Thursday, September 23, 2004

Sunday, September 19

Lingering over coffee cake with Harold and John means I miss the first few minutes of Peter Quatermain's talk back in Philosophy Hall at Columbia. After yesterday's rain and chill it's a stunningly beautiful blue-sky morning, and I go indoors with some reluctance. The talk seems to be an elaboration on how Z works to foil "predatory reading" (apparently a pet phrase of Quartermain's—looky here) through his crypticness.

"Zukofsky's impulse is to remove reference and direct attention to the movement of the words." "To think through the uncertainty by means of it." Cites Z's sardonic quote of Henry Ford in "A" wanting poetry to say something.

"Getting rid of unquestioned habits and assumptions." "The words should mean what they say." Quotes Z: "It is more salutary to read literally than to cower in the figurative." Quartermain: "A refusal to engage the imagination."

The play at the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream: "We see Snout and think or feel Wall."

"Make it literal. It's the literal we are after in non-predatory reading." Makes a distinction between poetic, literal, and imaginative facts—all subject to objectification, I suppose.

Much applause. I tromp upstairs to a cramped and old-fashioned classroom (wooden chairs with desks on the arms!) for the "Identity" panel. The chair, a handsome sprout named Thom Donovan, gets us started with "'The more we're with him': Henry James, Louis Zukofsky & the uncertainties of identity." He reminds us of something Quartermain said in the part that I missed, that Z was a "trickster."

The Henry James angle refers to a 1903 short story of his, "The Birthplace," in which a couple called the Gedges are the caretakers for what is only gradually revealed to be Shakespeare's birthplace.

Z identifies with James' skepticism.

Cites Stanley Cavell's reading of Shakespeare vis-a-vis Z's Bottom. Cavell on "Emerson's Shakespeare": the genius of commonness as opposed, I guess, to the genius of uniqueness? Cavell on James: seeking "the proportionate underside of Shakespeare's tapestry-like work." The problem of Shaekspeare's biography as not being an informative source re his texts. I think I see where this is going: if we can discard biography as not sufficiently determining of a text, why not discard the other determinations such as plot, character, history, etc.?

Spinozan "feedback" between sense, imagination, and reason. (Through?) the continual revealing of texuality. Shift from the drama of characters to the drama of a work's textual becoming.

Z's privileging of facsimiles of the Quartos and Folios over later editions—"to see literally what scholars may have missed." (Was Z really as "literal" as today's speakers are taking him to be? Z may have wanted to privilege the letter over the spirit, or the word over reference, but this does not annihilate reference.)

Imagines the "roving eyes" of Z reading the facsimiles—non-sequential reading—"a phenomenology of printed matter."

Iago's mode of seeing: directing Othello's eyes toward what he already imagines. This is obviously what Z in Bottom and elsewhere is working against.

"The face—the literal fact of print." (Shouldn't we by this argument forego reading Z himself except in original editions?)

Henry Weinfield is up next with "Oppen's (Bronkian) Reaction against Zukofskyan Objectivism." Begins by reading a chunk of Oppen's 1963 poem "A Narrative" which references Milton ("The mind is its own place and can make / A heaven of hell, a hell of heaven"), quotes Bronk, and ends on section with "It is the nature of the world / It is as dark as radar."

"World" and "dark" are Bronkian leitmotifs. "There isn't an anchor in the drift of the world." (He also somewhere remarks that the Golden Age was as dark as ours.)

Oppen dialogical, Bronk monological.

Oppen saw Bronk as a solipsist, claiming that our knowledge of the world is purely nominal.

Oppen agrees w/ Z on sincerity but less so on objectification—he disagrees w/ Z's claim that epistemology does not affect existence.

Oppen's only essay, "The Mind's Own Place" does seem to affirm Z's faith in the world of objects. Weinfeld denigrates the essay as a rambling evasion of the poet's own interests.

(Of course the claim "the mind is its own place" ceases to be solipsistic if states of mind are at all communicable or shareable—a community of the literally like-minded.)

"A Narrative" counters or deconstructs claims about poetry's task being to show us the objects of the world. Objectivism as two irreconcilable tenets: social materialism of the world of objects versus "the poem as aesthetic object that formally presents its case." (It's surprising how often this basic split in Objectivist writing is obfuscated.)

Claims for art as an object not sufficient to separate Objectivism from Symbolism, l'art pour l'art, etc. Only the metaphysical commitment to the primacy of the objective world sets them apart. But esthetic shaping requires a sincerity of feeling not objective truth so there is a fundamental schism between the two forms of "objectification."

"Object" and "objective" treated too similarly in a kind of sleight of hand.

Objectivism tries to conflate two kinds of sincerity: toward the world and toward the poem.

"Cherishing the world, minted [?-can't read my own handwriting] or constructed as it may be."

Heidegger quote as epigraph to This In Which: "...the arduous path of appearance." (First epigraph, bizarrely enough, is from Robert Heinlein.) Giving up on "reality" and intensely seeing/feeling the world as we actually experience it. A kind of pragmatisim, innit?

David LoSchiavo's paper is "Creating out of the Yohrzeit: The Unintended Jewish Identity in Zukofsky's "Poem beginning 'The'". Attempts to disarm his audience by admitting up front to not being a Z scholar. He's sitting in a very squeaky chair and when he twists back and forth it's distracting. Eventually he settles down. He wants to approach "The" not as derivative of "The Waste Land" but instead as representing the hopes and burdens of Jewish immigration.

"The" "more of a thought sequence than 'The Waste Land.'" "Closer to statement than to pointillism." That is, Eliot's technique is to withdraw the author's presence and leave it to the reader to assemble impressions from the poem's discrete textual units. I find this to be a more interesting visual metaphor than collage.

"Z is a true inhabitant of 'The Waste Land.'"

Modernist emphasis on the presentness of the past is "an affront to Z." Challenging the belief that "rootlessness must lead into the mire."

Ghettos Z knows from the inside have been raised to metaphorical significance by other poets (as in Eliot's "Passages"). "Denies the tenement as a metaphor for the world."

"History in the moment of its swirl and eddies."

"Z resents the bourgeois cult of melancholy... the easy gravitas of despair." (C.f. his treatment of Ricky Chambers' suicide.)

Healing goldenrod vs. Eliot's "ornamental lilacs."

Burden of continuing the interrupted life of his immigrant mother—"saddled with his parents' dreams and hopes." Intriguing new perspective on the various beasts of burden that appear in Z: horses, goats, asses (Bottom). Also a new reading of the line "It is your Russia that is free"—not a celebration of the Russian Revolution but the freeing or continuation of the interrupted life of his mother, a Jewish immigrant from Russia.

"Fundamental absence of the present" in the life of a generation sacrificing the present for the sake of the future. (Z has Emersonian desire for original relation to universe.)

"The inappreciable woodland of Central Park." Turns Yiddish poet Yehoash's Lithuanian landscape into NYC.

The ephebe Z abjures his Jewishness in a way the elder poet does not—tries to abandon tradition. In fleeing the mother he imitates her flight from Russia and so ultimately honors her and her wishes. "The Jewish mother truly hopes to be eclipsed by the son."

Peter Whalen and his paper with the provocative title "Literary Paternity and the Psychological Residue of Abortion: Lorine Niedecker and Louis Zukofsky" is a no-show. Rachel Blau DuPlessis is inclined to discuss it anyway, wondering exactly what valence was going to be put on "abortion." She discusses the question with a woman whose name I didn't catch who is a Niedecker scholar, but I didn't write down what was said.

LUNCH. I meet up with Joel Kuszai and Charles Alexander again, and we're joined by Hank Lazer and a soft-spoken man named Jonathan whose last name I didn't catch. We find an extremely cheap Dominican place on Amsterdam and everyone orders the goat lunch special except me (I chicken out with chicken). Hank and Charles express interest in my avant-garde pastoral idea and offer suggestions as to poets I could consider: Niedecker, bp nichol, John Kinsella. Walk back slowly through the flawless fall day.

Jerome Rothenberg gives the closing remarks to the conference, offering personal reminiscences of "Louis" and how he offered to Rothenberg an alternative to Vorticism (and by implication the anti-Semitism of the major modernists). Remembers LZ doing a reading in 1961; talking about it later in a taxi the cabbie "allowed that he was a big fan of Zukofsky. And that for me was the beginning of the Sixties."

Recalls meeting Celan in the late 1960s and not speaking Yiddish with him, as he never spoke Yiddish w/ LZ.

"Louis caught up in another's mishegoss" (Pound's madness and "banal imagination" re Jews).

Z takes on "the master's voice" more in the correspondence with Pound than in his poetry.

And that's basically it. Some poetry readings follow, but I only catch a few of them before I have to leave for the long drive home to Ithaca. I do catch some very moving recollections of Z from his friend Harvey Shapiro, who recalls visiting Oppen near the end of his life in San Francisco. Oppen: "I never realized before how often Louis rhymes." Michael Davidson reads two Oppen poems. "Neither Roman nor barbarian." Niedecker's poem "LZ." Duncan's "After Reading Barely and Widely." Ron talks about seeing LZ on public television in 1966: "He was unlike any person I had ever seen before! I rushed off to Cody's to buy every book of his that was in print. There were non." Wishes for more portable editions like the one he reads from of "A-22" and "A-23." Reads "the Siegfried and Roy passage." He's wearing a Hawaiian shirt. Erica Hunt. John Taggart. I've got to go....

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