The Bird Song

I receive the gift of a solitary afternoon at Durant-Eastman Beach in Rochester, NY on the south shore of Lake Ontario. The stretch of beach across from where I park is closed, so I walk to the right toward an anchored sailboat. Along the way, I discover a seagull lying dead in the sand. I hesitate for a moment upon sight of it, and in this act of hesitation offer it my condolences. Giving it wide berth, I continue on my way. A dune buggy crawls past and retrieves the bird soon thereafter. Setting myself down into a beach chair, I stare out toward the horizon and long and pine for an unknown unknown. Desire’s many-tendrilled, dendritic — stopped only by awkwardness on account of fear. Speaking of fear: pitbulls on leashes get in scuffles mere feet from my feet. Female owners yank at the leashes until, calmed of whatever caused them to behave as they did, the dogs are allowed to lay together again in peace. Waves crashing I give listen to Muhal Richard Abrams’s Levels and Degrees of Light (1968).

There it is, as if in answer to my ministrations: “The Bird Song.” Lauren Berlant & Kathleen Stewart recommend it in their book The Hundreds. The authors collaborate through “hundred-word units or units of hundred multiples” (ix). The form of their book emerged through obedience to this capacious, generative constraint. Words set toward description of affect-events through scanning of object-worlds for vibrant tableaux. I feel adjacency to this form. “Everyone has their own version,” they write, “of the glimpse of a long-forgotten realm of possibility suddenly intruding into the real like a splice of light captured in a photograph” (9).

Monday June 28, 2021

Friends, let us hold space and remember Cruel Optimism author Lauren Berlant upon word of their passing. “A relation of cruel optimism exists,” Berlant wrote, “when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing” (1). We are all in such relationships, are we not? “Speaking of grieving,” they wrote, it was in grieving French philosopher Jean-Fran├žois Lyotard that Berlant “first saw optimism as the thing that keeps the event open, for better or ill” (viii). How does one come to recognize that one’s optimisms have become “cruel”? What is it that moves us out of ourselves? “A satisfying something,” they whisper. “An intelligence beyond rational calculation” (2). And we are here, we are caught in this “scene of fantasy,” we are in the throes of it. ‘Tis our present, our contemporary moment. And this moment is what Berlant calls an “impasse”: “a time of dithering from which someone or some situation cannot move forward” (4). That is the genre of these trance-scripts, is it not? “The impasse is a stretch of time in which one moves around with a sense that the world is at once intensely present and enigmatic, such that the activity of living demands both a wandering absorptive awareness and a hypervigilance that collects material that might help to clarify things” (4).