Tuesday, June 10, 2003

I've started packing for the final move this Saturday. Came across a page of notes from my Stanford days that I thought might be worth preserving; I can't date it exactly but judging from the Amichai reference it would most probably have been written in September or October of 2000:
I'm becoming more and more frustrated with what I'm starting to see as not the self-imposed limitations of most poets but the limitations of poetry itself. Reading Levi-Strauss on the distance between the medium of poetry—signs—and the medium of science and philosophy—concepts—is beginning to clarify that for me. (Of course as a good postmodernist I have serious doubts about the possibility of liberating the concept from the word, but never mind.) I stumble about, making gestures toward surrealism, abstraction, and literary theory because I'm frustrated with the chains of historical meaning that imprison each word—chains which unresisted lead to poems like that Amichai poem in the new Atlantic—superbly well-written reifications of utterly conventional thought.

Through my numerous impurities and guises and puns I'm striving desperately for a purer [I first misread my handwriting as "poorer" and I think that's almost better--Ed.] poetry—something very close to the pure apprehension of emotional concepts—though I recognize that this may be a hopeless task in my chosen medium. If I don't feel soon the possibility of breaking through this wall, I may well abandon poetry for philosophy.
I think that last had more about my frustration with the Stanford workshop than it did with my feelings about poetry. But I do wonder exactly what a poet is supposed to do with his or her inevitable frustration with the clumsiness and inadequacy of words. The most typical strategy these days seems to be the thematization of that frustration—or, in what amounts to the same maneuver, reveling in that clumsiness, that crudeness. It's all a bit lofty and disconnected from particular poetic problems, though. When I get a spare hour I'd like to sit down with Allen Grossman's Summa Lyrica, which I think I was trying to read at the time I wrote the above, and see if I get more out of it now. I was reminded of it by Richard Greenfield, who called me the other night looking for a quote on the meaning of Grossman's terms "aperture" and "closure." Fairly useful terms, actually. Here's the text I quoted for him for your consideration:
from p. 330:

Closure is associated with the culture of immortality considered as infinite past and infinite future. Aperture proposes a culture of immortality considered as present.

from p. 331:

Closure (the frame) identifies the central practice of English poetry, the self-characterization of the speaking person as a finite center of dramatic gestures of infinite implication. The world in closure derives its structure from the structure of the subject-consciousness. In Blake's terms closure is "seeing WITH the eye." In terms of the paradox of sociability (Scholium at 28) closure represents the dominance of individuation over participation. Closure is the enabling structure of aesthetic humanism. In closure, the poem is characterized as an interior, the relationship of which to the rest of being, or other being, is as an interior to an exterior.... Hence, in closure, other being is transcendent to the self-who-speaks-in-the-poem, and the poem as a structure is an image or allegory of the monadic self which produces world-descriptions in accordance with its nature.

from pp. 332-333:

Aperture (the window) identifies the contrary strategy, the (perhaps unactual) alternative possibility. In aperture, the self is characterized as identical or "flowing with" the world. In Blake's terms aperture is "seeing through the eye," where the self derives its structure from the nature of the object. The speaker becomes the Beloved or divine utterer whose creative resource is not difference but participation. As the characteristic trope of closure is metaphor, the characteristic trope of aperture is metonymy (see Jakobson). The defining grammatical structures of aperture seem to be--the central example is Whitman--paratactic (additive, this plus that plus that...) by contrast to hypotactic grammars which characterize closure.

Scholium on aperture, priority, and cultural lateness. The sentiment of lateness (Bloom's "belatedness") arises in the poetics of closure in part because the separated self obsessively thematizes the conditions of its visibility which involve the dialectics of difference. In aperture, the poet claims immediacy or earliness. The poet's singing is not at the horizons but from the midst of things. The poet disappears in the stream of things and regards himself as the starting-point of dynasties rather than the epigone or inheritor from whom time is continually alienating the source. Closure predicts that death will be the enemy of the heart, whereas aperture incorporates death. The closural poet is at war with the Collective on which the poet depends for the continuity of utterance against time. The poet in aperture represents the Collecitve and lets go of the individuality of which the Collectivity is the contradiction.

English poetic culture is peculiarly preoccupied by lateness, because its sources are outside its nation and language, and because its master poet (Shakespeare) is a social master whose persons practice the dialectics of difference as a principle of their being. Hence, the poetry of aperture when it arises (as in Crashaw, Traherne, Taylor, Whitman, Williams, Stevens) normally has a marginal status from a stylistic point of view which corresponds to its marginal status in relation [end page 332, start page 333] to national cultural process. English poetry is also the poetry of a modern language, which witnesses interior to itself the loss of participatory relationships, since its own history is coterminous with the individuating soico-cultural developments of modernity. The poetry of aperture, therefore, which produces originality not as a reference to another founding culture (as to the mythologies of Greece and Rome, or the poetic forms of Italy and France) but as an assertion of natural privilege, a claim which requires no sponsorshipm, has a novelty which is revolutionary in an abnormal sense. The strategies toward novelty of aperture are, in fact, antecultural in the sense in which we normally speak of nature as prior to culture or the ground as prior to the inscription. The closural poem thematizes reduction. The poem in aperture thematizes amplification. The strategies for renewal of the closural poet are atavistic, leading to mythologies of distance and its mastery; the stategies for renewal of the poet in aperture are perceptual, leading to mythologies of immediacy.

In contrasting closure and aperture we can see the difference between totality (the consequence of totalization, the finite set which comes to stand for the whole as a result of composition, the discovery of the right relationship of its parts) and universality or inclusion, the whole as participated. The poems of Yeats are closural, achieving totalization through finitization and symbol. The poems of Whitman and Stevens are inclusive (poems in aperture), achieving infinite reference through the equivocation of terminal indiciations, and the minimalization of symbolic discourse which by its nature repeats the totalization process.
Aperture and closure strike me as being somewhat more specific terms for what generally more simply called the objective and subjective (respectively) in poetry. One could adapt Grossman's language to what Altieri writes about the Objectivists and re-name them the Aperturists. This doesn't quite do justice to their strategies for getting the Romantic "I" out of the way, but what I find most interesting about the comparison is the way that a truly visionary poet like Blake—or one who, in Emerson's terms, demands an original relation to the universe—enters the field of Objectivism, and vice-versa. To choose one's own historical moment as significant, as non-empty time, is also of course very Benjaminian. This is all going to stitch itself together into a dissertation, I just know it.

I know, I know, I should be packing.

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