Thursday, May 25, 2006

Refreshed. If you're ever looking for peace and solitude with a view of hills and trees, and a wood stove to sit by in the evenings, you could do worse than visit Light On The Hill in Van Etten, New York, just half an hour or so from Ithaca. Very restful and a good place for the gathering of personal resources.

David Baratier tells me that my new chapbook, Composition Marble, has arrived at Pavement Saw Press and copies are en route to me via media mail. Very excited about seeing it. It will be available for purchase from Pavement Saw for the low price of six dollars American in the near future.

On attenuated hypotaxis: I did some reading around in Ashbery's Flow Chart while retreating and came to the provisional conclusion that syntax itself, or at least narrative syntax, is what that poem and much else by Ashbery seems to be "about." Over and over again I noticed hypotactic connectors being used that actually served to disconnect one line or sentence (his generally long lines largely efface the natural tension between line and sentence) from the next, rendering the referents of pronouns (especially "it") impossibly vague. I kept feeling like I was reading a fairy tale that consisted entirely of pleasant, slightly surreal variations on the phrase, "Once upon a time." Here's a random passage from the first section reduced almost entirely to connectors, pronouns, and the occasional verb:
What we are... is both... or else... like.... So it seems we must stay... not quite..., not... though..., if..., not.... Did I say that? Can this be me? Otherwise... one might as well.... And meanwhile...; ...; some episode... and even.... It is time for..., and..., but surely somebody... before..., before... and... instead of... having concluded that... interesting only because... at the very moment..., one of innumerable..., so long as..., subtracted like... and replaced... climate of any day and of all the days, postmillenarian.
Of course occasional images and phrases pop out of the general ramble, but these are exceptions to the rule of what the poem directs my attention to: echt narrativity, the experience of Now this, and that, so that, therefore.... Or it's like a staged struggle between rhetoric and poetry, with the occasional flash of poetic condensare and, much more, the destabilized syntax working against the experience of discursivity, while the sheer endlessness of the text and the proliferation of connectors, however frustrated and frustrating, prevents me from assimilating the text as I do most poems: as pockets and flashes of verbal energy that accumulate into a total experience. Though the poem doesn't lack atmosphere, stimmung: it's a peculiar synthesis of exhaustion and nervous energy, in which the stakes are constantly being raised and then as regularly deflated, so that it becomes almost like a maximalist Beckett piece: I can go on, I can go on, oy—look how I go on! That this mode has its pleasures is the most surprising thing about it: I can dip into the stream and be carried along and get almost an experience of pure reading without regard to any content more specific than this spirit of belatedness, middle-agedness, and diffuse wonder. A poem without qualities.

Starting to follow the a tonalist vs. flarf debate as brilliantly summarized by Jasper. I don't know the work of the a tonalists as well as I'd like to, though I've been meaning to get to Brent Cunningham's Bird and Forest for a while now. Right now I sort of unhelpfully lump them in my own aesthetic (dis)organization as the Michael Palmer tendency toward obliquity, the lyric abstract, differance—oh hell I'll go all the way and call 'em Dickinsonian. While flarf is a goofy godchild of Walt Whitman's inclusiveness, his refusal of otherness that can turn over and become a critique of purity and the puritan. This is the not-so-ancient dualism at the heart of American poetry, or at least so my helplessly binaristic mind says. Where things get real interesting is where the intensely inward drive of the Dickinson-tendency tries to socialize itself or organize even on the fantasy level as a collectivity (what the a tonalists are skeptically up to); the opposite number of course being the outward-bound intensely social imagination of the Whitman-tendency being turned inward on itself. We are much more used to the latter than the former, thanks to the legacy of Romanticism (Harold Bloom for one never met a poem that he liked that he couldn't turn into a version of Browning's "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came"—I'm sure he's managed it with Flow Chart) and American pragmatism (how can we make this useful to the rugged individual). I'm not sure I see this actually happening with flarf, but I do think those who accuse flarf of collaboration with capital or of pseudo-ironic identification with racism, sexism, etc., are being sensitive to the classic downside of the Whitman-tendency, which is to overstrenuously celebrate what is and even act positively as a colonizer. This is all speculation based on nothing much more than the discourses surrounding these movements: the real test is the reading of actual poems. But discourses aren't nothing: I for one am fascinated by the opportunity to watch literary movements evolve in real time, struggling to establish their own opposing or apposing relations to the larger field, and to canonicity.

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