Friday, January 27, 2012

“In pulses, in strokes . . .”

George Santayana, 1863-1952

Doodling. Somewhere William Gass says “and” is a “sunderer”: any conjunct a wedge keeping distinct the objects it attempts to join. “And then went down to the ship”: Pound beginning the Cantos with a temporal rip. Pulling the long adhesive strip of the poem down off the expanses of confusio, that ongoing continuum of aimless voicings. (Some found within.) “Þerfor was clepid þe name of it Babel, for þer was confoundid þe lypp of all erþ.” Out of the Wycliffe Bible. “The lip of all earth.” Lip meaning “language”—recall the idiom of the sass police: “don’t give me any of your lip!”Williams’s Babel being the Great Falls of the Passaic: “The noise of the Falls seemed to me to be a language which we were and are seeking and my search, as I looked about, became to struggle to interpret and use this language. This is the substance of the poem.” And:
(What common language to unravel?
.     .     combed into straight lines
from that rafter of a rock’s
                                              I must
find my meaning and lay it, white,
beside the sliding water: myself—
comb out the language—or succumb . . .
Hardly doodling. There’s a reply (dated “Grand Hotel, Rome, 4, I, 1941”) by George Santayana to a letter by Ezra Pound (reproduced in Machine Art and Other Writings) that may be apt. Santayana, after dismissing Pound’s doodle-covered verbiage (“vide diagram”) with a rebuke gently put for being, I suspect, merely honest (“I can’t reply to your suggestions and diagrams because I don’t understand them”) writes:
Existence comes in pulses, in strokes. I see no reason for not stopping, or for stopping, anywhere in that flux. Existence has as many centres as it happens to have, as many moments[,] feelings, assumptions, questions—all in the air and with no power over one another. But if we have time and patience to study a natural world, posited as the source and common continuum in all this existence, we assume that it has dynamic unity: otherwise from one point in it we could never justly infer or posit any other point in it. This is my argument for materialism.
One recalls, in Paterson, the “tabular account of the specimens” found in the “Artesian well at the Passaic Rolling Mill, Paterson” that Williams places directly en face excerpts of a hectoring and condescending letter sent by Pound (“Enny how there must be / one hundred books (not / that one) that you need to / read fer yr/ mind’s sake. . . . & nif you want a readin / list ask papa—but don’t / go rushin to read a book / just cause it is mentioned / eng passang—is fraugs.”) Williams’s counter list. In manuscript, Williams specified that the excerpts “occupy a full page, as it stands—facing the page following,” that lovely “description of materials”—“Fine quicksand, reddish . . . Pyrites . . . Sandy rock, under quicksand . . . Dark red sandstone,” &c.—confronted at various depths by those doing the boring of the substratum for the well. “Existence comes in pulses, in strokes.” And Williams (adducing energies beyond the mantric usual “No ideas but in things”):
                        I see things,             .             .

—the water at this stage no lullaby but a piston,
cohabitous, scouring the stones           .
And Gass: “‘And’ is produced initially with an open mouth, the breath flowing out, but then that breath is driven up against the roof, toward the nose, even invading it before the sound is stoppered by the tongue against the teeth.”