Monday, July 26, 2010


Some Clouds (Lake Champlain)

Peter Schjeldahl says that “taste” is the “sediment of aesthetic experience, commonly somebody else’s” and claims, too, that, “If you don’t consent to understand a little, on its own terms, what you dislike, your love loses muscle tone.” *

Jeni Olin says: “I personally am a fan of form & ruin. / Drawing connections at the same time / decrying them.” And, Homeric and metaphorical: “As an insomniac compulsively flips a pillow / to cool the cheek, I turn you over again & again / & again in my mind when I need the cold side / of the said affair to rail against / ‘the ruinous work of nostalgia.’” **

Maurice Blanchot says: “I must admit I have read many books. When I disappear, all those volumes will change imperceptibly; the margins will become wider, the thought more cowardly.” And: “Sometimes a vast solitude opened in my head and the entire world disappeared inside it, but came out again intact, without a scratch, with nothing missing.” ***

Merrill Gilfillan says:
The Art of the Manifesto

      The first time you see one running across the water you simply stand and gawp. It makes you think of an outboard roadrunner from the arid Southwest walking on water. Then you recognize it as a Purple Gallinule, cousin of the coot and the English moorhen, and you know it’s stepping on lily pads most of the time, but.
      The next time you feel one roaming across the water and you stand and talk. It makes you think of an outboard roadrunner from the arid Southwest waltzing on water. Then you recognize it as a perfect yellow mule, cousin of the goat in the English morning, and what a morning, stepping on lily pads most of the time. Your butt.
      viva la causa ****
Roberto Calasso says: “The power of the abstract begins as a rejection of that epic encyclopedism where every element, whether it be a comment on the power of the gods or instructions on how to fix the axles to a cart, has the same importance, the same impact on the mosaic surface of the narrative. Anaximander and Heraclitus aimed for the opposite: sentences that subsumed whole cycles of reality and almost eclipsed them, dazzling the reader with their own light. The lógos, when it appears, annihilates the particular, the accumulation of detritus typical of every experience, that obligation to repeat every detail. Like the cipher, like the arrow of Abaris, the logos transfixes in the merest atom of time what the rhapsodies had strung together and repeated over and over for night after smoky night.” *****

Hugh Kenner, regarding “Pound’s conception of what the poet’s job is”: “The rendering, without deformation, of something, within him or without, which he has clearly apprehended and seized in his mind:
as the sculptor sees the form in the air
            before he sets hand to mallet,
and as he sees the in, and the through,
                                          the four sides . . . ******
Ralph Waldo Emerson says: “Poet sees the stars, because he makes them. Perception makes. We can only see what we make, all our desires are procreant. Perception has a destiny.” *******

Robert Bly says (in “Some Thoughts on Lorca and René Char”): “Even the Imagists were misnamed: they did not write in images from the unconscious, as Lorca or Neruda, but in simple pictures, such as ‘petals on a wet black bough,’ and Pound . . . continues to write in pictures, writing as great a poetry as is possible . . . using nothing but pictures, but still, pictures are not images. And without these true images, this water from the unconscious, the language continues to dry up.” And: “In all men there is a struggle between the reason and the unconscious. In Eliot and Pound the mind won over the unconscious without too much struggle—the old Puritan victory. What they needed to balance their Puritanism is what France needed to balance her puritanism—namely, poems in which the unconscious wins out over the mind consistently, and that is precisely, of course, what ‘surrealism’ is.” ********

Some reverie of perfect limpidity soil’d and sully’d—my temptation is to conclude with a few lines of Julien Gracq (out of The Narrow Waters): “Only Chinese painting (Song Dynasty landscapes in particular) has been haunted by the humble theme of a solitary rowboat moving through a wooded gorge. Clearly the great charm of such an image derives from the contrast between the sheer physical effort evoked by the steep slopes and the level, incredible ease of the river flowing eternally between peaks: the jubilant feeling born, in the dreamer’s consciousness, of the discovery of an effortless solution to contradictions here becomes fixed in reality . . . one abandons oneself to the water which, unfailingly, cuts a passage . . .” *********

Isn’t the perennial argument—writing—precisely that of that necessary (though not itself sufficient) abandonment? Writing on the verge of some radical loss of control, efflorescent and mimsy’d, a kind of pre-intelligible lalling half-thwarting the brainbox’s sturdier minions. Isn’t the truly “ruinous” work (I, too, “a fan of form & ruin”) that that arrives just when the “unconscious wins out over the mind consistently”: one goes on autopilot amidst the greeny asphodel (Bly says: “As Lorca says, ‘Green, green, go deeper, green’”) or see, too, Williams’s own version of Spicerean Martian talk—or Keatsian “uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason—”—any of the ways (constant, reiterant) we talk about what is essentially an ecstatic blur and piecemeal holding up of the world for examination, that writing:
I have forgot         .
                and yet I see clearly enough
central to the sky
        which ranges round it.
Or (Williams again, in “The Desert Music”): “as in the mind a vague apprehension speaks / and the music rouses.” Inchoate messiness unbeleaguer’d by sense, a “perfect yellow mule.” (The weekend a wash.)

* Let’s See: Writings on Art from The New Yorker (Thames & Hudson, 2008)

** Hold Tight: The Truck Darling Poems (Hanging Loose, 2010)

*** The Madness of the Day, translated by Lydia Davis, (Station Hill, 1981)

**** Doones, Vol. 1, No. 4 (1971), edited by Ray DiPalma

***** The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, translated by Tim Parks (Vintage, 1994)

****** The Translations of Ezra Pound, with an Introduction by Hugh Kenner, (New Directions. 19—)

******* Selected Journals, 1841-1877 (Library of America, 2010)

******** The Fifties: A Magazine of Poetry and General Opinion, No. 3 (1959), edited by William Duffy and Robert Bly

********* The Narrow Waters, translated by Ingeborg M. Kohn, (Turtle Point, 2003)

William Carlos Williams, 1883-1963
(Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library)