Onanism

A poem from Yoon Yong. I had a debate in the pub the other week about onanism. I have a theory that the violence of men, may have its root in onanism: in one onanistic act, a man lays waste on a rag, to an entire population. Dylan Thomas was concerned with this. So is Yoon Yong.

 Onanism
 
…Reclined | tensing in the shallow relief of the sofa
his unimpressive prick in his left hand |
 
tugging it like a monk feeding prayer beads through
his pious fingers | the girl on girl porn panting
 
out of the Apple Mac—it tickled her
how he tucked it away quickly & closed the laptop lid
 
getting up to greet her with a peck on the cheek
& mumbling something quickly
 
“…about going out for dinner in Itaewon—pasta?”
I wonder if he just likes the one kind of porn |
 
is it habit & if he looks for women like me?
Mom called me when she found “sex magazines”
 
in her brother’s room.
Panicky as only our mother is she called | not sure what her
 
“duty to the situation” was— should she tell
the father | or have a private talk with her son
 
about the immorality of “touching yourself” | even
though she knows nothing about it
 
—this is what happens when no-one talks &
the “unspoken rule of thumb” is the solution
 
to taboos in polite society: no one
has the foggiest idea what to do…

Library by the sea—Geumneung Village

As promised, more from Yoon Yong.

 Library by the Sea— Geumneung Village
 
…An outdoor library with little wooden cubes
painted in shades of the sea & glass doors that hold 2 or 3 books
 
—sand | pomegranate red & grass | 
the glass doors with smooth wooden knobs
 
& little bronze hasps | handmade chairs to sit & watch the sea
—Biyang island like a turtle | drinking sun.
 
Yoon Yong’s in Geumneung Village reading
a copy of Wordsworth’s Complete Works
 
—I couldn’t find my stride with English poetry | yes
I know the cadence of the iamb when it runs
 
but never felt its natural measuring of speech.
“The cloying decorum like a William Morris showroom”
 
as Dr. Stiles put it | fell on my deaf ears.
To me it sounded like a mechanized fuck
 
: the man on top plowing away
while the woman takes
 
“a pounding for king & country”
—the continuity of man breasting for Homo Spiritus…
 

Appearances

There will be a Yoon Yong poem today & tomorrow. I promise.


Appearances
 
…My cheekbones are fine | my chin if a little chiseled.
I don’t agree with where my hair parts
 
the same as my father’s | not symmetrical like my mother.
Glad I got mother’s long legs
 
but my father’s eyes.
Nose is fine | not too flat to use the sun for a clock.
 
Mother | watching her soap operas all afternoon
—do you identify with any of the characters mom?
 
“What strange questions you ask me Yoon Yong.
It’s just a TV show | it isn’t real.”
 
I once asked mom what a feminist is |
she told me “it’s the English word for woman | daughter…”

Nostalgia

Yoon Yong.

Nostalgia
 
…The morning news buzzing in the background...
—Her father stopped reading the newspaper
 
when his sight grew dim.
She liked to see him read: she felt in good hands |
 
that her father could guide her.
She tried to replicate the paper’s cackle
 
with other materials—my own onomatopoeia
—when she played grown-ups.
                           
Seldom would her father give the newspaper
as a prop— when he did | she kept
 
it till it wore to shreds.
He uses a tablet which comes nowhere close
 
to producing the same
authority & distinction…

It must be the final day

Yoon Yong wakes into her final day on Jeju Island. This isn’t the last of the series, but it’s coming.

 It must be the final day
 
…At dawn | the magpie matinee | oriole | finch | white eye |
starling | wren & sparrow shaking the air | the thick brush
 
& the weak light of the garden.
If someone wrote a poem about my life
 
I hope they’d never make me a Romantic.
Perched in a bay tree | 2 starlings | their heads pivot
 
like a teetotum “on its last legs.”
Their raspy eeks rattle dew from the leaves
 
which glaze a low wall—somebody left their washing out
tethered with shining spider webs.
 
Moisture & immature sun light.
Could I know myself better from this picture…?

The dilemma of loving a child

Yoon Yong is edging closer to the end now. Just so you know, hagwons, in Korea, are privately run academies, which children attend as well as school. They are largely English academies, however there are math, science & art hagwons too. They fill a void school’s cannot fill due to the Korean school system not being arranged in levels of ability as they are (or were) in England, where students are placed in groups suitable to their ability. In Korea all abilities are put together in the hope that every student has the same opportunity. However, what this means is the level is set lower than a proportion of students, who just get bored. So hagwons challenge them & enable improvement. You must have money to send kids to good hagwons. It illustrates status & good hagwons can provide students a higher level of proficiency than their class mates at school, mother’s with a social milieu, teachers with jobs & business owners with a competitive though often profitable venture. In short, there are tons of hagwons.

 The dilemma of loving a child
 
…My daughter must be taught to be an individual
—I can’t bear the thought of her becoming mechanized.
 
Little Sarang bashing at an iPad & squealing
as chunky characters pop & parade | singing nonsensically.
 
She must suffer for it like me—then I’ll love her.
She’ll succeed in being unique.
 
Is it not a life of agony to be an exile in your own culture?
Dual heritage will marginalize her perhaps
 
—her English will be naturalized
which will elevate her above all the other kids.
 
That’ll irritate all the fuddy-duddy stuck-up girls
I knew in high school | who now make-up
 
their daughters like princesses. 
I won’t get those exorbitant hagwon bills.
 
She’s already on top. We are individuals against our will.
The democracy of character the cult of personality.
 
The Falun Gong of I
—our organs gauged out like a trowel foisting up a root.
                          
Beaten for blood to test the resilience of our bone & muscle
by truncheons of our own making
                                  
—our leader AWOL overseas | with a permanent Visa
& eating well | living in luxury while
 
slowly | in  pain we lose bits of ourselves
physically & then (after terms of endurance) mentally…
 

Her daughter Sarang (Love) appears in a dream

Finally pulled my thumb out & turned my computer on. So many books to read. Here we have Yoon Yong, mothering doubtfully, exposing her flaws through the flesh she has produced, as the image she produces in her dream. The biological aspect through the child image, becoming psychological to tell the identity where it falls into error. Something like that. I may have got mothering, feminism, love, dream, psychology, all of it wrong, but I could only persevere with the direction I felt, in essence, the most interesting for Yoon Yong as a fiction. Where I fall into error I have my intuitions, but I’d be more than pleased to be pointed out where else.

Her daughter Sarang (Love) appears in a dream
 
…“How many died of preventable ailments
because of a belief in transcendentalism?”
 
Her daughter with an adult’s voice
exposing flaws explaining where I steered myself wrong
 
what I could have done better | differently
—euphemisms | apothegms she couldn’t possibly know
 
at her young age—I scribbled notes but…
the pen contained only UV ink.
 
Motherhood is impossible | I worry continually
: I don’t want my Love to grow up to be someone I hate.
 
Everyone says “it just comes to you | it’s natural.”
I kept telling myself to love
 
this jaundiced looking ball of wool
& rolls of skin that cackled like a pocket radio.
 
The primitivism of it suckling hungrily at my swollen nipple
—I wanted to perform the ritual so badly
 
but it made clear to me how tainted | how cosmopolitan I was
: breast feeding repulsed me | it felt so animal.
 
Gravid | I pictured my belly’s contents
lift me out my life like a blimp filled with helium & confetti |
 
rousing me from my apathy like smelling salts |
out my very self—climbing | climbing out | skyward.
 
I couldn’t stomach Korean food during my pregnancy |
not even the postpartum seaweed soup rich in iron |
 
the olfactory idiom & lilting made me nauseous
—I craved quiche or omelet | anything yellow… 
 
 

Two poems ‘Brixham Triptych’ & ‘Nightmare in a Hyperobject’ up as ‘Supplementary’ over @The High Window

Thanks to David Cooke for taking these two very different, very new poems; one written in December while I was in Brixham over Christmas & the other written only a week or so ago. Accompanying the poems are a few hundred words of explanatory prose on the hyperobject, a term I use in the poem Nightmare in a Hyperobject, an eco-poem borrowing terms from contemporary ecological philosophy. All can be read here.

The revolution was televised

Still a bit to go from the Yoon Yong poems. 

The revolution was televised
 
…The protest to impeach Park Geun-hye on those cold December nights
when the people cupped LED candles for “moral warmth”
 
& made Gyeongbokgung resemble a map
of the observable universe circumscribed with its own light
 
—it was then I felt the will of a collective |
the will moreover of Koreans to better themselves.
 
Our ancestors looked on us & encouraged
our behaviour | our rebellion against the absurdity
 
of a leader who puts Botox | Viagra
& Shamanism ahead of her people’s welfare.
 
My disappointment was palpable when
after all the work of protest was done
 
people just went off to eat fried chicken
& drink beer. I don’t know what I expected
 
but not that
—I joined them…

Metaphor to Magnify

Metaphor to magnify

This may be a bit rambling, it may chime, but this is a semi-riff-with-structured-argument on a number of books (provided at the end) I have read in the past month (except Being & Time, which I am currently reading, but which has featured in good measure in Morton’s & Harman’s books). I hope it provokes some discussion.

Metaphor has extensive reach in how we perceive reality. That’s quite a bold, counter-intuitive assumption, isn’t it? Well yes, or not. Stopping, considering, it seems remote that a device, which uses another thing to point at a thing, indirectly, can’t possibly extend downward in such a perforating manner, to the core of perceiving a [the?] reality of things (maybe that’ll prove to be taking things a little far). But maybe metaphor is one (of potentially numerous) mad method for doing so.

Metaphor has taken a bit of a haymaker since Pound’s Imagiste Manifesto, especially the 4th criteria:  To present an image. We are not a school of painters, but we believe that poetry should render particulars exactly and not deal in vague generalities, however magnificent and sonorous. It is for this reason that we oppose the cosmic poet, who seems to us to shirk the real difficulties of his art. I have always taken this to be a contributing factor in the shrugging off of figurative language, as if simile, metonym, personification or the like were a taint on the gracile sheen of a thing chosen for its already rendered, veneered perfection. But that seems to me problematic. It sort of embodies the assumption of a surface-reality exclusivity & moreover that things are in & of themselves without any capacity to affect each other. I have no quarrel with direct perception & the artistic validity direct focus on stuff for stuff-sake, is one I find admirable & can & often do subscribe to in my own poetry & gandering at the world.

Graham Harman is a contemporary philosopher in the “New Theory of Everything” OOO, which stands for Object Oriented Ontology. His friend & fellow OOO enthusiast, Timothy Morton expresses ontology as “the how of what” which is pretty succinct, but accurate.

The justification of OOO’s necessity is complicated, but the actual action needed to live by its tenets is pretty easy: respect inanimate things as you would animate things. Why? Well, when you do, you come to more rendered considerations of the reason-for, & what-will-happen-if of creating something. As Morton likes to highlight in his book Hyperobjects (:enormous entities stretched across time & space, non-local, viscous, affecting; global warming, being an often used example) if we’d thought in such a way earlier in our civilizing capacity (hindsight not really helpful here), we’d have been more cautious in our plastic usage, more ready to outline the potential negative feedback loop it would initialize; realize sooner it takes the potential rise & fall of cultures to degrade. Same with nuclear fission, yes, it powers our homes, provides comfort, concludes our ancient fear of night, but it has also affected the ecological imbalance of the world, penetrating the ecosystem, leaving lasting damage 24,000 from now in the form of plutonium-239 “Gamma rays shoot out of” (Morton) through its lifetime & iodine-129 which will still appear in the sediments for future archaeologists to discover 15 million years from now.

These examples show how our rash progressive nature is acted upon without proper interrogation of the lasting effects.

This is becoming increasingly incontestable in the context we find ourselves in: we are actually, seriously debating altering the geological period as we exist through the tipping point of our effect on the ecological system. There is no going back on what we have done—we are in the Anthropocene; (elegantly treated in Simon L. Lewis & Mark A. Maslin’s recent book The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene, a text worthy of everybody’s attention.)

In his book Object Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything Harman lays out some of the “principles of OOO”, number 1 being: “All objects must be given equal attention, whether they be human, non-human, natural, cultural, real or fictional.” How so? Well, easy. Look at the effects of pollution, the examples of which are numerous. As Morton explains, we live in “a world in which there is no away” because when you begin to treat even a typical process as a thing (object), then something always has an effect, we get “context explosions” which Morton articulates better than I can in an article titled Subscendence:

The thing about ecological contexts is that you can’t draw a line around them in advance, because ecology is profoundly about interdependence. The biosphere depends on earth’s magnetic shield to protect lifeforms from solar rays, and this depends on the way earth’s iron core is spinning, and that depends on how the earth formed in the early stages of the solar system, and so on. We are dealing with a potential infinity of entities on a potential infinity of scales—there is no way to ascertain whether the pleroma of beings has an end point, at least not in advance. Ecological awareness just is this context explosion.

This all ties in with metaphor & how it gets at the substance of stuffs. Kenneth Burke highlights that “etymologically ‘substance’ is a scenic word. A person’s or a thing’s sub-stance would be something that stands beneath or supports the person or thing.”(Burke: The Paradox of Substance) Because of the “context explosion” affecting things with things, in the context of an [the] environment we can see that sub-stance of reality is the propping of things by things. “The leg bone’s connected to the toxic waste dump” (Morton).

Harman breaks down an essay by the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset, in one of his chapters. Harman thinks the essay a “neglected masterpiece in the realist tradition of philosophy.” Harman’s extolling the virtue of Ortega’s essay is due to how Ortega pinches shut the gap jacked by Kant, who saw phenomena (everything we are “able to encounter, perceive, use, think about”) as irreconcilable with noumena, which we are unable to access directly. A thing [being] is ultimately ungraspable (something, which Heidegger when to great lengths to remedy). The repercussion for OOO is that objects become (potentially & demonstrably: people are clearly not making adequate alterations to veer away from planetary catastrophe despite the evidence) insignificant, they are unworthy of attention unless they attract us through a conditioned pleasantness: a flower’s scent, a beautiful object, fashion, cute animals; while ugly animals, weeds, algae, lichen, fungi are not as clearly represented as beautiful in & of themselves & thus of a lower degree of importance. This perpetuated bias is of little use to OOO.

Ortega’s great insight is that “there is nothing we can make an object of cognition, nothing that can exist for us unless it becomes an image, a concept, an idea—unless, that is, it stops being what it is in order to become a shadow or an outline of itself.” This happens often when a scientist tries to explain (turn into metaphor) to a layman what would otherwise be an equation, or complex technical process only an expert would normally understand. This may be considered a belittling of the thing, but actually, in the context of a scientist informing a layman, the reach of the idea is expanded, the context explodes into language rather than confined to a specialized jargon. Carlo Rovelli, is a fine example of a physicist who captures the poetry of his profession & articulates its merits, through metaphor to a wider audience; I wish I had his book Seven Brief Lessons on Physics to hand for examples, but I left it in Korea.

Music is another example. The musician writes the music & then reads it. To the average person the written music is unintelligible, it could say anything. The musician transforms the jargon of written music into something accessible to anyone, on top of which value can be obtained. Imagine if music was a mystery in the Eleusian register?

What the metaphor provides is a similar access. This is because art does something spectacular, something data & empiricism struggles with: it aestheticizes the thing, making it accessible. Ortega qualifies this: “Notice I am not saying that a work of art reveals the secret of life and being to us; what I do say is that a work of art affords the peculiar pleasure we call esthetic by making it seem that the inwardness of things, their executant reality, is opened to us.”

This is my qualification for beginning this essay as I did. It helps give perceptual context to the quality of objects.

Metaphor I consider to be a magnification of sorts. Magnifying is to make the small larger, what metaphoring does is remove the insignificance of a thing & make it more significant, this has repercussions across all things, because of the proximity-making effect taking note enough to transform has. Metaphoring provides adjectival comparatives & superlatives a whole new reason to be. Think of looking into a petri-dish & then looking at a Hubble photograph of the observable universe. Two scales that resemble each other. The result: a conversation on scale, which in turn provides a context that oscillates between the macro & micro.

The performance of likening something to another thing[s] introduces us into the equation because it is only through the agency of a being (something like Heidegger’s Dasein) that the transubstantiation of stuffs into stuffs can become a force for understanding a closer knit relation we have with things. We come closer to objects in the act of likening them, because OOO brings us into an akin proximity with anything whatsoever: you are not so much indistinguishable from things, nor are you as or less important, only that by seeing them as accessible they become important tools, with a reduced likelihood they’ll be taken for granted. The bacteria, nor the cells or DNA in your body is not human, but they are the constitutive factors that allows you to be human; love your bacteria.

Ortega goes on to clarify that “the esthetic object and the metaphorical object are the same, or rather that metaphor is the elementary esthetic object, the beautiful cell.” [my italics] A cockroach is no replacement for a doctor, but that doesn’t mean the cockroach should be afforded less right to exist, otherwise what sort of repercussions on being-responsibility can that have? Where is the demarcation & why make it, how even? Who gets to say? Look around you. Essentially the swatting of a cockroach can produce the deleterious fixation of consumerism: both actions are thinking one effect has no effect on anything else.

To metaphor well, the properties of things can be listed & parallels founded on the evidence of their likeness, which intensifies both, bringing us into contact with the textures, uses, degrees of scale, shape & form of the thing being likened. (Degrees of scale is something I really want to talk about now, but will leave for a treatment all of its own.)

Take Alice Oswald’s metaphor in her poem Sisyphus from Woods etc. where she has the “thundercloud shaking its blue wolf’s head” & immediately both objects, though dissimilar in their structure & motive enhance each other through their puissance, texture & shape. We recognize immediately both objects as powerful, so they complement each other regardless of their dissimilitude. The properties of each are irreconcilable except through the aesthetic binding in the magnifying metaphor.

Metaphor allows us to interrogate the thing & in our interrogation we integrate ourselves, enabling dissimilarities to coalesce through aestheticism. This is why Morton analyzing Plato, arrives at the conclusion that “art is demonic: it emanates from some unseen (or even unseeable) beyond in the sense that I am not in charge of it and can’t quite perceive it directly, in front of me, constantly present.” (Morton, Being Ecological)

Metaphor is a telling phenomenon, it not only enhances aesthetic effect, it enables the restructuring of jargon accessible to a minority, to be opened to a majority. This is akin to the move away from the sacerdotal securing of knowledge for itself to control others, to the information age where we carry the whole history of human thought in a small, easily accessible, easily manipulated device. Whatever the problems the contemporary world spumes up from its well of complexity, I think we are more provided for & prepared to formulate solutions under the current paradigm than at any other period in history. Go forth & metaphor.

Bibliography:

Burke, K. (1989). On Symbols and Society, ed by Joseph R. Gusfield. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Harman, G. (2018). Object Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything. Great Britain: Pelican Books.

Heidegger, M. (2010). Being & Time. trans. Joan Stambaugh. New York: State University of New York Press, Albany.

Lewis, S. L & Maslin, M. A. (2018). The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene. Great Britain: Pelican Books

Morton, T. (2018). Being Ecological. Great Britain: Pelican Books.

Morton, T. (2013). Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. Minneapolis, London: The University of Minnesota Press.

Morton, T. (October 2017). Subscendence. https://www.e-flux.com/journal/85/156375/subscendence/ e-flux journal #85.

Oswald, A. (2007). Woods etc. London: Faber & Faber.