Enlightened Ears

Miriam Nichols in “Deep Convention and Radical Chance: The Two Postmodernisms of Robert Duncan and Robin Blaser” in W [dix] a Duncan Delirium published by the Kootenay School of Writing invites her reader to identify with humanism and become attuned to noise

As well, a 21st century humanism must grow ears for noise: by definition, there is no accommodating of incommensurability, there is only the listening for it, a willingness to suspend immediate judgement and to share planetary space despite unresolvable differences.

And a few days later I found myself engaged in reading the jointly published work of Stephen Cain and Jay MillAr Double Helix which is a book formed along the lines of an ABC with one strand going from A to Z and the other Z, Y, X and so on to A. The strands appear on facing pages until you hit upside down print: the helix is doubled for if you turn the book around and start at the other end you get the other author’s helix. Of course this poses interesting choices for reading, let alone for adequately quoting and attributing. It’s a version of formalist noise.

So back to listening for noise. In what I think is the Jay MillAr portion on page 11 at the entry “Distraction” I find this sentence: “The sound was of letters striking each other in that horrifying way we became so used to in the end.” This is a meditation on habituation for throughout the “Distractions” entry we have been treated to sounds appearing in reduplicated words: water striking water, stone striking stone, air striking air … laughter against laughter, leaf against leaf … paper striking paper. And if we pause, we become aware of the sound of page turning page and other noises that surround us. The text is maddening but not mad (“we became” is in the past and perhaps overcome — it’s not “we have become” continuing into the present). And it evokes for me some of what Nichols wants to evoke by the figure of “ears for noise”. I am of course making a link between noise and madness and literature. They call, each after their own fashion, for a suspending, for a time, judgement (that horrifying way we become used to it in the end foreclosed).

As you may have noticed, highly attuned as you are, that the piece I quoted from Nichols earlier comes from an enumerative context and now I deposit another quotation from just before the “as well” remark about growing sensitive ears:

We need a new humanism that expands and renovates enlightenment ideas of the free, rational, centered and responsible subject as a limit concept for what is an acceptable mode of human life.

It is a way that I believe must exhibit toleration to explore benign madness as a means to renovate free and rational subjects, especially as careful readers attuned to noise. And I’m mindful here of a tweet by Jim Bartley @bartleybabica who wrote “The mentally ill exist in and act within the preoccupations and structures of their society, with all its strengths & prejudices.” His context was in regards to an exchange about mass murders. But the statement is far more acute for me in the context of benign madness which calls upon society to be humane and to exhibit the tolerant virtues of a robust civic humanism. To listen.

And so for day 890

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