Thursday, April 1, 2021

Maria Damon and Adeena Karasick, III DE RAGUEUR: EMBROIDERING THE POSSIBLE from INTERTEXTILE: TEXT IN EXILE: Shmata Mash-Up A Jewette for Two Voices

Red Jean, image by Maria Damon



Shmata Mash-Up 
A Jewette for Two Voices

Maria Damon and Adeena Karasick

the dissimulation of the woven texture
can…take centuries to undo its web.
Jacques Derrida

All yarned about and yearned for –
from flax to linen, paper to book, to black ash to sparks of light
lines, lineaments spun animates, laminates of
delineated limned innards of filament rinses 
we enter deep inside
inside the body of the words
rummage inside its textual guts: haruspex

For the Latin terms haruspex, haruspicina are from an archaic word haru "entrails, intestines" (cognate with hernia "protruding viscera", and hira "empty gut"; PIE *ǵʰer-) and from the root spec- "to watch, observe." The Greek ἡπατοσκοπία hēpatoskōpia is from hēpar "liver" and skop- "to examine."
And in re-examining: sheep organ as oracle
Organum organic oracle gauzy orgasmic grassy origami
we fold words, letters, text, bodies
reminded of how inside the mirage is the RAG
inside the haruspex, the spectre,
of semes, memes, seems, seams, screens, screams,

endless ribboning
and shmata shows us how the text becomes an infinite field of organic symbology anchored in history and innovation
tradition and traduitioni. Drenched in not Rabbinic law, but ribbonic law
for it is said, “the ribboni is mistress of herself
She has no master in her world
But instead re-wraps the fabric of many generations,
processing them into treasures of liberated expression.”ii 
Culturally re-locating and inter-locuting
all strung out and threadbare


(or wrapped around your little finger)


Chew on this thread -- A popular Yiddish bubbe meise (old wives’ tale) is that it is customary to chew on a piece of thread whenever one is wearing a garment upon which someone is actively sewing; such as attaching a button or repairing a seam. For it may lead to the sewing up of one’s brains (“mir zollen nit farnayen der saychel”). Another Yiddish explanation for chewing on a thread is that burial shrouds are sewn around the remains of the deceased. Actively chewing while another is sewing on one’s garments is a clear indication that one is quite alive and not yet ready to be buried.

Or as in buried meaning when
inside the shmata is hidden in the sham the alternative facts
rethreaded histories, mysteries
when you seem to be pullin’ the wool over my [  ]
in a rag-bag of embroidered positions,
banned. unbound
rag bag 1820, from rag (n.) + bag. sense of "motley collection" first recorded 1864. ragtag 1820, from rag (n.) + tag; originally “rag-tag and bobtail” "the rabble" (1659), from bobtail "cur," 1619. Tag and rag was "very common in 16-17th c." [OED] 
like "the dark studded space with stars –with so fine a needle that ... the sky must be full of wailing-women who at each stitch gave out a fiery scream" [Jabès] 

or how for H.D. each word comprised “so many stitches and just so many rows”
in the eros of what’s shared between the
shearing and the sheer, cherched shaar, shir ha shirim

Spinning Wheels within Wheels.    

Like the 231 gates of existence as laid out in the Sefer Yetzirah

(The Kabbalistic 2nd C. Book of Formation), the 231 wheels that reference all the letters and all their combinations and permutations, all the gematriatic associations, the blueprint of the creation of the universe and the alchemical draft to create a golem

According to Rabbi Eliezar Rokeach in the Book of Formation, to make a Golem, one must assemble the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet and permute them with the Tetragrammaton, and all the vowels, in the array of the 221 gates of meaning. Each sequence contains 442 letters, so to complete all 22 letters of the alphabet, one must use 4862 letters. Each of these letters must be pronounced with every possible combination of the 5 primary vowels and the 4 letters of the Tetragrammaton, a total of 9724 pronunciations for each lettered pair. This means the entire exercise makes use of 486,200 pronunciations. Estimating 4 syllables a second: 11⁄2 hours per sequence resulting in 35 hours to complete the uninterrupted process. 


And through the recitation of the letters
with no mistake and no interruption
you will be adorned in clean white vestmentsiii
And through the whiteness of the garment
and the garment of lettered light
shmata you are the force that activates life
And inside you i am reciting the weave of your letters
As outlined in Abulafia’s Or Ha-Shekel
i outline the crown of the head of each of your letters, the beginning of the beginning down to the middle of your face, the middle of the beginning, concentrating on the back of your head, the end of the beginning the beginning of the [ ]  And through each curve, swerve of your body, downward through yr heart abdomen, the base of your spine
i wear you in my ears and in my eyes
visualizing and articulating 

your twined

And in your mouth is placed a parchment of 

Drafting/drawing out the secret codes
Plying/folding/twisting. Pulling through our pilpul / play

Pilled, plied and parlayed, pilpul: the methodology of Talmudic study.
Derived from the verb "pilpel" ("to spice," "to season," and "to dispute violently" or "cleverly" [Shab. 31a; B. M. 85b]). Since by such disputation the subject is in a way spiced and seasoned, the word has come to mean penetrating investigation, disputation, a sophistic method of drawing conclusions.iv
Pulling meaning as lips slip pull splayed through spliced poly-puns 

“Aren’t you that beat-up piece of string?”
“No, i’m a frayed knot”

knotting and reknotting ­– Not (negative dialectics,
via negativa, negative space,
dissent, object/ion),
but the knots of the words, of woven gilded letters
and the Not[ch] of the drop spindle:

spin. pin.
pliant pries
comprising Shaft, Notch and Whorl (low whorl, high whorl)
And commensurate with how Kabbalistically read, the word on high mirrors the world below; whirling through levels, layers, meaning and being, the shmata as an intersective nexus, (all hyper-syntactic and paratactic), an intersubjective and polyreferential signifier the spinning whir of worlds within worlds, whorls within whorls
in a whorl up se[a] 

             or a sea of sh[m]atnez

Shatnez is cloth containing both wool and linen (linsey-woolsey)v which Jewish law, (derived from both Leviticus 19:19 and Deuteronomy 22:5, 22:9-11), prohibits wearing.

It is forbidden to wear wool and linen fabrics in one garment, as it highlights the interbreeding of different species of animals, and the planting together of different kinds of

Interestingly, throughout midrashic and Kabbalistic hermeneutics,
particularly, in Zoharic interpretations, the lamb is indicative of Yoshkevii
so, perhaps the prohibition of mixing wool and linen,
could be folded into the historically polemical encounter between Jews and Christians

 and the fiercely deep-seated prohibition between the commingling of cultures

However, the priest's girdle and the tzitzit are preferably made from Shatnez –so one could also read the prohibition as a way of setting aside this fiber blend
only for holy purposes.
Some say strictly no mixing –no wool and linen threads together
no mollusk dyestuffs (murex)
Some say no strict mixing
Some say stringent division
Some say gemishte for the win!
Some say crochet sashay parlay this into that

According to the Mishnah, the word Shatnez
is an acronym of:  

שע "combing", טוה "spinning", נז "twisting"

According to the Mishnah, the word Shatnez
is an acronym of: 

The Modern Hebrew word שעטנז means "mixture."

Thus, in the very mixing of mixing, combing, spinning and twisting, the text and textile merge, in a confluence of sign and referent, word and thing, through extensions of extensions, interpretive modalities which embrace conflict and paradox

and all is re-mixed through the linsey-woolsey warp weft of all that is sacred, secular, holy and profane; blanketed in your holy knots, frayed and worn

ordinances, spun-struck strands. 

So, with not a hair out of place, every anomaly erased
the shmata highlights a textured writing  –
all that is down and dirty, gritty and nubby, as streets, walls, rough façades
bumpy and moss-encrusted broken buildings, sidewalks
cracked friezes, rusty and dilapidated
deliciously textured
as Artaud describes the body –

a mad torch, a limp rag of dead sperm
an Ur-text text-ured
an abject fabric tacked on ornate frame
as a martyr stretched on the golden rack
the warp cries against procrustean loom
whereon it’s strung
permeable, raw, soft tissue torn and sewn
the weft transgresses open wounds
only to close them
the bleeding shmata a theatre of cruelty
another turn
another turn
another yearning turn of the front beam
roiling the senses

For texture as ur-text gets your hands dirty, says dig your fingers in. Nap and patina, oxidized powders, copper excrescence (green from copper, rust from iron), velvet from satin, slubs from skeins, shine from silk, roughed-up, abraded fingers leaving spiky threadlets standing up in delight.
And so it is, the shmata exposes a textured writing, one that is adorned, self-conscious and self-aware, mannerist, exaggerated, a ravel of complexity: a “poetic” writing that foregrounds itsform. And yet is humble and almost furtive, out-of-the-way like Jean Genet, whispered from the cracks in prison walls and warming up the human misery inside, reveling in its eccentricity.

For texture is that which resists: graininess, frictional pleasure, creating meaning in its micro-challenges (the whorls and eddies of the fingerprint, nap of velvet). Texture as dirt/patina, the hermeneutic anomaly, the raised weal of flogged skin, the damask rose on the featherbed cover. Texture is to touch as timbre is to sound: its connective and collective tissue-event 

And as a haptic auditor
the shmata, is listening, glistening
hears you –
through acoustically crocheted curved space;
spiraling spherical, re-subjectifying
text, texture, weaving the between

the shmata riffs through shifting drifts; riffraff on the riprap, hiphop on the fly says it’s in the layering, the sampling, the folding, the labializing and origamizing of the surface. Upthrustings and seismic distressings of discursive topographies, spirings, abyssings and swirlings of sumptuous difference, glaring and subtle

reminding us that smoothness is also a texture:
i.e. glatt kosher (the lungs of the slaughtered animal are smooth,

glatt: not diseased), more kosher than kosher / of stringent standards

glatt. glut. glas. gliss. gloss. a glossopoeisis 
of textured glossolalia
the shmata asks us to think about texture as roughed-up disciplinarity,
“scarified inter-disciplinarity.” Rather than the smooth interdisciplinarity of, say, historicism or the “art and literature of…” model that predates it, the shmata’s is an interdisciplinarity that tries and plies and mats itself into the apertures and closures of thinking, inviting and opening itself to troubled spaces; for in the between is where the ghostly fingers play against the curtains.
And reminds us that we need not think about smoothness as facile or glib;
complexity and difficulty are not the only indices of worth.
The simplicity of a Zen koan is in direct proportion to its opaque enigma,
a stone worn smooth by millennia of oceanic friction.

For as it is said,
"the ocean is woven"
its smoothness earned by millennia of friction.

marked by smooth grooves -- 
constellated in the
hollow crucible
of the abyss
as Jabès’ wind-carved shapes of the desert mark the absent presence
and the smoothest flower seen under a microscope reveals folds, fissures.
a rough turbulence of snags, snares,
rapt in synthetic syncretics, syntactile and hybrid –
the shmata, all intertextilic and feelin groovy
is an homage to hybridity itself:
From the early 17th century: Latin hybrida ‘offspring of a tame sow and wild boar, child of a freeman and slave, etc.,’ hybridity carries the pejorative connotation of wantonness, lust, unbridled desire; monstrous indecency; hybrida,’ or (h)ibrida, a hybrid or mongrel [as] commonly refer[ring] to animals and plants of mixed lineage, “an insult or sexual outrage, a self-abasing rather than self-aggrandizing cross-species or cross-caste congress. And with specific reference to lust, hence, an outrage on nature, a mongrel,” i.e. desire that got out of hand and expressed itself in what would be considered perverse (cross-species) practices.

And hybrid is related to the Greek hubris, wherein the rash arrogance and punishable defiance of social norms brings strong or otherwise somewhat admirable men to their knees.
Or as in improvisational jazz which introduces a textural mix of polysonic innovation, ancestry, cultures, rhythms, temporalities –hybrid/High Bird acoustic textures that are “ancient to the future,” the shmata inscribing a poetics of gemishte material practices, working within and against well-identified and articulated traditions, marked by mongrelitudeviii (and like the vehicles aptly named) combine variant means of propulsion from multiple power sources. 
Sartorially re-storied
and notoriously improvisatory
the shmata highlights how improvising is not about improving, but a nonjudgmental opening of submission, emission, permission to fail, if by failing to conform to a regulated aesthetic we stumble on something new. Significantly, “improvise” and “improve,” though sharing the etymological root “provisus” –provision, foresight or advantage –, have completely divergent vectors: improvisation from improvisus (“unforeseen, unexpected”) vs improve from Latin provisus, from prodest (literally “is in favor of”) “is of advantage, profitable.” In the first 

instance, improvisation, the “im” is a disclaimer, i.e., not provided for; in the second instance, improve, it is an intensification, hyper-provided-for. Hybridity/hubris leads to the unforeseen

all unpredictable and improvised
between the seen and re-seen
not the mis-en-scène but the missing scene
screamed between the seme and the seam
all that is interjected, bricolaged, diy’ed ‘n jerry-rigged
shmata, you bring an anarchic spirit into the unknown
a palpably erogenous, exogenous
vortiginal Ouroboros of
ramped-up samples, simple amplitudes
leaving you in stitches 

shmata ta-ta ta-ta touch me
i wanna be dirty
like the Scarlet Letter
reminding us that in recent histories of literacy,
cross-stitched SAMPLERS were used to teach girls the basics of the alphabet and number system, a way to give them just as much literacy as they might need, as well as a variety of stitches, appropriate for girls being interpellated into a housewifely class. Historically recreated cross-stitch pattern books in use today are among the tools for
inventing highly stylized, defamiliarized
cross-stitch’d, x-stitch vispos: 
crossing genres: poetry and the needle arts:
where the needle is homologous to the pen or the arrow, the shuttle a diminutive spear, the linen surface a version of the screen, the paper page, reworked papyrus, bark, linen, cotton pulp
weaving desire, history, meaning
through threads, letters, which genealogically are abstracted forms
derived from images of humble, earthbound, everyday animals
like oxen, camels and fish; things like domestic enclosures, ladders,
body parts like hands, mouths, or eyes –or a human being at prayer; 


altered shapes which are both visible and invisible, discernible
in the Roman alphabet but highly attenuated 



Representations said, unsaid and resaid
in patterns that appear and disappear, hiding
behind other versions of the same letters and sounds,
constituent threads of woven or knit cloth
or as Whitman describes the tide of “manly love” undergirding
democracy, a “half-hid warp” –threads that sustain and conjoin the whole,
whose partial invisibility is foundational to its interwovenness
Without individual threads appearing and disappearing
            in front of and behind each other, no fabric.
Without the interplay of concealment and revelation, no material.
Without silence, no sound. 
Without the so-called negative space surrounding letters on a page or on the cloth,
no image
Assertion and erasure, inscription and erosion:

Dissociation and association are quite evident in the structure of Abraham Abulafia’s ecstatic Kabbalah; highlighting how one should continually untie her knots to the corporeal or material existence, resorting to a numerical game that demonstrates the equality between heter (untying), and ha-qesher (binding). Both nouns amount to 605 in the gematria. For Abulafia, such a device points to the semantic mirroring underscoring the need for attaching and detaching, how language is sewn and resewnxi

(((((605 also being the gematria of luxurious, mantling,
noble, glory, lady, mistress,
650 = 5 x 112 )))))

the shmata calls into question fronts, backs, topped bottoms,
spectral and palimpsested space
mining the manner and the maneuver: the main d’oeuvre (labor)
languaging itself, through the written and spoken
scripted, rescripted, re-encrypted, cut –
For “script,” through P.I.E. sker 1, or ker, to cut (i.e. “inscribe”), is linked to carnage, scrotum, scurf, skirmish, scaramouche! Text, in all its manifestations, inscribed on a clay tablet, stitched or appliquéd into a quilt or woven into a tapestry from which history can be read by the alphabetically illiterate*, is embedded etymologically and historically in textiles, from the poetic unit of the “line” (from “linen”) to the word “clue” (a ball of yarn), or suture/sutra/sew, to the fabric of the fabrications we construct as our histories
resonant with histology, the study of tissues, histos being the loom, the warp, weft or woof – woven piece of canvas, by analogy spider web or honeycomb, wand stick, shinbone, tissue, the issue of the weaving process –

whose “dissimulation
can in any case take centuries to undo its web.”xii
the shmata continually reminds us that the granularity of etymological study is intimately connected to a materialist approach to the literary, sharpening Walter Benjamin’s admonition that “nothing that has ever happened” –i.e. no archaic word or practice –“should be lost to history.”xiii
no stone
or grain
of sand
Sappho on papyrus wound around the dead.
Letters as panting dancers; letters alive and throbbing
as vessels of light, riffing threads, paths, whorls
metonymies of lineage and inheritance
and aims in these returns to address that debt

“DE RAGUEUR: EMBROIDERING THE POSSIBLE” is the third section of Adeena Karasick and Maria Damon's 10-year collaboration,  “Intertextile: Text in Exile. Shmata Mashup, a Jewette for Two Voices," which investigates the relationship between text and textile. Previous publications  and presentations of earlier sections include: Jacket2, 2016; Habits of Being, ed. Cristina Gorcelli and Paula Rabinowitz, Minnesota UP, 2015; Open Letter # 20 (Collaborations Issue), ed. Karl Jirgins, Windsor, ON, 2012; Talisman 48 (Spring 2020).  Previous presentations: In(ter)ventions: Literary Practice at the Edge, Banff Center for the Arts, Banff, AB, CA; PoemTown, The White River Craft Center, Randolph, VT; Green Point Library, Brooklyn NY, 2014; University of Minnesota; “post_moot: a 2nd Convocation of Unorthodox Cultural and Poetic Practices,” Miami University of Ohio, Oxford, OH; “Fabricadabra,” "Writing the ‘Self’ Back into Jewish Studies," Association for Jewish Studies Conference, Boston, MA.  



i.    Traduit. Fr. for translation.

ii.  For more on the differences between Ribbonim and Rabbonim, see Ari Elon in Big Jewish Blog, 2005.

iii. According to Rashi (10th C.) commenting on the Talmudic account explains that Rava made his Golem "by means of the Book of Formation". “An initiate should not do it alone but should always be accompanied by one or two colleagues. The Golem must be made of virgin soil, taken from a place where no man has ever dug. The soil must be kneaded with pure spring water, taken directly from the ground. If this water is placed in any kind of vessel, it can no longer be used. The people making the Golem must purify themselves totally before engaging in this activity, both physically and spiritually. While making the Golem, they must wear clean white vestments… One must not make any mistake or error in the pronunciation… no interruption whatsoever may occur…”

Further outlined by Aryeh Kaplan in his translation and commentary on the Sefer Yetzirah, creating a Golem was primarily not a physical procedure, but rather, a highly advanced meditative technique. By chanting the appropriate letter arrays together with the letters of the Tetragrammaton, the initiate could form a very real mental image of a human being, limb by limb… Once the conceptual Golem was completed, this spiritual potential could be transferred to a clay form and actually animate it. This was the process through which a physical Golem would be brought to life.

Eleazar of Worms, in his Commentary on Sefer Yetzirah, that after kneading virgin soil from the mountains with pure water, the first stage of creation is to form the "limbs" of the golem ("limb", in this case, seems to also represent the torso and head) . Each limb has a "corresponding letter mentioned in Sefer Yetzirah", and this letter is to be combined with every other letter of the Hebrew alphabet to form pairs. Then a more general permutation is done (again for each limb separately) of each letter of the Hebrew alphabet with every other letter into letter pairs, "each limb separately". This second, basic method of combination is called the "221 gates". Then you combine each letter of the alphabet with each vowel sound (apparently for each limb). That concludes the first stage, the formation of the golem's body. In the second stage you must combine each letter of the alphabet with each letter from the Tetragrammaton (YHVH) and pronounce each of the resulting letter pairs with every possible vowel sound. In this case the use of the Tetragrammaton, even though it is permutated, is the "activation word".

iv.  Ab. vi. 5; Baraita; B. B. 145b; Tem. 16a; Ket. 103b; Yer. Ter. iv. 42d.

v.  A strong, coarse fabric with a linen or cotton warp and a woolen weft.

vi. Additionally, early writers, like Maimonides, state that the prohibition was a case of the general law (Leviticus 20:23) against imitating Canaanite customs. Maimonides wrote that: "the heathen priests adorned themselves with garments containing vegetable and animal materials, while they held in their hand a seal of mineral.

vii. Sometimes referred to as Yoshu (Jesus). According to Ex 12:6, the paschal sacrifice had to be slaughtered in the afternoon, which aligns perfectly with the time for the paschal sacrifice laid out in the Mishnah, from the sixth to the ninth hours of the day. This was also the period when Jesus was reportedly crucified: “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour” (Matt 27:45).

viii. Julian Brolaski Talamantez

ix. Marc-Alain Ouaknin, “The Letter E,” The Secrets of the Alphabet: The Origins of Writing. New York: Abbeville Press, 1999.

x. Ouaknin, 94.  

xi. Moshe Idel, “On the language of ecstatic experiences in Jewish mysticism.” in Religionen - Die Religiöse Erfahrung (Religions - The Religious Experience , eds. Riedl, M. & Schabert, T., Verlag Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg, 200, pp. 43-84

xii. Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, translated by Barbara Johnson, University of Chicago Press, 1981.

xiii. Paleolinguist and textile historian Elizabeth Barber has suggested that, in the Odyssey, Penelope’s weaving by day and unweaving by night is writing and unwriting a story. She observes that, had Penelope been making a garment or bedding, the improbability of the task lasting seven years would have tipped off her suitors to her ruse; however, if she’d been weaving a tapestry depicting, say, her military superstar father’s triumphant return after a significant battle, tapestry being the way the alphabetically illiterate could “read the news” of history and fable, it was entirely likely that such an ambitious project would take the seven years she managed to stave them off, stalling for Odysseus’s return.

Maria Damon is Professor of Writing and Professor of Humanities and Media Studies at the Pratt Institute of Art. She is the author of The Dark End of the Street: Margins in American Vanguard Poetry; Post-literary America: From Bagel Shop Jazz to Micropoetries as well as two chapbooks of cross-stitch visual poems, meshwards and XXX; co-author, with mIEKAL aND, Jukka-Pekka Kervinen, and Alan Sondheim, of several books of poetry; and co-editor, with Ira Livingston, of Poetry and Cultural Studies: A Reader.

Adeena Karasick, Ph.D, is a New York based Canadian poet, performer, cultural theorist and media artist and the author of nine books of poetry and poetics. Her Kabbalistically inflected, urban, Jewish feminist mashups have been described as “electricity in language” (Nicole Brossard), “proto-ecstatic jet-propulsive word torsion” (George Quasha), noted for their “cross-fertilization of punning and knowing, theatre and theory” (Charles Bernstein) "a twined virtuosity of mind and ear which leaves the reader deliciously lost in Karasick's signature ‘syllabic labyrinth’” (Craig Dworkin). Most recently is Checking In Talonbooks, 2018) and Salomé: Woman of Valor (University of Padova Press, Italy, 2017), the libretto for her Spoken Word opera. She teaches Literature and Critical Theory for the Humanities and Media Studies Dept. at Pratt Institute, and Poetry and Poetics for Brandeis University; Poetry Editor for Explorations in Media Ecology, 2019, Associate International Editor of New Explorations: Studies in Culture and Communication, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Award recipient and winner of the 2016 Voce Donna Italia award for her contributions to feminist thinking. The “Adeena Karasick Archive” has been established at Special Collections, Simon Fraser University. 

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