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The Fact of Division

The current issue of Scientific American dwells on Truth, Lies & Uncertainty, and discusses ways in which even mathematics trails into the dim.

Numbers may have built the world but in what sense did the elements know; in what sense does the body comprehend it. The question is too large to answer. Is it a question then or a way. A life.

“The question does not come before there is a quotation.”

– Gertrude Stein(1)
Mostly my body-sense congregates in shoulders and back and sight fails to deliver what perhaps it could. Unless there comes flaw or flaunt. Bright yellow nail varnish on a dark-skinned, dark-dressed person outside a café window. Her hands make air-tracks.

On squishing straw sandals, a young woman materialised with her whole face disfigured by a God-awful pink and piebald burn that started on her neck and stretched in a raw, corrugated mass up both cheeks past her eyes! Yossarian could not bear to look, and shuddered. No one would ever love her.

– Joseph Heller(2)

The face is most recognised as composite when it’s least composed. Façade is so important. A good homepage brings them in. Hook them in the first chapter. What about an Arsebook; how would that be. With the face we think we have some control. We can work its reflection. We think we might gauge the feelings. It’s the major beauteous thing. It has a smile. It’s the redemption of arse, the boss of it, the good of it.

[He] begins at once to lust after her in his heart . . . Presently he begins to think about the fashioning of the woman and to differentiate her limbs, to think about what she does, and to pry into the secrets of her body, and he desires to put each part of it to the fullest use.

– Andreas Capellanus (12th Century)(3)

I think about the ineffable things the face portends. I know little of my multiplicities except that they keep the whole unit of me propelled—not forward but around. Roundabout.

And in order that you may be a pure lover, I wish and command you to put your heart in a single place so that it be not divided, but whole and without deceit, for I do not like division.

– (Voice of the God of Love) La Roman de la Rose (13th century)(4)

But attention like that, focus on one place, is division. All the rest must be put aside. If the medieval–and presumably modern—lover differentiates between parts and concentrates on their functions, it’s the absorbed behaviour of the analyst or artist. 

The crystallization about your mistress, that is to say, her beauty, is nothing but the sum of the fulfilment of all the desires you have been able to formulate about her.

– Stendhal(5)

Stendhal is calling up phenomenology here. The mistress’s beauty is all in the actions of the man’s mind. It is not a fact but a set of fictions. He’s also gathering together a multiplicity of affects. Crystallization is effected by attention, accumulation and repetition.

What is introversion. They say introverts search inside first for reality, extroverts outside. I have no feeling of eyes looking in, or of being turned in, although I’d probably be defined as an introvert. Set far in yes, leaning backwards yes, interoceptive yes. Why define. The reason for definition is not necessarily truth but blueprint. A marker to divide one thing from another so we can stop and breathe.

I watched a man walking backwards into the theatre, then backwards down the street. I believe some people need to do this in order to maintain balance. It reminded me of leaning against the wind. What will catch.

I hear the noise of my own voice:
The painter’s vision is not a lens,
it trembles to caress the light
– Robert Lowell(6)

In “Epilogue,” Robert Lowell worries about the matter of fact. Does one compose well if one is governed by fact, and if fact is not primary, why don’t plot and rhyme serve him well in expressing the imagined. Fact is crucial but its crux is paralysis; a unit in time.

Infidelity of the page.
Bug specks on the mantel.
Body parts, etc., on the field.

– Ann Lauterbach(7)

Mallarmé’s speaker of “Le Nénuphar blanc,” wants to preserve an indistinct, plural vision, which would be ruined by the appearance of a single face: “. . . la révélation d'un . . . chasserait mon trouble, avec lequel il n'a que faire.” His trouble is his treasure and his problem: “cette indicible mine que j'ignore à jamais” [that ineffable face which I shall never know]. Clarity and obscurity mingle, opposites inform the dynamic. The pool, recalling Narcissus, has a crystal surface, which the unknown woman, like a goddess, may use as an interior mirror: “elle avait fait de ce cristal son miroir intérieur.” She is perfection, faceless, both invisible interiority and discernible movement; she is shrouded (enfouie) by her clothes, both dead and alive; her walking is a double arrow. The pilgrim’s enslavement to the felt presence—a vacancy of self—is a liberation. Verb not noun.(8)

Lose your face. Become capable of loving without remembering, without phantasm and without interpretation . . . Let there be just fluxes . . . 

– Gilles Deleuze(9)

I’m conscious that, saving one, these are all men’s voices. But note that they all slide into the plural and indistinct from the immediate input of external sensing. I happened upon a book about male bodybuilders recently and was fascinated by how they had numbered all their parts. Every muscle was visible; every muscle was a location you could ponder and put to use. I found it a stunning thing. I felt it in my sexual core, centrifugal.

We are poor passing facts,
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.

– Robert Lowell (Ibid.)


(1) Tender Buttons. 1914. 
(2) Catch 22 (1961). Vintage, 2004, 473.
(3) The Art of Courtly Love (De Amore). Translated by John Jay Parry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1960, 29. [“Postmodum mulieris incipit cogitare facturas, et eius distinguere membra suosque actus imaginari eiusque corporis secreta rimari ac cuiusque membri officio desiderat perpotiri.”] De Amore, Latin
(4) Guillaume de Lorris. Charles Dahlberg, transl. The Romance of the Rose. Princeton University Press, 1995, 62. Old French online, ll. 2325-30.
(5) Stendhal. Love (De l’Amour). Translated by Gilbert and Susan Sale, London: Penguin, 2004, 59.
(6) “Epilogue,” in Day by Day. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977.
(7) “The Scale of Restless Things (Fra Angelico),” in Or to Begin Again. London: Penguin, 2009, 91.
(8) Stéphane Mallarmé. “An image as vague as this is self-sufficient; and it will not destroy the delight which has the stamp of generality, which permits and commands me to forget all real faces; for if I saw one (oh, don't bend yours here, don't let me see it on this ephemeral threshold where I reign supreme!), it would break the spell which is of another world.” "The White Water-Lily," English. "Le Nénuphar Blanc," Original French.
(9) Dialogues II, London: Continuum, 2006, 35.

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