Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Sunday, August 10, 2014
Finding in 'primitive' languages a dearth of words for moral ideas, many people assumed these ideas did not exist. But the concepts of 'good' or 'beautiful', so essential to Western thought, are meaningless unless they are rooted to things. The first speakers of language took the raw material of their surroundings and pressed it into metaphor to suggest abstract ideas. The Yaghan tongue--and by inference all language--proceeds as a system of navigation. Named things are fixed points, aligned or compared, which allow the speaker to plot the next move. Had [Thomas] Bridges uncovered the range of Yaghan metaphor, his work would never have come to completion. Yet sufficient survives for us to resurrect the clarity of their intellect.
What shall we think of a people who defined 'monotony' as 'an absence of male friends?' Or, for 'depression', used the word that described the vulnerable phase in a crab's seasonal cycle, when it has sloughed off its old shell and waits for another to grow? Or who derived 'lazy' from the Jackass Penguin? Or 'adulterous' from the hobby, a small hawk that flits here and there, hovering motionless over its next victim?
The layers of metaphorical associations that made up their mental soil shackled the Indians to their homeland with ties that could not be broken. A tribe's territory, however uncomfortable, was always a paradise that could never be improved on. By contrast the outside world was Hell and its inhabitants no better than beasts.
--Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 11:45 AM
My poem "We Are More or Less," recently reprinted by Geist magazine, is now up on their website and making the rounds on social media. It's not a bad time for this to be posted, with the rupture of the under-built Mount Polley tailings pond and Canadapologist Shane Koyczan poised to go on tour with David Suzuki et al. Yup, we are more.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 10:52 AM
Sunday, July 20, 2014
My spoken-word poem/op-ed rant "We Are More or Less," which was originally published in Vancouver Review, has been reprinted (with a slightly modified title) from Career Limiting Moves by Geist magazine in their latest issue.
You can also hear me deliver the piece:
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 10:49 AM
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 8:35 AM
Regular readers of this blog (if there are any left) will recall that I went to Mexico a couple of years ago to take part in the Linares International Literary Festival, organized by Irish-Canadian expat Colin Carberry. With the help of a crowd funding campaign, I hired a translator, Lidia Valencia Fourcans, to convert ten of my poems into Spanish. After I came back from Mexico, my publisher asked me if Lidia and I could write something for Biblioasis' translation blog. We did, and sent it on, but in the midst of much other busyness at the press, the blog went into hibernation before my piece was posted. One of the things Jesse Eckerlin has done since joining team Biblioasis is reanimate the translation blog. Then I remembered that I still had this piece. And now, at last, it's up on the blog, for your reading pleasure.
And I still have some copies of the translation chapbook, if anyone wants to buy one.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 8:04 AM
Monday, July 7, 2014
Anne Kingston has done a nice job writing up the rather dreary "feud" between two novelists who talk a lot of shit. She highlights my response to a particularly smelly piece of Andre Alexis bullshit in her piece, but seems to think the title of my book is meant more unironically than it is.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 7:58 PM
Sunday, June 29, 2014
It seems to me that, when we lost our aesthetic pleasure in the human presence as a thing to be looked at and contemplated, at the same time we ceased to enjoy human act and gesture, which civilzation has always before found to be beautiful even when it was also grievous or terrible, as the epics and tragedies and the grandest novels testify. Now when we read history, increasingly we read it as a record of cynicism and manipulation. We assume that nothing is what it appears to be, that it is less and worse, insofar as it might once have seemed worthy of respectful interest. We routinely disqualify testimony that would plead for extenuation. That is, we are so persuaded of the rightness of our judgment as to invalidate evidence that does not confirm us in it. Nothing that deserves to be called truth could ever be arrived at by such means. If truth in this sense is essentially inaccessible in any case, that should only confirm us in humility and awe.
I have a lot of time for what Robinson says here. Unfortunately, she follows this paragraph, the last in the introductory essay of her collection, with an essay so thoroughly tendentious in its arguments (broadly, against what she calls "Darwinism"), so selectively blind to extenuating testimony, that it could have been the target of the quotation above. In the first essay, she castigates writers on Calvinism for having no works by Calvin in their bibliographies. I got so irked reading caricatures of various philosophers and scientists in the second essay that I flipped to the back to check out her bibliography. There was none. It's pretty shocking that she seems to have been deaf to these ironies.
Here is an excellent response to Robinson's essay.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 3:27 PM
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
My old friend Mark Sampson (who I've known since we lived in the same dorm at the University of King's College in 1995-96) has posted a review of Career Limiting Moves on his blog. I'm especially glad that he highlighted my review of Souvankham Thammavongsa's Found, as it's a piece I'm particularly proud of. (I was also glad to hear recently that Thammavongsa's wonderful follow-up collection, Light, has been shortlisted for Ontario's Trillium Prize.)
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 6:47 PM