Tuesday, November 08, 2011

“A raucous circus . . .”


William Carlos Williams, 1883-1963

Colder days bring a raucous circus of crows into town, all disjoint mummery and fuss, flummery and muss, moveable clots in the treetops. Inadvertent mischief and disintegrating integument. An affray and row in the welter itself. The roof coming un-thatched. “Gesticulating, in the rotted light” (William Fuller). Such promissory mishaps. There’s no way to say it, any of it. The lowliest functions of the heart circumscribed by the ethereal candor of those come undone, by the prerogatives of most regal feculence, that city. “Thank God that’s about finished” (William Carlos Williams). A measure of Williams’s grit and humor: how, corresponding, he repeatedly addressed Pound Liebes Ezrachen, Dear Little Ezra. Measure of how he (Williams) saw through the “piecemeal excellence” of “undesire”—the settled-for loss of banality construed by writing “a smooth page no matter what the incoherence of the day, no matter what erasures must be sacrificed to improve a lying appearance to keep ordered the disorder of the pageless actual” (A Novelette). Williams, who writes (In the American Grain) of entering the citadel (Paris) and meeting its ferociously insouciant citizenry, inhabitant by inhabitant, gutter by gutter—“Picasso (turning to look back, with a smile), Braque (brown cotton), Gertrude Stein (opening the doors of a cabinet of MSS.), Tzara (grinning), AndrĂ© Germain (blocking the door), Van der Pyl (speaking of St. Cloud), Bob Chandler (prodding Marcel), Marcel (shouting), Salmon (in a corner) . . .”:
I was, during that time, with antennae fully extended, but nothing came of it save an awakened realization within myself of that resistant core of nature upon which I had so long been driven for support. I felt myself with ardors not released but beaten back, in this center of old-world culture where everyone was tearing his own meat, warily conscious of a newcomer, but wholly without inquisitiveness—No wish to know; they were served. I saw exhibitions and sat at a few tables, here and there.
Williams, who writes of Williams by writing of Poe’s own impetuous vacillatory glee:
Sometimes he used words so playfully his sentences seem to fly away from sense, the destructive! with the conserving abandon, foreshadowed, of a Gertrude Stein. The particles of language must be clear as sand. (See Diddling.*)
      This was an impossible conception for the gluey imagination of his day. Constantly he labored to detach SOMETHING from the inchoate mass—That’s it:
      His concern, the apex of his immaculate attack, was to detach a “method” from the smear of common usage . . . He struck to lay low the “niaiseries” of form and content with which his world abounded. It was a machine-gun fire; even in the slaughter of banality he rises to a merciless distinction . . . He sought by stress upon construction to hold the loose-strung mass off even at the cost of a icy coldness of appearance; it was the first need of his time, an escape from the formless mass he hated.
“To get from sentiment to form,” Williams writes (a tiny after-echo says—“that was the first heave”), “a backstroke from the swarming ‘population.’” (In a 11 August 1928 letter to Pound, Williams—talking of Henry Adams—notes how “much of what he said is—after all—pure style: never to be understood.”) And see, too, in A Novelette:
The rush that simplifies life, complicates it. There is no time to stop the car to write when only the writing that comes of an intense simplification would be actual. January. January. Now actually the sun returns. Ezra Pound is already looking backward. And we, as if unborn, stare at the impossible cluttered with the temporary, the circumscribed. The composed. The inadequate. While the real, by leaves, by a table, on which lies a ten cent bottle of Aspirin tablets stands sufficiently. Under the cheap crochet table cover—the table is of stained wood, square is a yellow cloth that shows through the open-work. An electric lamp, lit, is in the center, a cloth covered cord running from it to the floor. —This is banality.
A pure (enough) rendering of “the destructive! with . . . conserving abandon . . .” That is to say: sloppy moving into “detailed,” disjunct with lyric moaning (“January. January . . .”), contaminated by the everyday occlusions (and taunts), writing as thigmokinesis (“. . . in which the stimulus is absence of touch or body contact”). Oh dear.
* Out of Poe’s “Diddling Considered as One of the Exact Sciences” (1850):
Your diddler is minute. His operations are upon a small scale. His business is retail, for cash, or approved paper at sight. Should he ever be tempted into magnificent speculation, he then, at once, loses his distinctive features, and becomes what we term “financier.” This latter word conveys the diddling idea in every respect except that of magnitude. A diddler may thus be regarded as a banker in petto; a “financial operation,” as a diddle at Brobdingnag. The one is to the other, as Homer to “Flaccus,” as a Mastodon to a mouse, as the tail of a comet to that of a pig.
. . .
Your true diddler winds up all with a grin. But this nobody sees but himself. He grins when his daily work is done—when his allotted labors are accomplished—at night in his own closet, and altogether for his own private entertainment.