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Lorine Niedecker, "October 1935", in Sulfur 41


An addendum to the previous post: When composing it I had in mind a sort of poem I'd seen somewhere, but couldn't figure out where seen. At some point I thought to thumb through the first volume of the American Poetry series put out by the Library of America. That volume prints a selection of the earliest poetry written here by colonists and other interlocutors, including a poem of sorts by one Benjamin Harris, who according to David S. Shields, compiler and editor of that volume, had published The New England Primer (c. 1690), which, he notes, "became the standard textbook for New England children for generations". That belated discovery might have provided an opportunity to supply an image from Harris's Primer -- exposing yet another angle on the letter Q. But it's also enabled me to mention that while looking for what eventuated as the Harris poem I at first vaguely remembered a poem by Lorine Niedecker that Clayton Eshleman had published in Sulfur 41 (1997), composed in a format similar to the Harris primer (as I said, my memory was vague). The Neidecker piece wasn't as I remembered, not exactly anyway, but was instead a set of poemed calendar sheets which Niedecker sent to Louis Zukovsky at "Xmas 1934" [sic]. The calendar was later found among Zukovsky's papers by Jenny Penberthy (who reprints the calendar entire, in Lorine Niedecker: Collected Works). The Letter Q was not featured there, but I've plowed ahead and reproduced a page from the Niedecker sequence, scanned from my copy of Sulfur 41 -- sidetracking the Harris "poem", at least for now.


Here I want to share something from John Jay Chapman, whose 1897 essay on Emerson is quoted by Christopher Benfey in a recent issue of New York Review of Books:


What difference does it make whether a man who can talk like this is following an argument or not?...People are not in general influenced by long books or discourses, but by odd fragments of observation which they overhear, sentences or head-lines which they read while turning over a book at random or while waiting for dinner to be announced. These are the oracles and orphic words that get lodged in the mind and bend a man's most stubborn will. Emerson called them the Police of the Universe. His works are a treasury of such things.


Helpful context can be found in First We Read Then We Write, Robert D. Richardson's expert gathering of Emerson's thoughts on the writing process. "I expect a man to be a great reader...or", Emerson adds, "there must be a serviceable equation at work within the writer: in proportion to the spontaneous power, should be the assimilating power." Richardson glosses this with some words from Goethe: "What is a genius...but the faculty of seizing and turning to account everything that strikes us?"


And so...as Kurt Vonnegut might say...it goes. I've plugged in Niedecker where Harris ostensibly was the better fit, stubbornly faithful to an early hunch that it was Niedecker, not Harris, I'd been looking for. With thanks... to RWE.


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The Letter Q, in Abecedarium by Peter Lamborn Wilson


There's a blank key on my typewriter, which I'm calling the ghost key. Manually flicking it against the platen I discovered that the striker carries the letter Q, but note that this key is in the position on the keyboard where the numeral 1 appears in the QWERTY keyboard configuration. I've noticed that some typewriters, perhaps especially the portable models, have a blank key in this position -- a key that doesn't strike. But other typewriter keyboards – I think the standard models in particular -- feature a key in this position marked with the numeral 1, and interestingly, the exclamation mark occupies the upper case position. My typewriter lacks a key bearing the exclamation mark; instead, I strike upper case 8 to type the apostrophe, then backspace one space to type a period beneath that mark. For readers, it can be difficult to distinguish this laboriously produced exclamation mark from a colon! (Keeping in mind, however, that the most recent edition of the Chicago Manual of Style advises that this mark "should be used sparingly to be effective"). But why was my keyboard set up that way? The key is physically present on my typewriter, is blank, doesn't strike, and harbors a ghostly form, the letter Q! It occurs to me that irrespective of whether I can make a good argument for or against the ghost key convention, I've been provided an opportunity to engage in some doodling.


In "What is a letter?", the opening essay of her book, What Is: Nine Epistemological Essays, Joanna Drucker writes,


When the letters became familiars of the nursery and schoolroom, their capacity to carry lessons within their forms was exploited. Pictorial images and small vignettes elaborated the precepts of good behavior. Moral tales and instruments of training, as well as the inculcation into that symbolic order which is language and law (ideological training of the young) letters served multiple purposes as they were introduced to the lisping tongues and clumsy fingers of the young.


Okay, perhaps this would make a nice riposte of a sort, to illustrate the demystification of letterforms in service to the education of the young. But there is the other view, with individual letters assigned a cosmological value. Drucker notes that,


Sacred origins and occult traditions have long posited the alphabet as a set of cosmic elements, comprising the full sum of the components of the universe.


And further:


…when we posit the form of letters in terms of their origin, we are prone to imagine their shapes as an index of those bird tracks, constellations, or arrangements of natural elements from which they were supposed to be derived. Iconographic theories of origin suggest pictorial analogy, so that the 'A','B','C' of our Roman letters are somehow to be reconciled with the elements of Semitic tribal camps from which Hebrew letters took their visual form. Such contorted sets of association and formal comparison include all manner of anachronistic or improbable histories, but the mythic strength of such assertions keeps a tenacious hold on popular imagination. To this day the notion that the 'A' contains vestiges of the ox-head, a horned aleph, persists. Once fixed in mind, such associations seem so natural that displacing them with mere historical argument and archaeological information is difficult indeed.


Yes indeed! And not entirely desirable to dissociate them, I would add. The ghostly (or redundant) letter Q on my typewriter keyboard may have been an arbitrary decision on the part of some uber-compositor – I suspect that it had been, until otherwise enlightened – but I've had to wonder why it's there at all. Regarding that particular letter, however, Peter Lamborn Wilson suggests -- in Abecedarium, his engaging account of letters and their associations -- that in the Ancient Egyptian system of pictorial writing, the hieroglyph for the letter Q was symbolized by the figure of an ape. As it turns out, this is suggestive (and productive). As Wilson notes:


The dog-faced ape cynocephalus…endemic to Egyptian temples, was believed to keep time…Keeping time not only resembles writing but requires it, hence the baboon embodies Thoth or Hermes Trismegistus the inventor of writing. The cynocephalus is a scribe. Writing is monkey business – a million typewriters.


It's especially gratifying in this context that Wilson imbricates typewriters and writing. According to Philippe Derchain, writing in Yves Bonnefoy's monumental encyclopedia of world religions,


Thoth is the object of a specific offering, a writing case… Thoth is the model bureaucrat: he knows how to write and perform calculations, is invested with the highest functions in governing the world beside the sovereign Sun, and is conscious of his duties of justice and precision. Thus he regulates the course of the moon, checks the balance of the scale at the court of judgment of the dead, inscribes the name of the Pharoah on the fruits of the tree of history in the temple of Heliopolis, and surveys the precinct of projected temples, except in those cases in which he assigns those functions to one of his companions. For all of this, he must know how to write, like any scribe; and the palette, which holds the ink holders and the brushes and is also used for quick notes, is the instrument of his function.  


(By the way, who are Thoth's "companions"? Might they be each and all descended poets down through history to our time -- and beyond? I like to think so.)


Moving on from Ancient Egypt, this ghost letter of mine appears in the Archaic Greek alphabet, in a different but still unmistakable form, then is carried over into Etruscan and thence onward to the Romans -- and Latin. But having lasted so long the letter Q did not translate into Anglo-Saxon. According to Amalia E. Gnanadesikan in her book, The Writing Revolution,


…Old English or Anglo-Saxon had a different set of phonemes than Latin. (They themselves called their language Englisc, pronounced almost exactly as it is today, except that the first vowel was pronounced as spelled… They dropped and added letters as needed. Z was not considered necessary, as the [z] sound occurred only as a variant of [s] between voiced sounds. The redundancy of C, K, and Q was reduced to just C.


[Note: Englisc is not a typo – the [sc] sound in Anglo-Saxon was pronounced [sh] – as in scip!]


As Gnanadesikan explains,


Vernacular writing had begun sometime before, but it had not yet settled into standardized forms. As the Roman alphabet came to be used for its daughter languages, the letters had to do different work than they had done in Latin. Where Latin had originally pronounced C as [k], the descendant languages used [s], as in French cinque before the front vowels [e] and [i]. Latin [kw], however, had become [k], reintroducing that sound before front vowels. To spell it, the letter k was retrieved from the dustbin, passed on to the Germanic languages (hence English king, kid, and kitten), and then replaced in the Romance languages with QU under the conservative influence of the humanists (and hence French and Spanish qui, "who").


And what of Modern English? According to the OED,


In ordinary mod. Eng. words Q is employed only in the combination qu, whether this is initial…medial…or forming a final consonant…There is, however, a growing tendency among scholars to use Q by itself to transliterate the Semitic kōph, writing, e.g. Qaballa… 


With that I imagine that we may now turn -- by a commodious vicus of recirculation, as it were -- back to Wilson...









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Kelpius Postscript: Newton's Principia

Newton by William Blake, 1795-1805, Tate Museum, London


Seeking to replace the image I'd used for the following post, I inadvertently deleted the post itself! I'm republishing that earlier post here, with the updated image. The "thread" mentioned in the first sentence refers to an earlier sequence of posts focusing on Johannes Kelpius and Christopher Witt. Jim Green has since retired from the Library Company. I've slightly amended the text of the original post.


I feel that this thread of posts has run its course for now, though I may decide to return to the subject in future posts. Frankly, I'd not intended to take the story this far, and in as great a detail as I've done here despite the fact that there's quite a bit more to write about Kelpius and the other distinguished members of his group, as well as the contemporary Kelpius Society as well.


That said, I would add one more thing here. I met about two years ago with Jim Green, head archivist at the Library Company in Philadelphia (an organization founded by Ben Franklin and associates, by the way). At that meeting, which was devoted to a discussion of Kelpius, Jim took a very old volume down from  a bookshelf in his office. That book turned out to be a copy of Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica. Jim explained that the Library Company had recently obtained a batch of books, and this volume was among them. And it appears that this particular book may have been the very first copy of the Principia to have been brought to North America.
But how did the book come to Philadelphia? Jim explained that Anthony Grafton, preeminent Renaissance historian and historian of ideas, had become interested in the book. Grafton's faculty profile on the Princeton University website notes that his, "special interests lie in the cultural history of Renaissance Europe, the history of books and readers, the history of scholarship and education in the West from Antiquity to the 19th century, and the history of science from Antiquity to the Renaissance." According to Jim Green, Grafton has been investigating marginalia – the notes written in the margins of books by their owners – and along with that, has been doing close and careful analyses of that handwriting. Having examined quite a bit of material from the 17th century, he's often able to identify who might have owned a given book, and who might have written the margin notes. To the point -- According to Jim, Grafton believes that the marginalia in the Library Company's copy of the Principia were written by none other than Johann Jakob Zimmerman! This was likely Zimmerman's copy of the Principia!
Recall that Zimmerman was the erstwhile leader of the Kelpius group, but had died at London just prior to the scheduled departure for America. Tracing the provenance of the book, Grafton surmises that it was likely brought here along with a small collection of other books by Zimmerman's widow, who stayed on and sailed with Kelpius following the death of her husband. The Library Company has acquired those books.
Recall too that Zimmerman was a highly educated man, as was everyone in his group, but Zimmerman had a special expertise in comets, and in astronomy more generally. In his work, he combined careful observation within a framework of science, but translated his observations into religious or astrological terms. This wasn't unusual during Zimmerman's lifetime, which was a transitional moment in the development of modern science. In fact, looked at from the other side, Newton himself maintained an interest in alchemy, and is the author, alongside the Principia, of a number of alchemical writings and notes -- some of which, by the way, are held in the collections of the Chemical Heritage Society at Philadelphia.  
I've reconstructed my conversation with Jim Green from memory, and believe I've rendered it accurately. I should add that at this point I don't know whether Anthony Grafton has been able to definitively verify that Zimmerman was the owner of the book discussed here.




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People, Guy Pène du Bois; oil on canvas (1927), collection of Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts


Eupalinos (3rd Part)


In moving on I'll look back here and there to Parts 1st and 2nd of this extended post, to reintroduce relevant categories of content into the emerging or evolving context, hoping to offer a greater breadth of material; buttressing the argument while moving, if haltingly, toward a resolution of sorts.


As previously noted, there's a sort of hierarchy of found artifacts. For example, some people routinely scour the shorelines, in search of a fabulous (or not so fabulous) find. There are numerous, often interesting examples, ranging from the quotidian to grand. In his profile of Edinburgh author Alice Tarbuck in a recent issue of PN Review, Vahni Capildeo notes that,


Litter picking, like foraging is a mild form of greater housework that we undertake as inhabitants of (or passengers through) a place. Gathering is something else again. Edinburgh writer Alice Tarbuck in A Spell in the Wild…writes about gathering. 'Most people grow out of it: I haven't. My pockets are always full. Leaves and twigs and little bright stones, berries and chips of sea glass.'"


This version of collecting or foraging is even more modest than that practiced by Lara Maiklem, as described in her book, Mudlark (see Eupalinos 2nd Part). But there's more. In an interview with Filippo Menozzi in the February 2022 issue of World Literature Today, South African writer Henrietta Rose-Innes mentions finding a leopard trap on the veld:


That particular leopard trap was one I stumbled across while hiking in the Cederberg mountains, north of Cape Town. The kind of material history one can find lying about in the veld in South Africa, fragile, undocumented, often crumbling away, its context lost — as opposed to the often highly tended and curated history of Europe. It was a particularly potent object, with its suggestions of great violence, now stilled; of a creature of great vitality, now absent.


Menozzi asks about the importance of being elusive and invisible; Rose-Innes suggests that,


Part of it stems from living in a country where there is a lot of suppressed and hidden history, just beneath the surface of landscapes that otherwise present an idyllic face — like stone tools of genocided peoples just beneath the surface of the ground, if you dig a little; the Calvinist culture of the apartheid regime, where much was repressed or brutally erased. I grew up in this atmosphere, where the true lion was always just about to step out of the long grass.


The ancient artifacts left by nonwhite, indigenous peoples may lie unnoticed and undisturbed, absent a serendipitous discovery or encounter of this kind. A more purposeful response to such discoveries, as at Lascaux – in stark contrast to the experience of Rose-Innes, but apropos, perhaps, of the "tended and curated history of Europe" -- may be seen in a review by Tom Shippey in London Review of Books:


In September 2014 a group of detectorists were searching a field in Balmaghie, Kirkcudbrightshire, in south-west Scotland, when one of them got a signal. This wasn't entirely unexpected. There had been some small finds close by: a coin, some scattered silver. But when Derek McLennan dug down, he pulled out something more substantial, a silver arm-ring. The story goes that he immediately shouted 'Viking!' Buried alongside it were a decorated silver pendant cross on a chain of very finely coiled silver wire (which turned out to be Anglo-Saxon, but could still be Viking loot) and a layer of silver bullion – arm-rings, 'hacksilver' and ingots made from melted down silver coins and scrap.


The next step taken by the "detectorists" is indicative, taking advantage of the knowledgeable, seasoned professionals:


McLennan reported the find to Dumfries and Galloway Council, and an archaeologist arrived that afternoon to oversee the excavation. They had finished by the end of the day, but the detector kept recording a signal. The cross and the bullion had been laid on a four-inch bed of gravel, so the team dug up the gravel, revealing a much larger deposit: twice as much silver as the top layer, wrapped in leather; a cluster of four elaborately decorated arm-rings bound together, enclosing a wooden box containing a gold ring, a gold ingot and a gold bird pin; and a lidded silver-gilt pot. The pot was carefully wrapped and packed with beads, a pendant, a brooch, three filigree mounts, another gold ingot and a twisted rod, as well as some truly mysterious items: two 'dirt balls' and an object called a 'rattlestone', also carefully wrapped. In their catalogue to accompany an exhibition of the hoard (at Kirkcudbright Galleries until 10 July), Martin Goldberg and Mary Davis suggest that the top layer was a 'decoy'. If someone tried to make off with the hoard, or a piece was turned up by ploughing, the discoverers would find the cross and the silver and be so pleased that they didn't look any further. (In which case, the plan nearly worked.)


By way of contrast, there's my own experience with the "stone figure" -- as described in previous installments of this post. I let the object go, returned it to the sea, as did Paul Valéry's fictional Socrates. I don't seem to have the collector's instinct, perhaps not the archivist's instinct either, though I have great appreciation for both, and have spent significant time in one or the other, now and again. Which begs the question: which of my characters was present and engaged on the beach at Barnegat Light that day? I'll try to draw this question out just a little here.


In the novel, Pereira Declares, Antonio Tabucchi's eponymous protagonist visits a health spa for treatment, where the attending physician assigned to him poses a fundamental question:


I have a question for you, said Dr Cardoso, and that is, are you acquainted with the médecins-philosophes? No I'm not, admitted Pereira, who are they? The leaders of this school of thought are Théodule Ribot and Pierre Janet, said Dr Cardoso, it means that to believe in a "self" as a distinct entity, quite distinct from the infinite variety of all the other "selves" that we have within us, is a fallacy, the naïve illusion of the single unique soul we inherit from Christian tradition, whereas Dr Ribot and Dr Janet see the personality as a confederation of souls, because within us we each have numerous souls, don't you think, a confederation which agrees to put itself under the government of one ruling ego…so in the case of another ego arising, one stronger and more powerful, this ego overflows the first ruling ego, takes its place and acquires the chieftainship of the cohort of souls, or rather the confederation, and remains in power until it is in turn overthrown by yet another ruling ego.


Interestingly, there's something strikingly like this in Valéry's Eupalinos dialog. Socrates is speaking:


I told you that I was born several and that I died one. The child when it appears is a countless crowd, which life reduces soon enough to a single individual, the one who manifests himself and who dies. A multitude of Socrateses were born with me, from whom little by little the Socrates stood out who was destined for the magistrates and the hemlock. 


Phaedrus, his interlocutor, asks what became of the others? Socrates responds:


Ideas. They have remained in the condition of ideas. They came, asking to be, and they were refused. I kept them within myself, as my doubts and contradictions… Sometimes these germs of nature are favored by circumstance, and then we are on the verge of changing our natures.


Socrates goes on to declare what may in fact constitute the crux of this series of posts:


One day, one of my more glorious days, dear Phaedrus, I experienced a strange hesitation between my souls. Chance placed in my hands the most ambiguous object imaginable. And the infinite reflections that it caused me to make were eqally capable of leading me to that philosopher that I became, and to the artist that I have never been…


Which version of Socrates was manifest on Paul Valéry's imaginal beach? Which version of myself was present on the beach at Barnegat Light? Surely not the archivist or the collector! But how about the "ethnographer-fieldworker"? This question has deep resonance, and I think is rooted more generally in the emergent and developing psyche. When does the ensouling process begin? How does it ramify, and whence does it lead? Hwanān...hwā...


In her recent novel, The Books of Jacob, Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk provides a usable image, in connection with the pregnancy of one the characters who appears early in the book:


But Yente can see that a separate soul has taken up residence in Sheyndel's belly, a soul still indistinct, hard to describe because many; these free souls are everywhere, just waiting for the opportunity to grab some unclaimed bit of matter. And now they lick this little lump, which looks a bit like a tadpole, inspecting it, though there is still nothing concrete in it, just shreds, shadows. They probe it, testing. The souls consist of streaks: of images, and recollections, memories of acts, fragments of sentences, letters. Never before has Yente seen this so clearly. Truth be told, Sheyndel, too, gets uncomfortable sometimes, for she, too, can feel their presence--as if dozens of strangers' hands were pressing on her, as if she were being touched by hundreds of fingers. She doesn't want to confide in her husband about it--and any way, she wouldn't be able to find the words.


I'll conclude Eupalinos (3rd Part) here, despite any lingering discontinuity.


More later…

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Sea King

Remains of the Sea King at Barnegat Light


Eupalinos (2nd Part)


Given the 'found object' motif intercalated within Paul Valery's imaginal Socratic dialog, I've been alert for any related materials coming to hand, in keeping with my more or less unsystematic approach to this or any other subject (and to these blog posts more generally). Somehow the relevant material keeps surfacing, thankfully, much as the stone figure surfaced through the waves (or emerged out of the sand) at Barnegat Light that many years ago. Before proceeding I want to mention that a striking feature of the beach on that part of the coast are the remains of a trawler, the "Sea King", that foundered offshore in a storm several decades ago (within living memory), and with subsequent beach building activity of the surf, has been almost entirely buried many yards inland from the current shoreline, its main mast a solitary figure, jabbing up from the dunes.     


Of course, the serendipitous discovery of what lies beneath the planetary surface can be of immense significance to the self-understanding of humans. I'm thinking here of the discovery, in the middle of the last century, of the cave at Lascaux. I especially like Clayton Eshleman's description of this find, which positions that discovery in the imaginal realm:


Wicks made of quarter-inch juniper branches were used in many of the 130 hand lamps found in Lascaux.

Over the cave, a tall juniper had fallen, lifting up with its roots a large mass of earth and creating a pit, soon entangled with brambles. On September 8, 1940, Marcel Ravidat (a young garage hand from nearby Montignac) was drawn to the pit by his barking dog, caught in the undergrowth. While cutting the dog out, he discovered a dead donkey and under it, a vertical shaft. On September 12, with his friend Jacques Marsal, Ravidat returned. Working with his knife, head first, he dug down some twenty feet, at which point he tumbled into the cave.

Juniper as the wick of the cave!


This conjunction of juniper wick and juniper tree, forming a conduit between what lies beneath and what lies above, is profoundly significant. Eshleman was an influential poet and publisher, whose early exposure to Lascaux formed a bedrock of his life's work, exploring the depths of the human imagination. (Eshelman's book is Juniper Fuse, Upper Paleolithic Imagination and the Construction of the Underworld). And of course, there are countless examples of similar finds, many ultimately consigned to the realm of the professional archaeologist. My stone figure is likely unavailable to that realm, at least to my knowledge (although someone else may have picked it up and turned it in); it's unclear, however, whether my discovery at the Jersey shore would fall within the scope of any putative archaeological interest.


I note this because it's not clear in all cases what value provenance may contribute. Gustaf Sobin (a poet who occasionally published in Eshleman's landmark literary journal, Sulfur), may have had a similar experience, pondering an inscrutable object from the Paleolithic. Sobin expounds:


Might we even begin constituting, indeed, a collection, an entire library of questions? A whole, inexhaustible archive devoted exclusively to wonder, to query, to the unlimited breadth of human speculation? For the curtain that has fallen between the known and the unknown, between the magnitude of our questions and the paucity of our answers, affects not only archaeology but every other field of human endeavor as well. As a result, we've grown estranged from origins, deprived of even the vaguest glimpse of those first, founding landscapes. Today, nothing can be acknowledged that hasn't first been processed, electronically channeled, compiled. (from his essay, "The skull with the seashell ear", in Luminous Debris, Reflections on Vestige in Provence)


I've wanted to avoid any disjuncture between Sobin's eloquent avowal, and my own retelling of the stone figure episode, moving hopefully toward a universe in which ostensibly ancient objects inhabit their ontological origins, existing alongside though not necessarily within the range of human understanding.


But there nevertheless exists the urge to collect – to collect objects or, as Sobin has it, questions. I suppose I've tended to opt for the latter – and now, questions are all that's left of the stone figure. But what about collecting? I seem to recall reading somewhere that collecting is a distinctive part of ego development, forming a usable component of self-identity (perhaps especially for middle class individuals?). But collecting may simply offer access to the past, to that which otherwise would be lost or forgotten. I'm thinking here of scavenging, a purposeful but otherwise unstructured discovery process. Which same appears to motivate the people who scour the shoreline of the Thames, a tidal river, as described in Mudlark, In Search of London's Past Along the River Thames by Lara Maiklem; who distinguishes between serendipitous, unassisted scavenging and outright digging assisted by metal detectors:


Our knowledge of the city and the lives of its inhabitants over millennia has undoubtedly been increased by the objects society members have dug up over the years, but I think the time has come to ban digging completely. There is no need to keep disturbing an already fragile and fast-eroding foreshore for more and better objects. They are better left where they are for the future, rather than putting them at the mercy of an indiscriminate spade or fork… They [diggers] hack through centuries in an afternoon, and in their rush to beat the incoming tide, they smash delicate objects and miss the small and non-metallic pieces that don't register on the sweep of their metal detectors…and the objects they overlook are left to the mercy of the tides. I have made some of my best finds where the diggers have been at work and I hate to think how much more the river has claimed.


Maiklem is inadvertently exposing the synergy between diggers and scavengers, the latter following along in the diggers' wake to gather items they may have missed, or disregarded. Contra Sobin, this author's interwoven discussion of the historical value and narrative potential of found objects proceeds from research rather than from an absorbed and undistracted contemplation of her found materials. And there is an irony embedded in this passage, the author suggesting that found objects should be left as they lie. Needless to say, this attitude may have informed my thinking as I tossed the stone figure back into the sea that day.    


In a tribute to fellow poet Anthony Thwaite, Peter Scupham recalls visiting the cottage where his longtime friend lived with his wife Ann:


…moving into the long low living room lit with a chequered light from the riverside windows, is to move into a room which is a metaphor for lives lived as travellers in space and time. A Roman bust shares its gaze with the staring eyes and flowing beards of Bellarmines, those stoneware drinking jugs of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries…Books, of course, are everywhere, shelved and nid-nodding to each other, heaped in piles; drawers open to reveal fragments of pottery…This is a world of suggestions, shadows of lost knowledge…We came from a collecting generation of schoolboys: mine were seashells, military badges, wildflowers… Ever since, as a boy, Anthony was given a silver denarius, he had been a looker and finder, alert for the secret signs which lie buried all around us. ("Chimes at Midnight", PN Review 260)


Scupham begins his piece with a quote from Brian Aldiss, an underappreciated writer, in my view:


Mr Gudgeon, the elderly bookshop assistant in Brian Aldiss's first novel, The Brightfount Diaries, is given to sardonic aphorisms: 'A miscellaneous collection of objects is man's only defence against time,' is one I particularly like.


There is a passage in Pierre Michon's Winter Mythologies, in the section titled "Simon", which turns on the idea of returning a found object to the earth, while searching for another of potentially appropriate significance. In Michon's sketch, the Abbot Dalmatius has tasked Brother Simon, a monk in an ancient monastery in process of revival, to "establish the legitimacy of the monastery in the mother tongue"…


Simon ponders. He has the earth dug up beneath the choir of the old chapel, which has long since been ruined. Three skeletons, each holding a sword, are discovered, which he immediately has covered up again. Another is found, overlaid by the shreds of what was once a dalmatic and a stole. Simon ruminates at length over this one, and then after three days regretfully has it buried for a second time. A slighter skeleton is found whose dark black plaited hair has been well preserved and has gleams of life in it. It looks like a woman. "Yes," says Simon. He carefully cleans the hair and, one by one, the bones. He places them in a small wooden chest. He kisses the chest. He asks the carpenter brother to depict Our Lord on the Cross on one side of it and on the other a female saint.


Simon next asks Brother Palladius to establish the identity of the imaginal saint, who as he explains, appeared to him "in the form of plaited hair beneath the earth, and that she will appear to Brother Palladius in the form of a name in a monastery archive." Palladius ventures forth, returning three years later having established that the remains are those of Saint Enimia ca. 1610…


Brother Simon writes the Vita sancta Enimia...




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