Tuesday, November 02, 2010

“Bestride the Foreseeable”

A Light

Night’s viscera of light. What pierces through, out of the vestigial rump (meaning leftover) beyond. The Pleiades, squabbling in a clump. Like the sign of an incipient rash. Too cold for November. Someone (Christopher Logue, War Music) says to Hector:
Dog in the forehead but at heart a deer,
Recall the luckless morning when you kicked
Your silk-and-silver counterpane aside
And found your coast alive with shrieking Greeks.
Exceedingly tempt’d of late to fly (“at heart a deer”), scot-free through the scoria, the incrementally heap’d excrements, seizures of human whim. Art markings, coprolitick made things, books. Think for a moment how many word-constructs unravel, ditch’d by inconsolable wild gangsters of the word, lost in a century of loss, snatch’d off by magpies, all to allow the swoll’d up stark remainders to shine: enough to reduce “literature” to an irresolvable conundrum of dots, unconnect’d. So I think, walking under Orion, yesterday’s surge (exemplary, vast, and unrecoverable) unwrit. Turn’d, bluntly, defiantly, to reading against the derisory and fraudulent stir of whim and import, that tactless fey obligado. There, too, a romp of inconsequence and loss. If Ruskin’s mention’d in one Pound biography it is only to note how he’d deem’d Whistler’s “Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket” (1874), “a pot of paint in the public’s face”—and how Whistler’d “retorted that ‘Art should be independent of all clap-trap’, . . . independent of ‘emotion entirely foreign to it, as devotion, pity, love, patriotism and the like’.”

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, “Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket,” 1874

All to propose a somewhat tenuous precedent (Whistler’s butterfly monogram) for Ez’s “gadfly” signature (“a butterfly with a long tail armed with a sting”), a proposal at odds with H.D.’s parallel claim that the wily scrawl “was suggested by Ethel Voynich’s The Gadfly (1897)” wherein a young socialist hero in Italy “publishes ‘political verse-lampoons for the Republican movement under the pseudonym “The Gadfly”’, and his signature is ‘the sketch of a gadfly with spread wings’.” And, countering that stack, there’s Guy Davenport’s Ruskin (“obsessed with falling sparks,” whose “last scrap of writing was about fireflies”), whose Fors Clavigera is “a prose adumbration of The Cantos,” the two works being:
. . . in contact with each other all along and may represent the longest sustained transcriptions of the same subject (history seen concomitantly with its art and literature; history as a movement through benevolent totalitarianism toward constitutional democracy thus far thwarted by greed and monied conspiracies) by the same kind of mind (virtue eclectically found in female graciousness and beauty, in certain intelligent, ruthless masculinities—both, for instance, praise Sir John Hawkwood—and in many cultures that achieved social justice alongside clarity and conciseness of design).
Sir John Hawkwood, fourteenth c. condottiero (we’d say “contractor”): Frances Stonor Saunders, author, recently, of The Woman Who Shot Mussolini and, earlier, of a book about the CIA-fund’d Congress for Cultural Freedom and its doings amongst various American art critics and Abstract Expressionist painters (The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters), author’d, too, Hawkwood: The Diabolical Englishman. Pound’s Hawkwood (out of Canto XXXVIII, “The gentle reader has heard this before,” mostly about the armaments industry, “Said Herr Krupp (1842): guns are a merchandise”):
To friends and enemies of tomorrow
“the most powerful union is doubtless
                        that of the Comité des Forges,”
“And God take your living” said Hawkwood . . .
Carroll F. Terrell, in a note (Companion to the Cantos of Ezra Pound): “An Italian story tells of two mendicant friars greeting Hawkwood with their customary ‘Monsignor, God give you peace,’ to which he answered, ‘and God take your living from you, too’; when questioned about his rebuff to their benevolence, he replied: ‘How can you wish me well when you come to me and say, may God make you die of hunger? Don’t you know that I live by war, and that peace would undo me?’” Thus the mercenary “ungentil knyght”—unscrupulous, unfetter’d by ideology, busy piling up the spoils, not unlike a bank. “Dog in the forehead.”

Turn’d to reading, the fireworks and monkeyshines shun’d. Vestiges of it in Julien Gracq’s stupendously adroit Reading Writing:
When Malraux writes that the novelist’s genius “is in the part of the novel that cannot be brought back to the narrative,” every lover of literature approves without giving it a thought. The difficulty begins when you really try to isolate this part: promising work, not clear intellectual surgery, but rather the bloody and confused mess you see in the butcher’s stall, because the passage from bone to flesh, like that from “story” to written text, is made through an inextricably tenacious network of adhesions, vessels, ligaments, and aponeuroses.
Rare sapient dressing for those who’d insist that “plot” (“story”) despoils the jaunt. It’s never about “story” anyhow. It’s “about” the shiny, whitish-silvery bands all slippery between the distend’d rose-color’d striae of meat, flat fasciae binding. Or it’s not about the bindings—it’s about the skittish ways of the assemblagist’s knots, half-visible in the gore. Gracq again, about Stendhal’s prose, “potboilers, . . . musical and touristic rhapsodies, . . . recopied notes”:
Why is this prose so intensely alive and so intimately “personalized” through and through, though it presents no very apparent formal qualities? At times I think I can half-detect one of the reasons. This prose is never a spoken prose; it has none of the vocabulary or turns of phrase of casual conversation or aimless discussion. But it almost always has the nimbleness, breeziness, and freedom of a total lack of sequencing. There is no prose in which the sentence being completed leaves one less able to predict the style, rhythm, or even tone of the one to follow. The person who captivates us in conversation is not Goethe debating with Eckermann so pedagogically but the person whose remarks always bestride the foreseeable, in a graceful, unexpected, and sometimes brilliant leap. So it seems to me that the secret of Stendhal’s prose . . . is to be sought not in the united flow of the writing and its cumulative richness, . . . but rather in exquisitely negative values; in the various ways it thwarts expectation at every moment, in the largely open register of its breakdowns.
Jean Paulhan (out of The Flowers of Tarbes, or, Terror in Literature) reports, too, how “Paul Valéry likewise says of Stendhal that he ‘knew how to get around writing sentences per se . . .’” though I am suddenly recalling severely Bob Perelman’s love of Stendhal. Rehash’d in The Grand Piano, jigger’d up into a piece call’d “Plotless Prose” in the initial Poetics Journal. (The point is not the plotlessness.) Perelman, apropos Stendhal’s travel writing:
Paragraph by paragraph, the prose is disjunct. And within paragraphs, consecutive sentences will jump in focus and scale. There is a wide range of effect, bound up less with the content of each sentence (though there’s an infinite range there, since they deal with physical and social particulars), than with motion between sentences. Stendhal’s relationship, and hence the reader’s as well, to the content of what he’s saying is constantly shifting.
Back to the rump congress of reading. Closing the open register of writerly breakdowns.

Julien Gracq, 1910-2007
(Photograph by Roland Allard)