Wednesday, October 22, 2008

As much as it is now true of many of my friends (without whom I can no longer think or write) that they inhabit cities rather far from my own, and as much as I champion and think and write a good deal about being-together, and thus DO want to be with them, I feel equally as strongly--and often at the very same time--that some of my moments of deepest communing take place in what we conventionally call solitude. This is why, of course, so many of us love reading. This is how C. Dinshaw can claim so many wonderful things touch her in the archive. This is how Cary Howie can think as he does about the present enclosing the past--and it is also how high modernists felt so out of step with time in their own way--along with less conventional (but still) modernists like C.S. Lewis who could do their appreciative criticism of medievals as if in the voice of the book review for something that just came out last week.

In this light, 2 poems in my current sphere of reading and thinking.

First, a poem from an Alice James Books Jane Kenyon Chapbook (a now unfortunately defunct award) by Alice Jones, called Isthmus (a word which names one of those wonderful middles). A good deal of the book is actually a little too 'nice' or 'tame' for me as a poet--but these lines are a little bit Rilkean and provoke a particular enigma which obsesses me: connection as the registering of a equiprimordiality of Being and Beings with World (Beings as a phenomena of particular densities of World):

Going out into the break,
in the thick of atoms--

finding what--
your being? Mine?

Are we the stuff
or the empty acres

in between? I can't place you.
Disarticulated particles

we fly and coalesce again beside
each other: one cleft,

one entering, the primal
grasp of matter: creatures

yoked here, bumped up
breathing, onto the shores

of the world's desire to reach itself.

And then, a textual moment which haunts me many of those time in which I desire so badly to touch something or someone in the midst of reading, from W.H. Auden's "Journey to Iceland" (did I mention I loved High Modernism?):

Europe is absent: this is an island and should be
a refuge, where the affections of its dead can be bought
by those whose dreams accuse them of being
spitefully alive, and the pale

from too much passion of kissing feel pure in its deserts.

Fantastic. Touching, or enclosing, or separating, as events of World desiring itself. In our dreams, certain of us scholars accuse the dead of being alive because we want them to be so. And if it 'worked,' these dreams should call the ghosts into haunting us even when this is most impossible--as part of the very isolating structure of the space of 'Island' and 'not-Europe.' I of course believe (at least I think I do--note that I did NOT write 'call them into being' but 'into haunting': an operation which operates on the condition that a thing just quite isn't) that this 'works.'


Cary said...

Dan, I love your suggestion that summoning the dead and summoning those still living but distant from us are analogous gestures; and that, moreover, these gestures would be moments in a history of what you, after Alice Jones, call "the world's desire to reach itself." Moreover, just as the world has not yet (ever, entirely) reached itself, always caught between "the stuff" and "the empty acres / in between," so too is there no perfect appropriation possible within our relationships to the dead or the distant; in fact, the world's refusal of total appropriation may even inform and trouble, in crucial ways, your guiding analogy: after all, dead folks and distant folks aren't precisely the same thing, and my desire for the dead, to the extent that it can be hopeful, is going nonetheless to be animated by a very different sort of hope than my desire for the living. But what I find particularly provocative about your post is its lyricism: its sense that lyric poetry might articulate even the most disarticulated (again, in Jones's words) particles of the world in ways that challenge the rhythms and, above all, the closures of criticism. One of the biggest pleasures of the past year for me has been discovering how many poets and readers of poetry lurk (and write) on blogs like this one.

Eileen Joy said...

Dan: I love the poem by Alice Jones. I, too, am a big fan of High Modernism [although--admission--I don't care for Pound]; Auden is one of my favorite poets and I am reading a wonderful book right now by Alberto Manguel, "The Library at Night"--it's a series of meditations on libraries [as space, as order, as power, as myth, as oblivion, etc.], and in the chapter on libraries as power, he shares the anecdote of someone who was exiled to the gulag during one of Stalin's many "purges," and by some accident of fate or luck, there was a library there and somehow, several of Auden's books managed to find their way there and not be banned. So, this prisoner found sustenance in Auden under these horrifying conditions, and this, too, is a kind of touching, if a wildly improbable instance of such [because it should have never happened].

Now, I know I've mentioned in another place Kathleen Stewart's new book "Ordinary Affects, which I think you would like a lot and it seems apropos here, too, but more in relation to how certain unexpected moments *outside* of books also bring into focus for us these wonderful middles that actually cross over Jones's empty acres inbetween. Stewart writes that the "ordinary" is

"a shifting assemblage of practices and practical knowledges, a scene of both liveness and exhaustion, a dream of escape or of the simple life. Ordinary affects are the varied, surging capacities to affect and to be affected that give everyday life the quality of a continual motion of relations, scenes, contingencies, and emergences. They're things that happen. They happen in impulses, sensations, expectations, daydreams, encounters [why not count reading here? says Eileen], and habits of relating [count reading here again, says Eileen again] . . . . Ordinary affects are public feelings that begin and end in broad circulation, but they're also the stuff that seemingly intimate lives are made of. They give circuits and flows the forms of a life."

These affects, Stewart argues, are akin to Raymond Williams's structures of feeling and Barthes' "third meaning," and more to your own points here, I think, in Stewart's words, they

"work not through 'meanings,' per se, but rather in the way that they pick up density and texture as they move through bodies, dreams, dramas, and social worldings of all kinds. Their significance lies in the intensities they build and in what thoughts and feelings they make possible."

anna klosowska said...

I am lurking now...and I love this meditation. I have something to add: tonight I went to hang out with the AS guys who were reading Exeter riddles, and then we--all 70 of us, maybe--were guessing what they were, and these voices and letters were crossing over each other... unbelievably poetic and the lovely scholarly voices, laughs, and people whispering to each other in the dark, too shy, and whoever was talking had to justify his choice (including volcanoes and, of course, penises--there was much protest that either should not be discounted as answers), so taking lines from the riddle, they would narrate the story they saw in their mind...and then, we would we rolled in our mouths the words of the riddles, looking between the runes and the letters at some shred of a hint, what came of that--just one of these moments, see--was when we all voted the best choice of one answer, and it was the same one that, all alone, each in their aloneness, the scholars agreed on...between us all in the same room tonight, and in all these alone moments, we all agreed on a shape of a hoard of words.

I can't help but quote this one (55)--

Ðeos lyft byreð lytle wihte
ofer beorghleoþa þa sind blace swiþe,
swearte salopade. Sanges rope
heapum ferað, hlude cirmað,
tredað bearonæssas, hwilum burgsalo
niþþa bearna. Nemnað hy sylfe.

by the way, I guessed these were trick-or-treaters (we instantly upped that to Care Bears), but really, these are not crows, or children, these are letters, look...they call their own name, Nemnað hy sylfe :o)

one more, please, the wratlice one, for my wraetlice fremden...(66):
Ic þa wiht geseah on weg feran;
heo wæs wrætlice wundrum gegierwed.
Wundor wearð on wege; wæter wearð to bane.

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