A Circle Whose Center is Everywhere

Monday, July 23, 2018
Lancaster Rd

When I was a kid, we used to have these jokes in the form of question–answer pairs that played with language to describe syntactically and semantically correct but logically infeasible or impossible phenomena. For example:

Q. What is the height of minuteness?
A. A dimple on the pimple on an ant’s left bum.

Q. What is the height of nothingness?
A. A rimless zero.

More recently, I used to play around with the idea of negative space being necessary for defining what exists. For example, a circle is only possible because it has a circumference that keeps out everything that is not a circle. Without the circumference there is no way to tell where is the circle. There is nothing radical in what I though up. It riffs on the popular Taoism that a pot is useful only because of its emptiness inside.

Miles Davis was supposed to have said that he keeps on taking notes out of his music until he can’t do that anymore, and then he has his perfect music. In response to, “How do you make an elephant?” a well-known sculptor was supposed to have quipped that he starts with a large stone and chips away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant. This notion of what is not is important for the notion of what is to exist. Except… in the case of language.

The bards of the indie-pop group The Guggenheim Grotto said it well in their “Philosophia”:

But in time a thought comes tugging on the sleeve edge of our minds
Perhaps no perfect way exists at all, just many different kinds
Oh but if it's just a thing of taste then everything unwinds
For without an absolute how can the absolute define…

Is it possible to even think of a state in which there is no language? Perhaps, but since I’ve never existed without language, I don’t have the ability to imagine a world without it. Because, I would need language to imagine a world without language. Even silences require language. This doesn’t mean language is perfect. Far from it. Jeff Chang’s Twitter bio (for a long time) lamented, “Too many thoughts in my head, words in the way.” But it is what it is, and words are all we have.

Now imagine waking up and realizing that you have no language. Zip, nothing, nada. (For the moment, let’s set aside the technicality of how you would realize that.) With this conceit granted, a magical world not so much unfolds as it unpurls. Grabbing the end of a metaphorical thread, you make your way in a strange space. The space is exhaustively mapped in meticulous detail though being in it you don’t know that much like you are unable to see the mountain on which you are standing. You have no words to describe all the experiences that you encounter because, well, you have no words. Everything is just a sensation, a change in the state of the sensor, a change that you can feel but you can’t fathom. Such is the magical world of Ira Hadžić’s Evacuation of NADA.

Lancaster Rd (34°45'52.50" N 118°43'31.78" W)

I am particularly well-unread. It is not that I don’t read, but it is that I seldom find content intriguing enough to get lost in. Such stuff is hard to come by not because it doesn’t exist but because it like grabbing a needle in a “haystorm” (if there is such thing) as they whiz by. It is as if my mind is the LHC with a zillion exploding particles, but only a few hold the mystery of the universe.

But just when you are not looking for it, you are fortunate enough to find something unlike anything you’ve seen before, surreal, as if Milorad Pavić wrote the screenplay for Inception to be directed by Terry Gilliam, a vernacular dream-within-a-dream, folding upon itself like an infinite Möbius strip, but showing you a different scene like from the window of a moving train.

Not too long ago, Luise Volkman’s Eudaimonia was an auditory/sensory revelation, and now E of N has provided me with a similar reading experience, a surreally magical feeling that pulls you in with the amuse-gueule of its novelty, keeps you in with the complexities of its sensitivities as you chew on the texture of its sensibilities, and then leaves you with an aftertaste of mystery… much like drinking “Whiskey from (a) coffee machine.”

For a variety of reasons, I don’t expect to be buried on death, but I can imagine an apt epitaph (hopefully with Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Blue Bolero” playing in the background):

Well, he’s too old for Earth, and he’s too old for dyin’
This bloodstained and meek hand of mankind and iron

  1. The title of this post is taken from a phrase from the book. The full phrase is “Circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference nowhere.”