Friday, January 24, 2003

Daily review of the other blogs: a discipline or a distraction? There's something distinctly 18th-19th century about making the rounds on the Internet (NY Times, BBC, Salon, Poetry Daily, and the poetry blogs) and then posting your own response to it all. Like devoting the morning to correspondence and the afternoon to your own work. Of course it's afternoon now. A before-bedtime blog would of course takes us back to Pepys, who has been resurrected as a blogger at

Bogie dislikes his fleece, but he HATES the booties. They weren't cheap, either. He was unresisting when I put them on, but when I carried him outside (stairs were clearly beyond him) he just stood there in the snow and shook. I moved him to a sunnier spot (it's a balmy 18 degrees today) and he still wouldn't move. Finally I took them off and he was able to walk about half a block before his toes froze. What to do? Move back to California?

Ron Silliman, writing today about Robert Grenier, clarifies what he meant when he claimed that "Grenier's Sentences still qualifies as the furthest anyone has pushed poetry & form in the investigation of the world [word?]." Grenier goes further than someone like Stein because "What Grenier did was to focus on what linguists still call parole, the language as she is spoke by them what speak it." He then goes on to make a provocative aside:
Neither Stein, Pound, cummings nor Saroyan focus on that particular dimension, although Stein comes closest & has a sense of grammar & discourse as developed as anyone has ever had. However, like Joyce, she has a 19th century-centric sense of language as infinitely plastic & malleable that language itself does not bear out (hence the failure of Finnegans Wake). Unlike Joyce, Stein seems to have had a stronger sense of self-confidence in her own analytical skills with regards to the language – she never is in thrall to the 19th century concept of language as historic philology, which bedevils both Joyce & Pound (&, I dare say, Kenner).
The "failure of Finnegans Wake"? In what sense is it a failure? I suppose I should just ask Ron directly; he seems to be suggesting that Joyce is not sufficiently analytical (sufficiently deconstructive?) in his approach to language, whereas Stein and Grenier achieve a more "aerial" approach. Maybe I'm misunderstanding him, but I fail to see how the total immersion in myriad polysemantic and polysyntactic possibilities that the Wake offers—very much a "street level" approach to English and the history of English and its interactions with other languages and dialects) is necessarily inferior to Stein and Genier's analytic. I find myself thinking here about the dismissive way Deleuze & Guattari speak of Joyce—he is the straw man knocked down in favor of the "minor literature" of a Kafka or Becket:
For these two possible paths, couldn't we find the same alternatives [Max Brod vs. Franz Kafka], under other conditions, in Joyce and Beckett? As Irishmen, both of them live within the genial conditions of a minor literature. That is the glory of this sort of minor literature—to be the revolutionary force for all literature. The utilization of English and of every language in Joyce. The utilization of English and French in Beckett. But the former never stops operating by exhiliration and overdetermination and brings about all sorts of worldwide reterritorializations. The other proceeds by dryness and sobriety, a willed poverty, pushing deterritorialization to such an extreme that nothing remains but intensities.
       —Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, p. 19
Perhaps Joyce's "overdetermination" is what Silliman objects to—what he calls Joyce's failure to free himself from philology. But surely he can't object to exhiliration? I participate in a Finnegans Wake reading group (we met for the first time for the new semester last night) and exhiliration certainly describes the way we feel as we plow through those amazingly wittty and dirty approximations of sentences. And "dryness" (if not sobriety) certainly describes the affect, or lack of one, that I usually get from a classic Language text such as Grenier's (though I've only encountered him in Ron's anthology and not in what is apparently its "natural" form, a box of index cards). Why is "exhiliration" not an "intensity"? Anyway. I'll e-mail Ron about this and perhaps he'll reply.

This weekend I'll be reading Adrienne Rich's new book for the poetics class. She gave a powerful reading from Fox at Stanford a couple of years ago and I remember being impressed both by her charisma and by the fierceness of her political commitment—it's hard to think of another American poet of her prominence whose poetics and politics are so clearly and self-consciously built upon one another. But the book thus far has been a disappointing read—just not linguistically exciting. I'll give it closer attention and post my humble opinion later.

And so to bed, or not.

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