Monday, December 13, 2004

The Articles of Articulation


Laura: "I suspect that the best writers are always in some capacity working within a tradition while working against all traditions and find their peace in the singularity of that experience."

Gary: "I think it is up to us to make the discourse about poetry be solid and useful and illuminating. And it is up to us to illuminate the variety of poets.... With poetry: the poet, everything is the poet."

Laura: "I like this: the. Which makes it difficult to generalize. If it is the poet, then, what is the variety?"

This dialogue only almost happened, so it has the strengths and weaknesses of any reconstruction. I hope Laura and Gary don't mind. In any case, the idea I want to introduce with it emerges from my initial reaction to the first remark.

Shouldn't it read, I thought, "the best writers are always . . . working within THE tradition while working against SOME traditions and find their peace in the singularity of that experience." The argument for putting it is this way is that once you have the substantive, but indefinite, article "a" you really already have a singularity. Whatever it is that gives the writer in question a tradition, one that is not necessarily shared by other writers, imbues that writer with a constitutive difference. So there is no need for any conflict or contrast with anything, let alone everything.

Articles (a, an, some, the), as their name suggests, are crucial bits of grammar in regard to the articulation of experience. (I wonder if "all" is an article of this kind in Laura's sentence.) Conjunctions (and, but, if) of course also "join" parts of the sentence, but in a hamfisted, rough and ready sort of way, since the words or clauses to be conjoined remain intact after the operation. The article reaches into the word it joins, defining not just the structure of the sentence, but the texture of the experience sentenced.

But I don't think I'm just being a stickler for logical grammar here. THE poet, who is, according to Gary, everything, cannot be just any old poet, but is an indication toward the full variety of poets (the multitude contained, however imperfectly, by Walt Whitman). It is within THE tradition, when contrasted with the available, off-the-shelf fashions ("some" traditions) that the poet finds her haeceity, or this-ness, i.e., completes the work.

I'd like to defend the idea that "the best writers" of neo-classicism, romanticism, modernism and post-modernism were all doing the same thing and that the best writers of our generation will be doing that as well. Not against all tradition, but toward the one tradition.

What Kitasono, again, called "pure and orthodox poetry".


Laura Carter said...

"Pure and orthodox" is just too serious for me. So I like the conflation of a/the. It's an odd way of softly arguing, or, perhaps, as is better, not arguing. Showing. Or telling. But not necessarily with an arrow.

Laura Carter said...

Not to pick another bone, but my original comment (not the first one, but the last) springs from an attempt to enter Gary's conversation on his level, and my final comment (the first one) is the culmination of a paper I just finished that is a conversation in itself. It's difficult to take these out of context, though I know you've admitted that.

I think discussing poetry from a discursive angle, as I'm coming to realize, can be difficult, if not impossible.

Thomas Basbøll said...

I'm a pretty argumentative fella sometimes, and I've come simply to accept the difficulty of having an argument at all. (It isn't everyone's bag.)

I appreciate your comments, and I think the seriousness of orthodoxy is an interesting reason to be suspicious of people of invoke it. But I encourage you to read the March 12 chapter of Guide to Kulchur simply because Kitasono's tone is so light in its mood, even as he uses those words. After all, it was an answer to Pound's question "What is young Japan doing?" And they weren't being "serious" in any sense that I think you'd object to. His VOU club, after all, organized itself around "that great harmless artist Eric Satie".

I wasn't trying to put words in your mouth, or Gary's, and certainly wasn't trying to start an argument. I just thought the detailed interest in articles was illuminating, and I guess I was trying to give my interest in it an orthodox foundation in yours.

Softness and suppleness are essential properties of poetry (and criticism), I'm with you on that. I'm now wondering if "an against all" argument is softer than a "the against some". Will think about it some more.

Laura Carter said...

"an" against "some" is always better.


"the" against "some"


"an" against "all"

have different strengths.

Diluting the "the" is very important to me. For many reasons, not the least of which are metaphysical.

Somehow, the use of the extra word "some" draws attention to the plurality of the "traditions"---it particularizes it, but only partially of course. So in some way, using the "all" (which is implied, of course) gives just a bit to the other side, making deferences where necessary, or perhaps not necessary.

I tell/told my students that this is the best win to convince.

Thomas Basbøll said...

I have a feeling I'm not going to convince you about this, but I find an-against-some to be far too vague, while an-against-all too (romantically) contrarian, and the-against-some is just right. I think there's plenty here for a post later on. Once again, thanks.