[NetBehaviour] correction -- Re: Home, Home on the Screen

Max Herman maxnmherman at hotmail.com
Wed Oct 20 17:53:22 CEST 2021

Hi all,

I posted a wrong link; here is the article I meant to reference about chiasmus in Stevens' poetry:

Robert Hariman, "What is a Chiasmus? Or, Why the Abyss Stares Back," from 2014, which discusses "The Motive for Metaphor":


"The use of chiasmus becomes even more entangled with the problem of representation in the most philosophical of American poets, Wallace Stevens.... In these and other cases, chiasmus seems to be a figure of choice for thinking about how the mind apprehends nature, and the result is not merely a celebration of form. Instead, the chiasmus is enlisted because of a prior rupture, and even the possibility of crossing over from one realm to another (things in words, words in things) becomes marked by an obvious device.  In place of a natural order, the chiasmus reveals that at the centre of the human encounter with reality there is only emptiness.  'Chiasmus... can only come into being as the result of a
void, of a lack that allows for the rotating motion of the polarities' (deMan). What will come from that, however, remains an open question.  Empty space can be crossed, and decorated, and might even become capable of more, if one stares long enough."

From: Max Herman <maxnmherman at hotmail.com>
Sent: Wednesday, October 20, 2021 7:47 AM
To: NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Cc: Paul Hertz <ignotus at gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [NetBehaviour] Home, Home on the Screen

Hi Paul,

This is really interesting and great to read.  Is the role of machine generation something you explain as part of the work, or leave in question?

Just reading it at face value, black box, I like how it exists in pieces or short sections.  I count 16, oddly starting at 0, and ending in 33.  The 33 echoes with my current study and over-study of Dante as a lens on Leonardo, since that's the number of cantos in each book of the Commedia (Inferno has one extra for a total of 100).  I also wondered why many numbers were skipped, and why the total was 16.

As with non-machine-influenced poetry, it interests me how the diction and images might have been chosen.  There is present-day computer tech language and images but also ancient imagery like rivers, bread, stone, trees, and such.  This makes it, for me, a bit like a sequence of koans or Stevens' 13 Ways, maybe similar to an I Ching result.

I also notice elements that remind me of the Waste Land, which was influenced by Dante, and which I've been reading about lately in Thomas Harrison's book Of Bridges.  I learned recently that the image of departed spirits crossing London Bridge in the WL is a reference to the many bridges to the afterlife, across many cultures, with the ironic twist that in modern life the crossing is just from one half of the city to the other.  Of Bridges also discusses the Stevens poem "The Motive for Metaphor" which I'd not read before.  The book comments on Stevens' portrayal of the intermediary character of metaphor, in keeping with its etymology "to carry across," and compares metaphor itself to bridges.

"The Motive for Metaphor" ends with a reference to "X" as a kind of symbol of emptiness or non-meaning and this reminded me of chiasmus and chiastic structure as used by Dante (and arguably Leonardo).  Chiasmus means X-form, based on the mirror sequence of A-B-B-A as in "all for one and one for all," or "when you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares into you."  Another case of it is A-B-B'-A', as in "poetry-hear-see-painting."  The "X" is from how the elements "counterchange" (as it is described sometimes):

A  B
B  A

Chiasmus can also refer to many elements repeating in reverse order, as is sometimes applied to the 12 books of Paradise Lost, and appears in a lot of ancient literature possibly as an aid to memory.

Looking for chiasmus in Stevens, I found some repetition in his poems "Sunday Morning," "Anecdote of the Jar," "The Snow Man," and "The Emperor of Ice Cream."  A link below elaborates Stevens' use of chiasmus as a philosophical form, somewhat like how it is used in ancient Chinese literature.  Examples of chiasmus or chiastic form (also called ring structure, because it "circles back") are how "Anecdote of the Jar" starts and ends with "Tennessee," "Sunday Morning" repeats "wide water, without sound" and "the mother of beauty," and of course there is "The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream" which is a chiasmus on its own but also repeated two or three times in "The Emperor of Ice Cream."

I also noticed how "Sunday Morning," from 1915, uses a similar image of departed spirits crossing water as in the later "Waste Land" (1922).  "Sunday Morning" talks about how elements of the ideal world might interact with the real world by way of art, as well as how their potential interaction might not work and just devolve into destruction.

In other words, I think that the very old theme and form of chiasmus relates to bridges.  Both go back to prehistory, and could even precede humanity (if one could imagine birds or insects using chiasmus or bridges).  Chiasmus is kind of like a mirror, and a mirror is kind of like a bridge between reality and its image (either visual or verbal, or a mix of both), suggesting a very basic level of mimesis in the form.  In music, reversing pattern like ABC-CBA is called "arch structure" or "bridge structure."

You also mention a great many other things -- or should I say, the poem mentions -- that resonate for me, of course due to at least partly random factors.  One is "Clouds of subtle lightning bridged by filaments of grace attend our passage."  If this was generated randomly by a machine, but echoes with (for the sake of argument) the bridge and fabric in the Mona Lisa, what does that mean?  It would have something in common with throwing dice, but if you throw the dice enough times you'll get a very close picture of what the dice are and do.  I don't know how "bridge" and "filament" got into your poem, and maybe even poetry not using machine logic doesn't know.  Does the pre-computer understanding of libraries, photographs, radio, and so on qualify as a "machine" that co-wrote every poem made while they were extant?  If yes, perhaps "machines" -- more than perhaps, if we include printing presses -- "helped" write both "Sunday Morning" and the "Waste Land."

Or another odd question: what if one "applies" your section 23 to the Mona Lisa?  The word "apply" doesn't really apply though.  Perhaps it is better to say "consider them both together, as if side by side"?  After tons of research, maybe valid or maybe not, I think the Mona Lisa's hand gesture means more or less what your section 23 says.  This might not be anything other than random, if objective; and if only subjective, as well as random, would it necessarily therefore have no meaning?

One last thought on random or near-random chance: it is mentioned very prominently and respectfully, as an incongruously honored deity, by Dante in Inferno VII; and in the "Waste Land" too we have a fortune-teller if of less prestigious bearing.  Eliot mentions "people dancing in a ring," as does "Sunday Morning."  These may be coincidences, or sequential reference (Stevens to Dante, Eliot to Stevens) or a shared prior source like Homer or Virgil or even something further back like prehistoric myth, proto-indo-European, and so on.  "Sunday Morning" includes "Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet / Over the seas" which resonates, for me, with your poem.   Few chiasms are as perfect as

"All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch.
These are the measures destined for her soul."

However, right now I can't find fortune or chance in "Sunday Morning" except as an ambient kind of questioning.  I'm not sure who is "she" in the poem either.  Beauty?  Poetry?  Psyche?  Possibly, in part VIII, the "old chaos" refers to chance, as might "ambiguous undulations," "island solitude" (of Circe?) which is "free" but "inescapable," something like an incorrectly suspended relationship to chance?   Spring and the passing of the seasons are akin to Fortune, each a wheel of disappearance and renewal.

The interesting juxtaposition "bodymind : dataflesh" is also a chiasmus, I think, with body - mind - data - flesh as physical1 - information1 - information2 - physical2.  These patterns appear almost everywhere, so I try not to ascribe intent or portent to each instance.  There can also I think be chiastic characteristics to an A-B-A'-B' pattern, often used by Stevens in a context of A-B-B'-A' for clear reasons of balance.

Anyway, thanks for the excellent and very interesting poem!

All best,



Criss-Cross: Introducing Chiasmus in Old Chinese Literature
David McCraw: https://www.jstor.org/stable/25478377

Samuel Keyser, MIT, 2011:


https://hudsonreview.com/2013/03/the-motive-for-metaphor-2/#.YW9IFBrMKUl (Denis Donoghue, 2013)

>From the last link:  'Finally, “X,” an unknown quantity, produced several times in Stevens’ poems with secretive intent, though on one occasion, in “The Creations of Sound,” he refers to “X” as “an obstruction, a man / Too exactly himself,” and the man seems to be T. S. Eliot. A man too exactly himself is open to the deconstructive attention of metaphor.'

The poem is:

The Motive for Metaphor

You like it under the trees in autumn,
Because everything is half dead.
The wind moves like a cripple among the leaves
And repeats words without meaning.

In the same way, you were happy in spring,
With the half colors of quarter-things,
The slightly brighter sky, the melting clouds,
The single bird, the obscure moon—

The obscure moon lighting an obscure world
Of things that would never be quite expressed,
Where you yourself were never quite yourself
And did not want nor have to be,

Desiring the exhilarations of changes:
The motive for metaphor, shrinking from
The weight of primary noon,
The A B C of being,

The ruddy temper, the hammer
Of red and blue, the hard sound—
Steel against intimation—the sharp flash,
The vital, arrogant, fatal, dominant X.

I'd like to speculate that the key to reading the poem, which I think the Donoghue essay and those it quotes miss, may be chiasmus.  A "false reading" is suggested by "you like it," which can be read as "you like metaphor" or "you like being."  The first reading is "too exact," too quick an answer, and kind of ruins the poem.  A second even more false reading is "the motive for metaphor, shrinking" which can be read as either "the motive is shrinking" or "the motive is the exhilaration of changes" and it is "you" that is "shrinking," as you were previously "desiring," not the motive.

The false readings can also go along with the most obvious chiasmus, i.e., "the obscure moon," which is not a very balanced place for an overall chiasmus (it is fine to use sub-chiasmus) and chiasmus also doesn't have to be obvious or standard.  A-B-B-A is actually a sub-type of chiasmus called "antimetabole" in which the first/fourth and second/third terms are exactly the same.  In true chiasmus they are all different but related as in A-B-B'-A'.  That difference is very important, as is the fact that chiasmus can be based on letters "able was I, ere I saw Elba," words, sentences, sections, or even ideas, themes, and concepts.  Therefore an equally valid chiasmus centers in the exact center of the poem, between "Of things that would never be quite expressed" and "Where you yourself were never quite yourself."

The too constraining definition of ambiguous terms produces a false reading which amounts to despair, but a freer (and more accurate) definition yields a hopeful and celebratory, even laughing, reading of marvelous transformation which is not mentioned in the 2013 article.

From: NetBehaviour <netbehaviour-bounces at lists.netbehaviour.org> on behalf of Paul Hertz via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Sent: Tuesday, October 19, 2021 3:19 AM
To: NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Cc: Paul Hertz <ignotus at gmail.com>
Subject: [NetBehaviour] Home, Home on the Screen

Prose poem composed for the Fubar2k21 Glitch Festival in Zagreb, performed online Thursday, October 7, 2021. The numbers refer to a combinatorial scheme used in generating the text.

Home, home on the screen,
where nullmachines harvest dataflesh.

Home on the web, where disinfocowboys
brand undead propaganda bots.

In the breaks and badlands, bodyminds
glitch remix databend hybrid mutant identities.

Can bodyminds unsuture fear?
Crack undead identities, break open fissures?

In the fissures, some of us land
and others are born.

Lodge in the rifts to learn othering from others.

My eye is a heart of stone.

A seed lodged in a crack can split a rock.

A tree grew from a boulder.

Says: Freedom is service to God.

Says: Take refuge in the dharma.

Says: Along the dry creek bed, walk in Beauty.

Grief take root in ashes, in broken lands.

Grief split open scars, grow
down to bedrock bone.

Grief chain the past, grief choke the future.

Bearing invisible gifts, I thank the earth.

In the sacred grove, we seek the oldest tree.

You might be standing right beside it,
but you wouldn’t see it.

What joy rages through me to be alive!

Hungry and curious, life seeks life.

Life makes matter matter.

Disarm unbind crack scrap
retool the machine of language.

The dataflesh harvest
drives disparities of wealth.

Bodyminds we are and we
will not be branded dataflesh.

The young see visions
and the old dream dreams.

Dream with me: we travel for hours
through inhabited wilderness.

Clouds of subtle lightning bridged by
filaments of grace attend our passage.

When we were happy, we were so happy.

Now we are dust to the bone.

Through obstacles and errors,
the kindred body learns.

Who goes among you and asks,
will you be my people?

To emerge into the realm of choice,
we must endure the agony of vision.

What we choose then, will mark
the world for all time.

Resolute and vulnerable, I speak the truth.

Two fingers laid side by side,
sign of equanimity or love.

What dream or vision
could sway the world to rebirth?

A blind woman threads the valley,
walking as if without thought.

Says to us: To bring you light
I have returned from nightmare.

Says: Call upon my vision and renew the world.

Hear the flute that sighs in old bones.

Hear the drum that booms in young bellies.

Do you not hear the still, small voice
encoded in the whirlwind?

Our meat and bread consume us,
hunger devouring hunger.

Are you the angry hand, the monster
that swallows the sea and everything in it?

Or the patient seed that splits
the rock and renews the land?

I have forgotten my sorrow,
my future, my name.

The glacier cut a notch in the mountain;
the rain carved a canyon.

Learn to be quiet watching the river for trout.

The raw livestream can be accessed here: https://youtu.be/1vm9yeSTaoM. It was beset with technical problems, explained in the description. Consider it a work in progress. I hope to do it again, either as a video or again as a performance.

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