Thursday, September 30, 2004

The debate is on. Kerry is doing well, I think—he looks like a grownup, while Bush comes off as a petulant child. But Bush hasn't made any egregious mistakes from a political perspective (he's made innumerable mistakes of logic and judgment, of course). Ew, they're joking about Yale. Bush repeats the same simplistic notions over and over; Kerry makes actual arguments. Will this swing any voters? I'm no longer sure I believe swing voters exist as a force. What Kerry needs to do is rouse his demoralized base, and I think this performance has the potential to do that.

Bush: "I just know how this world works." Yeah, George, 'Course you do. I hope Laura has some cookies and milk waiting for you when you get home.
Awakened at 3 in the morning by college students shouting football plays to each other in the street. Am I really going to live in college towns for the rest of my life?

Steve Evans writes to remind me that "A-9" is a canzone in the spirit of Cavalcanti, which of course means it's refracted through Pound, and not a sonnet sequence ("A-7" is a sonnet sequence). He also pointed me to the course log of a class he's teaching where they're taking on Stein, Williams, and Zukofsky: ""A"-7 as diabolic machine for recirculation of materials encountered in first six movements. "A"-24 as a similar proposition at a much larger scale." Interesting stuff. (Is it "A-9" or "A"-9? I've seen it both ways.)

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

It's always fun to get a new batch of books at the Bookery. Today the standouts are Louise Matthias' Lark Apprentice, which has a blurb from good buddy Richard Greenfield, and some Pressed Wafer chapbooks: City Point by Jim Behrle, August Letter to My Wife and Daughters by Joseph Torra, backandforth by William Corbett, In Residence by Beth Anderson, The World of Difference by Seido Ronci, and Cinema Yosemite by Del Ray Cross. I wish we had room to display all of these; maybe I can work something out. Happy too to see some re-orders of books that were purchased: Marcella Durand's Western Capital Rhapsodies, Geoffrey Dyer's The Dirty Halo of Everything, Renee Gladman's The Activist (a personal favorite), and the beautiful Rumor edition of Lorine Niedecker's New Goose.

Reading "A" in earnest now. The sonnets of "A-9" are so intricate and beautiful, even as they make me feel like I have to master both Spinoza's Ethics and the first chapter of Capital to truly sound their depths. I seem to have set myself up to read most of the big longpoems (where did that locution come from? Why "longpoem" and not "long poem"? What's the provenance of that?). But it's impossible to do justice to The Cantos or "A" in a single chapter; I'll have to be very selective, without being so selective that it looks like I'm disregarding whatever's not convenient to my argument. I'm not going to master these poems in the time I have (or a lifetime, for that matter), nor—and I hate to admit it—am I particularly interested in straight scholarship, crucial as it is. I'm looking to generate useful ideas from/for reading. I think generation, in all its notations, is the only real defense any of these textual monoliths can offer for themselves beyond their aesthetic appeal (which is considerable). For now at least, I'll leave it to others to do the glossing.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Bogie has yet another suspicious bump on his hind leg and we're feeling very anxious about him. He'll most likely have to have surgery again and maybe chemotherapy. I hear dogs don't react as badly to that as humans do, but I don't want to put him through it unless absolutely necessary. It's difficult to make decisions for a creature that can't speak, and who seems so healthy to boot.

In an effort to concentrate on work I found myself working on a possible job letter this afternoon—even though I don't think I want to apply for jobs just yet. But I'm happy with this paragraph I came up with to describe my dissertation. See what you think:
My dissertation, currently in progress, is titled “Nothing But Flowers: Pastorals of the Avant-Garde.” In it, I argue that the ancient genre of pastoral is alive and well in the poetry of the Pound-Williams tradition, specifically as a mode of critique in which images of nature and poetic microcommunities are used to negate one or more institutions of modernity (such as industrial capitalism, heterosexual marriage, or the national security state). Pastoral is a more restricted and limited mode than the utopian: rather than attempting to construct a new totality, it creates a palpably imaginary space to which the poet temporarily retreats from a history characterized by domination, patriarchy, and commodity reification. The nature of this imaginary space is both representational and textual. Pastoral images recur in most of the major longpoems of the 20th century (The Cantos, Paterson, “A”, The Maximus Poems, Duncan’s “Structure of Rime” series, and Ronald Johnson’s ARK), serving to negate the logic of capitalistic relations and, in the case of Pound, to undermine the poet’s own totalitarian impulses. But these poets are concerned not only with new relations between people and things, but people and language as a thing (this thinking is at the heart of the Objectivist project). Therefore pastoral also manifests, literally, in the page as field, which makes it possible to imagine new relations between words beyond the syntactic and semantic. Another way to put it is that pastoral constitutes an imaginary economy in which language is equated with the power of the natural world to shoulder the burden of production without either exploitation of that nature/language or the exploitation of labor/meaning-producers. While pastoral has a mostly fragmentary position within modernism, I argue that it increases in importance with the decline of the Left as a mass movement after World War II. Louis Zukofsky’s move from the utopian and Marxist poetics of the first half of “A” to the pastoral and domestic poetics of the second half is paradigmatic of this. In some ways, avant-garde pastoral reaches a culminating point in the work of gay poets like Frank O’Hara and Ronald Johnson, who actually propose to live within their textual gardens (with a subway handy in O’Hara’s case): as Johnson wrote in “Shake, Quoth the Dove House”: “let us call it Arden // & live in it!” I will conclude by examining contemporary work by Lisa Robertson, John Taggart, and others who explicitly engage pastoral as a means of negotiating the divide between the two most influential movements of the postwar period, the New York School and Language Poetry.
Part of the impetus toward doing this was the surprising fact that I'm going to be profiled next week in the local free newspaper, the Ithaca Times. One of the questions is about my dissertation, so I was forced to come up with a few reasonably accessible sentences about it; that in turn helped me to come up with this somewhat more technical version. One happy result of the Zukofsky conference for me is that it immersed me in an absolutely current dialogue about experimental poetics and left me with a new confidence about my ability to say something that would be both interesting and coherent. Of course it's a long way from this paragraph to a finished dissertation—another reason I might shelve this letter for use next year. But you never know; it might be worthwhile to start applying for jobs now, just for the practice.

Working on the long poem a bit tonight, which right now I'm calling "Kiosk/Stylus." Not very graceful, but I often do better with a placeholder title to cathect my energies onto than I do without any title at all.
They've announced the MacArthur Fellowships and among the winners is C.D. Wright, a poet I admire very much. Congratulations, C.D.! If you don't know her work I recommend Deepstep Come Shining.

Monday, September 27, 2004

I'm back from another amazing weekend, not with Louis Zukofsky but with relationship guru Harville Hendrix. Yes, Emily and I spent the weekend at Omega, an incredibly beautiful "holistic education provider" in Rhinebeck, New York. No one is more skeptical than I about the self-help industry and gurus great and small, but we had an amazing time in this couples' workshop and learned a tremendous amount about ourselves and each other. And you know, the two weekends are not entirely without intersections. Hendrix's Jung-influenced notion of the Imago (a composite image of your parents or caretakers superimposed over your partner) puts the major emphasis for a healthy relationship on clear and separate boundaries; that is, on respecting the Other. And he sees a direct connection between developing a genuine, nonjudgmental relation to the Other that is your partner and the other Others in the world; he believes that a new form of marriage, based not upon the self (that is, choosing someone who you believe will fulfill your needs) but upon the relation to the Other, will also lead to a freer, more joyful, and more democratic world. It reminded me of how Zukofksy's global vision for liberation (through the lenses of Marx and Spinoza) is holographically reproduced in his vision of how the family unit should operate (of course, some disagree that his vision of the family was liberatory). Zukofsky moved from the outside in but sustained an ideal of fuller and more joyful (more musical?) being throughout; Hendrix reverses that idea. The notion that healing yourself and your relationship will inevitably lead to healing the larger world has a lot of appeal for me, though there's also a cranky old man in my head rocking in his chair and muttering "Damned hippies!" under his breath over and over. Anyway, we had a wonderful time and we're feeling closer to the sources of our love for each other than we have for a long while.

Pleased to come home and find a beautiful little chapbook, Brian Teare's Pilgrim, in the mailbox. It was published by a little press in Berkeley, palOmine. If you can find a copy pick one up; here's one of the poems:
Errant : Reply.

You are here now infernal beneath the meadow's far hem : do you want it to go on, this life a screed of signs, this struggle under the slumber of everything : you have tunneled this far : there is, isn't there, a language entirely wakeful, you ask : because all you left behind has dreamt of it
I also got a nice card from Ben Friedlander along with some more CDs of Pound's radio rantings. Since we talked about our pastoral project at the Z conference, I was amused to see he'd found a postcard with a photo of lava from Mt. Etna destroying a village in Sicily. (Sicily of course being the setting for the Idylls of Theocritus.) He advised me that whatever my anxieties, I was already a member of the "poetry family" (a better phrase, he thinks, than "poetry world"). To my ears that has a slightly sinister Sopranos-esque ring; but thanks all the same, Ben. I appreciate your kindness.

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....
Robin Reagler has some nice things to say about Selah over at her blog Big Window. Thanks, Robin!

More Z notes soon. I'm a little distracted right now. Bogie the Boston Terrier has another mast-cell tumor on his leg, which is not good news at all.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Saturday, September 18

Absolutely torrential rain this morning has shut down the subways, so the conference begins in disarray, with the "Design, Media, Film" and "Spinoza" panels temporarily combined.

Steve Shoemaker's paper is "Modern Times: Objectivist 'Movies' and Thinking Matter in Louis Zukofsky's Poems of the 1930s." Begins with the solid-liquid-gas model of culture again, and says Z thought of his time as "an age of rampant intellection."

We're at Barnard College today and the room we're in, the Sulzberger Parlor, has mostly portraits of women on the walls.

Quotes Basil Bunting: "The mind is a piece of man surrounded by facts." And Z: "It is impossible to separate thought from that which thinks." (Shoemaker here seems to be doing the work of the rain, conflating the topics of film and Spinozan metaphysics.)

Charlie Chaplin as Noh dramatist. A sentence of Z's regarding Chaplin's work: "A half-baked idea like humanity."

"Mantis" as word machine testing the poem's ability to record life. "Mantis: An Interpretation" argues for the need of the sestina form?not a mere exercise?making the sestina's force palpable. Sestina form likened to Chaplin's use of montage in Modern Times. "Discrete nature of the film shot."

Objectivist writing holds a commitment to words and things, not just words as things. (This gets problematized later by another panelist.)

Central fact of "Mantis" the great mass of people suffering in poverty in the Depression.

Joshua Schuster now delivers "The Harmonics of Affects in Zukofsky's Spinoza." "No one has yet determined what a poem can do"?a paraphrase of Spinoza's "No one knows what the limits of happiness could be."

Z finds Spinoza's system of ethics and Bach's art of fugue comparable in their perfection.

"Affective poetics."

Spinoza as ultimate outsider: an excommunicated Jew. His thinking is Aristotlean and naturalist, not Talmudic?"he does not offer a philosophy of Jewish exile."

(I should note here that I knew next to nothing about Spinoza before hearing these papers. Now I feel like I know quite a bit, and I'm interested in reading the Ethics.)

Philosophical atmosphere of 1920s dominated by "late pragmatism"?the "intuitionism" of Bergson, Whitehead, and Poincaré. Whitehead vis-a-vis Z's essay "Sincerity and Objectification"?"objectification" is a term of Whitehead's.

The five sections of the Ethics:
I On God
II On the Nature and Origin of the Mind
III On the Origin and Nature of the Emotions
IV On Human Servitude, or, On the Strength of the Emotions
V On the Power of the Intellect, or, On Human Freedom
Spinoza's theory of affects: passions are inevitable so how best to govern them. Their origin is bodily, given Spinoza's radical monism: God is the infinite universal substance all substancs participate in. "What to do with all these affects?" Principal affects are pleasure, pain, and desire. It is the mind's task to filer and "tease out" the pleasurable affects. These feed the mind until one reaches intellectual love of God.

Pound: emotion organizes poetic forms.

Z: "The closer one gets to the brain, the closer one gets to the thing." (Is Z pre- or anti-Kantian in orientation?)

Schuster: "The mind is an image or idea of the body." "Ideas respond not to simulations but to stimulations." "A metaphor distrusts the power of words." (metonymy vs. metaphor = monism vs. dualism?)

Sincerity for Z is "a reassertion of faith in words." "After the revolution words and claims will be sincere."

"Carousing openly with signifiers." Language is embedded in an affective relation to the world.

Z on "objectification" as nature working toward its perfection. The "perfect rest" of objectification as "perfect shabbat"?a hidden messianic moment in Z's poetics. (Shabbat as pastoral? Probably not theologically. But the notion of an paradisal island floating separated from the everyday working week is suggestive.)

At this point enough people have straggled in for us to separate into different rooms. I follow the Spinozists into a lecture hall. Ruth Jennison, the chair of the panel, presents "'In wracked cities there is less action': Modernism, Materialism, and Human Agency in Zukofsky's post-WWII "A"." (Z is hell on titles.) She proposes that the move from Marxism in the first half of "A-9" to Spinozism in the second half constitutes a sublation of Marx's critique of commodity culture.

Spinoza: "Love is pleasure with the accompaniment of an external cause." Z paraphrases this in "A-9".

"The consciousness of an infinite totality of particulars."

Spinozan love by focusing on attachment to objects?indeed only meaningfully existing as love of something?recuperates historical connections and actual relations.

Sublation of the mystified relations of the commodity.

Spinoza: "Love is not the desire to be united with the loved thing." Love as an abstraction whose concrete nature has been restored.

"A-9" as a "political economy of love." Love as consciousness of a vast network of determinations.

Louis Cabri is next with "Objectivist Sublimation: Zukofsky, Freud, Spinoza." How poetry becomes "scaled invention" in "the green and seen world." (That last is from Bottom.)

Nature not a myth for Z as it is for Pound. Refers critically to Pound's "palpable elysium" and "learn from the green world" in Canto 81.

"The undeterminable arc of politics."

"How does one make society out of nature?"

Theory of natural law as influence on Z's palpable elysium.

"How is subjectivity constructed in Objectivist poetics?" Subjectivity as a formal effect in two of Z's 1931 poems, "Prop. LXI" and "Immature Pebbles." These poems are "objectifying lenses without subjects."

In "Immature Pebbles," "the subject does not want to participate in conspicuous consumption."

Sublimation as a Freudian concept approximating Spinoza's theory of affects. "The understanding cuts off the affect from its external cause in order to comprehend the affect in itself."

Kristeva's claim that sublimation induces melancholia.

Distorted syntax of "Prop. LXI" makes subject and object interchangeable. "Rested totality" achieved by subtraction of words' suggestibility (by which I think he means something like connotation?).

Jeffrey Twitchell-Waas is next with "Spinozian Poetics in Zukofsky's Late Works." Spinoza: All entities exist on a moving scale of being. They are all moving toward or away from full realization of their being. Radical monism in which "the object of thought is the body."

"As a distinct body the poem has a nature to fulfill." "Shakespeare's text is a Spinozan body."

Bottom reads Shakespeare as if he were writing "A-21" and "A-22". (Deterritorializing Shakespeare by foregrounding textual references to eyes and vision over all other considerations: characters, plot, history, etc.) Attention to the words themselves first. A similar strategy guides Catullus, with Z choosing a text he "is both blind and deaf to."

"The text everywhere expressing its desire to realize itself." "Catullus" not a person but a huge convergence of cultural knowledge, events, and history: "unaccountable millenia of human endeavor."

"For Spinoza freedom is a necessity."

Last up is Mikel Parent, "Zukofsky and Political-Ethics: reading "A" in the light of Recent Spinozist Thought." "I want to argue for the absolute priority of ontology" re Z. But in light of Spinoza, not Heidegger.

Spinozan ethics of "A-12" emerge from ontology. Refers to Tim Woods' work on the ethical turn in "A" (away from politics?). Burton Hatlen has written of a cleavage between politics and ethics in "A-12." (This narrative of a political "break" coming in "A-12" seems to be something of a Zukofsky studies commonplace.)

"A" as "immanently political." The poem makes palpable the failure of collective political action after WWII.

Parent wants to question the move that parallels the turn from politics to ethics and collectivity to the family?a family is still a tiny collective.

Refers to Levinas' attempt to shift philosophy from ontology to ethics, bracketing the question of Being in favor of realizing the altogether Other. C.f. Badiou's critique of Levinas. The other as infinitely Other as opposed to Spinoza's radical materialism which translates "what ought" into "what is."

"Infinite alterity is all we have to work with."

The figure of God conflates ethics with ontology if God is synonymous with nature. (I don't think many scholars of the Hebrew Bible would go along with this: there are too many instances of God showing his power or demanding allegiance through the contradiction of the "natural," from circumcision to parting the Red Sea.)

Quantum physics for Z what God/Nature is for Spinoza.

"Labor as the transmutation of light energy." "Unprotected wandering waves stopped in their wandering."

Re light: particles as historical particulars, waves as revolutionary inertia.

"Substance as a concept actually enacts substance in the poem."

Language animates the bodies of the people?a hope crushed by Mussolini.

"The early search for a community of linguistic efficiency is damned by 'A-10'".

Ontology in terms of the adequation of the word to the thing as not necessarily totalitarian; Antonio Negri on "the common name"?a renewed common name as Z's project in "A" signified by the shift to the small community of the family as the place to build it.

"A linguistic environment that is a multiple of multiples and nothing else."

The Ethics stands with "what is." How to participate in the necessity of your freedom. "Power is virtue in Spinoza."

After WWII commodification definitively enters the domestic sphere. Cites Henri Lefebvre on the reproduction of production in capitalism.

Q&A. Jamison questions that "break" narrative about the move away from politics and the tendency to posit the "modern" as virile and social while the "postmodern" is domestic.

Barrett Watten: negation of the aesthetic by the political in "A-1" when the crowd emerges from the concert and onto the street. Bob Perelman: you're in or you're out.

"Every determination is a negation" vs. "Every determination is a difference."

Perelman: Z's desire for totality alternates with negation. Alternating voices within Z. (What defines negativity is what's negated, right?)

LUNCH. Ithaca compatriot Joel Kuszai had arrived at the conference early in the morning and he and I meet up with Ben Friedlander, Charles Alexander (of Chax Press), and Ron Silliman, and we all head north up Broadway for lunch at a little Thai place. Ron holds forth about the curious history of politics in Pennsylvania?how the state became full of religious dissenters like the Amish (it was a kind of real estate scheme) and what it's like living in a house once owned by the Eisenhowers. The restaurant had the incongruous name "Blue Angel" (Marlene was not in evidence) and it was pretty good; very friendly waitstaff. Then back to Barnard in the drizzle where my attention span will be challenged by after-lunch sleepiness.

Having to choose between "Form" and "Transformations" for the next panel's theme, I chose "Form." What does that say about me? Jonathan Ivry's paper is called "Zukofsky's Quincunx." What's a quincunx? It's basically a form based on the number 5 as it's typically represented on a six-sided die; the five points of an X. I suppose you could also call it the visual representation of a chisamus. In describing the form, a word from Z comes up: "decussation," meaning crossing or intersection.

Paradise as quincunx: an enclosed space or garden with the Tree of Life at the center. "Upper limit paradise."

"Paradise appears in the textual garden."

Chris Beyers is next with "History, Affect, Ideology: Louis Zukofsky and Collage Form." (Incidentally the full text of this and some of the other papers can be found over here, and I think the goal is to eventually have all of them posted there.) Beyers' paper argues that collage is a more accurate description for what Z is up to than fugue. He says that collage throws the reader back upon his or her own ideology by not providing any of the usual semantic connections between its elements. Kind of obvious, really.

Though it's exciting to see Robert Grenier in person speaking on "Zukofsky's Numbers," his presentation is a little wandering and I'm already having trouble concentrating. Basically he calls attention to the various kinds of counting Z does in his poems: of syllables and beats, but most of all of words (as in 80 Flowers which uses 5 words or hyphenate-words per line). Claims that Z more or less "owns" word counting and you can't really do that without evoking him. I wonder what Bob Perelman, who's done a lot with word count (there's a longish poem in couplets with six-word lines in The Marginalization of Poetry) thinks of that. It's clear that we receive techniques or constraints invented by historical individuals differently than we do traditions like blank verse. Again, sort of obvious.

A little coffee revives me for the next panel, "Epistemology, Memory, Poetics." Barrett Watten always puts on good show and he backs a lot into a comparatively brief talk on "Zukofsky's Historicism," in which he purports to read Z in conjunction with Derrida's Spectres of Marx. Watten see's Z's work as a lifelong meditation on Marx's project of liberation.

Z's work as a self-generating, self-effacing instruction manual on how to read it?continually "unzipping" (like a computer file) and modifying its structures as it proceeds. Like a computer engineer, Z abandons systems (like the leap from 3.4 to 4.0) while retaining their basic operationality. He reads the shift from Marx to Spinoza in "A-9" not as a dialectical sublation, but as "re-functioning" Marx with Spinoza. A horizon shift brought about by construction rather than dialectic. (But it still seems to me that replacing/preserving is more or less the definition of sublation. The difference might be in seeing Spinoza as another stage to an ongoing project rather than an antithesis to Marx?which makes a certain amount of sense.)

"Art and politics generate a method."

"A-1" as offering a horizon shift from inside aesthetic experience to outside it.

"In 'A-7' the quotidian is redeemed." "A logic of substitution and overriding. "Toward horizons that cannot be predicted by method." "Presentation over representation."

"History's situatedness in language." "Revolution exceeds the mot juste in Marx and Z."

"Overriding of redemption as loss to redeem the method of Marx." "Error is the material instance of our lived condition."

"Charles Olson and Louis Zukofsky have the most to say to we moderns about [something] history."

Barry Ahearn, as far as I know the original contemporary Zukofsky scholar, steps up to talk about "Zukofsky and the Next Wave." This paper deals with Z's various correspondences with younger poets: Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley principally. Duncan seems to have generally been treated more warmly than Creeley?Z recommended them both for Guggenheims, but his language re Duncan is much more effusive.

Abigail Lang, a French scholar with nearly accentless English, calls her paper "The Remembering Words." "The word is clearly the unit, the atom of Zukofsky's poetry." Fair enough. He has "an implicit belief in the ability of words to disclose meaning." Trust in the arranging power, the memory of individual words?each word's history is apparently immanent to it.

"The word 'bay' should convey something of all the meanings of the word 'bay'"?a body of water, a color of horse, the verb, etc. Attention not just to all its possible meanings but also all its possible parts of speech.

Keeping the word in relative isolation promotes its multiplicitous semantic and syntactic functions. Again 80 Flowers offers the clearest example of this.

(I'm deeply impressed by the difficulty of writing a paper about a poet and then presenting it all in a language not your native one. Imagine writing a paper in French on someone like Roubaud or Jabes and presenting it at a conference in Paris.)

"Only the riven connections count"?midrashic practice of judging two verses from the Torah entirely out of context, just because they share one or more words. This permits the meaning of a given word in one verse to be part of its meaning in the other. (Sounds kind of viral.)

Cites ABC of Reading's fourth chapter: "the capacity of words to remember their brilliant and memorable uses." Pound "owns" hyaline as Shakespeare owns incarnadine, so Z is invoking Pound when he uses the word.

In "A-9" the word semblance becomes a fetish or synecdoche for Marx's statement on commodity fetishism (commodities having a semblance of independent existence? can't find the precise quote). An invisible yet potent and real constraint on the letters N and R as they are used in "A-9" has the same relation to them as labor has to the commodity.

"Words which are the fetishes of things." Words as "works" in the same sense Duchamp's readymades are works.

Z's "faith in the ability of invisible work to shine through, to affect reality."

Distillation?pages and pages of notes by Z on Henry James reduced to the single word "angel" in 80 Flowers.

"A" a totalizing account of the world the way the Bible or a dictionary are. Matched by Z's assertion of will on behalf of the individual parts.

Thomas Nelson starts tailing about a desire for "the theatricalization of the archive" after this, but I'm worn out. I go watch some jazz musicians on the Columbia campus for a while (today happens to be Columbia's 250th birthday?too bad about all the rain), come back to cadge a glass of wine from the reception, and then go and meet my cousin Harold and his partner John for dinner at a nice Korean place. That evening we attend the performance of "A-21" at the Theater in Riverside Church. Bad moment at the beginning when the woman playing the Prologue flubs her lines, twice. Can't blame her, it's an extremely difficult monologue. But the play goes smoothly and entertainingly after that. It's a lot like Shakespeare; the Plautus play Z was "translating" here is obviously one of S's sources for Twelfth Night and The Tempest, with Leno the pimp more or less prefiguring Caliban. Some very beautiful poetry spoken by the "voice off," though why they chose an actor with an Australian accent to read it is anyone's guest. Harold and John were, I think suitably entertained.

[Okay, that's enough for today. Sunday's notes will follow soon.]

Monday, September 20, 2004


This is gonna be a loooooong post. What follows is a freely edited transcription of my notes from the Zukofsky/100 conference at Columbia this past weekend:

Friday, September 17

I am sitting behind Joan Retallack and Meredith and Peter Quartermain. Charles Bernstein is introducing Robert Creeley. He's shorter than I expected (Bernstein, not Creeley). Creeley looks good. He has more black in his hair than what I remember from the time I saw him read in San Francisco&#151though his beard is whitish. When I came in he was wearing a tie loose and askew and no jacket. He threw away the tie. Stands up to speak and sits down at a table so that I can barely see him. There are probably two hundred people in the room. At least two-thirds men and only a smattering of people of color.

Creeley talks about how he first heard about Zukofsky from Edward Dahlberg when he came to visit him on Mallorca. D suggested they publish Z in Black Mountain Review. Then Duncan came to visit with a copy of Z's Anew and that was Creeley first serious intro to the work. He talks about how Z's obscurity, how just ten years ago a dissertation on him was not permitted at Buffalo because he wasn't considered major enough. Another student (Mark Scroggins, maybe?) at Cornell did a diss. on Z in spite of no one in the English department's ever having heard of him. (I am glad to say this situation has long been rectified.)

Z's "fragility" as a person & to the world&#151could only handle 2 visitors at a time.

Recalls visiting the Zukofskys in terms basically identical to those used in his introduction to Complete Short Poems.

Cid Corman an important figure for Z. George Plimpton, of all people, behind publication of "A-1" - "A-12".

Z as poet's poet&#151the capacity of his imagination, the obstacles overcome. An anti-Semitic attack on Z by Horace Gregory.

(Momentary awe on my part at being in the same room with Creeley. This is the guy from the Olson correspondence! He knew everybody.)

Creeley: "What Louis wanted to be was a dancer. He wanted to be a flamenco dancer." This from a conference they both attended at U. Texas (Austin).

While Hugh Kenner was poetry editor for National Review (!) he became aware of Z. At first saw him as an extension of Pound; Creeley: no, it's a different form of prosody. Kenner: "It's so simple. Anyone could do it." Cites Z's poem "Harbor":
The winds
But then couldn't reproduce the same effect. Eventually one of Z's champions, writing the first major review of "A-1" - "A-12", comparing Z's prosodic authority favorably with Auden's.

Creeley: "Tears that it should take so long." Possibility of Library of American edition of Z.

"Who touches this book touches a man." "The actual person the poems are a fact of should not be overwritten by scholarship."

Z's delight in being born in the year of Henry James' tour of the Lower East Side (1904).

Now Tim Woods, author of The Poetics of the Limit: Ethics and Politics in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry, which apparently brings Levinas and Adorno to bear on reading Zukofsky and the other Objectivists, gets up to speak about "Zukofsky at Columbia." He talks mostly about Z's very early work, his "juvenalia," and more specifically about the influence Whitaker Chambers had on him.

Wave of young intellectual Jews, the sons of immigrants, flooding the colleges and universities of New York City in the 1910s: this "phoenixlike proletariat presented an appearance of invincible seriousness."

"Espousing a form of literary chromaticism."

A manuscript of poems titled The First Seasons written between 1920 and 1924, using the pseudonym "Dunn Wyth."

In spite of being completely unreligious, Z quit a menial job that required him to work on Yom Kippur.

On that note, after Woods sits down, Bernstein gets up and wishes us all a Happy New Year. Introduces Mark Scroggins as someone who has dedicated his life to Z, citing the tenderness and care of his work at Cornell on the poet. He remarks on the fact that so many of us here are poet-scholars as a tribute to the nature of Z's work and offers Scroggins as a model for "scholarship that leads back into the work."

Scroggins' remarks are titled "Louis Zukofsky's Bloomsday." He begins by answering Bernstein's remark about dedicating his life to Z thusly: "I'm not dead yet!" Remarks on the 100th anniversary's significance as being a supersition based on human love of symmetry.

"We love to celebrate our poets almost as much as we love to place them." Because Zwas born in 1904, "I'm inclined to place him in the company of James Joyce." Z's "Bloomsday" would be April 5, 2028&#151one hundred years after the performance of Bach's St. Matthew's Passion that opens "A".

Z to Cid Corman: "I grew up with Ulysses." Apparently he even worked on a film treatment of the novel in the 1930s and once referred to Joyce as "the brain and conscience of his literary generation." Z "knew Joyce the same way he knew English: as an atmosphere or environment."

Z on Joyce: he showed "you can have a structure that is music through the whole thing" (1966 interview).

"Music" for Z meant the repetition and counterpointing of thematic material&#151fugal&#151not only the sounds of words (Pound's melopoeia). Saw literature at "a system of recurrences."

Poet as horse: "The horse sees he is repeating all known cultures." ("A-13"?)

Ultimately rejected theory of cultural recurrence for Henry Adams' "solid, liquid, gaseous" schema (solid=imagery, liquid=sound, gas=abstract thought).

Why Joyce is famous and Z not: Joyce had the advantage of a coterie to assist in his works' dissemination. Joyce as explainer of his own work (and by implication, Pound as "village explainer" of others' work), promulgating the mythic structure of Ulysses as a means of interesting critics. Versus Z's intransigient and frankly unrealistic attitudes toward the literary marketplace. He was too oblique, too ambivalent about "movements," effectively squandering his position in 1931 as one of the most promising young poets in America. His great bitterness in later years; Dahlberg's phrase to describe him, "the forgotten man." Scroggins: "A Timon of Athens-style withdrawal."

"Unlike Pound he did not have 13 years of enforced leisure in which to interest and explain himself to critics."

Ends talk with a call for basic, "unsexy" scholarship on Z. Three major components urgently needed: 1) publication of Z's marginalia, a good bibliography, old fashioned explication; 2) A new corrected edition of "A", preferably a variorum; 3) A guide comparable to Terrell's Companion to The Cantos. It's something of a scolding, really. During the Q&A someone stands up to defend the poetic misreading of Z. Peter Quatermain adds to Scroggins' list that a book of the correspondence between Z and Cid Corman would be invaluable.


Wet and blustery outside the Philosophy building. Sipped coffee and chatted with Ben Friedlander, Arlo Quint, and Kenneth Sherwood about Pound, his broadcasts, and his insanity.

Panel on A Test of Poetry

Alan Golding presents first: "Pound, Brooks, Warren, Zukofsky: Tests of Poetry." Remarks on how women rarely appear as subjects or authors of the poems in A Test.

Z as teaching an intellectual freedom to be interested in any vector away from everyday life.

A Test more used and useful in creative writing classrooms than elsewhere.

Pound in ABC of Reading more interested in canonization and hierarchy, compulsively classifying authors. "Pope should be given credit for his efforts at drainage."

A Test as an experimental engagement with the institution of the textbook. Quotes Hejinian: "Isn't the avant-garde always pedagogical?" A less textbooky textbook in its crypticness, requiring interpretation rather than providing it (as opposed to Understanding Poetry).

Cheating at A Test: the book puts all readers into the situation of the hapless undergraduate, thrown without contexts onto the text itself. Difficult to resist the temptation to find the authors' names at the end of the book while reading.

Norman Finklestein's paper is "Comparisons and Criteria: Testing the Test of Poetry." Cites Pound's "Credo": "I believe in a man's technique as a test of his sincerity."

Z "always the minimalist even in his most expansive works." A Test seeks the "appearance of objective research."

Z: "Only objectified emotion endures"&#151Z's pragmatic answer to Pound's dictum, "Only emotion endures." The pleasures of the poem&#151sight, sound, intellection&#151are attributes of its objectification. (How is this different from Eliot's objective correlative?)

Rachel Blau DuPlessis, "What Is Learned There, Or, After Such Pedagogy, What Forgiveness?" First woman I've heard speak; refers deprecatingly but also "proudly" (vis-a-vis Scroggins' call for basic scholarship) to her paper as "just a bibliographical footnote."

Z on A Test: "To suggest standards is the purpose of this text." What kind of standards? The question for the critic is how to integrate formalist and political demands.

Z displaces political beliefs into "conviction of technique," laying the groundwork for a poetry in which social meanings and poetic excellence are coextensive.

Notes that about a quarter of the poems in A Test deal with riches and gold. Class, poverty, and social injustice as recurring elements in the selections. DuPlessis claims that most of the poems from Z's aborted A Worker's Anthology, which was explicitly political, made it into A Test. Subjects of concern to proletarians hardly incompatible with great art (her aesthetic standards are not clear); King Lear the paradigmatic example: "Then distribution should undo excess / And each man have enough." (Also there's his comment on a sliver of Robert Burns' "A Winter Night": "Presents accurately an image connected with the wintry environment of Labour.") Z is "naturalizing political conviction within lyric poetry."

Bob Perelman, "'Now Put Down Your Pencils': Anxiety and Touchstones." I've seen Bob present papers a couple of times now, at the Modernist conference in Birmingham and once at AWP, so I feel comfortable calling him "Bob" here. He's always entertaining and provocative. Last time I saw him he had a beard and a bit of a 'fro; without them he seems much younger. He pitches his talk polemically against "music," which is an admittedly fuzzy term when it comes to Zukofsky studies. He wants to resist the tendency to adopt Z's own critical framework, which is a problem generally with those modernists who did a lot of theorizing about themselves. So he calls attention to the dissonance between Z's actual practice and what he prescribes in his various extrapoetic pronouncements.

Z describes Milton in A Test as "infatuated with sound" and doing false labor, but in his own work extravagance and opulence abounds (this is a reading of Z not as a minimalist, but rather prone to the same verbal grandiosity found in Finnegans Wake). Catullan exuberance vs. the pious tightness of a passage Bob quotes from "A". "Sly impiety."

Z's work as "syntactical teleporting to a world no one lives in yet."

The scope of A Test is "dated and nugatory"&#151Z's poetry exceeds his prescriptions. (But then again, how often does a poet's work actually conform to his or her own theories? How Confucian is Pound, really?)

A Test "is a line on a c.v. submitted by an unknown poet in an application for authority."

Speaking too quickly for me to catch it, Bob says something intriguing about how for the modernists a textbook of poetics might be akin to one of the stages on the Vergilian progression of a poet's career (i.e. pastoral, georgic, epic). But I'm not sure which slot poetics is supposed to correspond to. Most of Eliot's work in poetics comes after The Waste Land but well before Four Quartets. A lot of Williams' most important work in poetics comes relatively early in his career (i.e. Spring and All). Pound was a veritable poetics machine long before he commenced The Cantos. And so forth. If poetics tends to be pedagogy (certainly that's true in the case of A Test I'd hazard it's closest to the georgic, since it's an account of how to work.

Refers to Z's use of the sonnet form in "A-7" as "parapoetics."

"A hell Zukofsky doesn't believe in sung to music he does believe in." (Bach, I presume.)

ABC of Reading and A Test as little museums "with Pound as a particularly lively docent in the Victoria and Albert Museum," while Z more like the silent guards of modern museums.

"The Bach Zukofsky worshipped was a historical not a timeless figure."


I don't have a ticket to the Friday reception, so I wander off down Amsterdam avenue for dinner. Indian food at a little place next to the Hungarian Pastry Shop. Delighted to discover that Labyrinth Books is an actual store you can browse in; for a song I pick up a beautifully illustrated biography of Walter Benjamin and a book of essays on Ernst Bloch, whose work on utopia are of considerable interest to this postmodern pastoralist. (Later during the conference when people asked me about my dissertation I began referring to it as work on "avant-garde pastoral," which may be a more useful way to think about my project than "modernist pastoral" or "postmodern pastoral.")

I got back a little late and missed the beginning of Marjorie Perloff's talk, "From "A"-22 to Oulipo: Zukofsky's French Connection." Talking about how Z's syntactical choices make French a hospitable language for translation purposes.

"The body must meet the origin of its image."

Talks about a translation Jacques Roubaud did of Poem 25 from "29 Poems." (I'm very fond of this poem and have my own little theory about it; it's worth quoting here:
Like the oceans, or the leaves of fine Southern
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp  palm, we must appear numbered
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp  to you, like the tides

Reaching up to you, also as leaves, calm, night-green
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp  arching under you,
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp  Moon. And, O moon,
As we travail to sleep we do not know whether, with your
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp  genius furthering us,

We should be counted as the cuspid waves of the seas, or
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp  as the souls of trees
Whose leaves we are, growing for you, the crowded
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp  summits stark, heavenly.
Roubaud, she says, rejects the loose free verse of the 70s and 80s in the U.S. It's not verse if you're not counting something&#151preferably syllables in lines. Forms like the alexandrine exist to be remade anew, not abandoned&#151though they may be exhausted in their original form.

Roubaud: "For form cannot reveal itself without also revealing the unformed."

Oulipean constraints as providing the rules for a language game in the Wittgensteinian sense.

Splicing of sources drains allusions and citations of content. (?)

Dun Scotus: Grammar begins with the letter.

Z has received acclaim because he is "not Pound," the way we say Kerry is "not Bush." She still considers Pound "il miglior fabbro."

Applause, exhaustion, time for bed.

[And time for bed. I'll post the rest of my notes tomorrow, or whenever I feel like it; whichever comes first.]
I'm back. Trying to figure out how to distill more than forty pages of notes into a readable form for you, my gentle readers.

In the meantime, check out this variation on Selah written by Catherine Daly. I wonder if there's some aleatory procedure involved there.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

The long arm of Ivan is casting huge fistfulls of rain down on New York City this morning. I'm going to be pretty wet by the time I'm done walking the twenty-five blocks or so from my cousin's apartment where I'm staying to Columbia. Maybe I'll cab it.

I took extensive notes on the conference proceedings yesterday afternoon but I don't have time to post them right now. It's a big conference: the organizers expressed gratification and astonishment at there being 200+ Zukofsky fans at this thing. If a meteor had struck Philosophy Hall yesterday the leading lights of American innovative poetry would certainly have been wiped out. It's been very stimulating, but I find conferences like this to be lonely affairs. Both this conference and the Modernism Studies Conference I attended in Birmingham (and there's some overlap in the attendees) are like family reunions at which I'm a very distant cousin. Everyone's constantly winking and smiling and waving at each other and forming tight knots of conversation between panels. I don't know anyone here quite well enough to feel comfortable inserting myself into one of those knots, though I might hover at the edges of one. It seems ironic that I, a shy person deeply committed to poetry, should be surrounded by so many other shy people deeply committed to poetry, would feel isolated in the midst of them. Though I don't want to overstress this. The feeling of intellectual community is very strong, and it's invigorating to hear these talks at the center of which stands a figure that only a few of my colleagues and professors at Cornell have heard of. And though I'm not presenting anything, I feel strongly that I could have; that is, that I'm capable of making a contribution to this conversation that others would consider valuable. That's a considerable morale-booster for this would-be professor.

Well, I must be off to take in Day 2. Some notes on the proceedings will follow but probably not till I get back to Ithaca.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

C'mon get happy... New Yoooooooork!

Coming to the big town. See you there.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

First things first: check out my friend and co-conspirator Theo Hummer’s new poem up at the Verse blog. Good going, Theo!

Okay, now I’m very interested in Ron Silliman’s post today. Duncan’s HD Book as a kind of precursor to blogging—that’s a semi-intriguing proposal. But I’m most struck by the same paragraphs that grabbed Stuart Greenhouse on the supplanting of mysticism and esoteric theologies by poststructuralist theory in the work and thought of post-New American poets. Stuart is surely right to point out that Walter Benjamin is a figure overlapping both alternative systems ("systems" isn’t at all the right word—"parasystems"?) of knowledge; furthermore, I don't think you can underestimate the role of Jewish practices of interpretation and theology to the thought of Derrida. And surely one of the most important poets that Derrida championed, Edmond Jabes, could be seen as not just overlapping but actually synthesizing a mystical and theological critique (and hope) with a philosophically informed skepticism about (and desperate need for) language.

That aside, I find the move from mysticism to "theory" to represent a positive trend (if not necessarily "progress") in American poetry, since it is (especially in its Frankfurt School manifestations) explicitly concerned with understanding the political world—the surface of the earth upon which we actually live and die—whereas mysticism always diverts one's interest either below the surface (the "deep image") or into the heavens. (Though of course it is possible for mysticism to be a long road back to the actual world, a road which drives and develops the imagination to new visions for being: Blake is the supreme example here.) But the most troubling part of Ron's post is this remark: "[A]ll modes of theory also offered one of the primary phenomena that had been associated previously with modes of mysticism - a difficult, convoluted linguistic tradition in which verification often mattered less than authority and prestige."

The rightness of this seemingly offhand observation is immediately recognizable: how often, in academia and elsewhere, I've seen people invoke names like Derrida and Kristeva and Benjamin not as synecdoches for the thought of these women and men but as talismans of charisma and glamour (from the Scottish for "magic spell"). I'm guilty of it myself. There's an unquestionable pleasure to be derived from the sense of initiation into mysteries I experienced when I first encountered the texts of Nietzsche and Foucault: palpably resisting easy comprehension by virtue not just of their "convoluted linguistic tradition" but because, like any mystical thinker who directs your attention away from phenomena, they were so counterintuitive. Theory is transcendent to common sense, and no one who ever truly grasps Marx's concept of the uncanny life of commodities or the Nietzschean geneaology of Christian morals or Derridean differance will ever truly return to believing in the sufficiency of the apparent and empirical. Which is not to say you can get by without the apparent and empirical, the realm of daily life and suffering, all too easily overlooked by those for whom theory offers a radiant glimpse of the ideal.

Verification without simplification or quantification—that's the standard of truth I try to hold myself to, while leaving considerable wriggle room for those dimensions of experience which we only approach through metaphor or hazy talk of "being" or the intensification of perception (and language) that comes of being in love. Authority and prestige seem like very poor things to build a system of knowledge upon—though that's precisely what the various "wisdom traditions" opposed to Western rationality over the centuries rely upon (even and especially though indigenous prestige has shattered, again and again, not against Western rationality but the brutal force the West has brought to bear against every Other it's ever encountered). Or at least they rely upon those things for their transmission, coming as they do from the elder (poem). The content of such traditions, like that of theory, is simply a means of comprehending the world that does not take phenomena at face value. If we could live by appearances it might not be such a bad thing, and perhaps that's what the calculated naivety of the Imagists (back to the things themselves!) and Objectivists (the poem's a thing, too!) was aimed at. But of course we can't and don't; we are hopelessly interpolated by ideology and we can't come to consciousness about that, can't find a grip, can't imagine an outside, without some sort of theory. Maybe it remains a questions of initiation: for every ten grad students clutching Discipline and Punish as a magical talisman there's a single thinker who's brought genuine self-consciousness to the consciousness of consciousness and its structures that postmodern philosophy offers. The main problem with this model may be all the bad, convoluted, second-order theoretical writing one has to slog through and probably generate (QED). You get through it all, you really think it through and into and then out again of your very body. And then you start writing like William Bronk. Or A.R. Ammons. Or a third-rate Coleridge. Hum.

Such waltzing is not easy.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Josh Hanson had a recent post quoting a bit of A.R. Ammons' Garbage remarkably congruent with the little piece of Kiosk-in-progress that I posted below. Of course the old words/world division is one that I'm constantly and compulsively exploring. The third category I consider is that of nature, or Heidegger's "earth." In fact that's one of the things I'm exploring in the poem, a question my studies in pastoral has led me to: is there such a thing as an essentialist nature (within humans or without them); and, regardless of whether or not this is so, what is gained, risked, or lost in behaving as if it's so? Which is also I suppose a very Ammonsesque question—my dissertation chair Roger Gilbert would be pleased if he knew (he's writing Ammons' biography). Ammons' formal choices, particularly his brand of discursivity, has never attracted me very much, which is why I'm not considering including him in my dissertation (he'd be a shoo-in if I was writing about modern, not modernist pastoral). The form of the poem that's taking shape owes much more to Williams, Zukofsky, and Olson—page as field. But there's a discursive element too, emerging perhaps out of my new interest in normative yet complex syntax as an engine for poetry. Well. This is all very cart before the horse; the poem's not halfway written yet. It's interesting to write in public like this; it raises the stakes considerably. Screw your courage to the sticking place, Mr. Corey.
All I can do is trust the ear. All my theorizing about poetry is an attempt to reconcile what I believe with what my ear tells me to do. The ear rarely instructs me toward dissonance, though it does love complexity. Repetition with a difference makes music. Music's efficacy gets undermined by thought, by subject matter, by putting language and the inscribed, noisemaking body alongside thought. A fragment:
think in language not about it
it's boring it's an it
dissolving under the tongue
it's a scarf over your eyes
light not lines gets through

                               what isn't the case shall save us
                               the world is not what worlds
I want to call it "Kiosk" but there's already a long poem and a book by Hans Magnus Enzensburger called "Kiosk." Well, you can't copyright titles. But you can put your indelible stamp on them. Maybe I'll just incorporate him in some way.
Let's get one thing straight right now: I hate novels that call themselves on the cover, "A Novel of ______". A Novel of Queen Elizabeth. A Novel of Suspense. A Novel of San Luis Obispo. Please.

The poem keeps getting longer. Sense of vertigo now that I'm out of the fourteen-line box. Anxiety of the long poem finding its form.

Great stuff, early Zukofsky. He has the friendliest voice of any modernist I can think of.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Running on caffeine fumes, no lunch yet, but the head is buzzing. Bought a couple fo CDs for the first time in a while: the new Bjork and an oldish Ben Folds album (I'm a big fan of ironic/melodramatic pop piano songwriting—he's the straight equivalent of Rufus Wainwright). Almost bought a big Talking Heads compilation but balked at the price. Then listening to a very old REM album in the car driving home set off some sparks and I pulled over to start writing a new poem (that is, a non-Severance Songs poem) for the first time in many, many months. We'll see what develops. REM is one half of the cocktail; the other half comes from a morning spent with strong coffee and Zukofksy's Complete Short Poetry in preparation for Zukofsky/100 this coming weekend. I'm driving down Friday and I'll be in Manhattan until Sunday. Though I'm excited and a bit intimidated by the big names and big ideas that will be filling the rarefied air above Columbia, I probably won't be able to bear many continuous panels on Zuk, so if anyone wants to grab some lunch or a drink or see a matinee maybe (I hear there are all these terrific Chinese films in New York these days), drop me a line.

Be sure and check out Shanna Compton's poems this week at No Tell Motel. Today's is a corker.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Motherfucker. Firing into crowds.

Who are we? What do we really want? Where are we going?

Blogging from bed on a sunny Sunday morning. Not a bad life. Off to breakfast with Emily and the dog in a bit. Emily, by the way, gave a thrilling perfomance with her a capella singing group Argonauta on Friday. It was their Ithaca debut. If you'll be anywhere near Corning, NY this Friday you can catch them there at the Yoga & More upstairs studio at 34 – 36 Market Street at 7:30 p.m

Anyone looking for a clear explanation of what Language writing was/is all about could do worse than pick up a copy of Steve McCaffrey's North of Intention. The essays are dense and, perhaps, a bit dated—this is commentary from the front lines of the movement when it was new. Various heavy thinkers are invoked: Derrida, Bataille, Lacan, etc. But the essays accumulate into a statement on their program which I now feel I understand a little more intuitively. Most clear is its radicalism: McCaffrey says somewhere that Language writing, unlike say the critique of "closed" writing offered by Charles Olson, does not question values by offering other values; instead it questions value itself. The most valuable metaphor he offers for explaining this is Bataille's notion of the general economy, in which expenditures of energy are uncontrolled and nonproductive, whereas most writing purports to take place in a restricted economy, where the writer's expenditures of verbal and semantic energy are expected to be recuperated and consumed by the reader in the form of meaning (and pleasure, I presume, though McCaffrey doesn't talk about pleasure at all, only the ludic jouissance, a la Barthes, of the writerly text). Since I'm trying to understand if pastoral might constitute a kind of economy in its own right, this analogy has a lot of resonance for me. It seems though that I'm always trying to salvage some scrap of humanism when I think about pastoral—when I talk about its "modesty" or "weakness" or otherwise think of it as being not-quite utopian, not-quite revolutionary. Partly that's because some part of me continues to resist the Language program, as influential as it's been on both me and the poetry I most care about. "Pure" Language writing—the kind that refuses semantic location of any sort, the kind that presents itself as a field of static—bores and frustrates me. Although "content" or "subject matter" seem very much beside the point for Language writers from a strategic (I won't say stylistic) point of view, it does exist. After all, even Finnegans Wake has content: the individual graphemes of a made-up word may send its potential meanings spinning off in half-a-dozen different directions and languages, but it is not ultimately infifinitely undetermined: there's Irish history, literary history, the geography of Dublin, even characters to provide a kind of gauzy limit on the text's interpretationn (or its economy). The problem with the Wake, and with lots of Language texts, is that it's so frigging long. I've written a little bit about this before, when I was reading in Tjanting: while I can enjoy (?) textual jouissance for a page or two, the seemingly endless pages of many Languagey works exhaust me in the mere contemplation of them. The only way I can read the Wake is as I'm currently doing it: in a group, meeting once a week, discussing perhaps two pages at a time. I'd probably have to read The Alphabet in the same way. Or else I'd have to abandon any notion of "reading" it—which is the whole point though, eh Steve? Except I don't feel, when I'm completely knocked out of my role as a consumer (however discriminating) of meanings and images and phanopoetic pleasure, like I've been enlisted in production so much as I'm filled with a desire to be really productive, and seek out a text that I'll be able to use for my own writerly purposes. Put another way, the poetry that (yikes) inspires me to write—that really enlists my own productive capacities—tends not to be Language writing, though it may well have Language inflections in the way it employs parataxis, paragrams, etc. If Language poetry is intended to break down the hegemony of meaning-making, turning writers into readers and vice-versa, I don't know that it succeeds. But, but, I'm speaking generally, as McCaffrey often does. Specific poets and poems in the Language tradition do have lots to offer this wreader: Hejinian's My Life, Watten's Bad History, most of Michael Palmer's work, etc. Why? Because they have palpable subject matter as a kind of nickel-iron core which seems to generate the magnetic field of play with/in/through language. And I tend to assume that any Language text of worth that I haven't necessarily cracked yet (been cracked by?) has a similar core. Along with, of course, a fundamental orientation of critique toward conventional systems and patterns of meaning-making. But doesn't every worthwhile "new" poem do this? That's the thing about Derridean deconstruction: it's not usually used to read texts that are themselves actively deconstructing. Derrida's point is that any text can be read into the ground of non-sense. A text that reads itself that way still has to be coming from somewhere and be on its way to something other than the mere play of the signifier if it's going to hold my interest for very long.

Speaking of being on one's way to something: breakfast calls.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Dreadful news. My condolences, Jim.
The remains of Hurricane Frances have been giving Ithaca a good soaking the past couple of days; meanwhile, I've been trying to get back on the horse that threw me, Ol' Dissertation. The miscellaneous approach I'd been taking to what I called "pastoral moments" in various modernist and pomo poets was no longer plausible to me. I now believe there are three (well, four) major components to my argument, which is possible to arrange in a Lacan-style matheme:
R-------------> -- <-------------T
R is for Representation. This covers pastoral as a mode in which images of a typically rural/precapitalist way of life in implicit or explicit opposition to an urban/capitalist way of life are created. It thus falls under the signs of both of the Ns:

N1 is for Negativity, which is pastoral's old critical function (the superiority over the simple and concrete over the complex and abstract) intensified in response to the intensification of capitalist rationalism.

N2 is for Nature. It's still a vexed question for me whether we're dealing with some essentialized view of nature, as implied by a comment from Rayond Williams in which he equates "the ideas of human independence and renewal" with "the ideas of nature itself." This is a highly anthropocentric view of nature. Ecocriticism, on the other hand, would seem to argue for Nature as that which stands outside and apposite, if not opposed, to the human and human values, worth preserving not for the ways in which it renews us (which could simply be viewed as a "higher" form of instrumentalization) but for precisely its sheer Otherness, for the multiplicitous ways in which any natural object goes beyond the human tendency to reduce it to a natural resource—whether for production (forest as lumber) or recreation [forest as landscape). Still, either way, it seems appropriate that Negativity and Nature should both fall under the N, the sign to which an opposition to what is (mode of production or structure of consciousness or both) is assigned.

T is for Textuality. Upon this would hinge my interest in the "open" forms fostered by Pound and Williams and any claims I might make for the newness of 20th century pastoral experimentation. While Frost, Wendell Berry, Gary Snyder (as a Beat Snyder is actually a borderline case), et al are certainly concerned with R and the Ns (though they incorporate the Negative into their positive construction of Nature as a boundless though threatened originary force) they show little interest in T; their texts are readerly and organized along the old hegemonic lines in which the author presents limited options for interpretation to a passive reader. But I want to argue that there is a mimetic relationship between R and T when both are brought under the sign of Negativity. Just as a pastoral landscape will represent a space free from domination and exploitation, so will a poem of the "open field" work to manifest itself as an object within that landscape, in which the relations between and within signifiers are not foreclosed and restricted to the mode of meaning-production which exactly mimics capitalist production. The open field of postmodern pastoral is not a free for all of ludic resistance to domination, though; to be pastoral it still has to be committed to representation (of rurality, simplicity, constructions of N2) as one of its key components. Most Language poetry is not pastoral but utopian, with representation seen as a hegemonic thought-structure to be interrogated and overthrown. The value, therefore, of pastoral as something just shy of radical, just shy of revolutionary, is something I'm still asking myself about.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

As it happens, there's a fresh new review of Fathom up at Verse right now, for further context.
In spite of being stressed out about the dog (who's recovering nicely—he doesn't even seem to realize he's got an eight-inch suture on his back) we had a nice Labor Daybor weekend. Sunny weather, my sister visiting, some socializing. Plus I'm starting to generate a little forward momentum on the diss. again. Realized that what's been missing in my amorphous thinking about pastoral is a link between two of my major conceptions of it: pastoral as a representation of utopian social life and (modernist) pastoral as a kind of garden of the signifier, in which words are adequate to things (uniting Williams' "No ideas but in things" with Pound's "the natural object is always the adequate symbol"). I'm starting to think that what unites these ideas is the imagination of a particular kind of space (Leo Marx's "middle landscape") in which adequate material resources are available to all without a high degree of cultivation/industrialization ("the natural language of men speaking to men"). Pastoral is an economy (reading Steve McCaffrey on the Language poets has been helpful in crystallizing this idea) in which the work of production is shouldered by a nature conditioned/mediated/created by the imagination. I hope now it will be possible to make a discussion of the "real," social Arcadias created by the circles of O'Hara and Spicer and a discussion of the textual Arcadias of Pound, Williams, and Johnson fit inside the same dissertation.

AARGH. The horrible, horrible Bookery computer has just eaten the second half of this post, which was my long-promised disquisition on Andrew Joron's Fathom and his call for an "ontological turn" in poetry. As a substitute for my learned commentary, I'll just reprint the last few paragraphs of his essay, "The Emergency," written in the months after 9/11 and which opens the book:
Through the night of these sacred and profane wars of vengeance, the words of a poet must come together with those of others struggling for peace and social justice. Words of anger, argument, and analysis especially are needed, for these words lead to action. But the oldest, deepest oppositional words are those issued in lament. The lament, no less than anger, refuses to accept the fact of suffering. But while anger must possess the stimulus of a proximate cause—or else it eventually fades away—the lament has a universal cause, and rises undiminished through millenia of cultural mediation. Unlike anger, the lament survives translation into silence, into ruins.

Contemporary lyricism has been described as the "singing of song's impossibility." This, too, may be a version of the blues—whose strong ontological claim (to manifest the spontaneous emergence—or emergency—of an unprecendented Cry) must now be renewed.

Such a renewal would constitute an "ontological turn" away from the epistemological dilemmas of modern and postmodern poetics, where poetry is understood to emerge from the questioning of poetry. To the extent that a question anticipates its answer, it is unprepared to receive the Novum. That which is radically other does not reveal itself under interrogation.

The deep blues, then, are not a mode of questioning, but arrive in advance of doubt—and represent a negation more primary than doubt.
Joron follows this with a nifty diagram or ratio that I could only travesty with my ignorance of HTML. Anyway, Joron's argument is explicitly situated in the gap laid out between two of Adorno's statements on poetry: the famous remark "Writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric" and the considerably less well-known amendment, "Perennial suffering has as much right to expression as a tortured man has to scream; hence it may have been wrong to say that after Auschwitz you could no longer write poems" (Joron quotes them both). The lament, "Cry," or "deep blues" (the collective manifestation of the Cry against suffering, "the matrix of the world's subaltern cultures") demands that poetry—or at any rate the lyric—turn away from the epistemological concerns that have held it fast since at least Eliot first read Bergson and which were only reinforced in the wake of Derridean criticism and Language poetry's attempt to shift attention from meaning-production to the ludic expenditure of the signifier. It seems to me that Joron might be (deliberately?) confusing epistemology with the linguistic. We do not, after all, speak of Heidegger's "turn" as being from ontology to epistemology, but rather from ontology to language (which is not to say he discards ontology, rather that he concludes that Being only reveals itself in language, in poetic saying). It's true that a great deal of modern and postmodern poetry explicitly concerns itself with what we know and how we know it; even much poetry with ostensible subject matter is actually using that matter (the body, critiques of ideologies, the natural world, personal history) primarily as means to mediate epistemological questions. But when I think of Language poetry, at least as it's argued for in the McCaffery essays I've been reading (old essays, too, from his book North of Intention), it's directed not toward epistemological questions (knowledge) but fundamentally reframing questions of meaning-generation, and the ways in which conventional texts reinforce structures of meaning-making which serve and even imitate the structures of capitalism and the consolidation of surplus value. "Meaning" and "value" seem closer to the ontological sphere than they do to the epistemological. The split happens in and through language: "use-value" seems like an ontological category, but "exchange value" is linguistic, implying as it does the subtraction of the signifier's Being (its signifier-ness) from consideration so that it can be used transparently as a token of its signified. But if I understand Joron's frame of reference correctly, he's lumping the linguistic and the epistemological together by privileging the latter: the questions of saying or meaning-making, which are intensely political when made the first priority, are deferred in favor of a ontologically privileged "Cry" that defers not just these questions, but questioning itself. Questions provide a framework that predetermine the new, preventing it from being New. But without questions, or at least a questioning, searching position vis-a-vis ontology, you end up in a condition of mystical acceptance pretty fast. I suppose Joron is saying that the refusal of suffering is something more fundamental than a question; that this refusal itself somehow has pre-linguistic, ontological status.

Anyway, to back out of all this Greek, the practical question seems to be: does this fundamental difference in strategy mean a political departure as well? The emphasis on play (or to use terminology from another context, "the rejection of closure"), put forth by McCaffrey and others is an ultimately structural and Marxist approach to the political, creating room for the new (or Novum) by short-circuiting "reading" in favor of "writing." It's a highly egalitarian vision in which all persons are potentially enlisted as makers of meaning—that is, subjects. The writer abdicates his or her authority and renounces authority's perpetual scramble to cover up the hole or differential trace that is ineluctable to language. Such writing is negative in the sense that it always works to negate totalities, but it can and does have all kinds of multitudinous subject matter, depending on the discourses/desiring-machines the writer chooses to interpolate (Andrews and Watten tend to specialize in pop culture and the historical, respectively; Scalapino's latest explodes personal history by "zithering" her "autobiography"; Silliman works by sheer volume much of the time (business-speak, computer languages, you name it) but is perhaps more often directly engaging "the literary" than the others, etc.).

Joron's project parallels this one, but with a sharply different emphasis, in part because he the demon he wishes to negate is not Capital or even domination, strictly speaking, but sufering (he indicts the U.S. for "its all-consuming pursuit of wealth and power" but says also, rightly, that "no grievance could justify the atrocities committed on 9/11." The real gap between his construction of poetry's function and what I've constructed on behalf of the Language poets comes when he considers the erosion in this country of one of culture's most basic functions, to legitimate the existing power structure:
In [Adorno's] view, aesthetic practices that once prefigured social empancipation now serve only to mask or to legitimate systemic violence. Here in America, however, "culture" has been reduced to a simple play of intensities, to the simultaneously brutal and sentimental pulsions of mass media. Any "legitimation function" would be superfluous: the American machine, with its proudly exposed components of Accumulation and Repression, has no need for such a carapace.

American poetry is a marginal genre whose existence is irrelevant to the course of Empire. Yet here, only here, at this very juncture between language and power, can the refused word come back to itself as the word of refusal, as the sign of that which canot be assimilated to the system—

Word that opens a solar eye in the middle of the Night.

Opens, but fails to dispel the dark. Of necessity, perhaps, because it fails necessity itself. Opens, if only to make an O, an indwelling of zero, an Otherness.

The creative Word comes into its exile here, in the world's most destructive nation. (18)
This is very moving and illustrates, I think, how Joron's project intensifies for our particularly intense moment (our catastrophe) the Language project which seems devoted primarily to creating more imaginative room in the otherwise always-foreclosing space of language. Their "O" is to dwell in; Joron's is a wound. In some ways he looks back to modernism, which mourned the departure of meaning and grand narratives, rather than postmodernism, wich sees hegemonic narrative as the greatest of threats. But of course Joron is not seeking to restore any elite's cultural authority; authenticity for him comes from the collective sublatern's cry, the counterhegemonic "deep blues." It may ultimately come down to a question of tone, to whether or not you emphasize the pleasure or the pain in the jouissance exposed by writing without closure. But there's also the question of whose mouth is forming the "O." Is it "no one in particular"? (Joron: "Language is a social construct, yet it was fashioned by no one in particular. Language continues to be haunted by this 'no one.'" [15].) "The deep blues, then, are not a mode of questioning, but arrive in advance of doubt—and represent a negation more primary than doubt." That's the enigma I haven't quite unmasked here. Language writing is skeptical, in my view; it is driven by doubt and suspicion. There is an agency here to whom something "more primary than doubt" is being ascribed: the bar that separates "O, the grieving vowel" from "zero, the mouth of astonishment" (25). O/0: the lips parting in lament, the particular place of Any Person confronting suffering, in language. The subject's capacity for suffering that precedes language: that does not itself found subjectivity but something more basic: the face that suffers and the mouth that cries. (And the glad inverse of this: the face that smiles in recognition, the mouth that tastes, kisses, sings.) This, not doubt, is the elemental prerequisite of refusal, negativity, demanding the Novum. At least by Joron's lights.

Perhaps later I'll have a chance to examine the poetry and see how it conforms/confirms the project of "The Emergency." For now, I'm reminded of a piece of Beth Anderson's multipart whodunnit poem, "A Locked Room":
                                        Ankles and cobblestones don't mix

so all claims ably resist corroboration. I prepare again to enter the garden
under the pretense of looking for traces he might have left. But once inside
I will in fact rely on dreams to unveil both guilt and happiness.

Friday, September 03, 2004

The surgery was successful and Bogie is recovering. I hope they got the whole tumor. We're picking him up at 9 AM tomorrow morning. It's hard to go to bed without taking him for his walk.

Still musing over the Joron book and the intersection of three categories: the epistemological, the ontological, and the linguistic. Intrigued? Stay tuned....

Thursday, September 02, 2004

I keep thinking I should turn on the TV and watch Bush making his speech. Then the impulse passes. My sense of the coverage of the convention, though, has persuaded me that it's coming off as a highly partisan, polarizing affair. Not as bad as when Pat Buchanan set the tone for the 1992 convention, but close. And the fact that more voters keep picking the economy as their biggest concern ought to have the Republicans very concerned. Because they have absolutely nothing plausible to say about their handling of the economy. Nada. Zilch.

Bogie is going in for surgery tomorrow—an excisional biopsy. Emily and I are worried but hopeful. It's so hard to send a dog in for surgery, because you can't explain what's happening to him. And he's going to have to be there overnight. Poor little guy. He seems happy and healthy today, though. My dad and sister were here visiting and we went for a ramble along Six Mile Creek. My dad went home this afternoon but Vanessa is with us until tomorrow, when she's driving up to Vancouver for a wedding. Anyway, all this has kept me pretty distracted from poetry and/or dissertation stuff. Though I was very, very excited by what I read of Andrew Joron's Fathom Wednesday morning. Buy this book immediately. I'll explain why in a day or two.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

I haven't been able to bring myself to watch any of the RNC. But judging from the Times' coverage, they pulled their compassionate bait-and-switch move last night and it worked—at least on the Times. Meanwhile protesters are turning unruly—or at least that's how it's being sold to the media. Everybody blind. Everybody blind.

A delightful pile of poetry books arrived at the Bookery yesterday and I couldn't resist snatching up three: Beth Anderson's Overboard, Marcella Durand's Western Capital Rhapsodies, and Andrew Joron's Fathom. Started reading the Anderson last night and also finished readng Macular Hole. Noticed immediately a prime difference between Anderson's and Wagner's styles is how Anderson thinks in sentences constructed with normal syntax, draped as it were across the line breaks; while Wagner is more jagged and fragmented, letting the line and the shifts of attention between lines do most of the semantic work independent of sentence structures (she also has a vocabulary at once "louder" [she says "fuck" a lot] and simpler than Anderson's). Although my word choices tend to be more baroque, I feel more affinity to the latter kind of writing (because why have line breaks if you're not going to make them work?) but I'm increasingly interested in the former, more subtle style. I think of The Sense Record, which has become a kind of bench- or high watermark for me in terms of a contemporary poetry that stimulates the highest pressure of thought/emotion per square inch, and I recognize that she too relies either on normative syntax or the clear transgression of that syntax; she's certainly not a poet of the fragment. The necessary difficulty in Moxley's or Anderson's work (by which I mean the disordering of the senses, or better the French sens, that takes place when new and highly contextual meanings are struggling to be born) emerges not the highly spatialized indeterminacy of the fragment, but from the temporal stretching of distance and relation that takes place in complex sentences between elements like the subject and the verb. Glancing randomly at the Moxely, I see these lines:
I feel I might shrivel for lack of her
but decide to leave off this illusion
for the ancient place of my origin.

"The Second Winter"
Here actually the short lines break up the sentence into units wherein the last word of each line discovers a different object for the "I": "her," "illusion," "origin." The three objects, though very differnt, are put on a plane of equivalence by the line breaks. By contrast, as prose ("I feel might shrivel for lack of her but decide to leave off this illusion for the ancient place of my origin.") the sentence is difficult to parse because we try to hierarchize its objects—as the final term, "origin" is probably the privileged one in this case. They're both "difficult" sentences, but the line breaks produce a more complex and multivalent reading. Anderson's sentences are simpler, more "New Sentencey" in the paratactical leaps made in the longer poems. Of what I've read so far, I respond most viscerally to the "Hearsay Sonnets" near the middle of the book (each of which is named, seemingly at random, after a town or city): although long-lined, the sonnet's little room acts as container within which the compressed linguistic particles bounce rapidly. The most ars poetica-like sonnet is "Cleveland," opening with "My feet hurt but not my sentences." But the poem I find most moving, and the one I want to quote in full, is called "Davis." It reminds me a little of Moxley too in that its subject is in part the difficulty of being an artist—which is to say, a fully alive human being:

On the next page is another artist, or sometimes the same brush
and palette losing ground to early work. A treacherous slope
defeats rage then succumbs to loyalty. Renouncing steps for dirt
we keep climbing. All great cities have bad nicknames and
their own flexible landing gear. This plant flowers red, as
it did last year and the year before, but has done so late
to coincide with gravity. Seems we grow only when
we get enough to eat. Storms without precedent have used up
a list of names meant to see the century out, and everything
everywhere is saturated and splintered. Don't reach out the window.
Ignore what I said earlier about grabbing the golden apple.
Try instead to make your way to the capital without the aid
of pesticides. Every weekend I leave early to test my brakes
against forces holding limestone up, my neck bent into my back.
I don't know where I find the most pathos at this moment: redness coinciding with gravity, "Seems we grow only when / we get enough to eat," or the sentence most applicable to our political moment, "Try instead to make your way to the capital without the aid / of pesticides." Or the fact that I almost typed "deletes rage" in the third line.

Incidentally, all this Lacan had me fixating on rather obviously Freudian elements in Anderson's poetry, elements I probably could find in any poetry. I'll spare you until I've assimilated or rejected that thinking a little more.

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