Meditations on the Untimely: Thinking Through My Thesis

This morning: I checked out the newly-uploaded special issue of Screening the Past. It’s theme? “Untimely Cinema: Cinema Out of Time.”

Last Wednesday: I tweeted the following to get it out of my head and see how it grows:

Last weekend: I picked up my copy of Deleuze’s Wake: Tributes and Tributaries, this time to read the essay “Minor Writing and Minor Literature.” I’ve gone through bits of it before, enough to recall a remark near the beginning of the piece about how Deleuze’s “concept of minor literature has been of some use to students of postcolonial, ethnic, minority, and marginal literatures (63).”

I’m still reading it to see exactly what Bogue proposes as “some [of those] use[s]” in the hopes it can help me articulate my thoughts in response to some remarks made here. For now, I’m struck by Bogue’s description of how Deleuze writes his histories of philosophy almost like an extension of the spirit of Nietzchean Unzeitgemässe: 

Rather than offering a narrative of the development of ideas, arguments, positions, and so on, he describes the functioning of specific problems and sets them in resonance with one another through the unfolding of the problems proper to his own thought. In this manner, Deleuze creates his own precursors…and brings them into a kind of untimely, interactive coexistence within the problems he articulates. To the extent that Deleuze himself is successful in formulating genuine problems, his thought should disrupt conventional narratives of the history of philosophy, and his accounts of others’ thought should bring into existence an idiosyncratic, untimely network of precursors that constitutes an “antihistory” of his own thought.” (67-68, emphasis mine)

Because I haven’t read much by or even about Deleuze*, I can’t quite assess whether or not this is more Deleuzian than Bogueian, though I trust that it is and can be both. What’s more important for me right now is how, in many ways, this “antihistory” of “my own thought” is the approach I want/need to use for the critical essay of my thesis. As what should ultimately be a statement of poetics, I have fundamental difficulties getting there from my preoccupations with what can be called “discourses of newness.” Now, it seems clearer, if no less contentious or difficult:

What I need to do is an antihistory of my writing, at least those poems I’m including in my thesis.

* The only Deleuze I’ve read is “Literature and Life,” the essay Bogue cites as where “the larger theoretical assumptions that feed into the notion of minor literature…are neatly summarized” through its description of “the function of literature in terms of stuttering, becoming, fabulation, and visions/auditions (70).”

Also, though I’d like to say Ronald Bogue’s essays are engaging, I’m a little hesitant because this isn’t a book I’ve read straight from cover to cover. I leaf through it, going through its essay on death metal (!) or bumping into/against Bogue’s claim that “[a]ccording to Deleuze, the basic linguistic act is not the phoneme but the statement (énoncé), or speech act (110).”

Another time, I read “Deleuze, Foucault, and the Playful Fold of the Self” to give myself a chance to understand more than two pages of Deleuze’s book on Foucault, which I’ve owned for more than a decade already (excerpt here). I really want to understand the dynamic between Deleuze and Foucault. Maybe I can get another book, but I’m scared I might end up leaving that unread as well.

For now: thesis!

Finally: Jorie Graham

After years of reading whatever I can find online by and about Jorie Graham and making do with what few poems by her I have in this or that anthology, I finally bought a copy of her now-15-year-old collection The Errancy yesterday. I’m surprised it’s taken me this far, given how I echo her twin interests in philosophy and film studies.

Although I’m not sure how The Errancy ranks with her other books, I was won over by reviews that mention Lacan and Deleuze, that listen to Graham’s “heady, improvisational music” and “accretionary syntax,” and that cite bits from her “mutated love poems.” It also helped that I’m preoccupied with errors, secrets, and lies–all those different ways one swerves away from capital-T Truth–and the very title of The Errancy certainly points to that.

(I should also mention that Emily Galvin, Graham’s daughter with James Galvin, has published her own collection with a strong basis in mathematics, also an interest of mine, poetically speaking. I think I should read James Galvin’s work sometime, just to complete this little family circle.)

I’ve posted a link to this interview before, pointing out Graham’s remarks about Michael Palmer, but this time, I think I’d like to paste the relevant excerpt here, as a reminder to myself about the work I’m (supposed to be) doing (all emphases mine):

keeping the song alive is keeping alive a world in which song is possible. You have to keep hope alive. Any kind of truth you might arrive at that hasn’t contended with hope is going to be very partial. [pause] Michael Palmer is very interesting in that regard. He has extraordinary music. I think he’s learned better than anyone the Stevens trick of making the poem disintegrate on the surface but stay totally alive musically. To me he’s very important in that regard. The way he uses repetition. The particular way he will bring certain images back without that turning into structure. Pure desire kept alive in the act of writing by the way fragments recur.

I also like how Graham talking about silence (“Making the silence come awake in the poem is important to my process. The silence – or anything else that resists the impulse to imagine, own, transform.”) leads her to a really brilliant disquisition on her use of the poetic line, one where I’m hard-put to emphasize any idea as more important than another:

…lines of breath-length, say, lines that contain up to five stresses, sometimes feel to me like measures that make that silence feel safe. A silence that will stay at bay for as long as it takes to get the thing said. Writing in lines that are longer than that, because they are really unsayable or ungraspable in one breath unit for the most part (and since our desire is to grasp them in one breath unit) causes us to read the line very quickly. And the minute you have that kind of a rush in the line (emphasized perhaps by the absence of commas and other interpretive elements) what you have is a very different relationship with the silence: one that makes it aggressive – or at least oceanic – something that won’t stay at bay. You have fear in the rush that can perhaps cause you to hear the fearful in what is rushed against.

What you feel – this is Romantic of course – is the pressure of a silence that might not wait until the end of the line to override you. And so you have to rush those words into it. In this new book, I’m writing mostly in traditional lines again, with less counterpoint from such prose-length units. But the calm assurance of the standard English line has always interested and troubled me. In Erosion, the line-length tended to be much smaller than the norm. The voice in that book was, in fact, so aware of the overriding presence of the white space that it just tried to mash words into that space. With great pressure. To create the sensation of that gravitational weight. Sternness. Solemnity. As if to build cell by cell a fabric that could take the weight of eternity into it – like human tissue.

And here’s a bit from a poem that isn’t in The Errancy but in a later collection called Never. It moved me this morning when I read it, out of the context of the entire poem:

from the 2002 collection Never

from "The Taken-Down God" by Jorie Graham

Jorie Graham On The Region Of Unlikeliness

In this excerpt from a 2003 interview with Jorie Graham that appeared in The Paris Review, she talks about several of my preoccupations–autobiography, parenthood, lineation, philosophy in poetry, addressing the reader, confession, etc–and how they played out in her collection Region Of Unlikeliness:

INTERVIEWER

In Region—after using works of art, then myth, in the previous books—you turn to autobiography. The poems were all your own stories, at that point. Why was that?

GRAHAM

Perhaps because once you’re a parent, you enter into a completely different relationship to time. History becomes dominant, and then, perhaps, personal history becomes dominant. You are suddenly at that point where facts—both the facts that your child is learning, and the facts of your life your child wants to know, needs to know—become important. You become a bit of story that needs to be told.

INTERVIEWER

The lines in these poems are shorter. Why?

GRAHAM

Many things made the line shorter. Once you begin talking from the position of being a social creature, you go back to the line in which social discourse takes place, the pentameter. It’s a more exterior line, which, since Shakespeare, we associate with people speaking to one another. On either side of it stand more unspeakable lines—longer lines for the visionary; shorter and more symmetrical ones for song, spell, hymn; and shorter yet for the barely utterable, the shriek, the epitaph.

INTERVIEWER

And the second line?

GRAHAM

The indented line became a very useful place to negotiate and control the music of the poem. I was still very interested in the sentence, in the kinds of energies the sentence awakens—desire for closure, desire for suspension of closure, desire for simultaneity in a stream of temporal action that defies simultaneity. I guess I still am. For example, what happens along the way of the sentence that you’re in the process of undertaking, the thing you can’t put alongside but that has to actually happen in the sentence as a “dependent” phrase? If you’re telling the story of your life, in a way, or if you’ve gone back to autobiography or history, you’re in a place where sentence-making is connected to time, as opposed to those epiphanic escapes from time which would employ a different kind of syntax—in Erosion for example.

INTERVIEWER

So, the indented line . . .?

GRAHAM

The indented line allows you to modulate the sentence and keep it capable of carrying so much without collapsing. It’s all a matter of freight carried to speed of carriage, to mangle Frost’s quote. It gave me a kind of lift—and three musical units: the full line; a shorter fragmentary line that condenses stresses on very few words (often words that would never carry a stress—prepositions, articles, conjunctions) words that if stressed truly alter the nature of what the actual inquiry of the poem is; and the “landing,” the oftentimes single word on the left margin, which takes the strongest stress of all. Those “landing words” gave me a kind of propulsion that made a rather long poem continue to feel like a containable lyric utterance. I wanted to pack a lot into the lyric, but not go beyond its bounds. Some have written that I wanted to expand what the lyric could do. I just want the hugeness of experience—which includes philosophical discursiveness—to move at a rate of speed that kept it (because all within one unity of experience) emotional. Also, often, questions became the way the poems propelled themselves forward.

INTERVIEWER

And that does what to the reader?

GRAHAM

It brings the reader in as a listener to a confession? A poem is a private story, after all, no matter how apparently public. The reader is always overhearing a confession.

Foucault On Nietzsche And Mallarme

The great task to which Mallarmé dedicated himself, right up to his death, is the one that dominates us now; in its stammerings, it embraces all our current efforts to confine the fragmented being of language once more within a perhaps impossible unity. Mallarmé’s project — that of enclosing all possible discourse within the fragile density of the word, within that slim, material black line traced by ink upon paper — is fundamentally a reply to the question imposed upon philosophy by Nietzsche. For Nietzsche, it was not a matter of knowing what good and evil were in themselves, but of who was being designated, or rather who was speaking when one said Agathos to designate oneself and Deilos to designate others. For it is there, in the holder of discourse and, more profoundly still, in the possessor of the word, that language is gathered together in its entirety. To the  Nietzschean question: ‘Who is speaking?’, Mallarmé replies — and constantly reverts to that reply — by saying that what is speaking is, in its solitude, its fragile vibration, in its nothingness, the word itself — not the meaning of the word, but its enigmatic and precarious being. Whereas Nietzsche maintained his questioning as to who is speaking right up to the end, though forced, in the last resort, to irrupt into that questioning himself and to base it upon himself as the speaking and questioning subject: Ecce homo, Mallarmé was constantly effacing himself from his own language, to the point of not wishing to figure in it except as an executant in a pure ceremony of the Book in which the discourse would compose itself.  It is quite possible that all those questions now confronting our curiosity (What is language? What is a sign? What is unspoken in the world, in our gestures, in the whole enigmatic heraldry of our behaviour, our dreams, our sicknesses — does all that speak, and if so in what language and in obedience to what grammar? Is everything significant, and, if not, what is, and for whom, and in accordance with what rules? What relation is there between language and being, and is it really to being that language is always addressed — at least, language that speaks truly? What, then, is this language that says nothing, is never silent, and is called ‘literature’?) — it is quite possible that all these questions are presented today in the distance that was never crossed between Nietzsche’s question and Mallarme’s reply.

from Section 1 (“The Return Of Language”) of Chapter 9 (“Man And His Doubles”) of The Order Of Things by Michel Foucault (pp 332-333)

The Recovery of Language: Michael Palmer in Conversation

SR: You do a lot with repetition and variation, within and between poems, and within and between books. You seem to be teasing out all of the different ways that that can add to and support your project.

MP: Recurrence and variation have fascinated me since I first read Gertrude Stein as a very young person. Or perhaps I should say: since I first heard nursery rhymes and incantations as an even younger person. Likeness and difference and their dance—isn’t that the ground of the poetic project and our signifying capacity? And metaphor: a thing in terms of another thing, a bearing across between a one and “an other,” or self and other.

SR: Or between the self that I am in this moment and the self that I am in the next moment. ….At different times repetition and variation seem to operate in your work as translation, jazz, conversation, and a stutter.

MP: It’s interesting that you bring up the stutter because my earlier work talks about the poet’s and the philosopher’s stutter: the stutter of the effort of articulation, which is part of the articulation. You hear it—the stutter or the hesitation, they’re part pf the same thing—if you listen to a Gilles Deleuze or a Jacques Derrida speaking—improvising philosophy. You may also see it in the improvisational steps Wittgenstein takes in his work toward whatever goal is there, letting the fly out of the bottle, let’s say.

via The Recovery of Language: Michael Palmer in Conversation

Three Reasons To Study Simonides Of Keos

For being “the first poet in the Western tradition to take money for poetic composition,” or so claims Anne Carson in Economy of the Unlost: Reading Simonides of Keos with Paul Celan.

For being the seminal figure in the development of spatial thinking as a mnemonic aide, or so claims Joshua Foer in “Secrets of a Mind Gamer.”

For being a particularly contentious thorn in discussions of the dichotomy Plato establishes between poetry and philosophy, or so claims Adam Beresford in “Erasing Simonides.”

Five for Today

  1. Remember that old opposition set up between word and image? The Visual Thesaurus mentioned here makes it easy to say goodbye to it. Even better is the VisuWords graphic dictionary, which has the benefit of being free.
  2. Not only does the name of The Unemployed Philosopher’s Guild sound Python-esque, so do the products it sells. These include Post Structural-Its sticky notes, Freudian slippers, and Nietzsche’s Will to Power Bars (“When your Wille zur Macht is a-flagging or you’re just a little tired of transvaluating all values, try these!”).
  3. Singapore-born poet Jee Leong Koh, now living in New York, writes a sequence of ghazals entitled “A Lover’s Recourse,” which, as its title suggests, responds to Roland Barthes. Superlative work, and my own recent interest in the ghazal (thanks to my reading of “Newlywed Ghazal” in a powerful poetry collection by another Asian poet) suddenly seems burdened by the anxiety of influence(s). Still, talk about eclecticism being “the degree zero of contemporary general culture”! (Ah, salut once more, M. Barthes.)
  4. William H. Sherman’s “How to Make Anything Signify Anything” is a fantastic article about Francis Bacon’s development of the “biliteral cipher,” generating a code that ends up culminating in a photograph of people who, by turning their heads in certain ways, themselves become an encoded message. Holy McLuhan, Batman! The sender is the medium is the message!
  5. Ange Mlinko writes about Robert Duncan writing about H.D. in “Duncan’s Divagations.” I like Mlinko, I like Duncan, I like HD, so that’s a triple whammy. One of the many gems: “The poet, in order to find the real, must look under the surface of the world to its hidden core of perdurance. The figure for one’s pantheon of masters is not, properly, a ‘canon,’ as it is in English departments. It is, per the ancient tarot pack, an arcana.” Beautiful.

 

Postscript: Mlinko’s “The Everyday Oblique”, one of my favorite articles, also dealt with codes and is yet another example of her concise yet substantial brand of criticism. Her other articles for The Nation often make for compelling reading, too, exhibiting the same qualities.

To whit, she lauds John Ashbery for having discovered that “the ideal poetry for the Information Age is a poetry of no information” and reads country music in Graham Foust‘s poems, based on how country “typically mines the quotidian and refines it into an elegy you’ve been hearing on the radio all your life.” Again, beautiful.