Semiotic Arbitrage Blog
- November 16, 2014 Economist, Poet, Historian: Introduction
For the next several weeks, I will be exploring the relationship between the Economist, the Poet, and the Historian. As you know, I have written rather extensively about the two sides of my mind as embodied in the tension between the Poet and the Economist. My poetry site, in fact, is called "PoetEconomist" for this very reason. I have used this simple binary as a totem to my creative output and general worldview. In short, the Poet has represented my soulful and lyrical side; the Economist my logical and structured. I have prided myself on what I've considered a clever new dialectic. I have allowed this dialectic to, in a simple site-byte, give my readers a quick and rather uncomplicated way to characterize what I do.
At least that's what I thought.
At a recent event at which I was invited to participate as a poet, but based on my credentials as the author of Momentitiousness, I found myself clarifying what the PoetEconomist avatar really means. It was a continuation of a two-minute conversation that I was lucky enough to start--but never finish--amidst a TV interview during National Poetry Month. Of course, this is the parsing that cannot occur in a matter of seconds.
What PoetEconomist is not:
- I am not a "rich" poet. While this may, on some surfaces, seem sufficient to understanding my poetry, it is like describing a window as "glass." Windows are so much more than just their composition. Most importantly, I think, windows are ways to see outside from inside or inside from outside. They are most valuable when opened, when the glass of the window is actually absent.
- I do not write poetry "about" economics. Though economics interacts with culture and society on both macro and micro levels, and though culture and society on both macro and micro levels ARE what I write about, rest assured that I have not written odes to Efficiency Theory or limericks about Laffer Curves. Granted, the ideas that underlie the cultural trends that can be explained in economic terms are there all over the place. The window is far more than its parts; it is not merely a pane, sill, sash. Even if the parts of a window are points of meditation, they must be recognized as both parts and whole.
- I am not an Economist who writes poetry. Though my formal intellectual and academic training (I have degrees) is in Economics, that is not my singular worldview. I do not go to an office each day, hold the world constant, and then drop that stillness into verse.However, I do go to an office, from that office I hold the world constant, and in that stillness I find verse. See the difference? See the window there?
- A Process.
The next installment in this series will address, in greater detail, this process.
- November 10, 2014 In honor of Veteran's Day, this story from MOMENTITIOUSNESS.
Rocking Chair They first met when she was sixteen. He had just enlisted in the Navy --thirteen days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. She was dating his younger brother and, when her deep turquoise eyes first met his, all he could think was how sorry he was for him. He was going to take his girl: not exactly the best Christmas gift he could offer. It was, however, the last selfish thing he ever did in his life. He had engineered the trip to the high school, ostensibly to gather some paperwork that he needed for the recruiter. The grey stone building, electrified with the excitement of puberty, hormones, and fear about a newly-declared war, buzzed. To him, as he walked these halls for the first time since he graduated six months earlier, they glowed. He channeled this electricity and walked upon it as though floating on some newly reckoned atomic power. With some help from the receptionist in the office, he got her class schedule. He could have had any girl in the school that day—including the receptionist whose knees buckled and forearms goose-pimpled as he spoke to her in his baritone which had just recently quit cracking—toweringly brave as he looked in his uniform. The navy blues wrapped around a spotless specimen of man, a recruiting poster made alive, his cobalt blue eyes ripping through everything unfortunate enough to fall into his simple, uncontemplative gape. Standing outside her classroom when the bell rang, he made no excuses for his presence by the door. It was not his place to make excuses; the commitment he’d recently accepted precluded him from such trifles as appearances or explanations. With clarity of purpose honed by the bravado of a man who had offered his life for an ideal called America, he held his hat in his hand. He watched her as she walked from her desk and loitered by the window for a moment gazing at the newly white landscape in a way that he would watch her gaze for the next sixty years. He watched her, as she steadied herself on the sturdy casement and as she pushed herself off of it. He watched her as she wandered, dreamlike, to the teacher’s desk to discuss—was it last night’s homework assignment or something else—a topic that ended a with smile so big that it pushed her shoulders back and her perky bosom forward. It was far too cold for the skirt she was wearing and far too winter for the blouse. He was glad for both, though he imagined himself a hulking overcoat wrapped around her: already warming her in his storied, electric arms. She passed through the door last of all, the only one from the class who did not acknowledge him. Deliberately coy or uninterested? He was not sophisticated enough to discern the difference. Had he been, it would not have mattered. He watched her pass, a full head below his own. Her ginger hair radiated a clean he’d never smelled. He summoned the electricity from his shivering ankles and forced it up though his veins, up his legs, through his chest, and finally out his mouth. He whimpered her name. He was limp, deflated, now having shot every atom from his being in her direction. He could not see her misty eyes rolling back nor her freckled face contorting with the light-headedness of having not breathed since she left the window, nor that she was biting her lower lip, nor that her ears were flush. “Yes?” She looked back. The game was, indeed, coyness. An inexperienced coyness, mostly unpracticed, and certainly never used on her current boyfriend whom she liked well enough but had never occasioned to kiss. The youngish teacher—whose own core was ablaze and sending a scent which would undoubtedly excite her male students into frenzy during the next period— watched on from the corner of her eye as she wrote on the blackboard in feigned anticipation of that next group of innocents. The deliberateness with which she wrote on that board indicated that it was just a cover. She wanted her name to be on his lips. The chalk cracked and skid along the black slate with a startling screech. Abandoning her task, she walked back to her seat and took another preoccupation as she strained to listen. “Yes?” she whispered to a phantasm before her. “Yes,” she affirmed. She was melting in her cold wooden chair. Now re-righted and re-energized by the glance she cast back as she acknowledged him, he spoke her name again, audibly. The next words he spoke were unrehearsed and unplanned, but had echoed in his mind with each step since he’d left—with the same singularity of purpose that he’d mustered earlier in the day to the recruiter’s office— his parent’s home. Unconsciously, with the same autonomic power that made him breathe, he started the next sentence, “Will you?” “Yes.” She interrupted. “Will I?” she echoed first him, then herself. “Yes.” This was the first time she had even spoken to him. He would love the moments when he heard the sound of her voice a zillion times more. This was the first time she had interrupted him. He would forgive her this habit a zillion times more. She breathed for the first time since walking through the door and her color returned, a pinkish snowy white. This was the first of a zillion times that he would shiver in the presence of her breath. Her heart—once weakened by a year-long affliction with scarlet fever—beat out of her chest. This was the first of a zillion times he would rejoice in that sound. She dropped her books, her lily gaze never leaving his. This was the first of a zillion times he would forgive her weakness. With that, they were affianced. They danced in each other’s eyes for a moment, he twirling in the pastel turquoise, she dipping in his steely cobalt: in each other’s skies: clouds together. The moment stretched along his calloused hands, a farmer’s—now sailor’s—hands along an arch toward her own. With an outstretched finger, he lightly dabbled upon hers. For every bit of rough and work that his hands carried, hers carried an equal degree of supple. The only thing he’d ever felt so soft was the corn silk that he rolled into cigarettes, perhaps a newborn calf. Other than his mother, he had never touched a woman. Truly, he had never touched a woman in the way he was touching this creature. When asked sixty years later, sitting beside her on their front porch, in their rocking chairs—rocking—to describe the feeling of her skin—that moment—that day, summoning all of the memories he could muster and all of the words he had learned in a lifetime that carried him from Long Island to Missouri to California to the Aleutians, and finally to Central Florida where he built them a home and provided for a family, he nodded deliberately. His creased eyes searching the distance for the perfect words, he smiled a corn-silk, tobacco, and sweet tea-yellowed smile—a smile bowed slightly leftward—and beamed. Speaking with a resonant yet labored voice, at once as a farmer and a father, as a sailor and a husband, as a grandfather and a hero, he said, “It was very nice.” And so it was: very nice.
- October 21, 2014 Milestones
On a personal note, there's this. Almost four years ago, my life changed forever. I didn't know it at the time, but I know it now. As I move in on the anniversary of the day that I met the person that changed my life--that made me whole and hungry for life--I find myself thinking much more about the next forty years than about the last four. I am daunted that it doesn't seem enough time in either direction.
I won't often post my poetry on this BlogSpot, but it bears on Momentitiousness. Without Brad, there would likely be no me and there more likely would never have been my first book.
If I could have an extra second In every minute,I’d take it so I’d have more time to love you.
If I could have an extra minute In every hour,I’d take it so I’d have more time to love you.
If I could have an extra hour In every day,I’d take it so I’d have more time to love you.
If I could have an extra day In every year,I’d take it so I’d have more time to love you.
If I could have an extra year In every millennium,I’d take it so I’d have more time to love you.
An extra inch on the Earth:An extra spark on the Sun:An extra thought in my mind:An extra atom in my body:An extra beat of my heart:An extra kiss on my lips:
But If I can’t have an extra anything, I’ll take this now, this hereAnd love you fully with every bit of me, In every now,In every here,
- October 15, 2014 Did you just say, "Kantian?"
The following exchange is an excerpt from an interview I recently did. Here, we talk about "Truth" and how my philosophy has less to do with the discovery of "Truth" and more to do with the beauty in its seeking. Kant's concept of the "Sublime" basically posits that some things are so ultra-beautiful that we can all agree--as human beings--without even having all of the words to defend the belief. The "Sublime," in my reading of Kant, links knowledge with the soul and frees the individual from the collective while at the same time acceding to the value of the group's sense. Joy links us.
The full transcript can be found here:
MMTN: Isn’t truth “unitary” by definition? Hence the phrase, "THE truth?"
JL: I think there was a time when that might have been correct. In the age when science and religion opposed each other, each vying for ownership of truth. I think what I’m trying to say is that truth isn’t absolute, it’s something approached asymptotally. It’s sought, and in that seeking we discover beauty. That beauty resembles truth. But then, not to get too Kantian here, that beauty is perceived individually. So the sum of individual beauties become the sublime…this sublime is really truth, but it isn’t unitary. It’s fractalized. It’s the sum of the deviations from the average.
MMTN: Well, you just threw out about four words that I think you made up. Seriously? “Kantian?”
JL: Yes. Kantian, as in Immanuel Kant. And as to the other words, that’s probably true.
MMTN: As an author, can’t you use words that actually exist? Do you not have enough respect for language to do that?
JL: Wow. That’s twice now. I guess you’re not here to cut me slack.
MMTN: I’ve read that you are a conservative. It seems odd that someone who describes himself as such would be willing to throw so many conventions out the window. Some might call that hypocritical.
JL: I just call it open-minded. If I was arrogant, I'd call it innovative. Where do new technologies come from? People who are satisfied with the way things are or from people who imagine a different world?
MMTN: So, words are a technology?
JL: Totally! Was mankind created with the entire vocabulary we have today?
- October 09, 2014 Favorite Parts of my Penis
Recently, I was asked in an interview about my favorite scene from Momentitiousness. That's somewhat akin to asking me to point to the favorite spot on my penis.
"All of it," was my impetuous response.
As I thought pondering my penis, I realized that this may not be an "impossible" task after all. Rather than simply saying, "take it all," I could, if blessed with the opportunity, point a virgin to a few special spots. While I should have realistically stopped at seven, I threw in a couple extra. Who's going to call me out on a little self-aggrandizing exaggeration?
What started as a schoolboy giggle-fest morphed into something a bit more metaphysical; that, I'll spare you. After a spate of pondering, I suppose I actually can--given a particular mood--point to favorite "moments" within Momentitiousness.
In no particular order:
1. The teacher writing on the chalkboard in Rocking Chair. She wants to jump out of her skin and jump the Seaman's bones.
2. The boy eating his cereal in Bait.
3. The explosion in Blast.
4. The discovery of the "chips" in Obtuse.
5. The office hours, after class sex-scene in Arbitrage.
6. The fight scene in Doritos
7. The first sex scene in Bloom.
8. The "Russians" speech in Flag
9. My editor likes Words a lot. She says, "It's a real writer's piece."
There it is, Momentitiousness unzipped.
- October 05, 2014 Moe-Muhn-Tish-Us-Nis was almost "CURATED"
I originally intended for the book to be called "Curated" since the individual vignettes and their organization give the power to the reader of acting like a curator in an art museum (the "framing" story takes place in a museum), but the word Momentitiousness hit me one day and I never got it out of my head. I think people walk out of art museums with the same sense of Momentitiousness that I'm trying to capture, and it's so fun to say.
There is no single synopsis. It is a collection (of collections) of individual moments. Depending upon how it's "curated," there are multiple possible stories. It is written in such a way that characters might overlap, and those points of tangency (as I like to call them) can lead to wildly different "meta-stories." There's a gallery (what I call Least Squares Lines) that is a highly erotic lust story. There's a gallery that brings together Galileo, Jorge Luis Borges, and a twentieth-century cosmologist. There's a gallery that follows a saccharin-sweet love affair. There's a gallery that follows an arc through domestic terrorism and the initial salvos of a new Civil War. Then, of course, nestled in the footnotes is the key to everything, with Dark Energy as the pervasive metaphor. Dark Energy, Concentration, and Distraction. Everything from Arbitrage to Zombies.
- October 02, 2014
Excerpts from an interview in which this idea of "Semiotic Arbitrage" comes up. I think this makes the concept pretty accessible.MMTN: I’m still not sure I understand what “Semiotic Arbitrage” is, exactly. Have you told me?JL: No, I haven’t. So, here it is. You’ll have to stick with me here. Think threes. Semiotics is a kind of science of words and symbols that join three things together. A classic example is a chair. We all know what is a chair is.MMTN: Any special kind of chair?JL: Not yet. I’ll let you extend the metaphor to La-Z-Boys on your own, later.MMTN: OK, go ahead.JL: We know what a chair is. It’s a four-legged structure that we sit on.MMTN: Yes.JL: That is the thing, the physical manifestation of this thing, chair. It is the “thing.”MMTN: With you so far.JL: Then there is what this thing stands for. Chair: a structure for sitting…it represents an idea of what a chair is. So we have this physical thing that conjures ideas of things like what it means to sit…to not stand…to relax…to relax while working…and so on.MMTN: OK. The thing and then the thing’s meaning.JL: But then, what do we have when there is no chair before us? How do we bring about the ideas of what a chair is without having the actual chair before us?MMTN: The word, “Chair”?JL: YES!!! Threes: the thing, what the thing represents, and what represents the thing. In semiotics, we use the terms “Sign”, “Signifier”, and “Signified”.MMTN: Sign, Signifier, Signified. Three. OK, I’ve got semiotics, I think. We can talk about recliners later. Arbitrage now?JL: Arbitrage is a little easier. Still think threes, although it can be far more complicated. When we’re done, you can sit in your recliner and let your mind wander around the complications. MMTN: Go.JL: Classically: You have five Canadian dollars—I love that they are also known as “Loonies”–which you can buy four American Dollars with. I have four American dollars that I can buy three Euros with. Our friend Pierre has three Euros that he can buy six Canadian dollars with. Through trade, and not by anything else but knowledge, you can end up with six Canadian dollars.MMTN: That’s arbitrage?JL: That’s it. Profit through tripartite (or multipartite) trade.MMTN: Well, that’s not rocket science. Maybe I should say it’s not bundled-mortgage-backed securities?JL: Loonie. Now, of course, the profitable gap in information is rapidly closed, especially as the time between trades and the proliferation of information through technology shortens.MMTN: So arbitrage is fleeting.JL: But a powerful metaphor, nonetheless. So, now overlay that trade metaphor on top of semiotics.
- September 27, 2014 Tell me about this Siobahn.
My editor asked me, after her first read-through of Momentitiousness, to target a reader. This is what I gave her:
1. College educated, must have heard the names Thoreau, Emerson, and Jasper Johns (though not necessarily know much more than their names). Oddly, I'm not sure I have an age range that needs to be fit.
2. Watches NatGeo and/or Biography Channel. Listens to NPR (and secretly watches American Idol, but wouldn't admit to it)
3. Gay or gay-friendly, slightly misogenistic (even if it is a woman that's hypercritical toward other women). Has been in love. Has written a love poem, however awful, to somebody before.
4. Will have read either David Sedaris or Haruki Murakami on a subway car in the past five years. Knows the difference between "Red Badge of Courage" and "Scarlet Letter."
5. Has a hero.
6. Hates science and religion with equal fervor. Wants to be a scientist or priest with equal fervor.
7. Oprah. I just want her to read it and like it and make all her people, even though they don't fit 1-6 (but wish they did), read it and make me rich and famous.
Then she said to give this person a name.
But I guess a 28 year old girl named Siobahn would be ok too. I imagine that girl is pretty granola and moderately androgynous.She's just a little more feminine than Marcus (the first name that popped into my head) would have been. Her friends were surprised when she got pregnant because they all assumed she was a lesbian. But she's not a male-hater lesbo, just a cool crunchy open-minded chick. Eventually she will get married to a really successful open-minded dude whose best friend is gay...but not too soon. She loves Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, but also Ayn Rand. She lives in Asheville and works in a movie theater while working on an MS in psychology. She is super hot and doesn't need to wear makeup.
- September 26, 2014
“Are you saying time isn’t linear?” “I’m saying that, not only is time not linear, time is nothing more than a construction by human beings to make narrative easier to understand. We created time to give order to our universe.”
“Why can’t people leave the past in the past?”
“The past and the future are always with us in the present. Hope and memory exist with us right now in each person’s own conception of presence. That’s why an expectation of finding a single truth is silly. This is exactly what Momentitiousness is about.”
- September 21, 2014 You "chose" your own adventure
Momentitiousness, in its quest to shatter the linear form of traditional narrative, pieces together a collection of Moments that, taken individually, are snapshots of humanity. Sweet and sappy, sexy and sultry, gritty and violent, the stories congeal together based on each reader's exploration. Depending upon how you read it, you may get a story of everything from time travel to a new civil war to a zombie apocalypse. Unlike the "choose your own adventure" stories we may remember, in which readers were active in the creation of a linear story, this is more of a "chose your own adventure," in which you stand back and reflect on what you believe just happened. It's meant to be a deeply personal experience, untethered by the rules of traditional narrative, which is why characters don't have names (you give them names) and the places are generally obscure (so you create settings in your mind that make sense to you, as a reader).