Metaphor Breakdown (#edcmooc)

This is an essay for E-Learning and Digital Cultures (#edcmooc), a mooc offered by coursea.org. It loosely follows an initial essay written by my alter ego. The content seems inappropriate for the photograph blog, so the follow-on is here. The essay bungles together some thoughts evoked by source materials addressing technical determinism and whether digital culture is utopian or dystopian.

In Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson dumps Randy Waterhouse, a protocol level Internet technologist, into a cocktail party populated by business professionals and academics. Waterhouse struggles to listen without commenting while non-technical pundits discuss the Information Superhighway. Watching and reading the resources for E-Learning and Digital Cultures felt close to the scene Stephenson created: Intelligent people creating a metaphor representing something outside their knowledge then forming social-economic theories based on the vehicle rather than the tenor.

In fiction and life, metaphor appears to bring the Internet within reach by suggesting boundaries separating the Internet thing from other things. The isolation feels convenient but fails under close examination. By setting imaginary boundaries where none exist, metaphor fails. It becomes useless at best, misguiding at worst. Other popular metaphors for the Internet, like Digital Cultures suffer the same flaw.

The Internet resists the thingness of popular metaphors the way landmass resists the thingness defined by political maps. Maps outline countries with crisp, clear boundaries but the boundaries represent transient, artificial elements not found on the landmass. In a similar way, Internet theories based on metaphors address imagined attributes existing only in metaphor.

Analogies and metaphors used by those who understand to explain to those who do not understand often contribute to understanding. Analogies and metaphors created by those who do not understand because they do not understand often mislead and establish barriers to understanding. Popular metaphors of the Internet, including digtital culture feel like the second case. To provide a snarky analogy, theories addressing the utopian/dystopian paths of digital cultures resemble theories of love-making used by celibate disciples of the notion that sex has no biological or social purpose except breeding. The discussions feel meaningless, slightly entertaining but leading to conclusions unrelated to the topic and forcing people, like Randy Waterhouse, to bite their tongues or face conflicts with the emotionally involved.

On Blow

Students[1] and student’s authority figure discuss Kerouac’s “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose” – wonder, they do, what does the man mean writing blow for writing, outblown in writing, blow deep to write – ? – consider, they do, jazzman breathes into mouthpiece blow means breath maybe what is breath to writing to spontaneous writing what -?- Dunno – change subject. Wait. Before we leave the subject, what does this mean? Mean? It means you can’t do it wrong.

Blow boys and girls is more than breath but breath yes but more.

Blow is where breath meets soul, afterhours backroom chit chat yakkity yak – walking talking personal history, progressions, secrets, deep, fatal honesty – blow life, blow death, blow the next score – blow the state of things – home state, on the road state, my state, your state, state of the union, state of affairs – blow yer trysts, yer breaks, yer fixes. Unthought calculation, gyrating, vagabond path tuning head to tail – syncopation spilling, rhythm chilling, harmonic thrilling – blow breath mind blow Soul – intentional, exploratory – blow man blow progressive gaps, high register changes – blow vibrating particulate air into Copenhagenian waves pulsing past predictable Zeitgeistian horizons wetting sands of cosmological surf bum shores – not so far from here to there to not be heard but far enough to baffle swingspectation, dancespectation – Blow Intellectual toe tap, head nod – sound wise exorcism expelling The Blues – amaranthine ancient InsectInvisible infernal imps wall siting, crevice creeping, chronic, ubiquitous, lingering approximately beyond peripheral vision, perpetually waiting to twist hands just wrong, sour songs, turn words mind-inverse making a mess of everything – for a breathless while. Blow blows mind, fingers, lips – ears – syncopation – pitch – pace – alliteration. Blow meets soul afterhours backroom.

Per Jack spontaneous prose harmonizes with Blow. Poet’s blow. Writer’s blow. Ain’t easy Blow – she said it means you cannot do it wrong – flinched but deep down knowing her blowing not wrong resembles right. Can’t blow wrong boys and girls but it’s hard to blow write. Spontaneous blows from center out or down or away – rapid association, not random, unrelated, lacking syntax – out and back. Resolution in association – head, theme, home, start and go, go out, phrase tied to phrase tied to phrase streaming, steaming, hypertext screaming, allusion, allegory, alliteration, assonance, audilic metaphor, magicimagae metaphor, conceited step-sister metaphor speed yap out and away Further – round third and take a taxi home, collect mail – feed cats – then out once more into the twisting cosmos – webweaving Theseusian threads, gossamer rainbows, one pixel pixies dancing relations – every man and woman is a star – Repeat. Spontaneous, honest blow -Intellect meet Soul: they dance – embrace – get naked in the coat room – not wrong but never right except feels write – not wrong works – not works wrong – mutual orgasm alone – with keyboard.

Blow deep below the superficial small talk everyday hypocrisy. Blow deep beneath illusion, delusion – socially programmed games – IMeMy games. Blow deep – shadow place. Honesty chair-tied, half-naked beneath naked bulb – honestly patient hostage – Self-deception and Reptile Mind watch from safe behind one-way mirrors. Blow there corners blue shadow edges. Blow deep beneath Mind’s I. Blow yer Blues ingenuous – synthesize the bastards lying to you, you yourself lying to you undim calignosic secrets all your relations relating it all back again – theme – center – unchill inquiet audience/reader – tension of too far wandering troubling subconscious desire: release. Stray deep Blow deep – undadarandom, unonger mane, walkabout unlost resolving to tonic, harmonic of tonic, prismatic bending of tonic, gin and tonic. Martini?

Breath and Soul melded, named blow – Thesuessian all-color thread draped star strung man to woman to woman to man to infinite connections there is no difference. Buddha in Dog. Dog in Buddha. Dharma Bums acme bent octave escalation – plummet possible but you cannot fall off a mountain. Bring it back – bring it home – center, a center, some center, any center before the 32nd bar.


  1. This is another set of notes made in response to the ModPo class at coursea.org.  ↩

Fast Poem 35: It Doesn’t Make Sense

“It just doesn’t make sense!”

Ah, but it does make sense.

It always makes sense.

It makes more sense than one.

We may not have access to the sense it makes.

We may refuse verity of the sense it makes.

We may sense the sense it makes

but choose

no pursuit 

of the sense we sense,

embracing for the moment no sense 

which, makes no sense

when later we sense

we need to squeeze out some sense                      

to sense some peace of mind,

to get some sense of closure,

to move on.

Sometimes lack of data makes impossible making sense.

Sometimes we lack capacity 

to ingest and condense complexity,

to sculpt cosmic chaos into information

etched with sense of sense.

Sometimes sense fills us: hate,

anger,

tragedy,

threat,

mortality,

letting no excess length width or depth to fit sense.

Sometimes sanity requires denying sense;

“It does not make sense.”

“God works in mysterious ways.”

“It is Satan’s work.”

so we can breath again.

There is no difference between denys

except in words.

Each finite,

valid until

sense illuminates the manuscript

or The End unmatters the matter.

Before,

after, 

neither trigger-event nor sense of event dissipates, bends, or mutates.

Beneath it all it makes the sense it makes.

It always makes sense.

It makes more sense than one,

but sometimes it feels better to cry,

to just to cry,

and that’s okay.

It makes sense

sometimes to cry 

just cry.

It makes sense.

It makes more sense than one.


Via an alter-ego I participate in online course offered by Coursea.org. The course, ModPo (Modern Poetry) is taught/led/guided/coached/illuminated by Al Filreis, Kelly Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania. This was my first encounter with his work. 

I experienced a spiritual weirdness watching the video introducing the course. Ten seconds in I felt that if I should see Al Filreis on the street I would approach, thank him, grab him by the shoulders and rub my beard against his beard, give him a high-five, thank him again, grab his hands and force him to dance an ad-hoc polka and finally grab his right-hand with both of mine and shake his arm off. His enthusiasm for poetry made me feel like I’d found my way home after years of wandering the wilderness, keeping the sun always at my back.

Yet, I disagree with at least 1/2 of what is said and taught in the class – disagree is probably too strong a word – let me say I have ideas below, beyond, sideways, or even above what is said and taught in the class – a condition I find inspiring, illuminating and wonderful.

The poem “It Doesn’t Make Sense” was written in response to a ModPo forum thread. During discussion of Gertrude Stein’s Let Us Describe someone said “Sometimes things don’t make sense.” This led to a quick discussion of “Life not always making sense.” linked to the language experiments of Stein and other Modernist poets. On the forums, for better or worse, my alter ego questioned what sense life does not make. In response, another ModPo participant offered a link to Joan Didion’s essay “White Album.” , generously suggesting it might help my alter-ego grok how life sometimes does not make sense. Several pages of the essay can be read here. I think pages 11 to 14 are those intended. To me, the essay validated the question “What sense does life not make?”, which means my alter-ego did a crappy job explaining himself. I wrote the poem so he maybe, might, sorta find a way to better articulate his resistance to the idea that life sometimes does not make sense.

Pornography Again (I am so sorry)

I thought I was done with this drivel but voices inside my head said “No way little buckeroo!” So back to pornography, a subject I begin to find tres boring. The voices leave me no choice. Think of them as Demons who kidnapped my Muse and threaten to sell her to Arthur Fuddssen if I do not meet their demands.

Pornography and Society

Some People do not approve of pornography. Shocking but true. Ironically, the people responsible for pornography are the very people who do not approve of pornography.

Dig.

Pornography, by definition, refers to media found obscene or otherwise offensive to the senses. Look it up. People who do not approve of pornography do not approve of pornography because they find pornography obscene and offensive. Okay, taking some poetic license here. Eliminate the people who do not approve of pornography because they find pornography immorally obscene and pornography disappears. At least that’s my theory.

The media of pornography, erotic art, does not disappear, only the label, pornography. Erotic art thrived before Victorians decided factory workers would produce more if they spent less time thinking about sex. Erotic art will thrive after our current age of neurotic, sexual suppression.The misguided label for popular erotic art, especially erotic art embraced not for form and substance but for genital arousal: pornography will disappear. This does not mean exhibitionists and voyeurs will discontinue their eternal symbiotic relationships.

Dig friends.

Though unprovable, historical evidence suggests human nature would not seek out mediocre erotic art except for the sexual suppression and resulting social neurosis of our intentionally unnatural society. Eliminate the suppression and the all-too-human attraction to taboo disappears. Without the attraction of taboo, erotic art must provide value beyond something naughty. Taboo, as much as any other factor, provides an audience for bad erotic art.

Arguments Against Pornography

People who do not approve of pornography attempt to find practical, in contrast to moral, arguments against pornography. For example:

  • Pornography tears at the fabric of society
  • The pornography industry exploits workers, especially women
  • Pornography corrupts youth

The voices interject. Not enough to compose one, longish, globose, reeking pile of linguistic dung introducing and addressing the above, unsubstantiated arguments. They insist I scrape together a series addressing each of the above Arguments Against Pornography. To retrieve Muse and return to poetry I shall, over the next three or seven days, do as they demand – deliver three to the point albeit lackluster posts. I recognize additional arguments against pornography are made by opponents of pornography but the voices demand but the three listed here. Enuf for me.

First Peson Singular: A Confession

I dislike writing first-person singular. When my pen initiates a page, paragraph or phrase with that monolithic, icicle character I, I cringe. Yet, for a confession, first-person singular feels appropriate.

This is a confession.

When writing, I seek playfulness, beauty and interest. In my poetry, I try to share the awe and wonder Universe inspires in my small Mind. Up or down, joy or despair, attraction or threat matters little. All tones and timbre reflect complexity, mystery and evoke reverence. Intuition and intellect wrap experience with mysterious ribbons of interpretation. All my relations to all the nouns dance like moonlit gossamer yarns lightly tugged by breezes. In prose, I attempt to catch more elusive but equally beautiful efforts of human spirit; patterns we create with symbols, logic and critical thought.

I must walk with the words written but not dominate. They are the stars and I am small, the universe huge. When I see first-person singular crop up, I know I’ve wandered from the path. I walk into the small room of IMeMine.

As I write the irritating series on pornography featured in my previous few posts, I feel lost in the IMe of Mine. Not just lost, but off the path, over the cliff into the raging torrent. Jammed against fallen trees of triviality, my foot wedged in river rock ambiguity, I flounder. I read no beauty, complexity or wonder in my pornography posts. 

In my defense, before writing, reviewing paragraphs in my head, the words fit together, make me laugh and give pleasure. On paper, not so much. They lose all charm.

I cannot blame the topic. Some pornography treats subjects beautifully. If we adhere to the dictionary definition, one could argue the pornography I find beautiful is not pornography but art. I cannot be certain. What level of artistic merit does a photograph of labia enveloping a penis require before it can cross-over to art?

Therein lies my obsession. When does explicit depiction become art? It never stops being explicit depiction. 

Who decides when it becomes art? 

Where do they go to decide?

When will they tell us what they have decided?

Making pornography more artistic, in my experience, fails to reduce the level of excitement felt by the audience. The opposite, in fact. Sexual works created without talent and care, created to display sex with no concern for lighting, composition, form, color or poetry, are less likely to excite. Harsh ugliness acts as a cold shower to the imagination. The more artistic the pornography, the more exciting. (except, I suspect, for fetishists who live for the harsh in art and pornography)

My sample audience was quite small but I did record a 100% agreement. Beautiful is more sexy.

I could go on for pages. Oops. Done that already. 

I apologize. I feel pressured against my better judgement, by some hidden neurosis, to continue writing the smut pages. At publication of each post I feel relief. I sigh “Now that is over I can get on with with nice writing.”

Next morning, I wake with pornography blocking the poetry. A wall that threatens to remain until I satisfactorily explain to myself where the line is drawn between pornography and art. I bore myself, and you too, until I know where pornography stops and art begins.

I cannot see this coming to a success ending.

Ah. Good. Now that is over I can get on with my own writing.

Pornography Part 2: Definitions – Survey Says!

Whiteboard diagram chasing the official definition of pornography

This diagram exemplifies why I hated dictionaries in school. Look up one word. Discover two words that feel unclear. Look up the fuzzy words and find definitions with more unclear words. You start to think you don’t know words you thought you knew. Eventually, you end up back at the beginning. Gah! Thirty minutes spent learning nothing except your vocabulary is smaller than you thought.

Essentially, the white board says pornography refers to works with the ambiguous qualities of obscene and no value as art.  As for what is and what is not considered obscene, I refer you to the initial post in this series. A Supreme Court judge fell back on I cannot tell you what it is but I know it when I see it.  This does not give us much to go on. As for artistic merit, no one can suggest what is and what is not art without inspiring heated battles of wit, citation and opinion destined to end in agreeing to not agree.

Dictionaries do not gives us a definition of pornography we can use to explain pornography to someone who has never heard of pornography. If a visitor from outer-space demands “Explain the dividing line between pornography and not-pornography.” we cannot accurately answer. I know it when I see it does not help a Stranger in a Strange Land grok the dysfunctional obsession with nudity and sex we label pornography.

As for artistic merit, what could be more subjective? Why do people consider photographs of women in corsets pornography but label Botticelli’s Birth of Venus art? Do either offend morality? Whose if they do? Are either depraved or indecent? Does a woman in a corset provide more and better masturbation fodder for thirteen year-olds than Venus on the half-shell?

Speaking of thirteen year-olds. Do we consider waking up pornography? If memory serves, it takes little more than waking to excite a thirteen year-old

Dictionaries do not define pornography in a way that allows us to know it when we see it. This leaves me no choice but to define pornography for all of us. I hate it when this happens.

To be continued …. (maybe)

Confusion of a Probably Atheist

An experiment in rambling conversational monologue.


I wrote weak drafts of this post four times in weeks past and again today; a fifth attempt to stay on topic while my pen meanders off target like an over-eager hunting dog chasing stale idea-scent that when written, like dreams chronicled before coffee, bore writer and reader alike.

And here I go again, pen fluttering like milkweed seed wafting in Morning’s siren song breezes. Unless I rein this stream of semi-consciousness in, I shall find myself, tomorrow, scribbling draft number six.


Awhile ago a man approached, introduced himself and within five short minutes of inquiring small talk asked me if I was an atheist. I hesitated for a nano and responded, calmly, “Probably.” As I heard my answer, my jaw dropped. I take pride in knowing myself. I take pride in candid honesty. “Probably?” did not sound like either.

Why I responded “Probably.” put a seed of disconcert in my head.


I like to know why I think and say what I think and say. When I do not, I look in to turn mystery out. I think about what I think to discover why I think what I think and how I came to think what. It’s like getting high. Inhaling iterative introspection safe behind the covered windows in my room; achieving altered consciousness; blocking tire on pavement hissing din of reality; ignoring time and stacking material concerns on a corner shelf to collect dust.

Within me dissolves without me.

Eventually, I grow hungry, re-emerge, grab a snack and review things about me I know after but did not before my trip through pensive shadows.

I employ two vehicles to traverse the Inside: writing and contemplation. or writing and meditation for those of you less Nordic and more Zen. In this case I employed, for the most part, the soothing act of writing with fine-nibbed pen on foolscap. Results below.


I admit I felt unprepared to respond to a request to label myself and enter undesired theological discourse but to ignore the question was not an alternative. Although any answer threatened to open doors I preferred left locked, he did ask and deserved an answer. Conscious Thought, flat-footed and caught in the beam of approaching headlights, froze. Grabbing the controls, Sub-conscious Mind flipped a coin to decide between fight or flight.

Tails.

Flight.

The softish answer to the question “Are you an Atheist?” emerged in less time than it takes to read this. Foregoing delays required to include Conscious Thought, Mind chaired a panel of inner stakeholders to discuss possibilities, omit obviously unimportant elements and shelf minor influences. The executive action took less time than it took for Conscious Thought to register one gold-finch flight from feeder to tree.

Mind and enpaneled experts devised a plan; sought safety in non-committment, prepared an appropriately evasive response and simultaneously suppressed emotion chemically evoked by glandular reaction to an ever-so-slight whiff of resentment that a stranger would be so bold as to request self-labeling of atheist or non-atheist.

During the blink of wordless panic in the real-time world the expert panel and Sub-conscious Mind set aside chocolate eclairs and double-double lattes long enough to decide that anyone who could ask, “Are you an atheist?”, would label me Atheist, but in an act of selfish, cowardly consensus deemed it best not to answer “Yes.” The distinguished panel of experts produced and delivered to Mouth and conscious Mind, in that order, four opinions and a decision to blurt, “Probably.”


I shy from labels as a rule.

People live complex lives. We can know little of people’s Minds and how they work. Labeling someone, or ourselves, we substitute label for unseen complexity. If we mistake the map for the territory, begin substituting labels for reality, we eliminate motivation to explore the character of people. Sociologists say we stereotype. I think we build barriers to knowledge.

Yet, we are people and people label things. Labeling seems as much our nature as hunting seems the nature of felines.

The labels, Atheist and Theist, occupy a sphere of subjectification I do not. Atheist and Theist fail to interest me because, to dredge up a Groucho Marxism, “I never wanted to belong to a club that would have me as a member.”

I suspect both labels limit. Atheists limit themselves from the awe, wonder and mystery of God. Theists limit themselves from the awe, wonder and mysteries of Nature and Universe.


Each of us develop unique realities molded from cognitive potential and personal history. We create versions of the universe from intersections of singular sapience and sui generis experience.

In my little world, Gods, Nature, and Universe require direct, personal contact; contact achieved though cautiously fashioned Weltanschuung incongruous with prevailing authorized editions and involving rites and rituals that, unlike mainstream institutions, I keep private.

I assumed, likely my first mistake, that the-man-who-asked would inquire to my choice of sect if I answered, “No.”

I feared he would evangelize, likely my second mistake, if I answered “Yes.”

I also did not want to respond “Yes, I am an atheist.” because it was Thursday and on Thursdays “Yes. I am an Atheist.” tells a lie.

I do not like to lie.

This mess of messiness messing up conscious reason left no option except to answer as directed by Sub-conscious Mind and stakeholders, “Probably.”


There you have it. The babbling innerlogue of a Probably Atheist.

Or not.

Trust30 Day 3: Personal Illusions

What’s one strong belief you possess that isn’t shared by your closest friends or family?

What inspires this belief?

What have you done to actively live it?


Language contributes more than direct experience to the realities people adopt.

Our species is the symbol making species.

We recognize and create patterns. We employ symbols to simplify and share patterns.

We assemble symbols into languages.

Through languages, people project and inherit realities – each reality altered by personal history, made true by personal languages and manipulated by group languages – languages assembled from patterns of symbols of patterns of symbols of patterns and on forever to the beginning of time.

Dislike, hatred and war erupt from clashes between personal realities. People destroy people for using unfamiliar symbols to represent familiar concepts. People destroy people for relating unfamiliar concepts to familiar symbols.


Perhaps this is the conceit concealed in the metaphoric Garden of Eden debacle and the poetic but inevitable collapse of Bifrost.


I do not write to transfer meaning but to elicit response. My fingers draw letters into more than words and words into more than phrases. Punctuation & pronunciation tremble pitch and stumble rhythm for Mind’s ear. Like a maladroit wizard, I weave insipid spells intended to evoke cognitive responses from readers I have not met and cannot see. By calling forth cognitive responses, I alter personal realities. Neither agreement or disagreement matter.

This has been condensed from many pages and the condensing eliminated my broad definition of languages: languages of speech, letters, numbers, motion, music, form, color and more are meant. To think of the language of letters only does not work, at least not for me.

© 2008-2012 Chromia Poetics