Thursday, September 23, 2010

Michaux / Pound

Some Clouds

Pondering (in lieu of, in advance of, thieving) a line Zukofsky used (epigraph) out of Psalm 16: The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage. Seemingly “about” land measures—surveying marks and boundaries—and not a literary “catch”—or cache—at all. So go the bounteous feints and leakages of one’s comprehension. The other Zukofsky line of note in yesterday’s perusal (of the 1956 Some Time): “a good sprag memory.” (A Shakespeare thievery, out of The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare seemingly misspelling “sprack” a West Midlands dialect term meaning “smart, clever, alert.”) (Naturally—leakage, &c.—I initially record the line wrongly, “a good scrag memory,”—“scrag” = “lean”—“the scrag-end of my days,” soundings Eliotesque and invading.) Or I recall Merrill Gilfillan in an early piece—“In Memory of Albert Ayler” saying “The spirit opens / by complete surprise because it’s muscle”—and see, looking, how he proceeds to rout about in “any streetcorner quantum / and absinthe wherever it is” for something so undefined that its decree’d lack and monstrance looms up tangibly, like a Cadillac, or a yacht. Riffing around a sinecure, or a cicatrix, fleshy and bejowl’d.) Michaux, reportedly: “I write in order to reveal a person whose existence no one would ever have expected from looking at me.” (Ammons, dress’d in unremarkable professorial drab-clothes, loudening up against some fatuous-showy poet-garb: “I’m so fuckin’ crazy, I don’t need to costume myself.”) Michaux’s statement used in lieu of a photograph (Michaux’s refusal of being photograph’d): “A man and his face, it’s a little as if they were constantly devouring each other.” (William Matthew’s lines out of “In Memory of W. H. Auden”: “My friend said Auden died / because his face / invaded his body.” And how he—Matthews—veers off into Romantic pre-process’d pablum (in the duds of “myth”): “Under the joke is a myth— / we invent our faces: / the best suffer most and it shows.” A sere carmen perpetuum of connectings—the way the mind wholly unsuffering cans and dispenses its veriest niggling, that is companying. “She’d Pawn her Cloaths for a nigling Bout.” (Looking into Michaux’s A Barbarian in Asia, the original print’d by Gallimard in 1933, here translated by Sylvia Beach and print’d by New Directions in 1947, I idly wonder why its opening lines—“I know some twenty capitals. Bah! ¶ But then there is Calcutta. Calcutta, the most crowded city in the Universe”—so oddly echo the opening of Pound’s c. 1908 “Cino” with its rubric of “Italian Campagna 1309, the open road” “Bah! I have sung women in three cities, / But it is all the same; / And I will sing of the sun.”) Is that Pound-inflect’d by Beach, or is the evidence of Michaux’s attending to Pound? Pound’s Michaux. I see that Richard Sieburth’s report’d (in Signs in Action: Pound / Michaux and Of Language) one connect:
In his obituary memoir of Ezra Pound, Guy Davenport notes that during his final years in Venice il miglior fabbro, having abandoned his Cantos as a colossal botch, having edged further and further into silence, was nevertheless contemplating a translation of Henri Michaux’s Idéogrammes en Chine. Pound’s health was failing, as was his confidence in the word, and apparently after a few false starts the project was set aside. It was left to a younger American poet, Gustaf Sobin, to complete the task—with the result the Michaux’s Ideograms in China was finally made available to English-speaking readers in 1984, published, appropriately enough, under the Poundian imprint of New Directions as a latterday complement (so the blurb reads) to Pound and Ernest Fenollosa’s classic study, The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry.
Michaux’s Pound? Untraced. Michaux’s references to Chinese language begin with a love of its spoken form:
      Compared with this language all others are pedantic, burdened with a thousand ridiculous things, laughable in their monotony—languages for soldiers. . . .
      Now the Chinese language was not made like the others, forced by a jostling and controlling syntax. The words in it were not constructed harshly, with authority, method, redundancy, in a conglomeration of resounding syllables, nor along etymological lines. No, just words of one syllable, and that syllable of uncertain resonance. The Chinese sentence resembles weak exclamations. A word rarely contains more than three letters. Often a drowning consonant (the n or the g) envelops it in the sound of a gong.
      Finally, in order to be still closer to nature, this language is sung. . . .
“Veers off into Romantic, &c.” Michaux continues with the “four singing tones”: “The singing is discreet. A kind of breeze, or birds’ language. A language so moderate and affectionate that one could hear it all one’s life without getting bored . . .” Of Chinese poetry Michaux writes that it “is so very delicate that it never meets an idea (in the European sense of the word)”:
A Chinese poem cannot be translated. Neither in painting, nor in poetry, nor in the drama, has the Chinese that warm, thick voluptuousness of the Europeans. In a poem, he indicates, and the points indicated are not even the most important ones, their evidence is not hallucinating, they are avoided, they are not even suggested, as it is often said, but rather the landscape and its atmosphere are deduced from them.
And he offers a few lines of Li Po, render’d, one thinks, in proof of the contention of its untranslatability—“Blue is the water and clear the moon of autumn. / We pluck in the lake the South some white lilies. / They seem to sigh with love / filling with melancholy the heart of the man in the boat.” And proceeds to point to something like Fenollosa’s “visible hieroglyphics,” what he calls a “verbal medium consisting largely of semi-pictorial appeals to the eye”:
      After all, what do these four lines of Li Po contain in French? A scene.
      But in Chinese, they contain thirty or so; it is a bazaar, it is a cinema, it is a great picture. Each word is a landscape, a group of signs, the elements of which, even in the briefest poem, combine with endless allusions. A Chinese poem is always too long, such is its superabundance, but it really excites one, it is bristling with comparisons.
Is that somewhat distant kin to Fenollosa’s “A true noun, an isolated thing, does not exist in nature. Things are only the terminal points, or rather the meeting points, of actions, cross-sections cut through actions, snap-shots. Neither can a pure verb, an abstract motion, be possible in nature. The eye sees noun and verb as one: things in motion, motion in things, and so the Chinese conception tends to represent them. . . .”? Wo bu zhi dao I say in bird language. Somewhere Michaux writes: “Madness is an endless hoax, in which the alienated subject is ceaselessly transcended.” And, in A Barbarian in Asia: “What the Chinaman knows best is the art of escaping.” (The lingual prestidigitatory slip—see “riffing around a sinecure”: “In the [character for] ‘blue,’ there is the sign of chopping wood and that of water, not to mention silk.”) Bah! Back to Zukofsky, for rooting:
So frail is judgment
It must light up, an overseer
With some truckling in hell,
A song that lovers heads
Ear to, and on ear foretell.

Henri Michaux, 1899-1984