Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Good Title

A Wall

Makes perfect sense, coming to it athwart: how one is, in a relentless age, unable to determine if one’s undergoing a crise de foi (or a crise de foie, that peculiarly French affliction, call it “un ensemble de manifestations digestives et neurologiques sans gravité, tels des vomissements et des maux de tête”—thank you, M. Michel Houellebecq, born Michel Thomas) or is simply too busy of late to deliver. No god or gauntlet abounding: lassitude and listlessness mark’d by finicky (that combo of cheerless and meaningless and precise) industry. Ford Madox Ford, born Ford Hermann Hueffer, refers to the function of the poet as “that psychical suckling of fools, and metaphysical chronicling of small beer”: of late, between chores, one’d prefer to suckle the small beers and read Ford. Though Ford’d counsel a more apt disposal (reviewing George Saintsbury’s A History of English Prosody in The English Review in 1909):
      Any philosophic student of the history of music will tell you that the study of counterpoint exists, not to teach counterpoint, but first to eliminate those whose sacred fire will not carry them through a period of arduous labours. Secondly, it teaches the composer how to break its own laws. The English composer of to-day is trained, if perfunctorily; so, too, the English artist. Even the English dramatist understands that he must learn something of stage-craft. It is only the writer who considers that all that goes to the making of a book are the pen in his hand and the vine-leaves in his hair. Professor Saintsbury is providing us with a treatise on the harmony and counterpoint of English verse.
      The English language is the perfect vehicle of poets; as a medium for prose it is too vague and too rich. The ideal paragraph in French prose is a framed set of facts which move us on account of the precision of the language. The best paragraph of English prose is a rhythm of words of poetic association. Hence it arises that the most exquisite statements of fact in the English language are to be found in blank-verse speeches.
So one labours, deigns to continue labouring, with an eye toward keeping the limbs “supple.” (Rampant be the lack of souplesse.) Yesterday, briefly succumbing to the machine, collecting a few pieces out of stray books (in the manner of Walter Abish writing 99: The New Meaning—“not actually ‘written’ but orchestrated”—that is, appropriating materials, 99 pieces out of 99 works by 99 authors—each lift’d off “a page bearing that same, to me, mystically significant number 99”), I collect:
Nothing surprising here—except one word: esperienza, “experience.”

Reading it would be deadly boring.

With no need to be lifted by art out of the nondescript general case because never for a second inhabiting it.
And it is evident (in the few select’d) how directly I am fighting the exercise. (Abish’s odd numbering system records the numbers of words select’d: I mimic that.) Wouldn’t I rather mock the Perma-Prest trou and arrange (and re-arrange endlessly) whatever tiny lyrical firings burst forth out of “my” “self” “churlish like a kite” and with “the coltish look of Anouk Aimée, born Françoise Sorya Dreyfus”? Yeah. “The Histrionics of a Get” would be a good title.

Ford Madox Ford and Anouk Aimée