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On belongings, information & knowledge processing .. with pronouns unpronounced & under the auspices of West of Kingdom Come: a last ditch dispatch from Rome

This is the final post we will write from caput mundi .. from via Titta Scarpetta #28. Tomorrow morning movers come to pack up our stuff & load it into a truck & from there who knows .... we can only imagine our stuff will go to a port in Rome or Naples & then be shipped on a ship to America .. we're guessing to somewhere in New Jersey. We don't know our next physical address, where our belongings will then be relocated to, so in the interim they will be stored in some storage unit who knows where.

where we're writing from

where we've been writing from for the past 2.5 years

By «belongings» we mean the physical crap we've accumulated over the years. It's a funny word, like beings ever longing to be. Our belongings are for the most part books & art & stuff we'd need for day to day living, if we were not living in hotels & eating in restaurants.

Not that we don't have useless objects .... we've accumulated plenty of those in our travels, that on the inventory sheet we filed under «bric-a-brac».


bric-a-brac we've collected (note the sampietrini (cobblestones from Roman roads) on the bottom, our keepsakes from Rome)

Belongings combine with place to make «home». It occurred to us the other day that there is no word for home in Italian. There is only casa, which is both house & home. Spanish has hogar, but we don't remember that being quite the same as home. The French have maisons, but as far as we know those are both house & home.

We've lived in a lot of houses, but none that we have ever really called home. But this house on via Titta Scarpetta #28 (second doorway from the right below, where we spent the last 2.5 years) comes close.

via Titta Scarpetta

via Titta Scarpetta #28 (taken in 1938)                               via Titta Scarpetta #28 (we took in 2012)       

In the last post, in our reading of In a Strange Room, we talked about the strangeness of occupying hotel rooms, like fleeting hermit crabs. Should the next tenant of via Titta Scarpetta #28 come across this post by its former occupants, we imagine they'd find it sort of strange, if not creepy.

And btw, if you are looking for a farewell & thanks for the pasta post—of our last impressions & final thoughts on living in Rome—you'd be better off reading the blog of our better half .. she summed it up better & less creepily. Suffice to say, two & half years is the longest we have ever lived in one house, so that says something .. must be something in the water keeping us around this long. She forgot to mention the starlings though, in the list of things we'll miss, who are back now for the 2012 season, just in time to bid us farewell.

In the dispatch before last, from Ethiopia, we said we were experience hoarders .... this much is true. But we don't horde stuff so much. We don't long to belong & neither do our belongings.

And also in the last dispatch, from Tanzania, we wrote all in second person, as HE, because in the Damon Galgut book we were reading then he writes his narrative as such, in second person (mixed occasionally with first) which we thought had interesting results.

Now, in case you didn't notice, we are writing this post in first person plural, as we. As Muhammad Ali spontaneously said in the shortest poem ever:


Or was it «Me? Oui!» or «Me? Whee!»

We are getting somewhere with all this .. bear with us.

We are writing as WE because this is how we are writing the book we are working on—West of Kingdom Come. And this is what 5cense is about mostly, the thoughts that go into what we are processing in the moment .. the thought process.

In the post before last we also mentioned how we felt we've been in collection mode our whole lives, through all these travels & books, but feel we have never properly transitioned into a processing phase. This is partly a lie. We've been writing stuff all along. We've just never written about real experiences, that we can think of .. that you might recognize as such. Except maybe Marsupial .. that was sort of based on time spent in southern France. But after ten years in NYC we never wrote anything that takes place there. And in the two & a half years living here in Rome we've never written of it really.

Unless you count this .. is this writing?

As mentioned, this, what you are reading, is the thought process. This is like the «making of ____________________» .... the making of as it's being made .. bootstrapped writing.

Perhaps it's high time we come clean & disclose what we've been working on. What this recent cinque-sensuale processing has been going into to .. or as Tom Waits would put it, what he's building in there?

For starters, the book we are working on is written in first person plural. Like this post. The pronoun «I» is never used. We don't think the second person pronoun, you, is ever mentioned either. The third person pronouns, he & her, are used sparingly, only in reference to mother & father figures. Other then that, it's us & them.

In the sixth memo of Six Memos for the Next Millennium, which we just finished, Italo Calvino talks about the encyclopedic systems that writers come up with in their writing processes—«the contemporary novel as an encyclopedia, as a method of knowledge, and above all as a network of connections between the events, the people, and the things of the world.» He quotes Carlo Emilio Gadda at length, from That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana, which we are also currently reading, which could perhaps be the last book we read while living in Rome. And the layered systems of systems (hence the title of the essay, Multiplicity) that Gadda devises, that can be interpreted on many different levels. And how the writer, the maker of the language, fits into the system.

Even before science had officially recognized that observation intervenes in some way to modify the phenomena being observed, Gadda knew that "conoscere è inserire alcunhè nel reale, e, quindi, deformare il reale" (to know is to insert something into what is real, and hence to distort reality). From this arises his invariably distorting way of representing things, and the tension he always establishes between himself and the thing being represented, so that the more the world becomes distorted before his eyes, the more the author's self becomes involved in this process and is itself distorted and confused.

In fact, like us, Gadda also loathed the pronoun I. To quote Calvino quoting Gadda (from the novel La cognizione del dolore):

I, I! ... the filthiest of all the pronouns! .... The pronouns! They are the lice of thought. When a thought has lice, it scratches, like everyone with lice ... and in your fingernails, then ... you find pronouns: the personal pronouns).

We might have more to say about That Awful Mess on the via Merulana later, right now we are less than half-way through. And we are in the middle of our own drama, This Awful Mess on the via Titta Scarpetta. In the meantime, here's a photo of the book on the namesake street looking up at the very apartment where the crime in the book takes place.

awful mess on via merulana

That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana, in front of via Merulana #219 (where the crime takes place)

The Awful Mess on via Titta Scarpetta is that everything in this house is falling apart & going to shit. The electric company turned off our power a week ago, supposedly for some unpaid bill from over a year ago. They give you one chance here .. if the bill gets lost in the mail you are fucked. They send the next bill & there will be a small line item amidst all the other numbers (not even red or bolded) buried within the 8-page long bill (if you can understand all the bureaucratic & formal italian) that there is this unpaid balance. But they give you no way of paying it .. they don't provide a bill to reference when paying (at the post office, which is how italians pay bills here). It is all so unbelievably archaic & bureaucratic & criminal, beyond what we can articulate in words if we tried. It only seems fitting though, such a nice farewell. After jumping through all these hoops, knowing them, they will turn the power on just as we are walking out the door (assuming the movers can see well enough to pack our stuff). An Italian helping us deal with these frustrations said we need to think of Rome as «a beautiful woman that needs tender coaxing». Sorry, but that's bullshit. If you had to personify Rome, he is a fossilized & repressed asshole that lives at home (in the closet) & has some government/mafia appointed position where he gets paid a lot to do as little as possible. In j's parting post, she said Rome is a good place to live, but not work. i'd go a step further & say Rome is a good enough place to live, but not a good place to do anything with your life. Especially if you are young & have aspirations beyond eating pasta & smoking cigarettes. Or as another Roman (who's spent time in the states) told us the other day, Italy would be great ... if you took the Italians out of it (ironically, he is also grandson to the author of The Italians).

Anyway, back to fiction. It's more interesting than reality. Calvino doesn't just talk about Gadda, he also goes into other encyclopedic writers like Joyce, Borges & Perec.

Who are we, who is each one of us, if not a combinatoria of experiences, information, books we have read, things imagined? Each life is an encyclopedia, a library, an inventory of objects, a series of styles, and everything can be constantly shuffled and reordered in every way conceivable.

In regards to our own personal encyclopedia, that we are using in West of Kingdom Come, the system we've devised not only never uses pronouns besides we & them, it not once uses the verb to be. Don't expect us to try this now on 5cense because it is hard. Using the verb to be is the easy way out. We do cheat some & use the word become a lot (or sometimes exist, though usually we spell it xist .... moor on nexact speling in a byt). So «god is dead» becomes «god becomes dead». Everything becomes in a state of becoming. There are no beings. Besides becoming, there's a lot of coming going on in West of Kingdom Come. Everything is either coming or becoming, nothing ever just is.

Calvino talks about the encyclopedias Perec uses to devise his novels .. in one case containing 42 categories. The encyclopedia we have for West of Kingdom Come has 4 categories .. or not quite categories, but 4 generic states that apply to all categories. It's a spreadsheet that perhaps one day we will share here on 5cense, but for now we'll just give you an example from psychology—the four states of competence:

1. Unconscious incompetence
2. Conscious incompetence
3. Conscious competence &
4. Unconscious competence.

The book follows this cycle, in each section, in each paragraph. Actually there will be four books eventually in the quadrilogy, so this first book for the most can be characterized by the first state of unconscious incompetence. Which is to say we don't know even know that we don't know what we are doing.

Besides that, the only other encyclopedic cheat cheat we use, would be considered more like a lexicon—a set of signs & words (some in Chinook jargon, French or even invented) that are important to the book.

umbrella pine

umbrella pine .. another thing we'll miss from the lexicon of Rome. We'll also miss the walls & aquaducts

That's about all we have to say about that now. The book that has most influenced the recent writing & ideas in in West of Kingdom Come is The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood, which we've been savoring over our last few months in Rome. The book not only has affected our writing, but our manner of being. Not that the book is innovative or ground-breaking, but it effectively summarizes (is an encyclopedia in fact of) the history of information.

At the end of the day, our existence is reduced to information. Some people are possessed by their possessions .. while we don't feel possessed by possessions, we feel possessed by information, and a drive to transform & propagate this information. The only things we care about in this house full of possessions—that as we speak are about to be shifted to who knows where—are our external harddrives. We don't even care about our computers so much. Yes, we do backup to the cloud, but we're not sure we have full faith in this yet (at least with my service, Mozy (& before that Amazon S3), which we will abandon the second we settle down anywhere stable). Our lives have been reduced to this—bits encoded in silicon.

Not that we'd actually care if all 2 or 3 external drives or clouds crashed or disappeared. We'd still live. And it might be a transformative experience as such. But let's not try that experiment right now.

sta cecilia inscription

inscription from nearby Santa Cecilia (our patron saint (November 22) & also the patron saint of music)

Gleick starts The Information with a retrospective about the evolution of language & communication, from talking drums to twitter. And he talks about the persistence of words (and the lack thereof in primitive forms of language)—how dictionaries & whatnot have ruined the pliability of language.

In fact, few had any concept of "spelling"—the idea that each word, when written, should take a particular predetermined  form of letters. The word cuny (rabbit) appeared variously as conny, conye, conie, connie, coni, cuny, cunny, and cunnie in a single 1591 pamphlet. Others spelled it differently. And for that matter Cawdrey himself, on the title page of his book for "teaching the true writing," wrote wordes in one sentence and words in the next. Language did not function as a storehouse of words, from which users could summon the correct items, performed. On the contrary, words were fugitive, on the fly, expected to vanish again thereafter.

We're all for reinstating this efemeral kwuality back to langauge, of bean unconsciusly inkompetent. We're dueing this sumwhat in West of Kingdom Come .. granted we are admitedly in a stait of consious incompetents. But purhaps with enuf practise ....

bernini blessed ecstasy

Bernini's statue of Ludovica Albertoni touching herself in ecstasy, just down the street from us in a church on San Francesco Ripa, that only this past week did we get around to seeing

And then from there Gleick goes into the physical manifestations of language & information. Quoting from a Harper's article about the telegraph from 1873:

A message had seemed to be a physical object. That was always an illusion; now people needed consciously to divorce their conception of the message from the paper on which it was written. Scientists, Harper's explained, will say that the electric current "carries a message," but one must not imagine that anything—any thing—is transported. There is only "the action and reaction of an imponderable force, and the making of intelligible signals by its means at a distance." No wonder people were misled.

We are of course thinking of such things not just in regards to writing but our lives .. the information we harbor that is physically manifest on hard drives. There's a lot more to be said about the Gleick book .. he goes on about numbers & Gödel's incompleteness theory (which we talk about some, amidst a backdrop of murmurating starlings, in this post) & encyclopedias & wikipedia & quantum information theory, which was all interesting & somewhat new to us as a lot of the ideas around quantum information were developed in the last decade or two since we studied quantum physics. Like Calvino, Gleick also talks at length about Borges & his library of babel. And the relation between information & knowledge .. the «processing» which we've been referring to. It's one thing to have information, it's another what you do with it. Especially in the information age. We live in a time of information gluttony, at the expense of knowledge & wisdom. To quote T. S. Eliot:

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

We feel ready to untether ourselves from our possessions, from information, from the net that straps us to this gluttony. Or maybe we are already doing this, you'd have to tell us. We feel ready now to wean ourselves of teat-milk of the she-wolf of Rome & peregrinate east or west to kingdom come. Then again, goodbye in italian (arrivederci) doesn't mean goodbye, but «we'll meet again».

Porta Appia, the original entrance (or exit) to/from Rome, as seen from the wall


 >> next up: The Gospel according to Saramago & The Last Days in the baroquen ruin of Palermo

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