Monday, April 30, 2007

Tensegrity and Flop

Forsythia and Shed

Susan Sontag in “Photography: A Little Summa” (At the Same Time: Essays and Speeches, 2007): “Photography is . . . a way of seeing. It is not seeing itself.” And: “The modern way of seeing is to see in fragments. It is felt that reality is essentially unlimited, and knowledge is open-ended. It follows that all boundaries, all unifying ideas have to be misleading, demagogic; at best, provisional; almost always, in the long run, untrue.” And: “In the modern way of knowing, there have to be images for something to become ‘real.’” Which, under some kind of logic-gird’d culpability’d make seeing the “real” itself possible only with the intervention of—through the lens of—a camera, and then, only fragmentarily. Akin to the argument that says one cannot “see” anything if one lacks the word for it (or, to put some positive English on that cueball, one “sees” only what language allows.) (Which, being the genial muddler I am when it comes to logic, must mean that speech preceded sight, no?) I shouldn’t attempt to jot notes amidst another note-jottings. A dodderer’s half-wittedness unbecomes me. Language is a terrific unbecoming for us sky-borne billions . . .

In the yard, sun streaking westward, high-ballin’ it, inbetwixt me poking at the torch’d carcass of a flightless bird, I read a little Hugh Kenner out of Bucky: A Guided Tour of Buckminster Fuller. Kenner insists that a talk (“late 1967,” though he’d encounter’d the Dymaxion World Map—correcting the polar distortions of the Mercator—in Life magazine in 1943) by Fuller “solved for me, that week, a book called The Pound Era I had been trying to think out for years and was suddenly able to start writing.” Kenner points, too, to the rather Fulleresque axioms he’d suss’d out for the earlier book, The Poetry of Ezra Pound:
In a book I wrote about Pound in 1949 I did manage a couple of intuitive axioms. One was that the same law governs the whole and the parts. If you can understand how a man fits a sentence together, you have a model for his way of building larger units. That was one glimpse of a continuity.

My other axiom was that everything functions as the context of everything else. This implied a difficulty I couldn’t solve, since it seemed to leave no secure reference points to start from. I affirmed it anyway, because it let me say what seemed true, that an ambitious project can be sustained without what book-reviewers mean by “structure”: a framework of narrative, a framework of logic, something foursquare to which the elements are fitted like clapboards and shingles. I might have adduced geodesics if I’d known about them, but in 1949 only Fuller and a few of his students did. They were playing with the concept at Black Mountain College, likewise unknown, and the Dome patent lay five years in the future.
Which, muddle’d dodderer, gets me “thinking.” One definition of “geodesic” (out of Kenner’s “Glossary,” append’d) is: “The most economical relationship between two energy events.” Which sounds like the way a metaphor works—two language events (“words”) put into fast (though not necessarily stable—energies do fall off) relation. (“Event,” according to the glossary: “A unit of attention.”) If several units of attention get put into “a recognizable set of relationships,” one’s got a “pattern.” “If its elements sustain one another under stress it is said to be self-interfering. (Example: an overhand knot.)” Another example one’d wager that Kenner’d add: Pound’s Cantos.

The other thing I think about: what would a poem structured like a geodesic dome look like, or act like? Nodular events, rhizomic gatherings, minor tensional planes? What would a poem as tensegrity structure look like? (“Tensegrity: Tensional integrity, as in the earth-moon tug or a spider web amid branches. A tensegrity structure is a continuous tension network with compressional stiffeners. It is independent of outside anchorage, and stable in any position.” Kenner provides simple instructions for building such a baffler out of dowel, screw eyes, and wire.) I go back to the notional frameworks of the “book-reviewers.” If one considers the longer poems of modernity, is it only Pound’s that fits outside the “foursquare to which the elements are fitted like clapboards and shingles”?

Hum. Paterson’s man : city schematic makes for two sturdy facing walls. “A”’s “round”-edness, its insistent (even if complicated, irregular) musical structure. Gunslinger’s narrative, botch’d and brim-philosophickal, narrative nonetheless. The Alphabet’s semiotic abecedarian narrative—as shapely and predictable as a sonnet’s, one knows (soon’s one “hits,” say, “Demo,” if not before) exactly where it’ll pan out. (Even a sonnet’ll hold “back” its identity for, oh, eight lines—“only the volta knows for sure”—over a moiety of the piece.) It’s possible that My Life’s structure’s close to a tensegrity—the way it is capable of absorbing “events”—sentences—(and did, between its initial Burning Deck (1980) incarnation and its later (1987) Sun & Moon version). Polyhedral facets more sided, nodes more link’d.

Kenner (on Bucky): “I don’t attempt a ‘life.’ The documents are so copious the biographer will be years absorbing them.” Scuttling with gusto my project’d group biography of Marshall McLuhan, Hugh Kenner, Buckminster Fuller, and Guy Davenport . . . (That bird’s nearly fired and I’m back inside for another “compressional stiffener.”)

R. Buckminster Fuller with Elaine de Kooning and Josef Albers, Summer 1948
(Photograph by Beaumont Newhall)

Friday, April 27, 2007

A Cloudy Day

Some Clouds

Drenching rain, and I fuddle with photographs—my propensity for the miniature, the close-up, an exclusionary tactic. And noting how I rid the photographs of green. (Landscapes invariably turn’d into black and whites.) I used to quarrel with a painter I know: how impossibly difficult green is! How wrong it is when daub’d up, mere paint! Green stays in greenery, period! How there is no painting that’d not be “better off” without green!

I go off looking for Gerard Manley Hopkins riff about varieties of green—Hopkins’s notebooks all about the slenderest differences, in colors, in shapes. A fearsome intensity of looking in the man: “. . . such clouds anvil-shaped pink ones and up-blown fleece-of-wool flat-topped dangerous-looking pieces.” Elsewhere he writes of a “shires-long of pearled cloud under cloud, with a grey stroke underneath marking each row.” Which I always think is source and kin to Ashbery’s “sky full of clouds, clouds upon clouds” in “Poem in Three Parts” (Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror). And Hopkins’s “during dinner I talked too freely and unkindly and had to do penance going home” in that entry—23 July 1874—kin, too, to Ashbery’s “‘Once I let a guy blow me. / I kind of backed away from the experience’” in the clouds piece. (Or possibly not. “It’d be pretty to think so.”)

I go off to find the Ashbery. “Poem in Three Parts” is nothing like I recall. (Frankly, I recall’d it titled “Two Poems”—one cloudy outburst, one wry sex report: “‘Probably if the circumstances were right / It could happen again, but I don’t know, / I just have other things to think about, / More important things.’” Which is what I do so like about memory: how wrong it is! How it rearranges its scraps—it’s allow’d so little!—in ways unfathomable and proper to itself!) Then (same poem):
Nameless shrubs running across a field
That didn’t drain last year and
Isn’t draining this year to fall short
Like waves at the end of a lake,
Each with a little sigh,
Are you sure this is what the pure day
With its standing light intends:
There are so many different job:
It’s sufficient to choose one, or a fraction of one.
Though of course it never is. Which is why one bounces so, like light, off clouds. “To fall short / Like waves at the end of a lake”: I intend to keep that particular awkwardness with me for many years to come.

Thinking lately—potting about in a soil’d copy of Ronald Blythe’s Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village, an invent’d place in East Suffolk, not invent’d, veil’d, where Blythe lived and took the stories—seemingly verbatim—of its people:
I find great caginess when I am canvassing. If I ask outright I get nowhere. People will tell you what they wish you to know about themselves but it is usually something different to what you want to know about them. They are strict about this and cannot be persuaded to add any fact which they think better withheld.
The book is dated 1969. The village population figure (298, being “146 males, 152 females”) is dated 1961. A sense of the village through its houses:
Two sixteenth-century cottages made of wattle and daub. The wattles were the hazel-branch infilling between the oak posts. One of these cottages is the only thatched dwelling left in the village.
And: “Six seventeenth-century cottages. Stud and plaster.” “Twenty-four eighteenth-century cottages. Stud and plaster, clapboard and brick.” “Twenty-three nineteenth-century cottages and houses, nearly all of local brick.” Blythe notes, too, the twelve houses built post-WWII, “mainly since 1950.” How one’d love to return—forty or so years on—and redo the book, update the stories. One chapter—properly late in the book—is a portrait of Blythe himself, call’d “The Poet”:
I think that living in the country, for all their sentimental denials, is something which is held in contempt by most people today. They believe that one has opted out of a concern for all kinds of problems. The country is where one doesn’t get on. But if I was interested in getting on, as it is called, I wouldn’t be a poet.
And, later: “City life fragments a man. He is not complete when the reminders of the great natural complex of which he is a part are absent. The business of poetry is to mend the fragmentation which occurs when men forget their place in the natural creation.” Of the poetry of “city poets,” Blythe writes: “I sometimes think that it is informed by an improper, a Satanic fury. And with clever words disguising the lack of wonder.” Probably quaint, all that—quaint as the word quaint is, that is, in ordinary use meaning, quite robustly “skilled, ingenious, clever, &c.” up to the seventeenth century, and now rather limitedly meaning “rare, rusticatedly pretty, disdained, &c.” I doubt it’s possible to any splendid degree to avoid the fragmenting caused by “city life,” the way it permeates us now—the electronickal heft and miniature of it zinging us in its constant antic round.

Ah, spring, how it greens up my inherent hermitry, how, in cloud-cache’d sun I’d set forth, though not with such a troupeau ’s the Canterbury gang, not with a single soul at all:
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages),
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages . . .
Yes, that’s exactly what I am “thinking lately—”

Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343-1400)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Nether Prose

Porch and Line

Here’s something. I browse the bookshelves, find a slim paperback, A Writer’s Day-Book by Ronald Blythe (Trent Editions, 2006). Drawn by the title, likely. Thumbing it I see it looks rather like a book of shortish essays—thinking a “day-book” ought to toss up a various mess, some minuscule lyrical buds, some gappy whitenesses, notes. (Like that Creeley with A Day Book enter’d my consciousness, even though I mostly ignored Creeley, found the little scrip he offer’d too little, a penny left in the street.) Contents: Francis Kilvert the diarist, Thomas Traherne, several John Clare pieces, “Coleridge at Nether Stowey,” all enough to parcel the thing home in the rain.

And sit with it a little. I read the “Foreword” that begins:
A day-book is a document showing the profits and losses of every twenty-four hours. A poet friend advised me to keep one when I first encountered the bewildering economy of the writer, and so I have. ‘Put everything down’, he said. ‘The total will surprise you.’ And so it does.
What I think I am responding to is a kind of modesty, precision without pedantry, clarity, grace. (Which is wholly opposed to “my” “style”—swashbuckling, torturous, smart-alecky, overwrought, you supply the derogatories, how about “fluffy”?) Look here, Blythe’s opening paragraph to a piece about Laurie Lee, author of, among other things, the autobiographical As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning:
The stint of vagabondage and the romance of the open road were at their zenith in 1914, the year Laurie Lee was born. Vain were the attempts of squire, parson and the local press to stem what was called ‘the flight from the land’. This wholesale rural exodus was created primarily by the great farming depression which was well set-in by the early twentieth century. It would dominate village life until the second world war. Young men just walked off the farms to the towns, and out of their ancient traditions, leaving behind a kind of beautiful inertia beloved of watercolourists, a penniless scene of ‘tile-spilling farms’, as Lee put it.
Lee left the village of Slad in Gloucestershire, went to London, went to Spain, walk’d and play’d violin, eventually join’d the International Brigades to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Austere prose stylist himself, they say.

Trying to identify why I find Blythe’s paragraph such a satisfyingly made thing. (I toy with the possibility it is the used-up farmland itself that I respond to, inertia’s slow seep into decay, a kind of landscape I love, be it rural or urban, rust and wreck. Writerly landscapes, landscape-identify’d writers: is my regard for Merrill Gilfillan’s precise details of place—particularly flora and fauna—owed to some concurrency of place, or to the depicting itself?) Blythe’s first sentence probably holds one hint—the way its rhythm goes, made possible by a tiny inversion. Look: Vain were the attempts of squire, parson and the local press to stem what was called ‘the flight from the land’ stripped bare:
Vain . . . attempts . . . to stem . . . the flight
—a core tetrameter, short-e nasals holding the middle territory, a diphthong’d long-a with i and a straight long-i posed as outriders. Somehow, thinking about prose rhythms I always come back to a letter Baxter Hathaway wrote to some New York publisher who’d shipped the bookshop at Ithaca House some unask’d for junk, Georgette Heyer or something. The letter began: “What this is we do not know.” Again, a tiny inversion making emphatic, making a chiding, thrusting the culprit—Heyer—forth.

If it’s the prose itself that puts Blythe forth for me as somebody to investigate—it is, too, a stance. Here, he clearly identifies with the John Clare he is writing about:
As most people did during the early nineteenth century, John Clare possessed a voice for those who could read and write, and for those who could not. We find in him no condemnation of illiteracy but a ferocious condemnation of ‘clowns’, that Shakespearian term for rustic fools. What riled Clare was their downright refusal to see what lay before their eyes and which did not require learning to identify it, a flower, a bird, any sight which carried with it feeling and intelligence. For such proudly ignorant neighbours he had nothing but rage. It was they who brought the peasantry into common mockery and who created its stereotypes. . . . Clowns existed in every class, shedding their blindness in all directions. Whether they were literate or not never came into it.
And I, with my meagre ferocity, identify with it too—contempt for the incurious, the willfully blind (in the name of combating some “cultural hegemony” or other), those stuck in the mires of terminal endless irony, and the ones who refuse to look beyond that that is somehow sanction’d, by the proud crowd, by the plodding repetitious “authorities,” by the scat-singing of “theory,” or by the clown-boosterism of vacuous (or vicious) clowns.

Laurie Lee (1914-1997)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Grand Piano Notes

Slot and Scribble

In the second booklet of The Grand Piano Bob Perelman suddenly strikes me as the least cautious (or most volatile) of the writers “present.” He unleashes—though almost “sighingly”—a querulous interrogatory, one that runs a gamut of quotables, dives into parody, refuses the terms of the memoir contract (“I don’t live with memories on any daily basis, I flee from them I suppose you could say”), admits to envy, regrets the violence overweening judgment: Perelman comes off finally as rather “likeable”—if there’s any place left for that kind of term in the poetry of these States.

Confusions. Perelman, early in the piece, riffs on the “present”—Pound pretending to present himself at Fascisti readiness, Perelman’s sense of how the cynical carpe diem of advertising makes mockery of “the present” (so, too, the “new”). Perelman: “‘Present’ is a trashed public word, like ‘love’ . . .” (Isn’t that what Stein’s saying about “rose”—“in that line the rose is red for the first time in English poetry for a hundred years”? Is the task of writing to make tangible the present or to make a kind of tempus simultaneous, all time compress’d into one available moment, time as overlay and scrim.) And Perelman: “The present (involving writers and readers) is only reachable via intermittent social syntheses.” Which bounces off the backboard and rim of discourse and refuses to drop, a way of saying, hunh?

Though, too, Perelman writes: “The present in writing is what I write to find (and read to find as well).” Which seems inaccurate somehow—the “present in writing,” isn’t that only the industry (and mortifying dullness) of something like Kenneth Goldsmith’s systematic transcription of every niggle and twitch of a blessed Day? Isn’t the “state” of writing one beyond time (something that’s man’s invention, anyways), back into the primal muck of the earliest gathering plasmic sensates? I insist it is, though “one” may be compell’d to writing by a determination to arrest time.

The past? Not a Perelman staple. He goes all Yeatsian in the first attempt:
So when I first slouched toward the memory shelf I came up with “a solitary scene, walking up Potrero Hill, smelling coffee roasting, tasting the lacy green tips of the anise weeds that irregularly line the empty sidewalks,” phrases that belong in a little souvenir snowglobe.
Or in one of Ron Silliman’s one-note-Johnny “Language is eyes” barrages of systematic BART-accessible viddy-items.

With all the talk of Frank O’Hara (and Ted Berrigan’s sopping up of O’Hara’s tics), one wonders a little if Perelman went off to California to avoid the pitfalls of the giddy New York School vortex. (Sadly, no mention of Ann Arbor—I swear Perelman spent some period here, though he mentions only Rochester and Iowa City. Overlapping, say, Perelman did, just to date things funnily, Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen in the pre-Austin, Texas days?)

What’s “likeable” is Perelman’s refusal of portent, that fatback that slides on its own greasy self-import. He writes, “against the great bust-throughs into the eternal moment: 12:20 New York 1959; Zurich-Trieste-Paris, 1914-21”:
I don’t want to drag a mythy past and magic place around like a weedy anchor. We were finding the poetic present and riding and undermining its most recent manifestations, including our own.
Which is almost as refreshing as Joan Baez in the Rolling Thunder Revue (1975) album scolding someone in the crowd: “Couple of what?” she says to a muffled shout, likely regarding her and Dylan “reunited,” and warns emphatically: “Don’t make myths.” (Patti Smith’s “I don’t fuck much with the past, but I fuck plenty with the future”—that, too, sizzles across the brainpan, though it “regularly” does.)

Two tiny quotes out of Perelman:
One of the characteristics that was so lively and occasionally daunting about our scene for me was the instantaneity of judgment, and the violence of that. Suddenly certain poems and poets were pronounced to be awful. There were also enthusiasms, of equal intensity. It was compelling watching these ferocious judgments being hurled. Ah, this was what it was like to live in the present.
Violence of stuporous intensity was going on then and is going on now. The poetry wars share a vocabulary to be sure: public attacks, sniping remarks, kneecapping reviews, etc. But no particular heroism inheres in the vocabulary.
Complicated. What particular can inhere in a vocabulary? Can violence inhere in a vocabulary? I’m interest’d in the border-patrolling of “pronounced to be awful” set against the sense of vitality (“live in the present”). Scent of battle waking one to life? Does that same scent make for literature? Is literature condemn’d to be a featurette of some mal-submerged boyish blood-lust?

For those of you with page-bulging wooden clipboards—like coaches, like swim instructors!—collecting sheets cover’d with “for the nonce” Google-smutch and drip, ready with the gluesticks and C-clamps, some words of Holger Schulze, out of “Hand-Luggage: For a Generative Theory of Artifacts”:
. . . the limitations of our work are already established before we set out. . . . Even if we work randomly—or by destructing, disorganizing, decomposing, deconstructing—we cannot possibly transcend these limits. We can only use sources, which are also artifacts in themselves and thus products designed very much on purpose. By choosing certain materials or products we automatically choose their underlying intentions.
“Bracket” them there materials howsoever one “desires,” the stains of they borning’ll still show through . . .

Commander Cody

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Grand Piano Notes

Crockery and Bust

A couple of vernally skew’d days and the maples proceed to shake out the little green handkerchiefs, still pressed for now, pinched by winter’s upfoldings. A silly way to talk, gulping up the morning’s airs, clean of its usual carrion of fume and exhaust. Somewhere Hannah Arendt quotes Hume, how he’d “remarked that the whole of human civilization depends upon the fact that ‘one generation does not go off the stage at once and another succeed, as is the case with silkworms and butterflies.’” Though she suggests that, of course, occasionally, it occurs differently (“during and after the First World War”):
For the decline of the old, the birth of the new, is not necessarily an affair of continuity; between the generations, between those who for some reason or other still belong to the old and those who either feel the catastrophe in their very bones or have already grown up with it, the chain is broken and an “empty space,” a kind of historical no man’s land, comes to the surface which can be described only in terms of “no longer and not yet.”
Or is that exactly what every generation (worth its salt) grabs for itself at the age of its maturity, its becoming—saying with intemperance and scorn, “Out with you interminably dying fucks,” a way of commandeering a makeshift “no man’s land,” a place to cover with the snot-color’d hankies of its loud vernancy.

What’s Hume mean anyways? Probably that “human civilization” accumulates, accretes by the thuggery of overlap, the hem-stitchery hand’d along mother to daughter, needlework ever “finer.” Though one stuck out in twiggy branches of the speculative, like me, “hard fag’d with stitchery,” might conceivably lurch toward a skew interpret: that, the accreting gathers itself by the ostents of agon. (“We” “advance” “fightingly.”)

I think about all that partly as a result of reading Lyn Hejinian’s entry in the second Grand Piano booklet. She—less concern’d with “place” that the others—points to Arendt’s version of the political—says it is “equated with the classical Greek notion of the polis as a space of appearance, a place for”—quoting Arendt—‘the sharing of word and deeds . . . the space where I appear to others as others appear to me, where men [and women] exist not merely like other living or inanimate things but make their appearance explicitly.” Which got me thinking about “appearance” in the realm of my dutiful—I consider it dutiful, explicit, also a lark, gaseous, also agon-inflect’d—writing here: is it possible to equate Blogland, too, to the “classical Greek notion of the polis”? Or is it a too “Polonius behind the arras” kind of appearance, akin to the small cooings and muffle’d gibberings of birds in a cage under a canopy. (I think, too, of the Agrarians—Ransom, Lytle, Tate, Warren, &c.—with the “appearance” of I’ll Take My Stand—an explicit (though rhetorical) move of congregation and constitution.)

Hejinian uses Arendt to argue that “the space of appearance is, also and of necessity, a site of heterogeneity.” (Arendt: “Being seen and being heard by others derive their significance for the fact that everybody sees and hears from a different position. This is the meaning of public life. Only where things can be seen by many in a variety of aspects without changing their identity, so that those who are gathered around them know they see sameness in utter diversity, can worldly reality truly and reliably appear.”)

What I find troublesome is how, historically, the “space of appearance” of the Language poets tended, and in some cases, still tends, to mark itself as anything but a “site of heterogeneity.” The (probably necessary—those of a groupuscule determined to make itself distinct, conspicuous) boundary markers of youth and exuberance, skew to the power-brokers of whatever prior catastrophe, remain now—old dogs peeing on the same old burn’d out rosebushes, or turf “had” by now severally and more. It’s unsightly, it’s paranoiac, it’s evidence of a kind of police mentality—it’s not Hejinian to whom I refer in pointing to that tendency.

Hejinian does, though, use a rather odd line by Rae Armantrout for epigraph: “Discomfort marks the boundary.” Is there discomfort in the clarity with which Hejinian assesses the Grand Piano days? No, there is political grief—the late ’seventies as “a world of disappearances,” and, post-Reagan, “a half century of social progress . . . on the way out.” Oddly, too, there is little sense of the possibility of any subsequent generational conflict, as if History stops with Language poetry. At the end Hejinian writes:
If the polis could serve as a site for the appearance of writing, might not writing serve as preparation for the polis? Considering the larger polis we now (with many others) share, the question is no longer merely rhetorical.
Undeniably right as a kind of call to arms. Troubling in what I perceive (perhaps wrongly) as complacency, the assuming of a place—that “we now (with many others) share”—no humorous self-deprecatory allowed. I druther go up to testify to a kind of call that’d allow for the possibility of being wrong, or being replaced. Think of Arlo Guthrie:
And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said, fifty people a day walking in singin’ a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walkin’ out. And friends, they may think it’s a movement. And that’s what it is, the Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement, and all you got to do to join is sing it the next time it comes around on the guitar.

With feeling. So we’ll wait for it to come around on the guitar, here and sing it when it does.

Here it comes.
Which is what it does, what it always does, “shaking out its little green, &c.”

Arlo Guthrie in Arthur Penn’s “Alice's Restaurant” (1967)

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Savage Detectives

Side of an Engine

Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detetives is structured around a series of absences, MacGuffin-style, MacGuffins with MacGuffins within. The bulk of the novel is in the voices of various persons who’d encounter’d Arturo Belano (and sidekick, Ulises Lima), “visceral realist” poets in Mexico City in the ’seventies. Documentary, oral biography. Belano and Lima prove mysterious enough, too—constantly disappearing in search of traces of the legendary woman poet Casárea Tinajero, editor of the nigh-unknown 1920s magazine Caborca. Hands down the finest writing about the hoopla of youth writing (“No one paid attention to them and they opted for indiscriminate assault.”) ever. Here’s one “full report,” by the poet Rafael Barrios:
Our visceral realist activities after Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano left: automatic writing, exquisite corpses, solo performances with no spectators, contraintes two-handed writing, three-handed writing, masturbatory writing (we wrote with the right hand and masturbated with the left, or vice versa if we were left-handed), madrigals, poem-novels, sonnets always ending with the same word, three-word messages written on walls (“This is it,” “Laura, my love,” etc.) outrageous diaries, mail-poetry, projective verse, conversational poetry, anti-poetry, Brazilian concrete poetry (written in Portuguese cribbed from the dictionary), poems in hard-boiled prose (detective stories told with great economy, the last verse revealing the solution or not), parables, fables, theater of the absurd, pop art, haikus, epigrams (actually imitations of or variations on Catullus, almost all by Moctezuma Rodríguez,), desperado poetry (Western ballads), Georgian poetry, poetry of experience, beat poetry, apocryphal poems by bpNichol, John Giorno, John Cage (A Year from Monday), Ted Berrigan, Brother Antoninus, Armand Schwerner (The Tablets), lettrist poetry, calligrams, electric poetry (Bulteau, Messagier), bloody poetry (three deaths at least), pornographic poetry (heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual with no relation to the poet’s personal preference), apocryphal poems by the Colombian Nadaístas, Peruvian Horazerianos, Uruguayan Cataleptics, Ecuadorian Tzantzicos, Brazilian cannibals, Nô theater of the proletariats . . . We even put out a magazine . . . We kept moving . . . We kept moving . . . We did what we could . . . But nothing turned out right.
A magazine with the unbelievably apt (uncompromising, black humor’d, assaulting) title (for the “era”) of Lee Harvey Oswald.

One character, the diary keeper whose words we read for the first movement of the novel—name of Juan García Madero, a kind of kid brother to the (slightly older) visceral realists—one morning makes the rounds of Mexico City bookshops looking for Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano and stealing books. (Shades of Ted Berrigan again! Ah, the ’seventies, who was it again, who got nabbed with a copy of Beckett’s How It Is stuff’d down the pants? Had to “confer” with one “Detective Fish”?) In three stops García Madero lifts nine books, amongst which—Desnos’s Corps et biens, Borges’s Dr. Brodie’s Report, Vladimir Holan’s A Night with Hamlet and Other Poems, a Max Jacob anthology, a Gunnar Ekelöf anthology, “Stendhal’s The Red and the Black . . . and Lichtenberg’s Aphorisms, translated by Alfonso Reyes.” That afternoon García Madero’s got a lovely little piece of brooding
. . . as I arranged my books in the room, I thought about Reyes. Reyes could be my little refuge. A person could be immensely happy reading only him or the writers he loved.
Only to dismiss the Reyes countenance about to flood’s whole being: “But that would be too easy.” I love: the variety, the list. The notion of toeing somebody else’s line—think of Ralph Maud’s book about Charles Olson’s reading, or, Olson tracking down Melville’s library, think of reading “only” what Guy Davenport read—something heartbreakingly wondrous about sleuthing along that way. And next I think: who the heck is Alfonso Reyes? Gringo limits, I keep bumping my nose against a whole continent of writers—no wonder the ferocity of Bolaño’s anger and scorn against the one’s—fine-fettled and groom’d, Paz and Neruda and the el boomistas who made it out and under the norteamericano skin.

How accurate the tumult and accident, how literary “movements” get born, most plausibly put, more in the nature of a stump’d toe, a goof somebody decides to “go with,” in spite of ratiocinated (gussy’d up) later foolproof accounts (here’s where the Grand Pianists meet the “visceral realists”)—Laura Jáuregui’s report:
. . . strange things started to happen to Arturo. That was when visceral realism was born. At first we all thought it was a joke, but then we realized it wasn’t. And when we realized it wasn’t a joke, some of us went along with him and became visceral realists, out of inertia, I think, or because it was so crazy that it seemed plausible, or for the sake of friendship, so as not to lose a whole circle of friends, but deep down no one took it seriously. Not deep down.
And later, in Laura Jáuregui’s retrospect, how it’s love, stupid love, that fires the blank and torrid letters of the literary world, more ’n anybody’ll admit. She (recipient of Arturo Belano’s enormously stupid love), off “to study biology,” meeting others, a different life, &c.:
Still, I always . . . kept track of what Arturo was doing, and I thought: of all the stupid things to come up with, how can he believe this junk, and suddenly . . . it occurred to me that it was all a message for me. It was a way of saying don’t leave me, see what I’m capable of, stay with me. And then I realized that deep down the guy was a creep. Because it’s one thing to fool yourself and another thing entirely to fool everybody else. The whole visceral realism thing was a love letter, the demented strutting of a dumb bird in the moonlight, something essentially cheap and meaningless.

But that wasn’t what I meant to say.
Which is how nobody ever intends to say the truth. Bolaño: “Literature isn’t innocent. I’ve known that since I was fifteen.” Not for “stridentists,” not for the faux-rapturists of the almighty hinterlands waiting for a grander insobriety to come down and sop them up, not for hooplaists manufacturing excitement out of commonplace regrets, not for Cageans ringing furtive little immeasurable nothings (“Measurements . . . measure measuring means”), not for new amplifiers rigging feedback into every word, not for dime-a-dozen keyboardists with spongiform dicks rigged to “control-C / control V” bounce patterns, making big jujube out of computerese. Not the “Indiscriminatists.” Unh-unh.

Noted with a gulp: a list somewhere of Michael Ondaatje’s prefer’d novelists, or novels—so struck I was I didn’t finick out the particulars—wherein he puts up the ground rule that he’s not including Faulkner, García Marguez, or Willa Cather—as they’d “go without saying.” Looks like I’d better hie off to Red Cloud and see’s if I find a copy of O Pioneers! or My Ántonia. (Recalling now how, during a stint of employ in the Cornell University Press warehouse, a sun-clobber’d Quonset hut up off Dryden Road, the pig farmers I work’d with—one telling me how he’d had to put a whole arm up a sow, “help the little piglets out”—call’d her Willa Catheter: “We need a copy of that Willa Catheter book.”) Ondaatje, whose earlier novels—In the Skin of the Lion, particularly, not even counting in the novel “pile” the Buddy Bolden-derived Coming Through Slaughter or the terrific memoir, Running in the Family—I find outdo the later, ’s got a new one coming down the pike.

Willa Cather Working a Railroad Hand Car

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Grand Piano Notes

Some Walls

Wittingly. Carla Harryman on Kathy Acker: “My language is stained with her language.” (Something a little grudging about it: earlier, Harryman’s noted how Acker “explores the sexual desire of her twenty-something quasi-autobiographical narrator as if a run-of-the-mill porn come-on with some incest tossed in were a peculiar truth boldly confessed.” Murmurs of “that slut” in all that, that “as if,” is what I hear.)

In a rather confused (and confusing) amalgam of community (Santa Barbara, of the 1969 Union Oil Platform A spill, and of the 1970 political torching of the Bank of America—something some Ithaca anti-war marchers attempt’d to re-enact in the spring of 1972, thrusting torches in through the bust’d out windows of the Collegetown branch of some bank, any bank—the draperies fail’d to catch, the cops start’d up with the lacrymogènes, and clubs) politics and “teenage girl” “youth zone” questions of libido, aggression, and petty criminality, Harrymen, oddly enough, focuses on “Boys. Men.” No female models appear’d available, or, if they were, were not consider’d. (One woman, visit’d in San Francisco, a boyfriend’s sister, and “member of the famous Cockettes,” is invisible—we see only the man “wearing translucent pink robes, glitter makeup” who answers the door, and naked toddlers “smeared with pastel ‘peace’ paints.”)

A narrative shift—presumably out of “youth zone”—begins: “I wonder at what moment I entered the art zone so fully that art, for some period of time, became a substitute for nature.” As “nature” ’s barely register’d as a concern (the “beach” is divided equally in Harryman’s world between place of “oil-stained birds,” place of “blond-assed surfer jocks,” and “I associate the beach with loving to fuck”), the remark seems abrupt, a mite dilettantish. What triggers the “art zone” is Frank Stella’s “series of red paintings with gray lines suggesting labyrinthine forms or mosque art motifs.” Harryman:
The gray lines and the red together offered a kind of architecture of thought in which one “could see the whole idea without any confusion.” [Here she footnotes Stella, “Tate Gallery, wall text.”] The painting’s nonlinguistic facticity struck a stunning blow to my busy mind, as I could not explain or even describe my fascination.
All that’s a jumble to me. Surely nigh-all painting exemplifies “nonlinguistic facticity”—it’s first “about” paint and line and color and proportion and reach. And the combo of the “labyrinthine” with the “whole idea without any confusion” suggests thinking probably most charitably term’d “busy.”

“Labyrinthine” recurs in Harryman’s comparing of Acker’s [Nymphomaniac] “text, a work whose narrative depletes itself through repetition until all that’s left is a labyrinthine surface of text” with Stella’s repeating lines series of paintings, abstractions which “might suggest to the poetic imagination content, or content, or cunt-tint that is undermined through the repetition of the pattern . . .” Which lingual play—a happy con job?—not only fails to suggest much of anything painterly, it refutes the argument of a “nonlinguistic” (pure) response.

At the end, in a bizarre representation that appears to measure Watten—whom Harryman’s rather recently met (she’s living with Steve Benson)—against a generic “blond-assed surfer jock” (or ’s board), Harryman conjures up “Barry standing as high as a large man’s surfboard next to the low table spread with books reading Jane Austen mockingly and me feeling pissed.” I’d argue that “mockingly” and that “pissed” probably ought to be, as they say, “unpack’d.”

Muddling about issues of the “abstract.” (To draw off, to draw away. Latin abstract-us drawn away, out of abs off, away + tractus, past participle of trahĕre to draw. I want to claim its root identical to that of trahison, traitorous, treasonous, though it does not seem so.) Is collage abstract? Is the effect of any collection of fragments necessarily to increase a “level” of the abstract? Doodling down some Frank Stella (out of Working Space, 1986). He claims that “abstraction faces no limit to expansion and extension, either in the direction of magnification or reduction. . . . It avoids . . . some of the obvious problems of realism, in which billboard technique often reduces representationalism to a form of abstraction by magnification. In practice, if not in theory, a face ceases to be much of a face if it gets big enough. With abstraction the problem is more one of sustaining pictorial energy than of keeping an image intact . . . Abstraction gains its freedom, its unfettered expandability, its own working space by eluding the spatial dictates of the real and the ideal image.”

The part I extract is: “With abstraction the problem is more one of sustaining pictorial energy than of keeping an image intact.” Which is akin to where “we” find the generic post-avant period-style today. Having ambuscade’d the “intact” image (and sent it off to Borneo, or traded it off “piecemeal” in exchange for felicity and speed and a “homologic realism”—that is, there is a “sameness of relation, a correspondence” between the structure of my mess, and the structure of the “mess out there,” (which is the world)), and / or having lanced the blister of representationalism with the piciform shard of the fragment, (and / or having launched the fragging grenade into the representationalist lieutenant’s tent), “we,” now, toss under a landscape of lost energy, reiterating nothing beyond ways to reiterate. How tired the bombast of the scattershot blasts of nil particulars that “represent the scattershot blasts of nil particulars that is “life” in the “age.” (Which “architecture of thought”—foregoing—is akin to an “architecture” of water, bearing no load beyond its own dissembling . . .) Huh?

Frank Stella, “Blue Horizon,” 1958

Frank Stella, “Red River Valley,” 1958

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Grand Piano Notes / Robert Bolaño

A Fuselage

Ron Silliman’s entry in the second booklet of The Grand Piano points to the Selective Service for the reason he end’d up (again, after an brief earlier period—1966-67—“literally in the Haight” where across the street “the Grateful Dead & other bands played every single afternoon from a makeshift stage”) in San Francisco in 1972. The machinations of the Selective Service boards provide a grim “ground” against which Silliman draws himself as an almost equally grim “figure”—relating how he eventually gain’d conscientious objector status and approval to do unpaid work with the Committee for Prisoner Humanity and Justice, advocating for prisoner rights. (The stories of the charades of presenting the draft board with various alternative service “choices” remind me of reading the infamous Selective Service document titled “Channeling” that’d come to light around that period—and’d been promptly revoked, declassify’d. It admitted to using the threat of the draft—one unforgettable phrase being “the club of induction”—to “channel” young men into jobs “in the national interest.”)

Silliman’s figure seems almost novelistic: the draft board’s Kafkaesque procedures, the horrors of prison work (reporting to a roommate how “one of our clients was beheaded with a fluorescent lightbulb today”), a crummy night job, aimless lonely Saturdays seeing Kenneth Anger films at the San Francisco Art Institute, an inability to “get” poetry readings. He writes of meeting Ronald Johnson, and seeing Johnson’s “working copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost with thick black lines crossing out the words as it transformed into Radi Os” only to sense what Silliman calls “the enormous gulf between our superficially similar aesthetic commitments.” (Which, as we know little to nothing of Silliman’s aesthetics, makes for as oddly Huysmans moment—everything disgusts our character Ron Silliman, everything—even what should bring joy, all of it, damnable, dire, askew.) Into which, as at chapter end of all tediously serialized novels, a little light shines. At a reading with Barrett Watten (“for the next two years, the only other readings I could get were with Barrett”—is that unintentionally funny?) something, one assumes, momentous occurs: “It was at that event that [Kathy] Acker first handed me a copy of a self-published chapter of her serial novel, I Dreamt I Was a Nymphomaniac: Imagining. Luckily, Carla Harryman—wittingly?—begins her episode puncturing the portent: “I never dreamt that I was a nymphomaniac but ‘I absolutely loved to fuck.’”

Wherein I digress’d—sought solace in long slaking draughts of reading Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives. The Bolaño who somewhere hint’d that reading’s probably of more import than writing. Something like that. The Bolaño who wrote (in a story call’d “Enrique Martín,” in Last Evenings on Earth (New Directions, 2006), translated by Chris Andrews):
A poet can endure anything. Which amounts to saying a human being can endure anything. But that’s not true: there are obviously limits to what a human being can endure. Really endure. A poet, on the other hand can endure anything. We grew up with this conviction. The opening assertion is true, but that way lie ruin, madness, and death.
Which no norteamericano poet with any modicum of conscience could write. Bolaño (b. 1953) was initially a poet (early work collect’d in Los Perros Románticos: Poemas 1980-1998, [PDF] being The Romantic Dogs) and wrote a lengthy narrative poem titled La Universidad Desconocida (roughly, The Unknown University), un-translated into English. Thinking—a silly thing to do—about Bolaño against the heroics and complaints of the Language boys in The Grand Piano. The ooze of self-satisfaction. Bolaño’s bountiful humor (against temptations of earnestness, or its twin, self-pity): in The Savage Dectectives, a poet saying, “Poetry is more than enough for me, though sooner or later I’m bound to commit the vulgarity of writing fiction.”

Robert Bolaño, 1953-2003

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Grand Piano Notes


Sieve and winnow, that lovely Coleridgean phrase again. I re-tackle the second booklet of The Grand Piano, not that it’s a “chore,” just that I am in the Joyce-honor’d habit (Stephen Dedalus, vraiment, though I scunged if off Mark Scroggins) of reading “two pages apiece of seven books every night.” Enjoy’d Kit Robinson’s Joe Brainard-style pathos-snapshots. Odd to think of Rae Armantrout (Robinson seems to sketch women in terms of clothing—see Hejinian’s “short jacket with light brown suede panels”) in “one of those brightly colored silk bomber jackets from Korea with embroidery on the back, a tiger or dragon, representing a U.S. military unit.” (Or, odder, to see how Robinson ignores that jacket’s status as class marker. Is class—mostly elided in the U.S. public sphere—to be treat’d any differently by the Grand Pianists? Apparently not.) There’s no hint that Armantrout’s wearing the jacket ironically, nor any story of the jacket’s source. Thus, it becomes a detail no different than Hejinian’s outfit or “Ahni” (another woman)’s wearing of “a green silk Chinese jacket, a loose cotton skirt, and Birkenstocks” (another class marker, though rather less precise) whilst she moves out across the salt flats, “a bottle of beer in her hand.” (Television advertising colonized a whole generation’s consciousness.) Interestingly, Carolyn Forché—only person I think of—mentions just such a military bomber jacket in the poem about “Victoria,” Forché’s childhood friend who ’s “ashamed” of “the stupidity of the Michigan French,” who had photographs of servicemen tuck’d into the mirror-frame, and “jackets embroidered with dragons / from the Far East.” Forché’s poem is terribly maudlin, meaning, I suppose, that it wears its class markers on its sleeve “too proudly,” or with no irony whatsoever, rather like country music (thank-you, Jim Harrison, whose formula that is), which is the other way the benighted citizenry “admits” the existence of class differences, here in these States. It ends:
If you read this poem, write to me.
I have been to Paris since we parted.
That after picturing Victoria with “children, a trailer / in the snow.” (Who says, and in what book: “My only regret, that pouring a single glass, I’d finish the whole bottle”?)

Struck, in Tom Mandel’s latest entry, by how fully he enjoys writing autobiography. One determines by a certain fluidity, an effortlessness? Though I’d argue it’s marred here by a staged alternation with a less convincing “present”—Mandel is participating in a conference / “retreat” (“seventy-five people gathered to talk about the future of technology and of politics”) whilst keying in stories of moving to San Francisco (“Around the corner at the Hayes Valley Food Co-op, the Zodiac killer worked the till . . .”) in 1973 at the age of thirty-one. (Is one startled by the “turn” to autobiography in these later years by a number of Language writers? I see Mandel’s recent To the Cognoscenti (Atelos, 2007) (what kind of “class marker” is that title?) fully ensconces itself in the conventions of the genre:
I’m taking a graduate seminar on Kabbalah
(and more) with Saul Bellow

I am working on my PhD. thesis
I’ve got a terrific idea for it

It’s about Balzac’s Paris novels
it’s about the modern city

as a site for tragic art, Paris
our black classic, breaking up

like killer kings on an Etruscan cup
that’s Robert Lowell of course
Of course. Later, one reads of Mandel’s novel “about a pair of Siamese twins”—mention’d, too, in The Grand Piano and its “one really good chapter”: “I remember asking Saul to read it / which he did immediately, em sitting there / / peeing my pants . . .” Other “evidence” of autobiography: Silliman’s Under Albany, Armantrout’s True, some parts of Perelman’s Iflife . . .)

A parcel of digressions—all sieve and no winnow. What I’d intend’d to pursue here in Mandel’s (mostly) lively—I particularly like the notion of Mandel in New York, trying to get Macmillan to publish Harry Mathews’s early omnibus, The Sinking of the Odradek Station—section: just how pervasive is the idea on the part of the Pianists that, as Mandel writes: “Politics interrupts life, and political thought interrupts other thinking”? (Mandel goes on to ask if it—politics—holds us “in abeyance immobile”?) Which seems an odd dilemma for one whose aesthetic, if I comprehend it, makes of the art “object” that sublimely political thing, a “writerly” text. (We saw the same grudging animosity toward “the political” in Watten’s first entry—the sense of life interrupt’d by politics, the war in Vietnam.)

One other comment. A disjunct moment. Mandel points out (at the “retreat”) two opposing approaches to information-gathering, referring to “the eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica and the Oxford English Dictionary”:
The former was engineered using the well-known command-and-control method, I note; its taxonomy is hierarchical, all-encompassing, an assertion of authority. The OED, on the other hand, incorporated an up-from-below process that engaged much of contemporary English society. Its taxonomy is simply and transparent.
And one thinks—Mandel in the next paragraph refers to “the social work of art”—naturally enough of the “experiment” of The Grand Piano one’s got in hand, though, again, wonders “why not put it up on the Web?”; “why the still rather exclusionary nature of the experiment?”; “where the dissenting voices?” And, bafflingly enough, a few pages later, we learn of Mandel’s book, EncY, whose “original” is “the preface to the edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica mentioned.” Odd choice: though admittedly, Mandel says “the words seemed to come apart, to give me the leverage only a fragment can have over its original.” How we take things apart in order to comprehend. Winnow and sieve.

Tom Mandel

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Rope in the Roses

Finish’d the new Jonathan Lethem novel, You Don’t Love Me Yet, with something akin to indifference, duty. Thinking, is it a “throwaway”—something writ to shrug off a contractual obligation? (No evidence for that.) Is it a “nosethumb”? A growl’d toss-off against the purse-strings of recognition, a way of re-keying one’s hipster “cred”? (No evidence beyond the clumsy book itself.) I did (rather momentarily) think to compare Lethem’s writing about performing musicians to Nathaniel Mackey’s. And maybe there’re the merest whiffs of Mackey there. Lethem’s band’s: “. . . got something, and some of the something they’ve got is the allure of an enclave at odds within itself and yet impenetrable to others, its members exchanging small gestures of disaffection within their troupe that makes others crave to be included in the fond dissension.” Which is in the social realm, which is where Lethem’s star burns brightest. Something like Mackey’s (out of Atet, A.D. (2001), the third volume of ’s brilliant epistolary novel—work I’d put up “higher” than Mackey’s poetry—bigger, somehow, in investigating ideas—From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate):
We stood on lost, oddly elevated ground, elegiac ledge. This was no mere materialization of loss even so, no glib legitimation of lack, elegy (lapsed eligibility) notwithstanding, We stood upon or perhaps had already stepped across an eccentric threshold, thrust, or so it seemed, into a post-expectant future, the anti-expectant gist of which warned us that “post” might well turn out to’ve been premature. What expectant baggage did we weigh ourselves down with even now?
Or, a couple paragraphs later, band still playing (which is what is “going on” above):
We were several bars into our opening number before fishbone urgency let go of our throats. The ripped, exspectorant permission it apprised us of abruptly left us on our own, ushered albeit we were that much father along the pointillist plank on which we walked. Djamilaa, Penguin, Aunt Nancy, Lambert and I stood in staggered array, stumbling in place while Drennette sat a though caught in a suspended spill. She looked as if she’d fallen backwards, as if her fall had been broken by the stool on which she sat. She too, it appeared, stumbled in place.
(And how is it that I see Benjamin / Klee’s “Angel of History” in Drennette’s caught stance? Music the rubbish at one’s feet that allows one to stand “above” the quotidian. Which is one way to plunge into the “present.”)

In the post-novel diaspora of energy, I turn’d to Gerald L. Bruns’s latest, On the Anarchy of Poetry and Philosophy: A Guide for the Unruly (Fordham University Press, 2006). And lit rather immediately on a description (owed, apparently, to “social theorist Zygmunt Bauman”) of complex systems. Bruns:
A complex system, unlike logical, mechanical, or cybernetic systems, is temporal, not so much in time as made of it. This means that it is turbulent and unpredictable in its workings and effects (structured . . . like the weather). A complex system is not governed by factors of any statistical significance, which is why a single imperceptible event can produce massive changes in the system. It follows that a complex system cannot be described by laws, rules, paradigms, causal chains, deep structures . . . It forces us to apply . . . the principle of insufficient reason—which is, however, not the absence of reason but . . . a reliance on practical experience, discussion, improvisation, and the capacity for midstream corrections. In certain philosophical circles this is called “pragmatism”; in others, “anarchism” (meaning . . . a search for alternatives to principles and rules [an-archē], on the belief that what matters is absolutely singular and irreducible to concepts, categories, and assigned models of behavior.) Meanwhile, what anthropologists call “thick” descriptions are needed to make sense of complexity, because such a system can only be comprehended piecemeal, detail by detail, the way mathematicians plot the coastline of California.
Which is exactly what Blogland ought—that’s my prescriptive “ought”—be doing. Piecemeal registries of the available works. Indicating only tentative pianissimo connections, thrusts, assemblages. No “schools” allowed. No generalissimo-style generalities. We used—summer camp—to send youngsters off on errands to fetch back a “thirty foot length of shoreline—‘Go ask the waterfront staff’”: that’s it. Review the imaginary chapbook. Poke into the unimaginable detritus that lies just behind the shelf where your experience of the world’s bland piety ends. (Rather ’n go all Sly Stone in resounding exuberance and imprecation—“I want to take you . . .”—I’ll end with a cautionary note: Please do not inflate up for us another grand puffy structure of assignments in order to reduce a bounteous mess to a controllable zilch. “You knew I’d say that.”)

Nathaniel Mackey

Jonathan Lethem
(Photograph by Peter Bellamy)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Dogging It

Le Dog

Fuss against the day, its late demands, the tirades of its “last-legged” light, light of an imperial strength, buzzing the land, stretching out its long white horizontal neck, a goose, tether’d, or haul’d finally down behind the plum-color’d cloud-bank. Ragged end of another weekend without focus. “Without proper focus.”

Thinking of a period of lumpish quotidian waits, bottle waits, all a midge-cloud spinning whir-circus of nerves, waiting, unfocus’d, or focus’d only into the searing yellow hum of oneself waiting, a bee, a hovering honeybee still’d by waiting. That’s a little how it is today. Pawing the paperbacks.

Some paperbacks one is unwilling to unloose—the contents encased rocketry, ramrod’d musketry—one durst not skim in advance—one prepares oneself for the reading as if for a religious (or sexual) “ceremony” or “descent” or “bout.” Other paperbacks exist only for the quasi-sorts (see John Ashbery: “Sortes Vergilianae”:

“It is this blank carcass of whims and tentative afterthoughts / Which is being delivered into your hand like a letter some forty-odd years after the day it was posted.”) of the contents, affably dehiscible contents, selectable, and invariably “apt.” Thinking, too, how critical lingo terribly dates a letter, or a document

(like au courant eyeglasses or a haircut or something): there’s a funny “moment” circa 1977 of “everybody” trying to figure out “semiotics.” In the Berkson / Mayer letters of What’s Your Idea of a Good Time? (Tuumba, 2006), Berkson answers the question What do you think semiotics is?

with considerable maladroit gusto, the one remaining man on earth who’d admit to knowing that in a brief twenty or so years nobody’d want to know Donkey Kong about what he did or did not know about “semiotics.” Berkson:
I once had the most peculiar feeling that my stomach was actually where my heart is supposed to be. When I went to a doctor he told me I had hit the nail on the head, I had a strange rare hernia & my stomach had floated up through the diaphragm & lodged behind my heart. There was an easy cure for it, involving drinking a heavier-than-the-heart substance. Phooey. Semiotics is like that hernia . . . really my excitement for the Text-as-Text goes so far back as instinct. I love Roland Barthes too.
Or, elsewhere, Berkson admitting that “Semiotic sex of the sort that George & Chris Tysh were talking about isn’t very intriguing.” (Though, okay, there, twenty or so years “on,” one is a little intrigued, no?) That’s how it goes, moving a couple of dusty stacks of books, only to uncover another pile one’d rather forgot about.

Tynianov, one mutters, Tynianov? And cannot recall even whence it arrived, though an affably foreign roundhead script reads, “T. does not dismiss the idea of ‘artistic emotion,’ but he refuses to address it, preferring to focus on the ‘facts of construction.’” Hidebound and always too adamant to refute, I say:

“Nowadays, even our emotions are construct’d, and sponsor’d, too.” I’ve been skimming pages out of Paul Merchant’s Some Business of Affinity (Five Seasons, 2006). The Five Seasons Press (in Hereford) of Alan Halsey’s Marginalien and Gavin Selerie’s Le Fanu’s Ghost, amongst others.

Surely some of the finest-looking books, often with graphics interleaved: here, Coleridge notebook manuscript pages, Hokusai prints, Steve Tilden constructions, George Catlin Cherokee portraits, John Dee tables. The Coleridge pieces distill’d out—somewhat like Ronald Johnson’s more severe burning away of Milton’s

excess verbiage—of the Notebooks—Merchant calls the pieces “recoveries”—“in chronological order, adding nothing.” Here’s one out of Notebook 21 (“notable,” writes Merchant, “in its early pages for detailed nature notes, the late-night refuge of a poet increasingly plagued by self-doubt.”) The piece:
Such light as Lovers love—
                              Moon behind Cloud
                  Emerging to make the Blush visible
                                                                              the long Kiss kindled

All our notions
                husked in phantasms of Place & Time
                              still escape the finest sieve & Winnow of our Reason

Severity of Winter—the King’s-fisher
                                                                  slow short flight
                                              observe all its colours
                                                                  almost as if a flower

                Poetry gives most pleasure
                                                  when only generally
                                                                                & not perfectly understood
The way, lovingly, forgetting makes a place for additional memory. How writing something “down” dispels it, writing is what allows forgetting, forgetting is what one nurtures (allowing it to suckle). In order to discourage the written’s (and “the read’s”) antic impingement: husking (dry shell) of our plangent notional whims in writing’s sieve.

Which is a way of lollygagging, somewhat loudly. What I do here, awaiting a music that’ll carry one up the beach and deposit one’s impulse beyond the windrows of detritus, or the draggle-draggle offal of one’s impulse. Final heave of wave, or the kingfisher, a stubby-looking bird with a “big” head,

irritably throat-clearing out there on a snag. (Come’s a moment in the “ceremony,” or “bout”—and one’s abaft of all readerly intrudings, one’s in a eyelid-weighing sweat, posturing for the glee of bad posturing—I always think of Hendrix saying “You can leave now, we’re just jammin’—huh.” It’s that tiny bark at the end, putting one on notice: here it comes. And it does.)

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
(Photograph by Steve Pound)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Beckett at One Hundred (and One)

Between Trains

Samuel Beckett, pebble in cheek, hair like a tomahawk, got birth’d out into the foul mirey world one hundred years ago today.

The Samuel Beckett who famously wrote: “They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.” In Waiting for Godot (1952).

Samuel Beckett wrote to Raymond Federman (1961): “Le voyage vers le chaos n’est pas toujours facile.”

Ask’d to say what the job of the artist is, Samuel Beckett answer’d: “To find a form that accommodates the mess.”

Edward Dahlberg, another of the snarling few, who rather inconceivably wrote of Oscar Wilde, “Too many things disgusted him,” once wrote a piece call’d “Samuel Beckett’s Wake” (1973). In it:
The crocuses are peeping up above the turf. It’s late afternoon, as if that mattered, and my stale uncle is Bible reading and hawking up saffron phlegm. Curse the old concupiscent devil, and his luskish uncle. And all of them pewing every Sunday. Damn the whole pewing lot. My mother’s mother, and her pewing gammer, and my father’s father’s excrement, and my priggish grand-aunt’s stinking shift, wormy, mind you, and her crafty lusts, and what of her halfpenny ancestors, and all my distant cousins which our mother earth has transubstantiated into maggots. Yes, they are snug and quiet many feet deep in the ground which is no better than a jakes.
Luskish: Slothful, lazy, sluggish. “When luskish seasons their retreat delay / And March enamour’d steals a kiss from May.” Pewing: The plaintive crying of a bird. “The birdes likewise with chirpes, and puing could / Cackling, and chattring, that of Ioue beseech.” Gammer: A rustic title for an old woman, corresponding to gaffer for a man. “My Gammer is so out of course, and frantyke all at ones.” Jakes: A privy. “The more unhealthful it may prove, by reason of Jaques, Dunghills and other excrementitious stagnations.”

Clark Coolidge, who insists that artists “start with matter, not with rules,” and, being train’d as a geologist, that “Stone has a certain cleavage,” quoted Samuel Beckett in a lecture at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. Coolidge report’d that Samuel Beckett said:
It’s perhaps all a question of hitting on the right aggregate.
To what precisely the pronominal it refers there, Coolidge did not say. (Aggregate: Composed of distinct minerals, combined into one rock, as granite. “A compact aggregate substance, apparently compounded of quartz, ochraceous earth, chert, etc.”)

Samuel Beckett among the birds (out of “From an Abandoned Work,” surely the title of every work, surely the lovely title of every work):
Birds with my piercing sight I have seen flying so high, so far, that they seemed at rest, then the next minute they were all about me, crows have done this. Ducks are perhaps the worst, to be suddenly stamping and stumbling in the midst of ducks, or hens, any class of poultry, few things are worse. Nor will I go out of my way to avoid such things, when avoidable, no, I simply will not go out of my way, though I have never in my life been on my way anywhere, but simply on my way.
Which is, certes, another way to “start with matter, not with rules.”

One biographer suggest’d that Samuel Beckett was “emotionally retarded.”

Of James Joyce’s Work in Progress (“surely the title of every work, surely the lovely, &c.”), Samuel Beckett wrote in Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of “Work in Progress” (1929):
You cannot complain that this stuff is not written in English. It is not written at all. It is not to be read . . . It is to be looked at and listened to. His writing is not about something. It is that something itself.
Making one wonder who first formulated that somewhat useful, though increasingly tiresome argument, and when.

A pimp whose “wares” he’d cold-shoulder’d (legendary sexual nonchalance in those lacustrine green eyes) once stabbed Samuel Beckett, worrisomely near the heart.

Samuel Beckett related to Raymond Federman how he’d spent WWII “à Roussillon, dans le Vaucluse.” Which allow’d Federman to comprehend the reference to merdecluse in En attendant Godot: the terribly red earth. He writes: “I even mail’d off a postcard to Sam, postmark’d Roussillon, to tell him I was “dans le merdecluse.”

The thing I always think of about Samuel Beckett, the story about how, as a determined (or possibly besotted) young man, he wore the same size shoes as James Joyce—“to stand inside your shoes”—even though Joyce ’d tiny dancer’s feet, and Beckett the feet of a rangy fermier.

Samuel Beckett’s early exfoliating, running the gamut of possibles, bigger and bigger, one pebble in pocket, removed out of pocket, put in mouth, &c. Samuel Beckett’s late astonied (stupify’d?) diminishment, the texts (for nothing) trimmed down smaller and smaller. Where comes the pivot’s tipping point? One piece, “Lessness,” ends:
Little body little block heart beating ash grey only upright. Little body ash grey locked rigid heart beating face to endlessness. Little body little block genitals overrun arse a single block grey crack overrun. Figment dawn dispeller of figments and the other called dusk.
Always that tiniest sliver crack of light between darknesses. (Writing as “figment . . . dispeller of figments”?)

Samuel Beckett, in the post-Godot “flush,” retain’d the services of the solicitors Luskish, Pewing, Gammer & Jakes.

Samuel Beckett’s Fizzles, or Foirades. Fizzle: To break wind, or fart silently. See the “attributed to Swift” lines of “On Miss V———e’s F—t. In the Philippick Stile”:
. . .
Sweetest Warbler of the Tail,
Soft as Breeze of Southern Gale;
Or the fanning Zephyrs Blast,
Over Beds of Spices past;
Gentle Puff of fragrant Air,
Squeez’d from Breech of Virgin Fair;
’Tis by Thee the Fair discover,
Proof of Vigour in a Lover;
Silent Fizzle; or Speaking Fart,
Easily both Ease impart . . .

Attentive, lovely, hodge-podge and hommage is Raymond Federman’s Le Livre de Sam, ou, Des pierres à sucer plein les poches (Al Dante, 2006). Randomly I see: “De la merde verbale voilà la production finale de l’écrivain.” Mud, morass, a few sticky figurines.

Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Heap


The Dymaxion house ground for the sprouting up of Kenner’s Bucky, leafing around in the Kenner aerating one’s drab somniforordainedness just enough to cause one’s arm to lift up and remove a paperback (freely acquired) off the shelf: a 1969 Penguin of essays about Marshall McLuhan. Wherein one learns: Hugh Kenner’s meeting of McLuhan occurred (in 1946) “when I was about to take over the teaching job he’d taken over from Wyndham Lewis.” (Like Charles Wright one evening at the Guggenheim, a little too flash at the neckwear “hub,” drawling out: “About the tie. I got it off a man name of Pound. Who got it off a Mr. Yeats.”) And—following a loose peruse of a Joycean’s (Nathan Halper) chapter enumerating just how wrong McLuhan gets the Joyce details in Understanding Media—I note how Kenner agrees, with a disclaimer:
The point is not to be picky about the facts; no one is going to Understanding Media for information anyhow. The point is that McLuhan . . . cares very little for facts’ gristly specificity; their function is not to feed the mind but, like dust, to make insight visible.
Isn’t that the Poundian “rose in the steel dust” (title of Kenner’s first essay on Pound, printed in 1950 in The Hudson Review) emerging out of, here, media noise (noise concerning media)? To note: in 1950, Kenner’s commitment to facticity and definition fits a different moment. That issue of The Hudson Review carry’d, too, the first of Pound’s Confucian Analects. See the first sentences of Kenner’s essay:
Pound the technician stripping the fat from an image and the slither from a rhythm is coterminous with Pound the Confucian intent on defining a moral principle so sharply that it can be seized in the fist and used. This concern for exact definition (“Orthography is a discipline of morale and of morals”) is the whole key to Pound, his Cantos, his music, his economics, and everything else.
Fat, slither: suddenly I forget “where” I go and—like Puck spilling love juice everywhere—or, like Ron Padgett—long to shout, “I think I am ‘in love’ with critical prose.” And that after a day of rattling the phrase “their willful hegemonic obstructionism” around in my brainpan—that being my “answer” to “what I want combat in the Language boys’ version of history.” I am “getting” “off” “track.” (And unreport’d is the pluperfect carousings “within” concerning the relation between William Carlos Williams’s The Wedge-writ (1944) claim that “all sonnets say the same thing of no importance. What does it matter what the line ‘says’? There is no poetry of distinction without formal invention, for it is in the intimate form that works of art achieve their exact meaning. . . .”—that “gristly” quip, and McLuhan’s aphoristic “the medium is the message”?)

Anthony Burgess, to whom I continue to lend my unwieldy partiality, in a piece call’d “The Modicum Is the Messuage” (“messuage is legally defined as a house with outbuilding and garden,” a “commodious” place; “modicum” refers to McLuhan’s “raw material”), offers up these items in an fierce explication of the man: I. A. Richards and “a thesis on Thomas Nashe, an Elizabethan notable for high auditory prose and an appeal to the entire sensorium” (Cambridge, circa 1939). And Burgess (my partiality is partly for the way—I think he’d reach’d the post-bounder’s age of 39—retail’d off to a few months to live by some doctor on the heels of some collapse, he hoist’d a pen and decided to “get to work”) makes plain ’s scorn for minor titters recycled as big bust-out ideas, claiming McLuhan’s “gimmick” is:
. . . to push an esthetic doctrine to the limit. Nobody denies that a piece of music represents the condition to which all works of art must tend—a condition of unparaphrasability, total identification of form and content.
Hence, one imagines, Burgesses own Napoleon Symphony, a novel in the form of Beethoven’s Eroica.

Long’s I am in—tout à coup—the temporary quandary of trying to figure out why I am saying anything here, I ought note: Ange Mlinko point’d out where Clark Coolidge says Heraclitus says: “The most beautiful world is like a heap of rubble tossed down in confusion.” (In “Arrangement,” a 1977 Naropa lecture collect’d in the first volume of Talking Poetics.) I’d reread the thing—it’s heavenly fun to reread something “through” somebody else’s eyes, one’s “specificity” gets all cockeyed, it’s like looking at stereoscopick images without the benefit of a stereopticon, the “world” utterly un-inmesh’d—except for the fact of my having first read it during that tenderly earnest age of pencil’d-in marginalia. (I see things like “form— / multiplicity / “All art is arbitrary” next to Coolidge’s talk about Carlos Castaneda and finding one’s power “spots.”) Oh, to read—dispiritedly, “somniforordainedly,” a man like a heap of rubble!—alongside that scrubbed up beaming tow-head’d youth I was! I could not do it!

[Post-giddy finale afterword: what Ange Mlinko quoted so perfectly out of the Coolidge (she related it to the Kit Robinson lines about placement I’d quoted yesterday) bears repeating. Coolidge is talking about “arrangement”: “I’m partly using that word because I want to avoid using words like ‘composition,’ ‘structure,’ and so on, which I don’t feel mean much anymore . . . You’re dealing with words, one word at a time, with all the circuits that are in your mind, with all the things that impinge on you. How do you put them together.” Words measured by “impingement indice.” The word-weighing of Sir Philip Sidney’s “peysing each sillable.”]

Fishing with Trained Cormorants, Soo-Chow, China

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


A Wall

Hugh Kenner, in Bucky: A Guided Tour of Buckminster Fuller (1973), the book he wrote immediately after The Pound Era:
His glasses, as he talks, slip down his nose. He tugs them upward with an elbows-out gesture, like a diver adjusting his mask. That is a transient nuisance, like pollution. Most of his movements are a choreographic counterpoint, unconscious, functional. Watch him speak his 7,000 words per hour on the integrating function of the human intellect; keep an eye on the kinetics. At key occurrences of the theme word intellect he is pointing to his head. A clutching and kneading movement of the left hand substantiates the shadowy word integrate, and nature in its countless manifestations, the impinging sunlight, the self-interfering knots, the lapse of pattern into the seemingly random, is elucidated by arm- and finger-work of Nijinsky-like intricacy. In full communion with his theme he is weaving, tensing, leaning, straightening, to twist invisible valves and arrest split-second deterrences as though piloting a lunar lander amid strange new boulders. (The pilot’s license in his wallet rubs against the machinists’ union card.)
A book seemingly ’s full of factoidal delight ’s the Pound one: wherein “James Joyce’s question”:
If someone hacking in fury at a block of wood should produce an image of a cow, would that cow be a work of art? Joyce answered no; the art lay not in the artifact but in the consciousness.
Akin to the notion that pester’d me out walking in the morning dark, only the “What cheer?” cardinals up and bantering: “Would the appropriationist ever’ve known sexual desire had he not “sampled” it?” (The robin, high in the oak, boom’d into voice with what always sounds like “Breaker, breaker, breaker,” a citizens’ banditry noise. And, percolating down out of the briefest look at Kit Robinson’s Atelos-print’d book, The Crave (2002), wherein the New York School arrives like the cavalry to claim Robinson’s Language-damaged “soul”—I went to the book after seeing how Robinson’d affably “appropriated” the late Joe Brainard’s “I Remember” tactic for the second Grand Piano runaround, see:
I remember saying to Ron one bright, clear day in Dolores Park that the Sutro Tower stood out against the sky “like a gem,” and Ron said, “like a gem!?”
—percolating down was Robinson’s apt “Afterword” (to The Crave) wherein he writes, after explaining where a particular of one piece “originated”:
It might be possible to explicate every such detail, if only memory served, but it wouldn’t do any good, because the meaning of these poems does not lie in any specific referents, but in the relational spaces between and among them.

Against the specificities of place, a kind of metaphysical fascination seizes the objects of thought and feeling, separates them and sets them down on the page in the form of words. The pleasure of this act of placement, for me, is unlike any other. It makes of itself a place, to return to, paradoxically, as if for the first time.
All rather Emersonian, or Fulleresque, that emphasis on relation and placement. Man the analogist and all that. “Like a gem.” (A wild impetus here being bridled against careening of into another argument for metaphor—that thing that most succinctly metes out relation, a seeing. Against those who insist, wrongly, that metaphor serves only a decorative function (or, “metaphor as filler”), and’d have “us” succumb to whatever’s merely “concise & perceptive,” no matter how pat and tuneless. What metaphor is, is akin to the Fulleresque “economy of good design.”)

Reading, rather listlessly, Jonathan Lethem’s newest, You Don’t Love Me Yet.

R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Grand Piano Notes

Crane and Debris

Twice now I’ve begun reading Barrett Watten’s lead-off entry in the second booklet of The Grand Piano, and twice now I’ve stumbled at the beginning of the second paragraph, where Watten says: “It was a tremendous risk to be a poet at that time and place.” Is he kidding? “That time and place” appears—I’m judging by the opening paragraph—to be Oakland, “1 May 1975 . . . in a rented hall on Telegraph Avenue” at “a public meeting of a communist organization.” What strikes me with a black humor here is how Watten’s language mimics reports—of a generation earlier—to the House Un-American Activities Committee—the difference being, he’s not “naming names,” he’s implicating himself in an act of what can only be interpret’d as self-aggrandizement. Not to claim there exist’d no dangers in association, just that here Watten, white and university-spawn’d, is wildly overstating the case. To claim a “poet” risk-factor is silly. (No matter the stripe of the various competing “revolutionary” groupuscules of the “era”—there always remain’d a gaseous intangibility to the talk, a rhetorical ballooning. I recall precisely falling in with a bunch call’d the People’s Anti-Fascist Resistance League in Ithaca circa 1971. I was studying Chinese and they, being Maoists, sponsor’d a number of films and talks about China. A number of them work’d at the Ithaca Gun factory—I recall the immeasurable boyish delight of one who related to me how he planned to organize the workers there, “so they’ll turn the guns against the bosses.” All vaguely Tom Sawyerish, a youth- and joy-inflect’d goof, a lot of that going down.)

Watten again: “In the next five years, 1976 to 1980, we would need to make up an entire decade in compensation for the time taken from us.” Meaning what? Coming just after “There was no money, and few agreeable jobs,” the whole thing smacks of a kind of bratty sense of entitlement. Truth is, in the late ’sixties and early ’seventies it was still possible for a single person to make a living working twenty hours a week, something no longer the case. One could work a shitty job—I janitor’d for Cornell University Press’s three houses, a couple hours evenings and a “big cleaning” on the weekend—and spend one’s other hours elsewhere (Ithaca House). The era of grown men and women delivering newspapers—jobs formerly done by kids on bicycles—hadn’t commenced.

History as a series of “proper” tags (and nothing more): “John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Pharoah Saunders, Archie Shepp.” Or, earlier: “Rosa Luxembourg, WPA murals, Louis Zukofsky, Anna Hartmann.” One’d do as well to write: “Brooks Brothers suit, Arrow shirt, Hickok belt.” History as the brands one “wore.”

Why the unstoppable thrust for recognition, that most literary of results? “By 1980 . . . our group of writers had identified each other, emerged to public recognition, and had created a body of writings, as well as new forms of poetic engagement, that have yet to be recognized for the literary breakthrough that they were.” Writers, here, emerge ab ovo, like birds, born speciated, or as if born “with a silver spoon,” fully made! All that’s left to do is to identify one’s coevals—there, blinking like a phoneme in the sun! How primitive and un-L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E’d a thesis!

Is one of the rôles (or, less instrumentally, effects) of the (self-proclaim’d) avant-garde to deprovincialize the City, any city? (Is all “space” provincial to the avant-garde?) Or is the making of place in all its forms no more nor less than each individual’s pursuit to “fit” somewhere. Not “fit in,” “fit one’s skin” (se sentir bien dans sa peau). How about a hermit utopia? Utopia for one. A deprovincialized solitary, quick and inimitable. (Assuming the provincial resides in congress—the moment “more than one” identify a habitus, a custom, a regimen. One avoids it by orbiting, circling the urban knot, landing nowhere.)

Ted Pearson insists that there’s a “critical distinction to be made . . . precisely between any give place as such—be it “The City by the Bay” or the one true American metropole, New York [such provincialist longings for the “one true” bubble up most frequently and vehemently out of the other soi-disant metropoles—us in the hamlets’ve construct’d burgeoning grande villes to inhabit right in our own heads]—and the abstract space opened up by the avant-garde’s insistence on constructing an elsewhere, liberated from geography, to inhabit.” Isn’t that the chore of any artist? To make a realm beyond?

Pearson’s affably recount’d memory of San Francisco “in those years” is, first, as: “though never easily, a singularly habitable place. For a time, one could ‘get by’ and concentrate on one’s work.” (All one requires, anywhere.) That is follow’d by a droll and velocity-up’d account of the colonial history of the city—largely tracing the fortunes of a Pearson “maternal ancestor,” one Bernal, though veering, circa 1852, to note The Golden Era, “the city’s first literary journal.” After the intensity of the self-direct’d gaze that preceded Pearson’s portion, the relief inherent in the pulling back (to situate the Grand Pianists in a city wherein “literary types were welcome, if not (then as now) always warmly”) is palpable.

What does it mean if Rae Armantrout admits (rather nostalgically) to reveling (early ’seventies) in a short San Franciscan period of “‘gender-fuck’ aesthetics”?
Chuck and I would go dancing at a club called Lion in Pacific Heights where there were gays and straights, men and women. People would ask, “What are you?” with friendly interest. This was the period that nurtured Kathy Acker as The Black Tarantula. It didn’t last very long.
This was the period, too, before aesthetic positions hardened in the U.S. poetry “scene.” What does it mean to lament a lost stylish fluidity, sexual “room to move” and, simultaneously, participate in a act of autobiography designed—if one reads some contributors correctly—to consolidate a group position? Armantrout writes, referring to the aftermath of the period of “gender-fuck” openness (“feminism . . . in a separatist phase” and “macho clone style” in the gay community): “Once again, one was asked to be clearly readable—something that has always bored me.” Isn’t Armantrout liable to be made only more “clearly readable” through aligning herself with other participants in The Grand Piano project?

The verbiage of Steve Benson, something something and how “professionalization may respond to economic drives compelling our culture toward commodification and pressuring its persons into linear narratives of success, frustration, and compromise.” Recalling Peter Culley’s swift retort to art-explainers (noted by Vancouver photographer Jamie Tolagson):
. . . lots of really good artists are as dumb as a bag of rocks. Art existed for thousands of years before any such comparably difficult discourses were deemed in any way necessary, and could survive perfectly well without them. Unreadable jargony art writing is a very recent development, and has more to do with the postwar expansion of the academy than the evolution of art. No one could fake it at a physics conference as easily as most people fake it at an art opening. And just because elitism is hard to pin down doesn’t mean that the art world isn’t ridden with every variety of it. It’s what the crowds at Swarm seem to like—that velvet-rope “insider” feeling, the lure of arcane knowledge rather than knowledge.
Benson’s final words: “Could the same things have happened anywhere else, at that time? Didn’t they? I wasn’t there.” Of course they did. Furious play by tiny bands of furious joy-drench’d players. Wild manic experimentals. Partout, partout. One didn’t necessarily “fetishize” the results, nor “theorize” them, nor “reify” them.

Ted Pearson