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.