Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Black-Eyed Susans


Everyday language infects itself “anew.”
Spoils for a fit particular,
A way out of its
Vacillating contextual fever, bacillus un-
Host’d, language becoming materially thinner,
Its pining a kind of
Tropism, skinnying out white exploratory
Tips and runners, out of
The foul crate and black
Cranny that is the word-
Hoard, looking for a ready
Attachment. Language a motile force,
Gangly messenger with gap-tooth’d
Intensity: “Can I bag that
For you?” Or suddenly the everyday is at the mercy of Dionysius of Halicarnassus’s dictum that “the words ought be like columns firmly planted and placed in strong positions so that each word’ll be seen on every side, all parts at appreciable distances from one another.” A gibbous moon hangs like a bloat’d word in the sky. One cannot think of Mars any longer without “picturing” a spongy-looking pink grapefruit. Orion is splay’d out across the southern sky like a pelt stretch’d and tack’d to dry. I read a few pages of George Steiner’s After Babel. Inadequacy of formal means means what? One scooches about in the debris: the body fits itself in, c’est tout. Any fit of transport’ll leave language behind anyhow, dumbstruck, yelping, moaning its O’s. A remote intensity is what language longs to accomplish, to heap up, to stockpile, a weapons cache in a Roman temple. A powder keg. An arsenal—“enclosure and will’d opacity”—under a tarp. Rabelais writes je boy comme ung Templier and hides a blaze in stateliness.

Thrashings. I “fall upon” (life raft) a paragraph of Barthes, out of “Listening,” pull’d in by the idea of the “fleeting index” (the everyday):
Morphologically, on the species level, the ear seems made for this capture of the fleeting index: it is motionless, fixed, poised like that of an animal on the alert; like a funnel leading to the interior, it receives the greatest possible number of impressions and channels them toward a supervisory center of selection and decision; the folds and detours of its shell seem eager to multiply the individual’s contact with the world yet to reduce this very multiplicity by submitting it to a filtering trajectory; for it is essential—and this is the role of such initial listening—that what was confused and undifferentiated become distinct and pertinent—that all nature assume the special form of danger or prey; listening is the very operation of this metamorphosis.
How make a language that—in an opposing “unfiltering” movement—unbraids, disperses, explodes (without danger)? (Of course, that is what language does: exfoliating uncontrollably, a hothouse flower.) So, to merely “capture” the “fleeting index,” to scoop up the “pure” “everyday” in great writhing fistfuls of language (great bushels of weeds undifferentiated, to “maintain” a metaphor that is trying to plea-bargain an early release . . .)—is a refusal precisely at the bounds between the contemplative and contempt, prey to and prey of. Bah.

Roland Barthes, 1915-1980