Reasonable Worlds: Albert Goldbarth

Found an absorbing prose piece, “Absence” by Albert Goldbarth, a favorite poet of mine. Taking the Chauvet Cave Paintings as a starting (or perhaps stopping) place and, as he does in his poems, spinning out cosmic possibilities that are both funny and apt.

A few bits from a wonderful spell of writing:

How that door is such a real, knockable, tape-a-note-onnable, solid thing—and floats, like the ocher rhinos of prehistoric caves, on a field of absence. How we all walk every day, all day, through unlimited meadows of emptiness: what happens between the toggled switch and the light bulb’s watting to life, what line of transmission exists between the turn-on keystroke and the lit screen, or between the turned ignition key and the engine thrum. That’s Dimension X for myself and my friends. Most of us still live in a world of magic.

As for me, I’ve decided to pioneer an existence that’s Internet-free. I’ve never touched a computer keyboard, not once. What follows—never sent or received an e-mail, shopped online or paid a bill there, no eBay, online porn, or social networking, not one Google moment, or Nook, or Kindle, not one Wikipedia glance—is a willful illiteracy; is a life that’s increasingly antimatter; a charcoal stag or a reindeer that’s itself, that’s more itself, because of everything it’s not.

It’s common to suppose that a Luddite wants less. That’s what refusal must mean. But in fact a Luddite wants more—of the same. If I had enough space I’d devote an entire room to the museumly care of early manual typewriters. As it is, my few mementos of that vanishing world are dear to me … and the blue mesh bag of typewriter keys that Peggy gave me is doubly dear.

To his Luddite point, I of course learned about him via the Internet (the same place I found this essay, Poetry Daily, an effort out of UVA.

Later in the piece, he quotes a writer on the caves paintings, “The more you look, the less you understand.” Exactly as it should be for some things perhaps.

For work a couple of years’ back we got fairly involved with Gilgamesh (far younger than the Cave paintings but still the oldest known narrative). I’m working on some of it again (making an iBook version of our project, which has a certain piquancy that Goldbarth would probably pounce on). And found this elusive illustration for it–a photo of the tablets itself in all their 3-D mystery. Joking aside, for me Goldbarth is asking to take what’s missing–permanently unknowable–as something central, not peripheral. What’s missing about these tablets, the broken off places, is what (as Yusef Komunyakaa says in the video we did) beckons to us.

gilgamesh title image

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