Thursday, April 30, 2009

Drone Writing

Magnolia, Morning Light


Yank the ramp out of the back of the truck and use it to determine
Where the thing ought to be park’d. Who talks about the breath
Of a whole company of men downing Dexedrine smelling like a jar
Of dead snakes? Nobody sweats the smaller indignities mid-firefight.
Melville claim’d what’s spat out in heat: ‘that thing unsays itself.’
I am not so sure. Everywhere excrescent flowering exotica, import’d
Ornamentals jagging up old fields, all the mullein with its flannel’d
Leaves and high javelin stalks plow’d under, TruGreen’d out. Need
To go a county or two west where a mob of birders is keeping ‘all
Available glass’ point’d into a flock of longspurs, reportedly containing
Some Smith’s. What is it Wallace Stevens means when he writes: “To chop
The sullen psaltery = to write poetry with difficulty, because of the excess
Realism in life”? I’d like the song of my days to resemble that
Of the longspur, its dry mechanical ratch of winding a two dollar

Michael Herr (Dispatches):
There was the terrible possibility that a search for information . . . could become so exhausting that the exhaustion itself became the information. Overload was such a real danger, not as obvious as shrapnel or blunt like a 2,000-foot drop, maybe it couldn’t kill you, but it could bend your aerial for you and land you on your hip. Levels of information were levels of dread, once it’s out it won’t go back in, you can’t just blink it away or run the film backward out of consciousness. How many of those levels did you really want to hump yourself through, which plateau would you reach before you shorted out and started sending the messages back unopened?
Why’s that seem utterly apt? Thirty years later and all we bent-aerial’d writers ever appear capable of doing is “sending the messages back unopened”? If Dr. Williams stress’d “contact”—that requirement of any bold empiricism—how come “we” find ourselves so why so all-niggardly pixel’d, bent only to the screen? Epicurus didn’t say stuff it to the hilt, big ass, or y’all catch a deaths of pleasure: he shoo’d off the divine interventionists, he Luddite-clobber’d the computer screens with a handy malleolus (little hammer). (Illi inter sese multa vi brachia tollunt / In numerum, versantque tenaci forcipe massam. = They, keeping time, one by one raise their arms with mighty force, and turn the iron lump with the biting tongs. Virgil, talking about the Cyclops.) Didn’t one used to see TV refer’d to as a “one-eyed monster”? If the century’s mind rots in a jar, oughtn’t one choose Tennesseelessness, and stop hoo-ing to the slick trombone? (Wallace Stevens says that means “making Bing Crosby,” though I think he means “making like Bing Crosby,” all oleaginous suavity, a social charm quark.) Ah, Der Bingle. I recall doing a passable vibrato on “We All Have a Song in Our Hearts” one crowd’d hot noisy night in the Palms, and nobody—nobody—heard it. “New form as an addition to nature,” c’est moi. Oh, I don’t know. The defeatist’s sigh after the excoriation. Which does not mean “to tear out the heart of,” but “to flay, to strip off the rind or bark.” Dr. Johnson: “I was punished with artificial excoriations in hopes of gaining new graces with a new skin.” (He’s not talking Web-lingo.) “The cosmetick science was exhausted upon me; but who can repair the ruins of nature? My mother was forced to give me rest at last, and abandon me to the fate of a fallen toast . . .” (“New form as an addition to nature,” ce n’est pas lui.) In a world without “contact,” what becomes the information is no longer the exhaustion of its search, it is its terrifying ease. The world located in the itch of one’s fingers so lightly and indifferently padding out and back across the old familiar keyboard, that veritable stockade and asylum. (Herr: “The moon came up nasty and full, a fat moist piece of decadent fruit. It was soft and saffron-misted when you looked up at it, but its light over the sandbags and into the jungle was harsh and bright. We were all rubbing Army-issue nightfighter cosmetic under our eyes to cut the glare and the terrible things it made you see.”) No such “cosmetick science” need’d here in “our” new skins. “A suspected U.S. drone fired missiles at a house in Pakistan’s tribal region Wednesday, killing at least six people.” Drone: “A continued deep monotonous sound of humming or buzzing,” “a pilotless aircraft or missile directed by remote control,” “A non-worker, lazy idler, a sluggard.” (Les drones, c’est nous.) “The Spike, an advanced top-attack missile, is what gives the French drone its killing power.” “The number of my daily hits spiked after I post’d my pictures of the moon: nasty and full, a fat moist piece.” Herr:
You know how it is, you want to look and you don’t want to look. I can remember the strange feelings I had when I was a kid looking at war photographs in Life, the ones that showed dead people or a lot of dead people lying close together in a field or a street, often touching, seeming to hold each other. Even when the picture was sharp and cleanly defined, something wasn’t clear at all, something repressed that monitored the images and withheld their essential information. It may have legitimized my fascination, letting me look for as long as I wanted; I didn't have a language for it then, but I remember now the shame I felt, like looking at first porn, all the porn in the world.
Contact. All the contacts in the world. Contact if any of the usual contingencies fail.

The usual jaunt tomorrow. Monday.

Michael Herr

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Pierre Reverdy Recovery



The heart, nobody
bothers with what
the heart with
its four valves
mitral and aortic,
pulmonary and tricuspid,
and its million
barrels of blood
pump’d and repump’d
bawls out, unsubmitting,
criminal and vehement.
It’s nothing, it’s
‘a pitous soun’
no sentry’d deign
mark registry of
in the book
of gummings-up,
works of purulence
and night. Better
to keep all
the channels running
clear, cleansed of
rot and unclouded,
no ‘conniption at
the sight of
poor Snap’ fits,
nothing to clot
up—or cleave
to—the adherent
sore machinery of
the plangent utterance.

Here’s the original of Bill Berkson and Frank O’Hara’s “Reverdy” as it is print’d in Hymns of St. Bridget & Other Writings (Owl Press, 2001):
Reverdy is not like Chopin. He is a long city street with small musical houses on it.

There is a word, rédacteur, in French, of which I cannot recall the meaning.

Here are two cups, a Keats, a comb and a brush, four packs of cigarettes, an ashtray labeled “Chance,” two boxes of matches, a rope, Always Love a Stranger, a wire brush and a carved piece of wood, which I cannot understand. This is where Reverdy still lives, inexplicable as ever.

What strikes the eye hurts, what one hears is a lie. What is written struggles through, and then has struggled through and is white. The snow lasts because of the sun. Never letters, always messages.

Here we are, getting ideas like the French, yippee!

We discovered many years ago that in French you can say anything . . . Except certain things which Eliot, Valéry, Claudel, Béranger and others have said. Yippee!

Reverdy is not a cubist. Who ever was? One hundred Americans a day are accused of cubism. “The pubic area of the male is not a thing of beauty.” “The public area of the female is not a thing of beauty.” (These are two American sayings showing a lack of Reverdy.)

Picasso is fire, Reverdy is flint. In America flint is used for arrowheads as well as tinderboxes. Do you like to hunt for what you eat? Are you a cannibal? Is there order outside of insanity or just a maelstrom of velleities and mistakes?

Je suis las de vivre dans le pays natal. When you get to the maelstrom let me know. If you have to pick the ashes off your cigarette, you are born to any given work of modern art. We no longer know what wires are wrapped around us than what air we breathe. We no longer care who is next door; we know how they feel about us. One drinks more than one thinks. There is no sense in coming home “early.” We are already in the maelstrom which is why we don’t “know” it. I want to get up “early.”

In America there is only one other poet beside Reverdy: William Carlos Williams.

They are both alone. How do you feel about titles like They Are Both Alone, Wake Up and Die, You Die with Your Eyes Open Don’t You?, Chair Vive, Poem?

We have made ourselves cretins for Reverdy’s sake.

We must all pretend to feel fine or get shot like a horse.
Berkson adds the note that “John [Ashbery] agreed to translate what we wrote into French” for the “issue of Mercure de France honoring Pierre Reverdy who had died of a heart attack, July 17, 1960” and that “You Die with Your Eyes Open Don’t You and Wake Up and Die were two of the working titles for a Horace McCoy-type low-life novel Joe LeSueur was working on at the time.” What I find odd about the Ashbery translation is how elegantly it puts some of the boyish collaborative tomfooleries of Berkson and O’Hara. (According to a 1988 Berkson letter in City Poet, the piece was written in Paris “during what was probably the peak of our friendship”; the return flight produced “Flight 115: a play, or Pas de Fumer sur la Piste” with its hijinks and slap-happy sass: “Who do you take me for, Eckermann? Ciassime di suo modo, right? I do agree that tea is terribly messy when you consider the glissance of sherry.”) In some places, the Berkson / O’Hara original seems written in a kind of intentionally clumsy mock-translatorese—“ a word . . . in French, of which I cannot recall the meaning.” Or: “These are two American sayings showing a lack of Reverdy. (Both Ashbery’s “mot . . . dont je ne peux pas arriver à connaître la signification” with its fuss to arrive, and “Ce sont deux maximes américaines qui prouvent l’absence de Reverdy” seem measurably “natural” in comparison. Too, there exist some ameliorations in the Ashbery: the hang-jaw (and funny) “We have made ourselves cretins for Reverdy’s sake” becomes “Nous sommes dans le maëlstrom à cause de Reverdy” (which wrongly makes of the maelstrom a nigh-transcendent figure). Ashbery completely drops the sentence: “I want to get up ‘early’” and changes the enigmatic “lasts” to “brille [shines, gleams]” in “The snow lasts because of the sun.” (Cusp of a statement about processual writing there in “What is written struggles through, and then has struggled through and is white” and we do know (don’t we?) the import of the sun’s “messages” (and of getting up “early”) to O’Hara.) (I suspect there’s some sense here of Ashbery attending to audience: after all, the Mercure de France volume is a combo of homage and hagiography, peculiarly (meaning, seriously) French. No American japery allow’d. Ashbery changes—interprets—the “inexplicable,” referring to Reverdy, to “inexplicablement,” referring to where Reverdy “still lives.”)

Rereading Ashbery’s “A Note on Pierre Reverdy” (collect’d in Selected Prose, though originally print’d in the Evergreen Review of January-February 1960, that is to say, undoubtedly something Berkson and O’Hara’d read), it’s odd to note how a line Ashbery quotes therein (out of Reverdy’s Self-Defense)—“The beautiful does not emerge from the artist’s hands, but what emerges from the artist’s hands becomes the beautiful”—while possibly hint’d at by Berkson / O’Hara’s “What is written struggles through, and then has struggled through and is white,” seems to echo the Reverdy in Ashbery’s version: “Ce qui s’écrit lutter pour émerger puis émerge, tout blanc.” Ashbery deftly homes in to delineate how Reverdy’s syntactically-poised work differs considerably from that of the stock Surrealist automatists, who “were careful to observe the conventions of grammar and syntax” and quotes Breton’s nagging to “Take care, . . . I know the meaning of each of my words and I observe syntax naturally: syntax is not a discipline, as certain oafs believe.” (Ashbery: “Automatic writing as practiced by the Surrealists seems to have been merely a euphemism for extreme haste.”) (In “the other American Reverdian” Kenneth Rexroth’s assessment, Reverdy’s syntax seems to receive less emphasis, as if differences were more a matter of scale: “in Apollinaire’s “Zone,” the elements, the primary data of the poetic construction, are narrative or at least informative wholes. In verse such as Reverdy’s, they are simple, sensory, emotional or primary informative objects capable of little or no further reduction.”)

In the 1962 Mercure de France volume of memoirs and testimonies, there’s a lovely report by one Alain Lapy of how Reverdy composed poems: “To compose, for him, was hardly a matter of patience and reworkings. He wasn’t one who crossed out words and syllables. When he set to work, at times for long periods, the poems’d come one after another unstoppingly on narrow sheets of paper that he’d toss on the floor. When he’d a sizeable pile, he’d shove them in a drawer, to age, like a good wine. Several months later, if not years, he’d “faire le tri” of sorting and selecting, rejecting some mercilessly and burning the ones that, according to him, didn’t make the grade. He’d say: ‘A good poem emerges wholly made. Reworking a piece is something of a happy accident, and if it isn’t done right, it risks spoiling the whole thing.’” (Which all sounds rather Frank O’Hara-esque to me.) And Laby quotes Reverdy (out of a preface for Georges Herment’s Déluges): “The poet’s torment is not that he carries an enormous burden of thoughts, the thing that makes the foreheads of those who have so much to say seem to topple ever forward, but the opposite—that of having nothing particular to say to anybody, that combined with only being able to convince oneself of one’s own reality by writing. And he’s got nothing else to express but himself. Nothing interests him but himself: the movement of waves that things holding forth exteriorly to him mimic in him. Out of that sonorous abyss, he must shout out an echo. Which is why the poet must needs write furiously, in the quick of it, like one firing off a gunshot.” (Which version is likely infelicitous and wrong. I like to fire off shots of translation as a means to think. None of that bulbous forehead toppling for me; mine’s the opposite dilemma: so little “front-matter” (empty-brainbox syndrome) my head tends to tilt “back” of its own accord. I am perennially caught gazing vacantly at the sky.)

John Ashbery

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Pierre Reverdy Breakdown

Some Clouds


A hat in a joint like that:
tic awkward, smacks of vie entirely extérieur.

‘Hips architecturally protuberant in sharp diagonal’
is the unlikely maraschino to the thing—

Oh I ‘repeyreth home fro worldly vanitee.’
That is to say: I think if

I need to snout-mount a leaf
blower, or Boy Scout-rig a toaster

with wire to a long pole, out
in front of my tank to trigger

IEDs, I probably ain’t welcome in Baghdad
‘et ses environs’ crude oil-garland’d, Toto.

Here magnolias that exploded prematurely in a
weekend hot spell look lop-ear’d and

ruin’d. A single blood-smudge of rose-
bud undoes itself in a cloud. One

dud miasma is enough. ‘Suffise unto thy
thing,’ I say, and ‘hoord hath hate.’

A hat that comes down out of
the sky clobbers me like a house.

Exhibit pointing to the various stress-fractures likely to result in forcing a piece.

I uncover’d a copy of the 1962 Mercure de France volume titled Pierre Reverdy (1889-1960), the one with the Ashbery essay, “Reverdy en Amérique”—looking for other O’Hara / “Reverdian” poems (“Do you think Naphtha is sort of Reverdian?” O’Hara’d ask’d), or any other American Reverdy’s. Rien du tout. Except for the Bill Berkson / O’Hara collaboration I’d rather forgot about—it’s print’d in the terrific Hymns of St. Bridget & Other Writings (Owl Press, 2001)—call’d “Reverdy” put into French by Ashbery:
Reverdy n’est pas comme Chopin. Il est une longue rue dans une ville avec de petites maisons musicales qui la bordent.

Il y a en français le mot « rédacteur » dont je ne peux pas arriver à connaître la signification.

Voici deux tasses, un Keats, un peigne et une brosse, quatre paquets de cigarettes, un cendrier marqué « Chance », deux boîtes d’allumettes, une corde, Always Love a Stranger, une brosse en fil de fer et un morceau de bois sculpté que je ne peux comprendre. C’est ici que Reverdy habite encore, inexplicablement comme toujours.

Ce qui frappe l’œil fait mal, ce qu’on entend est mensonge. Ce qui s’écrit lutter pour émerger puis émerge, tout blanc. La neige brille à cause du soleil. Jamais de lettres, toujours des messages.

Maintenant nous commençons à avoir des idées comme les Français. Yipee!

Nous décovrîmes il y a bien des années qu’en français vous pouvez vraiment dire n’importe quoi . . . sauf certaines choses qu’ont dit Eliot, Valéry, Claudel, Béranger et d’autres. Yipee!

Reverdy n’est pas cubiste. Qui l’a jamais l’été. Cent Américains par jour sont accusés d’être cubistes. « L’endroit pubique de l’homme n’est pas une chose belle. » « L’endroit public de la femme n’est pas une chose belle. » (Ce sont deux maximes américaines qui prouvent l’absence de Reverdy.)

Picasso est feu, Reverdy est silex. En Amérique on se sert du silex pour faire des têtes de flêches aussi bien que pour les boîtes d’amadou. Est-ce que vous aimez chasser ce que vous mangez? Etes-vous cannibale? Y a-t-il un ordre en dehors de la folie ou seulement un maëlstrom d’erreurs et de velléités?

« Je suis las de vivre au pays natal. » Quand vous arriverez au maëlstrom, faites-le moi savoir. Si vous devez enlever la cendre de votre cigarette, vous êtes né pour n’import quelle œuvre d’art moderne, Nous ne savons pas quels fils nous lient plus que l’air que nous respirons. Ça nous est égal qui habite à côté; nous savons ce qu’ils pensent de nous. On boit plus qu’on ne croit. Il n’y a aucun sens à rentrer « tot ». Nous sommes déjà dans le maëlstrom et c’est pour cela que nous ne le « savons » pas.

En Amérique il n’y a qu’un seul autre poète à part Reverdy: William Carlos Williams.

Ils sont seuls tous le deux. Que pensez-vous de titres comme « Il sont seuls tous les deux », « Leve-toi et meurs », « Tu meurs les yeux ouverts, n’est-ce pas? », « Chair vive », « Poème ».

Nous sommes dans le maëlstrom à cause de Reverdy.

Nous devons tous faire semblant d’aller bien ou on nous achèvera avec des balles, comme les chevaux.
Translated (one assumes by Ashbery, though the Mercure de France volume reads, simply: “Traduit de l’Américan”) out of what is mark’d “Written for the French of John Ashbery, Paris, 1961.”

Inchoate. Drubbed by rain today and tardy. My “self-immersed indifference to the contingencies of the contingent world,” my “only felicity and achieved so seldom” (Murphy) mean (among other things) leaving home without a necessary book. The usually unflappable gone dégingandé, bereft, and insufficient. (As O’Hara says: “as they say in the Café Flore, it's better to tas gueule.”) Murphy, again: “If his mind had been on the correct cash-register lines, an indefatigable apparatus for doing sums with the petty cash of current facts, then no doubt the suppression of these would have seemed a deprivation. But since it was not, since what he called his mind functioned not as an instrument but as a place, from whose unique delights precisely those current facts withheld him, was it not most natural that he would welcome their suppression, as of gyves?” Gyves? Fetters, shackles, chains. The notorious gyves of the factual. The brainbox drubbed by the shackles of factoidal remonstrance. Bah.

Pierre Reverdy, 1889-1960

Monday, April 27, 2009

Nothing in the Hopper III

“Such a Jocund Company”


Of opera Morton Feldman
liked to joke that

the overture is what
one composes while waiting

for the libretto sostenuto
to arrive. (He wait’d

for Beckett’s, who detest’d
opera.) So one examines

the dottles of rain
for ‘intelligible pitch relationships’

or dumps a scoop
of words, collect’d out

of the common bucket,
out to riffle cursorily

through, running abruptly out
in front of whatever

self is spoiling for
a sketch today. Of

tomorrow’s muck we know
not lots, a pout

is not an attitude.
To find by chance

a gait of sorts
out of sorts thrown—

‘to and fro’ we
human containers unattainably go.

I added that “sostenuto”—“I needed a word.” “It’s a place-holder.” Feldman liked, too, to repeat a line of Charles Péguy’s: “Everything begins as a mystique and ends in politics.” That longing to shunt oneself back to first impulse, whatever eddy and vortex of forces ’d brought one to the point of making a mark in all innocence against the impossibly pure slate of the page. Hein? Of course one only allows that as a half-belief tuck’d away like a model ship in a bottle, with some banal rationale (“I had excess time on my hands”), although: there is a period, and golden it is, God knows, before one’s blessèd aesthetic struggle all-consuming and divine becomes “merely” another ingredient in the larger political struggle of art. (That Hemingway line like a fly—am I trying to say shit-detector?—bombards the tipsy scenario: “Isn’t it pretty to think so.”) Feldman (talking to Robert Ashley in a 1964 interview in Kulchur):
It seems that about ten or fifteen years after something new and original is done and has its first impact, that impact becomes a political one. That is to say, by the time the young composer gets in touch with a particular work, it is already in a power struggle with other works and other ideas. The intention, the aesthetic of the work may be a complete mystery to this young composer, but in the form of politics it is not a mystery. It is very concrete. So what the young composer does is to become a revisionist. We know from history that it is the revisionist who takes things from the mysterious region of originality and gives those things a man-made rationale. . . . . I mean that the human comes in and makes a synthesis which he can work with comfortably—a concrete synthesis. And so what happens is that the original—that which was pure, that which was like nature, that which didn’t seem to reflect a ‘human’ point of view—is cast aside or rather, to be more precise, is incorporated by the revisionist mind.
Certain rumblings of where Feldman’s “revisionist” fits into Pound’s collapsible scheme of inventors (“discoverers of a particular process or of more than one mode and process”—inventors, one notes, like God, are not always “discoverable”); masters (those “able to assimilate and co-ordinate a large number of preceding inventions”—which “co-ordination” sounds suspiciously political and revisionist to me); and diluters (dragging forth items of “lower intensity”). One tends to forget the unnamed other three items of Pound’s list, the awkwardly put “men who do more or less good work in the more or less good style of a period” (defined by the lovely pooter: “Ils n’existent pas, leur ambiance leur confert une existence”—“They hardly exist at all, only their being spotted full in their own milieu confers any existence”); the rather vague “Belles Lettres” (“who can hardly be said to have originated a form, but who have nevertheless brought some mode to a very high development”); and “the starters of crazes . . . whose wave of fashion flows over writing for a few centuries or a few decades, and then subsides, leaving things as they were” (note the tremendous leeway—“centuries”—built in to the definition, and yet, as Beckett says somewhere, “What truth has not its ballcock?”—fashion, if anything is, is a self-regulating system.) Oddly enough, there’s something almost a little naïve about Pound’s list—as if Poundian “men” were somehow purely “aesthetical” and didn’t cotton to art’s political machinations and struggles. Feldman is perfectly clear. Talking about chance procedures in the hands of late interlopers like Stockhausen and Boulez, he says:
Remember that the revisionists do not see chance as an aesthetic. They see it as a process that they must ‘humanize’ and present only in a very portentous technical fashion. This, of course, is done without any aesthetic goal in mind. What the revisionist wants to do is to make a political impact. The revisionist wants power. It is in the nature of a revisionist to want power. It is in the nature of a revisionist to start a ‘school.’ It is the nature of a revisionist to want to convert. . . . The revisionists are fanatics. But what they are fanatics about is always amazing to me, because they have created nothing new.
Whose special-pleading imploratory attempts to ‘humanize’ (providing voice for the chat-room subaltern) more than the flarf groupuscule rehashers? For the portentous combined rollickingly with the beseechingly human, look here (Kenneth Goldsmith talking to Marjorie Perloff):
Solioquy presents speech at its most raw, its most brutal and in its most gorgeously disjunctive form. When we look at ‘real’ speech in Soliloquy, we find that our normative speech patterns are avant-garde! It strikes me odd that what modernism worked so hard to get at for the past 100 years has always been right under our noses!
      In terms of the social aspects of the piece, it’s very complicated. I have lost many friends over this work. I do feel bad that their feelings have been hurt but I still cannot apologize for having done the piece.

Philip Guston, “Friend—To M. F.,” 1978

Friday, April 24, 2009

Nothing in the Hopper II

Magnolia, Late Afternoon


What’s unaccount’d for—
                the long intransigent
periods of infinitesimal
flux and nodding

between fits of
                petulant industry. New-
dug potatoes extract’d
out of common

fields black-rotting
                in floody cellars.
Skeins of yarn
tangled into inutile

matting, cat-urined.
                The pitchfork’d dog.
The cloy of
sorghum expung’d too

Late. Scuff of dire
                proximity, neighbors going
at it with
occasional cries uninterpretable.

Hepzibah’s delusional slumgullion,
                undeliverable pixels, m’aider
signals poorly angliciz’d,
too much lunch.

Like the pitch-
                men say—all
that, and more!
Scoot’d inscrutably by

against legendary diligence,
                uninscribed. Light dazzles
the daily insatiate
with epicurean pudeur.

Nepenthe, Naphtha, Lethe, “with a likeness burst in the memory.” How’d that accumbrous cloud begin? In the raw morning, bit by all that dribbled through my hands, lost like money in the night (or, as Beckett puts it, in Murphy: “It is so easy to lose personal freshness”), I found myself perusing a 1971 issue of David Morice’s Gum, a tiny Iowa City thing (25¢), reading Darrell Gray’s “Nepenthe”:
The many senses like little open doors
Into one huge room full of colored fumes
Speeding across the sky
My hand touches yours
Yours mine
A spine-tingling actuality
Born and raised on a pin-head
In the fraction of time it takes
Gloom to glisten
The faucet to drip
As you enter the room and are seized
By the information
And I try’d to remember how Frank O’Hara’s “Naphtha” went, certain that a connection exist’d between the two, composedly ignorant that “Naphtha” is not “Nepenthe,” &c. And all I recall’d: “Ah Jean Dubuffet” and something about doing military service in the Eiffel Tower, and Iroquois ironworkers and that lovely “with a likeness burst in the memory” line. (And then, in the Gray poem, I got distract’d into thinking whether or not “A spine-tingling actuality / Born and raised on a pin-head”—which incited its own pricklinesses of delight—might’ve been a “source” for the brief blast of “Actualists” in Iowa City and San Francisco, that groupuscular seizure young men (mostly) and old seem particularly “prone” to.) Where along the bicyclist’s swift trajectory did he begin to accustom himself to the sneaky-Pete apprehension of a mistake? Nepenthe is “the one that chases away sorrow” [ne = not, penthos = grief], particularly, one adds, thinking of poor Darrell Gray, in the form of “straight, no chaser.” And Naphtha, root of naphthalene, “moth balls,” and (according to the O.E.D.) “Liquid petroleum, particularly of a thin, volatile kind.” O’Hara: “there is a parable of speed / somewhere behind the Indians’ eyes.” (There is an O’Hara letter of 1 February 1961 to John Ashbery—who’s putting together a group of works possibly under the spell of Reverdy for an issue of Mercure de France—wherein O’Hara asks “Do you think Naphtha is sort of Reverdian?” And if one thinks of Reverdy’s speed, which is cubism’s speed, of shifting p.o.v., cinematically adroit, and sees how O’Hara fidgets with looks at “the gaited Iroquois on the girders / fierce and unflinching-footed / nude as they should be / slightly empty / like a Sonia Delaunay” and into the speed “behind the eyes” and telescoping back “out” to how “they invented the century with their horses / and their fragile backs / which are dark,” one thinks, yes, Reverdy. Is a Sonia Delaunay “slightly empty” because it is lacking the penile Tour Eiffel that husband Robert Delaunay characteristically insert’d into paintings? “Stop that.”) And, returning, Lethe’s simply a Greek tagalong bum steer, cross-fouling the “burst in memory,” that river in Hades where the water made one forget. Here’s the poem:

Ah Jean Dubuffet
when you think of him
doing his military service in the Eiffel Tower
as a meteorologist
in 1922
you know how wonderful the 20th Century
can be
and the gaited Iroquois on the girders
fierce and unflinching-footed
nude as they should be
slightly empty
like a Sonia Delaunay
there is a parable of speed
somewhere behind the Indians’ eyes
they invented the century with their horses
and their fragile backs
which are dark

we owe a debt to the Iroquois
and to Duke Ellington
for playing in the buildings when they are built
we don’t do much ourselves
but fuck and think
of the haunting Métro
and the one who didn’t show up there
while we were waiting to become part of our century
just as you can’t make a hat out of steel
and still wear it
who wears hats anyway
it is our tribe’s custom
to beguile

how are you feeling in ancient September
I am feeling like a truck on a wet highway
how can you
you were made in the image of god
I was not
I was made in the image of a sissy truck-driver
and Jean Dubuffet painting his cows
“with a likeness burst in the memory”
apart from love (don’t say it)
I am ashamed of my century
for being so entertaining
but I have to smile
Which deposits me back at the feet of Darrell Gray’s poem where the “room” is akin to the “century” in “Naphtha,” isn’t it? Again the sense of irrevocable speed, again the primordial acceptance of the actual: “you enter the room and are seized / By the information.”

The daily Adorno. “The category of the new produced a conflict . . . a conflict between the new and duration. Artworks were always meant to endure; it is related to their concept, that of objectivation. Through duration art protests against death; the paradoxically transient eternity of artworks is the allegory of an eternity bare of semblance. Art is the semblance of what is beyond death’s reach. It is not only reactionary rancor that provokes horror over the fact that the longing for the new represses duration. The effort to create enduring masterpieces has been undermined. What has terminated tradition can hardly count on one in which it would be given a place.” The nonsensicalness of an avant-garde tradition. Is it in keeping with Adorno here, too, to declare that artworks of overweening and blatant ambition (the “monumental,” the imperturbably and self-satisfy’dly “grand”) by definition conflict with the primer of the new? (I admit it: I am thinking of the conscious grandiosity of my bête noire Ron Silliman’s The Alphabet, how it so evidently is playing for keeps, staking—les jeux sont faits—it all on something like Pound’s antiquated view of things, recall Pound’s image of the conservation of “great literature” under the dross of critical response “heaped up and conserved round about them in the proportion: one barrel of sawdust to each half-bunch of grapes.”) Somewhat later Adorno writes: “As soon as artworks make a fetish of their hope of duration, they begin to suffer from their sickness unto death: The veneer of inalienability that they draw over themselves at the same time suffocates them.” The answer (there is no answer): “the unsurpassable noblesse of fireworks . . . the only art that aspires not to duration but only to glow for an instant and fade away.”

Darrell Gray, Berkeley, 1984
(Photograph by Alastair Johnston)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Nothing in the Hopper I

Red Wall


In Holy Dying Jeremy Taylor repeats the story of clean-
Head Aeschylus and how he perish’d, hit in the rock-
Like cranium by an oyster dropped by a high-
Flying eagle. A rather good story, though I’ve only heard tell of herring
Gulls and the bigger black-backeds behaving that way. And some
Say a tortoise mortify’d the guy. I do like a story so
Eagerly malleable in its particulars. Thoreau, who distrust’d any gussying
Up, and long’d to make an art out of radical attunement to incremental
Local changes, buoy’d up by all that’s ‘simple, cheap and homely,’ wrote
Of style: ‘If one’s got anything to say, it drops from him simply, directly, just
As a stone falls to the ground.’ Too, he claim’d the mechanics of
Composition simple, compared it to ‘the discharge of a bullet from a rifle.’
Ah, that lean inhabit’d ease of the nineteenth century, A so impeccably
And routinely striking B, and B making C pertinent, it just kills

Wholly “unprepared,” every morning of late I am unprepared, nothing in the hamper, the red-check’d tablecloth unfurl’d in the saw grass, here come the ants for no block of cheese standing monumental, no cutlets, no sop. A sappy way to commence anything, though goofing along, just waiting for the “higher” (and I don’t mean soprano) voices to begin, does allow time to catch its breath, slows its high-footing hurtling: there it comes now, dragging along its apish arms, mouth-breathing, slack-jaw’d. I did worry the “dialectical method” a little in the apricot-tint’d morning light: decided that its beauty is in the way it allows (requires) one to vacillate between thetical and antithetical, nimble as a goat. One is doggedly, strychnine-convulsedly earnest; one is weakly namby-pamby with a velleity-scent’d handkerchief. In the pragmatic version norteamericano (F. Scott Fitzgerald in “The Crack-Up”), one’d say something like: “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” (Functionality, comme on dit, being a thing lowdown amongst my hath not th’advantages. I do recall well a mean-drunk veerage through go-to-work morning streets of the French capital, sneering up into the faces of any suspect’d of jeune cadre’d propriety and diligence: “Et vous, Monsieur, vous êtes functionnaire? with spitting contempt.) In the earlier, poetickal version (without the rigor of either the “dialectic” or the “method”): “several things dovetailed in my mind . . . I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.” It’s Adorno’s turns and disavowals and counter-arguments (in talking about Baudelaire: “The new is akin to death” and, some sentences along, “The new is the aesthetic seal of expanded reproduction with its promise of undiminished plentitude”) that tug one into such cloudy vagaries. And what of a clammy sense that some part of Adorno’s become a critical commonplace, that is, somehow diffused into the everyday by osmosis. I stumbled into the following in Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others:
The hunt for more dramatic (as they’re often described) images drives the photographic enterprise, and is part of the normality of a culture in which shock has become a leading stimulus of consumption and source of values. “Beauty will be convulsive, or it will not be,” proclaimed André Breton. He called this aesthetic ideal “surrealist,” but in a culture radically revamped by the ascendancy of mercantile values, to ask that images be jarring, clamorous, eye-opening seems like elementary realism as well as good business sense. How else to get attention for one’s product or one’s art? How else to make a dent when there is incessant exposure to images, and overexposure to a handful of images seen again and again? The image as shock and the image as cliché are two aspects of the same presence.
And Adorno:
Scars of damage and disruption are the modern’s seal of authenticity; by their means, art desperately negates the closed confines of the ever-same; explosion is one of its invariants. Antitraditional energy becomes a voracious vortex. . . . Given that the category of the new was the result of a historic process that began by destroying a specific tradition and then destroyed tradition as such, modern art cannot be an aberration susceptible to correction by returning to foundations that no longer do or should exist; this is, paradoxically, the foundation of the modern and normative for it.
Isn’t that “voracious vortex” akin to capitalism itself? One begins to sense two trains full-throttling along two parallel tracks. So one’s obliged to combat the attention-getters (the marketeering groupuscules) with same-old same-old shock-ruses with the same vehemence that one refuses to participate in the society of functionnaires. One counters the outbursts of “shock” with the everyday, the consider’d, the incremental; one counters capitalism’s demands by refusing its calls to “splurge,” its crass insinuations to improvement through mere spending. “Less stuff.”

Ron Silliman asks what it is “about surrealism that permits softness to uproot it from its avant-garde heritage” at the same “moment” that he is gropingly trying to offer what can only be perceived as a seal of approval to some “third way” emergent “hybridity.” (Long’s it’s got a name, it’s okay in Silliman’s book. One’s able henceforth to shuck it off unread in some corner, without articulating with any conviction one’s reasons why.) I’d argue that “hybridity” is exactly the same “softness” that is in the process of uprooting Language poetry from its cherish’d avant-garde heritage. That is, just a few minor “scars of damage and disruption” willfully plaster’d to whatever served as base period-style prior. That’s a cynical reading of a captious product made for a gullible time.

André Breton, c. 1930
(Photograph by Man Ray)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Bubbles and Means

On the Road


So the pencil’d
Up page exudes
A diffuse reticulated

Spell that cuts
Like a chasm,
Pulls the ordinary

Heart’s muck down-
River, splays out
And fans it

Into shallower rivulets,
Sandy-bank’d delta
Streams criss-crossing

One against another,
Absorber and combiner,
Illimitable and indirect.

Whitman claim’d ‘words
Become vitaliz’d,
And stand for

Things,’ and loved
How the word
Monongahela roll’d across

The tongue ‘with
Venison richness,’ caught
‘The flup of

The pike leaping
Out,’ unrestrict’d. Like
The teeming metropolis

With its exult
Vibrancy of slang,
Its unbook’d words,

Its tongue-plunging
Vulgar scrawl deliverable
Up against that

‘Certain perennial rankness
And protestantism’ that
Is American speech.

Found tuck’d into the back of Beckett’s Disjecta the abort’d play call’d “Human Wishes,” the one ostensibly about Samuel Johnson and Mrs. Thrale, neither of whom make entry in the piece, though the cat Hodge (“sleeping—if possible”) is written in. Much about death, much hilarity about death and decay and its surrounding politesse ripe to bursting. Three women, each innocuously occupy’d (“meditating” and “knitting” and “reading”) engaged in rather vicious baiting and complaining and scurrility. (One says: “Be seated; and let your scurrility be the recumbent scurrility of polite society.” Another, slyly, to “Mrs Williams,” who claims to be “dying of a pituitous defluxion” and is demanding loudly to know what book the other is reading: “The peevishness of decay is not provoking.”) The book, it turns out, is Jeremy Taylor’s (“the Shakespeare of divines”) The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying, and the reader (“Miss Carmichael”) reads (with irascible and inconclusive interruptions: “How do you suppose death enters in by a hair, Miss Carmichael?” “Perhaps a horse-hair is meant, Madam.”) out of it how:
Death meets us everywhere, and is procured by every instrument, and in all chances and enters in at many doors; by violence and secret influence; by the aspect of a star and the stink of a mist; by the emissions of a cloud and the meeting of a vapour; by the fall of a chariot and the stumbling at a stone; by a full meal or an empty stomach; by watching at the wine or by watching at prayers; by the sun or the moon; by a heat or a cold; by sleepless nights or sleeping days; by water frozen into the hardness and sharpness of a dagger, or water thawed into the floods of a river; by a hair or a raisin; by violent motion or sitting still; by severity or dissolution; by God’s mercy or God’s anger; by everything in providence and everything in manners; by everything in nature and everything in chance.
What I marvel at here (and elsewhere in Taylor) is the finery of the prose. It occurs in the very first section of Holy Dying, call’d “Consideration of the Vanity and Shortness of Man’s Life” and is, in a sense, a pooling up following the wild giddiness of Taylor’s opening where, asserting that “A man is a bubble . . . all the world is a storm,” he seemingly enacts the claim in a froth and buffeting of prose, saying:
. . . men rise up in their several generations, like bubbles descending a Jove pluvio, from God and the dew of heaven, from a tear and drop of rain, from nature and Providence; and some of these instantly sink into the deluge of their first parent, and are hidden in a sheet of water, having had no other business in the world, but to be born, that they might be able to die: others float up and down two or three turns, and suddenly disappear, and give their place to others: and they that live longest upon the face of the waters are in perpetual motion, restless and uneasy; and, being crushed with a great drop of a cloud, sink into flatness and a froth; the change not being great, it being hardly possible it should be more a nothing that it was before. . . . But if the bubble stands the shock of a bigger drop, and outlives the chances of a child, of a careless nurse, of drowning in a pail of water, of being overlaid by a sleepy servant, or such little accidents, then the young man dances like a bubble, empty and gay, and shines like a dove’s neck, or the image of a rainbow, which hath no substance, and whose very imagery and colours are fantastical; and so he dances out the gaiety of his youth, and is all the while in a storm, and endures only because he is not knocked on the head by a drop of bigger rain, or crushed by the pressure of a load of indigested meat, or quenched by the disorder of an ill-placed humour.
How Beckettian, that “no other business in the world, but to be born, that they might be able to die.” (Adorno: “The force of the old presses toward the new, without which the old cannot be fulfilled.” Virgil made Homer Homer. Dante made Virgil Virgil.) (Beckett, in the Human Wishes fragment, includes an exchange regarding the fact that “the dear doctor’s debt to nature is discharged these seven years.” When Miss Carmichael queries—“His debt to nature?”—she is answer’d by Mrs Williams: “She means the wretched man is dead.” That bluntness against the florid (and social) euphemisms that Beckett found anathema.)

I do, continually, evenings, launch the vessel of my eye out into the oceanic wellings and troughs of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory, with a combo of unabash’d bravado and sheer exhilarant breathlessness. I begin to think of it kin to Pound’s Cantos, something one could “dip into,” though I am reading it conventionally, chopping along in my dinghy, against the prevailing wave-motion here, push’d along in a fury there. I come no closer to defining the reasons for my adjudicature by means strictly metaphorical: I cannot “argue” with the book, I can only be swept along by it. Like a poem. So: pointing. Look, here:
If in accord with its model, the fetish character of the commodity, the new becomes a fetish, this is to be criticized in the work itself, not externally simply because it became a fetish; usually the problem is a discrepancy between new means and old ends. If a possibility for innovation is exhausted, if innovation is mechanically pursued in a direction that has already been tried, the direction of innovation must be changed and sought in another dimension. The abstractly new can stagnate and fall back into the ever-same. Fetishization expresses the paradox of all art that is no longer self-evident to itself: the paradox that something made exists for its own sake; precisely this paradox is the vital nerve of new art. By exigency, the new must be something willed; as what is other, however it could not be what was willed.
As my homeboys like to say, making the loud protestations of the flightless bird: “Awkward!” That “discrepancy between new means and old ends” we see plenty of. Flyboys preening in the museums. Tactical re-1910 mishmashes. Will’d ineptitude and dumb-cluckery at the service of the academickal what and wattage.

Jeremy Taylor, 1613–1667

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Needs Facultatifs



Nothing like a hungry prattler to make one goatish, up-
Welling and tense. I completely tire of history and all its
Artless viands, it meaty hoydenish hubris of fact. I’d like it
If some insane Victorian smutted my books, throwing back
Her skirts, balancing a hat shaped like a miniature Egyptian
Sarcophagus. A catastrophe-tickler, putrid with necessity. I do
Try to abide by the unsworn affidavits of inessential kindness in all
My doings, so there’s little call for a row, all that up-
Welling and lacrimae, enough to launch a punt or dinghy or skiff.
After a bold delay comprised of the item-by-item detailing of the baleen
Trade’s works and days, ‘The Castaway’ recounts how Pip, who jumped
Out of Stubb’s boat in terror at the first charge of a harpooned whale,
Got left floating for so long by the boat crew—bent inflexible by blubber-
Lust—that he got made an idiot by the shock, and so provided
The ‘predestinated’ ship ‘with a living and ever accompanying
Prophecy of whatever shattered sequel.’ Beshat’d sequel. Or so says
A man who claim’d bibliographical nuance supererogatory (more or

Adorno (Aesthetic Theory): “Dissonance congeals into an indifferent material; indeed, it becomes a new form of immediacy, without any memory trace of what it developed out of, and therefore gutted and anonymous. For a society in which art no longer has a place and which is pathological in all its reactions to it, art fragments on one hand into a reified, hardened cultural possession and on the other into a source of pleasure that the customer pockets and that for the most part has little to do with the object itself.”

Cole Swensen (American Hybrid: A Norton Anthology of New Poetry): “Today’s hybrid poem might engage such conventional approaches as narrative that presumes a stable first-person, yet complicate it by disrupting the linear temporal path or by scrambling the normal syntactical sequence. Or it might foreground recognizably experimental modes such as illogicality or fragmentation, yet follow the strict formal rules of a sonnet or a villanelle. Or it might be composed entirely of neologisms but based in ancient traditions. Considering the traits associated with ‘conventional’ work, such as coherence, linearity, formal clarity, narrative, firm closure, symbolic resonance, and stable voice, and those generally assumed of ‘experimental’ work, such as non-linearity, juxtaposition, rupture, fragmentation, immanence, multiple perspective, open form, and resistance to closure, hybrid poets access a wealth of tools, each one of which changes dramatically depending on the others with which it’s combined and the particular role it plays in the composition.”

Adorno: “. . . in the age of overproduction the commodity’s use value has become questionable and yields to the secondary gratification of prestige, of being in step, and, finally, of commodity character itself: a parody of aesthetic semblance. . . . To this extent the contemporary attitude to art is regressive. What is consumed is the abstract being-for-other of the cultural commodities, though without their actually being for others; by serving the customers, they themselves are betrayed. The old affinity of the beholder and the beheld is turned on its head. Insofar as the now typical attitude makes the artwork something merely factual, even art’s mimetic element, itself incompatible with whatever is purely a thing, is bartered off as a commodity. The consumer arbitrarily projects his impulses—mimetic remnants—on whatever is presented to him.”

Beckett (in a 1932 letter to Thomas MacGreevy): “To know you like the poem cheers me up. Genuinely my impression was that it was of little worth because it did not represent a necessity. I mean that in some way it was ‘facultatif’ [optional] and that I would have been no worse off for not having written it. Is that a very painless way of thinking of poetry? Quoi qu’il en soit [Whatever may be] I find it impossible to abandon that view of the matter. Genuinely again my feeling is, more and more, that the greater part of my poetry, though it may be reasonably felicitous in its choice of terms, fails precisely because it is facultatif whereas the 3 or 4 I like, and that seem to have been drawn down against the really dirty weather of one of these fine days into the burrow of the ‘private life’, . . . do not and never did give me that impression of being construits [constructed]. I cannot explain very well to myself what they have that distinguishes them from the others, but it is something arborescent or of the sky, not Wagner, not clouds on wheels; written above an abscess and not out of a cavity, a statement and not a description of heat in the spirit it compensate for pus in the spirit.”

Beckett (“Bram van Velde,” Three Dialogues):
B.—The situation is that of him who is helpless, cannot act, in the event cannot paint, since he is obliged to paint. The act is of him who, helpless, unable to act, acts, in the event paints, since he is obliged to paint.

D.—Why is he obliged to paint?

B.—I don’t know.

D.—Why is he helpless to paint.

B.—Because there is nothing to paint and nothing to paint with.

D.—And the result, you say, is art of a new order?

B.—Among those whom we call great artists, I can think of none whose concern was not predominantly with his expressive possibilities, those of his vehicle, those of humanity. The assumption underlying all painting is that the domain of the maker is the domain of the feasible. The much to express, the little to express, the ability to express much, the ability to express little, merge in the common anxiety to express as much as possible, or as truly as possible, or as finely as possible, to the best of one’s ability.
(An attempt to sort and suggest without intervening.)

Bram van Velde, Two Lithographs out of Sans fin l'affamé, 1976

Monday, April 20, 2009

Beckett / Cézanne

Compared to What


A slight antagonism to obtain
Something in lieu of memory.
The forsythia popped out everywhere
In my absence, I like
The aimless arm-waving havoc
Of that yellow, unclipped. And
Chine-leaf’d chinodoxa, petulantly blue.
A man walks by, legal
Brief unfurl’d, seersucker jacket ajar—
He’s out of luck, out
Of territory, a crazy man
In a hood’d sweatshirt is
About to rip a switch-
Blade down along the man’s
Backbone in a thwart’d messianic
Fury to adjust. Pianissimo is
The blood ebb, and red.
In lieu of memory’s spot-
Light: the way the blood-
Soak’d jacket took a vague
Plum-color’d look, a bloat’d
Horrible ripeness that conceal’d whatever
Human remain’d. That and, askance,
Angling up out of that
Brutally focus’d cone, a wild
Bursting spray of yellow forsythia.

How blithely out of whack three days’ll put one. And the sluicing rain with accompanying piscatory ammoniac smell steaming up, scent visible, off the streets, I wrap’d in yellow “gear,” a blossom dear in the semi-repugnant dawn. I like to cut loose and just sauce (I mean sass) after a writing “project,” don’t you? Such an uncertainty of accomplishment tied up in knots of anxiety that I just like to bust up all the danke danke politesse with a tawdry besmirchment, don’t you? That Beckett suspect’d the Great Cham of impotence and wrote a sheaf of pages toward a play about “it”—and the vivacious Mrs. Hester Thrale—I find that astonishing, don’t you? (I, too, make a practice of imagining various writers—even you—with débile enfeeblements and hang-ups, mostly sexual, well, what isn’t?) I love Beckett’s refusal of system, refusal of anything that smack’d of the explanatory “larger force”:
I am not interested in a ‘unification’ of the historical chaos any more than I am in the ‘clarification’ of the individual chaos, and still less in the anthropomorphisation of the inhuman necessities that provoke the chaos. What I want is the straws, flotsam, etc., names, dates , births and deaths, because that is all I can know.
And against a counter-argument that historical “background is more important than the foreground, the cause than the effect, the causes than their representatives and opponents,” Beckett insists:
I say the background and the causes are an inhuman and incomprehensible machinery and venture to wonder what kind of appetite it is that can be appeased by the modern animism that consists in rationalising them. Rationalism is the last form of animism. Whereas the pure incoherence of times and men and places is at least amusing.
That out of the diary that Beckett kept whilst traveling around Germany in 1936-7. Where I balk at Beckett’s “pure incoherence” is where he deposits man outside of and alien to the natural world. Talking about Cézanne’s refusal to make of landscape a thing “anthropomorphized” (“What a relief the Mont Ste. Victoire after all the anthropomorphized landscape . . . or hyperanthropomorphized by Rubens, . . . or castrated by Corot; after all the landscape ‘promoted’ to the emotions of the hiker, postulated as concerned with the hiker (what an impertinence, worse than Aesop and the animals), alive the way a lap or a fist is alive.”), Beckett points to man’s incommensurability with the natural world. Of Cézanne: “the first to see landscape and state it as material of a strictly peculiar order, incommensurable with all human expressions whatsoever. Atomistic landscape with no velleities of vitalism, landscape with personality à la rigueur, but personality in its own terms.” And, referring to
How far Cézanne had moved from the snapshot puerilities of Manet and Cie when he could understand the dynamic intrusion to be himself and so landscape to be something by definition unapproachably alien, unintelligible arrangement of atoms, not so much as ruffled by the kind attentions of the Reliability Joneses.
Is it that common Western deference-surdity of putting the “wilderness” out there that cloys at my intestinal tract? (One of Dr. Johnson’s definitions for cloy [enclouer, Fr. To nail up; to stop up.] is “to fill with loathing.” Another is “To nail up guns, by striking a spike into the touch-hole.”) And just a few days back I found myself writing that, in my present human “state,” what I long’d to do: bind myself high up in the canopy reaches of a monstrous big white pine, with a book to read to the chickadees. I’d make a tisane by steeping a hand-grap’s worth of needles (five to the fascicle) in a hat. I’d patch my wounds with its antimicrobial sap.

Paul Cézanne, “Montagne Sainte-Victoire,” c. 1906

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Ashbery / Hejinian / Adorno

Fleur de Lys


Gaping after weather. Something John
Keats warn’d against. Stars undoubtedly
Freud after reading Kant’s
Cosmological proof of God’s existence.
(According to Beckett’s miscellany of
Disjecta.) The untrammel’d sun splashes
Up against the awning, slats
Through the jalousies, beads up
Viscous along the raspberry jam
Stuck to the knife I
Am smearing a slice of
Rye with. Unspeakable pressure of
Things resisting the human, exerting
A pull of solidarity against
The splay wordy diminishments: cup
Gather’d by blanch’d concavity of
Saucer, the temerity of unlaunch’d
Tea. A piece of white
Sky with trees adjoining ends
Up in a puddle untamper’d.
Broken pane of a window
Punch’d out of some house
Celestial, gaping and undoubtedly superb.
(That a thing oughtn’t desquamate
Into mere human particle and
Stitch, that it contain its
Own material ruse and stupefaction.)

“You can’t say it that way any more.” (Ashbery, in “And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name,” a piece I like to think of ’s chum and boon companion to that little song about a dog named Bingo.) As per usual in the world (this world) of rampant and stupefying contingencies (there’s one now), I was looking for something entirely different, something about surfaces, and skimming along in every direction, a surface density, density implying a kind of opacity without depth, depth of the skate-blades cutting ever-changing, ever-similar patterns into the ice. (You can ascertain by the level of my excitement—a strictly inverse proportion—how little I know what it is I am about to “say.”) Shhh. Mania is talking:
“That’s what I thought,” Mania pouted, stamping one of her feet in its platform shoe so loudly that several of the extras turned to look. “Atmosphere—that’s what it was all along, wasn’t it? A question of ambience, poetry, something like that. I might as well have stayed in my cave for all the good it’s going to do me. After all, I’m used to not blending in with the environment—it’s my business not to. But I thought you were going to take me away from all that, to some place where scenery made no difference any more, where I could be what everybody accuses me of being and what I suppose I must be—my tired, tyrannical self, as separate from local color as geometry is from the hideous verticals of these avenues and buildings and the festoons that extend them into the shrinking consciousness. Have you forgotten the words of St. Augustine: ‘Multiply in your imagination the light of the sun, make it greater and brighter as you will, a thousand times or out of number. God will not be there’?”
Ashbery again, “Description of a Masque.” (Isn’t that a reference to the French actress Arletty in Marcel Carné’s 1938 Hôtel du Nord, that outburst in the sing-song mocking voice of toy terrier with a rat: “Atmosphère, atmosphère, est-ce que j’ai une gueule d’atmosphère?”—something like saying, “Scenery, scenery? Do I look like just a piece of the scenery?” And, indeed, Ashbery continues with lines about “what should have been obvious from the start, that the setting would go on evolving eternally, rolling its waves across our vision like an ocean, each one new yet recognizably a part of the same series, which was creation itself. Scenes from movies, plays, operas . . .”) And isn’t there a dare evident in combining the Horatian nut of ut pictura poesis (literally, “as painting is, so is poetry,” apparently a wan jag off Simonides of Keos’s formula, poema pictura loquens, pictura poema silens, “poetry’s a talking (loquacious) picture, painting a silent (mute) poetry”—a kind of inescapably commensurate tidiness) with “You can’t say it that way any more”?

I went snooping in the Ashbery after reading a swatch of Lyn Hejinian, a piece titled “Six Positions of the Sun,” part of an intend’d larger work call’d Positions of the Sun (I see a photograph with several exposures timed at precise intervals of the midnight sun spotting the sky above Greenland, or somewhere terrible north; I am remind’d, too, fortuitously, of Augustine in Ashbery: “God will not be there.”) (“Six Positions of the Sun” is found in the Belladonna Elders Series 5, a book that includes a sequence call’d “Celestial City” by Etel Adnan, Jennifer Scappettone’s selection of collages “wrought of shredded, resalvaged documentary visuals and texts” call’d “8 Pop-Ups from Exit 43,” and a short preface titled “Poetry, Landscape, Apocalypse” by Scappettone.) Isn’t Hejinian’s concern, too, (partly) about how “You can’t say it that way any more”:
Five robins and some starlings land on the grass just outside the window under stormy skies. I do not say they are “mere robins.” The contemporary writer continues to struggle against sentimentalism and didacticism, but, out of sight and hearing, they seem to be thriving. The truly familiar is as uncommon as a meadow’s momentary fate. The terrifying beauty of the mountains near the sea weakens travelers. “I don’t want to say a single word,” says a traveler coming upon a view of a violet-hued precipice, stunted pine trees clinging to its sides. Travelers begin to speak because they want to fall silent and feel compelled to say so. Incommensurability occurs at the point where comparison fails (and assimilation is completely impossible). The elements of an incommensurability can’t be incorporated into the realm of exchange value, of the commodity, they resist the submergence of everything into that system of equivalence, which nullifies uniqueness and compels us to exchange, for example, this beautifully made table for that tenderly nurtured cow. Promises are always weak, and they weaken the future.
Of course I went snooping in the Hejinian because I’d been reading another block of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory (and I’d noted—accurately or not—in Scappettone’s preface a week or so back when the book arrived how the pages of Positions of the Sun are self-admittedly emerging out of “the colossal, practically indexless propositions of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory, with their hybrid perusals, proliferation of time signatures, ungainly unchecked argumentative chunks, spreading contiguities, shifts of gear.”) (I return’d to the Adorno originally—after ducking in under it some years ago and finding it no place for shelter, a reverb-sludgy Gold Star wall of sound—after seeing, probably in a recent Grand Piano, that Hejinian herself’d took to reading it, slowly, a few pages daily. Such is the vagary of reading.) Scappettone quotes, too, a Hejinian letter regarding Stein’s late-’twenties “landscapes” and applies it to Hejinian’s work itself: “late-style expansive all-over non-totalizing high-resolution (as in high-resolution photography . . . enterable at any point, every point in focus.”) Which is, of course, exactly how the Adorno reads. Point: “As reflection increases in scope and power, content itself becomes ever more opaque. Certainly this does not mean that interpretation can be dispensed with as if there were nothing to interpret; to remain content with that is the confused claim that all the talk about the absurd gave rise to. Any artwork that supposes it is in possession of its content is plainly naïve in its rationalism . . .” “I don’t want to say a single word . . .” (What’s not broach’d in my ramblings: the sense of the wornout inexpressible sublime combat’d by the daily. Hejinian: “In Energy of Delusion, Viktor Shklovsky comments that Tolstoy kept a diary all his life and in doing this he came to understand the human soul. Tolstoy repeatedly said in his diary that diaries were all one needed to read, people could find everything in them.”) (Okay. Resume conversing, &c. Mania’s finish’d talking.)

Off again. Monday.

Adorno in the Sun

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Full Bore


Vie unendurable as the swag
of the roguish tempus fugit

circumscribed by a selfish beauty
born of bad-temper’d fugs

royales and malaises imperturbables ongoing,
or fits of so ist

outbursting, indissolubly clasp’d against
the es ist so demands

of the precarious (a word
root’d in prayer) moment. Amen.

Why, taut against some evident need for a formal shift (back to the fivers, re-imprinting the mother bird, or the motherboard), suddenly to begin thinking about time? What is the relation between writing and time? Tiny strains of Conceptualismus (every concept is tiny) running around and around in my brainbox. Probably the result of Ron Silliman’s grunting clouts—blindfold’d boy, unwieldy oversize club, big piñata the size and consistency of a lasso’d cumulonimbus cloud——“at” a registry of conceptualisms. (Is research conceptual? is Flarf? is a papier-mâché (wheat paste and torn-up strips of The New York Times) replica of Kenneth Goldsmith full of candy? is a bucket of dirt?) Isn’t every species of art merely the result of one’s defining a chore (and carrying it out)? I am going to write a piece call’d “Twenty-Four.” Every hour I am allow’d (required) to write: for one minute the first hour, for two the second, &c. Twenty-four minutes of writing in the final hour. Isn’t the problem of making art entirely unrelated to the arbitrary “first heave” of its command? Adorno again (Aesthetic Theory):
Art can be understood only by its laws of movement, not according to any set of invariants. It is defined by its relation to what it is not. The specifically artistic in art must be derived concretely from its other; that alone would fulfill the demands of a materialistic-dialectical aesthetics. Art acquires its specificity by separating itself from what it develops out of; its law of movement is its law of form. It exists only in relation to its other; it is the process that transpires with its other.
Which would seem to make the dogged works of Conceptualismus kin to something like the illustrations by Norman Rockwell in the Saturday Evening Post, pre-aesthetic thematics, moving nowhere, a mere carrying out of another wholesome (uncomplicated by “what it is not”) idea. So a similar air of haughtiness and removal (“très cool,” or, as the numismatists say, “untouch’d by human hands”) infects the works. Engagements mechanistickal. (If Silliman senses a kinship between Cole Swensen’s Le Nôtre-inspired garden-artifice assemblages and Conceptualist robotic sheen, it is likely the result of just that: post-human mess-shunning, archives made entirely of pixels, production values trumping the slut-underbelly of the wild empirical world. The French royalty at Versailles didn’t want to sully its hands either.) (The Flarf brigade, of course, tries to have it both ways simultaneously—dainty cyber-finger’d gleanings of “what it is not,” thrilly scab-picking at untouchables—making plain not only its limit’d processual means, but also its apparent moral bankruptcy.)

My truck with Adorno and Beckett allow’d a congruence of sorts. Beckett (in Murphy):
Murphy’s mind pictured itself as a large hollow sphere, hermetically closed to the universe without. This was not an impoverishment, for it excluded nothing that it did not itself contain. Nothing ever had been, was or would be in the universe outside it but was already present as virtual, or actual, or virtual rising into actual, or actual failing into virtual, in the universe inside it.
      . . . Murphy was content to accept this partial congruence of the world of his mind with the world of his body as due to some such process of supernatural determination. The problem was of little interest. Any solution would do that did not clash with the feeling, growing stronger as Murphy grew older that his mind was a closed system, subject to no principle of change but its own, self-sufficient and impermeable to the vicissitudes of the body. Of infinitely more interest that how this came to be was the manner in which it might be exploited.
And snips of Adorno (“Art is autonomous and it is not; without what is heterogeneous to it, its autonomy eludes it.”) in the revel and play of the unsubjugated planar movements of Aesthetic Theory:
Only by virtue of separation from empirical reality, which sanctions art to model the relation of the whole and the part according to the work’s own need, does the artwork achieve a heightened order of existence. . . . The communication of artworks with what is external to them, with the world from which they blissfully or unhappily seal themselves off, occurs through noncommunication: precisely thereby they prove themselves refracted. It us easy to imagine that art’s autonomous realm has nothing in common with the external world other than borrowed elements that have entered into a fully changed context.
Adorno’s dizzying, aphoristic, broken-field running. “We shall have a lot to discuss about that.”


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Beckett / Adorno / O’Hara

Two Crocuses


Or, there’s form’s tendency to Procrustean beddishness, its chop-
Shop thuggery, a catalytic converter pull’d for its honeycomb of platinum
And pitch’d off a pier early one morning. A single cormorant’s
Hunching out its wings, a black mold’d Eames-style chair
Discard’d next to the shiny red pump. A freighter’s smoke
Smudges the clean line of the horizon out beyond the sound’s
Enclosure. The only sound is slosh sempiternal, and the way it
Heaps up against its own diminuendo, says ocean ocean ocean.
Though one’s apt to allow that the unalign’d heart sloshes, too. Form is
Jihad and jacket: dog-obvious, it barks up its own sleeve, telephones its

Hard scent of manure dump’d in garden beds, rainy, wet, up too early. Tendency (of late) to skate along wow’d without perusal. Who writes lovely sentences? Beckett. Story of Ticklepenny (in Murphy) who revels (naturally enough) in a newly conferred “freedom from poetic composition” (of, one is forced to admit, a pentametrickal “type”). Ticklepenny ends up “washing the bottles and emptying the slops of the better-class mentally deranged” in a curative jaunt (at the Magdalen Mental Mercyseat under one Dr. Fist), breakdown “due . . . to the pentameters”:
This view of the matter will not seem strange to anyone familiar with the class of pentameter that Ticklepenny felt it his duty to Erin to compose, as free as a canary in the fifth foot (a cruel sacrifice, for Ticklepenny hiccuped in end rimes) and at the cæsura as hard and fast as his own divine flatus and otherwise bulging with as many minor beauties from the gaelic prosodoturfy as could be sucked out of a mug of Beamish’s porter.
Now, being a dutiful, mostly deplaque’d puritan sort with half-shiny choppers, there’s little to say beyond savory in that “gaelic prosodoturfy”: one simply nods dumbly, drooling like a fool. And, being a dutiful, mostly depulp’d puritan sort with ass-shiny cruppers—I spent some no little time reading the imperiously dense Theodor Adorno of Aesthetic Theory in “advance” of turning snugly to the Beckett. One might enter into its ineffable stream nigh anywhere:
It is uncertain whether art is still possible; whether, with its complete emancipation, it did not sever its own preconditions. The question is kindled by art’s own past. Artworks detach themselves from the empirical world and bring forth another world, one opposed to the empirical world as if this other world too were an autonomous entity. Thus, however tragic they appear, artworks tend a priori toward affirmation. The cliché of art’s reconciling glow enfolding the world are repugnant not only because they parody the emphatic concept of art with its bourgeois version and class it among those Sunday institutions that provide solace.
Is there a confusion here between the act itself of making art (“Detach, Invading”—as Ron Padgett says—“Oh humming all and / Then a something from above came rooting / And tooting . . .”) and the “artwork”? Isn’t there a constant exchange occurring (the artist “humming”), a motion of exiting “the empirical world” in the making, and return—“art’s reconciling glow enfolding the world”—in the made thing? If Frank O’Hara says (“My Heart”): “I want to be / at least as alive as the vulgar. And if / some aficionado of my mess says “That’s / not like Frank!”—isn’t that just a downtown version of Adorno’s dilemma? Vulgar autonomous Frank “alive” and arting (art is a verb) versus the fallen world (solacing, or lacking solace, a “Sunday institution” complete with “aficionado”) of the art object (the “mess”). Is it pertinent here to think of O’Hara’s line (in “Biotherm”) about how he is “guarding it from mess and measure”—or of Ted Berrigan’s misinscription of “measure” as “message” in “Frank O’Hara’s Question”—“I am guarding it from mess and message”? (Marjorie Perloff rather simple-mindedly interprets the line as an either / or: “that is, from total formlessness on one hand, and from a more traditional rhetorical and prosodic organization on the other”—too, she refers to “Biotherm” as “something of a rock opera”! I doubt O’Hara worry’d a nautical knot about manœuvres between any imaginary prosodic Scylla and Charybdis (“that’s just common sense: if you’re going to buy a pair of pants,” &c.): I do suspect he’d cotton to a sense of “measure” as assessment, “to take measure”—that post-art-making gauging and weighing, the dull reconcilement of the object with the world. He says so in a 20 September 1961 letter to Donald Allen:
I’ve been going on with a thing I started to be a little birthday poem for BB [Bill Berkson] and it went along a little and then I remembered that was how Mike’s Ode [“Ode to Michael Goldberg (’s Birth and Other Births)”] got done so I kept on and I am still going day by day (middle of 8th page this morning). I don’t know anything about what it is or will be but am enjoying trying to keep going and seem to have something. Some days I feel very happy about it, because I seem to have been able to keep it “open” and so there are lots of possibilities, air and such.
The solace in the doing, in the “keeping going.” (Beckett, of course: “I Can't Go On, I'll Go On.”)

Stumbled up against. Arthur Schopenhauer, “On Authorship”:
. . . there are three kinds of authors. First come those who write without thinking. They write from a full memory, from reminiscences; it may be, even straight out of other people’s books. This class is the most numerous. Then come those who do their thinking whilst they are writing. They think in order to write; and there is no lack of them. Last of all come those authors who think before they begin to write. They are rare.
      Authors of the second class, who put off their thinking until they come to write, are like a sportsman who goes forth at random and is not likely to bring very much home. On the other hand, when an author of the third or rare class writes, it is like a battue. Here the game has been previously captured and shut up within a very small space; from which it is afterwards let out, so many at a time, into another space, also confined. The game cannot possibly escape the sportsman; he has nothing to do but aim and fire—in other words, write down his thoughts. This is a kind of sport from which a man has something to show.
Damn’d by its own metaphor, no? Missing: they who write in order to think.

Arthur Schopenhauer, 1788-1860

Monday, April 13, 2009

Glean’d, Clutter’d


A three-day nonstop feed of good weather (with early migrants
Toss’d in) works to detonate the dubious surly boom of the already
Nascent spring, the usual onerous hurrahs for the one who crawl’d
Up out of it mark’d by thwart’d diffidence bordering on caustic
Insobriety around the glazed butt of ham (minus a few light chores

Gathering up the sheaf of dog-ear’d pages of my latest constituent, Beckett, only to descend into doubt (Ted Berrigan’s line out of “Easter Monday”—“‘I’m working out the structures of men that don’t exist yet.’”): what’s the point of noting how some other man reaffirms, say, one’s own arrant-arrogant (and likely ill-consider’d) suspicions? (How Beckett disliked Bach: “He said it was like an organ grinder churning out phrases.”) Or how Tom MacGreevy, in a lovely phrase, puts the kibosh to one’s momentary sense of identificatory glee, noting how (impossibly!) “Sam could go straight from his morning tea or coffee to his typewriter or his books, his biblical concordance, his dictionaries, his Stendhal. I, on the contrary, had to go out and make sure that the world was where I had left it the evening before.” (Recalling all the years when, half-sober and mimsy’d by whatever bottle’d clunk’d one’s head the night before, of course, it—meaning the world—wasn’t. Leading one to a repeat’d rigmarole of attempting to locate it again, ad infinitum.) In the annual reading of O’Hara’s “Easter” (“The razzle dazzle maggots are summary / tattooing my simplicity on the pitiable.”), one noted (with a tolerably approbatory nod—as if that matters) the ever-poised and unresolved (unrequited, meaning, the orgasm not “achieved”) lines:
When the world has walked the tightrope that ties up our eyes
when the world has stretched the rubber skin of sleep
when the world is just a cluttered box for your cluttered box . . .
Rejecting that brash spoil’d kid sense of how the world, inimical, owes one something somehow, or needs one’s “work” (or should—if only the benighting scales’d fall off one’s eyes). (“Nobody should experience anything they don’t need to, if they don’t need poetry bully for them.”) (Ted Berrigan’s line out of “Easter Monday”—“‘Loyalty is hard to explain.’”)

Is the anti-Bach Beckett related to the anti-quip Beckett? Thinking of Beckett’s aversion to the feeble sallies of academic wit (to MacGreevy he deplores the “little jokes—the kind that dribble into a subtle smile” and damns the scholarly exhibits (at Trinity College) of “Quip—that most foul malady . . . the eternally invariable formulae of cheap quip and semi-obscene entirely contemptible potin [tittle-tattle]”). And that effectively bedighting my morning’s flailings with some array: of notes in little splashes of fury; of smarm-infest’d one-liners of the quipsters; of the similarly ineffectual skippiness of the New Sentences—how (the problem is) none of it (by its very structure) is capable of getting up a full head of steam (Bach’ll never thrash one’s heart the way Beethoven will). (It takes consequentiality and reiterate banging to budge a mountain.) (Ted Berrigan’s line out of “Easter Monday”—“‘The question seems prosecutorial.’”)

Enough diatribe and haught-naughtiness. What I liked “weekendwise”: dousing a crud-rust’d bicycle chain in a foamy broth of two cans of Co’-cola. A recommend’d method of rust removal. (Ted Berrigan’s line out of “Easter Monday”—“‘Hard fight gets no reward.’”) A bicycle glean’d off the street. Tires repair’d with patches. Frame stripped of doodads and clean’d. Okay, I’d better go out and make sure the world’s where I left it last Friday. (Ted Berrigan’s &c.—“‘To go on telling the story.’”)

Ted Berrigan’s “Easter Monday” (c. 1974):
”Antlers have grown out the top of my shaggy head.”
“And his conclusions to be unaccompanied by any opinions. . . .”
“You can’t have two insides having an affair.”
“Why not then spiritualize one’s midday food with a little liquor?”
“The question seems prosecutorial.” “The house is lost
In the room.” “Loyalty is hard to explain.”
“Hard fight gets no reward.” “A woman has a spirit of her own.”
“A man’s spirit is built upon experience & rage.”—Max Jacob.
In the air, in the house, in the night, bear with me
“I always chat to the golden partner.”
“I’m working out the structures of men that don’t exist yet.”
“A gladness as remote from ecstasy as it is from fear.”
“To go on telling the story.”
“Give not that which is holy to dog.”

Ted Berrigan, 1934-1983

Alex Katz, “Ted Berrigan,” 1967