Monday, April 04, 2011

Emmanuel Hocquard’s Conditions of Light

Along a Fence

One week “off” a few years “back”—spent up north in some kind of swim-sustain’d dalliance, beery and unclutter’d—I truck’d along a copy of Emmanuel Hocquard’s Conditions de lumière (P.O.L., 2007), thinking I’d try my hand at turning its tiny memos into some kind of American speech. And diligently rough’d out about a half of it, penciling it down into a pint-sized stenographer’s pad. A way of both “exercising” my quasi-execrable French, and of reading Hocquard. Minor hint of “doing something” with my versions: I did put a couple “up” here and here and here, f.w.i.w.-ing it like a syntagmatick. (Or a skank.) And shortly learn’d of an effort underway by Jean-Jacques Poucel and Cole Swensen’s La Presse to “do” the whole book. Out now: Conditions of Light (La Presse / Fence Books, 2010). A sleeker, more expert thing, I’d warrant. Hocquard’s book consists of twenty-one number’d parts, each containing five tiny “memos” (my word—snapshots, ideogrammes)—identically-shaped phrase-arrangements. Here’s one (Poucel):

      These flowers are in the middle of their making   I think of you   The noise of laundry Inventing tools and rivers
      Solid white of names

The twenty-one parts (I-XXI): each is call’d “Conditions of Light.” Each “memo” anchors a single page: lots of white space. A final piece (with “Notes”) is call’d “Dans une coupe en verre” (Poucel, dodging “coupe”—with its punnery of cup, of cutting—translates it as “In Glass”). I read it as a kind of statement of poetics:

Propositions are independent Between them relations take place   So propositions follow or attract or repel one another or sound an echo   The narrative unfolds in these encounters Should they come to falter (aporia) a story falls short
      Words are the characters in the grammatical fable   You can only restate   You recite when you speak a language   You can’t hear it any further   You hear only its recitation   I remember words   I recognize them   When you say the sky is blue the entirety of language is contained
      Elegy is not in words of lament   It is in the repetition of the words of a language   It is this repetition   Language in its entirety is elegy
      One never speaks of oneself Never has there been a speaking subject   The only subject there is is grammatical   There is no beginning   There is no first formulation   There is but recollection   In a glass bowl
      Simple statements no longer exist   Every statement is legion Even an isolated word resounds It’s the Theater of language The staging of belief in   Of making believe that   To dream or make dream that a first statement is possible   Such a statement would be unheard and thus inaudible   It remains that this inaudible is secretly sought after in what is said or heard or written   The singular surprise is revealed in repetition   We called it littéralité   Littéralité dazzles
      Even if one does not quite understand what has come to be an unlatching has occurred A difference in intonation and speed
      The intonation of the recitation is neutral   Its speed constant   An interval or an exit space has taken place   For entering never was the question   In speaking or writing or reading or translating one seeks the exit   To escape
      Writing is this opening

Echoes of the put together “abbreviated pictures” / “luminous details” of Poundian imagism / Sillimanesque New Sentence-ry (“Propositions are independent   Between them relations take place”). Something of Duncan’s “law of the ‘the’”—how grammar itself serves to narrow the possibility of saying (“The only subject there is is grammatical”). Something of Spinoza’s “The more any image has reference to many things, the more frequent it is, the more often it flourishes, and the more it occupies the mind.” Or, of Zukovsky’s (out of A Test of Poetry):
The less poetry is concerned with the everyday existence and the rhythmic talents of a people, the less readable that poetry is likely to be. But the forms of particular communication—which are necessary enough for a varied life—may never, in any society, be absorbed as automatically as air.
Or Robert Hass’s “All the new thinking is about loss” line out of “Meditation at Lagunitas”: “word is elegy to what it signifies” (“Language in its entirety is elegy”). Or Italo Calvino’s line somewhere about “this world dense with writing that surrounds us on all sides.” Here’s the initial sequence of five pieces:

      Jusqu’à ce que le corps embrassés aient atteint la même température     Solution des gestes et des vitesses
      Ce qui est visé

      Il n’y a pas de souvenirs Odeur d’un feu de roseaux dans les années 40 en descendant les marches ce dimanche matin
      Photographies symétriques

      Ouvrir sans préposition   Le regard échappe au corps Tourne une porte d’air   La chaleur est l’événement
      Rouge te va bien

      Nuits d’il y a   Aimer par définitions   Les mots dans un ordre quelconque   Penser à sépare
      S’abandonner à la perte

      Une image est captivante Tu sais   Montrer   Donner à voir Escalier dont les degrés ne se suivent pas
      Expose ta couleur

In Jean-Jacques Poucel’s version:

      Until the interlaced bodies reach the same temperature Solution   of   gestures   and speeds
      What is being aimed

      There are no memories   The smell of burning reeds in the 40s that Sunday going down the stairs
      Symmetrical photographs

      Opening without preposition The gaze escapes the body Revolves a door of air   The heat is the event
      Red suits you well

      Nights of ago   To love by definitions     Words  in  any given order   Thinking of separates
      To surrender to loss

      An image is captivating You know       To  show         Lay bare Stairs   whose   steps   don’t follow
      Expose your color

And in my version:

      Up to where the clutching bodies have attained the same temperature Combination of movements and speeds
      The thing aimed for

      No memories   The smell of burning reeds in the ’forties on coming down the steps Sunday morning
      Symmetrical photographs

      Begin without preposition The look escapes the body Makes a door in the air   Heat is the event
      Red becomes you

      Night of there is   To love by definitions     Words in any order whatsoever     Thinking separates
      Abandon yourself to the loss

      A picture seduces   You know To show   To make seen   A stairway whose steps don’t line up
      Put forth your color

Out of Hocquard: “These flowers are in the middle of their making.” And: “The representation of the same is just right.” And “Meaning imposes its fiction.” I keep turning back to Conditions of Light. A late memo reads:

      A light brought back Objects settle in for the long run within the frame Fragment of characters laid out
      Read and arrange

Emmanuel Hocquard