Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Ron Silliman's Tjanting cont...

 
Lines insert false time (Ibid. 86)
 
Are we to take this seriously?  Is there a true time of writing and a false time? 
 
Linguists and certain philosophers of language like Austin and Habermas would lead us to believe that there is a basic level of accepted communication, and agreed upon, non-distorted, good enough environment of intention and reception through which we talk to each other in basic, consensual ways.  One might take blogs as a kind of evidence for this.  If this is true then there is an agreed upon true time of language which is serial, developmental, syllogistic, perhaps progressive.  I say something you say something back and lo! we are human and talking the talk of that. 
 
Yet Silliman is also aware, as a poet and political activist, that the ideal time of language is at least part constructed.  Language poetry would not exist without the Rorty-like assumption that all language is contingent and so any concept of an ideal speech community unfolding their ideas and hopes and prejudices in the “real” or “proper” time of speech-like language is a historical and ideological construct.  As Silliman says later in Tjanting, “The most political thing you can do is face the language.” (Tjanting 123) and certainly the work is full of “errors”, errors of conception, expression and understanding, but also conscious errors based on the procedural rules governing the composition of the piece.  So which time is more false, the semiotcally foregrounded temporality of poetic lineation, or the hidden, naturalised time of prose, even non-narrative prose such as we have here?
 
What Silliman is saying here pretty much agrees with Agamben’s definition of a typical feature of poetry before proving through a historical event, Tjanting itself, that Agamben’s attempts at a necessary foundation for poetry is merely a significant historical contingency whose time is already passed.  However, while Silliman looks for ways to innovate poetry in prose, he naturally has to beware the seduction of the prose whose transparent linearity is more dangerous in that it is widespread, that narrative prose is the rhetorical preference of the state and its institutions (what is new except a really good story chopped up into tasty morsels?) and that is it so hidden.  As he says, “Television’s lie is the continuity.” (Tjanting 121). If you ask someone to tell you how it happened, say in a court room to use a Lyotardian environment, and they tell it to you in the temporality of the poem, would that be acceptable testimony?  No, I thought not.  Next witness.
 
What a sacrifice poets like Silliman, Hejinian, Howe and Ashbery make in giving up the false time of the line, although false should be in inverted commas.  The time of the line is material, embodied, visual, disruptive, physically apparent, radical, and jagged.  Contrast the semiotics of poetic lineation to those of prose with its full-stops and paragraph breaks.  The full-stop is rarely used as a disruptive strategy and certainly not in Tjanting.  Why does Silliman innovate in the space between sentences but rarely, if ever, disrupt the sentence itself?  “The newspapers want to know why I don’t write in lines” (Tjanting 121).  So do I. 
 
“The sentence is to language as a park to nature.” (113) In other words sentences are socialised language while poetry is somehow, in being more glossolalic, literally semiotic in Kristeva’s sense of the word, and so goes beyond ideology.  He hints at this problematic assumption: “Baby’s babble scrambles syllables, but the prosody speaks of joy…Sentences occur in speech only as attributes of an educated class” (126).  Tjanting is a social, dialectical poem and as such it takes on a social, dialectical form, that of speech and response, sentence one sentence two.  The simplicity of the sentences is the point I feel as he is trying to get at the ideological-linguistic fabric of late capitalist social interaction.  Either that or he just fancied a change.  
 

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Lineation: Ron Silliman's Tjanting cont...

The line only exists in relation to the before and after (Silliman, Tjanting 93)


Again with these quotes. Noticed in my previous post I never got round to dealing with the above in any detail, in fact in not detail at all. Let's take them seriously and somewhat systematically, even though they are not systematic statements of an argument. Still, we are just finding our feet here, or our nounphase's to be more accurate.

The line only exists in relation to the before and after.

The number three is essential to language. The phrase, line or sentence, depending and which of these units you are dealing with at any one time, and you can be dealing with all three in the poem which makes it so rich, all depend on context for meaning to be broached. This is something we all learned from deSaussure even if his theory of the sign turns out to be a lovely fiction but not much more.

The phrase does not mean in an autonomous fashion because its referential field is contingent not necessary. We need to know what came before the phrase, the preconditions of its being uttered, presented, performed. This is the history of the phrase, and intentionality of a limited sort is to be pursued there. We also need to pay attention to what follows on from the phrase, what it makes happen. This might be called the ethical dimension in a way, the phrase's eventhood. Phrase one is the author function and phrase three the reader function.

Lineation is not quite the same as phrase and sentence in this regard. Phrases are separated by space and semiotic marking, as too are sentences, but it is the semiotic excessiveness of lineation that allows for Agamben's definition of the base condition of the poetic. So is Silliman wrong here to say the line when one could say all utterances? Or is he trying to differentiation, for avant-garde and therefore provocative reasons, a clear differentiation between procession and succession in prose and in poetry. Is the sheer scale of the space between lines the problem?

We do not noticeably pause between each word when written our in alphabetical serial strings. Just as the brain invents gaps between words heard by the ear, it erases gaps seen by the eye in writing. So the space between lines is simply big enough to cause the semiotic glitch. Also, the poem plays on this, introducing semiotic marks to cause disruption and thus make the phrase/line more and more isolated from its semantic context. Finally the phrase and the sentence work well in conjunction, phrases are always smaller than sentences and sentences are always not only made up of but totally filled with phrases. In contrast phrases and sentences do not fit into the line so there is no self-sufficiency of meaning in the line you have to know what
came before and what
comes next to get back to
semantics.

Lineation: Silliman's New Sentence Two

The line only exists in relation to the before and after (Silliman, Tjanting 93)

Lines insert false time (Ibid. 86)

This is another sentence. Space is the same in all directions (Ibid. 82)

Margin types its own form. Each sentence is a test (Ibid. 82)

Earlier sentences, our old friend. (Ibid. 82)

The space was the last letter of the alphabet to be invented (Ibid. 90-1)


Again with these quotes. Noticed in my previous post I never got round to dealing with the above in any detail, in fact in not detail at all. Let's take them seriously and somewhat systematically, even though they are not systematic statements of an argument. Still, we are just finding our feet here, or our nounphase's to be more accurate.

The line only exists in relation to the before and after.
-The number three is essential to language. The phrase, line or sentence, depending and which of these units you are dealing with at any one time, and you can be dealing with all three in the poem which makes it so rich, all depend on context for meaning to be broached. This is something we all learned from deSaussure even if his theory of the sign turns out to be a lovely fiction but not much more. The phrase does not mean in an autonomous fashion because its referential field is contingent not necessary. We need to know what came before the phrase, the preconditions of its being uttered, presented, preformed. This is the history of the phrase, and intentionality of a limited sort is to be pursued there. We also need to pay attention to what follows on from the phrase, what it makes happen. This might be called the ethical dimension in a way, the phrase's eventhood. Phrase one is the author function and phrase three the reader function. Lineation is not quite the same as phrase and sentence in this regard. Phrases are separated by space and semiotic marking, as too are sentences, but it is the semiotic excessiveness of lineation that allows for Agamben's definition of the base condition of the poetic.

Lines insert false time (Ibid. 86)

This is another sentence. Space is the same in all directions (Ibid. 82)

Margin types its own form. Each sentence is a test (Ibid. 82)

Earlier sentences, our old friend. (Ibid. 82)

The space was the last letter of the alphabet to be invented (Ibid. 90-1)

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Lineation: Silliman’s New Sentence part one

The line only exists in relation to the before and after (Silliman, Tjanting 93)

Lines insert false time (Ibid. 86)

This is another sentence. Space is the same in all directions (Ibid. 82)

Margin types its own form. Each sentence is a test (Ibid. 82)

Earlier sentences, our old friend. (Ibid. 82)

The space was the last letter of the alphabet to be invented (Ibid. 90-1)


This flurry of comments on the nature of the relationship between line and space comes from Ron Sillimans long prose poem Tjanting (1981, re-issued Salt 2002). This work consists of a number of paragraphs each with a strictly limited number of sentences based on the Fibonacci sequence where the next number in a sequence is derived from the sum of the previous two numbers.

The poem is an example of what Silliman calls the new sentence, see his essay of the same name. The aims of the new sentence are a major challenge to the semiotics of lineation as I have been considering them over the last couple of months. The first aim is to make the sentence, not the line, the basic unit of the poem, which has the effect of dematerialising the poem, by which we mean it removes the semiotic materiality of the line-break so fundametnal to poetic practice.

In addition, it aims to limit and control the syllogistic process of prose which operates in the same way as the fibonacci sequence: you add together two propositions and from these attain a third which is conclusive of the other two. The only syllogistic movement allowed is between a sentence and its preceeding sentence, thus you are caught permanently in the horizontal seriality of this prose, ubale to step back and think in general. This last point limits the vertical movement brought about by line breaks, titles, and the poem end essential to poetics. Finally, the sentence is taken as a basic unit, primarily because it is the liminal space between the maximal unit of linguistic consideration, the phrase, and the minimal level of humanistic consideration, emotion or discourse. The sentence is too big for linguists and two small for the rest of us.

The new sentence aims to limit the scope of regard to two or three sentences at most, suggesting that “meaning” be resricted to this level and produce by torquing which means that equivalence comes not from the selection of words but from their combination, in other words meaning comes not from a decision made before the text, but from a spatial relationship established in the text. Sometimes I call this the hermenutic guarantee, that if you place two words or phrases together within a structure that presupposes relationship, for example close proximity, then relation and meaning will be generated. Silliman notes how the line break was the primary tool for torquing within poetry, and how in the new sentence it now exists between the full stop of one sentence and the next capital letter of the other.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Poetry and cognition

Kent Johnson very kindly directed my attention to a review of by Paul Lake called "Poetry in the Mother Tongue" which may or may not be the title of a book by Jane Gallop. Aprt name as I have had to rush through this rather long piece. It is a really interested if rather fraught essay at www.cprw.com/Lake/tongue.htm which tries to undermine the whole history of poststructural theory in eleven pages. Slightly ambitious though this is it is interesting to see a new front developing between poststructural ideas of signification, and cognitive linguistic ideas of language as an evolutionary remnant of basic survival tactics. Thus the article suggests a link between gesturing, our technology of writing, and the evolutionary development of becoming upright, perhaps to allow mothers to feed their children and communicate gesturally, and obviously then links this to gestation. This is all sourced to work by Philip Lieberman at Brown.

I can only touch on issues here as I am rather busy moving house, organising a conference and various other things but here goes. First I am in agreement with anyone who suggests that recent developments in the fields of linguistics, evolutionary pyschology, anthropology, and cognition require a massive overhaul of the humanities' reliance on the sign and on signification. And I don't mean the deconstructionists actually, who usually know better than reduce Derrida, Lacan and Kristeva down to one single concept in the way that Lake does (convincingly but still in a reductive manner). Poststructuralism, as the name suggests, was a contextual movement designed to undermine the stranglehold of structuralism on the French and eventually world academy. Certainly the sign is, in terms of linguistic, a somewhat exhausted concept. So one finds that just as linguists no longer look at signs, psychologists no longer consider Freud and the phallus. These are still massivley important cultural narratives however, and should not be discounted because scientifically they are wrong. Put simply, literature is not a science!

In addition I welcome these wonderful stories of how art came to be but they are stories and one should not forget that they are still historically contingent narratives designed for cultural purposes once we get our hands on them. I recently read of how music came to be from the module in the brain originally designed for mating calls, as the throat evolved the calls became more beautiful, our mating rituals more socialised and so less reliant on screaming and howling, and the original module became a new module for the production of organised sounds called music (well singing). Because this module's original purpose was associated with sex, that's why we like Mozart. I do not mean this to sound partonising, if that turns out to be why we have music and poetry that's fine. It doesn't tell us much about those cultural entities perhaps as they exist now, but any extra information is always welcome.

What is clear is that within the west, we are still structuralist and so poststructuralism will remain around pissing people off as long as they insist on reducing complex cultural interations to reductive narratives of origin that are not self-reflexive enough to realise the historicity of these narratives. Or to put it another way, it is not the suggestion that language originates in a pre-speech gesturality to facilitate gestation and communication that is the problem, but why we want to know that, why it enchants us, why we believe this is more foundational, and why we want this to disprove certain predominant discourses such as psychoanalysis?

Having said all this Lake's review is really worth a read even if the poetry quoted from the Hadas collection is pretty awful. Things Lake says about Kristeva, Lacan and so on are true, but other more profound elements of their work, in particular the role of heterogeneity as a disruptive force within cognitive narratives, is ignored.

I have said enough for today but will come back to cognition and the line later.

well we all heard you didn't we?

from the sequence theseecstasies


brown is this season’s black which means for the truly fashion conscious brown is already black thus they can say with impunity that black is

this season’s black which is bytheby how poetry works or at least language but question is there any difference?


I want you my lover’s back please—we go all the way up the poplar smothered lane to the shrub then all the way back

don’t we not? the tautegorical hurt of ecstasy that is what I mean when I burn in my eyeballs seething “ver-ti-ge”

through tawdry gaps in my teeth the brown hurt of a dissimulating spring whilst I embrace squalls take

up droplets fell from the bushes tender green entreaties the same as dogs do I am the first to do so my hair a rose and


I am dealing with it it’s queer aint it you say potato I bow down my jaundiced thoughts and smoke it.

bare which the day it is synonymous to being borne by the winds of france to the sing├ęd herbaceous

to the singed herbaceous and if there is love in the tongue then give back to me father that which I already got it.

well I don't remember saying that

from the sequence theseecstasies


this catalogue of smiles will be blown through by russia

from counting how to do it to actually doing it we are to be

bound over to be happy some day the way in which

cheese is happy only some times with the crease of coldness

they have gathered to do this I must in fact stop it

if you see cheese then buy it for me and love me

also revel in your teeth some way the day in which

chairs are a threat to the lumber of bears all

of which adds up to something moving like a finger in your mouth


oh but you did

from the sequence theseecstasies



winter by the time you read this I will be

writing “this” left over in the spare laburnum the

strain for gold exhausts the day by four four o’clock

drifting my companions are drifting by me the rush coloured

clouds show up what was in any case never inevitable because

we all hold onto it in common if you want me to

my feelings run up to yours like a barely labrador a

quick sieve through all this so called “chaff” turned up some “nuggets”

but also the sensing of a direction into which I soon will be gone.


I never said that

from the sequence theseecstasies

and that was how it was and at this point because of this against my better judgement that they forced me into citizenry

don’t ask me why I prefer to say the trees are in those threes than talk of dinner parties though you are beautiful and

well it’s obvious isn’t it? I guess it was the wire things failed to gel but we have been provided with anniversaries

which make us the streets are full for sitting and people for once are writing what they feel in formal structures:

I love my mum my sisters are divining the way were all built up out of the same past the past is simple like leaves

which of what is falling down will you catch on your tongue?

you have all eaten what you have bitten if that’s what you do.

all will be included this is the service we provided which is also as inclusive
there are tears in you tears small wonder. in the womb holes of creditable mandolins...


Thursday, February 05, 2004

you’re not funny you know

from the sequence theseecstasies



those were there very words up-ended in a greenly ambitious sea I realise that one cannot “have” “one’s” “phallus” and eat it though—and this is the point one might not want to or might not know one wants to and who’s here to tell you so

no blemish and no rub just “there’s green” or “their red” never they’re blue/yellow/persimmon but endlessly endlessly and so on the totems are dancing into upward graced suspension into which and power drifts by just out of reach but kept well in hand curiously

or one may eat other things or not eat and really mean that flesh unfettered by skin which gives when prodded with the perspex but without the blunt rod not spring-back automatically going spink-spink in blue static so we are “boids” after all

and one day we just got tired I imagine of the massive fern fronds for life the big bugs which motor between them all got up by the perennial threat of ochre and olive spotted predation and walked right back into the goop form whence later to become dolphins or betrayed and tell the story of one man’s love of gingham

ahh yes it is vaulted and these deadened object sprung from flea markets suddenly mis-prized buy me a me and how could I could be duped in that !way of all ways! dandle above the space delineated by the bastard fracture or the arc this curve’s address to the fey angle

or could we I suppose with this talking baton all ways in each fist we could do anything but chose not to do any old thing laid out flat-like watch the jetstream caress the blackended gable though it is monday the satellite whispered to the star tell it not to

those funsters I love to love and you take me higher I swear it!! for this stalking gnaw of slight love-lorn self-pity one of this century’s great colonist’s mixing its conduits in the palette of the well let’s not paint me a picture you

or me let’s in fact cut that bit out skyscrapers/penises hmmm we could say so I need to get my bearings if it hadn’t been that the truncheon had rolled under the love-seat where elaine had been who-she? dramatically the clouds get rainy metamorphosed by the humid whose ache is a hotel where we check it out of it or

no and ahh

Thursday, January 22, 2004

give it a rest

from the sequence theseecstasies



according to that logic what you take to be true is and must be but what I take to be true isn’t is that what you’re getting at she was the type of person who always had to be right and sometimes even was which irks me

has begun to develop an aural relationship with the new as yet untested blue technology we kissed beneath the pattering of the whirr and made love behind the eerie unnatural light of the screen

if your brain were an egg even a hot-arsed ostrich broody beyond belief could not hatch a thought from it you still believe detergent comes as freely from your mother as spiders from eggs once did in your hedge

it is cold here on the moral high-ground and the wind buffets feints and bluffs all I can see for miles around is perspective but I can’t get an angle on it if only infinite aspectual regression was also an interface

thoughts like a cardboard box with the flaps and top cut off what if it were to rainbow it would be the insects I would pity the most the way in which and to dance their tic-tic jerk your wings off

see how we run that’s a lie everything on a computer is enhanced like beer which permanently has 12.5% extra fill free or in the seventies dfs were always on sale and was the kind of place we’d shop in

your hopes are brittle detritus that has corrupted to mutate on the serengeti of inadequacies barely felt they shave your soul and gossamer can be annoying in early evening as it catches on your face and hair

otherwise go ahead with what we agreed that ought to be fine at least as an interim measure during the slow dripping attention of time-segments this is the last sixteenth of the last quarter before

because we hardly like each other and how well we know each other we could bear its disinclination to know more tarted up as mysterious potential does this dead glow accentuate anything perhaps at least its own repellent deadness