Saturday, December 31, 2011
Monday, December 26, 2011
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
– Jack Novak, Filament Theatre, 10/2011
Friday, June 3, 2011
Grand Junction is indeed Grand. The wide, flat desert valley is bordered on one side by the Book Cliffs, some 200 miles of beautifully eroded flat-topped rock cliffs. The cliffs are named for the semi-regular vertical lines that give them the appearance of a row of books neatly lining a shelf. The cliffs are composed primarily of sedimentary rock and are said to be an excellent place to study what geologists call "sequence stratigraphy." A great word for a dynamic concept ("dynamic" because the concept is hotly debated) for understanding the sequences of rock strata formed over time.
I am reminded of a favorite story from the Seneca (first nations people of the American Northeast) that tells of the origin of stories. The gist is that the people did not have or tell stories until a young hunter received them from Grandfather Stone. That stories were first told to people from a stone often strikes my young listeners as fantasy at best, and absurd at worst. But if we consider that most of what we know about the history of our planet we have learned from studying stones, the story gains credence.
For me, the story is a reminder that our ancestors received story and narrative awareness from close observation of the environments in which they lived.
Whether or not sequence stratigraphy endures as a branch of geological study, the presence of stories in stone has been well established and is easily understood out here where the stones stand watch over us and reveal the world's mysteries in the form of intriguing strata and fossilized saurian bones.
The stones are only silent to us if we do not know how to read them, in the same way any shelf of books is silent if we are not literate. The first literacy, was earth literacy. If you want to hear a story, listen to the world around you.
Consider these words from Shakespeare's As You Like It, spoken by the banished Duke Senior as he muses on life in the wild:
"And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything."
Friday, May 27, 2011
First is the familiar story from Hesiod's Theogeny, concerning Ouranos, Gaia, and Kronos. Ouranos, father sky, and Gaia, mother earth, are separated when Kronos castrates Ouranos with a scythe he received from Gaia. Thus begins Time according to some who associate Kronos with Chronos, though this is disputed.
Second is the Maori story, from New Zealand, of Rangi, father sky, and Papa, mother earth, separated by their son, Tane. Tane separates them by placing his head upon earth and feet upon sky, then pushing them apart and becoming the first tree. In this way, Tane, the tree, separates heaven and earth and holds them together at the same time.
It is meaningful that in the first, separation is caused by violence - cutting and castration, whereas in the second the separation is accomplished in a more gentle, and conciliatory manner. This certainly presents inherently different cosmologies. It is worth noting that trees play a role in creating an atmosphere and thereby separating earth from sky (space) making life possible. It is also worth considering how the notion of psychic separation from spirit and matter creates an alienating sense of self moving through time. Without a sense of time, narrative could not exist.
But the thing I think about most, lately, is how Tane becomes Tree by putting his head upon his mother's breast and feet against his father's chest, stretching upwards in a deep-rooted head stand. The storyteller could have had Tane simply stand on earth and push on sky like Kronos' younger brother, Atlas, holding up the sky. But the story has the head of trees in the earth. As I look out at the trees, I imagine them that way. The visible part of trees is only half the whole, waist to toes if you will. The head and arms are below ground.
If the Western Mind, inheritor of the Greek cosmology, is alienated from earth and sky, perhaps we would do well to take an idea from the Maori and turn our heads around.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
"By their nature, most tribal and nomadic societies have had no writing system. And they are blessed as a result. They depend on each other for entertainment, for stimulation. Huddled around the campfire, the storytellers pass on the collective wisdom of the tribe. Their oral tradition is perfected and sleek, like stones in a river, rounded by time. The information has an extra dimension because it enters the body through the ears and not through the eyes. Listen, stare into the flames, and imagination unfolds.
I have seen storytellers casting their magic in the depths of the Peruvian Amazon, and in teahouses in Turkey, in India and .Afghanistan. I have found them, too, in Papua New Guinea and in Patagonia, in Kenya's Rift Valley, in Namibia and Kazakhstan. Their effect is always the same. They walk a tightrope, no wider than a hairsbreadth, suspended between fact and fantasy, singing to the most primitive part of our minds. We cannot help but let them in. With words they can enchant us, teach us, pass on knowledge and wisdom, as they had done to Marwan.
Stories are a communal currency of humanity. They follow the same patterns irrespective of where they are found. And, inexplicably, the same stories appear in cultures continents apart. How is it that similar tales can be found in Iceland and in pre-Columbian America? How come Cinderella is considered European, but is also a part of the folklore of the American Algonquins?
My father used to tell me that stories offer the listener a chance to escape but, more importantly, he said, they provide people with a chance at maximizing their minds. Suspend ordinary constraints, allow the imagination to be freed, and we are charged with the capability of heightened thought.
Learn to use your eyes as if they are your ears, he said, and you become connected with the ancient heritage of man, a dream world for the waking mind. "
Friday, April 22, 2011
We are presented with a choice: adopt the Kyoto Accords and save the Earth or reject them and save American jobs. This is a classically self-involved American Story. Unhappily, at that time, we chose door number 2: jobs. Today, I think that has begun to change. Paradoxically, the motion back to earth from sky may have been sparked by our first effort to leave the planet entirely: the moon landing. For when our astronauts reached the moon, they sent us our first look at the earth (and ourselves) from space. That image still ripples through our consciousness and seeds the rewriting of our stories.
Several years ago I had the privilege to share the stage with Martha Holloway for a joint lecture/storytelling at the University of San Diego titled "The View From Space: stories of the earth in its entirety." Give a listen:
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
"Clearly the race today is between loud speaking and soft, between things that are and the things that seem to be, between the chemist of RCA and the angel of God. Radio has already given sound a wide currency, and sound "effects" are taking the place once enjoyed by sound itself. Television will enormously enlarge the eye's range, and, like radio, will advertise the Elsewhere. Together with the tabs, the mags, and the movies, it will insist that we forget the primary and the near in favor of the secondary and the remote. More hours in every twenty-four will be spent digesting ideas, sounds, images - distant and concocted. In sufficient accumulation, radio sounds and television sights may become more familiar than their originals."
"A book is so soon made, it costs so little, and it can travel so far! Why wonder that the whole of human thought should flow down this slope? This is not to say that architecture will not now and again have a fine monument, an isolated masterpiece. From time to time, in the reign of printing, we may well still get a column made, I suppose, by a whole army, from the fusing of cannons, as, under the reign of architecture, they had Iliads and Romanceros, Mahabharatas and Nibelungen, made by a whole people from an accumulation and fusion of rhapsodies. The great accident of an architect of genius might occur in the twentieth century just like that of Dante in the thirteenth. But architecture will no longer be the social, the collective, the dominant art. The great poem, the great edifice, the creation of mankind will no longer be built, it will be printed.
And in future, should architecture accidentally revive, it will no longer be master. It will be subject to the law of literature, which once received the law from it. The respective positions of the two arts will be reversed. It is a fact that during the age of architecture - admittedly rare - poems resembled the monuments. In India, Vyasa is intricate, strange and impenetrable, like a pagoda. In the Egyptian East, poetry, like the buildings, has a grandeur and tranquillity of line; in ancient Greece, beauty, serenity and calm; in Christian Europe, the majesty of Catholicism, the naïvety of the people, the rich and luxuriant vegetation of an age of renewal. The Bible resembles the Pyramids, the Iliad the Parthenon, Homer Phidias. Dante in the thirteenth century was the last Romanesque church, Shakespeare in the sixteenth the last Gothic cathedral. Thus, to sum up what we have said so far in a necessarily incomplete and truncated form, the human race has two books, two registers, two testaments: masonry and printing, the bible of stone and the bible of paper. When we study these two bibles, so fully opened through the centuries, it is permissible surely to feel nostalgia for the visible majesty of what was written in granite, those gigantic alphabets formulated as colonnades, pylons and obelisks, those mountains, as it were, which covered the world and the past, from the pyramid to the steeple, from Cheops to Strasbourg. We must re- read the past from these marble pages. We must constantly admire and turn the pages of the book written by architecture; but we must not gainsay the grandeur of the edifice which printing has erected in its turn.
This edifice is colossal. Some maker of statistics or other has calculated that if all the volumes which have issued from the presses since Gutenberg were placed one on top of the other they would occupy the distance from the earth to the moon; but that is not the kind of grandeur we mean. Yet, when we try to compose in our minds a total picture of the sum of the products of the printing-press up till our own day, does the whole not appear to us as a vast construction, with the entire world as its base, at which mankind has been working without respite and whose monstrous head is lost in the profound mists of the future? It is the ant-hill of the intellect. It is the hive to which all the golden bees of the imagination come with their honey. It is an edifice of a thousand stories. Here and there, on staircases, one can see the mouths of the murky tunnels of science, which intersect in its bowels. On its surface, everywhere, the luxuriance of art, with its arabesques, its rose-windows and its tracery. Here, each individual work, however isolated or capricious it may appear, has its own place and protuberance. Its harmony comes from whole. From the cathedral of Shakespeare to the mosque of Byron, innumerable bell-turrets jostle indiscriminately on this metropolis of the universal mind. At its base, a number of the ancient titles of mankind have been rewritten, which architecture had not recorded. On the left of the entrance has been affixed the old white marble bas-relief of Homer, on the right the polyglot bible rears its seven heads. Further on stands the bristling hydra of the Romancero, with other hybrid forms, the Vedas and the Nibelungen. For the rest, this prodigious edifice remains perpetually unfinished. The printing-press, that giant machine, tirelessly pumping the whole intellectual sap of society, is constantly spewing out fresh materials for its erection. The entire human race is on the scaffolding. Each mind is a mason. The humblest can stop up a hole or lay a stone. Restif de la Bretonne, contributes his hod-load of plaster. Every day a new course is added. And aside from the original offerings of individual writers, there are collective contingents. The eighteenth century gives the Encyclopédie, the Revolution the Moniteur. This indeed is a construction which grows and mounts in spirals without end; here is a confusion of tongues, ceaseless activity, indefatigable labour, fierce rivalry between all of mankind, the intellect’s promised refuge against a second deluge, against submersion by the barbarians. This is the human race’s second Tower of Babel."
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Beloved, let us once more praise the rain.
Let us discover some new alphabet,
For this, the often praised; and be ourselves,
The rain, the chickweed, and the burdock leaf,
The green-white privet flower, the spotted stone,
And all that welcomes the rain; the sparrow too,—
Who watches with a hard eye from seclusion,
Beneath the elm-tree bough, till rain is done.
There is an oriole who, upside down,
Hangs at his nest, and flicks an orange wing,—
Under a tree as dead and still as lead;
There is a single leaf, in all this heaven
Of leaves, which rain has loosened from its twig:
The stem breaks, and it falls, but it is caught
Upon a sister leaf, and thus she hangs;
There is an acorn cup, beside a mushroom
Which catches three drops from the stooping cloud.
The timid bee goes back to the hive; the fly
Under the broad leaf of the hollyhock
Perpends stupid with cold; the raindark snail
Surveys the wet world from a watery stone...
And still the syllables of water whisper:
The wheel of cloud whirs slowly: while we wait
In the dark room; and in your heart I find
One silver raindrop,—on a hawthorn leaf,—
Orion in a cobweb, and the World.