Friday, November 16, 2007

Ed Dorn Notes


‘And so back to Halicarnassus—
Bust’d-up port of brine-
Sprung breezes.’ So Herodotus, one
Thinks. To compile the savage

Notes, to lop off digress
And lurch-step, stories sprung
Of ‘daintie-mouthde dronkardes,’ never
The ablest informants. To taut

Up the fact-patterns, &
Erect a kind of warren-
Slot’d deep municipality, something to
Gull and delude the masses,

That man-rabbitry, epically superfoetant
With stories—some furred, some
Naked and roseate and barely
Form’d, some inconceivable, or ‘modern.’

Bah. Fifteen days into the writing gig and the unconvincing ‘push’ is glaring, the torture and redoubt. Staring down the long thin nose of the page. Gracility meaning not “slender and dexterous,” but “skimpy.” Plowing around the Olson letters somewhere a remark the big O. makes about whether or not Herodotus ever return’d to Halicarnassus, hometown, or did so periodically or what? Sniffing out evidence of a man. A fine wonderment, and exactly what Olson’s good at. So that, with a (here, unsung) “theory” in the brainbox about Herodotus as a kind of Kerouac, the travels, minimal and hurry’d, making for greater travels in the kitchen, fuel’d by retsina (how I used—mad drinking clown—to love Henry Miller’s line about being “stinko on retsina”) and raki, inventing all that stuff about camels with four-thigh’d and four-knee’d hind legs, and genitals that “point backwards towards its tail.” And invisibly mix’d in, or something I want’d to ask (and did not) by way of uncertainty, by way of probing the current “era,” Carl Rakosi (in 1968) pointing out how “disastrous” Pound is (was) “as a model, totally disastrous to younger writers”:
People today are not heroic, and modern human nature is not epic. It’s just human, and anything else is just playing games.
Epic end’d? I lean to minimal change in human nature (pax, Virginia W.—is that how it goeth? Joyce: “There’s a bloody sight more pox than pax about that boyo.”), though one supposes it possible that la poésie is no longer that thing to provide the epic fix.

Late, I lash’d myself to the new Ed Dorn Live: Lectures, Interviews, and Outtakes (University of Michigan Press, 2007), or it lash’d itself to me, Dorn’s ripping authenticity, even when you know he’s yanking at one’s dearest presuppositions a little, or a lot. Baraka notes accurately: “There was no Pollyanna in him at all.” I like the kind of perceptual experiments—ad hoc lecture pronouncement (Naropa, 1977), hooking around the need to be wary of “authority” (book-learning, mostly):
Writing, in general of course, is the chord emanating from the source which measures the length of how far the word has strayed from its origin. So in that sense there is no such thing as the misuse of a word. That’s actually an organic impossibility. The only thing that happens is the length of this chord, which is not the same thing as a mistake.
Completely malleable musickings. Connectable to something Dorn says later regarding “the greater precision of the vernacular” (speech’s plasticity and romp being more liable to “misuse”), how power is unleash’d by exactly that chordal progression: “The quicker, harder, more inexorable precison of the vernacular, which at the same times seems very, very loose and offhand.” (Inexorable, quick, offhand—against the earnest, belabor’d, the “project.”)

Completely admirable in Dorn, the restless point’d curiosity, the pragmatic refusal of “system,” the makeshift, improvisatory intelligence, never stymied by grandiosity. He says: “What Black Mountain did was to teach that a system was ideal—intellectually ideal, but improbable. So you were supposed to do the best you could. It results in one’s being enamored of learning in the end, which is fine. I’d as soon love learning as anything else.” Somehow, in the accident (real) nexus of reading, Dorn’s stance reminds me of that of Slavoj Žižek in the recent piece titled “Resistance Is Surrender”:
The lesson here is that the truly subversive thing is not to insist on ‘infinite’ demands we know those in power cannot fulfil. Since they know that we know it, such an ‘infinitely demanding’ attitude presents no problem for those in power: ‘So wonderful that, with your critical demands, you remind us what kind of world we would all like to live in. Unfortunately, we live in the real world, where we have to make do with what is possible.’ The thing to do is, on the contrary, to bombard those in power with strategically well-selected, precise, finite demands, which can’t be met with the same excuse.
Which is probably less “accommodationist,” less “mere reformism,” than humanly-scaled and tactical—“you were supposed to do the best you could.”

Slavoj Žižek and Ed Dorn