Friday, September 20, 2013


Some days you just feel like this. New rules just went into effect here about the size of the antlers on bucks you are permitted to shoot during the upcoming hunting season. A buck must have at least four points on each side, so this guy might make it through another year. An exception to the rule is that hunters UNDER NINE YEARS OLD (with a hunting license can shoot any buck. The mind reels! I wonder how many kids have that kind of marksmanship or will be made party to a parental lie at the tagging station. Children are paying attention all the time.

I was reminded of this by a passage in an autobiographical work by Leslie Scalapino. I find her writings very interesting, but hard to take in large doses. In her work she is fragmented and jumpy, as if following the movements of a very speeded-up and hyper-alert consciousness. Because her other books were a slow slog for me, I was delighted to find Zither & Autobiography, published by Wesleyan University Press in 2003.
The book is in two parts, Zither, a long work in her characteristic manner and Autobiography, which makes a stab at prose that is easier to follow. Not terribly easy, just easier. Autobiography was written at the behest of Gale Research for use in a biographical encyclopedia. They paid $1000 and held it for six months before final rejection. Gale's Joyce Nakamura told her they would not publish it because, "It is too esoteric and not what our readers would expect. I mean, I can appreciate the stream-of-consciousness and all---but this is going to be in libraries!" Later, and then later in response to questions from another editor, Scalapino added other passages to the work. The part I chose for you was written in 1997 about a train journey with her parents through Taiwan (by my estimate in 1951.)


"In regard to laughing---crossing lush, green Taiwan in a train car seated together, my younger and older sister and I were singing [I was seven], Then I realized we were singing in public.

I was embarrassed but looking around I perceived that my mother (sometimes looking encouragingly or contentedly at us, pleased that we were happy) and the other adults in eyesight all of whom were Chinese didn't think this was unusual. That children sang in public.

The train, traveling through one village after another by rice fields so incredibly green that it is imprinted later on the retina 'as if' memory, then stopped for a long time by one small village. My older sister and I ran forward through the train cars. A six-year-old girl had been killed, run over by the train. Her arms and legs had been cut off and were lying beside the track.

The entire village of adults stood by the embankment all in a line shaking as bending appearing to be laughing because the gesture of laughing and weeping were the same.

Later, knowing it was manner of 'extreme' emotion of crying, I asked my father They were laughing? He said No, it appears to be the same but they were expressing grief. I took note interiorly later also that they were demonstrating strong emotion for a little girl. This indicated a difference between what people said occurs at all [in society] and what occurs in fact."
Leslie Scalapino, Autobiography & Zither, page 3.

My earliest childhood memory is standing up behind the seat just being able to see over the front seat of the car as we drove my mother's pumped breast milk to my premature baby sister in the hospital. (I was three and three-quarters) [Note: just now writing this, I got tangled in the syntax trying to include the information about prematurity without attaching it to the hospital. A rewrite solved it. Also, in my writing, I attempt to use the conventional tricks of commas, quotation marks and so forth. Typing this passage from Autobiography, I had to be very careful not to insert commas and "fix" places. The result is that I learned some things about written expression and about thought, especially the written expression of "child-thought"

I won't be able to ask Leslie, she died quite young, more than ten years younger than I am now, but on the evidence of her writing, she thought in this jumpy and hyper-intelligent fashion. It is something that I feel I would not be able to even imitate, but I find it extremely interesting. Does your wiriting reflect your day-thought, your dream-thought, or something else? So many things to think about while spinning the Memory Thread, Good Night! Sing in public, if you get the chance.

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