Monday, July 14, 2003

In Memoriam

A friend of Emily's and mine died today. She had been ill a long time and had endured an incredibly debilitating round of chemotherapy and her liver failed this weekend and she died this morning. She had many friends and loved poetry and her family was there. There's nothing to say about it, of course, except simply to acknowledge what happened. She was more Emily's friend than mine but she took a passionate interest in us as a couple and our dog and my writing, and I'm sad that she's gone.

Novelistic and Novelish

Still feeling a little tempted by the idea of the lyrical novel, in which the same kind of language work is done as in a poem but on a larger scale: "Here the theme is creative and has vista" (Whitman). The "lyrical novel" probably doesn't go any further in ambitious speculation than Keats does:
I have heard Hunt say and I may be asked - why endeavour after a long Poem? To which I should answer - Do not the Lovers of Poetry like to have a little Region to wander in where they may pick and choose, and in which the images are so numerous that many are forgotten and found new in a second Reading: which may be food for a Weeks's stroll in the Summer? Do not they like this better than what they can read through before Mrs Williams comes down stairs? a Morning work at most. Besides a long Poem is a test of Invention which I take to be the Polar Star of Poetry, as Fancy is the Sails, and Imagination the Rudder. Did our great Poets ever write short Pieces? I mean in the shape of Tales - This same invention seems indeed of late Years to have been forgotten as a Poetcial excellence.
I don't even have time for that "Morning work" as of yet, but I do dream of doing something Big—even though it's a little hard to reconcile this desire with my burgeoning sense that writing should not be about creating perfect monuments, at least not to one's self and one's Genius. Perhaps it's natural to wish again for immortality when death has entered my private atmosphere. But I'm thinking about all this chiefly because a customer has ordered a copy of Julio Cortázar's book Hopscotch and I'm glancing at it in betwen customers. It's a book that's been mentioned to me but I never read it or attempted to read it, even back in the early 90s when I was obsessed with postmodern doorstoppers. I was struck by this passage when held up in the mind next to what Maso prescribes for her own style of writing:
To provoke, assume a text that is out of line, untied, incongruous, minutely antinovelistic (although not antinovelish). Without prohibiting the genre's great effects if the situation should require it, but keeping in mind the Gidean advice, ne jamais profiter de l'élan acquis. Like all creatures of choice in the Western world, the novel is content in a closed order. Resolutely opposed to this, we should search here for an opening and therefore cut the roots of all systematic construction of characters and situations. Method: irony, ceaseless self-criticism, incongruity, imagination in the service of no one (396).
Something tells me that this novel, and the phrase "cut the roots," has already launched a thousand ships of scholarship on the rhizomatic seas. Cortázar leaves out, at least in this passage, the analogy with poetry and the stress on language that Maso made in her essay. It looks like an interesting book; I'd like to read it. But there's scarce world enough nor time for me to keep up with my Kant group, which is meeting again tonight in spite of everything. I'm considering buying this copy of Deleuze's book on Kant that Patrick has been talking about, in particular the way Kant stands commonsense notions like that of time as being conditioned by movement on their head. His comments (both Patrick's and Deleuze's) make a lot of sense to me—I for one still haven't gotten over the weirdness and also the rightness of Kant's notion that the world's conformity in appearance to what our mind can comprehend is merely a necessary presupposition for thought and nothing we can actually know. I wonder if, to extend Patrick's Perloffian analogy, Symbolist poetry (the three-headed beast of Baudelaire, Eliot, and Lowell) corresponds to a notion of poetry that attempts to assign the objects of perception to concepts, either on the personal level of autobiographical confession (this image of the skunk corresponds with me and my unright mind) or on the transpersonal level of tradition (reviving medieval emblems or what have you in The Waste Land); either way the poem remains what Cortázar calls a "creature of choice... content in a closed world." The other side revels in "free play" and is more truly aesthetic in that it does not attempt to assign what is perceived/described to any concept: Pound and his followers Olson et al do not choose, letting each perception lead not to a concept but to a further perception. The flaws in this analogy are gaping and obvious (I haven't attempted to make the necessary distinction between judgments of taste as they apply to writing versus judgments of the sublime) but I also think provisional maps like this are extremely useful, especially to folks like Patrick and me who (I presume) are trying to understand some of the broader currents and eddies in the history of poetry that have washed us up where we are.

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