Monthly Archives: May 2014

This is another of the philosophy-poems that I have been writing for a project called Thought || Language || Poetry. Unlike most of these pieces, this one is new. It is a poetic reimagination of a passage from Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace.

Wreathes of Smoke

Silence of God.
The noises here below
imitate this silence.
They mean nothing.

When from the innermost
we need a sound that does
mean something —
when we cry out for answer
and it is not given —
it is then that we touch
the silence of God.

We play at making shapes
in wreathes of smoke,
but when we are too exhausted,
when we no longer have the courage,
then we must have real words.
We cry out for them.
The cry tears our entrails.

I’ve been reading Gravity and Grace by Simone Weil again, and I was arrested this time by her idea of thickness, where what lies between us and God is the infinite thickness of time and space. 

In the section called The Cross, she writes, “God wears Himself out through the infinite thickness of time and space in order to reach the soul and to captivate it. […] It has in its turn, but gropingly, to cross the infinite thickness of time and space in search of Him whom it loves. It is thus that the soul, starting from the opposite end, makes the same journey that God made towards it.” A little later she says, “We have to cross the infinite thickness of time and space — and God has to do it first, because he comes to us first,” and then again, “God crosses through the thickness of the world to come to us.”

What I find in this idea of thickness is a particularly apt description of how I myself experience the universe, time and space, being, or any of that whole constellation of ideas, how I experience the impossibility of self, of universe, and of self in the universe. It feels to me that there is a thickness to all of this, not just in the sense of breadth, but also in the sense of texture, the thickness of layers and complexity, the thickness of fog and cloud, of bog and mire, of wind and forest, a thickness of idea and description and experience.

What this thickness describes for me is the texture of the universe’s impossibility, not the impossibility itself, but how the impossibility feels as I make my way through it, as I run my hands over its surfaces. It describes how I experience the impossibility of everything, from roasting coffee, to loving my children, to sitting on the toilet, all of it too full of otherness and specificity and complexity and ambiguity, too full of thickness to be possible, and nevertheless here for me and in me.

Any approach to the universe, whether through the gods of religion or of atheism, must account for this thickness, because to cross it, or to make the attempt, is constitutively human, even and especially if the attempt is impossible, if the crossing must be made from whatever lies beyond the thickness of space and time, a whatever that comes to us, comes first, to reach and captivate us.

I want to write about nothing except home, nothing, to write about nothing but being at home, coming to home, finding home, because it is the only thing in me that is worth writing.  It is the one true thing that I have to say.

I am almost certainly not the first person to have noted this phenomenon, but it struck me the other night, as John Jantunen and I were having beers at The Albion, that perhaps our society’s recent obsession with infectious monstrosity, our love affair with zombies, vampires, and werewolves, is a symptom of a culture that is itself infectious.

As our watching and reading and listening is increasingly dominated by the viral, and as our relation to others is increasingly dominated by the exchange of this viral culture, we have become little more than hosts for cultural infection.  We exist more and more only to be infected and to infect others, not by accident, but by decision, as the degree of our exposure to the viral and our capacity to infect others becomes a mark of social stature.  We are a community of the infected, and our status is determined by the degree of our infection.

This is perhaps why our representation of infectious monstrosity has grown so sympathetic.  As we recognize ourselves and our behaviour in that of vampires and werewolves, we humanize these creatures in order to justify our own infection.  In this sense, the zombie apocalypse has already come and left us as mindless spreaders of infection, with only just enough humanity remaining that we still try to humanize our monstrosity.

This is a poem of a kind that I have been writing as an intellectual exercise for some time, as a way to engage with the thinkers who provoke me, though this is the first time I have posted one of them. Each of these poems takes a passage from a philosopher or a theorist or a theologian and reimagines it as poetry. In this case, I have taken a passage from Jacques Derrida’s Aporias. The poem was first written in 2003 and has been brushed up a few times since. I am considering building these pieces into a larger project that I might call, in homage to Heidegger, Thought || Language || Poetry.

At this Rendevouz

Waiting for each other
is related to death,
to the borders of death,
where we wait
for each other, know,
life being always too short,
that one is waiting
for the other there
because the one
and the other never
arrive together
at this rendevouz.

My children woke me early this morning. I found something to amuse them, then I roasted coffee on the front porch for the first time this spring. I sat on the porch steps to drink it while I read some poetry: Kate Cayley’s When this World Comes to an End (for the third time in the last week or two), Annie Dillard’s Mornings Like This (which seemed appropriate to the day and which has some truly profound bits in it), and Leonard Cohen’s The Spice-Box of Earth (which I have somehow managed to avoid reading until now).  It was both sunny and cool.  Birds were foraging in the garden.  The bloodroot flowers were up in clumps.

Let me quote Dillard: “This is not a thing that I have sought, / But it has come across my path, and I have seized it.”

This is a another poem for These, My Streets, a series of poems about the streets of my neighbourhood. It’s about Douglas Street, which runs at a curious angle off of Guelph’s main square.


We had some good times, didn’t we,
You and I. Do you remember
that crazy bookstore, jammed just full
of trash fantasy and old issues
of Playboy that everyone browsed
but no one bought? I used to spend
my Saturday afternoons there
rummaging the unsorted bin
for stray dollar-each poetry gems,
while the owner flipped magazines.
And there was the furniture store
where I bought a hope chest to stand
for the ring my pride couldn’t buy,
the first real substantial thing
that I ever bought, though I knew
it wasn’t really what she hoped.
And the restaurant where we went,
still hoping, for our first true taste
of adulthood, wild boar and frites
and a cabernet sauvignon
that was recommended to us
when we had no clue what to drink.
Good times, you and I, good times,
but they’re mostly memories now,
and all but drifting into myth.

I am very slowly making my way through Jean Baudrillard’s The Transparency of Evil, and I came across a quotation that I want to explore at some greater depth.  It occurs in an essay called, “Transsexuality”, a word that Baudrillard uses much more broadly than its usual sense.  As he draws his argument to a conclusion, he says, “Since it is no longer possible to base any claim on one’s own existence, there is nothing for it but to perform an appearing act without concerning oneself with being – or even with being seen.  So it is not:  I exist, I am here! but rather: I am visible, I am an image – look! look!  This is not even narcissism, merely an extraversion without depth, a sort of self-promoting ingenuousness whereby everyone becomes the manager of their own appearance.”

The book was originally published in 1990, well before the ubiquity of social media, but the phenomenon that Baudrillard describes has found a powerful expression in the ways that people present themselves online.  Social media are often described as a way for people to stay connected, but the kinds of connections that they provide are of the type that used to exist only between people and their media heroes – singers, actors, athletes, politicians, socialites – that is, connections between people and the images that some people are able to portray of themselves by means of media mediation.  We all know (or most of us do) that these connections are unreal, that they do not constitute relation in any real way.  We consume the images of these people.  We interest ourselves in them.  We do not know them.

The explosion of social media, however, allows us all to participate in that same mode of connection as well.  Now we too are able to use the media to create images of ourselves for the consumption of others.  Now we too consume the images that those we know create of themselves.  We appear to each other.  We manage our appearance for each other.  We do not even try to exist.  We only strive to be visible.  We emulate our media heroes, not by doing what they do, but by appearing as they appear, by being visible as they are visible.

Now, this appearing to each other is often (though perhaps less and less) complicated by the fact that we also know each other, not in our unmediated selves (which is always an impossibility), but in the selves that are not mediated by our social media — to use Baudrillard’s language, our appearing to be comes into conflict with our being seen.  This is an important distinction, at least to me, because it recognizes that although it is never possible for me to be to another, there is something worth striving for in allowing myself to be seen by others rather simply appearing for them.

I would say that on this distinction hangs the future of relation.