Wednesday, June 3, 2009

glosses on secrets and purgatives

Here is the latest from revision work on a prosimetric piece in progress called "new work: a prosimetrum" [apologies for the funny underlines and color in some of the endnotes, not sure why about that and wanting to post this!]:

It has been determined by certain experts that there is ghost at work in this new work—in the poems or in the commentary? W.H. Auden’s poem “Family Ghosts” ends with the lines “and all emotions to expression come,/ Recovering the archaic imagery:/ This longing for assurance takes the form// Of a hawk’s verticle stooping from the sky.”[i] In each movement to recover the work to come, to imagine the recovery of it, one who is on the ground might feel a gravitational pull from elsewhere arriving at, or emitting from, the writing body. A text may likewise be haunted.[ii] Such moments turn us again to the origin of these poems and when they work as either lacking agency in time and space, or as multiple in their agencies. Nevertheless, some attendance to or cultivation of the text might better invite the ghosts to, felicitously, further compromise the agencies of these texts that are already not mine.[iii] There must be a work of conjuring, some ritual (and yet one proper to the writing of poems and commentaries and not to religions!). Thus, Auden would later write of Iceland: “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.”[iv] So ‘friends’ arrive to work on a book from various times. We hide nothing from each other. We un-hide each other. We resolve to write a series of warnings. This poem, which begins all 500 breastplates, is a riddle caught up in the work of spectral un-hidings.

all 500 breastplates

off-kilter and combat

distillery run amock

no help my netizen,

a passbook of

free greetings

no levers left anymore.

The various fragments appear to consist of at least five different utterances, perhaps from difference speakers. Or, there is no need to construct a narrative or a speaker, and the words are not spoken, but just jumble themselves on the page or the screen. The poem is in four stanzas. Consider this the best way to divide the utterances, or don’t.

breastplates: the radiant armor of a minor hope when all of the bloodlines are cut and a language is dulled by an infusion of combat readiness. Such was the trouble of a young Perceval in Chrétien de Troye’s poem by the same name. The young boy mistakes Chevaliers for God, Demons, and Angels.[v] distillery: see Samuel Beckett on Dante: “His conclusion is that the corruption common to all the dialects makes it impossible to select one rather than another as an adequate literary form, and that he who would write in the vulgar must assemble the purest elements from each dialect and construct a synthetic language that would at least possess more than a circumscribed local interest.”[vi] But is a distillation necessary to get to the message of a missive as the solution to the riddle? or, if it is “distillery run amock,” then is the problem of distillation one which cannot help eliminate the need for breastplates? Such distillery would need to occur in a transparent caldron, of a flame pleasurably bright. The help for the netizen (see next comment) in language must burn just as brightly as the radiant screens on which we plot drone attacks on Afghanis from Nevada, and yet we still find ourselves in terms of purgatorial distillation is that peculiar modern condition which Beckett found in Joyce: “neither prize nor penalty, simply a series of stimulants to enable the kitten to catch its tail. And the partially purgatorial agent? The partially purged.”[vii] Distillation as purgative in the modern world, as refining and purifying heat, is thus akin to the failed attempts of alchemy. And even there, so often the search for the stone is more important than the transmutation it would produce. netizen: this word advertised on the back of the dusk-jacket of the Merriam-Websters Collegiate Dictionary 10th Edition, in 1999, along with netiquette, spammer, face time, echinacea, fusion cuisine, feng sui, and velociraptor.[viii] Thus the word registers as among a group which, when taken together, collect the bright hive of the internet as the radiantly new along with—among others—a notably ancient reptile so that what is caught in between are the mundane practices of human communication and food as their own luminousities. This is important to study of the work of this poem if one is to present the proper passbook and take her place among the shinning radiant breastplates of the first stanza. These breastplates are hanging from the sprouting antlers of this poem and most of the others in this work. free greetings: Do not mistake greetings for transparent communication. The greeting of this poem is only the entrance into its commentary, which, though ‘below’ the poem as you now read it, might be just as well taking place into the unhinging between the paratactic syntax of free greetings with all its plenitude and the assertion(?). no levers left anymore: with is announcement of privation. This is the roomy dwelling space for our friendship in this poem—the space in which you or a literary ghost my be invited to take up an abode, such as a speechmaking Beowulf beginning to send a missive to his own friend, Hrothgar, in wearing perhaps not a breastplate but a byrne (mail-coat) such that it is well-displayed as a smith’s work.[ix] Such a space, like Beowulf’s missive, is in the this riddle itself and the room bounded off by its syntactic turns and gaps , radiant as the armor of its speaker, fearful or courageous. no levers: here the lever is not a phallus, nor is it to be related to the phallic elevator lever about which the elevator operator has to complain in The Great Gatsby to Mr. McKee to “keep your hands off the lever”—to which McKee replies, “I didn’t know I was touching it.”[x] We lament, with the rise of the digital, the loss of the mechanical in our dwelling spaces, and would attempt to re-insert the mechanical into the secret of a poem’s radiance so as to not lose its memory. Without a level to pull, how can we unlock the mechanics of any riddle? Even if a digital inscription on the passbook of free greetings implores you say what I am called.

[i] W.H. Auden, “Family Ghosts,” in Collected Poems, ed. Edward Mendelson (New York: Modern Library, 2007), 41.

[ii] I am referring, of course, to Jacques Derrida’s Specters of Marx, trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York: Routeledge, 1994), yet (re?)focusing the possibility of a hauntology not only on ‘the times’ or a particular individual and his relation to a past or a tradition (such as Derrida and the inheritance of ‘Marxism’), but additionally as a secular way to talk about the multiple non-human agencies and relations between texts—further obliterating the role of the poet in actually writing the poem—or the responsibility of the single mind (as genius) for a given work—as what works in the space that disarticulates the opposition between all oppositions, past/present, literary history-literary/literary-present, and for this, writer/reader, poem/commentary. What is working here is the work and what is haunted is the work by work. From this point we can begin to try to think about how the work will get us into the world, rather than beginning with assumptions of facile relations between work and world (including that of work and poet or work and reader). For Derrida, the ghosts related to the anachrony of our readings and our inheritances of readings is exactly one path into the world, as “If itlearning to live—remains to be done, it can happen only between life and death. Neither in life nor in death alone. What happens between the two, and between all the “two’s” once likes, such as between life and death, can only maintain itself with some ghost, can only talk with or about some ghost. So it would be necessary to learn spirits. Even and especially if this, the spectral, is learn to live with ghosts, in the upkeep, the conversation, the company, or the companionship, in the commerce without commerce of ghosts. To learn to live otherwise, and better. no, not better, but more justly. But with them. (xvi-xvii).

[iii] For Derrida, the relation to the ghost as inheritance “is never a given. It is always a task. It remains before us just as unquestionably as we are heirs of Marxism, even before wanting or refusing to be, and, like all inheritors, we are in mourning. In mourning in particular for what is called Marxism” (Specters of Marx, 67).

[iv] W.H. Auden, “Journey to Iceland,” XXXXXXXXXXXX

[v] See Perceval ou le Conte du Graal, Ed. Charles Méla, in Chrétien de Troyes: Romans (Paris: La Pochotèque, 1994), lines 121-169; or, in translation, see Perceval: the Story of the Grail, in Chrétien de Troyes: Arthurian Romances, trans. D. D. R. Owen (London: Everyman, 1993), lines 111-185.

[vi] Samuel Beckett, “Dante...Bruno.Vico..Joyce,” in Samuel Beckett: The Grove Centenary Edition Vol. 4: Poems, Short Fiction, Critcism (New York: Grove Press, 2006), 507.

[vii] ibid., 510.

[viii] Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed., (Springfield, Mass: Merriam-Webster, 1999).

[ix] See Beowulf in Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburgh, Ed. Fr. Klaeber 3rd ed. (Boston: D.C. Heath and Company, 1950), line 405-406.

[x] F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (New York: Collier, 1992), 42.

1 comment:

Eileen Joy said...

Reading this was like being high--please share more of this work in progress as it . . . um . . . progresses. My favorite part is when you wrote "dusk-jacket" for "dust-jacket" [think of the possibilities!]. Now, the "t" key is not so close to the "k" key for this to be a *typical* random error. Discuss amongst your plural selves.