Monday, February 28, 2011

Feverishly Mend’d

A Wall

Influenza’d in the city. (And, with the grainy immediacy of a video “clip” one thinks of Frank O’Hara, with lips not working quite right, white-shirt’d and hungover, reciting “Is it dirty / does it look dirty / that’s what you think of in the city . . .”) Alphonse Daudet contract’d syphilis at the age of seventeen, and perish’d of it at fifty-seven. One is fell’d by a lurch, travels with grit’d teeth, and mends, impermeably mends. Returns like a model citizen and shovels out. I like the imbecility the sudden loss of contextual markers offers “up.” Idiot shuffles in fever-drench’d clothes, all streets petering out to join the big one way street. Daudet call’d Pascal “a neurotic in the full meaning of the word”: “He spent his life dying.” (In The Emperor Jones Eugene O’Neill writes: “Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is the glue.”) Daudet (out of In the Land of Pain), how pain invades in a prolong’d series of firsts:
      At first, a heightened awareness of sound: the noise of the shovel, tongs near the hearth, the screech of doorbells; the ticking watch, a spider’s web on which work begins at four in the morning.

      Hyper-sensitivity of the skin, loss of sleep, then coughing up blood.

      The ‘breastplate’: my first awareness of it. Suffocation, sitting up in bed, panicking.

      The first moves of an illness that’s sounding me out, choosing its ground. One moment it’s my eyes; floating specks, double vision; then objects appear cut in two, the page of a book, the letters of a word only half read, sliced as if by a billhook; cut by a scimitar. I grasp at letters by their downstrokes as they rush by.
One of Daudet’s sons, Léon, grew up to co-found, with Charles Maurras, the ultra-nationalist, royalist, and anti-semitic group, L’Action française. (Daudet himself: so myopic that “he once talked for a quarter of an hour to a rug thrown over a chair, in the belief that it was Edmond de Goncourt.”) And O’Hara, in a hurry: “Run your finger along your no-moss mind / that’s not a thought that’s soot.”

Frank O’Hara, 1926-1966

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Grand Piano Notes

Mirrors (Hommage à Lee Friedlander)

If Ted Pearson’s plaintive cry (in The Grand Piano booklet numéro ten) of quash’d desire “to author pleasures I once could barely imagine” (“Have I, then, abjured a ‘linkage most lyrical’ to become a historical footnote?”) is quickly and magisterially hush’d (“But no.”), Bob Perelman cuts loose with all the bathos of the “the body’s autobiography” (“obscene” is the judgment, “in the false-etymological sense of offstage, behind the screen”), and stages a writing occurring post-op (“ablation of the heart”) whilst he is required “to lie still for six hours, with a doctor and nurse pressing hard on the two incisions in my groin for the first ten minutes so the thinned blood would clot.” In doing so, he writes (dictates to Francie Shaw) a pleasingly minor and messy (possibly mineable) piece call’d “Good Time Charlie” (working off James Cotton’s version, Best of the Verve Years: Perelman, joshing a little, notes it, the song, “enunciated such an excited enactment and savage critique of the conditions of hetero mastery that I said to Francie, ‘Her orgasms are his portfolio.’ ‘What does that mean?’ she asked.”) and rather freely, soaringly, moves through a round of memory without fetish or sacrum or show, or plausible gain. Memory “for use”:
Mary Carruthers, in The Craft of Thought, writes that the single point of all monastic intellectual exhortation was the building of usable, portable stuff in your mind: a memory / invention machine made out of movable particulars and plaint technique, in the brain, the “wreathed trellis” as Keats so nicely called it. Memory meant a stockpile to build new things in the present. Not a memory theater, but a well-supplied workplace.
Memory without portfolio. The “writing” (again, mocking the nervous earnest of one’s own youth, weighing Silliman’s “This is a poem” insistence in The Chinese Notebook against Michael Gottlieb’s fatuous (Memoir and Essay) stipulatory jack that calling a thing poetry’d be “old school”—“Writing was the way to say it.”) is rather rambunctiously atroce:
Beat heavy like walking in sand
like u are a transformer-figure on sports ads.
u are so juiced (roids).
Juicing it up 4 the consumers

. . .

That’s all poems r, itineraries of esophaguses in
You’re the pimp. (James Cotton)
We’re the scribe writing down everything & then
      later we’ll weed it or not
So, he’s the pimp Put on your red dress baby. No
      comment needed.
Come out and ball with me. . . .
And ending: “depending // to say that none of this works like we say.” What’s weed’d out of the mess: a sense of Perelman’s turn to (against the dismal severities of the technocrats of “form”) that “old shrine . . . unmentionable,” love. Perelman (prefacing the piece, addressing the grandees):
Remember the question I asked in Grand Piano 1? What is the relationship of love to writing? There’s “desire-writing” (unceasing revolution of form, say), but what about the other side? What about the words that have been written and now stay put, spanning different times? What about not the new but the old? The original vocabulary was quasi-impossible; I was nervous about it. Was “love . . . the oldest hat, important to keep in most secret closet?” Love, the old shrive, bathetic to the point of being unmentionable. Nevertheless, going on in the shadow of that encrusted word are the unspeakable activities that are the lifeblood of art.
Isn’t there a condemnatory hint (a scold) to the “Nevertheless”? Recall: Perelman’s initiatory gulp and plunge line in booklet uno: “I propose that we consider a basic issue facing writers: love.” And, post-Ted Berrigan riff (“Is this the oldest hat, important to keep in secretest closet?” nodding at Berrigan’s “Remembered Poem”: “It is important to keep old hat / in secret closet.”), the signal immediacy of doubt: “You can take it where you like, or veer from the word itself if it feels too old and inert. It was hard for me to write it there, above, posing it as a term in a discussion of writing.” Is there a sense of disappointment here, in one’s own cohort? Its failure to heed the need to move along? Most monumental fix only ever momentary. Perelman:
A certain baseline irony in such conditions that the sincerest doubt and most brightly annealed shame will never be able to wash away the sunny afternoon this was set down in the face of all the editorial entrances and exits to follow. The immanent ones especially. A word I never know, to hear it is to forget, at that very instant, what it means. Immanent = the opposite of imminent. But both imminent and immanent are right in the middle of the sentence being written, hence all the more annealed in the bright splash of appearing, and hence all the more just history dust, animated at best. . . . Old and New keep changing hats, like in Godot. Neither one fits. It’s a joke, the only one. The avant-garde is older than the wizened Sibyl in her cage. Tone rows like corn gods. . . .
“Tone rows” and “corn gods” echoing (down through the decades) “ant wort” and “brat guts.” Along the way Perelman recalls early music training (piano), “Classics, acid, not much” study at Michigan (“fellow Greek student Rick A for Acid to rewatch Valley of the Dolls just the lower righthand corner the fourth time because there was so much information there. My first inkling of information and of formal reading strategies”) and the recent Rethinking Poetics conference at Columbia (“I was hoping, I suppose, that the conference would summon what I remember as the open-ended immediacy of the Talks. That didn’t happen, to say the least.”) where he “wound up saying the avant-garde is a stale religious metaphor.” If Perelman dubs the piece “The Condition of Music” (tutelary god Walter Pater: “All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music”), its finer moments appear Kerouac’d. Here’s a phenomenal paragraph about listening to Beethoven’s Opus 127 and wanting “to hold to certain nontellable moments”:
. . . play the tracks again to hear the whole thing thanks to engineering beyond my wildest dreams power stations music schools distribution networks dogged profit taking at all points and libidos at least those can be understood. But play it again to finally hear it. Want to keep holding onto simply to remain in contact with keep hearing that modulation to C♭ major some vista one almost lives in. Is from, in the impossible sense of that phrase. And to think, one confesses just the thing no one has much language for; language bats its paws clumsily toward where it just doesn’t go in any graspable way. Bark into the gathering dusk, hapax legomenon. Externalize your whole language, all speaking and hearing, in a single sound. So that finally, at just that moment, time stops completely. Oops. The jury is hereby instructed to disregard everything they ever knew and bask, just bask, in the entirety of sound. Soon enough similar modulations will be deeply corny.
Time’s radical fungibility versus the stolid jurisprudence of the Now (a word Perelman calls “the only mot juste” and adds, “it seems to be in a language that has just become foreign.”

Off a stretch.

“Old and New keep changing hats . . .”

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

“All Words Fall to the Ground . . .”

Some Tools

Orchestral miasma and funk. Sludge drag’d up out of the strings, a noxious strain. Marsh fever. Meaning, an unacquit’d evening swamping my tempo: nothing done. Left to mire about aimlessly in the sloughs of morning. Somewhere in the Journal de deuil Barthes says: “the world deafens me with its continuance.” Archaism: “sourd,” out of the French (deaf) < Latin, “surd.” Sir Thomas Browne (1682): “apprehend how all Words fall to the Ground, spent upon such a surd and Earless Generation of Men.” Reference in some polyglot lexicon (1659) to “a sourd, of deaf Emerald, which hath a deadish luster.” (Without the usual prompts, one begins to inhabit the din of a burgeoning frippery of words, wholly unleash’d, going slowly surd. One notes how “lexicon” descends out of the Greek λεξικόν and refers neither to the law (lex is Latin for “law”—see lex loci versus lex fori and other finicky disputatiousnesses) nor to the slippery dunnings of a barker (b. Alexander Crichlow Barker, Jr. in Rye, N.Y.) in a series of books by Edgar Rice Burroughs about a feral child grown to impeccably chivalrous and uncompromisingly ethical manhood . . .)

Clot’d ridiculousness setting in its rubber talons. I plough around in the new “uncollected Matthews,” New Hope for the Dead (Red Hen Press, 2010). The title out of Matthews’s dinky chapbook of one-liners call’d An Oar in the Old Water. About an inch and a half by four inches, one-stapled, print’d by Glad Day Press, in Ithaca, N.Y., the local anti-war leafleteers. I think it sold for a quarter. Matthews and jazz—quoting Zoot Sims’s line about Stan Getz: “He’s a nice bunch of guys.” Quoting John Coltrane saying, of Stan Getz: “We’d all play like that if we could.” Recalling Matthews’s enormous German shepherd call’d “Underdog.” Recalling how Mingus’s autobiography (Beneath the Underdog) begins, it, too, with the positing of a sprawling uncontainable number of selves:
“In other words I am three. One man stands forever in the middle, unconcerned, unmoved, watching, waiting to be allowed to express what he sees to the other two. The second man is like a frightened animal that attacks for fear of being attacked. Then there’s an over-loving gentle person who lets people into the uttermost sacred temple of his being and he’ll take insults and be trusting and sign contracts without reading them and get talked down to working cheap or for nothing, and when he realizes what’s been done to him he feels like killing and destroying everything around him including himself for being so stupid. But he can’t—he goes back inside himself.”
Accountancy of art or race? (Or that desire in white America to make the two inextricable? Patti Smith writing Easter’s liner notes to the song “Rock N Roll Nigger” with its hosanna and honorific: “any man who extends beyond the classic form is a nigger—one sans fear and despair—one who rises like rimbaud beating hard gold rythumn outta soft solid shit . . .”) The need to strip away precisely the frippery (“soft solid shit”) of a culture that bombards one continuously with trifling inessential data, “merch” of its lying tepid heart. A little Matthews statement, undated, without context, call’d “The Poetry I Want”:
      Margaret Mead notes that “primitive” societies develop personalities the way some people do: by suppressing psychic white noise. That’s why such a life seems “simple.” But the cost isn’t invisible—it’s only hidden.
      A heterodox (“advanced”) society tends not to suppress anything: quite literally it will blow your mind: good if your mind is a logjam or a penis, bad if it’s electronic equipment or brain cells. Also, all noises seem alike. “Home” sounds like “Dallas,” and “me” like “what is possible for me.”
      The poetry I want was raised somewhere else, like a feral child. You can’t tell it how society works: it has no vocabulary. It has to develop, rather than to curse the inheritance of, self-consciousness. It can learn from anything because it belongs to nobody, nothing, no model of society. It will be forced to choose its allegiances: an act, finally, of imagination. Logic helps but you have to tell it what to do.
      This poetry will ask, “Where am I going to ground all this energy?” In words, in the earth. I’ll try to write such poems, because I want to read them. But it doesn’t matter where they’re found.
A petering out (“In words, in the earth.”) The “primitivist” stance of “no vocabulary”—akin to Spicer’s “A really perfect poem (no one yet has written one) could be perfectly translated by a person who did not know one word of the language it was written in. A really perfect poem has an infinitely small vocabulary.” (“Home” sounds like “Dallas”—akin to “I yell ‘Shit’ down a cliff at the ocean. Even in my lifetime the immediacy of that word will fade. It will be dead as ‘Alas.’”) Matthews is finally too canny and accommodating (“choose its allegiances”) to toss it all off: too human, dignify’d, and stuck.

William Matthews and Lex Barker

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Grand Piano Notes

Some Zippers

Zonal provender. “As yet in me unmade.” The tenth and final booklet of The Grand Piano, that precipitous exercise in something grand (the authors subtitle it—coyly, or habitually, or out of the pump’d-up retro-garrulousness of the minor mob, one “doth” not know—“An Experiment in Collective Autobiography, San Francisco, 1975-1980”) is here, and, compleatist that I be, it behooves me to read it, “and save the serpent in their midst.” Barrett Watten’s made bee-loud noises hereabouts and thereabouts about “every intent to respond”—no doubt he’s methodically putting wattle to clay and pondering it still in “deep heart’s core.” The final number carries a somber dedicatory line “to the memory of Leslie Scalapino (1944-2010)” and a semi-faux-expiatory epigraph out of Jackson Mac Low’s The Pronouns:
We question each other
while we do something down on the floor,
attacking each other at times,
but never stopping our questioning,
& always reasoning regularly.

We number some things or some people,
& we page some of the people
& either we harbor poison between cotton or
      we go from breathing to a common form
Curious choice for a cohort known for eschewing the natural: the pure organicism of that final line’d meet the mete ordinary regimen of la poesía norteamericana, like that of, say, language-writing stalwart Stanley Kunitz’s “the poem conceived as a way of breathing in words.” (Re: that “we do something down on the floor”—a little un-ensorcel’d openness about the “doings-something” ’d explain a lot. How’d Kent Johnson put it? “I am interested how all literary theory, however disinterested it may seem, is driven by the sex-drive, tell me honestly it’s not.” That “we” do not “get” in The Grand Piano. It never goes beyond Watten’s mysterious initials and Mandel’s flub’d encounter with the French travelots. “I am sure of nothing but this, intensified by breathing.”)

Alors: Ted Pearson, the leading man. Reading Pearson’s opening gambit, a piece call’d “Etude 10: Threads”—the musical motif (with sections label’d “B,” “B♭,” “D,” “E♭,” &c.) here clumsy’d up with Penelopean warp-weftings (“The tapestry encrypts an ontological riddle” is offer’d, straightfacedly)—one’s struck by both the sheer joylessness of the recitatif, and by the extent of French theory’s congealment in the hands of ideologues, its status (for some) as Doxa, rote, formulaic, conventional. Pearson:
      The work site is where work is done. The work, cited, is what is done. The conditions that produce it persist as traces that underwrite the text. This, by convention, we address in the present—itself but a moment in the life of a text—where work continues to be done. For the reader, the text delimits a site where the work of making meaning takes place. For the writer, it also reveals a remainder that reminds her of work that is yet to be done. For both, it is a claim on the future that now includes it, even as it renews itself in the present it addresses. Every text, if only implicitly, begins with the words, “It is written . . .” But is this the work of the writer, or of the language in which it is written?
      Language is the medium in which “I” is suspended as an instance of saying “I.” Whenever I speak, it speaks otherwise, folding whatever I think to say into an excess that complicates my use of it . . .
Und so weiter. One thinks of the nineteenth c. New England blab schools, or the McGuffey readers. That Calvinist “work” doctrine. That sense of one’s place in a hierarchy. (Numerous the refs in Pearson to “knowing one’s place,” or it “heroic” refusal: “The politics of writing begin with the refusal to know one’s place—except as a ground of contestation and critical intervention” and “It entails refusing the social command to know and to keep one’s place” and, oddly enough, referring less to the larger social world than to the “nexus of private relations” (one guesses the grandees themself?): “Our work and our works are equally beset by epistemological questions—questions regarding our capacity to resist, as well as our complicity in, the episteme we inhabit—and which led a community of practice to emerge from a nexus of private relations—a community whose members continue to address the problem of knowing their places.”) See Mac Low: “attacking each other at times”? Where, in the documents, be the riffs on the rifts?

For Pearson, The Grand Piano is the “site” of vacillatory mayhem: retrieved heroics in the city versus dumbfoundedness and anxiety at the eventual “chronotope” (defined by Pearson: “the formal array of temporal and spatial elements on which a narrative is based . . . this project may be read as a chronotope—not as a monument to a community, but as the dynamic of a community in its endless weaving of past experience, present practice, and a future—even now unfolding—” and off into Penelopean metaphoricks.) History, according to Pearson, is cinemascopic:
I think of the Grand Piano years as having occupied “the lapse between lightning and thunder” . . . The lightning afforded glimpses of possibility against an anomic backdrop. And the thunder, louder than any noise we might have made, announced that the forces of reaction were gathering to rain on everyone’s parade.
(When history refuses to boom under the lights, it’s a quasi-lyrical mess. Pearson offers up a couple of paragraphs of daily anomie, freight’d with what reads like the heavy water of a personal code: “The cult of the difficult, exposed to desire. Tale of the Tyger. Hair of the dog. . . . Blue shirt, white pants. Night bleeds into. The morning after. My body double at their wedding. . . . In the decade when. Minimal wages trumped cultural capital. But my weekly reader loved to fuck.” Leaden with “import.”) Palpable anxiety: Pearson’s repeat’d (“doth protest too much”) acceptances of the onslaught of change: “In my experience, wherever one arrives is never the place one had imagined coming to.” And: “Rhythmic changes transport time—emblems of my desire—making me subject, over time, to forces that seek to author pleasures I once could barely imagine. Have I, then, abjured a “linkage most lyrical” to become a historical footnote? But no.” “But no”: high rhetorickal ploy of the utterly unconvinced.

The Grand Piano Notes” (compleat): 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75.

“The work site is where work is done . . .”

Monday, February 14, 2011

“Like a momentary fix . . .”

Some Clouds

Endlessly repeating oneself, exhausting a means by moot’d placidity and usual recompense. The orange sun thwack’d into a fat mitt of clouds. Loafing (pallet, flung-down greatcoat) with a vague honorary sense of the impinging emptiness, its collateral needs. Sense of the ongoing undoctor’d world in revelatory abeyance. The whitish-green slip of a monocotyledonous tendril easing out of blood-clot red cuff of its seed jacket, butting “at” the cold earth. Unmonitor’d swellings. Barthes (The Grain of the Voice): “I’m unable, unwilling, to sum up a book, to efface myself behind a capsule description of it on an index card, but on the contrary, I’m quite ready to pick out certain sentences, certain characteristics of the book, to ingest them as discontinuous fragments. This is obviously not a good philological attitude, since it comes down to deforming the book for my own purposes.” To keep everything moving, a rude indecent ploy: a self-center’d implausible fidgeting, a thing launch’d in solitary, against the crowd. Chaos unwitness’d, ideology unkempt, ransack’d, pliable, unpurchased. Pasternak, talking of “societies of every sort”: “Gregariousness is always the refuge of mediocrities.” (See Emily Dickinson—“Then—shuts the Door— / To her divine Majority—”) Moving out and back along a changeable trajectory (the unphotograph’d cherry orchards near Paw Paw, gawky seedlings wrap’d in dirty bandages against the invading purity of snow): the way one carps against what one is beholden to. Philip Guston (out of Collected Writings, Lectures, and Conversations), talking about Toulouse-Lautrec, applauding the “absolute attention to what he’s seeing and what moves him. I mean a face, a figure, a gesture, a movement, and so on, and when the feeling runs out he stops too. . . . So you’re faced with the curious mystery of a fix, like a momentary fix, or a record, an evidence of a man observing something with such intensity.” And Guston turns to Toulouse-Lautrec’s drawings of animals in Jules Renard’s A Bestiary, “struck by how he sees. . . . what he sees”:
Every kind of animal is there, a goose, a swan, a frog, etc., etc. And there’s a bull. And that bull is, to me, one of the most remarkable drawings in the book. It really looks like a vast landscape, as if the bull was right in front of his nose, he started drawing the tail and the hip, and he goes on this back and you can just feel it going on and on and on. And finally somewhere way over on the right are a couple of horns, and the whole feeling about this bull, this vastness of it, is that he must have been so close. He doesn’t bother to define the bull so much. The legs kind of peter out. But what he saw was this back.
And, honing the exclamatory by broadening it:
I think what I’m saying is that the immersion in the bull finally produces the most unpredictable thing, that he wouldn’t get either if he had thought of making a picture, or of drawing a bull. I mean, he somehow lost himself, was capable of losing himself, immersing himself in visual phenomena . . . I’m not giving a lecture, I just am proposing that kind of immersion, whether it’s being driven by concept or by visual phenomena, somehow seems to me to be . . . more fruitful, more chaotic but fruitfully chaotic, more unpredictable, that what we can conceive of when we become interested in painting itself. In other words I am proposing that painting needs more than itself. I suppose it’s a very traditional point of view.
Recalling Barthes talk of the ephemerality and radical repleteness of haiku, how it is concern’d with “a hyperconsciousness . . . acute, pure consciousness, with no interposition.” He, too (The Preparation of the Novel) referring (as counter-exemplary) to Jules Renard’s Histoires naturelles, the “brief notations, always metaphorical, taken directly from Nature (which actually means the countryside)” a kind of “impression (altogether contrary to the haiku).” The lack: seemingly “a kind of mounting agitation, a sustained “infra-panic” that’s almost of the order of good manners . . . Tenuousness and concentration: fleeting concentration of emotion.” So (Renard per Barthes): “‘The cockroach. Black and sticky, like a keyhole.’ ‘The spider. A little hand, black and hairy, clutching strands of hair. All night long, on behalf of the moon, it affixes seals.’ . . . ‘The raven. Grave accent on the furrow.’ ‘The lark. It lands, dead drunk from having . . . poked the sun in the eye again.’” Against the full-pot’d stirrings of discourse, its batting at containment: slips of desire dibble’d (pointedly) into the mud. Against desire’s consuming itself in protract’d rigmarole and diffusion: a suasion, a lean, a cusp. Barthes (The Grain of the Voice):
The haiku is something else again: it’s the essential, musical future of the fragment, its form of becoming. I encountered it in its real and historical nature during my travels in Japan. I have a profound admiration, that is, a profound desire, for this form. If I imagine myself writing other things, some of them would be on the order of the haiku. The haiku is a very short form, but unlike the maxim, an equally short form, it is characterized by its matteness. It engenders no sense, but at the same time it is not nonsense. It’s always the same problem: to keep meaning from taking hold, but without abandoning meaning, under the threat of falling into the worst meaning, nonmeaning.
And Barthes refers pointedly to the “anamneses” of Roland Barthes—“memories of my childhood and youth, given in a few sentence at most, which have the characteristic . . . of being absolutely matte. Not solidified.” Guston’s “momentary fix.”

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, “Le Taureau,” Jules Renard’s Histoires Naturelles, 1897

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, “Canards,” Jules Renard’s Histoires Naturelles, 1897

Jules Renard, 1864-1910

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Thoreau / Barthes

Some Clouds

Lazy morning, a honey-color’d cold sun camouflaging the minus fourteen degrees F. breezes, my usual impetuosity slow’d by leafing through Thoreau, all that lovely stickler’s (stickle, v.: “To act as official regulator of a tournament, wrestling match, or the like.” Earliest use, 1530: “I styckyll betwene wrastellers . . . to se that none do other wronge.”) botanizing, Asa Gray to hand (I love the stickling here: “The Dracaena Borealis (Big) Clintonia b. (Gray) amid the Solomon's seals in Hub. Grove Swamp—a very neat & handsome liliaceous flower with 3 large regular spotless green convallaria leaves making a triangle from the root—& sometimes a 4th from the scape linear—with 4 drooping greenish yellow, bell shaped (?) flowers.     not in Sun     It is a handsome & perfect flower, though not high-colored. I prefer it to some more famous. But Gray should not have named it from the Governor of New York— What is he to the lovers of flowers in Mass. If named after a man, it must be a man of flowers.”) And, out of the Journal for 16 January 1853:
Trench says that “‘Rivals,’ in the primary sense of the word, are those who dwell on the banks of the same stream” or “on opposite banks” but as he says, in many words, since the use of water-rights is a fruitful source of contention between such neighbors, the word has acquired this secondary sense.
      My friends are my rivals on the Concord—in the primitive sense of the word— There is no strife between us respecting the use the stream. The Concord offeres many privileges but none to quarrel about. It a peaceful not a brawling stream— It has not made Rivals out of neighbors that lived on its banks—but friends. My friends are my Rivals       we dwell on opposite banks of the stream—but that stream is the Concord—which flows without a ripple or a murmur—without a rapid or a brawl & offers no petty priveleges to quarrel about . . .
Trench refers to the Dublin-born philologist and polymath and priest Richard Chenevix Trench (1807-1886), author of On the Study of Words (1851)—a book that went through some thirty editions in the States by the Civil War—and On Some Deficiencies in Our English Dictionaries (1857), a piece outlining a proposal that result’d finally in the OED. Thoreau’s joyous bastard etymology continues (27 January 1853):
Trench says a wild man—is a willed man. Well then a man of will who does what he wills—or wishes—a man of hope and of the future tense—for not only the obstinate is willed but far more the constant and persevering— The obstinate man properly speaking, is one who will not. The perseverance of the saints is positive willedness—not a mere passive willingness—The fates are wild for they will—& the Almighty is wild above all.
      What are our fields but felds or felled woods—they bear a more recent name than the woods suggesting that previously the earth was covered with woods. Always in the new country a field is a clearing.
(Thoreau’s “wild” riff akin—particularly in its insisting “at” constancy and perseverance, its processual push—to Kerouac’s “wild form” sketch’d in a 3 June 1952 letter to John Clellon Holmes, its unstoppingness, its omnivorousness, its holy obstinacy: “What I’m beginning to discover now is something beyond the novel and beyond the arbitrary confines of the story . . . into realms of revealed Picture . . . wild form, man, wild form. Wild form’s the only form holds what I have to say—my mind is exploding to say something about every image and every memory. . . . I have an irrational lust to set down everything I know.”) Of one of Trench’s riffs—“‘Transport,’ that which carries us, as ‘rapture, or ‘ravishment,’ that which snatches us, out of and above ourselves; and ‘ecstasy’ is very nearly the same, only drawn from the Greek”—Thoreau writes (15 January 1853): “True words are those—as Trench says—transport—rapture ravishment, ecstasy—these are the words I want. This is the effect of music— I am rapt away by it—out of myself— These are truly poetic words. I am inspired—elevated—expanded—I am on the mount.” The wild Almighty himself. And the amateur par excellence. I am thinking of Barthes’s lovely formulation in Roland Barthes:
L’amateur ~ The amateur

      The Amateur (someone who engages in painting, music, sport, science, without the spirit of mastery or competition), the Amateur renews his pleasure (amator: one who loves and loves again); he is anything but a hero (of creation, of performance); he establishes himself graciously (for nothing) in the signifier: in the immediate definitive substance of music, of painting; his praxis, usually involves no rubato (that theft of the object for the sake of the attribute); he is—he will be perhaps—the counter-bourgeois artist.
(See rubato, n.: short for tempo rubato (literally, “robbed time”), “notes . . . diminished in one place and increased in another.”) Thoreau (24 July 1852):
There is a coarse boisterous money-making fellow—in the N part of the town who is going to build a bank wall under the hill along the edge of his meadow—the powers have put this into his head to keep him out of mischief—and he wishes me to spend three weeks digging there with him— The result will be that he will perchance get a little more money to hoard or leave for his heirs to spend foolishly when he is dead— Now if I do this the community will commend me as an industrious & hard-working man—but as I choose to devote myself to labors which yield more real profit though but little money they regard me as a loafer— But as I do not need this police of meaningless labor to regulate me and do not see any thing absolutely praiseworthy in his undertaking however amusing it may be to him, I prefer to finish my education at a different school.
The counter-bourgeois art of the ecology of labor. To—yawn, scratch—work.

Henry David Thoreau, 1817–1862

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Pasternak / O’Hara

Some Clouds

Another morning of reckless patter, unassign’d borrowings, ineffable sass, the usual duff and toss. My modus operandi of the moment. Minus six degrees F. in the breeze-alleys. Ready’d myself to stir, switch’d up the light, look’d at the clock: two a.m. That kind of thing’ll “throw” you “for a loop.” Reveries of inundating waters, waves slapping away the top of a hill, a hummocky green meadow suddenly blue’d out by flood. (Thomas Bernhard: “I was afraid of myself, and it was only in order no longer to frighten myself to death in this fatal way which was all my own that I sat down and wrote these few pages . . . And all the time as I wrote, I thought only that when I was finished, I would cook something for myself, eat something, I thought, at last eat something warm again, and because I had grown so cold while I was writing, I suddenly put the cap on. Everyone has such a cap on, I thought, everyone, as I wrote and wrote and wrote . . .”) Bernhard’s modus operandi is to relent completely to the malady: “skillfully, nevertheless dreadfully to my sickness and pathological nature.” Pasternak:
I am ashamed, and every day my shame increases,
That in an age that casts such shadows
A certain lofty malady
Still bears the name of song . . .
I keep aimlessly marauding Pasternak, trying to skim off what O’Hara found there. If I read Pasternak’s lines, “Poetry, on you I’ll stake my oath / And finally end up by gasping: / You’re not the pose of sugared kind; / You’re summer in a third-class carriage; / You’re suburbs rather than refrain . . .” ending: “. . . Poetry, when under a faucet’s stream / A truism gapes like a tinny pail, / Then, surely then, the steam can pour: / And with blank paper under—rush!”—I hear, in spite of the somewhat tinny rendering into English (by George Reavey), something of the rhetorical strategy of, say, O’Hara’s lines “For James Dean”:
Welcome me, if you will,
as the ambassador of a hatred
who knows its cause
and does not envy you your whim
of ending him.
(Too, there’s something like Pasternak’s breathless “My verses, hurry, hurry quick / I need you as I never have before . . .” recalling O’Hara’s (mockish, though incompletely “mock”) “Quick! a last poem before I go / off my rocker.”) En plus: there’s the shared shrugging off of Romantic “pose of sugared kind”—see O’Hara’s “can I borrow your forty-five / I only need one bullet preferably silver / if you can’t be interesting at least you can be a legend / (but I hate all that crap) . . .” O’Hara puts it down in “About Zhivago and His Poems.” Referring to Pasternak’s “stance” (express’d in the title My Sister, Life), he writes:
. . . the poet and life herself walk hand in hand. Life is not a landscape before which the poet postures, but the very condition of his inspiration in a deeply personal way: “My sister, life, is in flood today . . .” This is not the nineteenth-century Romantic identification, but a recognition.
And, of Mayakovsky—who “made a fatal error and became a tragic hero,” result of the way he’d “succumbed to a belief in the self-created rhetoric of his own dynamic function in society” (listen “up,” all you who’d make the poet’s “calling” anything beyond that of a self negligibly-harness’d to the inimical fraught world)—and “social demand,” O’Hara writes:
The chair of poetry must remain empty, for poetry does not collaborate with society, but with life. . . . society is not alone in seducing the poet to deliver temporary half-truths which will shortly be cast aside for the excitement of a new celebration of nonlife. The danger is that life does not allow any substitute for love.
O’Hara quotes a thickish tranche out of Safe Conduct:
A whole conception of life lay concealed under the Romantic manner. . . . This was the conception of life as the life of the poet. It had come to us from the Romantics, principally the Germans.
      In the poet who imagines himself the measure of life and pays for this with his life, the Romantic conception manifests itself brilliantly and irrefutably . . . [That poet’s fate] defies all epithets, demanding self-destruction and passing into myth.
      But outside the legend, the Romantic scheme is false. The poet who is its foundation, is inconceivable without the non-poets who must bring him into relief, because this poet is not a living personality absorbed in the study of moral knowledge, but a visual-biographical ‘emblem,’ demanding a background to make his contours visible. . . . Romanticism always needs philistinism and with the disappearance of the petty bourgeoisie loses half its poetical content.
Which probably ought to be assign’d reading for the new necrophiliacs and transgressors of Our Lady bunch, as much as for the necks above the dopey crowd Flarf regimentals. The other thing O’Hara demolishes (in a beginning bravado sketch) is the quaint distinction between “poetry” and “prose”:
We are used to the old saw that poets cannot write great novels or indeed any novels. The adherents of this cliché, hoping to perpetuate a mystery-distinction between two kinds of writing, are cheered on the novelists who hate “poetic” novels and the poets who hate “prosaic” poems. Virginia Woolf gets hers from one quarter and William Carlos Williams gets his from the other. The argument is usually bolstered by phrases like “Joyce turned to prose,” which would have been an amusing scene, but never occurred. For what poetry gave to Joyce, as to Pasternak, is what painting gave to Proust: the belief that high art has a communicability far superior in scope and strength to any other form of human endeavor.
Think of O’Hara’s possible fun with “the turn to language”—that bolster!

Boris Pasternak, 1890–1960

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

To the Social Insects

Some Clouds

The goons amass with sub-
human intensity and we go
stoical and brave. Say things
like: “You recall the summer
of Donna Summer?” Or, bitter
cold, fuss inaudibly about that
number call’d “Pass the Koutchie”
written by the Leroy Sibbles /
Jackie Mittoo “duo” and perform’d
by the Mighty Diamonds: unconquerable
roots reggae. A series of
loud outbursts probably meaning I
ought to “revamp the chaos”
within, the way Nietzsche claim’d
the Greeks did: “This is
a parable for each one
of us: he must reform
the chaos in himself by
‘thinking himself back’ into true
needs.” Rather like Flaubert’s affinity
for the preternatural rough-housing
of kids, stomping amongst the paint
pots, flinging gobs of tiny
snakes skyward, &c. Even “whilom
flouryng & languagyng in eloquence
facundious.” Pronunciamiento Gustavo: Ils sont
dans le vrai.
In cahoots.
In the money. In Abraham’s
bosom. Now if none of
the fourteen thousand species of
ants record’d terrestrially, myrmicine stingers
or the kinder formicids please
you, know that a scratch’d
violinist is spinning out rachitic
memos with gut industry, doing
the scrub work, bow hand
needs work. We all need
work. So Marianne Moore writes
“The name Squibb a hundred
years ago meant ‘ether’”—either
you know that or you
look it up. What’s a
scupper? Out of the Old
French escopir meaning “to spit”:
“An opening in the side
of a ship, level with
the deck, a scupper is design’d
to allow water to run
off of its own accord.”
Comical and absolute, a privy
scheme and a parlor trick.
Everything that is involuntary succumbs.

Gustave Flaubert, 1821–1880

Monday, February 07, 2011

“Another Little Miasma of Cortical Plasticity”

Some Clouds

Vagueness and dull sweats. Scent of split-pea soup garnishing the breeze, cafeteria-style. Aimless crows. Add’d snow clotting the streets, chunk’d, half-dirty. The up-launch’d flocculent sky. One revs up something—anything—against a song barrier. Some vagrant ceaseless ditty doing its sempiternal stomp in behind the septum pellucidum, between the laminae, oh! Ford Madox Ford about the job (1908–10) of editing the English Review (out of Return to Yesterday), after noting how Henry James “always rang up on the telephone before coming to see me so as to make sure of meeting no writers”:
I think that only one contributor to my first two numbers did not tell me that the Review was ruined by the inclusion of all the other contributors. James said: ‘Poor old Meredith, he writes these mysterious nonsenses and heaven alone knows what they all mean.’—Meredith had contributed merely a very short account of his dislike for Rossetti’s breakfast manners. It was as comprehensible as a seedsman’s catalogue.
      Meredith said on looking at James’ ‘Jolly Corner,’ which led off the prose of the Review:
      ‘Poor old James. He sets down on paper these mysterious rumblings in his bowels—but who could be expected to understand them?’ So they went on.
So one continues. Is there any reason to ally Boris Pasternak’s note of love’s vivifying processual flux and debris—call it (out of Safe Conduct) with Walter Benjamin’s “angel of history”? The one:
Love rushed on more impetuously than all else. Sometimes appearing at the head of nature it raced the sun. But as this stood out in relief but seldom, it can be said that which had gilded one side of the house and had begun to bronze the other, that which washed weather away with weather and turned the heavy portals of the four seasons of the year, moved onwards with a constant supremacy which was nearly always contesting with love. And in the rear on the outskirts of various distances the remaining trends ambled along. I often heard the hiss of a depression which originated other than in myself. Overtaking me from behind it frightened and complained. It issued from a reft daily round and seemed either to threaten putting the brakes on reality, or to implore joining it to the living air, which meanwhile had had time to pass on far ahead. And it was in this gazing back that what is called inspiration consisted. The more turgid, uncreative portions of existence were realised with particular vividness, in view of the great distance of their ebb. Inanimate objects acted even more powerfully. These were the living models of still-life, a medium particularly endearing to artists. Piling up in the furthest reaches of the living universe and appearing in immobility, they gave a most complete understanding of its moving whole, like any boundary which strikes us as a contrast. Their position marked a frontier beyond which surprise and sympathy had nothing to do . . .
The other (out of “On the Concept of History”):
A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
Or writing. Is it the “reft daily round” or the note of “joining it to the living air” that recalls Pound’s Canto LXXXI epilogue?
            To have gathered from the air a live tradition
or from a fine old eye the unconquered flame
This is not vanity.
      Here error is all in the not done,
all in the diffidence that faltered . . .
So the manifold echoes goeth. Regarding the “reft daily round” one remarks with pleasure how Ford proposes to “launch a thunderbolt . . . at the head of Mr. Horace Gregory” (“Surely it is lèse majesté to mislead the thunderer!”)—Gregory being a chief “for hire” reviewer of the “era” (akin to, say, Dan Chiasson, or Stephen Burt)—one who’d claim’d Ford’d refer’d in print to “the subway system of Chicago.” (What Ford’d written, with decided ambiguity, in a piece call’d “Chicago”: “I dislike . . . being treated as a moron in subways if I do not know how many cents to put into coin boxes. It is for that reason that I have always feared the America that is not New York.”) Ford subsequently refer’d to the Hog Butcher for the World as “Porcopolis.” Dull sweats.

Ford Madox Ford, 1873-1939

Friday, February 04, 2011

“Diddering and shivering his Chaps, as Apes use to do . . .”

Some Clouds

Hours of frittering and subsequent bluster. (Cold days of dithering and unpreparedness.) Ford Madox Ford: “You should have eschewed as you would shrink from soiled underwear all personal publicity.” Buoyant unconcern and boyish insouciance coupled with a dead-eye demeanor. (Samuel Johnson “kept pieces of orange peel and patted corner posts when he walked down Fleet Street.”) Pasternak, after playing for Scriabin, marches up and down the room, talking of the “culpable complexity” of the banal:
I agreed that formlessness is more complex that form. That an unguarded volubility seems attainable because it is empty. That spoilt by the emptiness of trite patterns we take just that exceptional copiousness coming after long desuetude for the mannerisms of form.
Plug’d in lucidity of the undoctor’d quotable. Snapping off twigs to feed the divine fire of the jettison’d all. Momentary clarity, abrupt, amass’d and countering. (Pasternak says: “And so—stations, stations, stations. Stations flying away to the end of the train like stone butterflies.”) Mandelstam, writing of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: “The energy of the argument is discharged in ‘quanta,’ in batches. Accumulation and release, inhalation and exhalation, ebb and flow . . .” Gone the precise taxonomic detailing of the Linnaean virtuosos writing out impeccable miniatures of design (or, in the case of the dogged: “the entire lengthy ‘police’ record of each animal or plant”): Darwin, with a “system of notecards, that enormous and ongoing card catalogue,” a plunder of facts, is seen “leafing through the book of nature—not as a Bible—what Bible—but as a businessman’s handbook, as a stockbroker’s guide, as an index of prices, signs, and functions.” Seeing beyond the individual niggling particulars, to make of the seemingly dissimilar ruts, a “truly heterogeneous series.” A condensery of larger motions. See how Lorine Niedecker’s “Linnaeus in Lapland” seizes the Linnaean notational exhort and quashes it, the “quadrangular shoots” becoming identify’d with “boots”:
Nothing worth noting
except an Andromeda
with quadrangular shoots—
            the boots
of the people . . .
And, plus tard: “I see only / where I now walk. I carry / my clarity / with me.” (In “Darwin,” Niedecker sees the naturalist balancing a universe “designed by laws” against an inconstant and mutable plethora of “details left / to the working of chance . . .” So that: blue—by the transport of blue—makes a glacier minor conjunct with a sea: “Tierra del Fuego’s / shining glaciers translucent / blue clear down / (almost) to the indigo sea . . .”)

The blue that paint’d one into a corner, God-forsook. Hephzibah blue. Return to frittering. (Minor pursuance of the word “equisetum”: horsetail, the “scouring rush.” Niedecker again: “I rose from marsh mud, / algae, equisetum, willows, / sweet green, noisy / birds and frogs . . .” My confusing Equisetum with Lycopodium, the club moss, both spore-bearing plants.) Against the Darwinian index of conjuncts: the alphabet. Barthes (out of Roland Barthes):
L’ alphabet ~ The alphabet

      Temptation of the alphabet: to adopt the succession of letters in order to link fragments is to fall back on what constitutes the glory of language (and what constituted Saussure’s despair): an unmotivated order (an order outside of any imitation), which is not arbitrary (since everyone knows it, recognizes it, and agrees on it). The alphabet is euphoric: no more anguish of “schema,” no more rhetoric of “development,” no more twisted logic, no more dissertations! an idea per fragment, a fragment per idea, and as for the succession of these atoms, nothing but the age-old and irrational order of the French letters (which are themselves meaningless objects—deprived of meaning).
Ford Madox Ford, hardly a systematist, notes (Return to Yesterday): “At the beginning of the century it would have taken you 247 years walking at four miles an hour to cover all the streets of London on foot.” Old reverie perks up: of my scuffling mock-rentier days in Paris, of walking every street in that city. A planar grid versus a linear alphabet. Euphoria residing in the ditheringly select’d route, the conjunct of streets elbowing one the other, “shoots” enjambing “boots” (in lieu of, oh, “coots”?)

Charles Darwin, 1809–1882

Thursday, February 03, 2011

R. F. Langley / Gerard Manley Hopkins

Some Clouds

The late R. F. Langley, examining ivy (and its barnyard surround), its “umbels of pale green clubs,” in an entry dated 17 October 1970—out of Journals (Shearsman Books, 2006):
Slow wasps crawl there with folded wings. One falls backwards and drops onto a lower leaf, climbing up again, tired. Earlier in the track, it is so cold that dew is like seawater and there is the chilly smell of sweet rotting. Only one white gnat floats under that wall, but here, later, on the hedge, are the wasps and blue flies. Most wasps sit still, pumping the sections of their abdomens slightly in and out. They fall hard and fly little. The stream surface by the bridge is as difficult to make sense of as it always is, so I am content with this: the emerald weed is stroke out straight, and over it there are two patterns of ripples, a still one of broad troughs, blue and brown, conforming to basic features of the bottom below, maybe, then, passing over this, smaller busy ripples of the same colours, like wrinkled skin shifting along over a rib-cage. In an enclosed place in the bank, wire thin ripples fidget up and down over each other, twitching like the gnats. The bank, beyond the barbed wire which is slung across the water, is the finest autumn wreckage of all, poddled and stamped by cows, and then dusted with fallen willow leaves, each small, and curved like a paring. The whole is a garnished pudding, poddell, pudd. There is mist in spite of the pervasive sun, so that shadows don’t etch, but spottle, like drops with a blur round them, onto banks under trees and onto house walls and barn walls. Things, which are thus not clear-cut, seem free to tug contexts around themselves.
One notes how intensely Langley surveys, simply looking. Sense of something like Emerson’s “transparent eye-ball” ranging in and out, magnifying and distancing, acorporeal and undone (“I am nothing; I see all”). (Though, too, “spottle” and “poddell” and “pudd” betray a collateral urgency and energy: that of the lingo’s own specimen count. In a late (2010) piece call’d “At South Elmham Minister” Langley writes: “Speak in a natural / easy voice, cruising the words. Cirrus and / thistles. Thiskin. Largesse. Debonair. Then / oaks and hornbeams and forever. . .”) And the domestic veers indubitably in (“like a paring”; “a garnished pudding”) leading right undeniably to the lovely freedom of “Things . . . free to tug contexts around themselves.” The persistence of trying to say precisely how the “stream surface” is (“to make sense of”) recalls Father Hopkins’s hard-looking, trying to see green, or (entry out of the Journals for 11 July 1867) oats, or various trees:
Oats: hoary blue-green sheaths and stalks, prettily shadow-stroked spikes of pale green grain. Oaks: the organisation of this tree is difficult. Speaking generally no doubt the determining planes are concentric, a system of brief contiguous and continuous tangents, whereas those of the cedar wd. roughly be called horizontals and those of the beech radiating but modified by droop and by a screw-set towards jutting points. But beyond this since the normal growth of the boughs is radiating and the leaves grow some way in there is of course a system of spoke-wise clubs of green—sleeve-pieces. And since the end shoots curl and carry young and scanty leaf-stars these clubs are tapered, and I have seen also the pieces in profile with chiselled outlines, the blocks thus made detached and lessening towards the end. However the star knot is the chief thing: it is whorled, worked round, a little and this is what keeps up the illusion of the tree: the leaves are rounded inwards and figure out ball-knots.
Ferociously attending, trying to see: there’s something a little manic to the assault. (Hopkins pursues cloud-depictings with a similar fever, reporting a sunset that July “in a grey bank with moist gold dabs and racks, the whole round of skyline had level clouds naturally lead-colour but the upper parts ruddled, some more, some less, rosy. Spits or beams braided or built in with slanting pellet flakes made their way. Through such clouds anvil-shaped pink ones and up-blown fleece-of-wool flat-topped dangerous-looking pieces.”) Under such up-blowings of particulars one recalls Hopkins—in a letter to Robert Bridges defending lines writ in a sonnet address’d to St. Alphonsus Rodriguez (“. . . God (that hews mountain and continent, / Earth, all, out; who with trickling increment, / Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more). . .”)—making distinct the incremental and the decremental: “It is true continents are partly made by ‘trickling increment’; but what is on the whole truest and most strikes us about them and mountains is that they are made what now we see them by trickling decrements, by detritions, weathering and the like.” And one thinks how seeing itself is a largely decremental activity, sight tugging its own cloak of contexts to itself—in the form of names. Detrital writing. Collecting whatever particles one’s seeing dislodges off the ongoing body of the whole . . .)

R. F. Langley, 1938-2011

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Fragment and Hubbub

Two Doors

An hysteria of forms. Snow rampaging under the splay’d light—vaguely conical, vaguely orange—of the swan-neck’d lamps. Envie de dire “réverbère.” Plenty of odd atomizing desires. To number aimlessly the degrees of promiscuous lack. The reader / impostor fingering the material sew’d up in pleats. Barthes says “the fragment breaks up what I would call the smooth finish, the composition, discourse constructed to give a final meaning to what one says, which is the general rule of all past rhetoric . . . the fragment is a spoilsport, discontinuous, establishing a kind of pulverization of sentences, images, thoughts, none of which ‘takes’ definitively.” The danger of writing under the aegis of the fragment: a new solidifying, that of mere “anarchy,” discontinuousness its own raillery, and, it, too, final. Thus one dodges continuously to subvert the code and its codify’d counter-code: “to pretend to remain within an apparently classical code, to keep the appearance of a writing subject to certain stylistic imperatives, and thus to attain the dissociation of an ultimate meaning through a form that is not spectacularly disorganize, that avoids hysteria.” The mummer’s hysteria, the imposed calm of avoidance.

(Henry James, who walk’d a leash’d dachshund by the name of Maximilian, apprehending that Ford Madox Ford intend’d to depart for the trenches of France, reportedly exclaim’d: “Tu vas te battre pour le sol sacré de Mme de Stael!” Of James and the unending scrutiny and tremulousness of the Jamesian sentence, Ford notes: “I fancy that his mannerisms—his involutions, whether in speech or in writing, were due to a settled conviction that, neither in his public nor in his acquaintance, would he ever find anyone who would not need talking down to.” Of John Galsworthy’s writing—par contre, the anti-fragment, no wan circumspicuousness he—Ford says: “The dogged determination with which Mr Galsworthy makes point after point always reminds me of a big trout lying in a stickle of a stream on his native Dartmoor. Fly after fly comes down on the water and not one, ever, does the grim speckled being miss.”)

Barthes, replying to Pierre Boncenne’s query (out of a 1979 issue of Lire, reprint’d in The Grain of the Voice) regarding the ambiguity of the term “fragment,” and how “a whole, a complete edifice” is imply’d by the pieces:
      . . . I could give a specious answer saying that this whole does exist, that writing is in fact never anything but the rather poor and skimpy remains of the wonderful things each person has inside himself. What ends up as writing are erratic little clumps of ruins when compared to a complicated and splendid ensemble. And that is the problem of writing: how to put up with the fact that the great flood I have within me leads in the best of cases to a rivulet of writing. I myself get along best by not appearing to construct a complete whole and by leaving plural residues in plain sight. That is how I justify my fragments.
      Having said that, I am very strongly tempted these days to write a long, continuous work, something non-fragmentary. (Once more the problem is typically Proustian, since Proust spent half his life producing only fragments, and then all at once, in 1909 he began constructing that oceanic flood, Remembrance of Things Past.) . . . I’m interested in what I call the “novel” or “making a novel,” not in a commercial sense but because it would be a kind of writing that would no longer by fragmentary.
Reverie of the boat that’ll hold everything. Snow unceasing, the granular pieces piling up to make a kind of summit partout. In the interview, Barthes refers directly to the course he’s teaching at the Collège de France, the lectures now gather’d in The Preparation of the Novel (Columbia University Press, 2011). With the supply’d fragment:
A group of us go in two cars to the Waterfall (a pretty little valley on the way to Rabat). The same, uninterrupted sadness, a kind of listlessness that (since a recent bereavement) bears upon everything I do, everything I think. Return, an empty apartment, a difficult time: the afternoon (I’ll speak of it again). Alone, sad? Marinade. I reflect with enough intensity. The beginnings of an idea: something like a “literary” conversion—it’s those two very old words that occur to me: to enter into literature, into writing; to write, as if I’d never written before: to do only that.

Will I really write a novel? I’ll answer this and only this. I’ll proceed as if I were going to write one. I’ll install myself within this as if: this lecture course could have been called ‘As if’.”
Recalling the Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes adage: “It must all be considered as if spoken by a character in a novel.” That versus the canny admitting of a longing to reclaim (in Fragments d’un discours amoureux) “the intimate which seeks utterance in me.” Now, according to The Preparation of the Novel: “Better the illusions of subjectivity than the impostures of objectivity.” C’est à voir.

Roland Barthes, 1915-1980

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

“The Heart and All That”

Some Clouds

The usual trajectory sprawl’d out across a few days, the salt-blanch’d roads, the odd buteo flapping down off a telephone pole, the careen marks of semis plow’d into snowy ditches. Blank state of conducting the vehicle through the long sigh of its turns, down its bland straightaways, allowing a suspend’d mental apparatus to paw at itself, like a dog at a scent bury’d in the snow. I like how skittery and insubstantial the doings of the tiny cerebral theatre go with the onslaught of any outer erasure: the unvarying road, the countless plectra of snow, the ripping emphatic hum of wheels. Marina Tsvetaeva writes of how precursory and adept the human heart is:
A painful accompaniment to our every syllable, a painful echo, with this difference, that it precedes sound . . . An echo in reverse. Not a reverberation, not a resounding, but a pre-sounding. My mouth is still closed and I already repent—for I know that I’ll open my mouth—and disclose a secret. The disclosing of a secret is just the dis-closing of the mouth. Who among us has not experienced this: “like falling down a hill . . .”
We don’t, in these our modern precincts, talk much about the heart, the craven, restless and indubitable heart. I think of Thelonious Monk, ask’d by some journalist about the splay’d-out flat-finger’d “attack” he used, rather slapping at the keys, replying that he “Hit ’em any way I feel like.”) Or, of Yves Navarre in Le Temps voulu:
Only in hypocrisy have I seen social success, only in exhaustion, tenacity and annihilation of the artist have I seen the creative task—if only seemingly—consummated. The censors may well smile. They will not have the first word: that of love. Everything may happen. Everything does happen in the world. The most preposterous fictions become realities. The most respectable values, fundamental values, are scorned, burlesque skits, sideshow farce. It’s the age of contempt and sneers. Everything is fit for consumption. Everything is consumed. What remains is the attachment, the escape attempt, the absurd hope of forming a couple or of finding a companion. And when all is said and done, that’s all there is. . . .
Shriek-clean like the dive of the accipiter (though I hardly credit it). Ford Madox Ford tells the story of “an authentic Polish count in exile who . . . used to clean our boots at Stratford school.” That “most romantic being”
. . . taught us to cook hedgehogs in the forest. He daubed them, rolled up, in circular balls of clay and threw them into bonfires. When they were done, the clay came away hard, like earthenware, the spines all came away with the clay and there was the most wonderfully succulent meal of hedgepig inside.
Recalling how, camping in Jard one August, in the Vendée, we planted rows of oysters in the sand, bury’d them under a gather’d up slew of pine needles and torch’d the whole. The oysters open’d a little in the firestorm, and “took” a hint of resinous piney-ness. Le goût du désir. Ford, too, out of Return to Yesterday:
The physical side of life had at that time gripped me. I wanted to hunt, to hit a ball, and to make things grow. Writing seemed to me an unmanly sort of occupation. I still want to make things grow and indeed now again have my little plot of ground. But I no longer regard writing as an unmanly occupation though I much dislike doing it. Nevertheless the idea of putting tiny dark objects into the ground fascinates me. Over their germination and growth there is something mysterious and exciting. It is the only clean way of attaining the world’s desire. You get something for nothing. Yes, it is the only clean way of adding to your store: the only way by which you can eat your bread without taking it out of another’s mouth. I used to think that the arts and letters were also not only creative but non-competitive. An author—auctor—added to things and took nothing from anyone.
The Latin auctor out of augēre, to make, to grow, to increase. I think of a huge heart like a strawberry in the snow (and am “intercept’d” by Frank O’Hara: “I’m looking for a million-dollar heart in a carton / of frozen strawberries like the Swedes where is sunny England . . .”)

Marina Tsvetaeva, 1892–1941