Word-Rainy Days

by Ralph Dumain

Why do people remember what they do after decades pass, and how much of it do they remember? I never forgot that I read this book, though I don't remember what was in it, other than it being an avant-garde form of writing:

Gins, Madeline. Word Rain (or A Discursive Introduction to the Philosophical Investigation of G,R,E,T,A, G,A,R,B,O, It Says). New York: Grossman Publishers, 1969.

As it happens, I kept a record of books read in my youth, not a perfect record, but whatever I read or perused at the time and listed as read. So looking this up, I found Word Rain as book #42 in the time period September 3, 1969 – June 1970. Around this time I read several Esperanto books and miscellaneous books in English. I remember becoming interested in surrealism in 1970 and the first book I see in this vein is one I remember very well: #58 is the art book Dali / Miró, text and notes by Paul H. Walton (New York: Tudor Publishing Company, 1967), which I still have somewhere in the vicinity.

Where did I find this book? No doubt I found it in the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, which I visited in downtown Buffalo regularly as a teenage nerd. If there was a 'new books' section in the literature departure, there is a chance I spotted it there, as the book was published in 1969. For the blank-slate mind of a teenager (of that time, anyway), what was long past (surrealism) and what was current seemed equally contemporary. I don't think this is true anymore, but it could have been the case back then. (I never thought of the Beats as outdated, for example.) Gins was never part of the surrealist movement, I know now, but taxonomies and boundaries may not matter so much. I am sure I had no way of measuring how innovative Word Rain was.

Reading the book may have been a blur back then, but the title alone combined with the vague memory of the kind of writing it was was enough to permanently post it in my mind.

The book is reportedly rare these days, but it has been freshly republished in toto as part of:

The Saddest Thing Is That I Have Had to Use Words: A Madeline Gins Reader, edited by Lucy Ives. Los Angeles: Siglio Press 2020. 327, [1] pp.

From the publisher's description:

Poet, philosopher, speculative architect and transdisciplinary artist, Madeline Gins is well known for her collaborations with her husband, the artist Arakawa, on the experimental architectural project Reversible Destiny, in which they sought to arrest mortality by transforming the built environment. Yet, her own writings—in the form of poetry, essays, experimental prose and philosophical inquiries—represent her most visionary and transformative work. Like Gertrude Stein before her, Gins transfigures grammar and liberates words. Like her contemporaries in conceptual art, her writing is attuned to the energized, collaborative space between reader and page. She invites the reader into a field of infinite, ever-multiplying possibility.

The Saddest Thing Is That I Have Had to Use Words: A Madeline Gins Reader is a revelatory anthology, edited and with an introduction by the writer and critic Lucy Ives. It brings never-before-published poems and essays together with a complete facsimile reproduction of Gins's 1969 masterpiece, WORD RAIN (or A Discursive Introduction to the Intimate Philosophical Investigations of G,R,E,T,A, G,A,R,B,O, It Says), along with substantial excerpts from her two later books What the President Will Say and Do!! (1984) and Helen Keller or Arakawa (1994). Long out of print or unpublished, Gins's poems and prose form a powerful corpus of experimental literature, one which is sure to upend existing narratives of American poetics at the close of the 20th century.

Notable among those who have praised this volume is African-American philosopher and conceptual artist Adrian Piper.

I have reproduced the table of contents of the Reader on another page and have added my constructed table of contents for Word Rain, whose pages were unnumbered in the 1969 edition:

Contents of "...A Madeline Gins Reader" (2020) & "Word Rain" (1969)

More about Madeline Gins and her work can be found here:

Madeline Gins - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

“Surviving Death with Madeline Gins: A Conversation with Paul Chan and Lucy Ives”
(The Classroom, Printed Matter Virtual Art Book Fair, 2/27/2021)

The lengthy interview preserved on YouTube highlights Gins's originality and her outlier status among the avant-gardes.

One gets a preview of how she conceived her work in the early, previously unpublished poems and essays. Word Rain is where she achieves her distinctive place in American literature.

Word Rain's unconventional literary and visual devices are legion: a picture of book cover, architectural diagram, algebraic formulas, logical notation, underscores indicating missing words for the reader to fill in (like a puzzle; one page consisting of such blanks except for the first and last word, 'read'), photographs of a thumb covering a portion of text, passages of text with strikethroughs, words underlined or capitalized, nonreferential sueprscripts and subscripts, unusual typography, quotations mostly from literary and philosophical works, an idiosyncratic lexicon, a page in all the words of the text are overlaid and illegible, and a graph. And then there is the discourse itself. Ives in her interview highlights the distinctive features of this work.

Reading this sort of text might devolve to word salad in a reader's eyes, and the average person may fail to absorb it all attentive to all its detail (in this I am not so far above average), but, however I reacted a half century ago, re-reading this a half century later, I find Gins's prose striking, eloquent, and not just random nonsense. The underscored missing words and strikethroughs often work to good effect.

A word now on metafiction, self-referential literature, and reflexivity. In a disapproving context I once said that self-reference is the last gasp of bourgeois thought, but that was then, it all depends. Literature about the nature of language, literature, writing, reading, editing, publishing, distribution, etc., can be done brilliantly, as was done by Italo Calvino. Gins's prose here imitates physical actions, there withdraws from them, here it is sensual, there abstract. The imagery and the flow are worth attending to. I can see why Gins had an effect on Ives's writing as she claims.

A few of the aforementioned devices (logical formulae, and the final chapter page consisting almost entirely of blank underscores) and the preoccupation with the physical as well as mental procedure of writing and reading can already be found in the first chapter. Here are the first four paragraphs (p. 89):

I induce a sly birth with my eyes the lines of creases. (Delete) I massage geometry with a scented oil. The maintenance of lips. The battles of containers. I speak in the midst of a sifted reticence. Over there in the center, I am imploded as the size of a fly. Words fall off the curls of nothing after I have left for the next moment.

I am folded into her. I am involved in the curves of her grey folds. I know how to use them. I know better now than at first but I knew then too. She moves as I shift. Words rain on a molded juncture which you might mistakenly call my head.

I fill her up at the typewriter. I move her femininely as befits her body. I take her with me. I introduce the tensile subject into her. I am her introduction to the room, to the word rain, to the waterfall pummeling down over membranous rocks. I find her room. I move in the damp ocean. Words cannot say how I am she.

I am not afraid to move. I am the judge. It is raining in the ocean. I am a river of hypotheses, categories and disjunctive relations. I pulled Aristotle taught. I wave them and words tumble out. They eddy into sentences with my meaning. Read this with me, read that with me, read me with me, read objects (tables,toes,toads,tails,tin,trains,type,tears,throat) read write read right. This is still life. Only I write and read. If you've misplaced me on your own, bring me up again from off this page.

The last sentence (p. 95) prior to the final, fill-in-the-blanks page of the chapter, is used for the title of this reader: "The saddest thing is that I have had to use words."

12 September 2021                   
Stanislaw Lem's 100th birthday

After the rain

I have just finished re-reading Word Rain. Among other things, I was curious to see if the sole passage I remembered from a half-century would show up again. It did, and I will quote the text more fully. But this is all I had remembered, big surprise:

“A woman is a human being with a vagina and breasts.” [p. 132]

I suspect, despite my highly selective memory, that this time around I read the rest of the text more attentively. My eyes still glazed over or rushed ahead at certain points, but I am sure I absorbed more this time around. Not all of the writing and typographical and other gimmicks leap out at me, but there are so many juicy passages, whether comprehensible or not, I cannot do justice to them by providing even a small portion of them. I will just mention a few that I noted.

For the most part I glossed over the algebraic equations, but here I scrutinized them and they are actually compute palpable irony and humor:

Co = conversation
S1 = first speaker      S2 = second speaker
SW = spoken word

      Co = (S1 - SW) + (S2 - SW)
      Co = S1(1 - W) + S2(1 - W)

Tel. no.: 485-8295

[p. 121]

We finally learn something about the subtitle:

Platforms can also be: G = grate or gas
                                    R = rostrum or reason
                                    A = attention or action
                                    E = energy   T = time   B = bush
                                    O = orbit

In this case a set (S) of platforms (p) would be:
Sp = G,R,E,T,A,G,A,R,B,O, — the name of a star.

[p. 125]

Reading and physicality constantly bleed into one another. For example:

I sat in my host’s library, eating and reading, as the sun shone through and then didn’t go on through while others took walks, knitted and studied. I took long, measured strides along the three-inch eye walks of the page, which led me to the home of four people who lived in the country. The faucet was dripping in there. It was shut off. My stomach bothered me, so I burped and felt better. [p. 128]

Vagina time!


I unfold a sentence. Out of the sphincter valve of each word comes the shorthand of a new sentence; And, here, in the defining mold which these sentences cast lies one flavor of my consciousness, perhaps vanilla.

Pearl (Kate,Judy,Ruth) came to visit and Lester (Maynard,Stephen,Allen) met her there later. Pearl is a woman’s name. A woman is a human being with a vagina and breasts. A name is the way someone or something is called. A human is an animal which can recognize itself. Being is an alert substance (or a suggestion of this). Breasts are soft milky mounds. Everything is (was) substance. Soft is the quality which substance has of giving in (even if only a little) to a touch. As I am the only one who will read this, as I am reading it now, I declare subvocally these words as sentences: is, a, with, vagina, the, way, someone, something, called, an, which, recognize, itself, suggestion, of, this, milky, mounds, are, quality, has giving, in (in expresses inclusion with relation to space,place,time,state,circumstances,manner,quality,substance, a class, a whole, etc.) even, only, little, to, touch, everything, alert, etc., man- ner, circumstances, state, time, place, space, relation, inclusion, express.

Came indicates a move which has been made toward the speaker in some way in the past. Move is substance changing its place. Speaker is substance through which talk comes. I am forced to take these thoughts onto the next page where it is still raining. [p. 132]

This illustrates the other features of the book I've noted as well. I suppose I've added a little to what I knew as a teenage boy.

15 September 2021                                        
25th anniversary of the death of Lisa Rogers

Rainwords keep falling on my head

I could quote endless intriguing passages, but here are some I noted while reading . . .

“Here's your sandwich," the man said as he put it down on the desk in front of me.

"Thank you."

I took a big bite of the crabmeat salad sandwich on white toast. The doorbell was ringing. The man rushed to the door motioning to me to just go right on with what I was doing.

“Mary Branerstein marries Mary Frank," I misread the first sentence on that page. The extruded words. Seated on the articulated banks of the stream of consciousness. A tall man walked into the room and sat down next to another man on the lap of the reader's cerebellum. Without a pause, a moment's hesitation, nothing could be seen. This time was a series of moments’ hesitations. Through the crevice produced by an intention's subdivision comes the vision of the natural life abundantly supplied. So much can be said with only the h slightest effort. Suddenly Bea said, “Why not play the radio. There is no time to waste. I have a terrible cold. Do you have an extra tissue? What time is it? I can't stand the weather lately."

One day someone leaned way out, across, far across his dimly lit reaches, through the mist of the mist, through the convenience of life, on the n back of attention, along the path of an arm, by the pulse of a particularized place, just far enough out to touch the person next to him (who was there) saying: You are a waste product like me.

[p. 120]

I will find it perfectly acceptable to skip this page (cage,rage,age,sage), on which the end of the sentence and its multiplication are brought to a logical conclusion for the sole purpose of bringing them into existence in this place. Met is to have been (be) near the same place with someone or something and to have been aware of this. Aware is the particularizing of alertness. Her refers to a woman (or a thing which is referred to as one) who has been mentioned, pointed out or agreed on before. To agree is to coordinate results. Later, indicates that time has passed between the event referred to and what went before. I leave the unrecognized words to you. It is later now at the end of the sentence than it was at the beginning. Later, the end of the book will be later. It is always later than you think. This is due to the greasy long division of time and thought and action and time.

[p. 135]

In this case a good idea which I have given you is to do the opposite of what I say in spite of yourself: please don't touch the book and no kissing. Think of others before you think of yourself. Don't think of your family and the danger they are in at every moment. This is not the place for that. Perhaps the best way you could help me now would be to disappear. Vanish. Don't read the next paragraph on this page. Forget that you have ever seen this book. Scream for every word you will not see. Perceive nothing. Lose track of me. Kill me. And I hope that I am assured that you will not read between the lines.

[p. 144]

Every word is on the page. It has been read. Several other words came after the first group. Sentences depict lines. Each word is being read next to another being read. In time, the page will be read.

Words are water soluble. This is clearly and moistly so. After all the reader is a reef in the blue-eyed Red Sea. (And all this belongs to an organic question, it says.)

The Whirlpool of the pivotal question subsides.
The mouth of the sea
Wet words peel oft the surface tension
Screams of air bubble up

and mumble through
the clear embolisms of symbols

C = carbon    O = oxygen    U = uranium    G = gold
H = hydrogen cough = COUGH

pH2ilOsOpHical investigatiOns

The gas mask reads in the mist = 7 = 24
Dream blood = 2 = 10
Word = 1 = 4
Instant water = 2 = l2

[p. 149]

She is raining
Moving a sensitive material
Soaking the craggy inner facing
It wasn't missed
The looseleaf body cloth
strung on solid limbs
Prints its address
with such a touching sight
dragging its presence horizontally
ounces of carbon shadow
before eyefall
a drying glove between the inside
and the outside hand in mist
just letters.
Headwinds and a light rain.

[p. 189]

17 September 2021

What the President Will Say and Do!! (1984)

This was my first time reading this. The preface juxtaposes the concepts of planned economy, presidents, shamans, Mallarmé and Octavio Paz. “What the President Will Say and Do!!” begins with a section consisting of exotic one-liners in capital letters, the type of prose Gins is known for. “The Leader I.” and “The Leader II.” are narratives, sort of. “A Sisterly Thesaural Dictionary: Notes for a Guidebook to the Fictional Exercises of the Dictionary” yields a list of Gins-esque definitions for each word. “How to Breathe” has something to do with breathing, and then there are more dictionary entries.

The final section of “All Men are Sisters” is for me the most thought-stimulating section of the book excerpted in this volume, i.e. “Brief Autobiography of a Non-Existent.” There are several subsections in this. The section “Position” begins thusly:

Having nothing to fear or gain, found free to express with nothing to express, it develops that the universe will become bombarded at random with particles that look like “I”. These, probability mouths to the dead weight which recounts, these will in all likelihood enter the unrecognizable consciousnesses and establish the distance. I leaned against nothing. The “I”, pelted and whirred from beyond any collection of intelligence, started to write. (One of many phrases which “I” picked up.) [p. 287]

And then we have the most unusual and not entirely sequential chronology in four sections. We learn that in 1913 the narrator was not born and her mother never existed, in 1918 she did not begin to masturbate, in 1928 her mother never had an affair with James Joyce, same in 1935, in 1930 she didn't make preparations to pass through the birth canal, in 1935 she was not molested by a retarded nephew, and so on.

This section gave me some ideas.

20 September 2021

Contents of "...A Madeline Gins Reader" (2020) & "Word Rain" (1969)

Review: Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler
by R. Dumain

The First Good Meta-Novel?:
review by R. Dumain

Books read to 1984: transcribed book lists
by R. Dumain

Reflexivity & Situatedness Study Guide

Surrealism: Selected Links


Madeline Gins - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Surviving Death with Madeline Gins: A Conversation with Paul Chan and Lucy Ives
(The Classroom, Printed Matter Virtual Art Book Fair, 2/27/2021)

Adrian Piper Research Archive Foundation Berlin

Home Page | Site Map | What's New | Coming Attractions | Book News
Bibliography | Mini-Bibliographies | Study Guides | Special Sections
My Writings | Other Authors' Texts | Philosophical Quotations
Blogs | Images & Sounds | External Links

CONTACT Ralph Dumain

Uploaded 12 September 2021
Additions 15 & 17 September 2021