oneiropoeia

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telling tales on dreaming

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written for Ainu Dreams (1999)

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EVERYONE DREAMSwe think. But what do we really know? Nothing is more tantalizing than the dream as an “object” of thought, because it won’t stay still. It won’t even stay there. Its nature as object seems to end up challenging the nature of objects. When you recall a dream, it may be like going to meet an ancient friend rumored to have grown more animate by means of his own unstable agenda. You have to give up your own agenda just to track him. You need unwavering clarity to see through his ruses. The greatest disadvantage in taking hold of him is the fact that you think you know him. The only real hope is committed ignorance. Then the lightning speed of apprehension may find a crack—the essential crack—to flash through… just in time. Well in advance of the thunderclap that will drive him back into hiding.

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If everyone dreams, not everyone claims to dream, indeed some claim never to dream. Perhaps what goes on in the dream state for these “non-dreamers” doesn’t correspond to what mind habitually registers as dream. Or they have a rational frame that is unfriendly to dreams. Or they have been misled by an ordinary sense of the extraordinary. People tend to tell the dreams that make good stories, and stay away from those that remain alien to storytelling. Yet to approach dreams for their story value alone impoverishes them, gives them the message that their unlimited non-narrative states of telling are not welcome in the land of language. So there are endangered species in the dream world too. Delicate ones, shy ones, variously insubstantial, ever on the verge of extinction through mere understanding. Someone needs to boldly go where no storyteller has dared …. To let dreaming tell itself, to make itself up as it goes, to perform its uncertain limp and inevitable disjunctive leaps—to step out beyond the memorable. “I can’t remember my dream” is perhaps the most common report. But what if memory is only one of the roads in? Or if what one needs is an attractor that calls the dream out into its further life?

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THE POEM is well equipped to apply for the job. To really qualify, however, the poem may need to suspend certain of its own merely familiar modes of self-awareness. It may need to stand exposed to its own cracks. To get close to its own impossibility (which may run counter to its “creative program”). If one of the problems of telling dreams is that they are to some very large degree bent upon failure—committed to eluding report and subsequent incorporation in the interpreted world—then a poetry that has forsaken aspiration may attract the dream into a mutually acceptable environment. Some place not too well lit. Craggy, lush, internally spacious, intermittently empty, perilous, falling out of balance, rushing beyond judgment, still, declared open.

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All/none of the above. But it doesn’t hurt to tilt our thought. Dream’s enemy is certainty, self-assuredness, style, skill, mastery. It seeks a free and easy dance partner capable of reserving a power of all possible dances, yet a power understood by no one. All cultures welcome, all forbidden without notice. And times… time itself wearing the masks, the histories, personal stories, soap operas, tabloid epics with the attention span of a praying mantis—prophetic, lunching on mates, eating in tongues. But we are slipping out of our mode here. Truly to speak of dreams is to dream in speaking.

One entrains to the wild.

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WE BECOME WHAT WE BEHOLD, says Blake, and if we may put words in his muthos:

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Faced with the nightmare of history, he slammed the translation vehicle of Prophetic Poetry into reverse, drove “English, the rough basement” backwards through the terror of Sleep toward the possibility of waking outside, inside the Illuminated Book. He proved the working power, like an action on the blacksmith’s anvil or “printing in the infernal method, by corrosives.” Proving--homeopathically–the “test by experience” is performed in oneself, like seeking its transformative like, begetting its kind “made new” –in telling.

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This is the oneiropoeic principle that

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by poesis speaking dreams direct

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—performs the work at the limen of sleep, proposes the non-dual surface of dream-waking­—something like a Klein Form[1]—seamlessly accommodating limitless disjunction, and lets loose a speaking—a prosopopoeia—of all absent possible selves alive and well on the verge of waking. Blake through.

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TELL ME YOUR DREAM, I say to her every morning. Poetry is waiting. Speaking from sleep is a liminal affair. Soft words. Swelling at the lips. They don’t all fit through the aperture. Distention. They tear. What gets out rushes out. Flashes in the mind in sudden outline. Sheer paint, stalled colors, then bleed through. Everything possible to be mumbled is an image of the dream. Some of the beings in hiding make their way to the surface, push their way through the pout of utterance. Superficial profundity.

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dream

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surfaces

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OBSTACLES TO ARTICULATION are the very objects of the dreamscape.

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—The state of showing through the speakable is the exception.

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—Yet when dream does make it past the guardians of the sayable, it’s not that it now becomes language, but that it shows its other side as language.

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DREAM IS LANGUAGE, and all attempts to understand language as necessarily different from dream impoverish both language and dream. Dream’s refusal to speak points toward a truth of language, the “failure” of language to disclose. Poetry discloses the intentionality of this refusal/failure to disclose. And:

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ONEIROPOEIA is the domain of poetic working that inhabits this strange area at the threshold of dreaming, including the impossibility felt to lie so fruitfully within

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dream saying

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A Common Axis

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In order for the poem to become the surface of the dream it has to discover something like a common axis—an empty center that runs through the dream yet is located through the poem. Indeed the discovery of the axis of the dream may only be possible through a correlative domain, a declared remove from the dream that creates a conscious reentry, crossing the threshold with an active tongue, a medium, a middle surface, a sublime liminality.

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Sublime—a concept word too long on the lam—has always new force in the (al)chemical sense of change of state toward the optimal. Of course this correlative domain implies a discipline and may be psychological, therapeutic, somehow philosophical, variously artistic, including poetic or, most especially, metapoetic­. The latter implies the possibility of any or all of the above at once, many intentional functions in a single act of making. More important, the encompassing metapoetic function consists in this: that the change of state toward the optimal involves a transformative power within language, its peculiarity of knowing. This knowing, at its most originary, the optimal itself, I no longer resist calling lognosis.

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THE COMMON AXIS BETWEEN DREAM AND POESIS implies a precarious balance. As a person with a passion for working with stones in particular states of equilibrium—to see them showing more than our prejudice of gravity and their obvious element—I naturally point to a sort of analogue:

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balanced stone, eloquently silent, tenuously showing secret depths

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utter surface

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~~~~Here superficial means profound.

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~~~~Deeply felt spoken meaning enters the condition of language as it lifts off the skin—tongued, just as it sounds.)

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~~~~Staring at a precariously poised surface you entrain to your own depth, and work your way out, differently. One registers extremely improbable equipoise not mainly through the eyes but through the whole body, the body as organ of perception—organ of intervention.

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~~~~One reads the balanced stone through an axial sense, the central axis of the body registering disturbance. Likewise: dream surfaces through an open axis, activating the whole of the dream body. Dream surfaces by coming into the body, and so, by way of incursion, discovering its body through the body—the common axis.

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~~~~THE AXIAL FORCE runs invisibly through everything, holding appearance at a pitch of reversibility—poetry, verse, the turn upon the possible, precariously equiponderant upon impossibility, belongs in the nature of language to the root from which dream in its essential power arises. At bottom they are spoken from the same mouth. To serve the dream poetry offers its root nature. It bends forward in the wind, angling to speak in colors, multiples.

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~~~~THE OTHER’S SONG is always the other name for the “Ainu Dream.” It carries the teaching of the dream, whose message begins: the most intimate knowing is indistinguishable from the most “alien.” With a corollary: We are other to ourselves to the extent that we are not intimate with our source, in touch with the never-disconnected nature of essential cognition. To invoke the collaborative process of the work—labor that is always dual, speaking for the truth of individual multiplicity, dialogical—is to see its nature as non-separable, and to turn back to the dream itself as inherently collaborative.

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The Ainu

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Why? Why indeed. I am on the verge of making up a story: The Ainu are exemplars of the collaborative. No doubt true. The simpler truth is I can’t get them out of my mind. I know all too little about them, never met one, never studied the language. I have mainly read, many years ago, the astonishing epic poetry, sung mostly by women, in the translations of Donald L. Philippi, Songs of Gods, Songs of Humans*, and listened to the haunting recordings of shamanic Ainu epic singers. They attract something in me that didn’t know it was there to be attracted.

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It seems the earth listens to itself through them.

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But it would be fatuous to claim any “real” connection between our Ainu Dreams and the actual songs of the Ainu. We pay respect to their intimate connection to the power of dream, its power to haunt—homing, frequenting, settling in, staking ground in the mind. But the name Ainu has a currency all its own in our discourse. Gary Snyder has called attention, in the Foreword to Philippi’s translations, to the Ainu term iworu, “field of force”—“a term that can mean biome, or territory, but has spirit-world implications.” We might add, with resonances of Charles Olson’s “composition by field,” that the force field extends as far as the mind can hear. (“How is it far if you think of it?”—Olson) The Ainu field has somehow crossed over into our oneiropoeic sensorium, or the Klein Form of that inner sensing has met itself out there face to face with the Ainu. This is the actual extension of the dream body, which in the end encompasses the poem that embodies the dream. Does the dream have an outside other than oneself?

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Recital

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…the recital [récit] is neither a story nor an allegory… not a story that happened to others, but the soul’s own story, its “spiritual romance,” if you will, but personally lived: the soul can tell it only in the first person, “re-cite” it… an Event of the soul….

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Henry Corbin*

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The tale [récit] is not the narration of an event, but that event itself, the approach to that event, the place where that event is made to happen—an event which is yet to come and through whose power of attraction the tale can hope to come into being, too.

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Maurice Blanchot**~~

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THE DREAM IS A RECITAL in any instance of utterance, clearly, a tale told under a “power of attraction” whose time is the space of its own possibility. But isn’t it also always already a recital to itself in its aspect of knowing itself? I see myself in my dream by way of an always surprising species of reflection, a performance of myself (whom I do not always instantly recognize). To the extent that I am aware of dreaming while in a dream, I am—I is—performative*, the very identity which is at once subject and object in reflection. It is tempting to call dream the reflective performative­­—what is itself in the very act of articulation and only knows itself thereby. If it had its own grammar accounting for its verbal nature it might be the performative reflexive—the subject becoming itself in the act of recognizing the object as itself or as inseparable from itself. In dream we invent new grammars in every moment as an aspect of practicality—how we practice what we are in the performance of the telling underway. This is a strange way of speaking, perhaps, but speaking about dream eventually entrains to dreaming itself. The writing of Gaston Bachelard is such a case, which teaches that of which it speaks through the degree to which its “subject matter” (the “poetics of space” or “reverie”) acquires a curious presence in his telling. An oneiropoeia is in performance—en permanence—throughout. Oneiropoeia—the poetics of dream recital—subjects matter to its virtual transubstantiation.

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subject

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matters

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http://www.quasha.com/poetry/ainu-dreams

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In dream subject crosses the line to matter.

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That I am thrown under myself matters.

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I matter transubstantially.

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Thrown down I substantiates.

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EACH UTTERANCE IS AXIAL AS DREAM IS AXIAL

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It stands in the free and open space of its own turning upon its occasion—and is therefore amphibolous, thrown to either side, the meaning as the sense of the field with all its self-divergence, the cast of a net large, enough to meet its actual occasion. The axial phrase can go either way, not out of indifference or programmatic malleability, but out of responsiveness to one’s own root and its primordial ambi-valence. This ambivalence is not merely the inevitable war that one has with oneself (one’s selves), though that too; rather, it is the expression of one’s radical realization of non-separability within oneself despite self-contradiction, despite life’s confusing multiplicity.

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The axial is a capacity of language as a capacity of mind.

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~~~~Oneself thrown down, subjected to the “laws of grammar,” reflector of the rejected object—so much the matter of dreaming: I discover my own way out of the subjective trap transgressively, transjectively, through the recital, the telling. I am performed through an incursion of my own torsional possibility, what, by its turning, churning and torque within me, breaks me out through the strange otherness of dreaming telling. Strange to say.

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~~~~Best said by another—and this is the secret collaborative truth of oneiropoeia. Dream as the loneliest performance is never truly alone, indeed radically exposes our lonely non-aloneness, our inevitable tangle with others by the very condition of languaging. Telling implies listening. Listening performs another, another’s telling, and another telling of one’s own.

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THIS PERFORMATIVE LISTENING characterizes for me the discovery at the heart of the Ainu Dreams. After many years of writing out of my own dreams, already a practice of the other, I came to see the non-separability of dream performance in and of itself. I love to listen through the dreams of other people, but it never occurred to me that the poem would follow me there, allow me to find it there. By what “right” does one write another’s dream?

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~~~~Listening deeply through another’s telling, as if one were tuning into the dream itself, finds its own law, its right of precession, of motion of the axis of its spin. There is a legality of the given moment like the once only law in the wobble of a pivot when external force acts upon the axis.  The torque of telling has a quality of transport, to “a land” of its own dimension, implying a language specific to another dimension, to which poetry is liminal.

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~~~~The poem is aroused transversely by the listening, is moved to mind the gap.

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buun is one of several “epic” dreamers (in the oral poetry sense) I have had the good fortune to listen to and through. These are people who accept dream as instruction, not in the “predictive” sense but simply in the dictive—it tells, it’s telling:

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The Event is a transmission. To hear it is to be instructed.

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One does not necessarily think new thoughts although one may think differently; and it is not a matter of interpretation, particularly where that implies a system or principle (psychological, religious, philosophical, aesthetic); on the contrary, what we are pointing to here is outside the interpretative. Indeed, one protects the delicate life of the dream by preserving if from interpretation, at least until it finds its openness of form, its permission to be through telling. Faced with dream recital, one stands otherwise than one has stood, by way of the wisdom of that other telling— like leaning into the recital, with the result that one experiences one’s own other axis. Then the telling goes on in the further life of one’s being there, in the way that one is.

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IN MENTIONING EPIC DREAMERS I continue to pay homage to the Ainu, intrinsically unexampled tellers, as well as the people I have alluded to, certainly not invidiously or as any implied comparison between “oral” and “literate” cultures—this is not my issue. The modality here is an expression always of gratitude, a way of thanking them all for their willingness to tell, as though in “dream” more is at stake than private property. This is a “more” that implies a property of the mind (to borrow Robert Duncan’s phrase) that would be diminished immeasurably by a sense of private (as in “privation”), but not by a sense of intimate; diminished too by a notion of own that does not include other. Oneiropoeia has its own species of aspiration, of breathing not so much upward as outward toward the optimal inter-bounding.

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~~~~I live with and therefore within the dreams of these others. I have precise recall of so many of Susan Quasha’s dreams that it’s like having an alternative life to draw from—an intercarnation.  Likewise the dreams of Charles Stein and Robert Kelly over something approaching three decades—dreams that have been and still are my teachers. Likewise Franz Kamin’s—which I can hardly separate from his writing and his music, resounding in/out the Klein Form of his very non-ordinary reality. Dreams by Fatima Lacerda are like magically powered novels I have read, almost written. Carolee Schneemann’s dreaming allows an imagination of erotic merging between dimensions, species that embrace through our awareness—but aren’t we straining dream as limit and entering the oneiric liminal? Initiations, transmissions—shared with these friends. And in this register I must mention the dreams of a teacher in yet another, more encompassing sense, those of Choegyal Namkhai Norbu, whose dreams we have had the immeasurable good fortune to hear over the past thirteen years and which occupy the place of sacred text with resonance far beyond the scope of the present discourse. His presence is felt in many nuanced ways throughout the Ainu Dreams.

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SO IT IS THAT THE SOURCE OF THESE POEMS enjoys a lifelong emerging context that speaks both within and beyond “personal history.” This source arose spontaneously when I heard buun telling her dreams (in English, infused with Japanese qualities), which moved me with the force of a poem but without the realization in language. I registered this “call” by writing “The Fool,” which created for me an inevitability of this work. What is most special about the kind of interaction between me as “poet” and buun as “dreamer” is the declaration of a shared responsibility in cultivating an oneiric and poetic space. (Declaration, in this specific sense, means affirming an intuited possibility and aiming to actualize it, yet preserving its virtuality, the reach of possibility; such a declaration is not simply a willful projection of a wish, but is grounded in what always already is true.) You could say that the space is held in common. There is a bond—a deeply held commitment—and a continuous maintenance of mutual consent, retaining over time a certain power, in this case some four years’ powering residual.

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~~~~In the process of working with buun, I had a new perspective on the way both dream and poem are self-educating in the space of reflection. Her first language is Japanese and she had little experience of poetry (especially in English, although she  has read widely and complexly in both languages); yet her participation in the process of the poem was precisely inspired—particularly at the level of rectification, as the interruptive voice of the rights of the dream, and, too, as the continuous presence of the critical corrective that stays within the flow and rhythmus of poetic unfolding. It was like having the gift of a mind in reserve. Incursion was always there waiting to happen. Yet the poem’s own intelligence, arising somewhere in the between, grew in unpredictable clarity, sure of its selfless self. When the poem hit an impasse, it knew to tell me to press her to remember what she said she couldn’t, and then she did—memory as response to request. When we differed on the rightness of certain phrasing, I almost always yielded—discarding all favorites in favor of the dream’s discriminating awareness. Yet there were instances of the poem’s supplying something like a reverse corrective, in which she came to see her dream for the first time by way of the poem, or its way of informing her awareness changed, as it were, along a poetic line. This, frankly, astonished us both. Poetic powers were hardly metaphoric, except in the sense of the bearer of change.

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~~~~There were not no boundaries—there were and are always already only boundaries, what Blake called the bounding line, the living changing outline of anything that breathes. Indeed no boundary escaped the willing change of bounding—the inter-bounding and bonding of common domains, to which dream is the intimate inter/intrapersonal access.

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And poetry is the language of the limen.

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~~~~In its own time, of its undertime, at play on the surface of the dream, there

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time itself

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surfaces

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as

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one’s

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own outside

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NOTE: For the text of Ainu Dreams see under Poetry

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[1] “Klein Form” would be the more abstract level of the Kleni Botle or, topologically, a one-sided three-dimensional surface having no inside or outside because all sides are continuous with all other sides.

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* (University of Princeton Press and University of Tokyo Press: 1979.) Philippi’s book has been our principal source of information on the Ainu, an indigenous shamanic people of undetermined (non-Japanese) origin now concentrated mostly in Hokkaido, whose situation in many ways parallels that of Native Americans and other indigenous peoples who have suffered a long history of oppression, exploitation and discrimination under a dominant alien culture. Preservation of Ainu culture—language, dance, poetry, etc.—is an active concern, reporting some gains in recent years. See the Ainu Museum on the World Wide Web from Shiraoi, Hokkaido for more information. They report: “Ainu” means “human.” The Ainu people regard things useful to them or beyond their control as “kamuy” (gods). In daily life, they prayed to and performed various ceremonies for the gods. These gods include: “nature” gods, such as of fire, water, wind and thunder ; “animal”  gods, such as of bears, foxes, spotted owls and rampuses ; “plant” gods, such as of aconite, mushroom and mugwort ; “object” gods, such as of boats and pots ; and gods which protect houses, gods of mountains and gods of lakes. The word “Ainu” refers to the opposite of these gods.

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* Avicenna and the Visionary Recital, transl. Willard Trask, Bollingen Series LXVI: 1960.[in French, 1954].

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** “The Song of the Siren,” transl. Lydia Davis, The Station Hill Blanchot Reader: Fiction and Literary Essays (Barrytown. Ltd./Station Hill: 1999) [in French, 1959].

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* Performative in this usage is the term created by the philosopher J.L. Austin to point to utterances that literally perform the action of which they speak: e.g., I promise, I wish, I accuse, I name, etc. — actions performed in the very saying (as opposed to referring to a secondary object). Such verbal actions close the gap between word and meaning, but performative utterances can only do their work in the specific contexts that call them forth: performative language is always site/occasion-specific and concrete.

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