Thursday, June 30, 2011

Excess and Mess

No. 36

Some mock essays to do and the tender green nettles (lopped off with a Bowie knife in a prickly fit of florilegium’d ascertainment and culling) to parboil and a murderous sigh of prank dejectedness to interpose between summary and end: isn’t that enough? Enough of too corpulent trots and jag-engineer’d reminiscences, enough of ‘beyond the ken of the local’ sub rosa hoots? Stump’d by a word, I like to mouth it out pianissimo, or grind it down into use ‘with inexorable jaw.’ Against cloying invect and the perniciousness of Cape Mootch (a vodka): ‘sing high and aloofe.’ Against putrescent kissinesses and the doggo’d vernaculars of Regents Park (a park): ‘pour the sacred boonion.’ Some not-so-pricey comeuppance is in the works, some ‘economy of meaning’ that’ll burst all drawers. Drawers: ‘apparently a term of low origin, usually restricted to underclothing worn next the skin.’ Drawers made up of ‘stuffe of mockadoo.’

Some odd chaos of related randomings here and there. There’s Frank O’Hara’s “Mock Poem” snuck into the midst of “To Hell With It” (I keep seeing things in the Collected Poems I cannot recollect seeing, mayhap the result of reading the thing straight through circa 1972 in a single night of shirr’d light amphetamine pop and industry):
One pentative device, and then rebeat
To knead the balm, prepucible depense,
Be undezithered pouncenance; for face
Devapive hoods and blow the pentagon;
Foe, steal communion from the Tyche, bless
Myth less uncertainty, and when repeal,
On bloated regents pour the sacred boonion.
A Jabberwocky’d belch or spasm, erupting. Surely a combo of that desire to heave all of one’s accumulated vocables out into the void simultaneously and indistinguishably (the heaving / erupting imagery ‘mayhap the result’ of O’Hara’s post-“Mock Poem” wryness—“I clean it off with an old sock / and go on”—poetry as jism, and that—indistinguishable?—desire to do everything considerably “wrong”—poetry as spite.)

Too, there’s the work of the Czech photographer Miroslav Tichý, a voyeur with a homemade camera. (I encounter’d him by thumbing the pages of Geoff Dyers’s Working the Room: Essays and Reviews, 1999–2010.) Tichý’s mischievous (or naïve, or mock-naïve) remark:
Photography is painting with light! The blurs, the spots, those are errors! But the errors are part of it, they give it poetry and turn it into painting. And for that you need as bad a camera as possible! If you want to be famous, you have to do whatever you’re doing worse than anyone else in the whole world.
Tichý’s nonchalance (or somewhat shrewdly feign’d nonchalance) regarding the photographs, according to Dyer: “Once developed and printed, the pictures were subjected to a protracted form of editorial hazing: left out in the rain, used as beer mats or to prop up wobbly tables. Where the definition was not sharp enough, Tichý would pencil around breasts or hips like an enthusiastic but unqualified cosmetic surgeon. Sometimes he’d frame the picture with a specially chosen mount: a garbage sack, say, or a bit of squiggled-on card.” (Think of O’Hara’s nonchalance, feign’d or un-, according to Ashbery: “Dashing the poems off at odd moments . . . he would then put them away in drawers and cartons and half forget them. Once when a publisher asked him for a manuscript he spent weeks and months combing the apartment, enthusiastic and bored at the same time, trying to assemble the poems. Finally he let the project drop, not because he didn’t wish his work to appear, but because his thoughts were elsewhere.”)

And, too, there’s Dudley Fitts’s blithely “excessive” translations of Martial (found in a 1955 number of Quarterly Review of Literature *):

Inscripsit tumulo septem scelerata virorum
      ‘se fecisse’ Chloê. Quid pote simplicius?


On each of the seven tombs of her seven husbands you will
find this plain inscription: ERECTED BY CHLOE.

O admirable retraint! Commendable candor!

Et delator es, et calumniator,
et fraudator es, et negotiator,
et fellator es, et lanista: miror
quare non habeas, Vacerra, nummos.


You’re a Redeemed Communist, Vacerra,
an informer and cheat, conniver and liar,
hawker of scandal,
                              and, moreover,
a choirboy-chaser.

Big shot among the mikes in the bitter light!

Consequently I am at a loss
to understand why you’re always broke, Vacerra.
Early kin to something like the lovely rocambole and rambunctiousness of Tim Atkins’s Horace and Petrarch.
* One wonders at the ignorance—or ignoring—of Quarterly Review of Literature amongst the most adamantly histrionic purveyors of “poetry war” narratives. The contents for the item under examination (Volume VIII, Number 2): James Merrill’s play call’d “The Bait,” poems and translations by Dudley Fitts, Francis Golffing, David Galler, John Ashbery (“Glazunoviana,” “The Young Son,” “Pantoum,” “Hotel Dauphin”), Lorine Niedecker (“For Paul: Child Violinist”—quoting Zukofsky’s remark, “Any fool can look up a term, / it’s the beat and off beat, the leg lifted / or thudded that counts”), J. P. B. Creagh, Ora May Hull, Jane Mayhall, Jean Garrigue, Richmond Lattimore, prose by Hollis Summers. One senses no paucity of œcumenical literary commerce chez les Weiss, Theodore and Renée.
Photograph by Miroslav Tichý

Photograph by Miroslav Tichý

Photograph by Miroslav Tichý

Photograph by Miroslav Tichý

Miroslav Tichý, 1926-2011

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Jean-Patrick Manchette’s Three to Kill

Finish’d another roman noir by Jean-Patrick Manchette, the Donald Nicholson-Smith translated Three to Kill (City Lights, 2002). (Originally: Petit bleu de la côte ouest, 1976.) At the beginning of the novel one Georges Gerfaut (name means “gyrfalcon”), who’s down’d several glasses of Four Roses bourbon and “two capsules of a powerful barbiturate” (“The combined effect on him has not been drowsiness but a tense euphoria that threatens at any moment to change into anger or else into a kind of vaguely Chekhovian and essentially bitter melancholy, not a very valiant or interesting feeling”) is speeding along Paris’s outer périphérique extérieur in a “steel-gray Mercedes” with “Rube Bloom and Ted Koehler’s “Truckin’” . . . playing, as recorded by the Bob Brookmeyer Quintet.” Manchette:
The reason why Georges is barreling along the outer ring road, with diminished reflexes, listening to this particular music, must be sought first and foremost in the position occupied by Georges in the social relations of production. The fact that Georges has killed at least two men in the course of the last year is not germane. What is happening now used to happen from time to time in the past.
Manchette’s fierce lack of deceit and clarity of means. He’s written (in “Five Remarks on How I Earn My Living,” translated by Mitchell Abidor) about the difference between what he calls “the mystery detective novel” and “the roman noir.” In the former, “crime disturbs the order of the law, which it is crucial must be restored by the discovery of the guilty party and his elimination from the social field. The investigation might well reveal the evil desires of almost every character, but these desires are inherent to human nature . . . The private (and preferably amateur) detective is a more appropriate hero than the official police, who are a public enterprise . . . The investigator . . . will also occasionally consume cocaine or cassoulets, and will play chess or perhaps the violin, in this way being able to bear eternal evil and (demonstrating his own humanity) sacrificing to it.” In the latter:
. . . the order of the law is not good; it is transitory and in contradiction with itself. Phrased differently, evil dominates historically. Evil’s domination is social and political. Social and political power is exercised by bastards. More precisely, by unscrupulous capitalists, allies of or identical to gangsters brought together in organizations, having in their pay politicians, journalists, and other ideologues, as well as justice, the police, and other henchmen. And this throughout the land where these people, divided into clans, fight among themselves by all means possible to gain control of markets and profits. We can recognize here a more or less analogous image of capitalist society in general to the one we find in revolutionary critiques. This is obvious.
However, “less obviously and yet surely”: “the roman noir is characterized by the absence or weakness of the class struggle and its replacement by individual action (which is, incidentally, hopeless). While the bastards and the exploiters in fact hold social and political power, the others—the exploited, the masses of people—are no longer the subject of history, and in any case only appear in the roman noir in minor roles, more or less socially marginalized . . .” Taxi drivers, “déclassé intellectuals,” &c. Manchette’s rather bitter humor (amidst alienation.” The poster in the office of Gerfaut’s boss Charançon (the name means “beetle”: “he wore a tiny Lions Club de France badge . . . and Pierre Cardin suspenders”) with “pretty painted pink flowers and the English words HOME SWEET HOME inscribed in large, pale, pink frilly letters.” A poster superimposed with text by ITT Corp. president Harold "Hal" Sydney Geneen:
In different locations around the world, almost anywhere on the globe, rather more than two hundred workdays each year are given over to executive meetings at different levels of our organization. It is during these meetings, be they in New York, Brussels, Hong Kong, or Buenos Aires, that decisions are taken based on logic, on a business logic that leads to choices that are almost inevitable, for the simple reason that we are in possession of almost all the basic elements needed to arrive at decisions. Just like our planning, our periodic meetings are designed to clarify the logic of things and expose that logic to the light of day, where its value and necessity will be apparent to all. This logic is immune to all state laws and regulations. It is a part of a natural process.
Follow’d by Manchette’s remark: “There was no way of telling whether the presence of this poster . . . testified to a discreet sense of humor or to a terminal state of alienation.”(Think, too, of the typical policier’s reliance on logic, and “immunity.”) Early in Manchette’s Journal (Gallimard released the enormous initial volume, dated “1966-1974” in 2008—one wonders if it might eventually be consider’d Manchette’s magnum opus), he begins a habit of noting the day’s news items big and small. Commentary by selection and juxtaposition. Thus, in Three to Kill, Georges Gerfaut scans France-Soir (“to clarify the logic of things”?):
The paper’s suggested lottery numbers were three, seven, and twelve. Tanks and air power had been deployed against six thousand rebellious Bolivian peasants. An Eskimo had been shot and killed while trying to divert a Boeing 747 to North Korea. A Breton trawler had gone missing with its eleven-man crew. A woman had celebrated her hundred birthday and announced her intention of voting for the left. Extraterrestrials had abducted a dog in full view of its master, a crossing guard in the department of Bas-Rhin. And, in emulation of a recent fad on American’s West Coast, a couple had tried to fornicate in public on a French Mediterranean beach, only to be restrained and arrested by the local police.
Whence Manchette’s Gerfaut glances at “the funnies” and tosses the thing away.

Jean-Patrick Manchette, 1942-1995

No. 35

Isn’t it simply that such royally insipid outmodedness of ‘stance’ at the ramparts is bound to be trounced by one’s own brooding and obfuscatory remorse? Sovereignty’s own jealously-assigned etude-binge of the rapt skeptic’s insouciance thus goes defamatory and resolute. And the usual facticious batting at the dying earthly airs stirs up no relief, no sop, no dismay whilst its proxy sidereal demesne, the moon, famously engorges itself with borrowed light. I muff the protocol. I wad up and shoot. I apply my inconsiderable promo-enthusiasms to the works of madmen. My naïveté refuses to respond to anything beyond the general filthiness of the machine. There’s no merit to hindsight: the rotted bungee cords, the morally-questionable booster with untold millions to spend, the larks, the spurs. In the retro-modernist rehash, its frivolity of means, its sure ‘purchase,’ the twenty-first century’s goaded into a capital state. Minimal dignity is refusal.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

“What is good is always derogatory . . .”

No. 34

The cold-blooded ruses of the yelping sophists fill the crowds with contempt. Everywhere the unfocused hither-and-thither-y of some imaginary occasion missed. A faltering query posed in the form of a finger hoisted, limp with doubt, toward the unbridled gloaming, its yellow sky. A peculiar uneuphonious lurch of awkwardcy at dim day’s cease. ‘One books a hall to find a cohort to command, and for no other reason.’ Stretches of wheat the color of diarrhœa, the harvester’s blade swung down through decay amp’d up by microbial raids and visible slug-chew. So, I keep looking for the complete Petrarch, the one with the appendices of billiards table talk. So, my dog, every inch the pèse-nerf of a global critique, peed on my détournement homework. So, the subtle derisive home-boy look of the purely literary, its Homburg, its lack of efficacy, its tilt.

The breezily inchoate “format” nudges its way home (albeit sans pictorial “bent.”) Something about the morning “freshets” of late June, their preternatural boyish “vim” that douses “us” with “unending” delight. (The “high irony” mode is measured by the presence—or absence—of quotation marks: recall Umberto Eco’s “dictum”: “The postmodern reply to the modern consists of recognizing that the past, since it cannot really be destroyed, because its destruction leads to silence, must be revisited: but with irony, not innocently.” Enough of that.) Frank O’Hara got “there” in advance of the theorists (and shrugged):
          what is good is always derogatory, namely: (I),
(selfish), (proud), (bitchy), (cold), (heedless), (sucky),
          (witless), (overbearing), (cavalier), (infatuated)
whereas what is worthless is humble and darling, is
          absent, goes straight up and seems "to make the flowers grow”
Out of “Muy Bien (F.Y.S.C.)” Or think how O’Hara shucks off the “humble and darling” pleasantries of Rilke’s “Aus einem April” (“Wieder duftet der Wald. / Es heben die schwebenden Lerchen / mit sich den Himmel empor, der unseren Schultern schwer war . . .”—roughly, “Again the forest is full of fragrance. / It lifts the soaring larks / up into the heavens, which lay so heavy upon our shoulders . . .”) into the oddly and rather—one gathers—rumbustiously sexual escapade of O’Hara’s own “Aus einem April”:
                We dust the walls.
                And of course we are weeping larks
falling all over the heavens with our shoulders clasped
in someone’s armpits, so tightly! and our throats are full.
        Haven’t you ever fallen down at Christmas
            and didn’t it move everyone who saw you?
                isn’t that what the tree means? the pure pleasure
    of making weep those whom you cannot move by your flights!
                It’s enough to drive one to suicide.
    And the rooftops are falling apart like the applause

of rough, long-nailed, intimate, roughened-by-kisses, hands.
Fingers more breathless than a tongue laid upon the lips
in the hour of sunlight, early morning, before the mist rolls
in from the sea; and out there everything is turbulent and green.
How quickly O’Hara rejects the merely programmatic amusements of homophonic translation—“Wieder duftet der Wald” become “We dust the walls,” a thing Albert Cook initially noted in a short piece in the O’Hara Audit. Seeing strictures and inadequacy even in the “play” of the earnest surrealists. (The glib facticity of “We dust the walls” coupled with the matter-of-fact “of course” following it suggests O’Hara’s ennui at the approach of the methodical, the onus of its didactic ease. Against the doggedness of the “project”—he’d rather “romp.”)

I keep thinking, too, about O’Hara’s remarks (to Edward Lucie-Smith, in 1965) about Creeley and control (versus “the sort of tumultuous outpouring of images which then get themselves together into being a poem, somehow” wherein “you do have the excitement of seeing whether you’re really going to get it to be a poem or not”). O’Hara complains how the minimalisms of Creeley (and Levertov) end up “making control practically the subject matter of the poem. That is your control of the language, your control of the experiences and your control of your thought.”: And: “the amazing thing is that where they’ve pared down the diction so the experience presumably will come through as strongly as possible, it’s the experience of their paring it down that comes through more strongly and not the experience that is the subject.” (Peut-être a Harvard contretemps.) Of O’Hara’s work, Creeley seemingly says little. In Berkson and LaSueur’s 1980 Homage to Frank O’Hara, Creeley is quoted (out of “On the Road: Notes on Artist an Poets 1950-1965”) quoting Duncan on O’Hara:
My arrival in Black Mountain the spring of 1954 was equally a coming to that viability in the language of an art without which it, of necessity, atrophies and becomes a literature merely. Robert Duncan, in recent conversation, recalls that that was then his own intent, “to transform American literature into a viable language—that’s what we were trying to do . . .” Speaking of Frank O’Hara, he noted that extraordinary poet’s attempt “to keep the demand on the language as operative, so that something was at issue all the time, and, at the same time, to make it almost like chatter on the telephone that nobody was going to pay attention to before . . . that the language gain what was assumed before to be its trivial uses. I’m sort of fascinated that trivial means the same thing as three (Hecate). Trivial’s the crisis, where it always blows. So I think that one can build a picture, that in all the arts, especially in America, they are operative. We think of art as doing something, taking hold of it as a process . . .”
Viability out of vie, life, a capacity for living, contra the mock-fastidiousnesses of control.

Alice Neel, “Frank O’Hara No. 2” (detail), 1960

Monday, June 27, 2011

Reading Notes (Stonecutter)

Stonecutter: A Journal of Art and Literature, No. 1 (Spring / Summer 2011), edited by Katie Raissian, with Ava Lehrer, Anna Della Subin, and Zara Katz

Work by Jen Bervin, Lauren O’Connor, Emily Skillings, Anne Fitzgerald, Eliot Weinberger, Jennifer Cazenave, translated by Charlotte Mandell, Jocelyn Spaar, Matvei Yankelevich, Daniel Nohejl, Alan Gilbert, Ben Townsend, Andrew Gorin, Jeffrey Yang, Sarah Holland-Batt, Robert Kelly.

Art by Travis Jackson, Newsha Tavakolian, Orion Martin

A new journal, defiantly “of the world,” avoiding the usual parochialism of these shores. Impeccably present’d: cover with found cuts of celestial events (“Jets near Sun’s Limb, Oct. 5, 1871” one reads). Editor Katie Raissian offers a tale of a “traveler on a road in 8th century China” who finds a poem “carved into a stone”: “A millennia of voices and experience flooded to him.” She writes: “Stonecutter, become a mountain. Do not try to become the sun.” And: “Look out to the stars. Look to the stone for language. Birthstone, bloodstone, copestone, inkstone, thunderstone . . .”

Emily Skillings (“Linnaeus: The 26 Sexual Practices of Plants”):
. . .

Linnaeus coins Cryptogamia:
plants that conceal their
reproductive parts. These are
the softest, moistest classes:
mosses, algae, fungi, ferns.
They are the ones he most
likes to touch. Wet blankets
and deeply known surfaces.

Linnaeus thinks he will draw a
goat in pencil.

He draws the nose first, then
one horn, the foot, rum;

It looks nice taped to the
window with its organs not
showing, not shining through.

. . .

Handwriting becomes smaller
as the purpose of work
becomes less clear. Linnaeus
signals that which he doesn’t
know with “. . .” and wishes
that his . . . wasn’t so bountiful.

. . .

Two stamens cross each other
at a point which is called . . .

. . . is drastically different from
the vanilla bean shell,
particularly in areas where . . .
a. faint line b. small joints
c. is called open capsule.

. . .

Eliot Weinberger (“Islands in the Sea”), a story—beginning “in Ireland in the 8th century”—of one Mael Duin, son of “a man of war named Ailill of the Edge of Battle,” setting out in a “three-skin boat” attempting to avenge father’s death (trapped and burn’d “in the church of Dubcluain”):
Three days and nights they drifted, and then heard the sound of waves breaking on a shore. As they were about to land, a swarm of ants, each the size of a colt, came down the beach toward them, and swam out after them as the men furiously rowed away.

They rowed and came to an island that was all terraced, with trees growing on every level, and countless birds in the trees. No one was there. They caught, and cooked, and ravenously ate the birds.

They came to a large and flat island, and found an enormous mowed lawn with the hoof-prints of horses on it. Each hoof-print was the length of a ship’s mast. Scattered on the green were the shells of huge nuts and piles of plunder. The men fled, and when they were out to sea again, the heard the sound of a horse race and the roar of a vast crowd cheering.

. . .

They came to an island that seemed delightful, with many animals like horses. But the animals were tearing pieces out of each other’s sides with their teeth, and carrying off the skin and flesh. Blood streamed from their sides; the ground was covered with it. The men fled hastily and grew sad, wondering where they were going in the world.

Jennifer Cazenave, translated by Charlotte Mandell (“Les Maladies de la Peau / Maladies of the Skin”):
. . .

(Secret, secretus, separate, hidden, rare, a work learned by heart that one will never recite?)

Me—they say ‘world’ comes from the Latin ‘mundus,’ a box, a hut; thus each of us hides an adornment, an ornament, and the world is simply the reflection of what we dare to give.

(World: we find the Etruscan goddess Munthukh, whose role was to gild and adorn, represented in mirrors—the goddess frames the mirror and I do not look at myself to remember myself. I look at myself to understand what I have to give because the image of the self does not protect from the weaknesses of the world.)

She—“we always imagine the heart shaped like a round spot in the middle of the body. But how deep is a spot?

An ocellus is a round spot on the plumage of a bird, on a mammal’s fur. Ocellus, little eye—the soul digs a desire into the body and then covers it over with its own skin.”

(The world is sad because there are not enough secrets; most people give only what is asked of them.)

. . .

Jocelyn Spaar (“In a Trance of Stealth: The Troubled and Translated Lives of Alix Roubaud”):
The project of reading Alix’s Journal might very well require its reader (or voyeur) never to leave one’s bedsheets, instead building for oneself a referential fortress, an Oulipian structure of almost every famous person’s diary, flanked by teetering book-towers of aesthetic theory, architecture, ordinary language philosophy, logical positivism, autobiography and self-portraiture. This fortress ought to be encircled in a diaphanous shroud of gauzy, wine-stained curtains, with a rich brocade of sleeping pills, mirror shards, billet-doux, and a million tissues stitched into the transparent toile. So interior and subjective is the experience of reading the collage-like diaries, which take place primarily inside of Alix’s room and head, that one scarcely believes that exterior worlds could exist, except in fleeting glimpses.

Jeffrey Yang (“Tide Table”):
. . .

Cow’s eye

eye of the
in the wave in the
looking out from a hotel balcony

plump white pinstriped
he reads the newspaper
cameo zoom, Tide Table
graph pan,

feet flow

“Provisional Purchase”
“Minimal Indolence”
“Sale in Execution”

the metaphysic
of commodity exchange: to never know
                        with whom we’re connected

The man falls asleep
in beach chair
face under broadsheet
Ngana adagio dirge

African woman hums lullaby

lines turn things alive:
a chair dances, another breaks

But as soon as it emerges as a commodity,
it changes into a thing which transcends sensuousness.
It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but,
in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head,
and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas
far more wonderful than if it began dancing of its own
free will

Indoor shower droplets
morph into cows
drown, slaughtered
hung on hooks
by an invisible hand . . .

Sarah Holland-Batt (“Botany”):
After the rain, we went out in pairs
to hunt the caps that budded at night:
wet handfuls of waxtips and widows,
a double-ringed yellow, two lawyer’s wigs.

We shook them out onto gridded sheets,
the girls more careful than the boys,
penciled notes on their size and shape
then levelled a wood-press over their heads.

Overnight, they dropped scatter patterns
in dot-and-dash, spindles and asterisks
that stained the page with smoky rings,
blush and blot, coal dust blooms.

In the slow black snow of spores
I saw a woodcut winter cart and horse
careen off course, a dull explosion
of iron and ash, the wheels unravelling.

All day, a smell of loam hung overhead.
We bent like true clairvoyants at our desks
trying to divine whatever message was left
in all those little deaths, the dark, childless stars.

Two of Newsha Tavakolian’s photographs of Iranian women, out of a series call’d “Listen.” (In photographer Abbas Kowsari’s words—in Stonecutter #1—“Eyes closed, mouths open, as if in a dream. Standing facing us with their backs to the darkness, they sing, soundless. They have been standing here, singing for themselves for a long time, imagining us, hearing. Standing, facing days of tedium, facing a world that has adorned them with a false crown.”)

No. 33

Thus personal worth is bid ‘up’ by one’s own rank robotic thing-amassment, and thing-stinginess drowns each heavenly piety and earthly idyll of man’s slumbering unsunder’d with lazy dogs and clover-sweet cows and impetuous roosters, submerges it ‘in the icy water of egotistical calculation,’ its callous nexus of cash and dash. Dash, meaning ‘To knock, hurl, or thrust violently,’ ‘to break by striking,’ ‘a sudden onset, rush, or attempt’ and ‘conspicuous display.’ So, an enlisted Kyrgyz in a guard tower in Guantánamo, thunder booming down out of the hills. So, the inverted anvil shape of an enormous black cloud scooting its way across the prairies, bending the grass to unloose a skew’d squad of fireflies, the color of phosphorous, green, ascendant. So, in Frankfurt am Main, the Poelzig-Bau, former Konzernzentrale of the chemical giant IG Farben, manufacturer of the pesticide Zyklon B (used in the gas chambers), now houses the untidy offices of professors of theology and philosophy.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The H.D. Book Notes 8

Robert Duncan, The H.D. Book (U. of California Press, 2011)

Duncan’s somewhat incoherent reasoning apropos The Waste Land:
Eliot represented a high sophistication, as Noel Coward represented a low sophistication for those who were not serious-minded. He gave a histrionic remove. The poem suffered in its very success. It had been cut and reorganized to succeed, and had lost in its conscious form whatever unconscious form had made for the confusion of sequence, the “miscellaneous pieces” that did not seem to fit. “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.” Out of whatever real ruin that threatened, Pound and Eliot had agreed finally upon the monumental artifice of a ruin, a ruin with an outline. “Complimenti, you bitch,” Pound writes Eliot: “I am wracked by the seven jealousies, and cogitating an excuse for always exuding my deformative secretions in my own stuff, and never getting an outline. I go into nacre and objets d’art.”
Duncan faulting the “ruin with an outline” (incompatible with organic form, lacking the authenticity of “unconscious form”), the nacreous bauble. Pound faulting the way, without an outline—like the one he provided Eliot by constructing The Waste Land out of Eliot’s own “miscellaneous pieces”—one’s own “deformative secretions” go to pearl-making, objet d’art-ism, a truc “not serious-minded.” (Though Duncan sees Pound—contra Eliot—as “a serious character.”) (Regarding objet d’art-ism: somewhere Duncan admits approvingly how Williams—in Paterson (“the summation of the work of a personal artist as a thing in itself”)—“is revealed as no connoisseur of the poem as art object in itself but as a visionary, reawakening in poetry once more transcendent themes and implications”—two statements caught in a crossfire, too.) Frankly, it’s hard to see if it’s Eliot’s “histrionic remove” or The Waste Land’s “very success” or the way the poem provided a template “literary needs of new young men . . . climbing in culture” that disturbs Duncan. How read Duncan’s concern about “sophistication” (“low” or “high”—isn’t it modernism’s task to mix the two? Duncan: “The heart of the poem was the unbearable mixing of things”) against remarks like: “The footnotes may have done the damage, as Eliot believed later. They sent readers to look up the sources, not to find the fountain of feeling back of the poem, but to add to their know-all. For a new class in America that now fill our departments of English, bent upon self-improvement, anxious about what was the right book to refer to, Eliot, having his own like proprieties, became a mentor.” It’s as if Eliot’s own rampant anxiety about class is being reconfigured by Duncan: the mere democratic “know-all” unequal to the “fountain” (“sources” versus source), one detects the sneer in “self-improvement,” the snide diminuendo in “mentor.” (Sounds that become routine in the self-serving exordia—a word that means “snotty remark”—of the “post-avant” crowd against any “merely” populist draw.)

Duncan so decidedly for “origins” (against “originalities”)—recall how Thom Gunn, in “Adventurous Song: Robert Duncan as Romantic Modernist,” puts it up front: “Robert Duncan was proud to call himself a derivative poet.” Duncan deploring the ga-ga temptation—
      To tie fancy knots and to contrive a greater show of our abilities. But all these original knottings are mistaken, are ‘hey-ding-ding’—‘lead nowhere’ the common sense is—if they are all novelty, things of 1920, not lasting forces. The knots that are flames are not originalities, but origins.
      “I think you have the ‘spark’,” H.D. writes in her letter to Williams, “and when you speak direct are a poet.” The spark lies in, is, the word wherever it is spoken direct, directs what we are then, for we involve ourselves in what is said. Direct.
And pulls style itself out of the “the work of the other, the poet":
The interesting effects, the devices that give personality, are part of it; but they are not the work of the other, the poet, whose urgency it is to speak regardless of this person. In poetry we strive to make things real by working with every word as coming direct from an inner voice, as the immediate condition of or presence of the poem itself.
      For the knots of the net are actual suns; are in poetry, as in dreams, directives in the imagination between actual events and man’s self, are terms of the real, are when-wheres that co-existing in the word and in the world make actual events real.
The poet writes the poem in spite of the constrictings and / or gussyings-up of the damnably arrogant (or merely meddlesome) self. Dodging the stultifying moi and its primal “knows-best-ism”—that’s the task of the poet. Purely Romantic. (See Duncan’s note in Fictive Certainties wherein he talks of how “the intellectual adventure of not knowing” returns “with the Romantic movement.” Rimbaud’s “long, immense et raisonné dérèglement de tous les sens” becomes nothing but one’s necessary means of sidelining the beseechings of the self and getting to the “direct.”

Duncan’s acknowledged debt to Stravinsky:
      “Invention presupposed imagination,” Stravinsky says in his Poetics of Music, “but should not be confused with it. For the act of invention implies the necessity of a lucky find and of achieving full realization of this find. What we imagine does not necessarily take on a concrete form and may remain in a state of virtuality, whereas invention is not conceivable apart from its actual being worked out. Thus, what concerns us here is not imagination in itself, but rather creative imagination: the faculty that helps us to pass from the level of conception to the level of realization.”
      I must have come across the definition before, that poetry, from the verb poiein, meant to make, but it was in Stravinsky’s book that the statement got across, and that poetics is “the study of work to be done.” To make things happen. And my idea of melody I found most clearly expressed there too in 1948, that “Melody, Mélôdia in Greek, is the intonation of the melos, which signifies a fragment, a part of a phrase” . . .
How succinctly that jibes with a note out of Friedrich Schlegel’s 1797 “Critical Fragments”: “There is so much poetry and yet there is nothing more rare than a poem! This is due to the vast quantity of poetical sketches, studies, fragments,
tendencies, ruins, and raw materials.” Bankruptcy of imagination without invention. (Somewhere there’s Blake, too, saying: “Nor can an Original Invention Exist without Execution Organized & minutely Delineated & Articulated Either by God or Man. I do not mean smoothd up & Niggled . . .”)

The H.D. Book Notes jusqu’ici: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Robert Duncan, 1919-1988

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Reading Notes (Alix Cleo Roubaud, Alix’s Journal)

Alix Cleo Roubaud, Alix’s Journal, translated by Jan Steyn, (Dalkey Archive, 2010)

Alix Cleo Roubaud, née Blanchette (1952-1983): Photographer, writer. Bilangue. Study’d philosophy (Aix-en-Provence and Paris) and, earlier, architecture and psychology (Ottawa). “Mad chaos of booze and barbs and despondency” versus “Why not behave like a lady and a tiger,behave the way one imagines a spy,never ready to compromise security . . .” Asthmatic, dying of a pulmonary embolism. Marry’d to Jacques Roubaud. See Jean Eustache’s film: Les photos d’Alix (1980). See Jacques Roubaud’s Some Thing Black, translated by Rosmarie Waldrop (Dalkey Archive, 1990).

“Singularity in photography remains fixed to what is singular, to the “real”(but the “real” and its “illusion” are nothing but representable singularities)—there is no point in making photography more pictorial—photography is shot through with abstraction in its composition and in its rhythm:

        make singularity dance,repeat it,make it turn back upon itself, make it pivot move sing.Repeat what is singular and make it sing.Repeat.

        Making it sing:inventions in two or three parts, make some crabs and others canons.”

(See Jacques Roubaud, in the “Introduction,” how Alix Roubaud, who “did all her own printing”—the Journal numbers hours of darkroom work—“recognized as part of her oeuvre only those images that she herself had consigned to paper.” Roubaud insisted (according to J. R.) “that a photographic negative was no more important than a pallet [palette?] is to a painter. Any photographic work that she signed was composed by her hand with the aid of light and chemistry. Transposing, for her own use, and without claiming any philosophical significance to this borrowing, a Wittgensteinian distinction, she opposed the living image to what she called a piction: a mere “idle” image. On a negative, she used to say, there is only a piction. “Printing” alone can set it into motion and truly make an image.”) (Roubaud attempts to preserve the work’d singularity, too, of the “typoscripts”—A. C. R.’s odd orthography and punctuation—“in the printed version of Journal.”)

J. R.: “The original title, later abandoned, of her great series, If some thing black, was rakki tai, and “rakki tai” designates one of the medieval Japanese poetic styles, the style for “taming the demons.”

“.A painting of the same bed would be a mere repetition.A photograph of the same bed,one day later,doesn’t repeat,but adds one more:what is photographable is as infinitely fragmentable(into these brilliant fragments we call photos)as is the time we have in the world.”

(Recalling a little Gertrude Stein in “Composition as Explanation” saying “Everything is the same except composition and as the composition is different and always going to be different everything is not the same.” Or, in “Portraits and Repetition” Stein’s note about “what has been called repetition”: “each sentence is just the difference in emphasis that inevitably exists in the successive moment of my containing within me the existence of that other one achieved by talking and listening inside me and inside in that one.”)

Ebullience: the photograph’s song in the fixing bath: “When in the past I had to explain to young people how to know how much time is required to fix a photo,I used to say that one had to wait until it (the photo) had finished singing:and indeed, when one plunges an exposed proof into the fixing tray—of acetic acid—after twenty seconds,one hears a mounting, bubbling glissando beginning in approximately D, then descending once more and fading away;failing that, I added, one must wait for the bubbles to have completed the octave.None of this is true,or rather everything is true except the young person.”

After developing “a horrible sentimental painting,playing at being a Magrittean chromo except that it’s a photo”: “Pornography and sentimentality are twin sisters claimed Valéry,both detestable . . .”

“. . . to group together, to produce all my photos two by two (like saqqarah or The Man Who Hesitated) or by fours (like The Last Room):two being the minimum of organization that completely de-centers any reference to an original . . .But two can organize themselves as an infinity of binary oppositions.”

“So, light;nothing but light;light when it falls,light which exposes the film,the light wherein the image of light gets deciphered,light from the window;sunlight;reflected in water;contracted in a window;refracted by a mirror;condensed by film;seen in a room where, once again,sunlight, refracted by a window,compressed by a door,refracted by a mirror,and so on.     Repetition like those in music;loops.(the hierarchies need to be determined:the various levels that prevent the loop from truly looping).”

“Modesty.interior life in a journal is like a car stuck in neutral:it goes nowhere;and it only begets infinite repetition. To write down everything.”

“The visual is the affirmation of an ante-predicative substance unable to produce certainties yet giving a grounding,of a sort,to a belief in the real
      in the same way that memory is the ground of belief in the past.”

(See, again, Fenollosa’s “The eye sees noun and verb as one: things in motion, motion in things.”)

“Or why photography?because it is fragment and because,like in aphorisms, fragmentation makes visible the white spaces between the fragments and it’s precisely there.Maybe an aesthetic of the ruin,preferring,say, Hölderlin,to,say,X.”

(Think of Hölderlin’s lines in “Hälfte des Lebens” (“Half of Life”)—“Die Mauern stehn / Sprachlos und kalt, im Winde / Klirren die Fahnen”—in Richard Sieburth’s rendering “Walls stand cold / And speechless, in the wind / The weathervanes creak.”)

“A question of the meeting between the umbrella and the sewing machine maxim of the Lautréamont-surréalistes,not often used in fact by Man Ray,law of all kind of photography:coexistence of heteroclite objects(and also in poetry,says Jacques:the strategy of disconnected trivia*) in the same space supported by the photographic axiom (the photo is the momentary coexistence of the photographer and the photographed) giving a kind of law of reality or the effect of the real.”
*Phrase in English

“Padgett describing Ted Berrigan with the gusto of an old friend:’he’s huge now and lies in bed all day smoking cigarettes and drinking pepsi covered with ash he says:I had no money but Alice just sold two books for a dollar thirty now isn’t life wonderful.’”*

(Too, glimpse of a dialogue between Michel Chaillou and Kenneth Koch—“two curly white heads”: “Chaillou maliciously parading Walden,Emerson,Emily Dickinson,Salinger,and in a breathtaking move all the way to ‘trout fishing in America’ by Brautigan: “what I love,is the subject,trout fishing”;Koch increasingly perplexed.”)
*Paragraph in English

“Benjamin preferred the image to the concept;in temporality he privileged the moment.cross the image and the moment,in whichever way you want,image of the moment,moment of images,you end up with photography.”

“. . . the journal was a moral undertaking,more so than photography.Irgendwie, says Scholem.The word for a thought in preparation.”

(See Scholem, in Walter Benjamin: The Story of a Friendship: “I also made this notation: ‘The word irgendwie [somehow] is the stamp of a point of view in the making. I never have heard anyone use this word more frequently than Benjamin.’”)

“Between telling and showing?     The ideal is mutism and display:a cadaver’s silence and ostentation.”

And, out of the series of statements titled “All Photographs Are Childhood Photographs” (1980):
. . .

5.5.     Every fact has a right to photographic existence; the banal as much as the exotic, the familiar as much as the grandiose; to favor the intersection of two opposing categories.

5.6.     If there is a photographic aesthetic, distinct from pictorial aesthetics, it satisfies André Breton’s axiom (which is not my own): the more arbitrary an image is, the more beautiful it is.

. . .

6.1     Never forget the fascination exerted by every photograph in childhood, even if it is blurry or askew; it is a domain where there is no such thing as a good photo.

. . .

Alix Cleo Roubaud, “Correction of Perspective in My Bedroom,” c. 1980

Alix Cleo Roubaud, “The Spoon,” c. 1980

Alix Cleo Roubaud, “If Some Thing Black. 2.,” c. 1982

Monday, June 20, 2011

Reading Notes (Jean-Patrick Manchette’s Fatale)

Jean-Patrick Manchette, Fatale, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, (NYRB, 2011)

Neo-polar. Out of Jean Echenoz’s “Nine Notes on Fatale”: “What is a roman noir? . . . the term originally referred to what were also called Gothic novels, a genre initiated in the eighteenth century. Eventually it came to apply only to the type of literature known as crime fiction, a form whose invention, as Walter Benjamin pointed out, coincided with the advent of photography, which meant the end of anonymity in that it made it possible, notably for the purposes of oppression, to identify individuals.” Thinking that, with the “advent” of the unmitigated and unapologetic surveillance state, so cavalierly ignored, one’d see a new genre, something determined to snarl the circuitry, expose the incipient brutishness of any total system.

And (Echenoz), noting how deftly Manchette avoids the (ever-continuing) nineteenth c. stink of psychological realism, “confining himself to the most concrete indications of posture, attitude, or tone of voice. The personality and thoughts of the protagonist must be deduced only from their physical relationship to the world, their material interaction with objects.” Très Dashiell Hammett, that. One thinks of Hammett’s “Personville”—pronounced “Poisonville”—in Red Harvest precisely at the point of reading the name of the setting “Bléville” (“literally, Wheatville, but blé in a slang sense means money. The town’s name is thus something like Doughville”—according to a note by the translator.) Of killer “Aimée Joubert” (“We see her roles and social attitudes proliferate even though we are never offered the slightest psychological interpretation”), Echenoz writes: “she switches the brand of her cigarettes—Celtiques, Dunhills, mentholated Virginia—almost as readily as she does her surname.”

The Baron Jules, inhabitant of “a kind of manor”—totally rundown, unkempt and neglect’d—“a tiny manor burdened down with Lilliputian pepper-pot and pinnacle turrets” with one enormous room “crowded with sideboards, tables, cupboards, seats, sofas, knickknacks, and large cardboard boxes bearing such legends as BLACK AND WHITE and HÉNAFF LUNCHEON MEAT—JACK TAR’S TREAT” (and other rooms piled with cases of whiskey and cartons of English cigarettes), the Baron (whom Aimée initially meets after wandering off at a party chez Bléville’s major industrialist: the Baron is busy peeing against the industrialist’s wall (“The urine could be heard continuously battering the wallpaper. A dark puddle was forming on the bronze-green carpet between the two booted legs of this interloper.”) The Baron, it the manor fill’d with lift’d SNCF hand towels, and “glasses bearing Mobil and Martini logos,” partial to ramblings like: “When I break this decanter of mine . . . I’ll replace it with one with advertising on it . . . I am very interested in promotional items and free gifts . . . Also in trash. I have no income, you see, and a man with no income is bound to take a great interest in free gifts and trash . . . Given the present state of the world . . . with the increase of constant capital as compared with variable capital, a whole stratum of the poor is bound to be unemployed and live off free gifts and trash, and occasionally off various government subsidies . . .” Or, later: “So just fight bravely on, most gracious master of capital! . . . you shall be allowed to rule for a short time. You shall be allowed to dictate your laws, to bask in the rays of the majesty you have created, to spread your banquets in the halls of kings, and to take the beautiful princess to wife—but do not forget that ‘Before the door stands the headsman!’”

The socialist Manchette’s late disillusion with any nuanced political solution. One of Bléville’s community “stalwarts” (dispatch’d with at the end) is a journalist for one of the two local newspapers (“one of them championed a left-capitalist ideology; the other championed a left-capitalist ideology”). Political efficacy reduced to seizing the dough. Echenoz: “There is a sense in which the project of the heroine, Aimée Joubert, is a political one. A project of the most stripped-down form imaginable: to take money where it is to be found. It is the rich that interest Aimée; she goes only where there is money. In appropriating that money by taking advantage of the contradictions of its possessors, whom she eliminates in the process, she applies a radical and brutal logic which puts the death of the wealthy to profitable use.” (Or, as Aimée puts it to the baron: “The real assholes can be killed.”)

Jean-Patrick Manchette, 1942-1995

Friday, June 17, 2011

The H.D. Book Notes 7

Robert Duncan, The H.D. Book (U. of California Press, 2011)

Back to the monolith, its lovely repeating machinery. Duncan, l'obsédé toujours, somehow, and bothersomely, of les élus. The few, the call’d. Quoting what H.D.—“an initiate of the Freud cult”—says Freud insists: “My discoveries are a basis for a very grave philosophy. There are very few who understand this, there are very few who are capable of understanding this.” Too, though, there’s lines out of Freud’s 1915 “Thoughts on War and Death” counterpoint’d with a 1914 letter pertinent in the current “era” of rampant imperial lies—Freud seeing clearly “the cruelties and injustices for which the most civilized nations are responsible, at the different way in which they judge of their own lies, their own wrong-doings, and those of their enemies”:
The individual in any given nation has in this war, a terrible opportunity to convince himself of what would occasionally strike him in peace time—that the State has forbidden to the individual the practice of wrong doing, not because it desired to abolish it, but because it desires to have the monopoly of it, like salt and tobacco.

And (the elect’d), muscling together the company (“from each of these the cry goes up—to whom other than us, their spiritual kin—from an intense solitude”): “Not only Freud’s ‘There are very few who understand this,’ but Stein’s ‘Do you know because I tell I you so, or do you know, do you know. (Silence) My long life, my long life,’ or Joyce’s ‘Thinking always if I go all goes. A hundred cares, a tithe of troubles and is there one who understands me? One in a thousand of years of the nights?’ or Pound’s plea from Canto CXVI:
I have brought the great ball of crystal,
                who can lift it?
Can you enter the great acorn of light?
Or, talking of Ludwig Tieck’s “The Elves,” and pointing to “the people of some outcast area of the psyche itself . . . the people of the romantic impulse, mistrusted and disowned—the romantic fallacy, the right-minded call it”: “The magic of this source, whether it be an actual company, of poets or heretics, or a hidden area of the psyche, or a source of the poem, lies in its being secret to all who have not entered into its inner life.” Whence American romantic clubbery elideth it into control-befoul’d elitism?

“Percept against concept.” Duncan’s impingement of Pound’s image (“that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in time”) and Williams’s “the local conditions’’ with a single skewer: thus unfolding “something actually seen in the process of the poem, not something pretended or made up.” (How’d, though, anybody, beyond the writer-assemblagist, know.)

How odd that I—loving to prattle about Fenollosa’s “no nouns in nature”—’d forget how he resists, too, rampant continual “abstract” verbery, making of nature a sentence (a named thing predicating). Duncan calls it “moving syntax.” Fenollosa: “A true noun, an isolated thing, does not exist in nature. Things are only the terminal points, or rather the meeting points of actions, cross-sections cut through actions, snap-shots. Neither can a pure verb, an abstract motion, be possible in nature. The eye sees noun and verb as one: things in motion, motion in things, and so the Chinese conception tends to represent them.”

Duncan’s stray quoting of H.D.’s remark (“Ion,” 1937) for “the valiant yet totally unselfconscious withdrawal of the personality of the artist.” And Eliot’s (“Tradition and the Individual Talent,” 1919): “The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.” Etc.

Duncan’s terrific ear for echoes:
. . . when The Pisan Cantos appeared in 1949 how closely Pound’s lines:
If the hoar frost grip thy tent
Thou wilt give thanks when night is spent.
recalled H.D.’s lines from Tribute to the Angels that had been published in 1945:
where, Zadkiel, we pause to give
thanks that we rise again from death and live.

The injustice (and oddness) of Duncan’s assigning “Pound, Williams, and H.D.” (and D.H. Lawrence, and Edith Sitwell) keepers of the “generative imagination” (“Pound called it”), those who “saw literature as a text of the soul in its search for fulfillment in life and took the imagination as a primary instinctual authority”—going to the extent of quoting Carlyle’s “The Hero as Poet”—“musical thought is one spoken by a mind that has penetrated into the inmost heart of the thing; detected the inmost harmony of it, namely the melody that lies hidden in it; the inward harmony of coherence which is its soul, whereby it exists, and has a right to be, here in this world”—and depositing Wallace Stevens (with Marianne Moore, and Eliot) amongst the “rational,” those who “remain within the rational imagination and do not suffer from the creative disorders of primitive mind, the shamanistic ecstasies and the going ‘after strange gods.’” (“Chieftain Iffucan of Azcan in caftan / Of tan with henna hackles, halt!” Etc.)

Unparallel’d and necessary, Duncan’s Spring and All reportage and rescue. (Found in the initial chapter of what’s call’d “Book 2. Nights and Days”—work originally print’d in Jim Harrison and Dan Gerber’s Sumac 1:1 in 1968, in that lovely period of détente in the poetry wars, post-New American Poetry, pre-Language writing, I suspect Duncan’s notes point’d the way to the 1970 Frontier Press edition, and defined the beast for innumerable up-and-comers. Ironically, pointing, too, in Williams’s “rancor” toward terms of subsequent debate, that “knowing touch of the artist, a stylish manoeuvre” versus the “heightened apprehension of what form means.” Duncan:
      Looking back, Spring and All in 1922 stands a major realization of form. Its twenty-eight poems belonging to an open sequence of feeling, cohering, not in any plan or prescribed theme, but in the essence of their belonging to the pure intuition of the whole. As free as the new music of Webern or the new painting of Kandinsky. The work itself having the insistence of the formal. So much depended upon seeing what was being done. Charged with spring. With the spring of a new poetics. The sequence of discrete, sharply drawn, contrasting poems that are in turn parts of something else, elements thruout of a melodic structure. That can include (as the new art of the collage begins to include):

Wrigley’s, appendicitis, John Marin:
skyscraper soup—

or after “The Sea,” “Underneath the sea where it is dark / there is no edge / so two—,” comes XXI “The Red Wheelbarrow.” For upon the “so much depends” and upon the “red wheel / barrow” the imagination must have a heightened apprehension of what form means to take hold.
      A year of achievement. Surely he must have known what he had done. But it was a year of rancor for Williams too, for what he had done in Spring and All, to give simple things a power in the imagination, to compose so in the pure exhilaration of a formal feeling, was not recognized by those closest to him in poetry. Pound, writing on “Dr. Williams’ Position” in 1928, does not mention Spring and All, and he seems to be defending an art in its lapse. “Very well, he does not ‘conclude’”; Pound writes: “his work has been ‘often formless,’ ‘incoherent,’ opaque, obscure, obfuscated, truncated, etc.”
      Williams had struck out to make a new claim for form and it had not been recognized. More than that, the impact of Spring and All was obliterated by the timeliness, the mise en scène, the very usable attitudes and conclusions of The Waste Land.
      The Waste Land, as it seemed to the literati of 1922 to voice most to their time, appears now as a period charade; with put-on voices and some epitome of modernism-1922 played against cultural tones, orchestrated with Edgar Allan Poe and the Vedas. The “O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag— / It’s so elegant / So intelligent” we all recognize as a knowing touch of the artist, a stylish manoeuvre.
      The modernism-1922 is there in Spring and All, in the hey-ding-ding tough-voice of “Shoot It Jimmy!” and “Rapid Transit”
To hell with you and your poetry—
cuts in. But it is there an authentic part of the conflict the poet knows, in its own rights, as the red wheelbarrow is. For what it is. An insistence in the poem.
      Yet. . .
      Eliot must be part of our picture. He worried about social forms, about being in good form. He was never quite sure about the form, the beginning and the end of that first long poem. About what belonged. As he worried too about who and what belonged in the right thing, in literature, in the true establishment. About what to include. “Do you advise printing ‘Gerontion’ as a prelude in book or pamphlet form?’’ he writes Pound: “Perhaps better omit Phlebas also??? Certainly omit miscellaneous pieces.” “The poem,” Pound wrote Eliot, “ends with the ‘Shantih, shantih, shantih’.” A period charade? But it was the first poem in which the American mind lay so mediumistically open to the wastes of Europe’s agony. “The great catastrophe to our letters,” Williams recalls in his Autobiography:
I felt at once that it had set me back twenty years, and I’m sure it did. Critically Eliot returned us to the classroom just at the moment when I felt that we were on the point of an escape to matters much closer to the essence of a new art form itself—rooted in the locality which should give it fruit . . . I had to watch him carry my world off with him, the fool, to the enemy . . .
      Yet . . . “This is not to say that Eliot has not, indirectly, contributed much to the emergence of the next step in metrical construction, but if he had not turned away from the direct attack here, in the western dialect, we might have gone ahead much faster.”
      “He might have become our adviser, even our hero,” Williams puts it. But he left the American language, the speech of childhood, the common speech—not for English, but for the language of English literature . . . .
That’s plenty. Serial and organic form in that “open sequence of feeling, cohering, not in any plan or prescribed theme, but in the essence of their belonging to the pure intuition of the whole.” (See Ashbery’s version: “form is that of a bag into which anything is dumped and ends up belonging there.”) And the put-on “period charades” of today? Legion, identify’d by slavishness, laziness, and dishonesty. And “reception anxiety”: “worried . . . about who and what belonged in the right thing.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Reading Notes (Witold Gombrowicz’s Diary)

Witold Gombrowicz, Diary (Northwestern U. Press, 1988-1993)

Quoting Nietzsche (in the context of “virtue in those who have failed, virtue born of poverty”): “The mitigation of our customs is the consequence of our weakness.”

“Writers! We would save ourselves a great many disillusionments if we did not call everyone who can ‘write,’ ‘a writer.’ I knew those ‘writers.’ They were usually persons of rather superficial intelligence and quite narrow horizons, who, as far as I can remember, did not become anybody so that today they don’t really have much to give up. These cadavers were characterized in their lifetime by the following: it was easy for them to fabricate a moral and ideological face, thereby earning the approbation of the critics and the more serious part of the readership.”

“. . . people knew what a great writer was supposed to be: ‘authentic,’ ‘profound,’ ‘constructive’ and they then tried to fulfill these requirements yet their game was spoiled by the awareness that it was not their own ‘profundity’ and ‘loftiness’ that was compelling them to write, but the reverse: they were creating the profundity so that they could be writers. That is how this subtle blackmail of values came about and it was no longer clear whether someone was voicing humility only to elevate himself and stand out, or if that someone was voicing the bankruptcy of culture and literature in order to be a good literary figure. The greater the hunger for real and pure value among these beings, so restricted by their own contradictions, the more desperate the feeling of the inevitable and all-demanding kitsch.”

Of n’importe quoi: “I will undoubtedly conceive of this thing in rather subjective terms as thinking is not my specialty and I do not conceal the fact that to me thought is simply auxiliary scaffolding.”

“You have no idea what is happening inside of you, when you look at a painting. You think that you are getting close to art voluntarily, enticed by its beauty, that this intimacy is taking place in an atmosphere of freedom and that delight is being born in you spontaneously, lured by the divine rod of Beauty. In truth, a hand has grabbed you by the scruff of the neck, led you to this painting, and has thrown you to your knees. A will mightier than your own told you to attempt to experience the appropriate emotions. Whose hand and whose will? The hand is not the hand of a single man, the will is collective, born in an interhuman dimension, quite alien to you. So you do not admire at all, you merely try to admire.”

“An idea is and always will be a screen behind which are other and more important issues. An idea is a pretext, an auxiliary tool. Thought torn away from human reality is something majestic and splendid, but diluted in a mass of passionate and insufficient beings becomes nothing more that commotion.”

Against Camus’s insisting (in L’Homme révolté) that conscience, the individual conscience, serve as a stop: “Don’t we see again and again that the conscience has almost no voice in the matter? Does man kill or torture because he has come to the conclusion that he has the right to do so? He kills because others kill. He tortures because others torture. The most abhorrent deed becomes easy if the road to it has been paved, and, for example, in concentration camps the road to death was so well trodden that the bourgeois incapable of killing a fly at home exterminated people with ease.”

“Rabelais had no idea whether he was ‘historical’ or ‘ahistorical.’ He had no intention of cultivating ‘absolute writing’ or of paying homage to ‘pure art,’ or, too, the opposite of that, articulating his epoch. He intended nothing at all because he wrote the way a child pees against a tree, in order to relieve himself.”

All out of pages writ in 1953. Recall, too, the line of Gombrowicz’s quoted by Sontag: “To contradict, even on little matters, is the supreme necessity of art today.” (Contra the yea-saying mobs of applauders, and mutual applauders, that hurry along the poetic “ranks” today. This-year’s-model-ism. Gombrowicz: “Applause incited by applause. Applause feeding on itself, piling onto itself, exciting, creating applause.”)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Reading Notes (Montano’s Malady)

Stray hints of intent. Needing a place for “reading notes”—the kind of things I formerly accumulated on paper scraps and index cards (inevitably lost). Whatever moves one to jot it down, or type it up. Presenting an argument unargued, of sorts. (A trial run.)

Enrique Vila-Matas, Montano’s Malady (New Directions, 2007)

“. . . what Gombrowicz feared most was Sincerity, he knew that Sincerity in literature led nowhere: ‘Has there ever been a diary that was sincere? The sincere diary is without a doubt the most fallacious, because frankness is not of this world. And also—sincerity, what a bore! It isn’t even faintly fascinating.’”

Jean Echenoz’s pointer re: narratological means (abrupt-style): “A bird goes by . . . I follow it. This enables me to go wherever I like in the narrative.”

The end of Cesare Pavese’s journal: “Suicides are timid murderers . . . All this is sickening. Not words. An act. I won’t write any more.”

Writing as sleepwalking. Shakespeare’s Lady MacBeth as writer, suffering a writerly spell (akin to Spicer’s radio receiving Martian transmits): “A great perturbation in nature,—to receive at once the benefit of sleep, and do the effects of watching.”

Enrique Vila-Matas’s Robert Musil saying: “Let us not just hand ourselves to the age as it covets us.” Argument against all that baseless “it’s a fragmented age” mimickry. Though, too, quoting Musil’s “Our whole being is just a delirium of many.” See Vila-Matas’s:
There were two odysseys, the classic one, a conservative epic going from Homer to James Joyce, in which the individual returned home with an identity, despite all the difficulties, reaffirmed by the journey across the world, and also by the obstacles encountered along the way . . . The other odyssey was that of Musil’s man without qualities, who, unlike Ulysses, moved in an odyssey without return, in which the individual hurried forward, never returning home, continually advancing and getting lost, changing his identity instead of reaffirming it, dissolving it in what Musil called “a delirium of many.”

Whitmanesquerie of Enrique Vila-Matas’s version of lines out of the diary of Valéry Larbaud’s A. O. Barnabooth: “En publiant ce livre, je m’en débarrasse. Le jour où il paraîtra sera le jour où je cesserai d’être auteur. Et je le renie tout entier: il s’achève et je commence. Ne m’y cherchez pas; je suis ailleurs; je suis à Campamento . . .” Vila-Matas: “It is over, I begin. Do not seek me in its pages, I’m somewhere else, I’m in Campamento, in South America.”

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Prose Piece


No. 27

Beginning to ascertain what the euphemism-fraught memoranda must say, with caddish witticisms abounding, ‘critical indifference factoids’ and ‘faux mannerist amiability’ big amongst them. I doubt you even register’d my lack of singularity, how I squander’d my one monumental heart two dim sum joints back, or three. Like the twelfth c. monk Siagyō says: ‘where the trail crosses the cliffs, I look only at the scaffolding’s planks, and shun the onlookers.’ The Chinese master of the present blessedness Wallace Stevens put it thus: ‘The Good Man Has No Shape.’ A Baltimore oriole up in a maple disgorges a burr of noise. A series of cascading ineluctables ends with select’d dahlias annul’d by the heat. I think of Blake grabbing a long-handled shovel to join the mob at Newgate Prison. As if they knew.

Ramón Doll, in Policía Intelectual (1933), attacking Borges’s 1932 Discusión and accusing Borges of being a “literary parasite” (quoted in Enrique Vila-Matas’s Montano’s Malady): “These essays, bibliographical in their intention or content, belong to that genre of parasitic literature that involves repeating badly things others have said well; or in pretending Don Quixote and Martín Fierro were never published, and printing entire pages lifted from these works; or in making out that one is interested in elucidating some point and with a candid air incorporating the opinions of others, to be seen not to be one-sided, but to have respect for all ideas (and in that way the essay gets written).” Vila-Matas is, in turn, quoting Alan Pauls’s El factor Borges (2000):
Pauls remarks that Borges, contrary to the policeman Doll’s expectations, very probably did not disapprove of the critic’s words, but quite the opposite: “With the shrewdness and sense of economy of great misfits, who recycle the enemy’s blows to strengthen their own, Borges does not reject Doll’s condemnation, rather he converts it—reverts it—into his own artistic program. Borges’ work is teeming with such secondary, slightly obscure characters, who like shadows follow the trail of a more luminous work or character. Translators, exegetes, annotators of sacred texts, interpreters, librarians, even lackeys of beautiful people and brawlers: Borges defines the true ethic of subordination in this gallery of anonymous creatures . . .”
Et nous sommes tous des subalterns . . .

Sense of impending hiatus indéfini . . . (Rehandling that totemic line here in my worn scrubs, Nick’s to Marjorie in Hemingway’s “The End of Something”: “It isn’t fun any more. Not any of it.”)

Jorge Luis Borges, 1899-1986

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Prose Piece


No. 26

Tired of the smug thoroughgoingness of the snit-besmirch’d critical apparatuses. Tired of the histrionics of the pure verb. I yank off my cohort and dash myself remedially against the one standing wall of the tycoon’s hut. Oh, the cow’d serenity of hysteria here in the loco imperium, here in the droopy West. Two mallards skim scum off the pond. A bullfrog thrums out its remorse and urgency, and suddenly shuts up. I think of the Irkutsk girl of the Lake Baikal region, coif’d in a black helmet of hair, looking like a samurai of the Edo period, skirmishing with the local postmaster. I think of the black lava fields of Pico, its hedge-row’d verdelhos growing succinctly green under the cloud-ring’d volcano. Schopenhauer says somewhere that ‘extravagance springs up out of a brutish limitation to the present moment’: the vagrancy of unbecoming, a way of refusing to get it right.

Tempus tacendi . . .

Blanchot: “La littérature va vers elle-même, vers son essence qui est la disparition.”

Maurice Blanchot, 1907-2003

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Prose Piece

In a Garden

No. 25

Trouble is, I like lyrical raillery, its peremptory dash and sweet ‘murth’rous’ tomfoolery concocting up a self inconstant and ungovernable in its ruses. Like the lean sentimentalism of the original contingent out of Europe unleashing its fury against the ‘virginal’ wilderness: an economy of accost and disperse. A scuff-batter’d registry mark’d ‘To Ol’ Pea-Blossom, that we hym shal knogh.’ A tiger swallowtail, summer’s pale incipit, flaps aimlessly up into the reaches of the cherry tree. Locust seedlings push up through the snow-hammer’d duff: the capricious expugnable poise of the natural world, its discrepant propensity to vary its holdings. A tender green vireo, cause of expiry unbeknownst, is cover’d with red-eyed Sarcophagidae. Thorns pierce my brow.

Talk balk.

Two lines out of Enrique Vila-Matas’s Montano’s Malady: “And then I remembered how I used to see myself remembering seeing myself writing and finally I remembered seeing myself remembering how I used to write.” And: “Edmond Jabès said that, whenever one writes, one runs the risk of never writing again.”

Elisabeth Reuter, “Jabès’s Yukel”
(After Edmond Jabès’s
Le Livre des Questions)

Monday, June 06, 2011

Two Prose Pieces

Wall and Meter

No. 23

Nothing is certain. A high barrier of cumulus floccus clots up big: white curds in the sky. Marking off the intertidal zone: hundreds of common periwinkles anneal’d to the rocks. Water-color’d shrimp in the pot-sized pools, water’s own flagellant. The aimless lethargy of the vacant masses invariably disappoints the theorist, goodbye. Goodbye to radical doubt, its spooky un-registering look of the single heart-scourging predicament, the look of the blind. Goodbye to the aerial ways of earthly release, the moto perpetuo of the God-smithy’d millions, smote with regal forbearance to smite in its turn, sand-bagging up a laugh in Kandahar. Goodbye to the God-damn’d hounds. A stunt’d black juniper skews out like an incisor, ocean-pointing. Up where the creamy vestiges of sun drench the yellow expanse of lawn, a three-prong’d sprinkler flings out its own lazy ropes of water.

No. 24

High cirrus tails irremeably smutch the colossal blue. Down here: three crows up to no good. Raucous caws of the lookout. The dog points, dangles a paw brokenly, at the ready. Feign’d nonchalance breech-load’d for the flush. Kafka, in a meager 1917 letter to Felix Weltsch, talks of ‘the clandestine labor of an oppressed proletarian race to whom the night belongs.’ Some appalling comedy of mice in the woodwork, it turns out. Night’s persistent latency, its dogma. (See Erasmus’s 1534 pun against the cynics: ‘wonte to defende their dogmies styfly with tothe and nayle.’) Whence the sketch-leniency of morning’s pre-arrival light? Refused acquittal against charges of contempt, you go incessant, and industrious, against the day. Hazarding the noisy buckshot obdurato of a fowling piece, its recoil under the tender white media of noon. Dogged to the end.

Anti-yak attack.

Franz Kafka and Dog

Thursday, June 02, 2011

“Slavish” or “Game”


No. 22

He’s ‘fatt’d the kites with offal’—thus concludes the amass’d jury, dun-scarf’d against identity. Like a Kafka germ, ‘it smels of mortalitie.’ Tired of the allegory of the word, its unavoidable soilure and ruin oppugn’d by the supposèd avoirdupois of pristine use: if the road unimpeded arrives at the vaunt’d weathercock, why, go. And go with no onus of going, for vasty and indifferent the lingo be. Such profuse and tender renewals of the pocky albeits innumerable. So: a singular morning, daftly accommodating the sun’s regalia, eases up out of the slate-color’d ocean with the massy bulge of a landlubber. The marina’s boats shine white and bob, filigree’d stickpins of the washy expanse. Guilty of the trick’d out aggrandizement of the ne’er-do-well, the meretricious mess of the ‘egregiously deceived.’ Say melancholia made me a dynamo. Say a jackdaw’s a certain sign of excess. End with the deadpan recital of a bagatelle. ‘All be yt he coulde not saye naye.’

Fabulist reveries. Loss of focus. Nights slowly reading Marguerite Young’s Miss MacIntosh, My Darling with its swirls of hallucinatory detritus, the immiscible certainties utterly sunk by the sheer wanton pressure of reverie itself, “embarrassing collusions of the phantom and the fact, fugitive coordinations,” “realities always outdistancing verifications”—“There were many first editions of poets, some in the dead languages, a gramophone with Edison’s first record, water lilies in a crystal bowl of which the waters had not been changed for years, an ebony writing desk inlaid with mother-of-pearl where she had started to write a letter yesterday or years before, her portrait in a ruby-colored riding habit, her falconer’s gloves embroidered with mystical birds which should be laid upon a gate-leg table lighted by a beaded lamp, her white parasols of which she had so many and alike, the latest magazine which he might care to read L’Illustration of a decade ago, for example, opened at the seventh page and covered with dust.” Astonishing that Scribner’s print’d the whole enormous difficult thing in 1965. It is apt to reconvene my arguments against minimalism, though it’s hard to avoid the argument of Roberto Calasso in K. (2005): how Kafka “sensed” that:
. . . only the minimum number of elements of the surrounding world ought to be named. He plunged the sharpest Ockham’s razor into the substance of the novel. To name the bare minimum, and in its pure literality. And why so? Because the world was turning back into a primeval forest, too fraught with strange noises and apparitions. Everything had too much power. Thus it became necessary to limit oneself to what lay closest at hand, to circumscribe the zone of the nameable. Then all that power, otherwise diffuse, would be channeled there, and whatever was named—an inn, a file, an office, a room—would fill with unprecedented energy.
Which so precisely fits with my sense recently of the world’s cumbrance . . . I am dragging “back” a pack-mule’s worth of books, trying to cease my constant impractical “textual surveillance” that renders half-ass’d and “mimsy” all reportage. (The end to the “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!” school of quotidian writing: “distraction in's aspect, / A broken voice . . .”) “To circumscribe the zone,” that was the first heave. (Calasso: “Kafka’s intolerance for big words. If uttered by a young woman, breathlessly, he had the impression that they emerged ‘like fat mice from her little mouth.’”) Spare parsimony against the lovely ostent of parsimoniousness, the word, its prodigality number’d in its own vocables. Don’t, as they say, count on it. (‘All be yt he coulde not saye naye.’)

Marguerite Young, 1908-1995

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

A Governing Uselessness


No. 21

Isn’t all writing a furious rosy cathectic in pieces barely assembled? No. ‘Sleeping back to back like two sticks of bamboo.’ Aptly labeled polysemous jerkwater akin to ‘Goodness, it’s nearly midnight.’ At the continent’s peaks, the banal and the audacious bow one to the other. Pleas’d to meet Miss Beecher. See Mark Twain’s wily smutch: ‘Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.’ O conceit of the salient, pathos of the reify’d: a male condor of the Sisquoc wilderness flyway is up for grabs off eBay. Hostile, pent-up and unpredictable, though skill’d at fluid release mechanisms, dams, baffles, and the like. Like dying out at the final chord surrounded by an ocean of clarinets. I mock the horizon, its razor-edge of blue interrupt’d by galleons, buccaneers at the helm. I mock the worthy confect, its mincemeat, its adherence, its gloomy tenacity. The country is somewhere hereabouts, the country is, for love, starv’d.

To be with Basil Bunting who, in “The Use of Poetry”—copy of notes for a lecture Peter Quatermain xerox’d in Vancouver c. 1970 (Bunting, at P. Q.’s request: “Good heavens, man! What on earth for?”)—begins by refusing to cotton to the usual high-principled truck of Eliot and Pound who “used to maintain that poetry was a useful art, even a necessary one”:
The poet’s business was to purify the dialect of the tribe, or clarify it, or otherwise keep words clean and sharp, so that men, who mostly think in words, could have thoughts with sharp edges.
Bunting right off concludes “they were muddled” and counters by noting how “fruitful thought seems to be very rarely precise,” connecting such precision “with barren logic”—habitually the domain of “clerks and accountants.” (I think of Robert Morgan insisting that poetry is mathematic at its core: just a Poindexter’s way to beleaguer and limit the manifold usufructuary of the lingo, and all its perfervid rampancy, is what I retort’d, though probably in somewhat different words . . .) Bunting, bluntly: “Poetry is no use whatever. The whole notion of usefulness is irrelevant to what are called the fine arts, as it is to many other things, perhaps to most of the things that really matter.” And, dub-chorus-back’d by Jeremy Bentham and Benjamin Franklin:
Utilitarianism is the extreme case of humanism, for what they mean by “useful” is “what ministers to the material needs of man”—that’s Franklin—“of mankind in general”—that’s Bentham. If religion is what we are taught from our youth up, what is meant to influence all our behaviour and most of our thought, utilitarianism is the religion of the West in this century as it was through most of last century: a religion that has put an abstraction called Man in the place that used to be occupied by a foggy idea called God. The fellow who makes two blades of grass grow where one grew before is the greatest benefactor (therefore it was right for the Italians to conquer Libya, and it is right for the Jewish farmers and manufacturers to drive out nomad Arabs, and it was right for the settlers on this continent to starve or shoot the Indians). It is wrong to loaf and gawp about instead of working steadily at something useful, and of course it is wrong and foolish to write poetry unless it can be shown to purify the dialect of the tribe or keep the plebs in order or perform some other useful function.
And regarding any yeoman’s beck to an “investigatory” poetics: “when you look at what poets write, it is very hard to convince yourself that their art contributes anything to the process of thought. The things they say are sometimes silly, very often conventional, the commonplaces handed down from poet to poet; and even the few who do set out a system of thought worth considering, have usually taken it over wholesale from some prose writer.” And:
Many of the poems we all consider masterpieces seem to contain no thought at all. “Full fathom five” only says: “Your father is drowned”; and when Ariel says it he is telling a goddam lie anyway. “O fons Bandusiae” remarks that Horace will sacrifice a kid to the little stream tomorrow—or one of these days, if he remembers. “Über alle Gipfeln ist Ruh” comes up with the bright discovery that we will all die one of these days. Other celebrated poems notice that spring weather cheers you up, or being in love makes you restless. If these poets were providing the tools of thought, why didn’t they make some use of those tools themselves?
Recalling somewhat William Matthews’s smarmy list in “Dull Subjects” (originally present’d in a 1984 lecture)—Bunting’s essay apparently appear’d only in 1985, in Writing 12, out of Vancouver:
1. I went out into the woods today and it made me feel, you know, sort of religious.
2. We’re not getting any younger.
3. It sure is cold and lonely (a) without you, honey, or (b) with you, honey.
4. Sadness seems but the other side of the coin of happiness, and vice versa, and in any case the coin is too soon spent, and on we know not what.
Bunting finally connects poetry with music and dance (“Poetry . . . comes spontaneously to men, just as music does, and at the same time. I won’t try to trace the steps that turn a dancer’s grunts into verses.”) (One thinks of that barely temper’d desire to burst into grunt-verbiage beyond neology, that body-compel’d push to sheer un-word’d excess and bleat mid-song . . .) The “use”-sermon-making is hard to avoid. Williams (in a 1950 letter to Creeley): “If the language is distorted crime flourishes. . . . Bad art is then that which does not serve in the continual service of cleansing the language upon all fixations upon dead, stinking dead, usages of the past.” Williams, too—trammel’d by the “stinking dead”—turns to mathematics, measure, the “foot”—and is confront’d with the incoherency of arguing for a variable measurement in “On Measure—Statement for Cid Corman” (1953): “Relativity gives us the cue. So again, mathematics comes to the rescue of the arts. Measure, an ancient word in poetry, something we have almost forgotten in its literal significance as something measured, becomes related again to the poetic. We have today to do with the poetic, as always, but a relatively stable foot, not a rigid one. . . . Without measure we are lost.” A follow-up letter to Corman makes evident the preposterousness of Williams’s attempt to claim a poetics of use and expenditure:
      What we want is a measurable unit which we don’t have to follow literally, but satisfies our minds that it is valid. A relative stability, something that can be variously counted even when it puzzles us to count it, even when it jumps out of the count, is what we must have. And that is what I mean by “consonant” with our age, because our age is governed by just such a measure—and must accommodate itself to it.
Not “ungoverned”—recall Williams’s “accountant’s” letter to Creeley: “To write badly is an offence to the state since the government can never be more than the government of the words”—but not refusing the “instinctive” either: “It merely means that we have not yet discovered a measure that governs it. We don’t need to refuse the instinctive, because on the contrary it is in the instinctive that we must look for an advancement of our knowledge.” (Akin to Buntings’s “fruitful thought seems to be very rarely precise.”) (Williams’s teetering between the instinctual and the govern’d: O’Hara’s “guarding it from mess and measure.”)

Basil Bunting, 1900-1985