Wednesday, December 29, 2004

New email address...

New email address. My last one is swamped with spam lately. I will begin deleting all mail sent to the old account in a week.

from Councourse G, Gate 22

*Well, we are now attempting to get home from Minneapolis to Denver; hopefully, all will work out and we'll be sitting on the couch with our animals this evening. Andrea has a latte and I a mocha.

*Susan Sontag dies at 71. From what I have read, so far, the press will botch her obits as successfully they did Derrida's. She will be encased as the scholar who criticized US reaction to 9/11. Grossly misrepresenting the significance of her work nevermind the real crux of her critique in the _New Yorker_.

*For any local readers: I will dj New Year's Eve at The Red Room, 10pm-2am. No door charge. Look for fliers about DJ 6d8 bringing in the New Year with a Freakbeat Soundtrack in 4/4 time. The Red Room is on Colfax between Grant and Logan. I will drop my gear off at around four on Friday and then head over to Peter and Karla's for the early moments of their celebration.

*Will be at the CEA and Narrative conferences in April, in Indianapolis and Louisville respectively. Papers on Mary Robinson and Spike Lee. Talk about difference.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

We had troubles getting to Ohio for the big family gathering at Xmas:
broken engines, missing flight crews, extremely late connections, missing
baggage; yet, we made it to Cincinnati on time. Now
we are stuck in Minneapolis, not a flight to Denver, for two days.

Tsunamis make all of this insignificant.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

on the real...

From Jay Thomas (Bad with Titles):
Consider a representational painting, say, of a dog chasing a ball. The dog may not be a real dog, and the ball may not be a real ball, but what about the chasing? I want to say this: the chasing is real and, moreover, the sense of the painting, its capacity to cohere into something other than a jumble of unrelated patches of color, hinges upon the reality of the chasing which it embodies.
Question: How is "the chasing" real?

The conversation about the chasing is certainly real and ongoing. The conversation about the chasing is concurrent with the reality of the painting itself. We can go there to see it. But the chasing itself? Isn't "the chasing" a name, not a real? --"The Chasing" is a name for an event revealed but always already passed into interpretation, at best, recollection, at least. The attempt to capture--to freeze in perpetuity a perspective--is real only in the sense that we can attempt to capture it. Once captured, it is a document: that one perspective ably reproduced according to means and desired amount.

"The reality of the chasing" (which the painting embodies, to use Jay's words) also assumes that a useful manner exists to put a dog and a ball into relationship with the other in space, regardless of time. But that reality is not just the material ingredient for its self-composition. That reality, unnamed and instantaneous, includes the viewer who must be in an appropriate position both physically and psychologically to see the dog chasing the ball. The relationship, if presented with skill, will be "a dog chasing a ball" but never "the dog chasing the ball." Language wouldn't work right if it were that one dog always chasing that specific ball. The quality of the real is not based in a static reality but in all the possible chasings that it approximates for all people at any given time.

The reality of your home, for example, is not the house itself. It is the house and in addition all the things you ever have and will come to want it to be and in subtraction all the things you have not wanted it to and will not want it to become yet it is or will be anyway. This might be called the housing of your house.

The chasing, then, is phenomenal and brings out of the painting as a communicable idea that a dog can chase a ball and this one may be chasing that ball. It also stirs associations we recollect in connection with chasing. The chase has a look. But the chasing is not real it is at best a potential view. Always fleeting.

Might the reality of the chasing be the reality of the repressed? What I see is in many ways always a return. I may not see the chasing. I may see the looking--my looking at the painting, my painting the painting, or my looking at the dog's looking at the ball. Moreover, I may see the people looking at the painting further down the hall.

The chasing may, in the end, be representative of my ability to see anything at all. As such a view, it represents a challenge to the real. It says, "You, real, are only able to reside in language, in my ability to say it is so. The rest is struggling to say what I mean."

Presidential Verisimilitude

Time Magazine named President George W. Bush "Person of the
Year" and praised him for "reframing reality to match his

new link

Added Tony Tost's audio blog for poetry, Spaceship Tumblers, to Dagzine's sidebar.

Monday, December 20, 2004

On Tropic Verisimilitude

Friedrich Nietzsche’s definition of the free spirit is grounded in the hopeful appearance of future philosophers whom he refers to as “experimenters” (Beyond Good and Evil, Sect42). In his lecture “The Relation of the Rhetorical to Language,” he explains the essence of language is not truth but the “power to discover” and “to make operative that which works and impresses”. In other words,
Language does not desire to instruct, but to convey to others a subjective impulse and its acceptance. Man, who forms language, does not perceive things or events, but impulses: he does not communicate sensations, but merely copies of sensations. The sensation, evoked through a nerve impulse, does not take in the thing itself: this sensation is presented externally through an image.
If we are to consider the relationship of art to truth, then we must be willing to give up the notion that truth is attainable as a thing that can be grasped, held, and cherished. Truth is not a thing. If it were, we would examine an image of truth not truth itself.

Vladimir Nabakov, with his novel Pale Fire, purposefully confuses the relationship between a text as a presentation of a possible thing itself and the image one reader has of it and its author. In his foreword to John Shade’s poem Pale Fire, Charles Kinbote writes as if he knows how Shade intended to end his poem and, therefore, edit it for publication. (This example adds poignancy to my use of Nietzsche above. His later notebooks were turned (tropic, indeed) into Will to Power, a text that misrepresents many of his later ideas and writing.) After Kinbote explains how he believes the poem should have looked like had Shade finished, he writes:
Knowing Shade’s combinational turn of mind and subtle sense of harmonic balance, I cannot imagine that he intended to deform the faces of his crystal by meddling with its predictable growth.
Nabakov writing as Kinbote writing on behalf of Shade provides a clue to what a “combinational turn of mind” looks like, but Nabakov doesn’t explain what the turn means. Whatever interpretations readers bring to his novel, the search for a more or less true representation of what is intended by the reading about an author writing about a man editing a poem that all of us readers together read together will only ever increase in complexity. Interpreting our reading of readings is a kind of discourse that refuses to be confined by simple logic. Logic limits discourse to a set of known parameters and accepted constants that always allows us to find any unknown variables on our own.

The discourse of verisimilitude is not containable within any set of parameters. After explaining to his future readers how he thinks Shade would have finished Pale Fire, Kinbote shares with us a recollection of the poet with the note cards on which he wrote drafts of his work:
I recall seeing him from my porch, on a brilliant morning, burning a whole stack of them in the pale fire of the incinerator before which he stood with bent head like an official mourner among the wind-borne black butterflies of that backyard auto-da-fé.
As Nietzsche reflects in his lectures from 1872-1873, the thing about language is that it is, like Kinbote, more concerned with translating its impulses and seeking some acceptance for its creative excesses. The truth that Kinbote relays to me lies more in his image of Shade at the incinerator than it does in his knowledge about the facts about Shade’s work. Kinbote’s recollection certainly betrays about his disregard for accuracy; moreover, it illustrates his inability to differentiate between the thing itself and his image of it. (This is, of course, an important issue in literary studies. We all know colleagues who are more interested in the return-of-the-repressed impulses as well as their recollections of reading and learning experiences than they are in giving a good hard look at the discourse itself. In other words, there are those who believe in magic and mysticism and those who study language.)

Kinbote introduces readers to tropics. His foreword and commentary on Pale Fire is a study in tropics. He constitutes that object he claims to discuss realistically and objectively. Hayden White, in his Tropics of Discourse, appeals to us to see discourse as tropical rather than logical because discourse slips from “the grasp of logic [and] constantly ask[s] if logic is adequate to capture the essence of its subject matter” (4). He proposes a turn away from the dialectical—reasoning that is used to determine (over- and under-) what is more or less true—towards the diatactical—reasoning that is as self-critical as it is critical of others, that is critical of “the syntactical middle-ground itself,” and that is willing to doubt all tactical rules “governing its own formation.” Diatactical reasoning demands an acknowledgment that a text is merely a representation; therefore, the correspondence of events to actual truth in any narrative become less important than the art through which the facts that construct the truth are put into action.

Plato explicitly sets truth above representation. Persuasion, as rhetoric, is not capable of telling the truth only presenting the facts according to a style that suits an author’s needs. We may present facts in order to represent truth to others, but this situation relies on the construction of a narrative that depends on verisimilitude. Verisimilitude is quite simply truth-likeness.

We tend to use images of things in correspondence to determine truth. Truth is the relation of X to a picture of X, whatever the nature of X and its picture might be. The Scholastic definition is veritas est adaequatio rei et intellectus. (“Truth is the equality of the thing and the mind.” I use a scholastic definition because it leads into my discussion of Stephen Dedalus’s aesthetics of stasis below.) Verisimilitude is a turn of discourse through which authors and readers-- artists and spectators; speakers and listeners—seek adequate apprehension of truth in art so authors can rely on readers accepting their narratives as possible. Verisimilitude in fiction permits authors to face truth authentically without worrying about the facts of the case. Art persuades individuals to challenge their preconceived notions of truth. Art is somewhere between the true and the false.

A text, no matter how close a likeness, always adds or subtracts to what actually happened at any given time; consequently, the relationship of history to the novel is problematic. White argues that “[h]istory came to be set over against fiction, and especially the novel, as the representation of the ‘actual’ to the representation of the ‘possible’ or only ‘imaginable’” (123). I argue that the novel is as much a representation of the actual as the historical can be because both require readers to accept as more or less true the content as it is prior to engaging a text.

Henry James complains that the novel form is asked to apologize and “renounce the pretension of attempting to really represent life” (346). For him, the novel is an “attempt to represent life.” Nathaniel Hawthorne, in his Preface to The House of the Seven Gables, explains why his work should be considered a romance instead of a novel. He argues the novel form aims at “a very minute fidelity, not merely to the possible, but to the probable and ordinary cause of man’s experience” (vii). In other words, novels use verisimilitude to illustrate moments of believable, ordinary experience. For both Hawthorne and James, then, the novel is always in relation to truth. We might even be convinced to read “minute” not as small or modest, but as precise.

Hawthorne claims the novel is a work of art through which the author exercises choice:
[W]hile, as a work of art, it must rigidly subject itself to laws, and while it sins unpardonably so far as it may swerve aside from the truth of the human heart [Romance] has fairly a right to present that truth under circumstances, to a great extent, of the writer’s own choosing or creation.
Novelists attempt to meet specific demands determined by the market and the human heart. Hawthorne’s prose intends to connect a “by-gone time” with a present tale that is by nature fleeting. He claims to leave the significance of the past to the whim of his readers.

His problem and plea are authentic. How can he, using verisimilitude, represent something true about the past through characters living in the present? He uses a haunting, which is precisely the past inhabiting the present. He uses a haunted house, which is precisely the presence of a thing in a place that extends from the past into the future without much expected change, carrying along with it the weight of a deed in history. Hawthorne’s gesture to verisimilitude, his fidelity to moment and truth in his art, exists in his representation of an actual locale—from people, families, and communities to houses, streets, and towns. Readers will evaluate his tale based on the probable likeness of these elements (not the ghost story) in comparison to what they know of similar elements as much as they will evaluate his art.

If the approach to a narrative by author and reader alike is an agreement to work out the likelihood of events taking place or having taken place, then both parties must have reached some agreement about what things should look like and how events should occur. We share an implicit agreement how to properly see things in the world. We expect certain things to appear in certain ways. Such expectation takes a social form and an aesthetic form and both affect the way we relate to supposed truths through art. Our expectations illustrate the important role art plays in the comprehension of truth.

Kate Chopin was ruthlessly criticized for creating Edna Pontellier, who failed to meet her social obligations as a mother and wife. In a “mock-apology” for The Awakening, Chopin claims she “never dreamed of Mrs. Pontellier making such a mess of things.” As Nancy Walker notes, “the reviewers themselves seemed unable to regard Edna as a fictional creation” (Chopin 170). The verisimilitude in The Awakening arouses debate about social issues through its narrative about a woman who doesn’t exist, and exhibits how author and reader can agree to see things similarly and so approach the truth of how things actually are.

The failure to miss Chopin’s point must not be over-determined. Edna Pontellier is as much aesthetic exploration as she is social critique. Until her “awakening,” Edna is always at the whim of powerful, private, and passing impressions:
She slept but a few hours. They were troubled and feverish hours, disturbed with dreams that were intangible, that eluded her, leaving only an impression upon her half-wakened senses of something unattainable.
An impression is a passive response to a sensation; in its simplest form, it is a transitory acknowledgment of a state of affairs from a subjective point of view. (I do not wish to complicate my essay and confuse my readers with notions of technical terms from art and art history; so, a little explanation on word choice seems appropriate. I am using impression and expression in the sense that both terms are used in addressing peculiar aesthetic responses. If I were merely speaking of a social form of verisimilitude, then I might make better use of terms like private and public in context with positive communicative acts. As it is, I am not implying anything concerning the history of Impressionism and Expressionism in painting and film in this essay.) Her impressions are undercut through the latter half of the novel when her emotional state is violently altered. Readers are asked to consider (even though they rejected the offer when the book was initially published) Edna’s state of mind from an aesthetic perspective. From subjective and fleeting points of view, Chopin constructs a highly personal and radically different way of looking at everyday reality. In sharp contrast to restless sleep and bad dreams, Edna wakes from a nap with “the conviction that she had slept long and soundly.” She eats and drinks food and wine left for her:
Edna bit a piece from the brown loaf, tearing into it with her strong, white teeth. She poured some of the wine into the glass and drank it down. Then she went softly out of doors, and plucking an orange from the low-hanging bough of a tree, threw it at Robert, who did not know she was awake and up.
The narrative itself is now far less concerned with telling a tale than it is in grasping its image for us to hold onto for a while.

Stephen Dedalus discusses just this aesthetic response to the radiance of a thing or event in Part V of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. While developing his thesis on “esthetics” to his friend Lynch, Stephen mentions quidditas, the whatness of a thing. Authors not only wish to convey to readers something they will understand because it relates to the truth of things; they desire to convey the “supreme quality” felt when an image is initially conceived in the imagination. Stephen describes this instant as “the clear radiance of the esthetic image…apprehended luminously by the mind which has been arrested by its wholeness” or “the luminous silent stasis of esthetic pleasure, …the enchantment of the heart” (Joyce 231).

We depend on the novel to document reality in a manner that engages reader and author in a conversation about the truth about what happens in a text. Verisimilitude, in this case, is probability. Readers are encouraged to endure moments of stasis in aesthetic pleasure after the manner of an artist’s experience. These moments erupt into the public space of narrative whenever an object radiates through a text in expressionistic descriptions that leave more than a subjective point of view. In this way, the use of verisimilitude runs the risk of straining credulity through its portrayal of an abundance of descriptive detail that may go beyond a reader’s experience (hence, the document.)

Novel moments are often considered self-contained. Carlo Ginzburg, in his study of a sixteenth-century miller, argues that his subject unconsciously placed a screen between himself and the printed page, “a filter that emphasized certain words while obscuring others, that stretched the meaning of a word, taking it out of context.” This screen “leads us back to a culture that is different from the one expressed on the printed page” (33). Ginzburg illustrates the problem a writer encounters during an attempt to recover an oral culture not recorded so that we can, as students of the sixteenth century, know to what extent “we can consider such an unusual figure” typical.

Ginzburg’s problem is engaging. If knowledge and understanding (phronesis) are intuitive paths to familiarize the unfamiliar, then we may be able to use verisimilitude to work out the gaps that exist in such studies. In novels, these problems are allowed space—literally, the production of textual space depends on what needs to be composed and is not limited to what has been recorded—to work themselves out.

In Absalom, Absalom!, Quentin Compson endures Rosa Coldfield’s testimony; he listens to his father fill in the gaps of her tale; he shares the story with his college friend. The discourse of the novel turns on the need for the listener to have specific questions answered, but all originate with the desire of one woman to tell her version of the history of a tragic event. Faulkner refers to Quentin inhabiting a “long unamaze.” For Quentin the tale really has no beginning or end.
It (the talking, the telling) seemed (to him, to Quentin) to partake of that logic- and reason-flouting quality of a dream which the sleeper knows must have occurred, stillborn and complete, in a second, yet the very quality upon which it must depend to move the dreamer (verisimilitude) to credulity—horror or pleasure or amazement—depends as completely upon a formal recognition of and acceptance of elapsed and yet-elapsing time as music or a printed tale.
For the narrative to work, for its purpose to be conveyed, it needs more than being told—more than what is being told having already happened. The peculiar state of being for a tale is that, once read, it has always already happened and was always there that way. Rosa’s tale, unlike Faulkner’s novel, lacks verisimilitude; her story is a long unamaze. Quentin isn’t moved by her indictments. Her attempt at documenting history is truly false.

The seeming of a logic- and reason-flouting dream, a tropic dream that participates in verisimilitude, appears to occur instantaneously. Raimundo Silva is a proofreader in José Saramago’s The History of the Siege of Lisbon. He takes it upon himself to create a personal relationship with history and its documentation. His comments below sound like a reflection on Faulkner’s narrative point and Quentin Compson’s dilemma:
Why, in this history accepted as being true, must I myself invent another history so that it might be false and false so that it may be different…He realized until he overcame the problem he would make no progress, and was surprised, accustomed as he was to books in which everything seemed fluent and spontaneous, almost essential, not because it was effectively true, but because any piece of writing, good or bad, always ended up appearing like a predetermined crystallisation….
Saramago repeats this sentiment throughout his novel: literature already existed before it was born. Verisimilitude, in this case, is a process marked by pre-crystallized moments of time, not simply historical events. If we accept that all accounts are merely perspectives and use verisimilitude as a means to discourse about the object in question—for Raimundo Silva, the history of the siege of Lisbon, for Edna Pontellier, an “awakening,” for Carlo Ginzburg, Menocchio the miller, for Stephen Dedalus, a few sentences from Aristotle in his primer—time becomes a thing that serves a diatactical purpose.

The novel, like history, documents an attitude directing the attention of readers somewhere useful. Daniel Defoe opens A Journal of the Plague Year with a sentiment designed to attenuate how we stretch the screen between his text and his readers (see Ginzburg’s mention of Menocchio’s screen above):
I have set this particular down so fully, because I know not but it may be of Moment to those who come after me, if they come to be brought to the same Distress, and to the same Manner of making their Choice and therefore I desire this Account may pass with them, rather for a Direction to themselves to act by, than a History of my actings, seeing it may not be of one Farthing value to them to note what became of me.
And after all, it isn’t of value for us to note what became of the narrator of A Journal. Instead, we still read it for the account of what happened in that moment. In this way, we are directed to read it and other records of that time as representations of what did happen.

Nietzsche heralds a new philosopher who experiments. As Ginzburg notes about his sixteenth-century miller, we cannot know what Menocchio used to interpret the texts and customs he confronted; we can only know what was recorded concerning what he said. In this way, it seems that fiction in whatever form is a discourse that is pre-crystallized. In other words, once written, it is always already there. The reader, then, enters into a discourse with an author about a document’s social and aesthetic forms that, through the author’s use of verisimilitude, may be more or less persuasive. Readers tend to make the mistake that Kinbote does while reading Pale Fire. What is there, in the document, is there and that is the crystallized substance. It isn’t incomplete. To speak about something more is tempting. And what we are tempted to experiment with is not what happened or what will happen. We experiment with the image of things, and as we look at art objects in galleries from different perspectives to get better views, we engage in discourse not for the logical rigor the looking permits, but for the tropical nature of verisimilitude that allows us to behold the pale fire of the thing itself, as it were, vanishing in the flames of an incinerator. We only too happily destroy it.

Works Cited

Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. Ed. Nancy A. Walker. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000.

Defoe, Daniel. A Journal of the Plague Year. New York: Modern Library, 2001.

Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom! New York: Vintage Int’l, 1990.

Ginzburg, Carlo. The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller. Trans. John and Anne Tedeschi. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1992.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Preface by the Author.” The House of the Seven Gables. New York: Bantam Books, 1981.

James, Henry. “The Art of Fiction.” Tales of Henry James. Ed. Christof Wegelin. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1984.

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: Penguin Classics, 2003.

Nabakov, Vladimir. Pale Fire. New York: Vintage Int’l, 1989.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil. Trans. R.J. Hollingdale. New York: Penguin Classics, 2003.

_____. Friedrich Nietzsche on Language and Rhetoric. Ed. & Trans. Sander L. Gilman, Carole Blair, and David J. Parent. New York: Oxford UP, 1989.

Saramago, José. The History of the Siege of Lisbon. Trans. Giovanni Pontiero. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1996.

White, Hayden. Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism. 4th ed. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1990.

Friday, December 17, 2004

feeling better...i hate the feeling--not having done much in the past few weeks, and getting to it can be tough, facing my self.

cleaning my house is the beginning and then the compulsions simply take over.
we'll see, won't we

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Thursday, December 09, 2004


Well, yesterday's post is thought-gathering. I am not at all sure that I am content with any of the claims made. As I stated in that post, I am merely attempting to get the chatter going again, and to figure out what I want to address at all. Since September, my life has been a mind-numbing series of activities and now I can get back to business.

Laura wants to know more about what I think about Craft and Expression. I will try to get some of it out below.

--As far as the craft of literary art is concerned, I do know one thing: Craft isn't simply in the doing or producing. The writerly craft is not in-vent-ing. I heard an author on a local college station last night. She encourages writers to feel free to write the biggest lie and to fill that lie with as much truth as possible. Unfortunately, I find that folks consider writing to be fiction and fiction to mean a lie. Fiction is not lying, it is recollection.

Her idea is writing as a hoax, a grift, a spectacle--not the document that is produced but writing itself. Writerly craft is form-ing something out of something not Creating something out of nothing. This much I know.

From Nick Piombino's Theoretical Objects (Green Integer 34):

"Fourth Silent Manifesto (01/01/01)":
I the person had so much to say, while the author only wished silence.

So much to say about the spectacle of everyday life. But that saying is spectacle, is information, not Craft. I think of Kenneth Goldsmith's Fidget. His is a record, a kind of document, and even his document of his every (almost) movement is a kind of recollection. Is it possible to mute the immutable?--in order to get to the form of thought.
I the person had problems like anybody else--sick of paying bills, tired of pains in the feet, no time to read and more importantly no time to think, eating too much and worrying too much...
while I the author has different problems like what are my themes, is death for real, what is the nature of time, are my characters in conflict, do my sentences get to the point, am I boring, am I popular, is my book a good read...

The "I" is a singular identity, and this identity while similar in attitude approaches each task differently. That which is crafted is real and formed from some thing already there. The appearance of what is crafted is itself phenomenological in nature. That which is written is not only revealed to readers but first to an author. Craft is visible, and Piombino's authorial concerns about being popular, about an agent lying, about conflict and time, are each human concerns that develop out of real interaction in the present tense. "The author has problems..." I, the person like every other person, is invisible not because of identity, but because of difference. Thinking of any kind requires a withdrawal from the subject matter at hand. This is a private experience for the author; for the person it is public and does obliterate the self as a unique individual. I among so many others exactly like me (like-ness) who look and feel nothing like me. Oblivion and historicized: past tense: "I the person had problems." This is an immanently present past.

Craft is presence. Craft forms. Craft is silent. Authors write to present; people talk past one another.

From "Automatic Manifesto #5":
Nothing more bitter or hard to taste than a new poem. Yet poets live in the delirium of new poems. The intoxication of the new consists, in part, of its role of proferring evidence of aliveness of the form and the experiential actualities of the present.

Piombino's claim about form reminds me of Hazlitt on Gusto. It is a romantic claim. The new proves itself in the present. Craft is (or should be) so intoxicating. My comments about prosody--Much easier to count through a poem than to imbibe in or with it. My question has always been "What is the poem for?" or "What is a poet?" I often treated the two questions as if they sought the same answer. Not anymore. The action in Craft permits the present eruption of form--in other words, two events occur for a poem to become a poem, no matter what we think a proper poem is, no matter what form we champion.
Human work consists of learning to remember. But first we must learn to allow that all of us--and everything--exists at the same time.
The poem asks: where is the poem? Where is the poetry located? The poet first identifies a significant event amounting to an obsession. Is a truth to be found here? Yes, because this is what the surroundings themselves consist of.

So, two events occur for the poem to be a poem: 1) An allowance/acceptance (I suppose one might repress this) of contemporaneity which in turn permits substance and revelation an invitation; and 2) A recognition of consistency where the poem is located.

Craft, then, is a means to unrestrict and unrepress the time being for the sake of the Craft itself.

Piombino also claims the reader can do nothing other than embrace or be embraced (Automatic Manifesto #8). I like this: the reader as a machine with an active and passive state: the reader, therefore, as always present and in perspective with a document. But the reader reads documents not authors. And we often ask "Who do you read?" It's a cop out, a move away from the responsibilities that come with the embrace. "What do you read?"--Well, this question requires a knowledgable answer, a solution that is neither correct nor incorrect rather experienced. Readers who read authors rather than works need not embrace any thing at all because authors are always absent. Narrative becomes a hindrance, Prosody a religion: Celebrity and Spectacle govern as we loook for the poet doing the new.

From Andrew Joron's Fathom (Black Square Press, 2003):
What good is poetry at a time like this? It feels right to ask this question, and at the same time to resist the range of predictable answers, such as: Poetry is useless, therein lies its freedom. Or, poetry has the power to expose ideology; gives a voice to that which has been denied a voice; serves as a call to action; consoles and counsels; keeps the spirit alive.

All of the above answers are true, yet somehow inadequate. This is because poetryy cannot be anything other than inadequate, even to itself. Where language fails, poetry begins. Poetry forces language to fail, to fall out of itself, to become something other than itself.

A kind of topological fold or failure (called a "catastrophe" in mathematics) precedes the emrgence--constitutes the emergency--of the New. If poetry "makes language new," then it must be defined as the translation of emergency.

If poetry is a force that language reckons with, an event that allows language to "fall out of itself," then poetic form may carry the potential to get at representing thought through language. Readers and Writers embrace a middle-Craft of reading through language--past the form of language--to get at the form of thought. We know this, I think, but we often refuse to cultivate the practice. Poetics typically dwells in either the celebrity of the new poet or the religion of prosodic occurences.

Poetry dwells outside--hides from in many circumstances--thought because it is rooted in the market. The recognition that "There is no market for (my) poetry" is the confession that "Poetry is located there." Language--as a form of positive communicative action--is market driven. Thought, its eruptions into the market, is always new, always redirects language, always emerges. Poetry, then, as on-going presence.

Craft, then, is the place where the ethics happens. Authors choose to revel in the spectacle of the market--writing about boredom, social policy, commercialism, celebrity, private experience(s)--which are many different forms of writing (hence not one choice, but many, and poetry as materialism.) Nevertheless, authors can choose (learn to choose) to remember. Recollection incorporates the new into lines that become disinterested in the self and experienced in the world. In this manner, Craft allows spectacle, which is meaningful and right hand of the market, to whither away, and the author to get to language and thought.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

the archive and the artist (gathering my thoughts)

to begin:

I didn't receive an MFA like most of my colleagues in the PhD program at University of Denver. Though I study poetics and write poetry, I am in the fiction program. I studied American High Modernism, Gender and History, and Film Theory for my MA.

For a history class, I began researching women's health and hygiene guides, late 18th to the early 20th centuries. Until WWI guides for boys and men were nearly non-existent. The market for health and hygiene (if you exclude "self-help" Samuel Smiles styles from this market and some might not--of course, I am talking bodies not minds--)the market for health and hygiene guides was limited to guides for wives, daughters, and girls. Rarely was the word women used. Each guide offered a preface that grounded the approach to women's bodies into appropriate socio-religious contexts. The guides contained info that determined everything from proper posture and clothing to diet and education: not only what kind of walks but for how long. I don't want to over-summarize the colonization of women's bodies; I merely want to show why I brought up the archive discussion during my gender discussion a few posts ago.

Our bodies are prefaced, and the mechanism of the preface should not be seen as automatic. We cooperate with how bodies are produced; or, I would like to submit that we conflate the representation with the thing itself. We do this through interpretation and rhetoric. The ways women should sit, eat, read, etc., and the way women--according to Michael Davidson--need to be absent are documents (documents because each aspect has a history) from the archive Women's Bodies. Each document, in this case, is used in rhetoric to teach us how to see "looking backward." The Gender--female--relates the body itself to its socially constructed archive backwards. After all, the body does come first. In every case--in each preface--a woman's "healthy" body is needed in some manner or position to allow for the arrival of a new, male subject. Davidson's claim, though problematic, is a safe bet.

Fast Forward for a moment (b/c I have to give my last philosophy lecture of the fall semester in a bit and need to prepare):

Separating the Archive from the Artist is necessary--the document from the body. This separation does not already exist; on the other hand, it is not an impossible nor an impractical goal. Artists is traditionally viewed as products of their work. We learn about our literary artists through criticism--can be NYTimes book reviews or a theoretical text. Even in graduate workshops and lit courses, mature students of the craft of writing and reading actively confuse the product with the artist. Nevertheless, I don't see the point in speaking of a death of the author, of a reader-created text. I want to keep labor involved in our aesthetics. The work, then, needs to be viewed as a different event than the publishing of the document, and this in turn needs to be viewed as a different event than the archive of all such documents.

In the case of Poetry and Poetics, the confusing of craft and critique has made it tough for the market to see the need for a pure poet and this has constructed a market in which many young poets do not see the need to learn craft properly (b/c it is associated with a corrupt market.) We all know poets--some actively publishing--who know absolutely nothing of Poetry. This is not a viscious circle or a slippery slope; the situation is a form a stasis.

What is a poet? We try to answer this question through example rather than through discourse. Because we conflate the poet and the poem, we often look for a person who represents the potential for a new arrival. At its worst, this process of locating the new seeks a group of local poets who perform similar tasks and uses that group as proof of an arrival.

"What is a poet?" is a question of definition, after all, not a question of fact. Its potential answers lead one to interpretation and documents, not to the poets themselves. At any rate, if one attempts to point out individuals (as do Hank Lazer, Marjorie Perloff, and Ron Silliman, among many others,) then one authorizes a style, a voice--and in a very significant way, this is paramount: poetry is performance and does unite a reader with a writer.

Poetry is an everyday event; it is there. Poets know this. Verse is fashioned out of the senses. So much poetry currently available is fashioned out of tutored forms. But Form without Experience is worthless. Nothing like listening to a young poet read a masterful (of form) poem about experiences that he or she can not possibly understand. Thus, the poem becomes a hoax or merely spectacle. Cute.

Study the sound and copy. We resist interpretation and improvisation.

Such manufacturing--because it is like factory work based upon cooperation between artist and apprentice--takes the necessary verse forms and the necessary literary artist writing lines in verse and produces poetry for the critics. Projective verse is a form that absolutely resists such production values; Language poetry tries. But here we are still dealing with TS Eliot's comments on tradition and talent...

If we can figure out a way to allow new subjects to emerge and produce bodies prior to the existence of an archive for their work, then we can figure out a way to cultivate a craft worth producing without the need for a market. The market is fueled by products that meet the satisfaction of sovereign consumer-critics. The market is shaped by the interaction between the consumer and the business owner (a publisher, for example.) Writers producing in the market must meet demands based on an interpretation of already produced texts. That isn't how we write. Yet the market is where we publish. We may be in dialogue with the tradition; we may even be in studied conversation with a specific artist or form; we do not, however, fill-in-the-blanks. But that is what the market is all about. Ful-Filling a demand.

So, I am babbling. I am working in a reflective manner here; I want to figure out this work/archive : body/document issue; I believe the discussion needs to be about LOCATION. When we materialize the problem, we gain one important tool. We must talk about any ideology as imaginary and possibly false representation of real conditions of work, and we must rethink our (ab)use of FORM.

Instead of pointing to the poets emerging who do new things with old forms, which is a useful discussion, we might benefit more from a look at the poet in the world rather than the poet after work. Building a community out of which poetry is a vocation not a gift (taking into account the troubled economies of The Gift) takes understanding (it isn't the old understanding either) how "a" poet lives at "a" given time. And we might benefit from keeping that examination separate from the critique of that poet's verse. Hence, we have poets and writing about poets. We have the lives of poets. In addition, we have poetics. In this manner, the poet can be de-mystified.

It relates, Thomas, doesn't it? If we require women to be absent in the discourse and publication of 1950s literary art, for example, then we imply ONE DEFINITION FOR ALL WOMEN. We seem to have the same problem with authors. ONE DEFINITION. For poets, we are given a lack of definition and the claim is made that they need it because thoughts are formless and poetry forms them through turning language. But this is strictly nonsense. Thoughts are not formless; they are individual.

I must admit. I gave up dedicated study of poetry and began writing prose because I have more freedom now. I hated most arguments about prosody. Prosody has such potential but is typically treated as a religion or (worse) a science. I don't think we should blame the market. I think it is up to us to make the discourse about poetry be solid and useful and illuminating. And it is up to us to illuminate the variety of poets. In other words, there is the body and the form: one estimates, exaggerates, imitates even, the other if used properly. Form does not exist on its own within breath. Music isn't the document. We accept this. Why not with poetry? Or any writing. With Music: the composer, the composition, the performance, the reaction, the history of performances and reactions. All exist in the market independently unless desired otherwise. With poetry: the poet, everything is the poet.

I am collecting ideas here to put together in discussion with YOU. I recognize the above is a bit scattered. But that makes it easier for somebody else to provide a worthwhile line of flight...

Saturday, December 04, 2004

last batch of comp essays

Well, I am collecting my last batch of comp essays from students at Metropolitan State College of Denver. I have worked them hard--and they have kept me busy.

I am teaching creative writing at University of Colorado at Denver beginning in the Spring (adjunct, of course.) I have serious composition burn-out. Teaching it Spring, Summer, and Fall for five years, 3-5 courses a term since '99. Makes me want to holler.

So I did. Now on with it.

On deck: Amy King's Antidotes for an Alibi and more on Michael Davidson's Guys Like Us, esp regarding to Thomas Basboll's comments on my initial post on Davidson's claim concerning women and new, male subjects.


Thursday, December 02, 2004


My story, "Introduction to Cultural Anthropology (limited stops)," in Matter, Issue 5 (isbn0974199923)

Wolverine Farm Publishing

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Reading: Andrew Joron, Fathom (Black Square)