Monday, September 29, 2014

Ben Lerner / Antonin Artaud

Antonin Artaud, 1896-1948

Weekend of chirrings in the hedgerows, and sun-honied light. Scriptorial intent trounced by ambulatorial necessity. At West Lake red columns of Virginia creepers hung in the oaks. A praying mantis the size of a man’s finger flung itself into the asters, goggle-eyed and spent. Bluebirds everywhere, voluble, molting, half-acrobatic. At Short Hills a yellow-billed cuckoo high up in a black walnut mildly examined the canopy for caterpillars. At the DeVine Preserve two northern harriers got mobbed by a rag-tag squad of seven crows, kettled up into the vault, countered with a dive. Along the old farm fence: wild cucumbers, pale green ovals the size of an egg, spine-covered, unviable.

Too, read Ben Lerner’s new novel 10:04 (Faber and Faber, 2014). Failed to discern the critic-vaunted (and Lerner-provided, albeit—I think—with no mere smidgen of irony in the much-quoted proviso, howsoever notoriously hard-to-read tone may be: “I’ll work my way from irony to sincerity in the sinking city, a would-be Whitman of the vulnerable grid . . .”) move out of irony. What to make of Lerner’s scissoring together of Eliot (“A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many, / I had not thought death had undone so many”) and Whitman (“Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes! how curious you are to me! / . . . / The impalpable sustenance of me from all things, at all hours of the day; / The simple, compact, well-join’d scheme—myself disintegrated, every one disintegrated, yet part of the scheme”) toward the end of 10:04? Lerner:
A steady current of people attired in the usual costumes was entering the walkway onto the bridge and there was a strange energy crackling among us; part parade, part flight, part protest. Each woman I imagined as pregnant, then I imagined of of us were dead, flowing over London bridge. What I mean is that our faceless presences were flickering, every one disintegrated, yet part of the scheme. I’m quoting now, like John Gillespie Magee.
John Gillespie Magee (1922-1941), whose poem “High Flight” (“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth . . . and touched the face of God”), largely pieced together out of other existing poems found in a book called Icarus: An Anthology of the Poetry of Flight, the reader’s learned earlier, provided words for Reagan’s Peggy Noonan-scripted address to the nation after the Challenger’s breakup at launch. Is there sincerity in the rather bemused obnazenie priëma, the “laying-bare” of the work’s device that Lerner offers here? Not to insist that 10:04 must needs end up in full-fathomed sincerity, only to suggest that it mightn’t.

The sentence I like, pulled out of the circumstances of its making (things noted post-dental surgery, after a so-called “twilight anesthesia” with its amnesia-inducing benzodiazepines) :
That he would form no memory of what he observed and could not record it in any language lent it a fullness, made it briefly identical to itself, and he was deeply moved to think this experience of presence depended upon its obliteration.
Reading into it the purity of refusing scripture, refusing the “signifying monstrance” of the indefatigable hand writing out its endless scrawl. Recalls for me Antonin Artaud’s lines out of The Nerve Meter (1925):
      I consider myself in my minutiae. I put my finger on the precise point of the fault, the unadmitted slide. For the mind is more reptilian than you yourselves, messieurs, it slips away snakelike, to the point where it damages our language, I mean it leaves it in suspense.
      I am the man who has most felt the stupefying confusion of his speech in its relations with thought. I am the man who has most accurately charted the moment of his most intimate, his most imperceptible lapses. I lose myself in my thought, actually, the way one dreams, the way one suddenly slips back into one’s thought. I am the man who knows the inmost recesses of loss.

      All writing is garbage.
      People who come out of nowhere to try to put into words any part of what goes on in their minds are pigs.
      The whole literary scene is a pigpen, especially today.
      All those who have points of reference in their minds, I mean on a certain side of their heads, in well-localized areas of their brains, all those who are masters of their language, all those for whom words have meanings, all those for whom there exists higher levels of the soul and currents of thought, those who represent the spirit of the times, and who have named these currents of thought, I am thinking of their meticulous industry and of that mechanical creaking which their minds give off in all directions,
      —are pigs.
      Those for whom certain words have meaning, and certain modes of being, those who are so precise, those for whom emotions can be classified and who quibble over some point of their hilarious classifications, those who still believe in “terms,” those who discuss the ranking ideologies of the age, those whom women discuss so intelligently and the women themselves who speak so well and who discuss the currents of the age, those who still believe in an orientation of the mind, those who follow paths, who drop names, who recommend books,
      —these are the worst pigs of all.
Of course, there is a certain writerly exhilaration in saying so, quoting it. The fulsome enclitic of making a presence by denial, refusal. Light refusing the stickiness of its honied nomenclature by simply shining. Another way of “laying bare.”