Sunday, May 20, 2007
Which is harder to take in, the apparent contradiction of a body without life (something that was the very shape of intentions and drives, come loose from everything that made it what it is), or the uncanny thought of the lively body that molds itself to inanimate forces just because it is alive? That is, the picture of the body as a kind of sediment, the negative of everything that has pressed in on it, and yet a sensing sediment? One that had to feel how it was being pressed in a way that must be neither passive nor active, and that we can only hope was unconscious. Mandelstam manages to celebrate the soft body in his poem about Lamarck, deciding to side with its downward motion, against the force of civilization: "I'll put on a shell cloak, / I'll be done with warm blood, / I'll grow suckers, I'll sink feelers / into the foam of the sea . . . . // Here is ruin stronger than our strength. // Nature has gone away from us / as though she didn't need us. / She's slid the oblong brain / into a dark sheath, like a sword." I've been on the road for five days and then my mother was in the hospital (asthma and some dementia) for two, and somehow, as I don't want to talk about this directly, this is what I feel like talking about: that the New York Times presents Cantor's giant soft-shelled turtle, which has survived in parts of Cambodia where in the twentieth century no one wanted to go because of human violence, by "spend[ing] more than 95 per cent of its life motionless under the sand, surfacing just twice a day to take a single huge breath" (May 18). They're known for "their strange blank stares."