Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Grand Piano Notes

A Wall


The word rabble
is blocking my
purview, providing several
defiantly incompetent info-
bundlers with a
laugh or two,
a regular Mumbai
defile of hoots
unbaffled by the
usual systemic aplomb.
One’s a tennis
fana capable of
downing enormous jars
of Bombay Gin—
with lime-flavor’d
tonic—with nary
an effect unassimilable:
serve, volley, get
to the net.
Makes a homely
leap, a trade-
mark thing like
Mary Desti’s ass.
Minor mechanical repairs
I usually make
myself, the thumb-
smudg’d lens, the
magnify’d clump of
dirt the movie
projector’s juggling frame
to frame, the
granny knot un-
tying itself under
the taut pull
of the dog.
Now that cyber-
deliquescence—that regnant
unallay’d smudge of
mutually-assured propinquity—
’s made even
the singular global,
rudimentary, and dopey,
and all of
us indiscreet, fool-
proof receptacles of
what’s not need’d,
one for rubbish,
one for dross.

Singularly unfocus’d. I keep thinking of Barrett Watten’s reply to critics—or, pointedly, reply to “A     ”” who “questions the practice of quoting samples of our poetry in The Grand Piano” (Watten being the obvious perp and repeat offender). Watten: “Here I would offer a one-word explanation: ‘hermeneutics.’” The mummer’s imperiousness of that—well, do you recall the heartbreakingly young Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate (1967) (dragged off by one “Mr. McGuire,” play’d by one Walter Brooke, who apparently appear’d in one episode of just about every “thing” ever made)? Here, look:
Is that “hermeneutic” poetry Watten quotes (“Is it an analogy to, or a refusal of, the corresponding music?” he asks, somewhere out in a region beyond the query comme toujours) only perceivable as allegory? Watten:
        Animals eat words,
exorcise this great and glassy news.
The end of the road a walking flower
        as in any direction, another.
        Peripheries meet, a syntactic
forecast through hostile centuries
a slow drawing out of detail
        reflecting greys.
        To confirm the ear catches
is measured until it disappears.
Breaking code, no one recalls
        appeal to the surface of fact.
Out of Watten’s “Radio.” Blocks of it interspersed throughout The Grand Piano (#8), usually placed epigraph-style to begin sections. One tends, in reading the prose “narrative,” simply to register the intervening botch of impenetrability and jump it. Watten notes that the composition of “Radio” is of “lines cut up and rearranged from Lee Harwood’s exemplary translation of Tzara.” And: “I remember trying to capture the hybrid neutrality of everyday life in its most repetitive forms through a use of language that had been stripped of all associations.” (Watten’s sudden use of the word “hybrid”—though “hybrid neutrality” is, according to Watten, a term associated with some ’eighties visual art practices—he mentions Allan McCollum, who as a child play’d “Jimmy Lane” in Reefer Madness (1938)*, growing up to make an art consisting of enormous numbers of objects and drawings, “each made unique by combining templates according to a combinatorial protocol that never repeated itself.” Hunh. Amazing. Watten’s, I start’d to say, sudden use of the word “hybrid”—isn’t that a kind of marketing catchword right now?) A poetry of the “neutrality of everyday life” and “repetitive forms . . . stripped of all associations” recalls the aims of Satie’s musique d’ameublement, a kind of hardly diverting repetitive Muzak, not unlike a number of mold’d plastic chairs cluster’d in a dining room. (Satie, too, did a ballet piece call’d Mercure—Poses plastiques en trois tableaux (1924).) To arrive there—in a state of implacable “greys,” the sensorium mugged by a leveling, neuter’d by lack, noticing nothing, undernourish’d—I suppose one might aspire to it: “To confirm the ear catches / is measured until it disappears.” (Though I “hear” immediately Duncan’s “Years as Catches” there, confirming what? That the measure remains inescapably there?) I’d like to see a piece of that language “stripped of all associations.” Watten’s “Radio,” by so doggedly disassembling and manipulating the Harwood translation of Tzara’s cut-ups—cutting up cut ups, a kind of mass refining that sounds like that one word “plastics” to me—is certainly going to retain one association: that of “the cut up.” What would be remarkable would be if it didn’t. If the result emerged in the guise of something whole, gorgeous, singular, and just.

In Carla Harryman’s entry, a curious note regarding the whole Grand Piano “collective”:
Some of us are almost finished, have completed their first drafts years ago, but others begin again, or now. Now is the off-word that extracts the most energy.
“Years ago”? If there is a murk about the self-proclaim’d “experiment in collective autobiography,” it is in its failure to lay out its methods (simple “scientific” protocol—offering means for testing reproducibility and repeatability). If “some” are “finished”—where’s the collective nudge, where’s the trade-off and exchange, the community of making? One assumed a large part of the decision to release the writings in a series of ten booklets stem’d out of a commitment to that “Now” which “extracts the most energy” (the other part being financial? though there’s always the obvious question: why isn’t The Grand Piano simply being post’d online?) Too, it’s plain that a beginning mark’d by individual booklets with loosely-defined “themes” is now abandon’d, numéro 8 is a hotch-potch, the practice of ending with a series of questions for the next member in order largely ditch’d. (Though Señor Watten bravely holds out: “Why did you go West? What is the City you are in now?” Sounding a little like a desperado. Or a commandant.) There is, of course, in the pristine volumes, no sign of rank-splitting, no sign of disagreement: one imagines that a public pursuit of the writing’d reveal “the processual” to some advantage. (At least to the advantage of any who nod homage to—or act out—the benefits of the “social text,” or sneeze at the possibilities of the radical solitary.)

* “Singularly unfocus’d,” indeed. Lanny Quarles corrects me. Warren McCollum, father of Allan, play’d Jimmy Lane in that blunt bonkers thing. Trouble with my toss-everything-in-the-pot “method.”

Of Note

Out of Stony Brook 1/2 (1968), edited by George Quasha, with contributing editors, J. D. Reed and Eliot Weinberger. Edward Dahlberg (out of the preface to The Flea of Sodom):
Longinus has said that a simple prose contains fewer faults than any other kind, not being tumid or obscure; but he also has said that plain writing is less replenishing, and is often a sign of a weak writer who dares not take those risks which a parsimonious Imagination cannot sustain. Simple prose is often conceived for the mind that is dead rather than quick, and it is not surprising that an author who is as timid as a coney when he himself is writing, is bold and waspish in reprehending a Sir Thomas Browne for blemishes that are beyond the powers of his own Muse. However, this is not to say that plain writing, when it is not empty, is not another art, as Thucydides has remarkably shown. What is important is to employ words properly—for as Socrates said, The misuse of words induces evil in the soul—and with a tragical feeling of which our platitudinarian speech is void.

Robert Hooke’s Drawing of a Flea
(Out of
Micrographia, or, Some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses, 1635)