Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Remark about Talk in Dumbo

The elephants talk among themselves as do the crows. Further, the crows talk with Dumbo and with Timothy Mouse, who also talks with Dumbo and with the other Elephants.

Timothy also talks to one human, and is the only animal to do so. But he does so in a very special situation. He talks to the ringmaster while he’s asleep. But he doesn't converse with him.

Is that a way of indentifying animals with the human “subconscious mind”—the term Timothy uses when addressing the sleeping ringmaster?

More Pluralism on the Way, Someday

I’m not done with my pluralism series. Two more things need to be done. First, I need to say something about Realms other than the various cultural Realms I’ve discussed in connection with literature. I figure I’ll do that with a post that discusses Realms of living vs. non-living beings.

There’s a problem there. In the world of quantum mechanics and complex systems plain old matter isn’t the dead res extensa of Cartesian dualist thought. It’s more like Jane Bennet’s vibrant matter. So I’ll have to deal with that, which seems to be, in part, a matter of mere definition. But not entirely so. Note that I’ve been over some of this territory in some posts on vitalism.

Then I want to conclude with some discussion of philosophy as a discourse that covers everything. How’s that possible in a sensible way? The Anglo-American tradition’s pretty much given up on that, and it’s not at all clear to me that the Continental tradition is much better. Yet that’s what the educated laity think philosophy is, an all-encompassing synthetic view of the world and what it all means.

Well, is it, or could it be? And could it speak to the general public, in which I include intellectual specialists other than academic philosophers?

I’m not making any promises about when I’ll get around to those issues, which I figure for one substantial post each. But in August I figured I write them by the end of the month. But other things became more pressing. As recently as a week ago I was thinking the same thing about the end of September, but it’s not going to happen.

At the moment all I’m willing to say is, someday...But I want to end up at the living cosmos.

Ratatouille, a Quick Note on Man, Vermin and Food

This recent blogging about animals and animation has made me think of Pixar’s Ratatouille, which mostly takes place in a city, Paris, and sometimes in the sewers. It is not, of course, a feature from the Golden Age. Rather, it is quite recent, 2007, and in CGI. Alas, I don’t have time to give it a full treatment. This brief note will have to do for now.

Let’s start with a passage from Lois Rostow Kuznets, When Toys Come Alive: Narratives of Animation, Metamorphosis, and Development (1994). We’re late in the book, with a discussion of the relations of man and beast in Western thought (p. 140):
The gap between man and beast has not gone unquestioned. In The Happy Beast in French Thought of the Seventeenth Century (1933), George Boas describes a challenge to this way of thinking [man over beast] in the form of primitivism. According to Boas, the French primitivists were men who not only “looked to their pre-civilized fellows as exemplars of human conduct,” but who sometimes “turned their admiring glances below man and found the true models in the animals” (1). He calls this philosophy “theriophily,” and notes that in this line of thinking “natural” is always superior to civilized (which becomes regarded as overcivilized and effete).
So, in Ratatouille our protagonist is not only an animal, but a rat, named Remy. Rats are vermin. They’re not pets, like cats, dogs, or parakeets; nor work animals, like horses or some breeds of dogs; nor are they game animals, like squirrel or deer; nor fur animals, like beaver, raccoon, or mink. They eat anything, including trash—THAT, I suspect, is why they’re classed as vermin (here we should dip into the anthropological literature on taboo, but I’ve not the time). We hunt them to rid ourselves of them, but we don’t eat their flesh nor wear their pelts.

Remy, however, is no ordinary rat. He’s a gourmet, and he’s learned to cook by stealing glances at a TV cooking show hosted by the great Gusteau, whose motto “Anyone can cook” gets stretched to include at least one rat, Remy. So, a creature culturally classified as a trash-eater is cast as a superior chef.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Jaws, sunflower version




Where’d the Animals Go?

The dots are beginning to form up. I’m starting to connect them. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the pattern that emerges is really there. Is the Big Dipper really there? Or is it really a Big Bear? Or just stars?

What I’m looking at is the disappearance of animals from daily life and the rise of funny animal cartoons. Then we get nature films in the theaters and on TV and funny animals begin disappearing from cartoons. And then we have animal rights movements and animal studies begins showing up in the academy.

Causal connection or mere historical sequence?

Don’t know. For that matter, don’t really know if it makes sense as a mere historical sequence. But I’m thinking about it.

Urbanization and Funny Animal Cartoons

So, there’s a big migration from rural America to the cities in the first half of the 20th Century. At the same time animation gets invented and funny animals take over cartoons. There’s an argumentthat there’s a causal connection between the two–see Evolutionary Alienation for pointers. Funny animal cartoons are somehow a reflex of, compensation for, the retreat of animals from our lives.

Those cartoons were theatrical—had to be, as TV didn’t exist. They played before feature films, often as parts of integrated programs that included newsreels, short subjects of various kinds, cartoons, and two features, the main feature (an A movie) and a secondary feature (B movie). People of all ages went to see these programs. Cartoons weren’t for kids.

But cartoons WERE for things you can’t readily do in live action. That’s doctrine. Paul Wells quoting Chuck Jones (The Animated Bestiary, p. 108):

The Canon: Tent Poles in the Circus of Literary Culture

Think of literary culture as a circus tent. The canonical texts are the tent poles. The other literary texts, the ones that didn't make the canon, including of course those that shift in and out of it, pop culture, whatever, are the canvas, tent pegs, guy wires, etc. Everything else, everything under the tent, that's the secondary and tertiary texts and jillions of conversations.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Dick Macksey at MLN

Dick Macksey was the long-term editor of the Comparative Literature Issue of MLN (Modern Language Notes). When he retired from the university is retired, as well, from MLN. The December 2010 issue has a number of pieces in his honor, including poems by Susan Stewart and Eleanor Wilner and a chronology of his work prepared by Sue Waterman. You can find the index HERE. Though the articles themselves are gated you can at least see beginnings for free.

A Conversation

Tellin' Stories

Society IN the Text

Of course society is ‘in’ the text, sorta. The text, after all, is constructed according to social conventions. That puts society in the text, no?

Well, yes. That’s what I’m after. But that’s not how I want to get there. I want to take a crazy route. A just-so story.

To begin with, there is this matter of ‘the text.’ What is it? As I’ve explained in Texts, Traces, and Hyperobjects, it’s an ambiguous notion. On the one hand, the text IS the markings on the page. But around forty or so years ago some folks blew it out until it seems to have blanked the whole freakin’ world. I don’t want to go that far.

I want to think of the text as the symbols PLUS the simple act of reading it. Take the cascading neural resonance evoked in the process of reading the symbols; I’m including them IN the text. Call it the neuro-text, or the full text, or just the text. If you will, THE WORK.

Now think, not of print culture, where a lone author pens a text, puts it in a bottle, and tosses the bottle to its fate, but of oral culture, where a story-teller gets in front of the group and talks, gestures, jumps around a bit, makes faces, and gets a story over to a bunch of people who are listening, groaning, giggling, pumping their fists in the air, belching, sighing, munching Doritos, slapping their thighs, and generally having a grand old time. Well, if the story-teller knows his business they’re having a grand old time. If not, bummer.

In THAT situation, what’s the boundary of the work, the full text, the neuro-text, the cascading neural resonance set of by the string of signifiers that is the physical substance of ‘the text’? That boundary must extend over the whole group, no? They’re all listening, laughing, sobbing, and clapping. The story teller’s paying attention to them and responding to them, and they’re certainly aware of and affected by one another. All of that’s IN the full text, in THE WORK.

Bryant Watch: Relations, Oy!

Bryant’s taken up the topic of relations:
The real issue is not whether or not whether or not it is possible to move beyond correlationism or whether being can only ever be thought in relation to thought and whether thought can only ever be thought in relation to being, but rather whether or not relations are internal or external.
Followed by over eighteen-hundred words of philosophical weaving and unweaving, plus some pictures. Look at the pictures.

His commenters are variously skeptical. thodgman:
Why must relations be either internal or external – in either case, *where* do they exist? This seems to imply they are material, but I’m not sure what matter they would be made of, or why this would not mean relations are not also objects. At the same time speaking of relations in this way feels very abstract to me. How would we have a concept of relations without having observed a variety of associations of objects, and having built through induction a variety of types of relations?
Yes, very abstract. And, yes, we have no choice but to observe “a variety of associations of objects.” Is that the job of philosophy, or of many specialized disciplines? Is Bryant unwittingly committed to a Theory of Everything? Perhaps a division of intellectual labor is called for.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Church Doors


Evolutionary Alienation

What do you mean by that? you ask. Crudely put, we evolved in a world surrounded by plants and animals. We’re now headed pell-mell into cities where plants and animals are largely absent. And so we no longer fell at home. We’re alienated. We miss our friends and companions.

And we’re not going to find them by cruising the web or watching CGI movies.

Do you actually believe that? you ask. How the hell would I know? says I, I just thought of it.

What made you think of it?

Two things: cartoons and community gardens.

How so?

Sleep, NOT an 8-hour block

David Randall has an interesting op-ed on sleep in the NYTimes:
Typically, mention of our ever increasing sleeplessness is followed by calls for earlier bedtimes and a longer night’s sleep. But this directive may be part of the problem. Rather than helping us to get more rest, the tyranny of the eight-hour block reinforces a narrow conception of sleep and how we should approach it. Some of the time we spend tossing and turning may even result from misconceptions about sleep and our bodily needs: in fact neither our bodies nor our brains are built for the roughly one-third of our lives that we spend in bed.

The idea that we should sleep in eight-hour chunks is relatively recent. The world’s population sleeps in various and surprising ways. Millions of Chinese workers continue to put their heads on their desks for a nap of an hour or so after lunch, for example, and daytime napping is common from India to Spain.

Description and Distance at New Savanna

In the course of cruising the web I noticed that the folks over at In the Middle have had a number of substantial posts on description and distant reading, for example, this one on Scales of Reading. As I’ve blogged quite a bit in that general arena I’ve decided to assemble an annotated list of relevant blog posts.

Description is tricky. I take it as given that there is no such thing as “pure” description of the “text itself,” whatever that might. Whatever texts are, they are rich and complex beyond any hope of complete description. When crafting a description we must decide what to take note of what to ignore. As a practical matter, much of what we pass over we do so without ever having brought it into focal attention where we could consciously decide whether or not to include it in our description. Consequently descriptive projects often proceed in stages as more and more features are brought into focal attention.

Description in Biology: Meso, Macro, and Micro

In thinking about description I’ve found it useful to think about biology.


Because biology is built on accurate descriptions of complex objects, millions of them.

Darwin’s work on evolution stood on tens of thousands of descriptions his predecessors had assembled since the late 15th Century. According to Brian Ogilvie, The Science of Describing: Natural History in Renaissance Europe (pp. 30 ff.), the work was prompted by a simple puzzle: Are the flora and fauna described by the ancients the same as those around and about us today? That question, in turn, led to questions of a similar kind: When I send word to Paris, how will they be able to tell whether or not the flower I’m describing here in Florence exists there?

Such questions prompted the development of standards for describing and drawing flora and fauna and for developing reference collections of specimens. Think of this as meso-scale description. You go at this for a few centuries and start comparing specimens across time and space and you begin to amass a description of the spatio-temporal distribution of species. It’s THAT macro-scale description the prompted speculation and theorizing about evolution.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Van Horne and Commuipaw, Sunday morning


The OOO Dilemma

As I see it, and this is at a distance, some philosophers decided they wanted to philosophize without benefit of the divide between humans and the world, without privileging consciousness. But, how do you do THAT? You can’t just philosophize out of thin air.

You need concepts and you needs words in which to dress those concepts.

Since these philosophers grew up in the Continental tradition, that’s where they went for their words and concepts. While there are various sets of words and concepts in that tradition, the ones most readily at hand were developed to deal with consciousness in a world split between humans and everything else. Since that’s what was available, that’s what got used.

The result: a lot of philosophical discourse about a world of nothing but objects couched in words and concepts developed for a world of subjects forever walled off from all the objects, the things OVER THERE.

It’s a little confusing.

Touchstones (Unity of Being)

Now that unity of being sorta popped out of the ether and into a post I figure I'm going to be saying more about it, whatever it is. So, it would be useful to have this bit of my intellectual autobiography posted here. It's about events in my undergraduate and early graduate years. I originally published it in a journal edited by Art Efron: Paunch 42 - 43: 4 - 16, December 1975.
[I’ve added some contemporary comments in italics, right justified in brackets, like this.]

* * * * *


The finest emotion of which we are capable is the mystic emotion. Herein lies the germ of all art and all true science. Anyone to whom this feeling is alien, who is no longer capable of wonderment and lives in a state of fear is a dead man. To know that what is impenetrable for us really exists and manifests itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, whose gross forms alone are intelligible to our poor faculties,–this knowledge, this feeling. . .that is the core of the true religious sentiment. In this sense and in this sense alone, I rank myself among profoundly religious Men.

– Albert Einstein, "Science and Religion," Out of My Later Years
In the fall of 1968 I began my Senior year at The (and they are most particular about that "the") Johns Hopkins University, where I was a philosophy major who had become sick of philosophy courses (which is not the same thing as becoming sick of philosophy–that has yet I to happen to me). Since I had enough philosophy credited I to my account it was unnecessary for me to earn any more. And so I found myself studying Romantic Literature, taught by the late Earl Wasserman. This essay is around and about an experience I had while preparing a paper for that course.

First we studied Keats, then Shelley, and finally Sir Walter Scott. The experience, involving the exercise of negative capability, occurred while writing a paper on Keats. But I have not told you enough about myself, not yet.

That was the Fall semester. Enrollment dropped in half for the Spring semester. This distressed Wasserman a great deal–though not graceful in eliciting contact with his undergraduate students, at least not with this hairy bunch, Wasserman valued such contact highly. He therefore decided to teach one of the discussion sections in the course. And I was in that section.

We studied Wordsworth first. Nothing strange happened to me while writing on Wordsworth, no spots of time opening fissures in the surface of my self possession; but that was the best paper of my undergraduate career. Then came Coleridge. That paper contained the seeds of my Master's Thesis, and my doctoral dissertation will be an attempt to propose solutions to problems raised in writing that thesis.





Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tomato Constellations



Literary Criticism 21: Academic Literary Study in a Pluralist World

The following post is an introduction to a collection of posts I've written over the past several months: Literary Criticism 21: Academic Literary Study in a Pluralist World. I've placed the collection in a PDF which you may download from my SSRN page, HERE.
Abstract: At the most abstract philosophical level the cosmos is best conceptualized as containing various Realms of Being interacting with one another. Each Realm contains a broad class of objects sharing the same general body of processes and laws. In such a conception the human world consists of many different Realms of Being, with more emerging as human cultures become more sophisticated and internally differentiated. Common Sense knowledge forms one Realm while Literary experience is another. Being immersed in a literary work is not at all the same as going about one's daily life. Formal Literary Criticism is yet another Realm, distinct from both Common Sense and Literary Experience. Literary Criticism is in the process of differentiating into two different Realms, that of Ethical Criticism, concerned with matters of value, and that of Naturalist Criticism, concerned with the objective study of psychological, social, and historical processes.

Introduction: Toward Naturalist and Ethical Criticisms

When I began nosing about object-oriented ontology (OOO) a year and a half ago I had several things in mind. On the one hand I was simply curious, especially since OOO seemed to be a science-friendly brand of post-post-structuralist Continental philosophy. But, and more specifically, I was also looking for a way of explaining my own work in naturalist criticism to scholars and for a way to supplement that work with a way of approaching ethical and aesthetic issues.

Why would I think OOO could fulfill those two functions? It’s that object thing. My own work for the last four (!) ecades has centered on the need to develop methods for objectifying literary texts and processes, chiefly through description and the newer psychologies, psychologies ultimately informed by and driven by the notion of computation. I figured that a philosophy of objects might have something to say about objectification, perhaps even a way of justifying the ways of objectification to humanists. If so, then perhaps this philosophy of objects would also provide me with an ethics and an aesthetics. For it’s long been clear that neither ethics nor aesthetics are objective in nature.

Things did and did not work out that way. It turns out that the objects of object-oriented criticism are more like subjects, which is not quite what I was looking for. So I had to do a bit of inventing. But I like the invention. So far.

Two Cabbage Stalks



Monday, September 24, 2012

A Better Text, Really? Shades of Mike Hancher

Harman’s recent suggestion that somewhere in the metaphysical ether there’s a text better than the one(s) written by the author reminded me of a piece one Michael Hancher published back in the ancient days when I was an undergraduate and then a Master’s student at Johns Hopkins and Hancher was a newly hired assistant professor of English. But I don’t want to go directly to Hancher’s text, in which he suggests that the art of criticism resides in (the possibility of) finding a meaning for a text better than the author’s meaning, which is the province of the science of criticism. I want to sidle up to it.
Note that the next section gets a bit sticky once I invoke the distinction between signifiers and signifieds. Alas, that cannot be helped.
What’s Special about Literary Texts as Objects?

Let’s reprise a passage from Harman’s reply to Green:
...I think the literary text is something deeper than its current holistic configuration in the form of how the author chose to publish it, or the best available scholarly version of a text available at any given moment, or whatever is usually taken to be the real text. ...

In other words, I think I’m giving an even stronger critique of authorial intention than is usually the case. Not only do authors fail to master the infinite dissemination of their texts, they probably don’t even put the text in the right shape in the first place. Most of them should have written better texts. Just as social surroundings fail to exhaust a literary work, the exact written form of a literary work fails to exhaust the deeper spirit of that work. My article proposed the rudiments of some methods to get at that deeper spirit.
Let me again ask: What is this unwritten text of which Harman speaks, the one that authors fail to shape properly? I have already suggested, in Is Harman a Platonist?, that Harman is taking advantage of the ambiguity and equivocation inherent in the notion of the text as a term of art in literary study. While the text certainly includes the written symbols of the text, assuming we’re dealing with a written text, there’s some ambiguity even here. The exact written marks are likely to vary between manuscripts, if any still exist, and published editions, and the variations reflect mistakes and intentions by several parties: authors, editors, and printers. But the notion of the text extends from those visible, albeit often disputed, marks to some vague nebulous thing of which those marks are said to be an expression. It’s that nebulous thing, more often than not, which is the object of critical investigation. That’s what we mean by “the text.”

What I find so odd is Harman’s assertion that he’s “giving an even stronger critique of authorial intention than is usually the case” and that he’s giving it in favor of this better but vague and nebulous thing. How does he know this thing exists in any way shape or form? The fact that he can designate it by a suitable noun phrase – “the deeper spirit of that work” – doesn’t mean that that thing exists as anything other than a figment of Harman’s philosophical imagination.

I’m curious as to whether there are better hammers or rocks of this sort. Of course, given some hammer and a task for it to perform, there may well be a better hammer for that particular task. And, depending on circumstances, one might even be able to obtain that better hammer. But that’s not really what Harman’s getting at when he talks about the better text. At least I don’t think it is.

Harman talks of real objects as always withdrawing. The hammer we have at hand, however suited it may be to the current task, is not the real hammer. Rather, it is, in Harman’s terminology, a sensual hammer. And if, in a given case, we set aside the hammer most readily at hand and get a different hammer, well then that different hammer is but a sensual hammer as well.

Texts are more complicated than hammers, even without the metaphysics.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Unity of Being and Ethical Criticism

I wish to offer another adjustment to my ongoing discussion of literature, criticism, and pluralism. I begin by discussing unity of being in two senses. In one sense it is a psychological concept; it is about how one feels when giving oneself over to the Literary Realm. In another sense it is broadly about one’s way of life, about the world at large.

From there I go on to discuss ethical criticism, offer some touchstone passages from Kenneth Burke, Wayne Booth, and Keith Oatley, and conclude by revising the diagram with which I ended Literature, Criticism, and Pluralism 3: The Reality of Fictional Objects.

Unity of Being

In real time, unity of being is, well, unity of being. I don’t mean to be perverse, but I don’t know of any general term, though perhaps Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow will do, or the phrase “being in the moment.” As far as I know flow always happens spontaneously in that we cannot flip the mind’s flow switch at will—I rather doubt there’s such a thing as a flow-switch, rather it’s a matter of balance. But we can do things that will increase the likelihood that the mind will flip into flow.

One of those things is to read, in the basic ordinary sense of the word, a literary text. Or listen to a story, watch a play or movie. Whatever. In this sense, unity of being is psychological, it happens in the mind/brain in real time.

But unity of being, I believe, is also a reasonable way to talk about how individuals and peoples live their lives in the large, from years to decades to centuries. One wants everything one does, 24/7/365, to fall into a coherent pattern. A pattern more or less attributed to the nature of the world. To the extent that one cannot achieve unity of being one feels, well, perhaps alienated is the most general concept for it. In that literary texts are (always) about the world, they point toward unity of being in the large.

As far as I know there is no one way of life that yields unity of being in the large nor is there one way of organizing texts that yields it in the small. In the large it is a matter of how one chooses to live, where that one can be an individual or a group. In the small it is a matter of craft and one’s knowledge of its ways and means.

"Hierarchical structure is rarely...needed to explain how language is used in practice"

How hierarchical is language use?

Stefan L. Frank, Rens Bod and Morten H. Christiansen

Abstract: It is generally assumed that hierarchical phrase structure plays a central role in human language. However, considerations of simplicity and evolutionary continuity suggest that hierarchical structure should not be invoked too hastily. Indeed, recent neurophysiological, behavioural and computational studies show that sequential sentence structure has considerable explanatory power and that hierarchical processing is often not involved. In this paper, we review evidence from the recent literature supporting the hypothesis that sequential structure may be fundamental to the comprehension, production and acquisition of human language. Moreover, we provide a preliminary sketch outlining a non-hierarchical model of language use and discuss its implications and testable predictions. If linguistic phenomena can be explained by sequential rather than hierarchical structure, this will have considerable impact in a wide range of fields, such as linguistics, ethology, cognitive neuroscience, psychology and computer science.

Published online before print September 12, 2012, doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.1741
Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Friday, September 21, 2012

Communipaw at Pacific, Jersey City


Local lore has it that, back in the day, Communipaw Avenue was a footpath used by the Lenni-Lenape as they came down off the plateau and went down to the bay to fish.

Bleg: Beyond/Beneath the Nation-State

Two days ago I put up a post in which I asserted, by the time-honored method of pulling it out of my arse, that
in the long run, more and more political action which shift to cities and thereby ‘hollow out’ the increasingly sclerotic system of nation states which governs the earth and the global level. In a century the nation states will be husks of what they are now and most of the world’s civic business will be conducted by shifting coalitions of cities and regions.
I’m interested in exploring that notion.


Anyone have ideas, suggestions for things to check out, etc.? Any relevant science fiction?

* * * * *

In that post I cited, as examples,
  • the Second Vermont Republic, a group of citizens who want Vermont to secede from the USofA,
  • the Transition Town movement, folks who are adamantly apolitical but who, in anticipation of peak oil, are working toward local self-sufficiency in food and energy and all that that implies, and
  • Mayors of Peace, an international organization of cities seeking to end nuclear weapons by 2020.
What else is there like that, where “like that” is interpreted generously?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sunflower Patterns

According to my rather limited observations, some sunflowers look like this when the first blossom


and others like this


Though it may not be obvious, the arrangement of the individual florets, as I believe they are called, is the same in the second photograph as in the first. That arrangement has been subject to mathematical investigation and computer modeling, as have many naturally occuring patterns.

Each of those florets will develop into a seed and the overall patterning will, or course, be preserved as they mature. Here's some photographs depicting later stages of the process. The photos are of different flowers. With a bit of work I suppose I could match them up so as to have all the photos of a given flower together. But my object here is informal, and so that tedious labor is not necessary. You may want to ignore the flys that show up, as they're extraneous to this exercise, informal as it is.

A Garden State of Mind

Though I watched my mother tend to her flower gardens, I even helped her weed, and each Spring I looked for the irises to bloom, I didn’t become a gardener. For one thing, I never owned a home with grounds for a garden, though I could certainly have planted gardens in the house I rented in Cropseyville, NY, for two years or so. But I never had any such inclinations.

Thus it comes as a bit of a surprise to find myself tending plants, pruning them, a bit of weeding, and a bit of watering. I like it.

But what’s it about, this gardening thing? Here I’m thinking as an evolutionary psychologist, you know, the folks who believe that we’ve got Stone Age minds we’ve got to harness to operate the Modern World. And I agree with them, in a way.

Our Stone Age ancestors didn’t garden, nor do our primate relatives. We all forage and eat plants, and we also do a bit of hunting for animal flesh, humans more so than other primates. We’ve got ‘instincts’ for those things. But we’ve got no gardening instinct.

Nor for that matter, do we have instincts for quantum mechanics, archery, basket weaving, hopscotch, square dancing or bowling, among many other things. So how does our Stone Age mind do such things?

Obviously we’ve got to construct routines for these various purposes.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Political Connections: Lafayette to Montpelier

On the one hand I’m involved in projects in my neighborhood (Lafayette in Jersey City, NJ), most notably a community garden, but also an anti-litter campaign, and I’m looking to do something with music. On the other hand I just got back from a trip to northern Vermont where I was part of a five-state aggregation of nine musicians that provided music for a conference on Vermont independence, which means Vermont seceding from the United States and establishing itself as a sovereign nation once again (Vermont was a republic between 1777 and 1791).

What do these two spheres of activity have to do with one another? What are the connections?

Some People Links

There is, of course, the fact that I’m involved in both sets of these arenas. I live in the Lafayette neighborhood of Jersey City and am working to make it a better neighborhood. Lafayette’s my home.

I traveled to Vermont at the behest (when was the last time I used that word?) of Charlie Keil, an intellectual and musical compatriot. Charlie is an anarchist, as am I, and a pacifist, ditto. We were both conscientious objectors during our years of draft eligibility. And we’re both musicians.

In particular, Charlie is interested in getting more people to make live music and he’s interested in what he calls a 12/8 Path band, which is a strolling brass band at home in 12/8 time. We’ve played many demonstrations together in New York City, including a large anti-war demonstration prior to the invasion of Iraq and an anti-nuclear demonstration where Japanese and out-numbered everyone else.

But, how’s that get us to Vermont celebrating the future independence of Vermont? Simple, really. Charlie believes in “small is beautiful” and I’m OK with it. Breaking the USofA into a number of smaller and more flexible states seems like a reasonable thing to do. That’s something advocated by Thomas Naylor, an economist and an activist for Vermont independence. It’s Naylor who brought Charlie to Vermont and I came along.

Me and a bunch of other guys. Since this post is about connections I could legitimately talk about these others. But I won’t. For one thing, that could easily go on and on and on as I start moving out along those networks. For another, I don’t know much about most of them except that they’re good and versatile musicians, which I learned from playing with them, some of the for the first time in Vermont. But I’ll mention one, trombonist Steve Swell, who’s sympathetic to Charlie’s politics and mine. You can track his musical links through his Wikipedia entry. Also, Steve’s loosely familiar with my neighborhood as he went to college in Jersey City.

Birdhouses in Lakeville




Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sunrise in Vermont




Is Harman a Platonist? More on his recommendations for literary criticism

Terence Blake has variously suggested that Harman is a transcendentalist, that those objects of never-ending withdrawal are, for all practical purposes, transcendental objects – see, for example, Paul Ennis’s Non-Laruellian Response to Levi Bryant (4), point 2. That criticism has seemed to me variously uncharitable or unnecessary. But I’m reconsidering.

When Harman’s talking about objects in general, or banging away on Heidegger’s hammer, that’s OK. Those oxen have been grazing the conceptual commons for eons and are general property. But when he talks about literary texts, well, I have a long-standing and fairly specific interest in that particular ox. It is not, of course, my ox exclusively. Not at all. But my years of study have given me a sense of ownership.

That’s MY ox that Harman is goring and I don’t like it.

* * * * *

The goring that’s put me over the threshold takes place in Harman’s response to Dan Green’s critique of Harman’s New Literary History piece (which I critiqued here). Harman is responding to Green’s critique of Harman’s “counter-factual literary criticism” (Harman’s phrase):
...I think the literary text is something deeper than its current holistic configuration in the form of how the author chose to publish it, or the best available scholarly version of a text available at any given moment, or whatever is usually taken to be the real text. ...

In other words, I think I’m giving an even stronger critique of authorial intention than is usually the case. Not only do authors fail to master the infinite dissemination of their texts, they probably don’t even put the text in the right shape in the first place. Most of them should have written better texts. Just as social surroundings fail to exhaust a literary work, the exact written form of a literary work fails to exhaust the deeper spirit of that work. My article proposed the rudiments of some methods to get at that deeper spirit.
What is this unwritten text of which Harman speaks, the one that authors fail to shape properly? What is this deeper spirit he seeks? How does it differ from those Ideal Forms that Plato posited? Out there, in the Great Transcendental Beyond we have the Ideal Forms of the texts: Iliad, Pride and Prejudice, The Valley of the Dolls, they’re all there. And here, in the corporeal world, we have the impoverished husks that the authors and editors have managed to cobble together.

The Emperor’s New Virus

What causes something to go viral on the web?

I assume that lots of folks have lots to say about this matter, but I’ve not read their ideas. And I have no trouble believing that there are various factors involved. But I’m interested in one factor and have one suggestion to make about it.

I make my suggestion by way of the Hans Cristian Anderson tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Here’s how the Wikipedia tells the tale:
A vain Emperor who cares for nothing hires two swindlers that promise him the finest, best suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position or "hopelessly stupid". The Emperor cannot see the cloth himself, but pretends that he can for fear of appearing unfit for his position; his ministers do the same. When the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they mime dressing him and the Emperor marches in procession before his subjects, who play along with the pretense, until a child in the crowd, too young to understand the desirability of keeping up the pretense, blurts out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others. The Emperor cringes, suspecting the assertion is true, but continues the procession.
In this tale what goes viral is the knowledge that the emperor is naked. Of course, as soon as he starts on his march everyone knows that he is naked. But, so my point goes, that knowledge has not yet “gone viral.”

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Celebrating the Future Independence of Vermont, at the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier: Toward a Politics of Jubilee

I spent Friday, 14 September, in and around the Vermont Statehouse. Sometime back in the mists of time past some good Vermont citizens decided that, in the face of the cancerous growth of the American state, that Vermont folks of conscience and caring had to organize and urge their fellow Vermonters to secede from the Union. And so the Vermont Independence Party (VIP) was born.

Friday was their third state-wide convention, with visitors from several other states as well. This convention was organized toward the reading of The Montpelier Manifesto, listing 29 grievances against the Federal Government of the United States of America and urging secession. The conference was held in the House Chamber of the Vermont Statehouse, for it seems that, by law, Vermont citizens have the right to occupy use the statehouse when it is not otherwise in use.

I was there with the Northeast Irregulars, a contingent of the New York Path to Peace, organized by Charlie Keil. We brought musicians from Jersey City, New York City, Connecticut, and Vermont. At least.

Here's some photographs of that glorious day. I apologize to all those who were there but not in these photos.

* * * * *


That's Charlie Keil on the right and Jack Lazarowski on the left. Jack and his wife Linda put Charlie and I up for the night. Thanks, Jack and Linda!

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Living Cosmos

As I understand it the modern conception asserts that the cosmos is fundamentally inanimate. Dead.

And then, somehow, life evolved. Miraculously. Except that we moderns don’t believe in miracles. So life isn’t a miracle.

It’s merely a puzzle. One we have yet to solve. That non-miracle puzzle remains a mystery.

Like consciousness.

I have a suggestion: Let’s declare the cosmos to be fundamentally animate. Or at least fecund. Brimming with abundance. But not dead.


Not dead.

In urging such a declaration I do not intend, thereby, to dissolve the mystery, solve the puzzle, explain the miracle. As if by magic.

Word magic.

Spells. Incantation. Enchantment.


Who do the voodoo that you do so well?

Not at all.

I just want to reframe the question, you know, the question that Chas. Ives was always asking. The unanswered one.

It’s not an idle suggestion, nor unmotivated, nor even unreasonable. After all, that big bang, or whatever it was/is, was/is enormously productive. Wasn’t it? Well then, what sense does it make to say that it was/is dead?

No. It’s alive. Animate. Fecund. Abundant.

Which means that our story is no longer one of heroic struggle against and defiance of a dead universe. It is not a story of us against them. Of fragile conquest, belligerently maintained in the face of a hostile universe.


It is simply a story of us.

All of us.

bosons quarks Sappho cathedrals atoms Sam Clemens molecules V2s RNA Buddha DNA cells slime molds yurts c. elegans mushrooms Murasaki Shikibu peacocks jelly fish Tezuka Osamu ants adding machines worms manga soup wheat Richard Pryor rabbits submarines Florence Nightingale buffalo fetishes ice bergs streams braids cocktail napkins Mt. Everest Joan of Arc Sun Yat-sen

and so forth

Thursday, September 13, 2012



If, six months ago, you’d told me I’d spend half an hour arranging fresh sunflower seeds on a slab of slate and then photographing them I would not have believed you.

Though, come to think of it . . .

Perhaps I would have. Given that I’ve taken a lot of photographs in the last few years and that, in a handful of cases, I’ve arranged this or that so I could photograph it, well, it’s at least possible that I’d take an interest in trumpets (I own half a dozen), CD jewel cases, buttons, or sunflower seeds at some time. So, I suppose, the idea of me photographing sunflower seeds at some future date wouldn’t’ seem THAT outrageous.

Not any more.

But it certainly wasn’t on my agenda. Where, after all, would I get the sunflower seeds?

If, back then, you’d told me, Why, from the community garden where you volunteer, well then: Get outa’ here! I’d helped my mother weed her flower gardens when I was a kid, but that was a long time ago. And just last year I’d spent time photographing flowers in a garden created by the Hoboken Garden Club (don’t know if that’s the group’s exact name, no matter, it identifies them well enough). But it’s one thing to photograph flowers that others plant and maintain. It’s quite something else to volunteer in a garden yourself.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Disney's Dumbo: A Myth of Modernity

It was back in the early Spring of 2007 that I sent Mike Barrier a longish email on Dumbo. I sent it as ordinary correspondence and did expect him to publish it. But he did. Which was fine by me.

But I had no intention to do any more work on Dumbo.

Then, for whatever reason, I posted Secrets of Pink Elephants Revealed in the Fall of 2010. Again, I had no particular reason in mind and certainly had no intention of doing extensive work on the film. That post become the second most popular one on New Savanna, and still is.

Tripping the Elephants Electric was my third major piece on Dumbo. I posted it on June 29 of this year, 2012, and fully intended to do some more work on the film. But not as much as I ended up doing.

And I will do more work on it. Just how much more, and when, I don’t know. For now, though, it is best to lay things to rest, more or less. I need to let things settle down before I read through the whole slew of posts and try to make sense of it all.

For that WILL be required. I like what I’ve done. I don’t feel that I’m on top of things just yet. It’s more like I’m just getting around to figuring out what questions need to be asked. I need to think more about animals and about this “myth logic” that I keep invoking. And I probably need to gin up some more sophisticated intellectual equipment, more than can be conveniently deployed on New Savanna, even in a series of long-form posts.

As an example of the sort of thing I’ll be pondering, consider the bath scene. Vladimir Tytla, the lead animator for Dumbo, based his work in that scene on observations of his own infant son interacting with his mother as she bathed him. We SEE an elephant on the screen, but we see the gestures and motions of a human infant and mother at play. Similarly, in the middle of The Nutcracker Suite in Fantasia we see goldfish dancing languorously and sensuously. Don Lusk based those movements on footage that director Sam Armstrong shot of Princess Omar, who is supposed to have danced before crowned heads.

We see animals on the screen, but we feel their movements as human movements—or do we? Not quite, not exactly, I think. We abstract or extract the motions from the image and match the movements we see with our own inner movements. Somehow in this process the movements themselves float free of us and them and become just movements and gestures, pure expression. Essences even.

That’s what I want to understand. One of the things anyhow.

It’s a simple thing, really. But we don’t have the language we need to understand that simplicity. That’s what I’m after. That language.

This marvelous film has brought me closer to it.

* * * * *

You can download a PDF of the Dumbo posts here. I have revised them slightly in the process of gathering them together, but I haven't made any substantive changes.

Malick in the Garden




Tuesday, September 11, 2012

From Objects to Pluralism

This is a somewhat revised version of the essay which I originally posted on July 18, 2012. I have revised it to take account of Levi Bryant's recent work on onto-cartography and to incorporate Graham Harman's notion of vicarious or indirect causality. To do this I expanded the section, Patterns of Relations Among Objects, and added a new section, Indirect Cause and Realms of Being. The rest of the essay remains the same.

* * * * *

. . . we are not to attempt to hack off parts like a clumsy butcher, but to take example from our two recent speeches. The single general form which they postulated was irrationality; next on the analogy of a single natural body with its pairs of like-named members, right arm or leg, as we say, and left, they conceived of madness as a single objective form existing in human beings. Wherefore the first speech divided off a part on the left, and continued to make divisions . . .  
–Plato, Phaedrus (265e-266a)

Having hazarded that pluralism is the Next Big Thing I now feel some obligation to clarify what I mean by pluralism. As it’s object-oriented philosophy that brought me to this dance, I’ll use it as a vehicle for so doing.

First, using a passage from a Graham Harman interview, I raise the question of the relationship between philosophy and the more specialized disciplines. I then continue with Harman in a section where, in effect, I ask: What can we build with objects and relations alone? By way of illustration I bring up the case of knowledge representation in the cognitive sciences, where complex conceptual systems are constructed from just that, objects and relations.

Then I take an excursion into the work of Levi Bryant, whose concept of regimes of attraction indicates the existence of relatively stable patterns of relationships over large collections of objects. I then go into full tap dance mode, suggesting that we can construct Realms of Being from that notion plus Harman's conception of indirect causation. Realms of Being, that the world consists of many different ever evolving Realms, THAT’s what I mean by pluralism. Given that, the task of metaphysics is to figure out what those Realms are and how they’re interlinked.

I conclude with some more general remarks.

A General Theory of Objects?

As a way of setting the stage, consider the following passage from Graham Harman’s interview at ASK/TELL:
. . . the reason to focus on objects rather than on “language, social change, sexuality or animals” is because philosophy is obliged to be global in scope. If philosophy were to give one of these other entities a starring role, it would have to reduce the rest of the universe to them. “Language is the root of everything.” Here, you are choosing one specific kind of entity to be the root of all others, and there is no basis for this. Sociology tends to view all reality in terms of its emergence from human societies and belief-systems. Psychology treats all reality as made up primarily of mental phenomena. Physics deals with tiny physical objects and says that everything is made out of them, except that physics is useless when trying to explain things like metaphors, the Italian Renaissance, the meaning of dreams, and so forth.

All these other disciplines focus on one kind of object as the root of all else in the world. Only philosophy can be a general theory of objects, describing Symbolist poetry and the interaction of cartoon characters just as easily as the slamming together of two comets in distant space.
My immediate and quite spontaneous reaction to that was a less than charitable: And just what can philosophy tell me about cartoon characters? I asked that question in my capacity as someone who has a specialized interest in cartoons and so has spent hours upon hours going through cartoons scene by scene, shot by shot, and even frame by frame, trying to figure out how these things work. It would be too much to expect a philosopher to look at cartoons in such detail.

But just what WOULD I expect of a philosopher? I don’t need a philosopher to tell me that Popeye is, in some sense, real. I know that already, that’s why I care about them and study them. Nor do I need a philosopher to tell me about the difference between the real object on paper or in celluloid and the image in someone’s mind. That’s been around for a long time. I don’t see that philosophy has anything new and interesting to say about that.

But then, just what does philosophy have to offer the other specialized disciplines? Do they have need of Harman’s “general theory of objects”? I have my doubts. Does ANYONE, other than philosophers, have need of a general theory of objects? If the answer to that question is “no” does that mean that such a theory has no use?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sunset on a Sunflower


Dance Together

This is a companion piece to Kids in Search of the Dance. That post was about young kids at an outdoor concert wanting to dance to the music but not quite knowing how to do it. They had room to dance, the music was suitable, and everyone would have loved them to see them dance, but they just didn’t have the moves available.

This post is about integrating kids and adults into the same dance. Let’s return to that same concert, by the Gordys in Hoboken. After they’d played for half-an-hour to 45 minutes the band started playing some klezmer music. Almost immediately adults got up and started dancing some version of the Hora, or, more likely, the Horah, a traditional dance originating in the Balkans and adopted throughout the Jewish diaspora.

It is a round dance. People form a circle, join hands and more around to the right. As danced at this Gordys concert the circle often broke and you just had a line of people holding hands and running around the plaza in time to the music.

Here’s some photos I took:


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Benzon’s Law of the Driver’s Seat

It’s simple, really:
If you want to know what it’s like to drive a car, you’ve got to sit in the driver’s seat and drive it.
That’s particularly true if you drive s stick-shift—remember them? To watch it, there’s nothing to depressing the clutch pedal and using the gear shift. But to actually do it, that’s another thing. The gear shift is easy, but getting a feel for the clutch pedal, that takes a little time, and attention. And putting the car in gear when you’re starting on an upgrade, yowsa! When I first started on the stick shift I thought it was impossible. Now, nothing to it.

You can’t learn that from the back seat or the passenger’s seat and you can’t learn it from reading a book. You have to sit in the seat and work the clutch while coordinating with the gear shift.

It’s all like that, all the skills of driving a car. You have to do them to, well, be able to do them. Vicarious experience doesn’t cut it.

* * * * *

And everything’s like that, everything.

The Pod People are Just Around the Corner


Friday, September 7, 2012

Four Point Plan to Change the World, or at Least the USofA


This is going to be quick and crude.

Some Assumptions

I’m making many assumptions, including: 1) Limits are near, 2) Science and technology cannot change that, and therefore 3) the American Century is over. 4) Recognizing and accepting 3 is the chief stumbling block to major political change. It’s a matter of mythology, symbolism, and emotional investment, not rational principle and reasoned argument.

Until this symbolic problem is overcome the reasoning behind 1 (limits), 2 (tech won’t work), and 3 (hegemony gone) is invisible.

The Hegemony Myth

So, how do we create a new mythology to replace that of American Hegemony? Good question. I don’t know.

I do know that, after Japan was defeated in World World II, some Japanese managed to shed the old imperial mythology which had Japan at the center of the world. One can see that process of mourning in, for example, three manga by Osamu Tezuka: Lost World, Metropolis, and Next World. That the Japanese had lost the war was an inescapable fact, and so many Japanese could find their way to a new mythology. Those Japanese grieved for their lost Japan and, out of that grief, managed to create a new one.

Nothing of comparable finitude has happened to America. The recent financial disaster was a shock, and it has had permanent repercussions, but it isn’t the equivalent of having several major cities incinerated, two by atom bombs, and enduring a military occupation. Before that, there was the terror bombing of 9/11. That too was shocking, but America responded to the shock by doubling down on the old mythology and thereby walking into two unwinnable wars half way around the world.

What Is It?


Obviously it's a plant of some sort. Anyone can see that. It's fennel, though that doesn't really matter.

For my question is about the background. What is it? And does it matter? If so, how?

Since I took the photo, I know what the background is. There's nothing particularly exotic or unusual about the background, but you can't really tell what it is from the photo; it's blurred too much. It's reddish and has several stripes, two whitish ones and a blue, perhaps others depending on how you read it.

It would appear to be a wall of kind, but beyond that . . . Is it indoors or outdoors? What's it made of? Is it painted? If not, what's the source of color variation?

And, as I asked before, does any of that matter? I don't think of this as being about anything particularly deep. In fact, it seems rather ordinary to me. But, I think, that's because it has become ordinary. On the one hand, 20th Century art has made us used to art that doesn't represent anything in particular, so we're not necessarily going to ask that background to BE anything except a background.

But the foreground image obviously does represent something, a fennel plant. So we've got this almost clash between a representational forground and an almost mysterious background. I say "almost" because photographers do this all the time. There's a word for it, that blurred background: bokeh, from the Japanese.

If the background were mottled greens below, perhaps with patches of blurred color, and blue above there would be an obvious interpretation: more plants and the sky. As the background is quite different from that, the interpretation is not obvious.

Nor really necessary. But, still, there's just a bit of ontological instability.


Cabbage, Second Start


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Grow Food Locally

From Eating the City and Town: Todmorden and Beyond by gmoke in Daily Kos:
Linköping, Sweden, a city of about 104,000 people is considering a vertical farm project to become self-sufficient in food ( while Chicago is already building their first vertical farm ( and Berlin is planning the world's largest rooftop fish and vegetable garden (
In the US, Growing Power ( in Milwaukee is probably the most successful urban gardening project. Today, 1% of the food consumed in Milwaukee is grown in the city but Growing Power wants to increase it to 10% within two years. They plan to build 100 acres of greenhouses for year-round growing and have begun a 20,000 backyard garden program. You can see their founder, Will Allen, talk about their work on CSPAN's Book TV (

After the Rain


“Junk” DNA is not Junk

Here’s the opening paragraphs from an article in today’s New York Times:
Among the many mysteries of human biology is why complex diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and psychiatric disorders are so difficult to predict and, often, to treat. An equally perplexing puzzle is why one individual gets a disease like cancer or depression, while an identical twin remains perfectly healthy.

Now scientists have discovered a vital clue to unraveling these riddles. The human genome is packed with at least four million gene switches that reside in bits of DNA that once were dismissed as “junk” but that turn out to play critical roles in controlling how cells, organs and other tissues behave. The discovery, considered a major medical and scientific breakthrough, has enormous implications for human health because many complex diseases appear to be caused by tiny changes in hundreds of gene switches.

The findings, which are the fruit of an immense federal project involving 440 scientists from 32 laboratories around the world, will have immediate applications for understanding how alterations in the non-gene parts of DNA contribute to human diseases, which may in turn lead to new drugs. They can also help explain how the environment can affect disease risk. In the case of identical twins, small changes in environmental exposure can slightly alter gene switches, with the result that one twin gets a disease and the other does not.
I don’t know quite what to make of that.

I’m not at all surprised that “junk” DNA turns out to have useful functions. I’ve pretty much assumed that for some time, two or three decades at least.

Of course, I’m not a biologist, so my assumptions don’t count for much. Still, I do wonder why it’s taken biologists so long to figure this out.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Church at Dusk



Dumbo as Myth 3: Modern Times

It’s been a long way through, this analysis of Dumbo. Now’s the time to put it together. First I use a psychoanalytic framework to look at how the film ends, with the Dumbombers and, before them, those strange pink elephants. Then I take a detour through evolutionary psychology and arrive at the nature/culture problem which the film transforms into the relationship between the infant-mother relationship (nature) and circus work (culture).

From there we have to go outside Circus World entirely, into Pink Elephant Land, and into the countryside where we meet the crows. It is only by going outside the circus that Disney solves a problem that arose within the circus: What do you do with an unnatural elephant? But then all of culture is unnatural as well. Solving Dumbo’s problem is thus a proxy for solving all those many problems.

That solution, though, is a fragile thing, as I suggest at the very end.

A Little Crude Psychoanalysis

Not psychoanalytic thinking in any deep and rigorous way, but some ideas inspired by psychoanalytic thought.

First, that the human life-world begins in the relationship between mother and child. For the infant the world consists of mother and the rest. Second, that one’s mind and personality are organized as “layers” where the deepest layers emerge earliest and subsequent layers are built upon the earlier one. This is also, of course, a Piagetian idea, though he was interested in cognition and reasoning, not feeling and desire.

Dumbo, of course, centers on the relationship between Dumbo and his mother. They’re physically separated as a consequence of her attempting to protect him from taunts by a human boy. We don’t actually see and thus experience their relationship being restored until the very end of the film. I emphasize what we see because we can easily infer, after the film is over, that their relationship was probably restored sometime shortly after Dumbo’s triumphant flying act. But we don’t SEE that in the movie. What we see is a quick cut from the triumphal act to a bunch of newspaper and magazine covers depicting events that must have taken weeks if not longer. I mean, seriously, how long would it take to design a new bomber, test it, get it into production, and get it into use? That’s a couple of years.

Now, I’m not saying this either to argue that a lot of time has in fact passed between triumph and the scene we’re actually shown or to suggest that Disney is playing fast and loose with the facts. Of course he is. That’s ground zero for this kind of movie-making. This is myth and such matters are irrelevant (my inner Groucho Marx just said you mean ‘irrelephant’ don’t you?). All that matters is what happens on the screen and what happens is this:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Yellow to Yellow


Ngoma Kids

In a sense, all kids are ngoma kids. But some are more so than others. This post is about a few of them.

* * * * *

I met the first one over thirty years ago, when she was about two or so. A couple years later I was visiting her dad, David, who was laying down a boogie-woogie base line on the piano while I jammed on trumpet. Val joined in on tambourine and played it like her life depended on it. Nothing complicated, just straight rhythm, but with force and passion.

When we’d finished she launched into an a capella version of the theme song from the Broadway musical, Annie: “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow.” Again, passion and force. The music mattered to her.

I wonder, thought I to myself, if she’ll be able to make music with that force in 10 or 20 years? That is, would she be able to stay in contact with that energy as she grew up or would she lose the connection, never, perhaps, to reconnect?

* * * * *

About two weeks ago I was with some friends at the awards ceremony for a local garden competition. As we were standing around I noticed that Taz, Sparkle’s seven year old son, was doing some pretty vigorous salsa steps. And he seemed to be doing them in time, though there was no music playing for him to dance to.

I decided to test him. I started whistling the melody to a salsa tune I’ve been writing. I had no trouble at all synching with his moves and, after about 30 seconds, he pointed out to me that he was dancing to my whistling. He was on to the game. Of course he was. He’s an ngoma kid.

I asked Sparkle whether or not he’d be able to teach other kids to dance. She thought a bit and said, “yes.” Hmmm...