Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Transparency III

Consider the application of Kitasono's method of producing orthodox poetic effects to the identification of salient features of our itemized crystogram.

There seem, for example, to be only two properly objective, appropriately inhuman, solid, soulless and static "things" on the list, namely, a matchbox and a cigarette. To see that these are the only two dead things in the bunch, it is enough to try to produce what Kitasono described as a mere "aesthetic feeling" (without "further development") by the articulation of three items, using the classic line

a shell, a typewriter and grapes

as a paradigm. We get lines like the following.

a matchbox, a cigarette and an outstretched hand
a matchbox, a cigarette and a shaking
a matchbox, a cigarette and a mouth
a matchbox, a cigarette and someone else
a matchbox, a cigarette and a failure to evoke

All these give us more than an aesthetic feeling, which is to say, they evoke an image. I leave it as a challenge, but I'll claim that there are no three things on the list that can be put together without inadvertently producing imagery. (When I was younger, after watching a PBS special on mathematics, I spent many hours trying to draw a map that would need more than four colours to ensure that no two territories of the same colour were to touch. This challenge is like that.)

The thing to pay attention to here is the way the crystogram uses body parts (a hand, a mouth) and gesticulations (shaking, thrusting) as preconditions (a priori conditions) for the solidity and soullessness of things (a matchbox, a cigarette). I was trying, in a much simpler way, to do something like this by setting a naked body against a glass monolith in the pursuit of metaphysical composure.

This contrast renders the things transparent or rain-sparkling, while giving the person his necessary opacity. Somewhere around here we may locate the tension film, the "thin veneer of immediate reality". The next step will be to understand the composition of the thingly and personal items in this image in their relation to "the whole life" or "existence" described. In my next post, I'll therefore look at the desire to smoke and the correlative belief of the smoker.


Chris Vitiello said...

Thomas, this line of writing is really interesting.

I'd be interested in hearing your take on how changing the order of the three elements would affect the reader's formulation and visualization.

a matchbox, a cigarette, and a failure to evoke


a matchbox, a failure to evoke, and a cigarette

But not to distract you from your larger pursuit in the current series of posts.


Thomas Basbøll said...

Thanks for the comment, Chris. Interesting experiment. My first thought is that some of the items denote events (a failure, a concentration, a growth) rather than things. These serve as centers of images when put at the end of a list, a catalyst, or crystalizing agent; but when shifted in between two objects as you suggest, the result is almost narrative.

a matchbox, a failure, a cigarette

This probably has something to do with the acquired grammar or cultural baggage of cigarettes, especially when put at the end of a series, leaving us with what may be an interesting rule for those who (wisely) eschew narrative: don't mention a cigarette at the end--it'll turn your poem into a story.

Chris Vitiello said...

A thing's acquired grammar---that's worthwhile to think about.

In his Notebook of the Pine Woods, Francis Ponge has sections where he writes several lines of verse, and then he rearranges them, or he takes the back half of the line and puts it at the front. This isn't syntactically or semantically unusual at all---essentially just the asking of the difference between writing "I saw A and B" and "I saw B and A." Ponge notes that it really doesn't make a difference either way, and asks what the implications for verse are. I find this sort of question valuable as a way of revealing poetic and linguistic conventions that have become so ingrained that I've habituated to them.

I'll look back at those sections of his poem and comment in about it.