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)