Monday, March 14, 2005

Alright, you'll just have to settle for my notes on the Carson lecture instead of the usual impeccably crafted blog post. Here goes:
Anne Carson @ A.D. White House. "Variations on the Right to Remain Silent."

Patrician and severe in appearance, lightened by bright red glasses frames that are just a little sexy. Surprisingly girlish voice, unpretentious and self-deprecating: "this is such an abstract conference and I'm not a very abstract person."

"In my real life I read a lot of crime fiction." Impulse to treat an Elmore Leonard novel as if it were a bilingual translation: "When I don't like a sentence I look to the facing page to see what he really said." Bilingual trans. creates mythical third position between original language and English, a "true" text, though silent.

Mδλυ—the herb Hermes gave to Odysseus to protect him from Circe's magic. Here's the passage from Book Ten of The Odyssey that we have here at the Bookery in Allen Mandelbaum's translation:
"When that was said, he gave his herb to me;
he plucked it from the ground and showed what sort
of plant it was. Its root was black; its flower
was white as milk. It's moly for the gods;
for mortal men, the mandrake—very hard
to pluck; but nothing holds against the gods.
A word left untranslated by Homer to suggest the language of the gods. "You cannot define, possess, or make use of" this language. The word obscured by Homer as though by a smudge of greenish white paint (this refers to a Francis Bacon painting)—not the faces of the gods but their words are obscured. The gods distinguished from humans only in that they have learned "how not to die."

The resort to cliché: "Don't we already know what we think about this?"

Joan of Arc's long trial and the attempts of her inquisitors to translate the language of the voices she heard into approved juridical and theological forms. Joan: "The light comes in the name of the voice." Reply to a question about the plural vs. singular nature of the voices.

Refers to David Sylvester's book Interviews with Francis Bacon: The Brutality of Fact. Bacon's attempt to render "the facts" in his painting—the very "jar on the nerves" (Woolf). Bacon sought to convey the feeling of being in the presence of his subject, not the subject: "he wants to translate the feeling to your nerves through paint."

"A yes or no question forbids a word to stop itself."

Bacon: "to grant sensation without the boredom of its conveyance." [I love this: this statement sums up an enormous portion of what I try both to transmit in and to get from poetry.]

"There is a tendency for story to slip in between ay two figures or any two marks on a canvas." Bacon uses color to eliminate this gap; also aleatory flings of paint and defacements of figures. "To speed your eye and denounce storytelling."

[Carson's relative popularity interests me because I believe she's carrying a torch for high modernism and has uncovered an appetite for that in her public. Even if it's only another sensation: the sublime of difficulty rendered somewhat more digestible.]

Of Bacon's famous study (I'd like to say "rewriting") of Velasquez's portrait of Pope Innocent X
"He wants to convey the sensation, not the sensational; the scream and not the horror." And: "He has made a painting of silence in which silence silently rips." The essence of reality is violence?

A Greek word: KALCAINEIN means "to search for the purple flower" but it also means "to search in the depths of one's mind, to brood darkly." A line from Hölderlin's infamous translation of Antigone: Du schienst ein rotes Wort zu farben.. "You seem to color your words red." A word from Hölderlin's letters attempting to describe his vision of translation: "livingly."

Joan of Arc, Bacon, Hölderlin: strugglers against cliché who thrust their arms into their media. Violence against cliché to disrupt probability. Bacon's "free marks are a gesture of rage." "Why did Eve put a free mark on that apple? Is it simply that she was bored?"

Hölderlin called translation, "a salutary gymnastics of the mind." Translation opens a space between chaos and naming. From marginalia Hölderlin added to one of his poems: "Often enough I tried language; often enough I tried song. But they didn't hear you."

"To sum up: honestly I am not very good at summing up."

[A writer has to keep breaking the ice (frozen sea within, etc.)—that's why a real artist has to keep changing. A strong style is more in peril of cliché than a weak one.]

[Pastoral perhaps implies violence—violence deferred to another realm—Arcadia has been spared from terrible violence that persists as a kind of exteriorized trauma. Violence of conceptualization-generalization.]

"Q&A is not about knowledge, it's about loneliness."

"A lecture is more like a gift. a poetry reading, is, let's face it, all about me."
And here are my much sparser notes about Leslie Scalpino's talk:
Discussing her books Crowd and not evening or light and The Tango.

"Separating existence from oneself in order to look at it and discover that it is not separate."

Referring to the effect sought by the text of Crowd, punctuated mostly by dashes: "The scene duplicates natural actual seeing yet produces this dome effect at once."

Interior as mental experience imitated ins eeing—phrases set by dashes create the illusion of exteriorizing the interior? Similar to the flat eye of a camera. "Consecutive seeing": the abstraction of occurrences. "That which is mental seems to be an action on its own in real terrain." I find this similar to Carson's emphasis on depicting the impact of experience and not the experience.

"Condensation entails an entire scene being in front of one yet unfolding." Trying to train the reader, to transfer one's awareness in front of one's eyes.

In the last section of the book an incommensurate relation exists between the photos (very ordinary flat b&w photos of people at the beach, mostly) and the text yet they seem to comment on and explicate each other. [Gap between photo and text another "third place"?] "The phrases are directly mind shreds." "Attention in that space as the instant of reading."

"Text appears as physical phenomena alongside mental phenomena."

"The subjunctive is only social." Reading from The Tango. A repeated phrase, "black dawn," causes me to hear the chiasmus of "b" and "d."

"Reading being seeing one's mind's activity."
That's all I got from the Scalapino lecture. I only feel I understand ten percent of what I read of hers, or what she says, but that ten percent is so exciting I continue to be interested in everything she does. She came to our reading, incidentally, and stayed for drinks and a late dinner after with Peter and Liz—I was very pleased to see that. Someone who never for an instant relaxes her grip on a discourse capable of the furthest flights, which is exhilarating and frustrating to be around. Hearing her speak, and looking at The Tango, which is perfectly described as simply an "art book," I realized that I might have an easier time approaching her if I think of her as an artist rather than as a poet. The literary apparatus I haul out to measure each new poet against, to provisionally "place" him or her, doesn't work very well with Scalapino; the best I can come up with is that she's a Language poet who refuses the label and who is even highly critical of the Language poetry project. But if I think of her as a visual artist or conceptual artist I've cleared away enough space for her work to have at least some of its intended effect on me. It's also been helpful to hear her after Carson's remarkable performance, which as I've already indicated used Joan of Arc and Francis Bacon to create new possibilities for understanding not so much the translation of poetry but rather poetry as translation. The space between significations is what matters most with Scalapino, I think; the dashes fascinate as they do in Dickinson. Glad I saw her; glad I saw what there is to see.

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