Monday, May 10, 2010

Darwin: “I have seen a microscopic Thrips . . .”


If a bookbinder in Edwardsburg says there’s a used book emporium in Three Rivers, one veers north off U.S. 12 and shoots through Constantine (Monsanto seed corn plants, impeccably white with green and yellow trim, study’d benignity to belie the monstrousness of its global assault against hand’d down eons of agricultural savvy) and finds oneself ambling in cold sun along another Main Street of half-ass’d taverns and empty storefronts. While one’s attempting to make a photograph of a cock-eyed typewriter abandon’d in a vacant window, a man shouts out an observation unsolicit’d―“only bars make it here”―seemingly a truism, though the book emporium awaits. (Wherein, a scan of a few shelves of la poesía norteamericana coughs up its bounty in the form of a copy of Merrill Gilfillan’s Satin Street, perfect for the milieu, and—comme d’habitude—requiring marvels and conjectures regarding its trajectory, the peregrinatory word.) Gilfillan, rather aptly:
Three Walks

We meet at Jimmy’s,
trade grocery bags
of Medicine Bow gooseberries
for day on Sheridan Square.

Did you or did you not
ride a flicker call through it all?

Nocturnal train whistles
are to this continent what
plum blossoms are to Japan.

Were you in Wyoming in 1954?
Did you see Edward Hopper
painting from his car?

with heart of harness leather,
dog iridescent
as a magpie feather.
And at what crossroads exactly did the State Police car, cornering hard, come storming up lights blazing, whilst we point’d cameras out the Vibe windows at the empty shell of a Standard Oil station? “Just grokkin’ the general desuetude, officer . . .” Tempt’d, certes, to quote the upright harvester in blue something out of Melville’s Pierre, how, “as far as any geologist has yet gone down into the world, it is found to consist of nothing but surface stratified on surface”:
To its axis, the world being nothing but superinduced superficies. By vast pains we mine into the pyramid; by horrible gropings we come to the central room; with joy we espy the sarcophagus; but we lift the lid—and no body is there!—appallingly vacant and vast is the soul of a man!
Home (where emptiness abides) after the short incalculable caterwaul through three states, one finds a copy of Keston Sutherland’s Quid 20 (“A future free for all”) with a terrific conversation between Eirik Steinhoff and William Fuller (call’d “Mr. Fuller has come to a dead end, and likes it”). Steinhoff offers a reading (out of William Kerrigan and Gordon Braden’s 1989 The Idea of the Renaissance) of some distillage of Nicholas of Cusa on “disproportion and negative relatedness”:
There is no proportion between the finite and the infinite. All attempts to know God are [. . .] disproportionate.

We cannot know God absolutely, as God knows only himself, and we cannot know ‘the quiddity of things’ in this world as they are known by God. Our knowledge rests on comparison and degree. It cannot be definitive.
And Fuller (who’s previously gong’d the bell of Samuel Johnson’s “heterogeneous ideas yoked with violence together” in anticipatory response to Steinhoff’s entomological riffing on “convulsion”—“from the Latin convellere ‘to pull violently hither and thither, to wrest, wrench, shatter,’ from con- ‘together’ + vellere ‘to pluck, pull, tear’”—and “conjecture”—“a throwing or casting together”—Fuller who’s admit’d, in extemporaneous half-josh mode, that “conjecture” ’s “helped me to think about what I’m doing—that is, during those two or three occasions when I’ve actually tried to think about it (including right now). The idea is that you’re positing things and you give them a kind of provisional existence. And there are multiple things thrown out there that either stick or are withdrawn. The process, at least for me, in writing—not that this is terribly interesting—usually involves many, many revisions, and as I revise I add or subtract elements to see if it makes things more interesting. And then if that whole structure conjures something, some fortuitous and fleeting unity . . . And I don’t know what that is, but that’s something that presumably if readers find interesting, then that’s something that they can attach to”), Fuller replies to Steinhoff’s Nicholas of Cusa (“Our concepts are provisional, like the world they hope to exhibit”) with:
Nicholas’s symbols are almost like fifteenth-century European versions of Zen koans, in that they have a tendency to lay bare the limits of intellection while at the same time offering a countervailing experience within the imagination in which irreconcilable elements are held in tension. To that extent the symbol forms a distinct conceptual entity, registering the failure of one kind of thought through the success of another. Ultimately in artistic work that’s what you’re looking for. You’re not looking beyond whatever to X, you are also looking at this, the moment that it’s leading you away from itself. I used to call this the “Neoplatonic imagination.”
“In mathematics, a Fourier (not that Fourier, Joseph, though, admittedly, I do think of the phalansterist’s “Les attractions sont proportionelles aux destinées”) series decomposes a periodic function or periodic signal into a sum of simple oscillating functions.” Oscillating: a way of laying bare. (Dylan’s “Love Minus Zero / No Limit” a kind of degré zéro de l'écriture for Kenner’s “homemade world” set: “She knows there’s no success like failure / And that failure’s no success at all.”) Migratory noises all morning dog walk and no binoculars at hand. Reverie item—just clear’d customs—a sentence ending with “Thrips.”