Tuesday, July 22, 2008

“Mary Hartline, Mary Hartline”

Two Cones

In a terrific interview (c. 1983) in Gargoyle, Jaimy Gordon discloses Keith Waldrop’s impeccably taut definition—“A novel is that literary form into which you throw everything that’s captured your attention in the last five years”—and delineates a fine crosshatching (amounting venerably to a “mount,” an implacable hillock, an uppity rearing steed of a place, good for seeing) of English idiosyncratic rhetors (Francis Bacon to George Meredith by way of Richard Burton, Sir Thomas Browne, and other such renegade “writerly” types—none’d cop to speech as a viaduct for the sentence, or the way it burrows in all twisty and athletickal and brute, like a mole, to follow the grand excursionary force of the mind it is out doing the “scouting” for, unsure of its end . . .) It’s a sublime and intelligent romp, the interview, puts a genial cuffing to the critical boosterism of “deceptively simple style,” that kind of pathetic glomming (by editors and readers alike) to the systematically dull under the faux assurances of “clarity.” Besides, Gordon quotes Meredith’s “Essay on Comedy” to the prescient nip of “any intellectual pleading of a doubtful cause contains germs of an idea of comedy.” (When the American Bolaño revs up to the novelistickal tales of late ’seventies San Francisco poetickals, The Savage Defectives, there’ll be a veritable comedic outbreak, surely . . .) Is it that Jaimy Gordon’s sassy Besonnenheit (I don’t speak German either) combined with hernia-threatening scholarship (no matter how “heteroclite and unsystematic”) seems particularly need’d in these dumb’d down ’aughts? She says—
This will sound odd, but I like having a mind, I like thinking, though I am aware that I think eccentrically and often ridiculously, so that my thoughts threaten to isolate me even though they take shape in the common tongue. I do have confidence that what goes on in my mind, including but by no means featuring its review of personal experience can be turned into something made of language that will be arresting to those who are susceptible to splendors of rhetoric.
That and the way she says “momps” ’s got me hook’d: “I yanked off my Camp Chunkagunk jersey . . . Stood up straight. Now to go the way my naked momps were pointing me. I looked down at them. They’re kinda duck-footed: one said north, one said south.” Or the “dreambox mechanics” and “thinkbox adjustors” populate the bughouse wherein the Bogeywoman is confined following misadventures at Camp Chunkagunk. Gordon’s ear for the rhythms of American speech: “I never oink her,” said Chug, “this he-she? It take another kind of freak to figga out how to oink sumpm like that. I never oink her. I pity her.” And: “Cheap,” Tuney pointed out, “fi dolla to you and she can have these dry goods here, she owe me a Abe for the lot.” Gordon’s way with titling, the wry (and heartbreaking) repetition of the subtitle: “How Love Got Me Out of There.” Gordon’s love of Mary Hartline in Super Circus, walking on knives clench’d in hands.

What about coterie? Thinking about coterie and its meanings whilst reading, intermittently, Lytle Shaw’s Frank O’Hara: The Poetics of Coterie. Shaw sees it, the word, as participating in a somewhat “fluid rhetoric,” oscillating in meaning between something like a precise empirical (historically defined) “context”—X, Y, and Z in a clump, that particular inextricable ball of snakes found under that rock—and something like a “style of referentiality”—like how the boy goes off to camp one summer and returns talking all funny for a few weeks. (Coterie wearing off.) Then I see somewhere Kristen Hanlon (of Xantippe) call coterie “cozy.” Is there a difference between “coterie” and “community”? The latter so widely laud’d, the former poked at—that writhing bed of snakes. Isn’t, though, community just what coterie becomes—one snake dares brave the sun? Is community what coterie becomes with the inevitable arrival of disagreements, air’d “out”? Or with the arrival of others—interlopers, toadies, sycophants? Whence beginneth the dullard codification of coterie behavior? Is a community a coterie with a law enforcement agency? (Pages of illustrations out of the historical “books.”) Isn’t it normally the subaltern, the epigone, the late-joiner (and -“bloomer”) who so deftly, nay, viciously fills the “boot” of enforcement. (One can witness the behavior in the comment boxes of any of the major “playas”—those happy policemen, acting with only the doggedest promise of being noticed. As Jordan Davis comment’d somewhere: “the web makes everyone a cop.”) Makes one want to slip off into “the belle indifference of an habitual solitudinarian” (Jaimy Gordon), and choose not to work “with” anyone, no?

Mary Hartline