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Notebook (Firenze 2018, Red)

Begun on train to Firenze, April 2018 Done on bus to FCO, May 2018

Continued from end of grey notebook

on revision…

Thoughts are most often imprecise things, with multiple connections, strong cables lapsing into patches of fog… and so are words

like Proteus, whose colors/appearances stall when you grab him, except that you then realize that you have only his skin, a skein of an idea…

Delight is in the slippery spaces between words, confusion also

The fact that I can look back on my own notes from years past and not be able to reassemble what I was trying to say, what I ‘intended’–this seems to imply that I do not have ideas in the way that I have other things (or perhaps I do, and all having is illusory) & certainly implies that words are not a solid currency for ideas.

If I do pick up notes from years past, I am unlikely to develop them in the same manner.

Thoughts are a kind of multimedia hybrid–of observations, leaves tacked to paper, tastes and of abstractions, developed from top-to-bottom (which is to say, by stating a general, non-detailed phrase and successively filling in the details, circling around foggy patches of the initial articulation)

The other thing about thought which belies any masquerade of ‘omniscience’ or ‘infallibility’… my ideas tend to be born somewhat arbitrarily, borne by unforeseen confluences & unforced associations regarding those confluences.

I put my stake in the earth wherever this happens to occur (lightning stone), and it ends up serving as a cornerstone, though there is nothing about the starting place which ‘deserves’ primacy.

If we do not keep our words and ideas open to growth and interaction when we communicate, we risk always being at war. (fight vs. flight, unicursal labyrinth vs. city streets)

There is no space for friendship then, only for being either misunderstood or obeyed. And however we may console ourselves that we are ‘geniuses’ or ’leaders’, we will be alone,

which is contrary to the nature of persons, or who we are.

Back to the term ‘communication’, to be brought together, and that less debased form of the concept, where the idea of union still supercedes mere ’transmission’– COMMUNION

where the sender steps down into the medium of the receiver, into the receiver’s own self, beyond what is possible.

In doctrine, in approaches and entrances to the same holy ground, there is always dance, deja-vu, the quality of change-without-change, which is the definition of SYMMETRY

Thinking specifically of Christian doctrine, it is the ORGANISM which speaks/chants/etc. which is constant: the BODY of IC+XC stretched across time and space,

while the formulae change: there is not a ‘magic combination’ of words.

arti maggiori


  • silkworkers
  • swordmakers
  • notaries
  • merchants
  • apothecaries
  • stone-masons
  • furriers
  • cobblers


A church (b. 832) used as a granary, which was converted back to a church when an icon of the Virgin had mircles attributed to it.

You can still see ducts & shafts coming down from the granary (relocated to the second floor) into the nave through the pillars. Guilds gathered outside, along the sides of the building–but the center of that commerce was still a chamber oriented inward toward to the sacred–to something beyond control, un-ownable.

They could not occupy that center.

Now no one believes in miracles anymore, but they still come into that center to sit, for silence and beauty.

Art is a way of seeing which ennobles, which magnifies the portions of the world it passes over.

The artist is nothing, a name attached to a way of seeing–but that sight is an entire world.

[We use their names now to refer to those worlds]

& it invites others to enter, & to be with, see with, in a union, a love.

“e le sue voci / con sitiunt

[the Angel] “confined his words to THIRST” [Purg. 22.6.]

“I swim against the tide”

[Arnaut Daniel, Canso, re: desire for a woman]

Is all desire a swimming against the tide?

The tide, glittering mesh of launch and gravity threshold of want and limit

A skeptic could argue (especially in a milieu bombarded by ads & vitriol) that ideas, and therefore art, are a form of mind control–an attempt to colonize and control others’ way of seeing. This seems almost hopelessly (literally) silly.

An idea, in order to be worthwhile, must be strong–yet its strength is like that of a cell wall, permeable. It lets in nutrients and keeps out what is harmful.

[In this sense, both cells and ideas resemble rituals, as described by Jane Ellen Harrison, whose primary function is regulatory: ‘in with the good, out with the bad’]

An idea, a work of art, must also co-exist with other voices,

[“Let there be commerce between us”: Pound to Whitman]

And not harm, but borrow and savor, and give to others. Be food for others.

[“Enlarge the available stock of metaphors” - Coleridge; and forms, colors, figures…]

& the miracle/mystery is that meaning can catch aflame and not be consumed, like the burning bush where the Logos appeared.

[Artists forget this, jockeying for influence: as Brunelleschi dissing Donatello’s wooden ‘Crussifissione’]

And all wrought things attending to and partaking of the rhythm of what is, the pinnacles and hallows, glow with this light.

We will not find peace in another age if we have not made it here.

We will not see beauty in another world, if we have not tuned our sight here, composed our breath.

Above our heads the vaulted arches, crisscrossed, which say:

“You are forever entering” and “You are here”

// between Buddhism and Christianity, which diagnose our condition as desire, yet Buddhism sees desire as illusory, while XC sees it as the germ of something vaster.

Bargello– Sculptures are lonely, disconnected, each balanced on its own axis, arc of torso radiating to a solitary base.

Each separate equipoise, however frenzied, ends in itself–and can never be perfect, since to be perfect is to be beyond the limits of oneself.

Beatrice’s tomb is small, easily unnoticed. Yet all of the Divina Commedia is an attempt to bore through this stone. Even now, as Dante lies long in Ravenna, the poem continues to scratch at this sepulchre,

and will continue, as long as language is, for in the urge to speak is the urge to conquer death.

Death, which is isolation.

Heaven is embedded in the act of speech. Even the animals who have symbolic speech have this.

The there. Thereafter. Only ever arrived at through here.

It is hard to grow a halo. In Perugino’s Pieta, Mary Magdalene holds the feet of Christ, his toenails presumably still growing, metatarsals splintered under room-temperature skin,

Tears congeal on her face, as beautiful as that of any woman standing in this gallery.

And it appears above her head like an incipient thought, and if she tried to hold onto it, it would disappear.

Inasmuch as Dante’s pursuit of Beatrice ranged beyond what is seen, it was perhaps most of all a spectacular failure to find Heaven in the midst of his own life.

“In the midst of my life I found myself…”

It can be harder to reach out across the kitchen, across the tense bed, than across the gulf of death, to build the terrestrial paradise.

Not the journey away, up the mountains, but the walk home. Where words are not needed, because there is nowhere to gesture to. An arm in an arm, the interlocking orbits.

For the spiral to spin, it needs 2 centers, inclined around each other. We circle each other while setting the table.

It is as though he had forgotten, against all evidence at the tip of his pen, that words have the power not only to point but to gather in.

I like to think that when he saw Gemma and the kids again, he brought it all back. That he made love to her like a man who has startle up from drowning. That he did dishes and laundry sometimes, and gardened with a pocketful of the pollen which grows the world.

I do not think he did.

You drown me in the river again and again, we are both drowning, by turns saving, by turns being saved

Who knows where the river is bringing our bodies, tumbled by watery light & depth, except that we are each others

When we make love I am a drowning man, gasping for your breath.

In a fresco of us, each has one hand rising outward from the wall, painting the other gathering pigments from the air, dandelion wisps, and pollen for the eyedeep gleam.

In the afterworld, your soft hands are my scales. In the meantime, you must be the bird who flies with my heart strung to your ankle.

Heaven is painted with the lines and tinctures of earth, and

earth is a painting of heaven.

Despite the posthumous application of ‘Divina’ to La Commedia, it sems apt enough.

Unlike ‘sacra’, ‘divina’ has the connotation of discovery, of coming to knowledge, of motion.

Cimabue’s Crussifissione (and its adoption as the primary figure of Deity in the West, the Christus patiens) pulls toward the weight of earth, away from the Byzantine world and its unearthly gravity. Cf. Francis Bacon, “I always saw a worm crawling down a cross”.

With the focus on ‘humanity’, on bringing down the heavenly, we were grasping it as a rope to escape, and were left holding the slack and clammy corpse of a god

And, as if at the bottom of this crucifix, sit all of the sculptures of the Renaissance, trapped in their separate weights.

(Recall that Perseus used Medusa’s head to turn monsters into stone. Inasmuch as we are individual, that is to say asocial, we are monsters. And turned to monuments.)

What does one do with a dead god but feel guilt? And so we usher in an age of guilt, where I am the center but never enough.

In a well with a fallen rope.

No wonder we began to rely on measure to escape, since only the ground and the objects around us exist.
Piece by piece to manufacture our escape. No longer knowing to what, just away from guilt/pain.

[And the Church fed that guilt, street corner by street corner, where the little crucifixes still hang. A means of control. A guild to build some heavenward contraption which they had embarrassingly lost the blueprints for.]

Having pulled down heaven, there was only earth. No wonder the cathedral mass is empty. No wonder the city revels and gathers on its steps each night like the gates on an abandoned funhouse.

Yet something persists. Yet there are lines around the block to enter in–to stand within an apse, a golden lapse in space–to feel how harmony transcends weight, takes it and counterbalances it against the stars.

Not weighed down, but weighed with.

[Counterpoise, without desire (to have), but with hope (to become)]

Pilgrims come to catch an aftertaste, a lingering of beauty–hobbling over the cobbled pavement, trusting they will find it.

Having been trained by symmetry to hope for the next unfurling oasis blossom at the next interminable stretch

harmony of law and ligaments, this aching weight pulls us below the frequency of sense, to elegenace.

(the parts symmetrical, intuiting a whole beyong our comprehension–as one could not guess the Duomo from a single arch or apse)

We may say that we do not trust this structure, symmetry or rhyme: yet we are startled, disgusted at injustice and inequity.

(Disgust relating to eating, which is an art of balance, not of quantity.)

Structure does not destroy freedom. We retain a love for the odd detail, the mismatch–the asymmetrical feature:

the heart among a person parallels, the figure IC+XC off-center between two mounds of robes, the birthmark on the side of the neck,

yet these details, akilter, emphasize the symmetry & are dependent on it (ocean they swim in)

They are even, one might say, the beginning of a new symmetry, incipient within the known world, the hint of other orders–edge effects, as the forest thins to meadow.

‘The unassimilable fact leads us on.’ – Ammons

As the central line of the tercet in terza rima forms the bounds of the next.

“those old pagan gods still going to and fro on the earth, under all sorts of disguises” –Walter Pater, Renaissance…

“…the effect of a beautiful object kept constantly before the eye in a story or poem, of keeping sensation well awake, and giving a certain air of refinement to all scenes where it enters; with a heighteneing also of that sense of fate; which hangs so much of the shaping of human life of trivial events…” –Walter Pater, Renaissance…

swallow threading the airy alleys

silence of flight, flight of silence

compactness/precision of utterance (or the working out of this) i.e. natural law or its working out in combination with other laws

One cd figure out the ‘rule’ of Whitman’s lines, but is their fecundity, their splay and breeding on the page, which brings joy.

But for we who live downstream from so many algorithms, in the watershed of algorithms, drinking their oily waterfilm, the allure of fresh water, of the elegant simple law…

it is a physical thirst.

When I have tried to articulate a sense that ideas are unimportant, it is not this–

it is that worthwhile ideas are discoveries, and thus approached with sacred awe, rather than gripped like tools–

Eternal life is terrible when viewed askance, like…


…but immersed in perspective, it is a harmony, a symmetry unfolding into presence.

Symmetry is beautiful, because it floats amid annihilation, if the edges of a thing are its annihilation,

cf. Life’s symmetry:

birth |————| death

“the child is the father of the man” – WW Shakes. 7 ages

definite, infinite

Is the act of definition a counter-motion to the infinite, or…

does the act of attention required for definition open a rift, unleash the levees of another infinity, through the channel of a person?

(and really it is the same infinity)

So that definition is a knot, of infinity flowing through itself.

from Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini’ intro to Language and Learning: Debate between Piaget and Chomsky (1980).

He distinguishes between the following biological models for the creation of form:

Crystal Flame
Invariance of structure Consistent form despite internal agitation
Self-organizing system Order from noise in environment
// Vulcan // Mercury
Built Emergent property

Might a flower be a figure for the marriage of crystal and fire?

Our anonymous children.
So many die, not particularly
enlightened or exquisitely
loved. Outside gardens or in.
Their tedious suffering assumed
into statistical paradise.

It was painful to transplant the filigreed logic of dreams,
into this gross world
using its brutish tools and armaments,
to drape new veins into my arms, of fungal tracery,
using only boxing gloves.

It seems that particular sentences or passages of writing might usefully be seen as evolving, using a process similar to natural selection–such that the exigencies of a particular social or ideological ecosystem would activate the emphasis of certain words or passages in order to fit their needs.

In this way of thinking, the ‘fittest’ writings would be those most flexible to match their environment and/or those with the greatest ability to shape their environment.

We are the earth’s territory, the young it devours through
their own ravenous kisses.

Velvet green mountains outside,
I am gasping pollen from your humid thighs

Spring and all terrestrial stars are in us
as breath created,
over and over, under the vines

There are gods, yes, and their blood is in us
have chased its drops uncoiled into the labyrinth

lace delicate enough to start a war

So mad the desire for delicacy, to protect.

To hold the valley’s mist on your tongue
though it melt

von Humboldt: Imagination “soothes the deep wounds that reason sometimes creates.”

Piazza Navona, 5.5.18

Subduing animals, we become them. Feathered hips clutch the swans, tentacled thighs strain against the coils.

Goethe’s Faust: Knowledge cannot be wrenched from Nature by object, instrument of experiment alone.

“We snatch in vain at Nature’s veil
She is mysterious in broad daylight
No screws or levers could compel her to reveal
the secrets she has hidden from our sight.”

Principle beneath variety:

  • Plato’s IDEA
  • Newton’s LAWS

Goethe and Humboldt in Yena, combining

  • subjective experience with reason
  • scientific data with subective perception and response

Imagination and Rationality, call and response of facts and feelings

Goethe’s Ur-form of plants: the archetypal form underlying the varieties of flora.

“The plant is always nothing but leaf”

Not an act of classification, but a sensitivity to the unseen forces that form a thing.

internal force |—> <—| external force

the individual being is created by the interaction at the boundary of these

Turn eterne

If we would stay long within this land
we must allow our wings to become stone,

must have a river for a gullet

our names sunk there with antique barges

for we are young as mornings
washings on the shore

We must be notched/fretted with arches, coming and going from the sky

and breasts, so many,
quarried from depths, alert as birds

and valves to bring and bear away those who travel through us

moss-crotched, patient in want, you perch above a bowl of holy water
Egyptian eyebrows, Baroque skin, a travertine skull

you must keep, just off center, your heart

a wound: an altar

a valved instrument to lure and bear away

through cavernous gates conveying centuries of travelers
reborn to tunnels, lungs and dawns

here they paint houses with the sun’s revelations:
rust petal, blood-orange,

and tourists take pictures by the bleaching hour
sharing the colors of until.

S. Caecilia in Trastevere

Beyond the courtyard, fountain, past vast doors, down the geometric marble aisle, beneath the circular heavens and the organ’s syrupy tone

in the center of the made world is a pale, cowering woman
with her throat slit.

Why have so many people filed through these doors to visit her? Why do the mosaic lambs align, stage center, with the mark of death? Why were the doors built at all? Why steal the Roman pillars and the colored shards?

As a monument to the central, sensual truth, that to conquer the fear of death is more than emperoros or civilizations can muster.

The monument is built both in homage, and as a way of distancing ourselves.

To take in all of life in one swallow
is more than we can bring ourselves to taste.

We distance by lifting up.

revere, vertical, revert

Continuing with our meager fear, even at the feet of the revelation.

(Eventually the Church became fearful of wounds, of life’s verge, and would not follow martyrs but produce them. Across the river, G. Bruno was burned in the name of infinity)

It bears asking whether knowledge is, in fact, a thing that can be democratized. Can an old growth forest be democratized? Can wine with terroir?

[File under: Medium // Message]

The reduction of words to Unicode & their ubiquitous availability has been touted as a “democratization of knowledge.” Words/text are the containers of thought, and thus there is now no formal difference between:

  • an illuminated manuscript
  • the words scrawled by Pascal into his coat pocket
  • the menu at a local restaurant
  • a bill posted on the federal government’s website


rough | live
smooth | dead
heat-killed smooth | live
rough & heat-killed smooth | dead

Griffiths experiment (1928)

  • transfer of traits from dead bacteria’s DNA to live, non-virulent DNA
  • even when killed, the DNA transforms the living

We are made up of the past, our surroundings. They live in us.

Boveri-Sutton chromosome theory– found that chromosomes combined in a similar way to the heritable traits observed by Mendel Morgan (1911) showed that chromosomes are the physical LOCATION for traits.

Symbols– encoding for traits…

Chromosomes… made up of {DNA, proteins}

Transformation principle (Griffiths experiment): DNA is the ingredient that transforms when you mix one strain with another. (Avery et al. 1944)

DNA’s work in transformation, where it can communicate the traits of the dead to the living, seems an echo of the “collective unconscious” impulse we have sensed, some sub-sub-conscious cellular intuition, that tells us to:

  • procreate (make children, make art)
  • using what is at hand (it is these bodies we have, these colors, these tropes)

“Vita brevis, ars longa”
“A friend to men..”, an ally.
“The communication / of the dead is tongued with fire beeyond the language of the living.” - Little Gidding
“We are born with the dead: See, they return and bring us with them” - Little Gidding

Just as art requires copying, reading, writing, so with transcription.

a. Heritable traits (Mendel) b. are based on chromosomes (Sutton, Boveri Morgan) c. whose transformative language is DNA (Griffith, Avery) d. whose structure is a double helix (Watson, Crick, Franklin)

The dead transmit themselves to us, their minds into our minds, so that we are seeing this oak tree, this grassblade, through their eyes.

What forms do they use, to rise into us? The word/sentence/epigram, catalyzed by epiphany?

Wm. Burroughs thought of the word as a virus, though I am tempted to view it as an appendage– or an ark we store ourselves in as seeds– or as mycelleum, a network which transcends and unites us, ushers us into and after death.

C.S. Lewis speaks about morality being comprised of three separate orientations, which must be balanced:

  1. Social fair play
  2. Individual character
  3. Goal, or destination

These three are strikingly similar to the rules provided by Reynolds for his ‘boids’ programmed to simulate swarm behavior. Which is to say that they “work” at a basic mathematical level to preserve structure and balance individualism and coherence.

Walter Pater paints DaVinci as being suspended between the dueling impulses of


On the one hand, to see thoe impulses as conflicting requires an assumption about the nature of reality– that it will not reward curiosity with grandeur. That at the end of the tunnel which the scalpels opens in the cadaver, there is not some flower.

The explorer in me wants to object to this, but I know also that the drive to discover hungers past beauties– devours vistas as provisional.

It may be that Pater, when juxtaposing these two pulls in Leonardo, has in mind a notion of beauty as equilibrium– composition, proportion and peace.

If, as Poe said, only that which is in proportion to the person can be called beautiful, then a curiosity which drives us into the maw of the infinite or infinitesimal (or any hard, tactile sublimity) will not be beautiful (if by beauty we mean ratio and harmony).

…but can’t motion itself be beautiful, and in proportion? PACING has a grace (not only stillness, but also time has a symmetry–which is what makes music paradoxically approach silence)

This is part of why I love written poetry, because it hugs the divide between spatial (page) and temporal (oral).

Kierkegaard: “It is wholesome to let things hinge on the arbitrary”

Poetic form, which while not random is nonetheless external… it is arbitrariness pored over, inhabited, and granted a meaning which is ultimately the purpose of the form.

What seems arbitrary is often the occasion for epiphany.

One is born into a set of circumstances so complex that they may appear arbitrary, e.g. religious upbringing, race, gender, etc.) yet it is the way we work with these constraints which forms life in its beauty.

Arbiter: an external control // religio, marriage embracing limits.

Our arms and hands should be enough to tell us that the only thing we embrace are limitations.

and we can only embrace these incompletely (cf. Proust’s lament that love desires to embrace all of time, or Michelangelo’s slaves which embrace the ideal only by coming up short of shape).

The sense of the arbitrary as requiring participation is wrapped up in its etymology– to go and see. Which is why “arbiter” = “judge”, or one who goes to observe something which cannot be ascertained from afar, & as we know (even at the quantum level) the act of observing a thing changes it. In this case, investing it with an interpretation.

Arbitrariness is randomness inhabited, made a home.

We cannot help but make the random personal.


blanket of black mollusks
sea-rock pocked with salted rain
rock become banches by erasure, erosion

not the fingers of want, but the blank
spaces between, of plenty

The challenge of phrasing is how to attain precision without succumbing to the illusion that one has attained reality. To grasp, and in grasping, release– like climbing or walking a rope, where the step/attainment must be paired with momentum, or else one falls off.

To nourish the notion, like a wild swift alighting on the windowsill. Not caging it.

Snakes sipping milk from a bowl outside your door.

One grain short of a seashore, stop.


  • treating each ground as provisional
  • avoiding closure, tricking death
  • defeat of hades

The internet as harbinger of teleportation, as attention on the present word is diminished due to the presence of a hyperlink, so our attention to a scenic vista would be diminished if we had a teleporter.