I ran out of time on yesterday' afternoon's entry and had to run out the door to go to a reading for the new issue of Lit magazine (which includes two pieces by my friend Matthew Pennock). Running down the clock meant I didn't have time to say anything about the good book I was reading yesterday, Sandy Florian's Telescope. It's a daunting bit of work--long prose pieces unpacking an abecadarian of exotic everyday objects over many pages. I had a curious experience reading it of a rapid succession of shutter-speed associations as I read: first it made me think of Gertrude Stein in its chunky syntax that is developed into something like a moral philosophy. I remember having this thought originally when I was studying the masonry of dry stone wall building in France and struggling desperately to remember and wield French vocabulary at the same time. So Florian makes me think of this, first language as a second language, workmanlike, something to strive for.
Telescope is also like Stein's Tender Buttons in its "stony stones" Russian formalistish attempt to look at an object--say, an accordian for Florian like a carafe for Stein--minus its pragmatic usage but still drenched in its visual and tactile impact and its cultural context. Suddenly I'm thinking this is a totally structuralist idea but in both cases it's too personal to become a myth.
I'm also reminded in a similar way of Lawrence Weiner's '70s artwork in which he presents not a minimalist sculpture but a description of one painted on the wall as if the word could be what it means rather that meaning it. Here's an example which I hope I get right, squinting at a too small picture on the Dia:Beacon web site: "Two slabs lying against each other to form a form with another slab lying on the ground." It's like this in Telescope, the feeling that words just have to be vacuumed and swept enough to produce something actual. It's an idea so idealistic it makes me want to try it myself, like Pygmalion.
But then at the same time in Florian's consistent use of "And." "For." "Or." etc. to link sentences I find myself pondering Bertrand Russell's Principia Mathematica and logic, all those "intersection of" and union of" ideas built out of upside-down U's and transformative ='s. Reading it is a little like unraveling a proof, following sentences into algebraic chains. And strangely this is practically the opposite of words becoming things: it's words as numbers to juggle in a perfect flowchart, the pure purest ideas. I think this is the crux of the book and what it makes it impressive, that it can simultaneously feint (float like a butterfly, sting like a bee?) to both sides of some Platonic dichotomy. The distinctions won't hold but if old metaphysics needs work here's evidence to get us somewhere.
I found Florian's name perusing the schedule of a wonderful-sounding English language reading series in Paris. Now there's an idea that's transporting.