Posted in Glit Lit

On Hydrogen Jukeboxes and the Uses of Not

René Magritte’s “Homesickness,” 1940



René Magritte didn’t have much patience with folks who questioned the meaning of his paintings. He said: People who look for symbolic meanings fail to grasp the inherent mystery of the image. No doubt they sense this mystery, but they wish to get rid of it.

Why does that tease my imagination? Two surprising objects side by side, newsprint on a canvas, fur on a teacup, man with wings and a disinterested lion, and I’m digging around in an old glass dump or a seedy antique shop looking for stuff I can glue onto wood. I love this feeling. It’s like being inside a hydrogen jukebox. (Huh?)

The problem is to reach the different parts of the mind that are existing simultaneously, the different associations which are going on…choosing elements from both, like jazz, jukebox, and all that, and we have the jukebox from that; politics, hydrogen bomb, and we have the hydrogen from that.” Ginsberg believed disparate words stuck together make a gap where the mind might experience essence—something he called the “sensation of existence.” Ginsberg loved his readers. He loved getting them high.

evening moon—

pond snails singing

in the kettle

Kobayashi Issa

My perennial obsession with the mysterious “in between” started up again recently when my partner invited me to dance between the notes with her. She (not so much I) moved elegantly to the ghost notes of a Goapele remix as if she inhabited the negative space. I ran several YouTube marathons looking for a sample of what that looks like, and I found lots of dancing on the notes (see “More” below), but no really good looks at dancing between them, so I finally cheated. In the first video Marina Kanno and Giacomo Bevilaqua are moving in slowmo to Radiohead. (It looks very similar to my partner—without toe shoes, wind machine, and tutu.) In the second, Bill T. Jones moves between words.


Music is the silence between the notes—Claude Debussy

It’s the space between the bars that holds the tiger. (Zen saying)


The Uses of Not”


Thirty spokes meet in the hub,

but the empty space between them

is the essence of the wheel.

Pots are formed from clay,

but the empty space between it

is the essence of the pot.

Walls with windows and doors form the house,

but the empty space within it

is the essence of the house.

–Lao Tse, author of the Tao Te Ching, 4th century B.C., China


Poets have played with the essence between words since Mallarmé gave us “A roll of the dice will never abolish chance” (1897). Some compose in spaces large as a Chilean glacier or small as an instant, releasing boundaries of culture and other arbitrary lines of separation.

Cecilia Vicuña, from Instan



turns the page

the poem begins.

alba del habla, the dawn of speech.

–Cecilia Vicuña, from Instan

There’s a word in Japanese I love—Ma. Roughly translated it means gap or interval or “the space between two structural parts,” and there’s actually no corresponding word in English. Ma is not something that is created by compositional elements [it’s not simply negative space]; it is the thing that takes place in the imagination of the human who experiences these elements…an intensification of vision.

A “sensation of existence.”


El silencio que queda entre dos palabras
(The silence that lingers between two words)

no es el mismo silencio que envuelve una cabeza cuando cae,
(is not the same silence that surrounds a head that falls,)

ni tampoco el que estampa la presencia del árbol
(nor that which marks the presence of a tree)

cuando se apaga el incendio vespertino del viento.
(when the wind’s evening fire at last stills.)

–Roberto Juarroz, from “El silencio que queda entre dos palabras”

That wild silence, that “not” between words we fall into may be exquisite, profane, untranslatable, or it may simply be filled with Edgar Allen Poe in a football jersey and cleats—an image, in my opinion, that is long overdue.

Poet Tom Raworth’s collage doodle of Edgar Allen Poe, “NEW Poetry”




René Magritte:

Allen Ginsberg: Interview by Thomas Clark, The Paris Review (Spring, 1966)

Dancing on the beat:


Cecilia Vicuña: and


Tom Raworth’s collages and doodles.



Dedicated to the people of Japan.

Maureen Seaton, 4/4/11

3 thoughts on “On Hydrogen Jukeboxes and the Uses of Not

  1. i speak in the food between my teeth, hoping for gaps. don’t mind the odor. (link to class blog; neil doesn’t let one post unless logged in and that’s the only blog in which i appear as myself, in disguise).

  2. Ciao, Gio,

    You look awesome in your invisible disguise!

    Very souffle, very Chateau Lafite, very tout le monde.

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