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!

Advertisements

Lethem Eat Cake

I love the idea of Jonathan Lethem. Reading about him and looking through his list of writings is something I find downright thrilling (“What imagination! What lunacy!”). Shamefully, however, out of all the fiction he’s published, the only one I’ve actually read is “The Elvis National Theater Of Okinawa.” It’s a wild story I really enjoyed, but it’s really short and co-authored, so I can’t really say how representative it is of Lethem, especially since his work just seems so wide-ranging.

“Dismantling Rushmores: Field Notes From The Life Of A 21st Century Novelist” isn’t fiction, but when a link to this appeared on my Twitter feed, I couldn’t resist clicking on it and feeling, well, thrilled to see him open with a discussion of Manny Farber’s “White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art,” because hey, what’s this, and also because Lethem’s first sentence is something I agree with 100%. Now that I think about it, it’s thrilling because it’s a little scary.

The rest of the essay is just as engaging, to me especially. Lethem troubles what we mean when we say “pop culture” and ends with what would be called, if it were badly written, a rant against “the crime of Literary Rushmore.” Never mind the tiny regret I felt when I realized he was referring to Rushmore as in Mount rather than the film I’ve been itching to re-watch; Lethem’s essay was a fun read, for me anyway.

(And just as I finished reading this, my Twitter feed throws me an interview. This I haven’t read yet, though I’m about to.)

All Roads Lead to Jane Hirshfield

(This has happened before, here and elsewhere.)

  1. A few weeks ago, I bought a copy of the 2007 Best American Poetry edited by Heather McHugh (TOC). Recognizing the reference to Kant, I read my first Jane Hirshfield poem: “Critique of Pure Reason.” (Scroll down to read it here.) I remember being especially taken with the following: “Perimeter is not meaning, but it changes meaning, / as wit increases distance and compassion erodes it.
  2. A few days ago, a friend of mine updated his Facebook status with the final five lines from “A Blessing for Wedding”: “Let the vow of this day keep itself wildly and wholly / Spoken and silent, surprise you inside your ears / Sleeping and waking, unfold itself inside your eyes / Let its fierceness and tenderness hold you / Let its vastness be undisguised in all your days
  3. Last Tuesday, my teacher mentioned, in passing, Hirshfield’s book of poetics essays as being very good. It was my first time to know that Hirshfield employs a Zen Buddhist approach to much of her work, although “nine gates” brought to MY mind something more, well, diabolical. I’m really not very Zen.
  4. The same Hirshfield book, by the way, also appears on the syllabus of a former teacher of mine, who is currently teaching a course on “Myth and Literature.” I initially considered signing up for that course this semester, but ultimately chose a Fiction Workshop instead.
  5. Also on Tuesday, Poetry Daily chose Hirshfield’s “The Egg Had Frozen, An Accident. I Thought Of My Life.” It didn’t impress me as much as the previously-mentioned poems I read, but it was interesting given how the teacher I mentioned in number 3 is a poet who privileges image as a key poetic device. This poem by Hirshfield is certainly a textbook example of imagery and metaphor. (That textbook quality may be what leaves me cold though.)
  6. Although I found a copy of “A Blessing for Wedding” at the Poetry Foundation’s site, I only realized yesterday that the December 2010 issue of Poetry contains two new poems by her, both very good: “Sonoma Fire” and “Sentencings”

Like I said, I’m not very Zen in my poetry, or any other aspect of my life, but I’m now fascinated. Drawn towards Hirshfield by synchronicity and/or serendipity–I’m not sure which.

Breakdown: R. T. Smith’s “O Body Swayed to Music”

“O Body Swayed to Music” by R. T. Smith is a four-part review-essay on twenty classic and contemporary texts on poetry and poetics. I’m posting this, so I don’t have to can remember the URLs of each part and what texts he discusses where.

Part 1
Understanding Poetry (Brooks & Warren)
How Does a Poem Mean? (Ciardi & Williams)
The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing (Richard Hugo)
Rhyme’s Reason: A Guide to English Verse (John Hollander)
Poetic Meter and Poetic Form (Paul Fussell)

Part 2 (“Old Dogs, New Tricks”)
Making Our Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry (Kenneth Koch)
A Poetry Handbook (Mary Oliver)
Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse (Mary Oliver)
The Art of Writing: Lu Chi’s Wen Fu (Sam Hamill, tr.)
The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry (Addonizio & Laux)
The New Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics (Lewis Turco)

Part 3 (“O Body Swayed to Muses”)
Writing Poems (Peter Sansom)
Poet’s Guide: How to Publish and Perform Your Work
(Michael Bugeja)
The Art and Craft of Poetry (Michael Bugeja)
The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide (Robert Pinsky)
The Poem’s Heartbeat: A Manual of Prosody
(Alfred Corn)

Part 4 (“In Our Uncertainties”)
The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (Preminger & Brogan)
Patterns of Poetry: An Encyclopedia of Forms (Miller Williams)
The Structure of Verse: Modern Essays on Prosody (Harvey Seymour Gross, ed.)
Writing Poems (Wallace & Boisseau)

Stutterbug

From “He Stuttered,” an essay by Gilles Deleuze citing Watt and collected in Essays Critical and Clinical:

This means that a great writer is always like a foreigner in the language in which he expresses himself, even if this is his native tongue. At the limit, he draws his strength from a mute and unknown minority that belongs only to him. He is a foreigner in his own language: he does not mix another language with his own language, he carves out a nonpreexistent foreign language within his own language. He makes the language itself scream, stutter, stammer, or murmur. (109-100)

My attention was drawn to these remarks in the course of reading Deleuze’s Wake: Tributes and Tributaries by Ronald Bogue. Although some of the essays in this book are said to “presuppose some familiarity with Deleuzian texts,” which I don’t really have (apart from “Literature and Life”), I had few problems reading and understanding “Deleuze’s Style” and “Deleuze, Foucault, and the Playful Fold of the Self.” Fascinating, and even if this is just a secondary source, I think I’m falling in love with Deleuze.

“Where I’m From”

I’ve enclosed those three words in quotation marks–conspicuously missing from the Permalink–because I’m not going to talk about where I’m from, at least not here/now.

I will, however, talk about this poem as a writing assignment. It is a rather enjoyable experience, even if (more so?) one were to do it in a fashion that’s somewhat schematic.

My teacher used Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and With Others, but I’m not sure my efforts, fun as they are, supports the claim that this exercise “has produced gorgeous pieces from the entire workshop with almost unfailing consistency.” My work seems to belong to that zone marked by “almost.”

I suspect a significant part of this is rooted in the unresolved simultaneity of my fascination for and my suspicion of the poet’s I, but there’s also the aversion I feel towards writing poems about my childhood (which could be traced back to issues that would give a Freudian fits, or simply my having listened to this at a formative age).

Or maybe I should just be a little more focused. I should really do a bout of intensely concentrated writing, rather than the lazy scribbling I’ve been doing, similar to the way I doodle when, say, over the phone. And I should really open the work to the exacting tasks and demands in what I’ve been reading lately (and not-so-recently).

Still, I suspect that my resolve to focus on craft might be a ploy to shift the emphasis away from something else.

Some Essays on Writing

The professor for the course I’m currently taking on Poetics (Writing on Writing) gave us an assignment: pick an essay about writing that we personally found “inspirational” and share it with the rest of the class.

While this list isn’t complete, and some of the links don’t point to the essays themselves but only to excerpts and/or commentary, here are some of those pieces, the first one being my own selection:

  1. “Got Punked: Rebellious Verse” by Chad Davidson
  2. “The Poem and Its Secret” by Durs Grünbein
  3. “The Bird is in Your Hands” by Toni Morrison
  4. “Jazz Messenger” by Haruki Murakami
  5. To Invigorate Literary Mind, Start Moving Literary Feet” by Joyce Carol Oates
  6. “Incremental Perturbation: How to Know Whether You’ve Got a Plot or Not” by John Barth