Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Finishing the Hat

Sometime in March 2009 I began, on a lark, to write pages of prose in the half-hour or so of consciousness that remained to me before bed after a busy day of teaching and grading and parenting a toddler. Pages accumulated; characters appeared; a semblance of plot ground into action. Images clung to me when I wasn't writing that asked for articulation: a castle overlooking the Mediterranean, the shoulders hat and head of a man seen from behind, dragging a wheeled suitcase over cobblestones; a policeman rearing on his horse like a black knight on the streets of Paris.

I kept at it, sidewise, sneaking up on the project, trying not to take it too seriously, keeping faith with what I was doing as an extension rather than departure from poetry, as a project essentially rhetorical, a game with-in language. But story! Story, once it gets going, is irresistible.
Mapping out a sky
What you feel like, planning out a sky....
Sometimes I wrote on the computer; for a whole summer I wrote in notebooks, filling two of them with material, much of which I eventually discarded. Meantime my life in poetry marched on. Severance Songs came out. I did readings here and there; I devoted my summer to Robert Duncan and only belatedly, sometime in late September, turned myself full time toward this project. Now that my semester's sabbatical is almost over, I am preparing to teach again, with an orientation toward poetry. But I have entered an undiscovered country.

On November 30, 2011 I finished my novel, much to my own surprise; I had thought I would need every moment right up until I began teaching again in January. Finished the draft, I should say; I am now revising, reordering, the many discrete pages and parts that magnetically attract each other and form the shape of an organism that the genre novel is loose enough to hold together. What I am wishing for most at this moment is the right sort of first reader. Someone who will understand that I came at this project as a poet and remain a poet. Someone who will challenge me, in fact, to bring out what is most poetic about the novel, and not to advise me how to smooth away its rough edges and make it more conventional, as I fear most readers would not be able to help doing at this stage. Undiscovered country.
Studying a face,
Stepping back to look at a face
Leaves a little space in the way like a window,
But to see—
It's the only way to see.
But it probably falls to me to be that reader, in the spirit in which I began this project: to please myself. With the insane faith that what moves and entertains me will move and entertain others.
They have never understood,
And no reason that they should.
A last note: December 21, 2011 shall be the twentieth anniversary of my mother's death. This novel, then, constitutes, like so much of my writing, a milestone in the neverending work of mourning that began on that day, in 1991, when I was twenty-one years old.
Mapping out the sky,
Finishing a hat...
Starting on a hat..
Finishing a hat...
It's only a hat. A purely conjectural garment made of words, not even so much as an image. A hat for my mother. Let her not go bare-headed beneath the sun of death.
Look, I made a hat...
Where there never was a hat
A wild sort of hope for the page and for art and my M. The letter of the law, that tells it again. My story.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Prose

Last gasp, first gaps. Conditioned by my sense of an ending.

Hands outstretched in the darkness, finding no one. Lily Briscoe wept.

A mother is the original objective correlative. "An especial temptation for that most dangerous type of critic: the critic with a mind which is naturally of the creative order, but which through some weakness in creative power exercises itself in criticism instead." "The Mona Lisa of literature." The suprematist black square of literature. The useful urinal of literature. The video installation of book trailers. One and three chairs. One and three Hamlets, "like the sonnets, is full of some stuff that the writer could not drag to light, contemplate, or manipulate into art."

"as if, given the sequence of events, these words were automatically released by the last event in the series."

"because it is in excess of the facts as they appear"

"his disgust is occasioned by his mother, but that his mother is not an adequate equivalent for it"

He is dead and gone, lady, he is dead and gone.

"he cannot understand; he cannot objectify it, and it therefore remains to poison life and obstruct action"

Too much of water hast thou.

"it is just because her character is so negative and insignificant"

Well, my lord.

"it is less than madness and more than feigned"

Ay, my lord.

"the buffoonery of an emotion"

Ply his music.

"under compulsion of what experience he attempted to express the inexpressibly horrible"

His purse is empty already; all's golden words are spent. We should have to understand things which Shakespeare did not understand himself.

Which the Earl of Oxford understood.

Most likely one proceeds without plan, in pieces, looking forward to the moment of abandonment. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life

How does a poet turn into a novelist? A metamorphosis at least as mysterious as the transformation from caterpillar into butterfly, but reversed: the winged and glittery feeder on nectar goes into a long freeze, emerging from the chrysalis with many feet to plant firmly on leaves, bark, the earth.

The poet makes himself flexible, ductile, a vehicle for an accident, collision of words and things, which crash into each other without replacing each other; his words are not mimetic, do not represent, they are impact. The novelist creates for himself a secret life that he is helplessly impelled to disclose: when the disclosure is complete the secret world is destroyed, and he must make another.

In Zuccotti Park they are being poets as this article suggests, putting their bodies on the line, presenting an indigestible message to the world. The world can only understand the message if it transforms itself utterly. From leaves to nectar.

What would you do today if you knew that today would never end?

So who gives a shit? Well he gave a shit and she gave a shit and we gave a shit and they gave at the office. But they didn't give a shit, couldn't give a shit, about it. You couldn't give two shits, who shits on a shingle shits a brick, three shits. They're shitting themselves. Three shitheads walk into a bar, the bartender says, I don't give to shits. His shit don't stink, her shit don't stink, your shit don't stink, theirs stinks. Oh, shit. Gotta get my shit together, soon as I get my shit out of luck, soon as I get up shit's cree. What's a paddle for? What's a body no one speaks for? "It looks like a shit took a shit." A fly arrived, took one look at my spotless floors, said, Shit.

Recitative: from opera and bel canto, "a style of delivery in which a singer is allowed to adopt the rhythms of ordinary speech." Lower limit music, moves the plot along. "What's the good of a book without pictures or conversations?" A novelist can't do without recitative, a poet can. But a novelist can put a frame around recitative, ironize and insulate it, say, This is rhetoric, a continuous tissue of rhetoric in which many folds pretend at representation. These characters, narrators, settings, scenes, form one continuous substance. Only artful draping (Project Runway) creates the illusion of discrete entities. Poetry: discrete entities, discrete series, soul of discretion.

Just to say it. Just to say it and to be seen saying it. Not to be heard, let alone listened to. Too much. Too much to hope for it. But to say and be seen saying. To stand on a say-box or in a say-corner, to say before others' eyes. To say, why not, before one's own eyes. I say it and I see myself saying it and then I've never said it, I never will say it, I have said it. I am saying and seeing and being seen. The said.

Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Chicago, Occupy San Francisco, Occupy Washington D.C., Occupy Topeka, Occupy Berlin, Occupy Paris, Occupy London, Occupy Brussels, Occupy Beijing, Occupy Moscow, Occupy Singapore, Occupy Tokyo, Occupy Melbourne, Occupy Delhi, don't occupy Iraq, don't occupy Afghanistan, leave Jerusalem the fuck alone. Occupation, when peaceful a close neighbor to vocation, something to do, answering the call. When we hear an aria we don't answer, we applaud, we weep.

This is the blissful moment. Not Qaddafi, not dead tyrants dragged through the streets, but a new birth of love. The pen crawls across the page and the reader creepeth with it.

Pure power of presentation, the it is (il y a, es gibt), of, in language. Pure communicativity of Liberty Park. What are your demands? It's the wrong question. A poem is an operation, maneuver, arrangement, something to be moved through. Objectivity--content--distracts from and inhibits the readers's focus on the experience of movement as such. Potential energy, a perched stone.

Occupy your own body, Cathy Wagner says. Try that one on for size. Debt as negative space. You are too big to fail.

You are beautiful protesters. Blue morpho that changes, that drinks, that flies, what do you want?

What you want is what you are.

I am with you.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Berlin Diary

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Berlin. Fog of sleep deprivation coloring an otherwise perfect blue autumn day a sort of miasmic yellow in my mind. Bus ride, taking in the printed shirt, ice-cool glasses and goatee of a young man who would not be out of place in Bucktown or Brooklyn or anywhere: a hipster is a hipster is a hipster. But this hipster appears to be traveling with his late middle-aged parents, her with hair dyed purple-black, him gently balding, in glasses that don’t challenge his son’s. Mesmerized by the U-bahn’s sinuousness, the way the unseparated cars wriggle together and apart and up and down as they pursue the tunnels. Remembering that that was the first thing they got back online, postwar, the U-bahn, when everything else was still smashed to shit. ’47?


Two blocks from the Nollendorfplatz U-station to Winterfeldtplatz, where I find the “work flat” of my friend Peter where I will be staying for the next two weeks. It is a lair, such as I have scarcely dreamed of. In the room where I type this a large window swings open like a door to admit the mild morning air and view of a squared-in courtyard, typical of the city I’m told, cool and white, shaded with greenery, governed by the rectilinear forms that I can already tell will form my chief impression of the city. And a blue sky lids it.

But the apartment! It is crammed with books, floor to ceiling; I haven’t seen anything like it since my night at the Waldrops’ in Providence. A sort of expressionist spoof on a classic sort of painting stands high above the doorway, a mustached shabby-looking man in an overcoat and his basset hound in a landscape, looking sidewise out of the picture in a manner sure to unnerve me late at night. Books on the floor, books behind me on shelves, books in every room: one feels stalked by them, books in German and Swedish and quite a lot of English; I can see all my dithering over what books to bring was entirely in vain, there’s plenty here to feed me. Plus it has the advantage of being touched by Peter, the whole thing shimmers with his personal mana, Peter the author of European Trash, translator of Benjamin and Shakespeare, who couldn’t meet me this morning because he’s getting back late from the production of his new translation (in Swedish) of Die Zauberflote in Stockholm. He is a man of prose, and I am here to learn prose, or to evade it—no difference.

Self-portrait as Corydon in front of a Cy Twombly at Hamburger Banhoff.

I’ve longed for this, it terrifies me. One more painting, right over the desk, a blue river at night with a greenlit bridge and the sort of squat, hatted houses I saw from the plane, a sailboat without sails in the foreground. It’s not detailed at all, just color and brushstrokes, a signature in white that I can’t make out. The Spree? The Seine? The path taken by Rimbaud’s drunken boat? Clearly it’s here as a point of departure, invitation to a voyage like the note Peter’s left me on this desk. Fingers of green paint under the bridge mark the reflections of the lights in the water. You don’t put your hand on a river and you can’t clench it with your fist. You open your fingers and feel the flow.

Memorial to persecuted gays at Nollendorfplatz U-bahn.

Saturday October 1
Brandenburg Gate.

Went to bed at ten, exhausted from many hours wandering the city, up Potsdamer Strasse to Potsdamer Platz, then further north to the Brandenburg Gate, east in the tide of tourists Unter den Linden, turning north onto Friedrichstrasse, then once I reached the Spree following it west until I came to the Reichstag. I walked and walked, on not very much lunch and not enough water, from midday to evening. Everything mellow golden, perfect autumn-summer weather. Young people, sharply dressed middle-aged middle-European Volk, an abundance of tourists.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, with Die Welt balloon in the background.

Though my map told me it would be there, I was shocked to encounter the memorial on my way up Eberstrasse with the park on my left: A field of monoliths or stelae taking up a full city block, irregular in height: not the stones themselves, some two thousand of them, but the undulating ground they are pitched on, create this impression. Ich bin ein Jude, I said to myself over and over again, a touch melodramatically. But I felt for the first time the shock of it, what this city is, underneath the manifold beauties of its nineteenth and twenty-first century architecture (it’s the middle century, the twentieth, that’s missing).

Ignored relic.

As abruptly as this feeling had arrived, it departed, as I again let myself be swept up to the Gate, which in an easy irony I found swathed with Coca-Cola banners set up for some kind of festival that’s going up this weekend. The city begins to take on a generic generic European quality here, like the imaginary monuments decorating the euro notes. The Spree could have been the Seine, could have been the Danube: a river walled in, patrolled by the ugly long excursion boats, lined with restaurants. Between the tables at one café was a mysterious concrete obelisk with the words dauer sauer mauer bauer written upon it, and a historical plaque I only notice now in the photograph. Not a brick in the Wall, surely, not there on the river. steady sulky wall cage, my dictionary tells me, though Bauer also means pawn, peasant, bumpkin.

Ubiquitous "Kepab" stand.

Giraffe made of legos at Potsdamer Platz.

The Reichstag was beautifully lit, with a long green lawn in front of it where groups of young people, some of them speaking French, sprawled and lounged. I sat under a tree and read a few poems from Joseph Donahue’s Terra Lucida:

                        wandering, pouring spices on the fire
                        as the moon pours a bitter wine

                        over the coals of the city,
                        dousing with sparks

                        wherever you are not.

Each lyric is headed or titled “00,” a kind of double negation that reminds me, inevitably, of the code for international dialing on the telephone.

Soul explosion.

Sitting in front of the open window at the desk, the stars are still out. Is that Orion? I am seethed and jumbled and uncertain. Tomorrow will visit the address of my great-great-grandmother Elenor Reitzer Montag, whose existence I only just learned of, who lived here at the turn of the century, around the time of Benjamin’s Berlin childhood, at Steglitz Lepsiusstrasse 20. There’s a tension, a strong one, between the ordinary culinary pleasures of being in Europe and the peculiar history that has had its hidden hand in shaping me and the destiny of what I am forced to call my people. Melancholy and irony are summoned, but offer no defense, any more than they did for Joseph Roth. The restaurant I ate at last night was named for him, on Potsdamer Strasse, a cozy pub-like place with his pictures everywhere and quotations on the walls, even copies of his books—I leafed through a collection of his Paris feuilletons while eating my schnitzel. Paris for Roth was freedom, France a restoration of the childhood that the Great War had stolen from him; Berlin had been a purgatory, an object of satirical rage, a place not to feel nostalgia for even before Hitler came to power. By Roth’s lights I’m working backwards, being here.

Part of Roth's signature on the ceiling at Joseph Roth Diele.

The people stream by, the Berliners, whom I haven’t much of a handle on. They seem sophisticated, oddly yet smartly dressed, intellectual in fits and starts (I was joined at the outside table for a while by a woman of Asian descent reading something by or on Shakespeare, and her German husband or boyfriend brought out a stack of books from the used bookshop next door—yes, Peter’s street is a writer’s paradise, almost a parody of one). Many people whom you’d think ought to know better wearing silly T-shirts with English or pseudo-English phrases on them—I’m surprised such English-for-the-hell-of-it is still in fashion, don’t these people know our empire’s on the way out? And cigarettes all the time, smoked by middle-class people; struck by how much cigarettes are a class marker back home but here they’re still universal.

Chocolate shop.

Speaking of empire, no sense whatever on the street of the present crisis in the Euro, and Germany’s new role as reluctant banker and savior to innumerable collapsing economies. Me not speaking the language, of course, but still, no mood of crisis that I can perceive, any more than the desperation back home is perceivable in the upper-middle-class enclaves I frequent, aside from the unpicturesque human flotsam clustering around the Greenwood care center or the halfway house on Main Street, whose numbers have not appreciably increased since the crash. But who knows? Like the people around me, I don’t focus on these things, I am consumed by daily life and the things I think I can control: career, family, relationships. Politics migrates inward and becomes something else, not even a climate, mere opinion, as one resigns almost gratefully one’s faith, misguided once again, in a savior politician like Obama. The only solutions reside outside existing institutions: we need to put pressure on what exists so that it collapses or adapts under the strain. But it will take more than Liking things on Facebook to accomplish that

Seen at the movie theater where I saw Attack the Block, near Hackescher Markt.

Why is the sun setting? My body seems much slower this time in catching up with its time zone. Remembering someone’s lovely claim about how the soul cannot travel much faster than walking speed, and so when you fly to another continent it can be days or weeks catching up with you. Now for the house of my great-great-grandmother, whom my cousin Ava, my main source for information about my mother’s family, says had a daughter, Illona whom, she writes, “was taken to Auschwitz in 1943 where she perished.” Ilona, who was she? She perished. It’s a good word, perishing, it suggests, doesn’t it, something of the completeness of the annihilation, the more-than death, that enfolded the Jews here. Death of personhood, death even of memory. Who was it I read recently that remarked of the third generation’s typical obsession with the past? Claudio Magris, was it? Or was it Joseph Roth, who said of his generation, the WWI generation, that it was in the unhappy position of putting their grandfathers on their knees, and telling them stories?

Historical revisionism at work at Karl-Marx-Allee near Alexanderplatz.

Sunday, October 2
Forty-one today.

Lepsiustrasse 20.

There wasn’t anything to see, of course. The building was a tawny stucco thing, clearly postwar in its construction, in Steglitz, a perfectly ordinary pleasant bourgeois neighborhood, leafy and quiet. Who knows if its character was remotely similar a hundred years ago. What’s reinforced is that sense of ordinary life, how ordinary and full of preoccupation all these lives were, until the war came. So hard to understand the connections between ordinary life and “History,” how one apparently transcends the other. Yet this must be an illusion: how we live our lives, the little decisions we make, must somehow accumulate into gigantic convulsions capable of sweeping all that ordinariness away. “Capitalism” seems too simple an explanation, though it explains a lot. Certainly an ordinary blameless bourgeois life led now cannot be separated from the drain on the Earth’s resources, the carbon filling the atmosphere, the animals whose habitats we destroy.

Caspar David Friedrich, Frau am Fenster (Woman at Window), 1822

Spent a couple of hours at the Altes Nationalgallerie, looking at nineteenth-century artworks by guys with names like Schinkel (Karl Friedrich, painter and architect, who virtually built the city). There were some interesting things in there, a few Max Beckmanns; but it’s my understanding that the most interesting parts of this collection were dispersed or destroyed as degenerate art in the 1930s. The Caspar David Friedrich paintings were not as compelling as the famous ones I’ve seen reproductions of, though the Rückenfigur motif does keep popping up in those landscapes he chooses to people. A lot of contemplating the moon goes on. All of Friedrich’s paintings seem to be about looking; there’s a very good one, taller than it is wide, of a woman, her back to us, looking out of and blocking our own view through a window, creating a little drama out of our own frustrated desire to see. And there’s a seascape with a hole in the clouds, dead center of the painting, that has the same effect.

House, Kreuzberg.

Wall, Kreuzberg.

Saw a bit of Kreuzberg, which has a sizable Turkish population. Big tenement-like blocks of buildings studded with satellite dishes—a look I associate with Third World-countries where the infrastructure is unreliable. Astonishingly vigorous and profligate graffiti, some of quite striking. On my map I saw “Orthodox synagogue” so I walked down there, to the banks of a river where a church bell was ringing incessantly. The synagogue itself was a depressing sight: fenced off, security cameras everywhere, plastic sheeting over the windows to deflect (I presume) rocks, a booth marked Polizei. I later learned (and saw) that every Jewish site in the city enjoys, if that’s the word, that level of security. There was no one around except a single policewoman walking slowly back and forth along the river across the street from the shul. It is, emphatically, not a living place, in spite of the off-puttingly cheerful Mediterranean blue color of some of its columns.

Fraenkelufer Synagogue.

A man approached me as I was walking away and asked me if I knew what the building was. “Synagogue,” I blurted, and when he didn’t understand me, I pointed toward the freestanding metal information plaque that explained the synagogue’s dismal history: “Da.” There was a bit of black comedy in that moment: me the Jewish guide to the ruins of German Jewry, historian of what I don’t understand, unable to communicate in the language of a no doubt innocently curious German who has possibly never met a Jew.

Philharmonic building.

Mahler’s First Symphony at the Berlin Philharmonic: kitschy and glorious: he has been thoroughly plundered by pop culture, so that I hear incongruous echoes continually. The eerie opening sounds like nothing so much as the opening notes of the old Star Trek theme, just before William Shatner intones space. There’s a part in the second movement where the clarinetist puts so much soulful squeal into his playing that it sounds like a klezmer band; is this in the original, is that Mahler’s homage to Jewish folkways, or was it the interpretation of the musician or tonight’s conductor, Zubin Mehta (an Indian who lives in Israel)? When the trumpets sound it’s like the cavalry, or a fox hunt. His symphonies are intensely narrative, film scores avant la letter, but the man died in 1911; did he go to the cinema, where orchestras often played along?

Tribute to a composer at Deutsche Oper U-Banhof.

October 4

A rather kindly old man just helped me through the mysteries of the German Laundromat, which operates on a kind of federal system or Bunde: you feed your money into a single control panel that runs all the machines and dispenses soap as well. Now my clothes are being treated a bit roughly by the machine and I’ll dry them and fold them and stuff them in my backpack to go home. Last night I spent a long, late evening with Ken Babstock at a macabre little bar in Charlottenberg with puppets and marionettes everywhere. None of the other clientele, whom were never more than three in number, was a day under seventy, and the bartender looked to be in his eighties at least. Topics included but were not limited to: the elder generation of Canadian eco-poets; sight versus sound when it comes to word spacing; the dismal state of the world economy; the dismal state of American politics; question: is history taking place, right now, in the form of the Occupy Wall Street movement?; Toronto’s similarities with Chicago; childcare challenges for expatriates; whether or not I should go to Prague; his favorite poets of the moment (August Kleinzahler, Peter Gizzi); my favorite poets of the moment (Lisa Robertson, Jennifer Moxley); August Kleinzahler’s failings as a teacher; the influence of Michael Palmer; the influence of Erin Mouré; the benefits and drawbacks of the PhD; the generally deplorable state of cuisine in Berlin; and much else. We exchanged books and I very nearly persuaded him to go out for another drink when the puppet bar closed, but he wisely declined.

Jewish Museum exterior.

Victor Kégli, Hershel and Gretel in the Jewish Museum (2011), just outside.

The Jewish Museum. The architecture, by Daniel Liebeskind, is shattering; that basement area, with the three Axes—of Continuity, of the Holocaust, and of Exile—was for me the center of the experience, compared to which the (adequate) exhibits above ground seemed like something of an afterthought. The Axis of Exile ends in the Garden of Exile: a group of stone pillars with plants and trees growing out of their tops, and a slanted ground that makes walking between them a disorienting experience, which is of course the point. Had the thought that, according to the onto-topological argument implicit in the design, the Garden of Exile was where I was born. It’s not strictly true—my father was born in the U.S., my mother was born in Hungary in 1942 and only emigrated after the war—but it feels true. How long have I felt, even at home, not quite at home, on slanted ground, everything looking straight but not feeling straight?

No comment.

The Axis of the Holocaust ends, as it must, in a cul de sac: a tower or “void” that was one of the most terrifying rooms I’ve ever stood in. It’s a bit like a concrete grain silo, unheated, with a few holes and slits admitting a minimum of daylight, as well as ordinary Berlin street sounds. It actually felt like being inside a grim sort of musical instrument: the sounds of my footsteps seemed to echo, the scrape of soles on concrete, the faint rasping of my fingertips on brushed metal. 

Menashe Kadishman, Fallen Leaves.

Friday, October 7

Show your wound, says Joseph Beuys. Yesterday at the Hamburger Banhoff seeing some of his work for the first time. The video of How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, Beuys’ head encapsulated in what looked like gold leaf, the upper left corner of the image obliterated somehow, like a dead zone in the lens. At one point holding the rabbit’s ears in his mouth so as to make its paws prance across the floor with his hands. Show your wound, the hole, the inadequacy that you are, the vampiric double-gash of the equals sign in I = I.

Reading Andrew Joron’s prose, The Cry at Zero, which I brought with me as vade mecum. His hunger for a beyond to the dead-end of social construction, his focus on the body as a local instant of the cosmos. Neo-surrealism: insistence on emergence, the novum, the astonishing fact that life arose from the unpredictable interactions of inorganic matter. Connections spawning in my mind with Quentin Melliassoux’s attack on "correlationism," the postmodern doctrine that you can never discover or even approach X, only a socially and ideologically mediated viewpoint on X. His magnificently simple example of a form of knowledge that contradicts this: our knowledge of the world before life, before a human or even merely biological sensorium existed. Speculative realism: entertaining the possibility of a world that exists independently of our knowledge and the beyond, therefore, of ideology. The winds of intellectual fashion are tending in this direction, which is reason enough to be cautious. But it is not surprising that I, long dissatisfied with the purely social and nearly nihilistic dispensations of postmodernism, would feel myself pulled in this direction, which promises a non-dogmatic, un-idealist access road (ein Weg) to the universe.

Little face inside Bruce Nauman's Room with My Soul Left Out, Room That Does Not Care (1984) at Hamburger Banhof.

Aside from Beuys I was most impressed by the variations on architecture and utopian construction on offer at the Hamburger Banhoff. There was a magnificent exhibition of Buckminster Fuller-esque globes or “biospheres” suspended by wires that filled the museum’s great hall by an Argentian artist, Tomas Saraceno, called Cloud Cities. Some of the globes you could enter, and climb up into and roll around in on the clear plastic floor suspended high above the ground, like the bouncy houses at street fairs that Sadie likes so much; she would have loved these. Some of the globes are gardens, with plants inside, sometimes permitted to flourish their long grasslike leaves up and out the top of their globes.

Saraceno's Cloud Cities.

There were other utopian/dystopian dwellings deeper in the museum. An Israeli artist, active apparently for just six years before he died at a very young age, built ascetic model houses that looked a little like miniature versions of the desert dwelling of Luke Skywalker’s Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. There was one model that you could go inside, made of white painted wood, and inspect the tiny bunk, the little bathroom/shower, the kitchen which would have room, just about, for a single burner, with a skylight that the top of my head emerged from. Inevitably one imagines what it would be like to actually live in such microscopic quarters. And at the end of the long hall of exhibitions a terrifying piece by Bruce Nauman, which I couldn’t help but find reminiscent of the Holocaust Tower in the Jewish Museum. Inside a darkened hangar-like hall of the museum is a black structure, basically cross shaped, dimly lit by yellow brutalist sconces, with a grilled floor at the center where you can look down into a similarly cavernous space or up through a hole to the Banhoff’s roof. An intrinsically chill and lonely construction.

Graves of Helene Weigel Brecht and Bertholt Brecht.

Also of note was a film in one of the basements by an artist named Anri Sala, Dammi i colori (2003), in which the camera surveys an unnamed city, “the poorest in Europe,” which indeed seems to stand in ruins (Wikipedia tells me the city is Tirana, in Albania). However, many of the buildings we see are brightly and idiosyncratically colored; this seems in some way credited to the work of our onscreen guide Edi Rama, a friend of Sala's, the mayor of Tirana, and an artist in his own right. People live in the direst poverty (unforgettable shot of an old man, in unaccountably purple pantaloons, stepping into a second pair of trousers, conducting his toilette outside for all to see in a bitterly matter-of-fact way) but surrounded by bright, almost Disney-esque colors. Color and ornament are seen attempting to supplement and make up for tragic deficiencies in the city's infrastructure, making it one of the most incisive and moving commentaries I’ve ever seen on art’s desire to do real work in the world, while never falling into the fatal gap in which artists deceive themselves into thinking that their artworks, merely by existing, actually accomplish this.

Another night Donna Stonecipher took me to a German intellectual bookstore, Pro Qm, that was very nearly a parody of itself: everything clinical white, the customers and employees all serious and intent and intense, in severe eyeglasses, browsing through what is truly a remarkable collection of books on art and social theory, many of them in English. Everything was expensive, much more so than in the states, so I refrained from buying anything except for a cheaply printed paperback, Everything under Heaven Is Total Chaos. This is one of Slavoj Zizek’s favorite Mao quotations, which in full reads “Everything under Heaven is total chaos; the situation is excellent.”

Window, Kunsthaus Tascheles.

There was a talk there, based on a dissertation with the imposingly simple title of Dichte: not referring to poetry but density, it was a work of urbanist theory. Apparently all dissertations must be published here, and of course the dissertation is just a stepping-stone on the way to the habillitationshrift and full professorship; Donna says there’s no such thing as a young academic in Germany. The talk was all in German so was interesting to me from a sociological point of view, until standing on a hard floor for an hour subtracted even that level of interest. Fortunately afterward there was excellent Vietnamese food and I got to know Donna a bit better. We talked about what I dubbed “the zone of inarticulacy” that she and certain other poets I admire (herself, Camille Guthrie, Sarah Gridley—not sure why this list is all-female) preserve for themselves: refusing or rejecting the growing imperative in our intellectual culture to explain oneself, to write criticism, to package your work in advance of its own imperatives.

A rare sign of Jewish life, near the KaDeWe department store.

Fountain outside KaDeWe.

This came up again last night when I went out for a very late pizza dinner with a motley collection of expatriate artists and litterateurs, most of them in their late twenties and early thirties, after the ambassadorial launch of the first novel of a young Irishman, John Holten, called The Readymades. His very beautiful American girlfriend told me that in art school she had been told that one had two choices as an artist, the political or the exploration of one’s own subconscious. Reductive to the point of ludicrousness, the stark choice thus presented does suggest something of the real terrain young artists are asked to negotiate. And while there are clear paths and nearly automatic comradeship promised by the first option, which in Clarice’s view tends to mean art accompanied by or interpermeated with text, the second option is necessarily lonelier and for a visual artist must mean the outright rejection of textuality (explanation, recitative, critique).

Monday, October 10, 2011

Still there’s the shadow. Though I’m not religious, I’m not unaware of its having been Yom Kippur over the weekend, and there’s a real sense I have here of being unwritten into the Book of Life. Because real life is home where Emily and Sadie are, and my friends and my routine. Perhaps I’m not the traveler I’ve dreamed of being. Or is it just Germany, der Vaterland, that has me feeling oppressed and low? Hard on myself. I expected something of this trip—some turn, some Wende—that, if it’s occurred, I’m not aware of it yet. Quandary and squandering—do they have the same root?

Lassitude. Acedia.

Graffiti at Mauerpark, Prenzlauer Berg.

Wednesday, October 12
Only now toward the end have I really been able to write, to address my novel afresh. I went back into the manuscript and started organizing things a little, creating section breaks, filling in a good deal—the transition, basically from when Gustave and M are reunited in Paris to their flight to Cherbourg, where they finally make love that one and only time and she tells him the story of her failed attempt to visit Auschwitz. Just now I was able to write again some more, a fair chunk of M’s story, as she tells it to Miklos, of her life just before and after Ruth was born, in Queens, for which I borrowed a few details of my mother’s biography, right down to the IRS job. I don’t remember a lot of what I was told, so memory tips imperceptibly into invention, which is what I want, after all—it’s a novel.

Marx and Engels, together again.

So there’s that feeling of redemption that comes after writing, especially when it comes fluently and there’s more than a couple of pages produced. Whether it will seem valuable when I reread—that’s of no consequence, don’t look back, forward! It is a novel, it may not be a great novel, it will bear its flaws of sentimentality and structural inconsistency and be downright puerile in spots, but it wants to be a novel and it will be, it will be my novel, and perhaps it will be only the first, or else I will be released by it, the achieve of it, and can go back to poetry with a clean and fit conscience.

View from inside Gedächtniskirche.

The novel. I want to believe I’ve crossed some tipping point here, that from now on it will just seem like a job of work, and fun, and not some precious goddamn bit of china that I have to carry oh so carefully in very short little bursts, setting it down after just a few steps for fear of its cracking. If I can just go on like this, a little, at home, I can make my goal of a finished draft this year. Why the fuck not? It’s my novel, it goes on as long as I say it goes on, I’m writing it. A certain amount of—I don’t know, surrender, is vital to any creative project, and I do want to respect certain rhythms, be open to chance, contingency, reality, as I’m writing. At the same time it’s nothing magical – it’s not a poem. And if I learn nothing else except that novels aren’t poems, it would be a very worthwhile thing to learn at last.

Paul's Boutique, Prenzlauer Berg.

Doors to Jewish Cemetery, Prenzlauer Berg.

Looking up Victory's skirt at the top of the Siegessäule.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Summer was very great, as Rilke said, but it's now over. My Duncan article is very nearly finished enough to submit to a journal, and I'm going to do it on or before next Wednesday the 28th. On that day I'll be boarding a Lufthansa flight from Chicago to Frankfurt, from there to Berlin.

Why Berlin? It's largely fortuitous: a friend who lives there has offered me the use of his "work flat" for two weeks while he and his family are traveling. I had been wanting to go to Europe this fall, since I'm on leave and have the time; my original idea was to revisit some of the cities that feature in my novel-in-progress: Trieste, Budapest, maybe Venice, ideally Ljubljana. Berlin was never part of the picture, but perhaps it will become part of it. Or I can use the time to get back in touch with poetry again. Or it will function as a kind of parenthesis, its own creature, which may or may not result in anything concrete. I have to give myself permission to do "nothing" there, if I can, or else the anxiety of constraint will be too great.

Berlin has loomed large in my imagination: the whole country of Germany was to me in my childhood a kind of mental wasteland, a no-fly zone of the mind, the site of incomprehensible historical horrors that, inexplicably, settled over my life like a fine, imperceptible ash. Because I'm Jewish; because my mother was born in Budapest in 1942; because both of her parents went to Auschwitz and, against all the odds, came back again. Then of course it's the capital of the Cold War, an atmosphere of hysteria and fear that lived in the background of everyday life for my generation, spinning off odd bits of pop cultural detritus like Red Dawn and Gotcha! (anyone remember that one? With Anthony Edwards and Linda Fiorentino? Anyone?). Weimar Berlin, too, everyone's favorite Berlin, inseparable in my mind from the grinning masklike face of Joel Grey as the Emcee in Cabaret: decadence, delusion, death. And the city of history that I somehow missed as a callow college student in the years 1989 - 1991, unable fully to take in the dismantling of the wall between East and West, "free world" and Communism that had defined the entire structure of my world.

Growing up, I understood quite simply that Germany and German-ness, if not individual Germans, were synonymous with evil. I well understood from the movies that a German accent was always a sign of sinister intentions. My mother would not drive a Volkswagen, though it otherwise would have suited her quasi-hippie sensibilities. I often fantasized about visiting Europe but never once imagined Germany as anything other than a land of barbarism, even if it sometimes took comic form. (C.f. another ineradicable bit of 1980s culture.)

As I grew older and my interest in poetry deepened, along with new interests in critical theory and intellectual history, I began to find German intellectual culture completely indispensable. A litany of names--Kant, Schiller, Hölderlin, Hegel--became the dazzling points of a constellation that had somehow, without my realizing it, guided my own sense of the almost ineffable, fragile connections I intuited between aesthetics and ethics. Then there were the German Jewish heroes that came later:  Marx, Einstein, Wittgenstein, Freud, Mahler, Franz Rosenzweig, Rosa Luxemburg, and the whole Frankfurt School, with Walter Benjamin becoming for me as for so many others the diffidently charismatic secular saint of the 20th century. Germany was the indispensable nation of my intellectual maturity, much more so than the French theorists, though my primary allegiance remains with the poets and novelists of the English and American traditions.

But that childhood fear is still very much in me. And I wonder how and whether I will feel my Jewishness differently there, in a that has replaced Judenfrei with a bizarre nostalgia for the Jewish culture it eradicated. (My understanding is that, if I so choose, I can hear klezmer music in Berlin any night of the week.)

I go to Berlin as I would go into a trap: cautiously yet with mounting excitement, alive to the possibility of danger. Moral danger? Intellectual danger? Or just the danger of being ambushed by atavistic emotions, the fears I inherited somatically without realizing it from my mother, my grandfather, my own imagination? Whatever my expectations, they are sure to be in some way disappointed. It's the first European city I've traveled to that is not, I think, a museum; I will be struck there not by the immense age of things but by a more American sense of frenzy and newness, even as I constantly round the corner and find myself confronted with a survival of something older than an American can know.

Confronted with what's not quite American in me, I mean. My share in otherness--call it geekiness, call it Jewishness, call it poetry. I feel it in large gatherings (even, maybe especially, large gatherings of Jews) and at Christmastime, when I hear Hebrew (a foreign language to me) or have to be around people talking about sports (a foreign language to me). Something that I inherited from the historical experience of my mother's side of the family--call it fatalism, or the tragic sense of life, or a kind of mournful delicacy, or if you wish neurotic self-preoccupation--has always kept me a little apart from my own Americanness, whiteness, straightness, maleness. I'm a generally positive person, people who know me would agree, but I have a share in something very dark, something that tarries with the negative.

When my daughter wakes in the middle of the night she tells me she's afraid of "the black things" that she sees around her in the air. I know how she feels.

I'm going to Berlin to write, to be a tourist, to drink some very good beer and try the currywurst. But also on some level to meet, to confront, in waking life, die schwarzen Sachen, the black things.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Poet's Novel

My review of Ben Lerner's new novel Leaving the Atocha Station is now available on Jacket2: http://jacket2.org/reviews/poets-novel.

Monday, June 27, 2011

All Duncan, All the Time

It is strange have been drawn so deeply into the work of a poet whom I found all but illegible until recently, except for a very few poems whose rhythmic or pellucid qualities overcame for me all the occult mumbo-jumbo, those which seemed to embrace a more tangible (that is, social) reality as opposed to wispy intimations of a Theosophical/Gnostic/neo-Platonic nature. That is, I appreciated the anthology pieces--"A Poem Beginning with a Line by Pindar," "My Mother Would Be a Falconress," "Poetry, a Natural Thing," and most especially, "Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow," which moved Emily and I so much that we incorporated into our wedding ceremony. But most of the time, I found Duncan's embrace of the mythic and vatic embarrassing where it wasn't incomprehensible.

The mythic dimension in the other modern poets I've loved has always raised for me the question, Bug or feature? In a 1989 interview with John Tranter, Michael Davidson makes a very intelligent distinction between his generation of Language poets and the concern of Duncan and others with "the numinous"--that sense that true reality was something unavailable to common sense:
I guess the idea of the numinous was translated in my generation into the idea of the ideological. The ideological was also something that inhabits everything, and produces things. Ideology is something that emerges in the unconscious to create, in a sense, a kind of political unconscious. And so, while the gods may be dead, but the ideology is there, and that is an informing power in poetry. And you can play with that, and you can work with that. That’s the difference, I think, between Duncan’s generation and ours.
This transference, if you like, from the numinous to the ideological takes on special resonance when processed through Louis Althusser's definition of ideology as that which "represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence" (that's from "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses"; a less-often noted but just crucial corollary to this statement is, "Ideology has a material existence"). Instead of the innumerable deities (Greek, Celtic, Egyptian, and so on) that populate Duncan's poems, the Language generation has capital, history, language, and other such theoretical-institutional entities whose reality is determined by their access to the social, rather than to some transcendent realm (though Bruno Latour is useful here in pointing out how, in what he calls "the modern Constitution," the social is itself often constructed as transcendent body).

Whatever names we give to the gods, the strategy of Marxist poets is, according to Davidson, fundamentally isomorphic with that of Duncan: both kinds of poet are "trying to establish relationships to an economy that you can have no control over, yet negotiate with it. But negotiation is another metaphor for a kind of field process poetry, it is your ability to deal with a power that is larger than yourself." This is how I've managed to read poets like Pound and Yeats and Stevens in the past, translating their mythic figures (whether adapted from neo-Platonism, the Celtic Twilight, or invented by the poet--the Canon Aspirin, et al) into nodes in a larger field of force that mapped or inscribed that poet's sense of the social totality.

Duncan, however, won't play along with this strategy; or rather, to be Latourian again, the cost of translating his mythic gods into ideological entities is too high a price to pay--you lose the poem. At the same time, he's wilier than he's been taken for, I think, in terms of his own stance toward myth. Remember that he didn't come to the occult like most people do, because their given gods have failed them: he was born to it (adopted by Theosophical parents who chose him according to his astrological chart) and, I believe, had something of the same stance toward his parents' mythological worldview as Joyce came to have to Catholicism. That is, as a narrative, a force, whose power and significance operates almost independently of one's belief in it (if anything, from a rationalist perspective, it appears that the more outlandish a religion's tenets are, the more unshakable its adherents seem to be).

Joyce is not a bad point of comparison to Duncan, actually, who references him with some frequency: one can read Ulysses as an attempt to broaden and complexify the field of reality available to an Irishman, not by "Hellenizing" Ireland as Buck Mulligan purports to do, but by forcing Catholic dogma, the liberal (Jewish) enlightenment, and Homer to interact with and press upon each other, no one field of numinousness more authoritative than any other. (It's a little bit like Bakhtin's idea of the dialogic novel, except it's the contention of mythic systems rather than persons that matters--or you could turn that around and say it's the person-ization of myth that gives Joyce's novel its matter.)

The gods are real, then, for Duncan; no one of them, however, is THE God. As he writes in The H.D. Book:
I have written elsewhere that I am unbaptized, uninitated, ungraduated, unanalyzed. I had in mind that my worship belonged to no church, that my mysteries belonged to no cult, that my learning belonged to no institution, that my imaginatin of my self belonged to no philosophic system. My thought must be without sanction.*
But Duncan is no polytheist: his Nietzschean feel for the eternal return leads him to construct a notion of myth by which certain eternal forces recur throughout history under different names and with different valences: "Christendom," for Duncan, seems to be a repression of primordial forces in Greek myth (Eros chief among them), forces which reincarnate in the transgressive "spirit of romance" of the troubadours and in heretical notions of Christ as Eros. Romance gets born again contra the Enlightenment in the late eighteenth century, and the flame goes on for Duncan in the twentieth century, transferred in a "rite of participation" to his hands from the writing of H.D.**

I see now that it's this sense of the historical in Duncan, however eccentric or esoteric, that has opened the doorway to my being able to read him in truer sympathy than I've managed before. It's also a question, in my case, of maturity: I am less embarrassed now by Duncan's indulgence in "magick" because I am less embarrassed by my own taste for high rhetoric, not to mention the kitschy pleasures of Dungeons and Dragons (reading Duncan is like leafing through the old Deities & Demigods), prog rock, tarot cards, and the other emblems of an adolesence spent searching for alternatives to an oppressive reality that did not correspond to the truth of who and what I felt I was or could be.

So I am newly (re)attuned to Duncan; and exploring, for my article, the rich and unexpected possibilities for a poetic ecology that his writing, in its radical inclusiveness and shrewd troubling of the immanent/transcendent distinction, may have to offer us. Something richer, and darker (Duncan's Freudianism, his nigh-Lacanian sense of the Real as something obscured from any single position or vantage point, his sense of disequilibrium and parallax), close to what Timothy Morton calls "dark ecology," is offered by Duncan's poetics, a greater intensity than what more literal notions of nature writing seem capable of bringing to bear.

But this is also personally important to me, a Rubicon in my own sense of poetics. Back of my long infatuation with Language poetry and the Frankfurt School is this older sense of reality as something occulted, and the vocation and ultimate high of poetry-as-making: world-building, cosmology. For this poet, Duncan raises the stakes immeasurably. And I stand willing to declare myself, though no initiate, as under the spell of Romance.

* I am perhaps unjustifably amused by the resemblance of this list to the contemporaneous litany of No. 6 in The Prisoner: "I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered! My life is my own."

** "Rites of Participation" (as the most widely distributed chapter of The H.D. Book was called) are NOT rites of initiation: again, one must read closely to discover how Duncan is never in fact guilty of what Olson accuses him of in "Against Wisdom as Such," that is, of "buying in" to a myth or belief system; he's too much the anarchist for that, too much the universalist.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Printer's Row and Other News

In the very near future: Come hear me read from Severance Songs on Saturday, June 4 at high noon on the Arts & Poetry stage at the Printer's Row Lit Fest in downtown Chicago. I'll be followed by a poet named William Olsen, reading from a book called Sand Theory. Details here.

Speaking of Severance Songs, I'm very pleased to be able to point you to this review from Publishers Weekly that came out a little while back that calls the book, "Gorgeous, almost insistently allusive, and only infrequently overelaborate." I think I'm going to start marketing a new energy drink with that description.

In the not-quite-as-near future, people in or near Evanston can hear me take part in the RHINO Reads series at the Brothers K Coffeehouse, 500 Main St., on Friday, June 24 at 6 PM.

In the near past, there's this: a video of me reading as part of the Revolving Door series curated by Jennifer Steele and Jamie Kazay. The readings take place in a beautiful gallery on South Halsted not far from UIC, so this is a series you should check out. Thanks to Jamie and Jennifer for a great night!

I might need to rethink that shirt.

In other news, I have spent the whole of the month since Lake Forest College held its commencement ceremonies, setting me free from teaching responsibilities for a staggering eight months (for I have a fall sabbatical, let bells and clarions acknowledge), immersed in the very weird poetry and prose of Robert Duncan. For I am pursuing an intuition that Duncan, in his visionary anarchism, might offer a model for postmodern pastoral and ecopoetics that, in spite or because of his tendency toward abstraction and myth, has more power to bring about intimacy with otherness (what Timothy Morton calls "the ecological thought") than either empirically inclined poems (cognitive mapping of the eco-totality) or Heideggerian Romantic quietism.

You can see that spending so much time with Duncan has already had a deleterious effect on my prose style. But I am tied to the mast and must stay the course.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

The Uncanny Relation: Modes for Ecological Art

Alastor (Moody)

Timothy Morton has been very usefully tracking two major possibilities for ecological art over at his blog Ecology without Nature: the relational or constructivist versus "object-oriented ecological art." He goes into more depth on this division in a new essay, "The Dark Ecology of Elegy," which you can download and read from a link available here. In a move I find fascinating for its literary-historical depth, he aligns the constructivist mode of eco-art, which is fundamentally an art of cognitive mapping, with Wordsworth; the other mode, which confronts and tarries with the uncanniness of objects in their absolute otherness from us, seems to be aligned with Keats and Shelley at their strangest and most hallucinatory (as demonstrated by his rather brilliant reading of Shelley's "Alastor" as an inverted Wordsworth poem). He presents the choice starkly: "Here's the deal: do you want a detailed advertorial, a network dense with relations? Or do you need a shocking encounter with an alien entity, opaque yet vivid, illusory yet real, already there?"

In American poetry, the Wordsworthian mode manifests in the field poetics that begins with Whitman; gets developed with wildly differing ideological orientations by Pound, Williams, and the Objectivists; is newly theorized for the postwar era by Charles Olson; and manifests today in the work of what we might broadly term the empirical postmodernists. Kristin Prevallet's 2003 manifesto, "Writing Is Never By Itself Alone: Six Mini-Essays on Relational Poetics," is a touchstone document for this branch of ecopoetics, dedicated explicitly to "the pursuit of rationality" in an increasingly irrational age.

The postmodern mode of Shelleyan excess or the Keatsian uncanny has not to my knowledge been fully theorized within an ecological context; but certainly the "necropastoral" for which Joyelle McSweeney has become a forceful advocate is one of its strongest contemporary manifestations. If asked to find a lineage for this writing in American poetry (yes, I realize how provincial I'm being, but that is my area of expertise), I would pick out Emily Dickinson (as so often the great foil and other for her contemporary Whitman), Edgar Allan Poe, Gertrude Stein, Mina Loy, Sylvia Plath, Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, and Alice Notley. (You will notice this second lineage is more heavily weighted toward femininity and queerness, which is probably not accidental; I would also emphasize the importance of Rimbaud and Baudelaire.) The revelatory encounter with uncanny objects, bodies, and drives dominates this poetry, which is much harder to reduce to a program or politics than the relational mode; this is no doubt the core of its strength and necessity, in Morton's view.

It's much easier therefore to understand how the poets in the first group might be understood as ecopoets: the first group is obsessed with the objective and universal, with seeing even the poetic subject as just one more point in the force field free of what Olson calls "the lyrical interference of the ego." The second group's strangeness and capacity for critique derives from what its return to the Cartesian divide between subject and object (what the Shelleyan conceptualists Vanessa Place and Rob Fitterman might be referring to with their cute new term, "the sobject"), which renders both positions strange and (in a literal sense inverting what Heidegger means by "dwelling") unsettling to each other.

My wish, as when presented with any dichotomy, is to dialecticize these poles and to ask whether Morton isn't being hasty when he disparages the Wordsworthian collage-mode as "database art," "viewed from a height and posted to teach you something you already know." Partly this is because I don't believe that most of us "already know" how dire the ecological situation has become; I think most us, I would even include myself, are climate change deniers in the sense that we have not adjusted our comportment in any meaningful way to suggest that climate change has become an Event in the Badiouan sense, something marked as true by our fidelity to it, a fidelity which must be lived on an almost pre-cognitive level.

That's why I return to the mark of the uncanny in Prevallet's mini-essays. While most of these essays are on the subject of poetics, the first one takes the form of a paranoid rant against "the age of the engineered apocalypse," which in the face of the sheer irrationalism of Bush's American flirts explicitly with conspiracy theory, so that Prevallet all but comes out as a 9/11 "truther." Prevallet's rhetorical and passional excesses in the first mini-essay are not easily subdued by her declaration of fidelity to investigative relational poetics in the second: "Instead of buying gas masks and digging underground shelters (or moving to Canada), I turn my rage and confusion towards poetry, the unacknowledged legislation of worlds unacknowledged, to reveal both systems of knowing (content) and structures of ideology (form)."

Prevallet's swerve toward and then away from conspiracy theory marks her, as does the little "Defence of Poetry" allusion, as a secret Shelleyan (himself a secret Wordsworthian, as Morton hyposthesizes in his article). Conspiracy theory, after all, is a mode of cognition nearly identical to that of a Wordsworthian, relational poetics concerned primarily with connecting the dots and teaching its adherents what they already know (just as the release of President Obama's long-form birth certificate will only deepen the certainty of the most hardcore of the so-called "birthers"). It's only in its conclusions (conclusions which are never concluded but which always restart the obsessive retracing of the conspiracy's contours) that conspiracy theory differs: it offers not relation but revelation, with all of the religious and apocalyptic overtones that that word brings to bear.

Conspiracy theory, while formally identical to the practice of field poetics, is therefore more truly aligned with the Shelleyan uncanny than what I'd like to reterm the Wordsworthian rational sublime. The systems "revealed" by conspiracy theory are not purely relational but themselves become uncanny objects of fascination. An uncanny poetics of relation, therefore, does not somehow rise above conspiracy theory by its claims of greater rationality; instead it offers what Morton, writing about "Alastor," calls "a noir ecology, in which we admit to the contingency of our desire rather than chastening it into invisibility" ("Dark Ecology" 268).

In a film noir there is always an investigator or detective who is "wised up," who "knows the score," but who then discovers in the process of his investigation his own profound implication in the evil that he has uncovered, an evil whose hold on him goes far deeper than whatever rational choices he has made. There is no explaining away the evil and no justice is possible in the ordinary ethical sense; the detective's ethics stand with (or against) his ultimate prototype, Oedipus, in choosing to live with his new, unbearable knowledge.

So I am not so much disagreeing with Morton as wishing to refine his conclusions and to determine possibilities for a noir ecopoetics, which does not sacrifice or abandon the relational-rational, but uses collage poetics to bring the uncanny and excessive "evil" of nature/the body/the drives into consciousness and then beyond consciousness. Otherwise I fear that the shock of the uncanny is doomed to become just another aesthetic effect, a delicacy for the strong-of-stomach and the connoisseur. There has to a be a role for the rational, even a humbled and supplemented rationality, in a poetics that is nonetheless not instrumental but re-opens the foreclosed world.

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