American (post): what’s with 49 & 7? (December 2011)

49 Ko/Revolution

When I began this project, it was strictly a poetry project. I wasn’t yet thinking of translation-objects and building boxes to house them, but I was already thinking in terms of planes, and specifically squares. I knew that, in addition to making plane-poems, I wanted the entire collection to create a plane, to form a square of some sort. I figured that the number of poems could provide the basis for the collection’s plane. To form the square that I envisioned, I would write a specified number of poems that had an interesting square root and made a square that resonated with the questions and themes I was exploring.

Contemporary poetry books in the U.S. tend to have a minimum of forty-five pages and to max out at about eighty pages. Since none of my plane-poems would be longer than a page, I would be able to fit into the standard book range, and also form a square, by adopting the squares of 7 or 8, which is to say, by planning to write either forty-nine or sixty-four poems.

I first considered creating a collection of sixty-four poems, but I don’t really like its square root, the number 8, nor did I like the fact that both 64 and 8 are even numbers. I wanted something with a center. I wanted something odd. Still, a friend pointed out that 64 is “Wei Chi/Before Completion (Not Yet Fording)” in the I Ching, and as such provides a hopeful close to the I Ching system. Hope might seem like a potentially good note on which to premise my exploration of “America” and “Americanness.” Further, alternative thinkers like José Argüelles, John Major Jenkins, and Jay Weidner staked out wildly fertile territory for 64 and transformation during the current era, and ethnobotanist, shaman, philosopher, and psychedelic guru, Terence McKenna, had made claims to interesting correspondences between the I-Ching, the 64 codons in human DNA, and theories of coherence, which had contemporary American (broadly defined across the Americas) cultural referents and resonances that might add interesting twists to my efforts to explore and explode the binary oppositions informing dominant discourses about “America” and “American.” I had to argue my way out of writing sixty-four poems.

49 plane-poems

It turns out, however, that the argument with myself wasn’t tough to win in the end. For McKenna, sixty-four was about the “omega point,” or the end of time, and thus not directly relevant to my vision for this project. I wanted American (post) to be about encounter and transformation. I found that 49 and 7 made a compelling case as the obvious choices to shape this collection.  In the I Ching, 49 is “Ko/Revolution or Radical Change (Molting or Skinning)” and 7 is “Shih/The Army (Leading).” Moreover, when I did a Wikipedia search for 7, I discovered pages and pages of global referents for 7 that spanned disciplines, religions, history, art, and natural phenomena.

The magic square situation sealed the deal. According to the Wiki-word, magic squares likely hit the scene sometime in the 7th century in both the Arab and Chinese worlds, ultimately made it into the Western world in the 14th century, and continue to find application in various circles including an art history class on spirituality in modern art that I took the first semester of my doctoral program at UGA. With magic squares, horizontal, vertical, and diagonal sums are equal and are called the magic constant. According the the Magic Square Museum, the magic constant of a 7×7 magic square is 175, and a 7×7 square is the Venus Magic Square, which is associated with the metal bronze. Here’s one way the 7×7 square shakes out:


















































Thus, to “revolution” and “army,” I added “Venus,” goddess of love, and “bronze,” a resonant metal, whose age kicked off the trajectory of human existence and experience that I locate at the heart of the binaries I’m interested in. To top it all off, the sum of all the numbers in this square can somehow add up to a triangle, which is useful, because not only do three points create a plane, but they also create a triangle, and according to Nichomachus of Gersa,  as quoted from a book on sacred geometry by Michael S. Schneider, which sound therapist and wellness educator, Eileen McKusick lent me, “the Triad is the form of the completion of all things.” With a Venus Square in play, it turns out that I might be able (required?) to grapple with both revolution and completion in the same experiment. It seems that I’ve hit the mother lode of useful referents with 49 and 7, and that’s what’s with the number choice.

Bright Neon Caveat:

Don’t be fooled by careful sentences, attribution conventions, and degree-in-progress. Most of my choices for this project are essentially guided by artistic inclination and inspiration, plus a healthy dose of serendipity. They arise out of the soup around me and from instincts and intuition that I cannot necessarily source. They are most certainly not the product of intellectual rigor. Most of the thinking, when it occurs, is about and in response to the creative process. So, that’s where you come in…

An Invitation:

As you experience the evolution of this project, and if and when it raises questions for you or calls to mind books, art, history, happenings, and other references that you deem relevant, please share them with me via the comment options on the Contact page of this site and/or following each dispatch about the project. I look forward to hearing from you.


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