Wednesday, September 28, 2005

My favorite sort of weather: cold and sweet in the morning, like an apple fresh out of the fridge; low-seventies by midday; and what the weatherman is pleased to call "abundant sunshine." Childhood associations are nearer in such weather. Proust in the turning leaves.

The survey course I'm a TA for has hit the Sixteenth Century, and what a pleasure it is to read poems by Wyatt and Surrey: "Whoso list to hunt," "The soote season," etc. But now we're on to Spenser and The Faerie Queene, as deeply weird a poem to have at the center of the English canon as one could wish. An allegorical poem in which attacking a monster called Errour is, um, an error. This leaves me with no time for Lisa Robertson, but I promise to get to her soon.

I had postponed reading Marcuse out of an obscure fear that he would somehow pre-empt or anticipate my thinking in unhelpful ways; I wanted my own ideas to ripen first. But another theorist I picked up yesterday has cut closer to the bone: Michel de Certeau. The Practice of Everyday Life has become unexpectedly central to my ideas about pastoral as a mode of bricolage, or as I prefer to call it, ecolage. The trigger for this was a sentence in Jed Rasula's This Compost in which he referred to how Pound's later Cantos have an "ecological tact." This "tact" linked in my mind to de Certeau's notion of tactics as the practice of the marginalized (and according to him in the modern era we're all marginalized to at least some degree), while strategy describes the activities of power, which seek to establish some ground from which to launch incursions on the margin, the other. Bricolage for de Certeau refers to the ways in which a marginalized people superimpose their own practices on the ground or law that's been given to them: they use social constraints as a poet uses the constraints of form (de Certeau's example) to create opportunities for sustaining their own lifeworld. "Ecolage" then would be a mode of bricolage that identifies or somehow allies with the natural world that is also subject to the incursions of power (which would territorialize it [Deleuze]] or turn it into standing reserve [Heidegger]) but which does not itself have the minimal agency required to respond. Ecolage is bricolage but with a special respect for the materials involved: they are not just repurposed fragments of capital but natural objects whose nonidentity with both power and the ecoleur must be preserved. It's funny how I've delayed conceptualizing this for so long; it makes my work harder because it sends retroactive shockwaves back through everything I've written, requiring cuts and changes and rethinking. But something about this feels intrinsic to intellectual experience: we have ideas, notions, forebodings, but they can be untimely. You have to get to work before you're finished thinking, in full knowledge of the possibility that your thought might undo or redo all you've done before its arrival. And all this has happened when I've barely begun to read de Certeau, whose key concepts might yet undergo some modification that will in turn modify my idea, etc. I enjoy all this when I'm not making myself crazy with imaginary deadlines. Like the deadlines for job applications. Or my birthday on Sunday. Yikes.

A gentle knight was pricking on the plaine....

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