Erdrich ftw


This morning’s online version of the New Yorker brought a short story by Louise Erdrich, The Stone, and the text of an interview of Erdrich by Deborah Treisman, from which this segment is harvested:

Sometimes I notice an odd, local type of stone and pick up a shard or a pebble… I’ve learned to put most of these stones back after looking. But stones ground me, quite literally, when I am in a new place. And they are mysterious and yet friendly inhabitants of my house. Every time I’ve moved, I’ve left behind a small pile of foreign stones in the garden. Have these stones used me to get from one place to the next? So I have a lot of stones around, I must admit, but this story isn’t based on a particular one among them. In the Ojibwe language, nouns are animate or inanimate; the word for stone, asin, is animate. One might think that stones have no actual power—after all, we throw them, build with them, pile them, crush them, slice them. But who is to say that the stones aren’t using us to assert themselves? To transform themselves? One day, the things we made out of stones may be all that’s left of our species. Of our complex history of chipping away at and arranging stones, what will be recorded or known?

The story itself is quite marvelous, and includes this resonant passage:

A stone is, in its own way, a living thing, not a biological being but one with a history far beyond our capacity to understand or even imagine. Basalt is a volcanic rock composed of augite and sometimes plagioclase and magnetite, which says nothing. The wave-worn piece of basalt that the woman [protagonist of the story] had slept with for more than a decade was thrown from a rift in the earth 1.1 billion years ago, which still says nothing. Before she broke it and dumped it at the bottom of a drawer, the stone had been broken time and again. It had been rolled smooth by water and the action of sand. Because of its strange shape, it had been picked up by several human beings in the course of the past ten thousand years. It had been buried with one until a tree had devoured the bones and pulled the stone back out of the ground. It had been kept by a woman who revered it as a household spirit and filled its eyes with sweetgrass. It had been shoved off a dock, lifted back up with a shovel, deposited in a heap. It had surfaced in a girl’s left hand. A stone is a thought that the earth develops over inhuman time. It is a living thing to some cultures and a dead thing to others. This one had been called nimishoomis, or “my grandfather,” and other names, too. The woman had not named the stone. She had thought that naming the stone would be an insult to its ineffable gravity.

My dealings with ineffable gravity are hereby declared entirely legitimate.

of Morphic Resonance

It’s been months since the last post here, almost 3 quite busy months since our return home from this year’s cross-continent trip. The last six weeks included a very successful gallery show for Broot and a one-day pop-up show for me, and we’re now in Nova Scotia, just finishing another 3-week trip, this one a 55th anniversary circumtransit of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence (four nights by freight boat from Rimouski to Blanc Sablon PQ; ferry from Labrador to St. Barbe, Newfoundland; north to L’Anse aux Meadows, then down the west coast to Gros Morne National Park, then ferry to North Sydney NS, and finally to Horton Landing; home to Maine by the weekend).


The usual welter of thoughts and reading and explorations of this’n’that accompanied, of course, so there’s much to get caught up.

The Flickr photostream tells many tales but also leaves out happenings that didn’t happen to get photographed. I’m just uploading the bountiful harvest of our week in Newfoundland, and thinking through What It All Means. And wondering what’s next. There are Flickr Albums of faces, surfaces and abstracts, and landscapes as a first stab at sorting the hundreds of images.

The perennial puzzlement of how to think about and what to do with the vast array of anthropo- and zoomorphic images of rocks and wood and water seems to be heading toward a resolution, but the complexities and leaps of association that underlie will take some explication. The cut-to-the-chase of the moment is an evolving scheme for a multimedia gallery presentation next summer, the provisional title for which is

Morphic Resonance:
Portraits in Stone, Wood, and Water

but the emergence of that title takes us back more than 3 million years, to the Makapansgat Pebble, which is surely an anthropomorphic form.:

The hominin ancestor who picked up and carried the pebble some 20 miles from its geological origin seems to me to represent an early (I’m tempted to claim the earliest) instance of aesthetic Consciousness in our own evolutionary branch [“possibly the earliest example of symbolic thinking or aesthetic sense in the human heritage”]). My own pursuit of wholly imaginary faces in various materials seems a direct descendant. I’ve been chewing over the deeper significance of this for the last year or so (since I learned of the Makapansgat Pebble). A couple of weeks ago the phrase “morphic resonance” drifted through my mind, and seemed somehow portentious (though I can’t remember when/where I first encountered it). It turned out to be a coinage of Rupert Sheldrake:

Morphic resonance is a process whereby self-organising systems inherit a memory from previous similar systems. In its most general formulation, morphic resonance means that the so-called laws of nature are more like habits. The hypothesis of morphic resonance also leads to a radically new interpretation of memory storage in the brain and of biological inheritance. Memory need not be stored in material traces inside brains, which are more like TV receivers than video recorders, tuning into influences from the past. And biological inheritance need not all be coded in the genes, or in epigenetic modifications of the genes; much of it depends on morphic resonance from previous members of the species. Thus each individual inherits a collective memory from past members of the species, and also contributes to the collective memory, affecting other members of the species in the future.

This seems akin to notions of ‘distributed consciousness’ with which I’ve been toying in the last year or so, and surely skates on the rim of mystical hoo-hah. I direct your attention to the Bodhidharma posts of February 2018 for earlier instances, and of course to the Just a Rock: a lithic menagerie book; see also Form Finds Form and Just Another Rock and Allegories and Agglomerations for more kindred threads.

A New Diversion

A story in the New York Times (These Mole Rats Felt No Pain, Even From Wasabi’s Burn) suggested the game of making haiku and senryu from headlines. The challenge is to add a line to complete the text of the headline, or perhaps find another way to work the text into the canonical 5-7-5 pattern. Here’s the opening salvo, in keeping with the sardonic and the mordant tone of the last post:

mole rats felt no pain
even from wasabi’s burn
try capsaicin next

(this assumes that tout le monde knows that
‘capsaicin’ is the active ingredient in the hotness of peppers)
(and marks the conceit that the torture of mole rats is Science)
(and with thanks to Nick for the capsaicin, C18H27NO3)

the ontologist will see you now


I’m at an age where I pay more attention than formerly to texts on health and Thanatos. Among the authors I seem to be engaged with are Atul Gawande, Sherwin Nuland, Jerome Groopman, Jenny Diski, and most recently Colm Tóibín. I’m especially interested in the grace and wit these writers apply to the direst of subject matter. Thus Tóibín in a recent article in London Review of Books:

A week later the phone rang and I was told that I had a cancer of the testicles that had spread to a lymph node and to one lung. Instead of seeing the urologist, I would now need to see an oncologist. For a few days I comforted myself by pretending that, because of my abiding interest in the mysteries and niceties of Being, I had to see an ontologist… (18 April 2019, page 3)

The art of the grim jest, the sardonic and the mordant, is not to everyone’s taste. Once again, Amazon seems to be reading my mind: as I wrote the last sentence, email binged a come-on for Tony Moyle’s The End of the World is Nigh (“If you love books about con-men, conspiracies, Renaissance history, massive agitated boar, exploding beds, marmalade and historical satire then this is the book for you…”). Did I succumb? Of course.

department of co-incidence

During a visit to Vashon Island, a series of unplanned conjunctions took me to the Vashon Bookshop for a half hour of browsing before our reservation at the marvelous May Kitchen and Bar. This book leapt into my arms:

Stephen De Staebler was my 9th grade history teacher (1957-58), and offered a high-energy version of World History to a class of 15 or so engaged and eager students. He also taught a class in stained glass for 5 of us, with lead and solder and glass cutters, the real deal. He was only at the school for a year, but was unforgettable for his contagious enthusiasm. He went on to become a well-known sculptor and teacher at San Francisco State, and died in 2011. His website ( represents his work quite well. I was something between delighted and gobsmacked to discover a gallery of masks that presage my recent work with lithic personalities. At the very least, we draw upon the same mysterious vein of mimetic imagery (“a term used in literary criticism and philosophy that carries a wide range of meanings which include imitatio, imitation, nonsensuous similarity, receptivity, representation, mimicry, the act of expression, the act of resembling, and the presentation of the self” in its Wikipedia rendering). There’s also this quote to consider:

Much of art is play in the serious sense,
like magic, trying to restructure reality
so that we can live with the suffering.

-Stephen De Staebler, 1984

I’m not quite sure what to do with “the suffering” but I’m pleased to consider what he might mean. It’s the sort of responsibility one has toward one’s well-remembered teachers. Alas, there are only a couple of 9th grade classmates left who remember Steve De Staebler, and I wish I’d been able to convey my thanks to him for what he taught and what he Taught.

Spring, finally


Just about to depart for a 6-week cross-country driving trip, anticipating many opportunities to photograph novel things in unfamiliar territories. I’m sure that thoughts about photography will arise as we go, and perhaps when we return I’ll have the requisite inspiration to plunge into the Blurb books that have been gathering a head of steam during the winter.

One that seems somehow inevitable is tentatively titled Elevenses, being the eleventh:

‘Elevenses’ (‘elevensies’ if you are a Hobbit, or a non-Hobbit with a penchant for puerile language) refers, as the word itself suggests, to food taken at eleven in the morning. Actually, the word applies not to the mere snack itself, but to the whole concept of a brief, healing pause in the crisis of the day. It is peculiarly British, and is rather more significant than its common definition of “a light informal snack” would suggest. It is, in fact, an institution, an inviolable right, a routine without which the British could not (would refuse to) continue with their working day. (Note to any country considering invading Britain: do it at eleven a.m. when everyone’s attention is focused elsewhere.)

Perhaps Elevenses wants to be free-standing, and thus able to include occasional images that have appeared in other books. Perhaps it’s about what I think about photography, and about my own practise in the medium. Sometimes it’s a bit difficult to know which are my own ideas, which are my distillations of others’ ideas, and which are basically purloined words of other writers. I imagine Elevenses as an effort to sort those various strains out.

As I have read about photography I have transcribed especially trenchant passages, in which authors seemed to be speaking directly to my concerns and sensibilities of the moment. It’s difficult to know how useful such extracts might be to others, unless I am able to use them to illustrate or exemplify some particular point or issue in my own photographic work.

One more ears-of-hippopotamus that I’ve been contemplating: Landscapes of the Imagination.

And why not give Ansel Adams the last word?

Ansel Adams to Dick Miller, 1973:
My concept of photography is nothing tangible. I want my images to vibrate in vacuum, giving vent to the intangible tangibles of the immediate tangent. My prints reflect my deep non-concern with the concernable. When I am out with my camera I am in with my libido.

If photography is silence, then I am a sonic boom. If photography is a sonic boom then I am extinguished. One must make a decision: is photography an art or is it a rural funicular railway, descending into levels of non-comprehension, ornamented with the pangs of perverse euphoria?

My photographs reflect just that and nothing (more). My reflections reflect my photographs; a spiritual, Zen-like reflection of the reflectivity of the reflective spirit.

I stand supine at the realization of my semi-experience. May my prints cause a re-supinization of my spectators. Let us PRAY!

Spiritual Smörgåsbord ?

Question: can we chip off pieces we like and leave the rest?
Purists and true believers will always say NO.

The question arises because I recently began to re-re-read Robertson Davies’ Deptford Trilogy (Fifth Business, The Manticore, World of Wonders), last visited maybe 20 years ago. Besides being a cracking good yarn and highly literate in a Canadian/British mode, it involves an extended meditation on entangled lives, on interwoven Stories, and on friendship. The second volume, The Manticore, was the source of pretty much everything I know of Jung. And now, in the context of thinking about life, and legacy, and Stories, it seems worthwhile to revisit one of the influential syntheses of the internal worlds.

Interlude: On our many passages between Nova Scotia and New England we would pass by a bizarre theme park/sculpture garden in deepest New Brunswick, called Animaland, the entrance to which was graced by a skeletal statue of a horse.

Betsy joked that it was “a place for the Jung at heart.”

Jungian analysis (AKA ‘analytic psychology’) proceeds from a foundation in anamnesis, an exercise by the analysand in extended autobiography (‘subjective confession’) aimed at confronting neurosis (seen as a “state of disunity with oneself”) and an attempt at self-cure of “mild dissociation of personality”.

“We can start almost anywhere. But from what you have told me I think we would be best to stick to the usual course and begin at the beginning.”
“Childhood recollections?”
“Yes, and reflections of your life up to now. Important things. Formative experiences. People who have meant much gto you, whether good or bad… We look at your history, and meet some people there whom you may know or perhaps you don’t, but who are portions of yourself…”
(The Manticore pg 70, 71)

This seems not irrelevant to some of what the Convivium is exploring. It’s not that I wish to immerse myself in Jungian bathos, but some of the terminology and background ideas may be provocative, evocative, useful to myself and others, so it’s useful to try to set out the framework, and to pick and choose elements that seem resonant.

…we are attempting to recapture some forgotten things and arousing almost forgotten feelings in the hope that we may throw new light on them, but even more new light on the present. Remember what I have said so many times; this is not simply rummaging in the trash-heap of the past for its own sake. It is your present situation and your future that concern us. All of what we are; talking about is gone and unchangeable; if it had no importance we could dismiss it. But it has importance, if we are to heal the present and ensure the future.
(The Manticore pg 100)

Powerful notions in the Jungian cosmology include the collective unconscious, broadly conceived as applicable to all Mankind, and coming from “somewhere beyond”, a “dynamic psychic substratum” encoded in myths “common to all humanity, on the basis of which each individual builds his or her private experience of life”—a grand and contentious notion [how transmitted? how across cultural/linguistic boundaries? from what origins? what are the Universals?].

Archetypes (“identical psychic structures common to all”) are another realm generally associated with Jung.

You may call these figures many things. You might call them the Comedy Company of the Psyche, but that would be flippant and not do justice to the cruel blows you have had from some of them. In my profession we call them archetypes, which means that they represent and body forth patterns to which human behavior seems to be disposed; patterns which repeat themselves endlessly, but never in precisely the same way…
(The Manticore, pg 229)

And here we quickly find ourselves in deep waters. I ran across a list of 300+ Archetypes, the most familiar of which are

The Self

The Anima

The Animus

The Shadow

The Persona

The Father

The Mother

The Child

The Wise Old (Sage)

The Hero

The Trickster

The Maiden

The poignancy of this Archetype thing may be appreciated with another list, immediately resonant for the males among us:

The four healthy archetypes of boyhood are:
The Divine Child
The Hero
The Precocious Child
The Oedipal Child

The eight shadow archetypes of boyhood are:
The High Chair Tyrant
The Grandstander Bully
The Know-it-all Trickster
The Momma’s Boy
The Weakling Prince
The Coward
The Dummy
The Dreamer



In my search for efficient entrée into Jung, I’ve been reading the excellent Jung: A Very Short Introduction, and I also found Daryl Sharp’s Jung Lexicon: A Primer of Terms & Concepts, worth a few minutes of your time to scan and thus to realize how integral and hermetic and inward-facing the world of Jungians is, and how vast and dauntingly impenetrable. The idea of breaking off a few convenient ideas or insights would be Anathema to true believers, but there are tasty bits that seem to accord with notions we’ve already discussed among ourselves, such as

Individuation: to “realize one’s own potential, follow one’s own perception of the truth, and to become a whole person in one’s own right”, “to work with and confront the unconscious” as a lifelong process.

Projection: “confronted by a field of ignorance, we project into it our own psychic activity and fill it up with meaning.”



All the world is taken in through the eye,
to reach the soul,
where it becomes more,
representative of a realm deeper than appearances:
a realm ideal and sublime,
the deep stillness that is,
whose whole proclamation is
the silence and the lack of material instance
in which,
patiently and radiantly,
the universe exists.
(Mary Oliver, “Emerson”)

Allegories and Agglomerations

vent Allegory

I’ve been thinking about this image ever since I captured it back in August, and wondering how to explain what I saw, what it means, and how it fits into my evolving sense of personal engagement with photography.

The train of thought came about during a yoga nidra session, as I lay immobile for 40 minutes or so with no other visual stimulus than a ho-hum quotidian ventilation duct on the ceiling 15 feet above me. The suggestion was that I close my eyes, but they decided to remain open. The eyes seem often to have minds of their own. The wider context included about a year of deep and deeper immersion in photography, including lots of reading and writing and thousands of photographs studied and taken.

Contemplation of the metal duct provoked the insight that narratives unfold —the case with most tessellations, and also with the presentation of groupings of images, exemplified by my galleries of faces on rocks and other materials. As one looks and studies and ponders, unexpected visions and associations arise, and underlying realities emerge, or (as it might be) are imagined.

The duct itself is pretty simple: a utilitarian presence with little or no artistic intent, a piece of unpretentious industrial design, one of many thousands of ducts, formed of sheet metal in a way that is sensitive to function and to market pricing, and surely not imagined by designers and manufacturers as the inspiration for anything. Geometrically it’s just a triangle, mirrored and then mirrored orthogonally into a symmetrical diamond shape. But upon contemplation it’s clear that there’s more to it: a something else that might be a Creature manifests, equipped with eyes and even a tongue. And suddenly the duct is not so simple, and inspires the viewer to consider Unfolding, and Creaturehood, and Allegory.

Namaste, tout le monde.

The next morning I returned with a camera and found that the Creature was still in residence, and was as provocative as it had been the day before.

The Full-frontal Spiritual Manifestations: gods, godlets, daemons and other beings project seems a direct outcome of the adventure with the duct.

Addendum: the wee hours found me considering that Agglomerations consist of Agglomera, and that the singular would thus be Agglomerum; Agglomeratio would be the act of gathering up Agglomera. By itself,

is just an oddly-shaped rock, but in company (Agglomerated) with others of its ilk, other possibilities emerge:

30xii1832 30xii1833 DriftInn1i1817

DI6ii077 DI7ii059 DI25i18072

DI2i1876 Wass29vii18079 28xii1816