Friday, February 01, 2008

A Cat in an Airpump

A Wall (Arrow and Pipe)

Kenner (in Joyce’s Voices) detailing the limits of “plain style” (Hemingway’s “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”):
Scrupulous homespun prose, the plain style of narrative fidelity, was a late and temporary invention, affirming the temporary illusion that fact and perception, event and voice, are separable. Far from delivering a final truth about things, as it seemed to do in the days when it was new, far from replacing the excrescences of rhetoric with “so many things, almost in an equal number of words,” it corresponded . . . to a specialized way of perceiving for specialized purposes, such as recording the behavior of a cat in an airpump. . . . Like all specialization . . . it is potentially comic, is only kept from comedy by our agreement that something serious is going forward. Rhetoric in all its play is a human norm, the denotative plain style one of its departments merely.
Ah sweet meretricious rhetorical “excess,” its diffident and fluid grace, it’s protean moue and flounce, it’s dab-Frenchness, it’s defiant savaging burn! (Where is the “plain style” of today’s “post-avant” located, located, located? Why in the post-objectivist factoid factory of the alphabetical Mr. Silliman! Interminable “percepts,” interminable words! That’ll be a good laugh for the pear-shaped doyennes—oh Monsieur Ubu!—of the future rugate! Why the plodding philately, they’ll ask, why the lack of fire!) One’d do well to recall Hart Crane—no slouch in the terpsichorean rhetorical lavishings dept.—’s remark to Waldo Frank: “Rimbaud was the last great poet that our civilization will see—he let off all the great cannon crackers in Valhalla’s parapets, the sun has set theatrically several times since while Laforgue, Eliot and others of that kidney have whimpered fastidiously.” Or to turn to the undersungest Modern of all, inventor of “coeditor” Hedgepinshot Pickwort, that rippy controversialist Wyndham Lewis: “Hedgepinshot is rather a rare name and so is Pickwort, but he was a poet and a picker up of words as he went no doubt, and “pinshot” was a word Pickwort had picked up under a hedge very likely, and Hedgepinshot carried on the “decadent” tradition upon a tide of pallid very low-volted reactions, for what it was worth . . .”


We live in a constellation
Of patches and of pitches,
Not in a single world,
In things said well in music,
On the piano, and in speech,
As in a page of poetry—
Thinkers without final thoughts
In an always incipient cosmos,
The way, when we climb a mountain
Vermont throws itself together.
Wallace Stevens, a poem I am continuously forgetting the title of, and going into extend’d bouts of page-flipping to retrieve. Today, dawdling—big snow and continuing—thinking about “What to do / up too early / the snow a blank monument to itself / awaiting the stonecutter’s / heel and chisel . . .” and, doodling, thinking of news of Ted Berrigan’s dying coming by postcard (I think), a whole age of postcards—one arriving down out of Vermont, hot July of what year, early ’eighties—what’d Berrigan think of Stevens? That’s how it went—the opposite of feisty, a sweet burn of “Allons, camarado!” for the inextricably dead, the mountainous dead, and the patches and pitches that hold one here, to them.

Alfred Jarry’s Ubu, 1896

Marius Rossillon a.k.a. O’Galop’s Bibendum a.k.a. the Michelin Man, 1898
(The Latin Nunc est bibendum’s roughly Now’s for drinking or Cheers! In French, À votre santé!
Le pneu Michelin boit l’obstacles
equals Michelin tires drink obstacles.)