[Ray Johnson: letters, music, and tid-bits]


Subject: (no subject)                            Sat, Sep 13, 2014 at 10:31 AM
From: Bill Wilson 
To: Sofia Kofodimos 

Written question would give me time to write answers which could build on each other.  Meanwhile a musician visited:

Charles: Maybe we can use some minutest details to get a closer match between Feldman and Johnson.  Ray or Dick Higgins planted the word “tid-bit” in their communications.  The word is not a palindrome, and the two units don’t rhyme.  However, precisely as the letter u which I have just typed is the letter n upside down, so that Mouth is Month for Ray, the font in this type which is p is also both d and b.  Ray overwhelms the technological economy and efficiency of one font serving for three letters, d, b and p, by using the technological value of  economy of means on his typewriter to express a governing theme with an erotic dimension: the apparently different p, b and d are identical, they are (merely) in different positions.  Ray discovers that & and 7 are on one key — two in one– precisely as reproduction and excrescence are “two-in-one” urogenetically.  The “&” becomes also the “7” by his fiat.  & is 7 (the word “is” needs its own Johnsonian twists: Ray would telephone Isabel to ask the person who answered “Is Isabel?”  Cf. Isis and ask about Byron’s “is is” — in my readings).   If Ray uses 7, he may intend & — or maybe just 7, or both 7 and/or &.  He smuggles meanings like messages in bottles and messages on bottles.  The themes of the identical as different, merely upside down, animates his erotics, within which an identical body part remains self-identical within different positions performing different functions: “Love has pitched his mansion/ In the place of excrement.”  The d and the b are reversals of each other – relatable to opposed thumbs.  The least reversal demonstrates an axiom: when in doubt, reverse: AVE EVA.  Ray photographed the tombstone of ANNA ODDO (elsewhere I worK to develop an Aristotlean “metaphysics” of discovery and reversal, to convey the drama of Ray discovering that on his machine O is 0 and 1 is l.  Ray elevates the trivial and meaningless detail with his illuminating discovery of his truth about reversal and discovery within two identical images.  M is identical with W: initials MAY WILSON.  W can be divided into V and V: W is double V and double U.  Ray’s processes include reversing a discovery and discovering a reversal.  Hence BOB and HANNAH.   OTTO and ONO overlap thinking with OHIO, at least when the O of OHIO is also zero.  POONS is identical with SPOON, “merely” a different order (Nabokov rewrites “Borges” as “Esborg” and himself as “Vivian Darkbloom”).  Ray hyphenated “hitch-hike” which the dictionary spelled “hitchhike.”  A mark is as good as an alphabetic letter, as in his counting TAOIST as equal to TOAST! (Pages of analogies, documents, evidence for inconsistency as a method).  His level of focus on alphabetic letters enables him to see the letter n within the letter h — (notdog is subsumed within hotdog) – thus he discovers that the word “snake” is within the word “shake.”   Ray sometimes wrote “tid-bit” as “tidbit,” without a hyphen. The word tid-bit is a tidbit: the db is a palindromic event within “tidbit,” each letter mirroring the other, exemplifying actions manifest in numerals, as with writing 96 and/or 69.  I mention “tid-but” but need other evidence for my hypotheses.  In 1951 ff., dwelling in Sonja Sekula’s former apartment (ask about the bricks and feathers), with John Cage his good neighbor, and near enough to a bridge to know that he has a way home, Ray lives together with people who are all different, but who are at just about an identical distance from uniform American methods and values of manipulative capitalisms wherein manhood or masculinity is on a scale of coarseness: the more coarse the male, the more manly.  When his middle school specified Ray as “The Artist,” the marriage-market had begun to open an interval between Ray and the boys who were good raw material to be shaped into a husband.  The students monitoring him in high school registered as the norm.  Ray like Andy off-registered Jack Armstrong, the All-American boy, and as artists went on to off-register images, ideas and aesthetic judgments.  Ray like Andy mis-registers and off-registers the advertised images which are intended to manipulate people while entertaining them by  conveying standards which are not derived from experience but are to be imposed on everybody.  Ray, registered for the U.S. Army as 4-F, has been taking notes on notations in an era when musical notations are understood to be expressive of other than and more than the musical notes.  An analogy is the “crocket” as a hook, see “crochet.” That the sign of the note looks like a hook suggest that musical notation, as instructions, uses images which overlap non-musical ideas.  I have a drawing from 1943-44 depicting musical notes above an orchestra with a singer.  Ray’s annotations, from the ages of 15 and 16, are not the stenographic “realism” of precise registration of images.  As he annotates in his styles, at Black Mountain College he is annotating among people who are challenging  methods of registering musical instructions with visual marks.  Notes are being probed for their expressiveness of notations which participate in some of their other aesthetic values like improvisation and spontaneity. John Cages scores such as I have (at the moment) are other than and more than systematic instructions which themselves need instuctions for methods of reading (here is another moment when developments in written philosophy yield illuminating parallels – with mark to be read yet without a consistent system of reading being possible).  The music for a Jimmy Waring dance-concert was the sound, noise and music of the balloons which the members of the audience had been given to blow up and then to let fly on cue without a conductor imposing a measured beat.  I experienced a composition which entailed that each member of the audience open and eat a paper cup of vanilla icecream.  An analogy is that Ray worked to render observers into participante-observers.  Albert M. Fine, son of I. M. Fine (Ida M. Fine), “talked” a materialized music, writing expressive notations, many examples in my archive.  I have promised myself to exlain someday a “de-theatricalized” score for music such as George Brecht’s instructions (cf. Bertolt Brecht, whose son got angry because I wouldn’t smoke a cigar with him in Massachusetts, and whose granddaughter used to stay with us in the summer house on Tilghman Island).  A sign like this next letter, X, has suggestiveness in its visual design in excess of its function within construction of the meaning of the  sentence which is constructing its meaning. Ray did not read X in a way that would exclude any other reading of X.  He had intercourse with Frances X. Profumo, summer, 1948, she with an X for Xavier, but never limitable to that.  Bob Rauschenberg erased; Ray Xd out.  As X goes for Ray, so goes do, re, me: “California is a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or see;/ But believe it or not, you won’t find it so hot/ If you ain’t got the do re mi.”   The minutest details of a visual transcription – the classic notations which were to be seen through toward abstract meaning of instructions — became the focal plane of attention for John Cage and Morton Feldman; Ray may not have written for his performances — I’m working on the evidence.  His “Instructions” such as “Please send to,” were requests in an era when instructions for the work of art were becoming parts of the work of art.  See Yoko Ono “Instruction paintings” (1960ish); Walter de Maria, “Walk around the box,” as another sample of the introduction of instructions as with George Brecht — themes enhanced when Wittgenstein on instructions was available (from ca. 1952). The theme here reaches Alan Turing, who put the instructios for the computer program within the program.  Turing’s themes  reach toward Kurt Goedel, without whom we have little but the old religio-philosophies nostalgic for foundations (I think Derrida did not understand Goedel, or I understand and use him differently — a name I never would have mentioned to Ray, to whom I gave Derrida’s novel).  Now, allowing letters and numerals as notations, with Ray scrutinizing every alphabetic letter and every epistolic letter for the meanings which are expressions of its its style and design, Morton Feldman can be seen with comparable predicaments which become comparable opportunities.  So back to “when it rains it pours.”  The “it” in “When it rains, it pours,” remains identical as the two different uses of the letters change one “it” into becoming two “it”s.  The two identical “it”s become as different as the “it” of the impersonal construction “it rains” is from the “it” of the pronoun “it pours.”  The physicist David Bohm opposed the impersonal constructions like “it is raining” (“Implicative Order”): we need to know what Feldman knew about verbal language and its discontents.  Ray saw that the “it” (empty idiom) and the identical “it” (salt) were different, yet overlapping.  The analogy or parallel is precisely that his two-for-one identical penis differs in discharging both semen and urine.  Bohm was rational enough to work out his Cosmos which was to him as Ray’s cosmos was to him – with each checking the adequecies of different languages to their realities.  I am merely mentioning words this morning, not resolutely thinking.  My point adding to our conversation is that both Ray and Feldman investigated methods of notation, which has been done since Phoenicians scratched lines on pots while Egyptians notated the identical quantity of contents with a different mark.  Then with reciprocal modifications among their notations, pots arrived in Greece and in Rome and those signs, as causes affecting us, were modified by us when we, as causes, had effects on the causes.  Eva Hesse titled a word TOPSPOT.  Ray printed an apologia: POTSPOT.  Meanwhile, expressions emerged from numerals, letters and signs like crotchets which have nothing to do with the communication of  those instructions.  Ray brings the numerals 1 and 3 together to construct B, a vertical symmetry.  He responds to words as imitations of sounds in nature just as much as constructs of interrelations among other words (Saussure).  The notations of sounds include HA HA HA and AH AH AH.  As Ray wrote: “I just did something so brilliant I gasped.”  Yet his word “gasp” imitates a breath with a different breath.  Ray in high school had clipped a photograph of Seaman Mickey Quack.  A word could imitate a sound, yet also a word for a sound could become a name.  Ducks becae a motif.  Twice I mailed him a photocopy of Wittgenstein’s version of the duck/rabbit illusion — the identical lines which are different when looked at with a different focus.  Ray then often widely separated the heads of the duck and the rabbit — identical lines, yet different images, and no longer an illusion.  After our talk, I will begin to study Ray’s relations with musical notations. Tell me your schedule for NY and your return to California.  I will mail an envelope of documents for us to use to understand each other.  You may bring Abert M. Fine, who is on probation, back into the game: Bill  


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