a beautiful sentence, perhaps even a comforting sentence But I’ve never been able to quite get my head around what kind of justice this is or what it might have to do with my dad trying to Xerox his own mind, a situation in which I would have liked to find any glimmer of justice available but failed to do so So let’s go back to corners and cornerlessness in a more concrete form Let’s talk about the ganzfeld Corners, part four Physics has defined the phenomenon of the ganzfeld effect, whereby exposure to an unstructured uniform sensation, like a very great deal of white light as in a blizzard or dense fog, deprives you of navigational clues You can’t tell up from down or inside from outside You can’t focus what you’re seeing You may go blind, you may hallucinate Some people get anxious, some get very calm I was in a ganzfeld recently, one installed by James Turrell in an art museum in North Adams, Massachusetts It is a three-sided room built into a wall of the museum and filled with an indefinable uniform light, sometimes red, sometimes green, sometimes blue A light so total and soaking that the room seems to have no walls, no ceiling, no proportions, and no end It is just light and it floods you with its simplicity The unbounded is largely simple There is a strange pressureless pressure I had the certainty, which was mistaken, that if I dropped and fell, the light would catch me all around like a quilt In fact, I would have hit the concrete floor and injured myself I’m not the only person who has had this illusion More than one has fallen and more than one has sued James Turrell for large sums of money (audience laughing) From the depths of the ganzfeld, I could look out and see people passing They had a hectic overemphatic atmosphere about them, like someone wearing opera makeup offstage Not that they were especially lipsticked or moving especially fast, but it was as if I could perceiv them living fast Their livingness inside them was going at a different pace than mine and had a different, perhaps unnecessary rightness Mine was slow and blurry and disseminated through the light of the air of the ganzfeld Mine was all inside itself and unconcerned with being seen outside I thought perhaps the people passing had no inside or at least were making very little use of it They were gazing only out, operatically I was living somehow a few moments of time prior to all that opera Another way to put it, they seemed like people in italics, leaning forward in time, stressing themselves If italics are a mode of stress, I felt restored to some plainer font, like a word or phrase being emphasized within a text that is already in italics so the printer has to reverse it to uprightness

I was aware of being singularly upright This sounds self-congratulatory, but felt oddly egoless At the same time, it might be said there’s nothing more egoistic than feeling or arranging to feel egoless Take the corners out, put the corners back in At the opposite pole from the egolessness of the ganzfeld is New York city real estate Real estate, this odd expression What is real about real estate? Gordon Matta-Clark was a New York artist who entertained this question in a sort of pre-Socratic way This was 1973 Gordon Matta-Clark purchased 15 lots of New York City real estate, 14 in Queens and one in Staten Island These were tiny residual scraps of land, some narrower than a person’s shoulders, which had escaped official zoning and the avarice of developers Most were bits of sidewalk or gutter space or a strip down somebody’s driveway Gordon Matta-Clark bought them at public auction for $25 each and called them metaphoric voids or the place where you stop to tie your shoe He mapped and measured and photographed and cataloged the properties, but had no purpose in mind for them beyond the joy and mischief of introducing an extra bit of justice into the Anaxamandrian grid of New York City His comments to the press were fairly literal Quote, “The wild dogs, the junkies and I “use these spaces to work out some life problems.” (audience laughing) Overall, there was something truly unbounded in the spirit of ’70s conceptual art with its harebrained and socially redeeming adventures But in this case, the adventure did not survive the era Gordon Matta-Clark died in 1978 and the properties were repossessed by the city for nonpayment of taxes Whence things have their coming into being, so they have their passing away, for they give justice and recompense to one another for their injustice according to the ordinance of time Or as my pre-Socratic dad used to say back in the good years, “By means of a box of matches, “you can demonstrate almost anything in the world “except a box of matches.” Thank you and good night (audience applauding)

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