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Notes on Mutation

By Bhanu Kapil

What is a question?  How do questions work in your writing?  What do they perform?  What happens when you ask them?

Some notes from my own attempt to think about this, originally written as a way to think about Jean Valentine’s “Little Boat,” for a collection of writing on her work collected by Kazim Ali, whom I have never met but look forward to (Who is Kazim Ali?  Did he drink black coffee in Egypt from a tiny porcelain cup?  That is a separate question) [meeting]:

A question: Literally, it’s a way of gathering information but not of processing it.  As a mode of enquiry that’s also, linguistically, founded on doubt, on not having the words for what happens at the end of a relationship, the question seals space*.

*That tiny, bounded pocket of something that is also space is so free.  Optically, a spore**.  Or: a bubble with two spherical envelopes rotating at different rates: one you can’t see, like the anxiety gathering in the body before speech, which is heat; and one that processes along a subtly different elliptic.  That second membrane is oily, with rich blue and red hues, and in my dream of the question it’s what drives or compels the response, whether that’s a rupturing fingertip or the eye tracking the color until it bursts.  Why does it **burst?

Technology and biology, wrote Pam Lu.   In a recent Harriet comment, in the sub-space, she wrote: “A question that kept popping up for me during my reading: How many generations does it take to heal? Two, three, twenty? By writing through a rupture, can one hope to get across it?”  Reading Pam’s words, I considered both the way a “question” from one space appears in another, but also the question itself as evolutionary practice.  A way of moving between territories, or out of them, in ways that don’t depend upon “transport” or the time it would take, to “go.”

Then the poet Michelle Naka Pierce wrote this***, another mutation that exceeds and clarifies my own.  Reading her words, I had the sudden thought, which was not a thought: “What if poetry is for others?  And not for the person writing it? What if lineage is a line of lit fuel? Almost instantly charred.”

***:

[http://michellenakapierce.blogspot.com/]

IMG_0387

January 29, 2010

Distal Flecks and other Migrations

In a recent post on Harriet (a blog from the poetry fdn), [BK: some kind of escaped dog****] writes: “….Tracking color to its most distal fleck, questions of surveillance, carnal lithography or …. Similarly, I saw that saturation was a precursor to vibration: a red ‘dot,’ which was not a dot, it was a body: breaking up.”

I want to respond to this, but I have been ill the last couple of days, and the brain is wonky. I’m in bed, perched slightly up by two pillows, and CP’s new manuscript, The Liberties, is awaiting my attention. But the ideas of distal fleck(s) and saturation are haunting me. The body is so full (of pain? of memories? of more internal variation?) that it begins to vibrate, shattering the borders that attempt to contain it. Perhaps not shatter, which implies breaking violently into pieces, like shards. I need a verb that hints at the idea of liquid. Like paint being spread about by an oscillating fan of sorts. Or water pellets moving across a hard surface, vibrating along, creating these distal flecks. I’m picturing being in car wash—as you exit, the giant fan inches the droplets out and away, like some kind of fractal.

But how can I relate this to Rothko’s borders, which seem more feathery than like droplets?

Two weeks ago in Hybrid Utterance, we discussed Homi Bhabha’s ideas on mutation. He points to the “discrimination between the mother culture and its bastards…, where the trace of what is disavowed is not repressed but repeated as something different—a mutation, a hybrid.” Trace. Repeated. But instead of being faulted for “going outside the lines” in this trace, we must embrace the swerve from the constructed “pure” gesture. Swerve: see clinamen; that is, a very small deviation in trajectory, marking atomic turbulence. This swerve is a strategy for subversion, but must begin with a shift in perspective—seen as different, not as illegitimate. These new movements, ways of being in the world, though not exactly like the “pure” parent’s gestures, still have validity. It is a way to embrace the chimera and our incongruent parts, as Haraway alludes to. It reverses the vibrations or the effects of the vibrations.

1. Take a sheet of onion paper (or a transparency) and trace the original.

2. Examine the distance of the swerve.

3.  Drop paint into the center, then spin or shake.

4.  Measure the distal flecks from the epicenter.

5.  When saturated, calculate the rate at which the absorption occurred.

The hues rise, and you visualize, quite unexpectedly, a scene where red meets yellow meets sky. Scatter effect.

****[Couldn’t resist.]

Comments (31)

  • On January 30, 2010 at 5:09 am Peter Greene wrote:

    @the Bhanu/Michelle mutation: I knew or saw in my head right away what Michelle described (in it), the vibration of a sphere creating droplets that radiate and hover about the host in a manner most separate but in a fuzz or fan. I think there probably is a verb for it. I’ve seen it happen somewhere, and the two times I’ve seen a nest of spiders open into a fuzz of many and fray away into the air come to mind, although that’s not it, it is some kind of water effect. Heat will make droplets like that, that dance, but they are dancing reduction and spit harshly. I remember that on the steel lid of the incinerator as a child burning leaves. Those droplets are a pleasure to track with the eye, so that you’ll make them again and again if you have water handy.

    Once, I burned a white golf ball on the lid, which burst and spat flaming elastic upon me with great violence.

    I have a terrible time getting my thoughts all the way down the page from where I got them from you, O mutants, and using a Word file never works (it gets even worse), so (scrolls up again) ah: the swerve, as a technique of subversion, the tiniest deviation producing/being atomic turbulence; in nuclear submarines, the surface of the propeller is specially and secretly prepared, and carefully kept and watched for: the smallest deviation, the tiniest voice betraying the great death-machine to the deeps, it must move colourless or find a rupturing finger accusing it to a soundless red burst. Traces, repeating, are tracked by machines down there. Unfortunately, although I hoped to make some kind of answer to your once again (twice again) work here, I only came up with a question: How can we bring colour, pain, memories, vibration and internal variation, to a place where such machines live/might begin to live?

    And: thankx2 for a most interesting post to read here in the rainy trailer forest night.
    PG

  • On January 30, 2010 at 10:27 pm Heather Wright wrote:

    Well I think the asking of a question is the first step to understanding . You have to have curiosity that drives your desire to know then you get the info and you process the info threw your own set of ideals. At that point you have changed at least alittle bit for ever .And that is how I look at every little moment that has formed the me I am today.

  • On January 31, 2010 at 9:33 am Tyrone Williams wrote:

    A question is not a clearing, a trajectory, a portal; is it not the recognition, neighboring on awe, astonishment, that one perceives, as if for the first time, what was already “there”?

  • On January 31, 2010 at 2:57 pm Bhanu Kapil wrote:

    Yes. In short, yes. [“Is this my home?” That question was, for me, trajectory but became the radical delight of falling in love with my life as it was — on a street, in a part of the world I never imagined would open to me, as I did, to it. Or vice versa.] Though, as a technology of displacement, this particular question also: got me out of there. [England.] When, despite origination, despite the summer morning in London when I was born: it wasn’t.

    Thank you for your note, Tyrone, in January.

  • On January 31, 2010 at 3:26 pm Tyrone Williams wrote:

    Love that last, too true, line.phrase: “despite origination, despite the summer morning in London when I was born: it wasn’t.” That “when”–not a “where”–is crucial…

  • On February 1, 2010 at 10:47 am Bhanu Kapil wrote:

    And: this desire as evolutionary practice….the paw reaching out for that splotch of red, a [berry], that aberrant nutrient, that thing that it puts in its mouth without thinking of the consequences, which are mutatory…

  • On February 1, 2010 at 10:52 am Bhanu Kapil wrote:

    Traces/machines…I’m looking at Salgado’s WORKERS book this morning…which takes this question up in such a beautiful and painful way.

  • On February 1, 2010 at 2:27 pm jarvis wrote:

    Please mutate my thoughts. At what place will the red transform into an updated red? Who will look at this other redness? explode red. I don’t mean a new red, I mean a new method to describe red. A bubble bath of color. Red soap. Map soap to red. Wash red to your long arms. set soap within the pulse between distal flecks.

  • On February 1, 2010 at 2:57 pm Peter Greene wrote:

    Jarvis: Red in soap is an explosion of bad. Thoughts don’t wash but run away down the drain in skeins and clots, god forbid, pulsing, forbidden, forbidden. Red arms crossed on chest, hugging, holding, trying to stay in the center, outside the last red spit-bubble is not distal but nowhere, not red or dark.
    P

  • On February 1, 2010 at 2:59 pm Peter Greene wrote:

    @mutation: red clots drain as a sign of the death of the last and the birth of the new place we are born in, praise red unbidden, not forbidden.
    P

  • On February 1, 2010 at 4:10 pm roz wrote:

    This article touches on some of the ideas swirling around in this discussion. Thought I’d post the link here for anyone who might be interested:

    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Henrietta-Lacks-Immortal-Cells.html

  • On February 1, 2010 at 5:21 pm Peter Greene wrote:

    @Roz: Read the article…I’d like to cross it with an idea from a pair of white sci-fi writers, a contemporary of Henrietta Lacks’ (Cyril Kornbluth) and of ours, his, and hers (Frederik Pohl), their magnificent Chicken Little, a multi-storey pulsating mass of flesh cloned from the heart of a chicken (suitably modified), which is daily sliced by skilled swordsmen for their (and our) suppers. Growing eternally, Chicken Little needs this slicing pain, even as she needs the pulsing needles and tubes of algae-based slop that feed her endless hunger. Hidden inside the eternally growing disease of Henrietta Lacks is a)Henrietta, b)knowledge, which c) seeks freedom, which seeking we harness to the goal of d)growing more of Henrietta’s disease to learn about it. There’s more, of course, but this is the outside of a thought bubble about her and a disease, both of which are white, white, though she was black and her blood as red as Chicken Little’s hidden mothers’, and hidden inside the chicken heart muscle monstrosity (in the book by the two white men) is a rebel printing press.

    Which is reached by sound, a small whistle that shrieks so high it can only be heard by the dumb yearning muscle of the heart, which opens before and closes behind the sound, a bubble in an evergrowing heart, leading in the dark to a secret door in the floor behind which is freedom and the printed page.

    Off to do the laundry before I grow an extra head myself (that’s for this afters),
    Peter

  • On February 1, 2010 at 7:07 pm jarvis wrote:

    P: krad ro der ton ,erehwon tub latsid ton si elbbub-tips der tsal eht edistuo ,retnec eht ni yats ot gniyrt ,gnidloh ,gnigguh ,tsehc no dessorc smra deR .neddibrof ,neddibrof ,gnislup ,dibrof dog ,stolc dna snieks ni niard eht nwod yawa nur tub hsaw t’nod sthguohT .dab fo noisolpxe na si paos ni deR :sivraJ

    There are 309 characters between P and J, including spaces.
    The distal end is J, 309 from P. A swerve is measured by the length of reverse. But your right, I don’t know anything about soap, drains, red until i make a copy and distort the image.

  • On February 1, 2010 at 9:12 pm Bhanu Kapil wrote:

    Dear wild animals, I adore coming home to your sentences. BK

  • On February 1, 2010 at 10:53 pm Peter Greene wrote:

    @Jarvis: You make me feel like astronomy. Ever watch Cosmos? It built large parts of me. J,309,swerve;reverse. Software instructions as I slingshot red eye Jupiter and head out into the dark, blue light flaring. Hope you made no errors in yoyur transcriptions; a mistake could

  • On February 1, 2010 at 10:54 pm Peter Greene wrote:

    cause destruction, or change my course.

    @Bhanu: It is a pleasure being wild in the Garden. Were this a cold universe of pure causality, I think it would be without colour at all, until someone invented it.

    P

  • On February 2, 2010 at 12:37 am Michelle Naka Pierce wrote:

    Dear Jarvis, I love your interpretation of distal end, measurement of swerve, and the length of reverse above. Brilliant. Continue to distort the image.

  • On February 2, 2010 at 11:08 pm Peter Greene wrote:

    @Jarvis…wait – do you feel distal? Or is the distance from J to P just a $tring between two characters, a tin can string phone line?
    P(ing)….ping….ping…

  • On February 3, 2010 at 4:10 pm jarvis wrote:

    Michelle / Peter, I like your phone calls. Your right it was software; I wrote the code to reverse and count the characters.

    (defun str-2-list (str / len cnt str-list)
    (setq len (strlen str)
    cnt 1
    str-list ‘()
    )
    (while (<= cnt len)
    (setq str-list (append str-list (list (substr str cnt 1))))
    (setq cnt (1+ cnt))
    )
    (setq str-list str-list)

    (setq rlist (str-2-list ("Jarvis: Red in soap is an ……")
    (setq rlist (reverse rlist))
    (list-2-str rl1)
    (length (rl2))

    This is AutoLisp language which is what I use to make architect shapes. What about programing made you an astronaut?

  • On February 3, 2010 at 4:42 pm Peter Greene wrote:

    @Jarvis…uuum…I can barely speak pidgin HTML. I fell off the programming wagon at about, ah, LOGO. I dream often of speaking to/inside machines. I dream often of spaces vast and terrifying, and yearn to be travelling across them. I understand that our task upon the Mother seems to involve the total integration of machine and biology, and that we are failing, and that this involves a terrible sorrow as the Ice closes over us again until the next Act of generation and rising. I found this thread illuminating in some places deep and places far, as though my eyes were cast out upon the mind-rays of others here. I wonder if some day most people will speak a mark-up (term correct?) version of English to save time and automate thought, a sort of UltraJargon. I MUST get some work done – I’ve actually started mining into the meat of my last two year’s work on the blog and must get busy with Pest Control (the novel, shudder) before it all comes to pass and there’s nobody to read it.
    With pleasure at the crossing of weirds upon this way,
    Peter

  • On February 3, 2010 at 8:46 pm kristen stone wrote:

    i recently found an alphabet book that i made in kindergarten where each page was an abstract design made with something that began with the letter in question, and one of the pages was paint-infused bubbles that we blew onto the page and allowed to burst, these translucent almost circles with splatters around the edges where the something was just too much- surface tension perhaps, the pressure of being such a perfect shape. also: ice cubes of watercolor paint which we moved around the page.
    i suggest you make an experiment of these techniques. i have been thinking much about the dotted line and which borders are natural and what is the difference between a border and a membrane, soap bubbles and ice are two helpful metaphors, which mean models which allow for experiments. thank you

  • On February 3, 2010 at 9:13 pm Bhanu Kapil wrote:

    Yesterday, one of my students made an earth-body sculpture from snow and mulch. We watched it melt. It didn’t melt, though its outline, I guess, receded. Thank you for these notes, Kristen. We will implement them directly. I like your questions about the border very much. “The border is a decision someone makes,” I scrawled on a bit of paper, “not an entity.” Like this?

  • On February 4, 2010 at 8:32 am kristen stone wrote:

    yes. also the difference between a border and a boundary, eg. the edge of an ecosystem where the creatures are most hearty, feral, and evolving the most rapidly. but then i probably don’t have anything new to say about liminal spaces. i have been taking care of a small dog named toad the past week, as his interspecies foster parent until someone wants to adopt him forever. so another question, somewhat related, is wondering and theorizing the relationship between ownership, love, and the boundary, which all have something to do with saturation and the capacity to burst.

    and a ps- the great VA has inquired would i like to write some things for the specs journal website, and she suggested i interview you. (i have sent an email asking this to your goddard address, but i have a feeling nobody checks them) what do you think about that?

  • On February 4, 2010 at 9:09 am Bhanu Kapil wrote:

    Oh! Mais bien sur, je veux parler avec toi dans une boite! WHAT? It is too early for half-invented French. To summarize: I just NOW (two minutes ago) wrote about lying down above a river, inverted, so that one’s hair streams in the river and pressed click. Google “Bhanu Kapil, blog, river” and you’ll encounter these notes. Thinking of the boundary and posture, a ritual gesture — from Bhabha/Salgado/Ana/Andalzua class on Tuesday. The father of one of my students, a man called Jim Young, a hatmaker and artisan from Oregon, was visiting — and spoke about the position a body might take at a border site. I thought, too, of Trungpa’s Dharma Art, if you don’t already know it, you might enjoy it for the questions of boundary, body and space. I thought of the figures in a Michal Rovner still.

    I don’t know if this is always true: re — creatures/periphery/speed. How will we find out? I once met Donna Haraway in person, and told her about the Wolfgirls of Midnapure. She laughed and said she had heard of this story: “a myth, I think, isn’t it?” I was crushed, but enjoyed the direct eye contact, and kept writing towards questions of the feral.

    The feral body, I want to say too, thinking of the wolf, “bursts” when it’s shot. It bursts when it’s killed.

    Sorry. The sun hasn’t even risen yet in Colorado and we are already discussing the inside of the body.

    Another e-mail you might try is: thisbhanu@yahoo.com

    Not that Bhanu. This one.

    Also, maybe you can interview Michelle Naka Pierce instead? She is much smarter than me, and is slightly wild.

    Her e-mail is: michelle@naropa.edu

  • On February 4, 2010 at 10:51 am Peter Greene wrote:

    @Kristen S.: Little in my mind today, but your bubbles surrounded with bleeding blue and red colours crossing membranes made me think: there’s no real difference between a dotted line and a barrier, nothing that can’t be crossed. If a door is too small you’ll merely be a different thing on the other side of it.

    Dogs have a trick of unconditional love that involves total and instant forgiveness on a flying basis. It’s almost impossible to break a dog’s heart. The same usually goes for their grip on one’s own.

    As this thread whirls and flies past me into spaces elsewhere, I just want to say: of course I have been here before, this is why i’m so concerned (J. Hendrix).

    P

  • On February 4, 2010 at 11:29 am kristen stone wrote:

    i went looking for a story i read awhile ago about a baby in iran who went missing and was found being nursed by a bear and came up with an article about a woman breastfeeding tiger cubs (which can be found at the link above). i am not sure what to think about this, but as the goats in my life prepare to kid i wonder about manipulation of life, even the most ecologically sound quiet homestead-scale farming sort.

    direct eye contact with donna harraway would terrify me.

    maybe i will send you an email with some questions and you could answer them if you have some minutes. don’t worry there will be a bizarre constraint attached so you don’t have to say too much or be very candid. ex: how would you articulate the relationship between coyotes and snowmobiles?

  • On February 4, 2010 at 5:39 pm jarvis fosdick wrote:

    @bubbles/boundary. Was just reading Akhil Gupta who makes fragments as color separated by boundaries, but doesn’t believe it for sure. Goes on about how the difference between colors comes from fact that red, next to blue, is only different from blue, so that the quality of red has no property of difference. Red unique to blue is a result of the ‘whole’, or the collections of color together. So if blue gets into red the act of difference becomes a relationship between the two colors. The relationship is further impacted by the boundary, an area composed of forces outside the quality of color and difference. This is an idea of territory that begins with the exchange of relationships between color, for at the same instant that red is different from blue it is also primary with it.

  • On February 4, 2010 at 6:06 pm roz wrote:

    wow, fantastic!

  • On February 4, 2010 at 9:16 pm Bhanu Kapil wrote:

    Jarvis, how does this translate to the quilt?

  • On February 4, 2010 at 10:24 pm Peter Greene wrote:

    A question: Literally, it’s a way of gathering information but not of processing it.

    A question: seals space.

    A question: makes a border.

    All borders can be passed. All security systems are porous, most intentionally so.

    Passing through a border results in a change of identity. A semipermeable membrane does not allow blue.

    What is carried with you through a question? What is changed in you by answering it?

    Can we change colour? Are we red receding and blue coming to you?

    Are we always to be crossing borders?

    P

  • On February 5, 2010 at 4:58 pm jarvis fosdick wrote:

    good question. a quilt is a collection of sewn together scraps, its forming is selection and stitching. like plants, a quilt gets fertile in a field. its reproduction is from organization. as life, the organization of the structure permits matter to think. which to me is relationship. I liked Gupta’s thinking for challenging the relationship of people to place, that is, looking beyond discrete groups of geographic areas and framing the planet as an ecosystem. The concept of the whole appears better written as the threads that quilt through each area of color. Quilting maps a territory of joining, it makes a logic from the bringing together of dispurst objects.in assembly the power of the items joined is increased by the order they are stacked.


Posted in Uncategorized on Saturday, January 30th, 2010 by Bhanu Kapil.