Saturday, May 25, 2013

When I was a kid in Tennessee, every now and then a library on wheels, or "bookmobile" would show up at our school and we could all go inside and buy some books, maybe even check them out and return them later... It was part of a program called "RIF" or "Reading is Fundamental". One of the first books I bought was "Archy and Mehitabel" by Don Marquis. It was a collection of the poems (with illustrations by George Herriman) that appeared as a column in many newspapers. The premise behind these poems was quite imaginative, the author (Marquis) claiming that every morning he would find these poems written in his typewriter, tapped out during the night letter by letter by a cockroach (Archy) who would jump up and down on the keys. Mehitabel was a cat who was Archy's favorite topic of conversation. I don't really remember many of the individual poems, except for one where Archy reprimands Marquis ("Boss") for leaving the typewriter's "all caps" key depressed, which made for a hard night's typing.

There was something about this image of urban creative anonymity that I found entrancing, and still do. It's hard not to identify with all of the little critters in the city that find their homes in little corners and crevasses, engaged in obscure creative activities, expressing themselves through poems or nest-building on window sills. I think this was my first introduction to "the city,"... it gave me the feel of city life, the feeling of insignificance, and all of the consuming dramas that are masked by the brick walls and alley ways. In my early twenties I immersed myself in the city as a full and willing participant, and for twelve years it was art shows, music, work, work, work, struggle, and lots of walking. The finest gift that New York has to offer, I feel, is 'unimpeded meaningful walking,' and it's something I still enjoy, walking and thinking, looking, imagining. Ultimately I left New York disenchanted, but even this was a gift, it reminds me of Rilke's approbation to his correspondent in "Letters to a Young Poet" where he says something to the effect "If your life seems poor, don't blame your life, blame yourself for not being able to draw upon its riches..." So I left the city, but of course I really never left, because I was made by the city; my ways of behavior, my thoughts, everything that I was, was formed by events and lessons of city life. This phenomenon, the perpetuation of social behaviors and patterns that persist long after the forces that created them are gone-- this is something that I have been thinking about as I have studied the history of industry.

So now I have returned, and picked up where I left off, or where I started perhaps, because I distinctly remember upon entering the city, that in order to engage fully in the life that was offering itself to me, I would have to forgo or release myself from a natural predisposition toward reflection. I distinctly remember that I was entering into an unreflective time, but I knew that it was a sacrifice I had to make in order to be socially connected. I kept writing, making art, of course, haunting bookstores, but I've always been a firm believer in unmediated a priori experience.....

The tap tap tap of typewriter keys, that's all gone now from the city soundscape, but it must have formed a roar in the early nineteen hundreds, pouring out from open windows. Everywhere I search, the repeated sound keeps reemerging as a force, not a byproduct, I think, but as a creative force behind industrial social existence. Looking at an image of the city skyline, it seems so placid, and visually it is placid and orderly, even serene at times. But then, add the sounds! Indescribable sounds, really: long squealing moans, clatter, screeching, whining, shouting, deep subterranean rumblings, and of course the blended blanket roar of all of these sounds together, forming a constant omnipresent heaving drone.

But the strongest sound of them all is the slow, deliberate sound 'tap tap tap' of a little cockroach, in the wee hours of the morning, jumping up and down on the keys of a typewriter, typing out a poem letter by letter.