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(On Reading The Architecture of Chance by Christodoulos Makris )

Engineer the falling into your hands of an arbitrary envelope.

– Christodoulos Makris (1)

No-one can be totally blamed for anything. This is one of the few conclusions I've allowed myself since I started to disallow myself conclusions. There are too many factors heaped upon and around any single moment or any single act for a single agent to be named. Every little thing is to blame. Let's punish everything. Or, in the case of an agreed positive or impressive act, let's praise everything. In the end it all evens out and there's nothing to do but observe and attempt a constructive approach. Here is the perceptible agent; everywhere, nebulously, the team / theme.

Contemplation is the utterly impersonal awareness of the essence of the thing observed.

– Christmas Humphreys (2)

Rilke had ‘object poems’, Ezra Pound and the imagists gave themselves to the ‘thing’; but what could be less personal than the ‘found poem’, which gathers material available in the environment and pieces it together either randomly or mathematically? Then again, even if the writer is seen as merely the conduit, any container or dispenser, however brainy, is an entity with a history. Everything lives. What can be described as random, in that case? The random may be simply (or complexly) an order we can't apprehend. Contemplation, in the sense of choosing a space within which to focus, may be the design principle in these poems.

Chance orders faces like someone
arranging a hasty bouquet...

– Christodoulos Makris (3)

There's very little chance in this poem, though chance is what it describes. Three possible nouns in the first line enforce a semantic double-take. The translation follows the sonnet structure of the Rilke original and, presumably, its irony. A planned engagement with chance, like the title of the collection.

The Architecture of Chance opens with a quote from Siegfried Kracauer, which elucidates the book's recurring themes. The reader is immediately in discovery mode. The matter of chance in urban life is one of the salient streams, if not in architectural terms, certainly in terms of culture and communication.

In Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, Marco Polo says that cities in themselves have no power for him, only in the stories constructed about them. Christodoulos Makris is less inclined to give us stories than to offer evidence without conclusion or the construction of a meaningful plot. Anaïs Nin, who wrote many descriptions of cityscapes, said: 'I never described a city for its own sake but immediately had to find what its spiritual qualities were.' (4)

There's nothing spiritual in this book, I am inclined to say, but is that really so? If 'spirit' means, essentially, 'breath-in-itself', well yes, that's certainly here, in pure form, a distinguishable, immanent, coherent breath. ('Scales' taking us from A to Z in a verbal seesaw). If 'spirit' means what is not the body, I don't think that's here at all. The body is all there is, without attempt to impose a philosophy. If there's any philosophy, it's probably this:

Language tells all.
It's as close to a god as we'll ever get. (5)

These lines link surprisingly with Clive James's view as quoted in a Sunday Times interview—as if both arise from the same question and only diverge some distance along the path. God as possible organising principle:

[Poetry's] true purpose... is to reveal the divine nature of the language in which it is written. Its mere existence proves that there can be patterns in the chaos. (6)

Whatever about subjective concepts, attention is necessarily selective, and there is a distinct political focus on the uses and abuse of power, although it's conveyed by means of reported observation. There's either no subjective voice or an ambivalent one. There's plenty of encryption.  I'm interested to find myself relaxed in this environment, I who love direct revelations. I think it's because I know I'm in the presence of a mathematician and chess player, and even though I'm not good at puzzles, I enjoy the element of play, especially as I can see that the games are well-constructed and any effort will not be fruitless. My favourite is 'Why I Live in Egypt', which is a series of reinterpretations of an original paragraph found in The Irish Times. The original words and phrases are re-written according to possible definitions and alternative meanings, until the paragraph takes on quite a different complexion. It's as if the text were being run through a paranoid decoding programme.

Is the mind not offensive precisely because it symbolizes the refusal of this necessary insanity, keeping one's head while the others are losing their breath?

– Alain de Botton (7)

Alain de Botton is referring to the progress of a love affair, which he examines in meticulous, if didactic, detail in Essays in Love. Whenever I hear or read Christodoulos Makris, I'm struck by the absence of the kind of emotional hooks that are so often demanded by an audience. What is is. No more. It can feel unsettling to have so little direction, but it's faithful to the unreliability of all interpretation. Once one has overcome the 'anxiety of contingency' (8) one can enjoy the restless, changing world of impressions and be calm within their contradictions.

The most destructive eruptions of the past half millennium were fuelled not by resources but by ideologies....

– Stephen Pinker (9)

These poems are a direct product of the technological, digital age of constant communication, and manifest the kind of intellectual distance we find in a generation educated to read the codes in all human intercourse. They are, in this way, cool, and might take some adjustment for a casual reader. On adjustment, one might find a lot of pleasure in the simple, though affectively complex, juxtapositions in such exercises as listing all the four letter words in Seamus Heaney's Death of a Naturalist. There's no meaning as you read these, or is there?

The most that can be said of significance is that it characterizes one regime, which is not even the most interesting or modern or contemporary one, but is perhaps only more pernicious, cancerous and despotic than the others, and more steeped in illusion than they.

– Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (10)

The Architecture of Chance is a cultural panorama. References are made to be pursued. Poetry should inform. There was a time when poetry was the main receptacle of historical knowledge. Its role now is generally more interpretative, but in Makris territory there's a trove of implicit suggestions: try this film, look at this painter. There's no anxiety of influence here, no mysterious lone, tortured writer. In the best spirit of our collaborative age, other voices are acknowledged in the genesis and structure of the work. To quote another reflection on love:

To have dismantled one's self in order finally to be alone and meet the true double at the other end of the line. A clandestine passenger on a motionless voyage.

– Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (11)

Christodoulos Makris might not have dismantled himself, but his poetic voice certainly has, and what's left glows with a clear, intense, subtly reliable light.

I told her then, of my reading the landscape the way I read the sky when I was a child. Stuck with logos from the start, that was me. The world as untranslatable language.

– Daniel Stern (12)




(1) 'Safe as Houses, 3', The Architecture of Chance, Dublin: Wurm Press, 2015
(2) Zen, A Way of Life, Teach Yourself Books, 1992
(3) 'The Group', after Rilke, opus cit.
(4) from 'Out of the Labyrinth: An interview', East West Journal, 1974. Re-printed in In Favour of the Sensitive Man, London: W. H. Allen & Co. Plc, 1989, p. 77
(5) 'Safe as Houses, 1: Language', opus cit.
(6) Sunday Times: News Review, 26th April 2015, p. 4
(7) Essays in Love, London: Picador, 1994, p. 51
(8) Alain de Botton: opus ibid., p. 11
(9) The Better Angels of Our Nature, London: Allen Lane, 2011, p. 814
(10) One Thousand Plateaus, London: Continuum, 2012, p. 76
(11) opus ibid.
(12) The Suicide Academy, quoted in Anaïs Nin, 'Review of The Suicide Academy, by Daniel Stern', in The Village Voice, 10 October 1968. Re-printed in In Favour of the Sensitive Man, p.88

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