1. Thusly things fall out! A far cry from the Arche here! This singing racket--Oh, music to my ears--this plague of my afternoons!
Why haven’t I the courage to just drop it?
2. From Seth descended, scattered east from Shinar, they went south and over the water, to a place called Formosa, and builded there a city, and said thusly amongst themselves: Let us call this place Taipei.
3. And Taipei grew unto a city, namely a massive conglomerate of human effort and habit, human order and disorder.
4. In Taipei the sun riseth in the east and setteth in the west. Clouds do drift across the sky, and bring rain. The air in the city is ever filled with substances, and the substances are harmful to both men and beasts.
5. The city of Taipei is crisscrossed by lengthened, smooth surfaces called roads. The roads cross the city this way and that; they go to and fro over it, and up and down in it.
The roads of Taipei allow for the movement of vehicles; over the roads move cars, motorcycles, taxis, buses, and bicycles.
The sidewalks border upon the roads. The sidewalks allow for the movement of people and beasts.
6. Following the roads and sidewalks, most of the movement of people in Taipei is north, south, east, or west. But there is also, inside the buildings, the movement going upward and downward.
7. Most of the buildings in the city are many stories tall. The upward or downward movement of people in the buildings is either in the elevators, which move in the straight, silent and heavy manner, or in the stairwells, where people move themselves upward or downward in the halting, recursive zigzag.
8. Within the buildings: the hip-pivot movement, a beast with two backs.
9. The year in Taipei is divided into twelve months; each of the months has its own name. The months, in turn, are divided into roughly four weeks, which weeks have no names. The weeks all have seven days, each day having its own name. The days all have twenty-four hours, which are numbered in two sequences of twelve hours each. The hours of each day all have sixty minutes, and the minutes all have sixty seconds.
Of these divisions, the days, the hours, and the minutes are equally useful. The months are less useful, being used mainly to judge the appropriateness of the weather. As for the years, they are almost entirely a matter of nostalgia. The seconds are too small to be of any practical use.
The relative usefulness of the divisions of time in Taipei, arranged from most to least useful, might then be as follows:
days (being the named weekdays);
One can test this arrangement by weighing the relative value of statements like the following:
"Let's meet together here in one hour."
"We've got eleven seconds before it blows."
"I've been here three years now."
"Wednesday is better for me than Thursday. How about Wednesday at 11:00?"
"I'll call you back in five minutes. Okay?"
And so on.
The succession of days in Taipei is reckoned according to a system of dates. This page, for instance, was written in Taipei on the date called December 26, 1999.
The system of dates is used to fix events in linear historical succession. The system assumes that this day called December 26, 1999 will never occur again, as it has never occurred before.
The system of dates in Taipei is thus different from the system of the everyday division of time. Whereas Thursday will always occur again, and whereas 1:30 p.m. will always occur again, a particular date, such as December 26, 1999, must never occur again.
10. This question of dates--in other words the question of historical succession--is perhaps mainly, like the question of years, a matter of nostalgia.
11. The valuation of these different divisions of time is different for different people, but nearly all people agree on the divisions in themselves.
12. Very few people in Taipei, however, agree that reality is divided into three spheres. These are: the material sphere, the spiritual or angelic sphere, and the intellectual sphere.
The material sphere is present mainly as solids, liquids, and gases. The intellectual sphere is grounded in the mind of God. The spiritual or angelic sphere mediates between the two other spheres.
To say that each of these spheres occupies a particular "place" is perhaps right, perhaps wrong.
13. Money is an important element of the daily functioning of Taipei. When the people are in movement outside their dwellings they nearly always carry money. The people of Taipei hold their money enfolded in their clothes or in special leather containers. The money they carry is generally in one of two forms: either it is in coin or it is in bills.
Coins are small imprinted metal disks; bills are small sheets of imprinted paper.
The people of Taipei use money to exchange for things. They most often exchange money for tangible objects such as: food, clothing, tools, makeup, books.
14. Many objects for which people exchange money evidently have value in themselves, but in an important sense the money has no value in itself. Or rather: the value of money in Taipei is entirely conventional. The meaning of this is as follows: In Taipei, money is only of value when there are at least two people to recognize its value. Or: if a Taipei citizen planned to retreat to an isolated mountain dwelling for ten days, it is very possible he would bring no money with him. Being no other people there, the money would have no value. This is because, in an important sense, money has no value in itself.
15. For a long time it was difficult to convince the people of Taipei that money had any value at all. This can be recognized in the fact that both the bills and the coins are still elaborately decorated: they are imprinted with elaborate designs. One may speculate that the elaborate designs on bills in particular bear witness to a once active suspicion among the people that bills were in fact just pieces of paper with no more use than other, similar pieces of paper. This suspicion, however, has now subsided almost entirely in Taipei, and just as the people of the city nearly all agree on the divisions of time, so they also nearly all agree on the value of money.
16. Although coins are more substantial and attractive in themselves, it is the bills that are recognized to have the greater value. This is a paradox not lost on small children, who soon, however, overcome the feeling that it is a paradox.
But also: the value of each coin or bill is imprinted on the coin or bill along with the design.
17. In the restaurants of Taipei, people can buy food already prepared to be eaten. Restaurants are found almost everywhere in the city.
An individual in Taipei will often go to the same restaurant many times over in the course of a year, while other restaurants in the city remain unvisited by that person forever.
18. Some of the dishes people eat Taipei restaurants: [. . . .]
19. The language the people of Taipei speak is mainly Chinese. It is written with a very large number of signs.
Another language almost equally common is Taiwanese, which can be written with the same system of signs as is used to write Chinese.
20. The following are among the things that have been said or written in Taipei, or have been said or written elsewhere and brought to Taipei by the scribe:
Adam was a short beast, with a thin line of hair down his back, like a mane. Eve had a thin line of hair down her back; it was like a mane.
In those days, when you came into town, a stranger, you could always recognize Adam and Eve, because they were the only ones without navels.
The first writing was by Cain, who started by drawing funny pictures on his parents' bellies. Their bellies were smooth, and had no navels. Cain would ask them to lie back by the fire, and close their eyes, and then he would draw. When he was done, they would open their eyes and look at what he had drawn.
Once Cain drew an unheard of thing. It was such a thing, that when God saw it, he let it stay on Eve's belly as a punishment. God punished Eve for this evil sport she had fallen into. It could not be washed away, but stayed on Eve's belly. For they had fallen into an evil sport.
It was during the years in the wilderness. Moses came down from Sinai and saw what Aaron had done in his absence.
And Moses said: "What is this you have done!"
Aaron said: "You know yourself what this people is like. They said to me: 'Make us something to glitter in our heads. This God who led us up from Egypt--we don't know what's become of him.' So I said to them: 'Who of you is still shapely and comely?' And they came to me and showed me, and I filmed them all. Then I gathered the film and threw it into the fire. And after awhile out came this calf."
Yahweh did not plant a garden in the plot behind DV-8, for nothing was planted there. And the land of that plot stretched forth in mud and occasional sprouting weeds, and cigarette butts did scatter over the land. And one could see the plot from the window by the urinal, and the plot did stretch forth under the dull glow of the streetlight. And Yahweh saw that it was barren, and good for nothing.
In DV-8 did the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, and Arvadites come to drink their beer. There did they gather to drink.
And Cathy and Niall did serve the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, Arkites, Sinites and Arvadites. Them did they serve the beer that they drank. And the Arkites, Amorites, Jebusites and Sinites did tip the bar. But the Girgashites, Hivites and Arvadites did not tip her.
And Cathy did complain to Yahweh of the Girgashites, Hivites and Arvadites.
And Cathy said: "Whence do they all come to me, to buy my drink and slobber on the wood, but never do they put a dollar in the glass? How long shall I suffer the Girgashites, Hivites and Arvadites to buy my drink? And when will they return to their lands?"
And she said: "The Arkites, Amorites, Jebusites, and Sinites do show right proportion. For they spend freely on drink, and occasionally do they tip us who serve them the drink."
And Yahweh heard Cathy's complaint. And Yahweh did bless the Arkites, Amorites, Jebusites, and Sinites. But the others he did not bless. And they did suffer grievous hangovers.
And John the Hittite did play the best music in DV-8. And Wednesday night would he bring forth from his own collection, and he would play. And the heavy notes of blues and deep solid guitar licks did fill the place. And nowhere was to be heard the light dribbling piss of pop.
And none dared rebuke John the Hittite for the music he did play. For if one should rebuke him, John the Hittite would smite him. For John the Hittite smote many a whiner in his youth. And thus it is said: Many a whiner was smote by John, but rarely a man was smitten by the women in DV-8.
And the Hivites and Arvadites did play billiards in the basement of DV-8. And the urinal did have a screen that pulled shut for the modesty of the Amorites. But the Jebusites, Girgashites, Hivites, Arkites, Sinites and Arvadites did have no modesty; and they did show forth their members freely to all who would look.
And one day it happened that Daniel the Arkite was found in the plot of barren land. And he was upside down and sorely drunk. And he did say: "Who hath put me thus in the plot of land, to be thus upside down and sorely drunk? And to have thus mud and a cigarette butt on the side of my face. Who hath done this deed to me?" And no man did admit it, but all said that he had put himself in the plot of land, and was himself upside down there, having been put there by no man.
And Daniel the Arkite did curse the men of DV-8, saying: "The Arkites and Amorites and Sinites and Arvadites are gobshites. How long shall I listen to their slobber over the wood, before I piss off from this place?"
And the men of DV-8 did openly mock at Daniel the Arkite. For he did curse the Arkites among the others; but he himself was of the Arkites.
And one day did Niall the Sinite stride across the plot of barren land. And under his foot trod he the cigarette butts and the mud. And the sprouting tufts did not set his heart mourning; but he did stride forth.
And Niall the Sinite did set forth from his homeland in DV-8. And Yahweh considered it righteousness in him. And Niall the Sinite with his brother Jason the Sinite did establish their seed in a new land, and the seed did flourish, and Yahweh considered it righteousness in them.
And the Flood did come. And few were the heads of those that did peep above the water; but many were the heads of those that sank. And mud was all over the place, and the Girgashites, Hivites, Gobshites and Arvadites did wail grievously unto Yahweh, but He paid them no heed. As to the Arkites, Amorites, Jebusites, and Sinites, when the Flood did come they found themselves living in fifth floor apartments or higher, for Yahweh had seen to it that they should stay dry.
And Cathy did venture forth on the waters of the Flood. And she did find herself adrift over the place of six ploughshares. And lo, when the waters did recede, a pub was brought forth. And Cathy did name that pub Bob Wun Daye, which being interpreted means No problem. And the walls of that place were not hung with tattered banners, and the air there did not smell of locker rooms; neither did the Arkites, Amorites, Jebusites and Sinites slobber on the wood; but Yahweh did bless that place.
The Gospel of Thom Smit
Once upon a time was the Word. And the Word was without form, and void.
In short, the Word was many words, and sometimes even things.
One could not tell the difference in any place, for all words and things were different; they were all different from each other, and they were even more different from the Word. And the Word, in its turn, was different according to whom you asked, and in what words you asked.
What's more, all was such that one could not fix one's eyes on any thing, or fix one's ears on any word, and expect it even to stay the same as itself.
In short, all words were different from themselves, and all things were different from any words, and also from each other, and also from themselves.
Even one's eyes were different, the left one from the right, and either eye was certainly different, very different, from either ear; and the ears protruded from each side of the head: in short, they were very different.
Then Thom Smit was born.
And Thom Smit did grow to be a youth of fourteen years, and his virtue did show forth in many ways.
And the people were astonished by his words, for he spoke as one with wisdom, and not as one who watched TV.
Said he: "Just as our elders, weakened by years of compromise, submit to the presence of those they loathe, so do our melons soak the fouled waters of the plain, till they poison both themselves and those that partake of them."
And: "Submit not to both these poisons. Though you eat the melons to the skin, yet leave the elders to chew their own bitter rinds."
And Thom Smit did take ceramics class at the Pottery Barn of the strip mall as you drive into town from Monona.
And he did throw him many a mean pot. And he did paint upon his pots designs and symbols, and the people did look at what he painted, and did say, "What hath this youth?"
For they said: "This youth is not like others, but hath him a perversion of the head."
And the owner of the Pottery Barn in those days was named Chuck, and Chuck did keep the pots of Thom Smit in the back, lest other youths should see them, and lest they should speak of them unto their parents. For on the pots were many things that youths should not see.
And some of Thom Smit's pots did the owner break outright, pretending they had cracked in the kiln. "For this one," sayeth Chuck unto his assistant, "this one is surely too much; I will not even fire this one."
And Thom Smit did suspect Chuck of thus breaking his pots, and spoke sorely unto him.
And Thom Smit did take him a can of maroon glaze, and did pour it into the drawer of Chuck's desk.
And the can was a large can, and did foul the books and papers in that desk, dripping even unto the floor.
And Thom Smit did break seventeen ceramic owls made by the ladies of St. James Lutheran. And Chuck did see him do it, and did hear him speak bitter words as he did it.
And Thom Smit was no longer welcome at the Pottery Barn, but did take up tennis.
Said he: "Our world is all preprocessed, and full of fakes; fakes upon fakes. The boredom of Formica covers all things here, even unto death."
And all of these things were when Thom Smit was still but a youth of fourteen years.
And it came to pass as Thom Smit was a young man that he went forth like many of his generation to work as a barista.
And this work was as he was a student at the university in the town of Madison; and the caf(c) in the which he did work was near upon the university, and was often filled with people.
And the people of the caf(c) were of many sorts.
And Thom Smit did work next to the scribe of that place, and he did serve forth the drinks unto the people.
And the prophet of that place in those days was named Cosmo di Madison. And Cosmo di Madison did preach the word of the Lord unto the people there. But the people heeded him not.
And Cosmo di Madison did resent the presence of Thom Smit at the espresso machine, and did make him out to be a servant of Belial.
And Cosmo di Madison complained sorely to the scribe of that place, and spoke many bitter words.
And the scribe of that place recorded the words of Cosmo di Madison, for in those days did he note down all his words.
And it came to pass when Thom Smit heard the words against him, that he did say unto Comso di Madison, and he said it unto his face: "A prophet art thou not, but art rather a paranoid schizophrenic."
And: "The symptoms are obvious upon you, O Cosmo di Madison, and all do know it. Thou art one who barkest at the moon. Woof woof!"
And Cosmo di Madison did not suffer the words of Thom Smit in silence, but did rail against him to all that would hear.
And Cosmo di Madison would drink no drink made by his hands, but did speak of such drinks as having a poison in them.
And one day Thom Smit did say unto Cosmo di Madison: "Today it seemeth you have not taken your medicine, O great prophet, and so it is that you speak forth loudly your prophecies, and the people heed you not."
And: "Today I have a hangover, O prophet, and care not to hear you. So get you hence through the door, or pay for your coffee like the others. If you cannot pay, so must you go hence to the street. For today I have a hangover, O prophet, and care not to hear your prophecies."
And upon hearing these words a rage did come upon Cosmo di Madison, and he did complain ever more sorely of Thom Smit, and did attribute to him many conspiracies and sundry larcenies.
And the scribe did write down all his words, for in those days did he write down all the words that the prophet did say.
From the Scribe's Journals:
Thom Smit--to think he's a student of engineering! He is blonde and small, of muscular build. He's a great reader of Gilles Deleuze, and considers himself a Nietzschean. It's lucky for me he's at the caf(c). He's proving an excellent foil for Cosmo di Madison. I've recently got him reading Rabelais. --May, 1992
Cosmo di Madison now recognizes in Thom Smit a nemesis worthy of the swiftest action. That I'm responsible for his being hired at the caf(c) is generally known, and I confess it openly. I should have seen the man's character for what it was. Needless to say, Cosmo di Madison has forgiven this lapse on my part, pointing out that Pseudo-Sergeant Major Smit is obviously a professional and had been trained by Kissinger's people specifically to pull the wool over my eyes. Cosmo di Madison himself was almost taken in. "At first I thought he was just a loser like all the other losers. But it's worse than that. He's a fucking imposter--ya hear me?" --July, 1992
Remarks of Cosmo di Madison on Thom Smit:
1. "That useless fucking bastard calls himself a fucking lieutenant major, but he's just a fucking high school dropout drug addict who couldn't tell his ass from a hole in the ground if his life depended on it."
2. "How many customers do you think that fucking punk is gonna short change before Mark [the owner] wises up and fires him?"
3. "You know he's got his finger in the till and he's supplying all the barbiturates to Craig and Monkey Butt. Kissinger's got him working the joint to make sure they do their job and try to drug me every fucking chance they get. I wasn't born yesterday what do you think! Pssh! That fucking Craig has been selling the barbiturates on the side too.... Oh, don't act so surprised! You know it goes on."
4. "Mark needs to spend more time in his shop. I got enough stuff to do keeping the customers clean. If Kissinger buys out your staff, this place is finished, ya hear me? I won't come back. Ya hear me? You just see what'll go down then. Mark will wish he never even heard of this town. Ya hear me?"
[The scribe's writing of the deeds and sayings of Cosmo di Madison is at:
And soon after these things had come to pass, behold it did happen that the spirit of the Lord came upon Thom Smit, and he began to speak in parables.
And all at the caf(c) did wonder upon it, and did say, "What hath Thom Smit, that he speakest thusly?"
And he did leave his work at the caf(c), and ceased from his study at the university.
And Thom Smit went forth to preach unto the people like Cosmo di Madison, for the spirit of the Lord had moved him.
And Thom Smit did wander the streets on the west side of Madison, whereas Cosmo di Madison did preach in the downtown.
And Thom Smit preached the word unto the people of the west side, as you head out of town toward Monona. And the people heeded him not
And thus it was that the people said amongst themselves: "Is Thom Smit also one of the prophets?" And these words are as a proverb even unto this day.
And Thom Smit built his house on sandy ground, and sowed his seed upon the rocky wayside, and combed his hair with a goblet.
And he took a fox for a mango, and made of it a hairy puree.
And many did laugh at him, and said: "Thom Smit does not know his ass from a hole in the ground."
And they said: "Thom Smit could not find his ass with both hands."
But verily it was said unto them, and it was said by Thom Smit: "A day shall come to pass when none shall be able to tell their ass from a hole in the ground. And then shall a great wailing be heard."
And he said: "Only those who from the very beginning could not tell their asses from holes in the ground--only such as these shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven. All others shall be cast out, and their asses shall be grass, and they will know not if they have been turned into a golf course, or what. Boy, will there be wailing then."
And he said: "Those who mistake their asses for a wheelbarrow shall inherit the earth."
And he said: "Blessed are they who try to catch flies in their mouth. Blessed are they who would rather hang out in a juice bar than flay the fox with the big boys."
And he said: "My father is a colonel and I am a sergeant major. My father could thrash all your male relatives with his left hand if he wanted. My father has forty-seven Cadillacs."
But the people heard him not, and they sent him packing from their patio parties; and their daughters did tend to throw garbage at the back of his head.
But verily, reader, can you tell your ass from a hole in the ground even now?
I. The eggs are white and have a yellow center.
I am white and have a black center.
My wife is ivory with an unknown center, perhaps red.
Our guest is light yellow, or olive, with a center of pure white.
Christ said: "My yolk is light."
Yes, but light what?
Valentinus: "Of a very light color indeed! Like a shimmering peach."
II. The first egg I crack has two yolks connected by a bloody umbilical to the clear mucous membrane surrounding them. The crystal sphere.
Original sin, the fruit of the Fall, is not passed on through blood or the soul, but through language.
The fallen world is the object of language.
It follows that our being in language is our being in sin. This does not mean that we can live other than in language, but rather means that we must live in language so as least to miss the mark.
The poet comes before the scribe. The poet's work is revelation of the divine. The poet allows us to live in language so that we may least miss the mark. The poet forms language so that it is the closest to nonlanguage.
The poet makes use of, and perfects, those elements in language that are not of language.
There is a possible accumulation in language, a materiality, a hard rhythm at the heart of language that is heard best by the poet. The poet follows this rhythm until language breaks and cracks, having reached the top or the bottom, the left or the right, the backwards or the forwards, the inside or the outside, or the temple or the frontier of its range.
The scribe loves all that is getting out of hand. He loves such because he knows, given the tininess of his own hands, that everything has already gotten out of hand.
"Everything has gotten out of hand!" says the scribe with pleasure.
And being that everything is thus begotten, the scribe knows it to be most recognizable in its thus-begottenness when it is not merely known to have gotten out of hand, but is felt to be always and ever becoming out of hand.
"Hell! Best for it to be gloriously becoming so!"--that is what the scribe says.
In fact the scribe knows his hands to be so tiny that the only thing they can really grasp is the stylus. And the scribe grasps this stylus scriptively, which is to say in a manner that pays homage to the getting there of all that is way out of hand, but not only in a manner that pays homage, but in a manner also that is no manner, but is instead way out of hand.
The scribe, then, holds the stylus in his tiny hand, but knows that what the stylus leaves, the marks the stylus leaves, are already out of hand the moment they are left, are left as it were in homage to the loveliness of their getting out of hand, and are also in their very leaving left out of hand.
From this you can see that the scribe is in no man's hand. He is hardly a hired hand. That he kept grain accounts--don't believe it. Rather heaped he grain round Pharaohs conscripted. And will!
The scribe loves all that is getting out of hand.
God formed man of the clay of the ground and then breathed into him the breath of life. The clay of the ground as material and the breathing in of the breath of life: these have been the focus of most concern in our literature and speculation. And the question of what the breath of life may be has been recurrent. But the question of the forming, the verb forming, hasn't raised our attention in the right way. And yet everyone knows--the Sumerians and Babylonians knew--that the pressing of marks into the clay was the crucial part of this forming. It was the pressing of marks, the right marks, that gave the clay the dignity needed for its reception of the breath of life.
The clay as result of this writing is clay that may receive the breath of life if only this breath be given it.
A, B, C, D,.... Letters were invented so that we might be able to converse even with the absent. Thus the tradition has it. Letters are signs of sounds, these sounds being, in turn, signs of things we think. Our thinking--that we do think--is a sign of our being created in God's image. It is our thinking more than anything about our outward appearance, our shape, that is suggested by the biblical lines: "Let us create man in our own image...."
Yet our thinking and the things we think are shot through everywhere by the marks of the Fall, and these marks seem to be there also in our language, that is to say there already in the most privileged medium of our thought. So that the tradition was led to wonder if the signs themselves were not carrying the burden of the Fall: the signs themselves dragging the soul into the body of a fallen language and thus molding its thought as a fallen thought. Here the tradition reverses itself, and we may say that our thinking becomes the sign of sounds that we make, or rather the sign of the particular sounds that our parents made, and their parents before them. (In turn, the sounds that the generations of men have made can be understood merely as would-be signs of the primal letters, which letters we cannot know. Also, the alphabets in which we write cannot approach that originary divine alphabet, although our human creation of alphabets suggests our persistent longing to do so.)
That thought and language are shot through with the marks of the Fall means also that the language of revelation is itself shot through. This means that the text of the Bible does not escape the vagaries of (fallen) language, (fallen) thought. Renaissance humanists' supposition that Hebrew was somehow "the language of God"--that one would hear God's own words if one could properly read aloud the Hebrew text of Isaiah--this notion was obviously mistaken. And any notion similar to the Muslim teaching, which holds that the Koran is not merely a divinely inspired text but is itself an attribute of God, eternal and uncreated, is even further from the truth.
The texts of revelation, the texts of the Bible, are composite: they give the truths of the divine as these truths can be embodied in language. These truths, embodied in language, seem to us both clear and somehow mysterious: they call out for interpretation. But this interpretation, while perhaps uncovering something of the divine, will itself be subject to the fallenness of language. One may say it is even moreso subject. Thus it is that the interpreter should never hope to present descriptively and clearly what the scripture itself could only give forth as paradox or incommensurability. And thus it is that interpretation can never fully answer the call of scriptural texts.
The radical fallenness of language and thought, once it is recognized as such, leads to what I would like to call the Doctrine of Perpetual Error. This doctrine acknowledges the following: we are always in some manner in error as long as we are in language. And to conceive of our being, the being of men, other than in language is of course impossible. In other words, we are in perpetual error, and we can hope only to formulate something like allegories of the truth, or shadows of a truth that is necessarily beyond our grasp. This doctrine would further imply the following: all of the Christian scriptures, all of the Christian creeds and teachings, are necessarily in some manner in error: they are approaches to the truth of the divine that are the best our human understanding can attain.
Our attempts to formulate the truth are like shots in the dark. How close have they come to the mark? The answer to this question, if an answer is to be found, can only be found under the two illuminating lights of gnosis and the Tradition.
Regardless of their fallenness, it nonetheless remains that thought and language are the privileged signs of our being created in God's image: they are the marks of our closeness to God. Anywhere one encounters thought or its traces one may sense a sign of God's calling to man and of man's closeness to God.
Thus it is that I sense the miracle of creation far more in an individual utterance, or in a written text, than I do in any of the scenes of outward nature. The vault of the sky is a far lesser miracle than the discourse of two children overheard by chance in the park.
* * *
21. Copy these sentences. You will have to recite them next week.
22. Vincent, do you want to stand for the whole two hours?
23. Don't lean on doors while vehicle is in motion.
24. Don't write the quiz in your homework book.
25. Andrew's theory is that their peripheral vision isn't as strong as ours. That's why they're always blocking you on the sidewalk and mulling in doorways, always standing in the way. They don't move to let you pass because, according to Andrew, they literally don't notice you breathing down their neck.
I disagree with this theory. I think that physiologically they can see you, but that, sociologically speaking, they aren't predisposed to notice you. This is to say that your presence evokes no change in what they themselves are doing. What you may want to do is none of their business.
This difference--namely their indifference--is rooted in their different idea of public space. If they get in the way of others, that can matters little to them. Because those others, not part of their own family or company, those others moving constantly around them, hardly exist. The idea of public solidarity, of a mutual recognition based on an idea of the public--there's almost none of this in terms of the everyday functioning of the city.
Public space for them is thus public space more or less without a public. This explains much of the evident chaos in the movement of people here: what some commentators have called Taipei's "Tao of Traffic."
26. The director lives in the flat directly upstairs from mine. He never irons his shirts. His collars curl this way and that like orchid petals.
27. I consider it bad manners to talk on a cell phone in a restaurant.
28. Butterflies come out during the day, moths at night.
29. "Bats hang while they sleep upside-down." "Bats sleep while they hang upside-down." "Bats hang upside-down while they sleep." Sentence three is the best.
30. When she's angry, what does she do? When she's angry, she pulls out people's hair.
31. Her whole family is nearly bald. She herself has long, thick curls.
32. What does Superman do when he's angry? He tears his shirt when he's angry.
33. When Superman tears his shirt, what can you see? When Superman tears his shirt, I can see the red "S."
34. What do you do when you see the red "S"? I run and hide when I see the red "S."
35. Sometimes Taipei taxi drivers are polite. But the bus drivers are never polite.
36. They are like emperors, and they consider the bus their little empire.
37. They don't like having to drive a bus, and they take revenge for it on the passengers.
38. But when two buses get stuck next to each other in a traffic jam, the driver on the right will open his window and the driver on the left will open his door and they will both have a friendly little talk, all smiles.
39. They'll have a friendly little chat, emperor to emperor.
40. What does Luke do while he waits for the bus? He plays with street dogs while he waits for the bus.
41. "I was being ironic."
42. The Westerner walks to get from one place to another. For the Chinese, walking is something that is done while one is between two places.
43. "So, why don't you have any children?"
44. Twelve lists: [. . . .]
45. While Patty waits for the bus, what does she do? While Patty waits for the bus, she stares at cute boys. Yes, that's right. Patty from class 509.
46. "There is a new rule. No talking in Chinese in class." "Teacher, teacher!" "Yes, Richard?" "Can we talk in Taiwanese?" "No, the rule is: No talking in Chinese or Taiwanese in class." "Can we talk in Hakka?" "No, no Hakka either. The rule is: No talking in Chinese, Taiwanese, or any other Chinese dialects in class." "Ting bu dong." "Mei guan xi. Ni-men jiu bu yao shuo zhong-wen, hao bu hao?" "Lao-shi, lao-shi!" "Yes, Wade." "Wo yau shang ce-suo."
47. My Monday night tutoring class. I was sitting before my three eleven-year-olds.
"So Peggy," I said, "what does your mother let you do?"
"She lets me read novels."
"Good. What else does she let you do?"
"She lets me eat very much. And she lets me go to bed late."
"Very good. Ariel?"
"What does your mother let you do?"
"She lets me play outside."
"Really? Does she let you play outside at night?"
"No. She doesn't let me play outside at night."
"Lillian, what about your mother? Does your mother let you play outside at night?"
"No," said Lillian. "She doesn't let me play outside at night."
"What is bad about playing outside at night? Why is it dangerous? Peggy?"
"Well," said Peggy. "Maybe outside there have a color wolf."
48. The administrative heads of one of the large television networks met today to discuss budget proposals for the coming year. May their dearest plans come to naught.
For their plans come to naught would open up to more of Being than anything supposedly positive they might effect. Everyone knows this. Don't you know it too?
49. Here and now may my words fly through the ether wind--may my words fall upon the heads of television networks around the globe. . . .
May your minions flee you in a fit of madness, lighting fires in the hall as they go.
May marauders attack your Mercedes. May arrows pierce you as you leave your elevators.
May you inhabit ruined towns and dwellings crumbling to dust. May black and oblong insects crawl into your nostrils while you sleep.
May a flame wither your shoots; may your branches never flourish.
May you be like a vine stripped of its unripe grapes. A fig tree that bears no fruit, and is cast into a pit, and burned.
May your feet be put in shackles, and your hair shorn on one side.
May your enemies keep close watch on all your paths by putting marks on the soles of their feet.
May your sons be born without assholes; may your daughters' cherries be plundered by the goats of your neighbors.
May you cry out like drunkards in the darkness, though it be broad daylight.
May you be food for orange-waddled vultures. May you fall into a deep pit.
May your garments be eaten by moths. May your nakedness be exposed.
50. The situation often strikes me as absurd. I sit in the cafe racking my brains to memorize sentences woven of Chinese characters. Next to me three young Chinese women are struggling to memorize lists of English vocabulary. Wouldn't it be better if I were reading my just-received copy of Mulligan Stew, or any of the other books I have worth reading in English? And wouldn't it be better, likewise, if they were reading things in Chinese? But no--we spend our time plodding along in the other's language, meanwhile neglecting our own.
Saiz: "Even an idiot learns one language. And a fool learns two."
51. "Yes or no? For Chrissakes, just give me a simple yes or no!"
52. Just as the flute or the guitar are played in other cultures, so the jackhammer is played in Taipei. Everybody's uncle has a jackhammer, and each manages to get a good six or eight hours practice a week. For the people of Taiwan the purpose of concrete is to provide fodder for jackhammer concertos. The concrete is dry barely a few days, and already the musicians are on their way.
I thought of doing a little musicological research. It would end in a collection called "Folk Music of Taipei." I'd send the CD to Chinese friends overseas who may be missing the sounds of home.
Ra-- ta-- ta-- tat-- tatttt-- Ra-- ta-- ta-- tat-- tatttt--
And other unforgettable tunes.
53. "Book business class three times in any six-month period and you are automatically eligible to join our exclusive VIP Club."
[Observable meanings of VIP:
vain illiterate person
voluble impatient prick
very ingenious peasant
victorious illegitimate progeny
vanguard investment pup
voracious inept potentate
virtually indecent paramour
venally inclined pudendum
vox in purse
vigilant immoral propagandist
vituperative inebriated paterfamilias
various incoming pimps
54. October 8, 1999. Dreamt the Pope was at my house for dinner. We were seated round the coffee table, and the Pope was speaking of his interest in the Loch Ness Monster. There was another man of the cloth there, perhaps a Vatican official, or perhaps just a local priest. The priest indicated to me, in a sort of admission, that the Church currently had two "novices" on site in Scotland to study the question of the Monster. I suggested rigging up a small submarine that would continually cruise the lake and shoot photographs until they spotted something. The Pope didn't say anything to this, but it was obvious he didn't approve. The priest, evidently uncomfortable with my gaffe, was nonplussed. The Pope just knit his brows and shook his head slowly back and forth.
55. Please don't interrupt me. Listen carefully, or you won't understand.
56. Don't take so long to answer my questions. You stall too much.
57. Copy these sentences. You will have to recite them next week.
58. Vincent, do you want to stand for the whole two hours?
59. Taipei is a city, namely a massive conglomerate of human effort and habit, human order and disorder.
Here in Taipei the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Clouds drift across the sky in different directions, often bringing rain. The air in the city is filled with substances, and the substances are harmful to both men and beasts.