woensdag 16 januari 2013

The Gary Snyder book that inspired a Boulder

Waiting at my climbing gym I leafed through a magazine and came across a mention of a Boulder route in Switzerland called "The Practice of the Wild". This is also the title of one my all time favourite books: Gary Snyder's address of deep problems in simple-speech first published in 1990. Surely (95% certain) the boulder route is named after the book and Chris Sharma the climber who 'opened' the route in 2004 is a fellow Snyderian. The route is a cave climb rated 8c, which is extremely tough and it has only been climbed a few times. The shot above is from Tyler Landman's ascent in 2008.

It's great to see how a book's influence can show up in a completely different practise, even though it's not that far removed from Gary Snyder's own interests. The man has been an avid mountain climber all his life. Kerouac describes their trip up the Matterhorn in Dharma Bums, Snyder climbed Mount Everest when in his fifties or sixties. 

There is also a deeper link that is more intuitive. As I was telling about the boulder's name my climbing parter asked me what the book is about and I blanked out completely. I have read it at least four times cover to cover and I read bits from it all the time but what is it about? I am not absolutely sure. It's about a way to live and it shows a way to think about the world and a way to be position yourself in the world in respect to nature from water to cow to human. It describes a moral core. It borrows a lot from anthropology, sixties commune experiments and Buddhism. But that description doesn't feel completely right, it's also something of a mystery book that circambulates a Escherian wordview in which nature is both in a perfect ecological order and unfathomably wild.  A boulder route might well be a wordless koan in response to Snyder's challenges. 

Climbing parlance talks about "opening" a route. What does that mean in ordinary language: is a climb discovered? created? recognized? divined? revealed? or all of those combined? Perhaps that is what the book is about.

One comment: I think life is more like the endurance of a lead climb than like the explosiveness of a boulder, but I wish it was a top rope problem within my more modest capabilities. 

The cover art IS terrible

vrijdag 4 januari 2013

The political implications of the postal service + experiment

If it is really anarchic to create Cinderella stamps with deity portraits of legendary anarchists I do not know (see below), but it does lead us to Colin Ward's observations on the postal service as an example of a successful, horizontally organized network that spans the globe and connects all countries with all countries. I have often marvelled myself at the efficiency of the system when I am delivering a letter returned from some exotic (but non-existing) destination in Amazonia or the Mongolian desert. Especially when the letter is still clean and crisp. There is a sort of postal ethos there that is general and persistent. I had not before thought about this in utopian terms but Colin Ward has
Two examples which we often use to help people to conceive the federal principle which anarchists see as the way in which local groups and associations could combine for complex functions without any central authority are the postal service and the railways . You can post a letter from here to China or Chile confident that it will arrive, as a result of freely arrived­ at agreements between different national post offices, without there being any central world postal authority at all. 
With help from the oldest I have just filled 14 envelopes with her drawings and mailed them to Postman Pat in Uzbekistan, Iraq, Papua New-Guinea, Iceland, Japan, Russia, Ecuador, Venezuela, India, Fiji, Kenya, Burkino Faso and Greece. There are also letters to Barbabapa in North and South Korea. All are mailed today, January 4, 2013. Let's see if and how they are returned by the organized chaos of the international mail system!

woensdag 2 januari 2013

EthnoPoetics in the Amazon

One of the strangest oversights in "Technicians of the Sacred" (Jerome Rothenberg's big book of EthnoPoetics, first published in 1968) is the complete absence of material from the Amazon. However, now I have noticed that Rothenberg did pay attention to the region in the third issue of Alcheringa (winter 1971, all issues online here) with a 23-page mini-anthology. 

EthnoPoetics was a great, important and inspiring movement but it always suffered from two major problem. 1) It often failed to provide meaningful ethnographic context. 2) Texts from with different historical pedigrees are all translated (often with poetic freedom) into the idiom of avant-garde modernist poetry. Imagine Shakespeare, the King James bible, Coleridge and Tom Jones' Lalya translated into the hurried journalese of an Armenian self-publisher. EthnoPoetics assumes the right to take literature/poetry from every language of the world and reshape it in order to make it confirm to your own agenda. Some people find it colonialist, which I find too easy and too paternalistic. EthnoPoetics offers freedom but does not accepts its responsibilities. The result is often rote blandness where the uniqueness of languages and cultures should be. But let that not deter you from its achievements.

One of the songs in the anthology is a Jivaro shaman song recorded by Michael Harner which makes a nice addition to this earlier Jivaro Shamanic chant (recorded by Philippe Descola).    


I, I, I, I, I

I, I, I, I

I am ... like First Shaman
I am like First Shaman
When I drink natem
My whole body becomes cold
& I easily suck out that spirit-dart
I, I, I, I

I'm always above the clouds
& that's how corne I have power
Because I drank natem
I drank enough to have power
My whole body is cold
That's how I have power to suck out that spirit-dart
I, I, I, I

There's a very large body of water
So that I'm like a great body of water
I have a crown but it's gold
A crown & it looks so lovely
Lovely when I drink natem
That's why it's easy to suck out that spirit-dart
I, I, I, I

I'm always above the clouds
That's why I can cure so easily
I have the spirit-darts of natem
I'm seated but I do feel cold
There must be lots of breezes around me
I, I, I, I

My spirit-darts are like birds
& the wings & bodies are dreams
I'm. ready to start with them now
My spirit-darts are sitting all over me
& as I get to feel cold
I'll get to have power
I can easily suck out that spirit-dart
I, I. I, I

I'm. like som.e anaconda in the Napo River
That's why I have power to suck out that spirit-dart
I, I, I, I

Wait, wait a little
Now I'm. going to be dizzy
I'll be starting to see when I'm high
(pause, followed by sucking & dry vomiting)
Now I've sucked out that spirit-dart
Now the pain will soon go away