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Susan Howe, The Midnight (3)


The Midnight, Parerga

It almost doesn't get started, like the inertia of inception, invention and inauguration is an almost lazy pleasure. We are, after all, in bed. It is midnight, more it is The Midnight, the meridian of meridians, absolute midpoint of total transition between the transparent daylight of prose and the obfuscation of nightly poetry. That each night when we go to bed we not only step into blank sheets but also into the blank sheet of the pre-poetic moment. The minute before midnight, the moment before the event of the momentary and momentous happening of the material word within the medium of the "page." We are in bed and we don't really want to get up but we have been lying there for hours now and it is simply not getting us anywhere, however Freudian it is to be held between the waking and sleeping state, susceptible to a daydreaming where our defences are down and the Id can walk amongst us with its growl and grizzle.

Like the endless delay of the writer. Lays out paper, sharpens pencils, makes coffee or tea, cuts nails, trims fringe, prunes roses, hacks down forests, answers emails and balances cheque book. Boots up laptop, agrees to updates, watched blankly as the loadbar hangs.

The pre-poem, the outwork or framing device, bracketing or parerga; parerga after Derrida is the work I am going to us here. If we do not know when the poem begins then we do not know when it ends, it may, contra Agamben, never end, which is the good news, but that may be because it is yet to happen, after Badiou and Nancy, which is bad. With the poem we are always exactly at the midnight hour, about to leave one state and enter into the next, sleepless and yet not wakeful. And if we cannot identify the limits of the poem, can we ever say that it is a poem, that we are in in? An affect only exacerbated by the rhythmic interplay in The Midnight between prose, poetry, prose, poetry, prose and poetry (and prose, both as Agamben argues must occur as soon as one exits the poem, but also because the paregon of the Illustrations index exists, is in bed with us, and it as prosaic as a chat between Habermas and Kant.)

Parerga enumerated meaninglessly:
1. The cover:
not the merely tedious reflection s of Drucker and McGann on the socio-economic presence of things such as bindings and alphabets, although that is all very well and it is not their fault if in the end these matters are tiresome, but the odd, sort of ugly, badly made collage of an image of Howe's mother or maybe Ellen Terry (feel free to write in) as Lady Macbeth, a piece of tissue interleaf and then a tranche of text.

2.The material ideological markings of the book:
here again we have Drucker and McGann's observations of how the book is already inculcated in an economic and thus ideological exchange with the copyright marks and so on. It takes 8 pages including a pointless contents page and a wonderful blank page before the work starts

3.Interleaf:
are we there yet? Is it time yet. Will be count down to it. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5.... Two more pages only in this case actually only one page, indicating a habit we pick up of referring to a half page as a page. P.1 is not P.1 but part 1 of P.1, P.2 being the other part. As Saussure points out as regards the recto/verso of the page, one item doesn't not come without the other instigating a profound duality that is both intrinsic to poetry and a soporific gloom of thinking it must escape from.

4. Epigraph 1:
"Although a sign is understood to be consubstantial with the thing or being it represents, word and picture are essentially rivals", equating directly the issue of the page with Saussure's confidence on the anti-diremptory state of the sign which can know no dehiscence between signifier and signified. Lacan's great observation being that due to the bar between Sr and Sd, represented by the equation Sr/Sd, there can also never be any unity or congress between the two. And in any case in The Midnight should it not be Sd/Sr, daylight thing and midnight word? The very nature of the volta-face recto verso is that which binds the two ones together is also that which instills and impossible, inaugural and tragic separation. The day will never know of the night, waking can never partake of sleep.

5. Epigraph2:
"The counterfeit presentment of two papers...I am not asleep just leafing" as she describes the disappearance of the hymenic interleaf after 1914 the rustling of the retention of "proper stuff" in post-millennial poetics is heard as an almost spectral voice. We are at the very edge of the materiality of text: a semi-transparent, totally supplemental, now technologically meaningless, permanently external piece of stuff. What we once called words.

6. Image:
in a work as much about the break down between word and image and poetry and prose, this literary image in praise of stuff is apt to say the least. This is page 1 by the way but the poem is yet to start.

7. Collage:
Again low-tech and ugly, a really hand-made aesthetic, consciously not taking advantage of photo-shop to blend and perfect. Someone had a hand in this. Poetry, palimpsested and thus reborn, journalistic prose, truncated into poetry, small sample of a more complex texture. A perfectly inauspicious beginning.

8. Finally, the title:
"For here we are here / B E D H A N G I N G S" Why the double deixis of here, here? We are not here as such, The Midnight is a time not a place, but instead we are within the deictic, linguistic place of the place as such. Post-Saussurean Mallarme effectively, where nothing will have taken place but the placement of placed within the linguistic grid. By the way here is the title of the poem, semiotically marked, almost up in lights, as close to humour as one gets. The equivalent of shouting in the bedroom at midnight. Shouldn't be allowed. It woke me up, Guess she would rather not be awake, after midnight, alone.
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