Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Of Another Tostian Item

When you face this apparition in the clouds.
Zettel for a wet, black crowd.


With that the Pangrammaticon takes a Christmas break. Thanks to all those who have been following along and contributing along the way. Special thanks to Laura, Jay and Tony for their insightful comments, to Aaron for his tip, and to Gary and Marcus, and those I have forgotten, for spreading the word. Thanks also to anonymous. I know who you are, but I haven't allowed you to post a comment. Maybe next year.

Please (continue to) have a look around, leave your thoughts wherever you wish. See you in the new year.

Here are some posts I think are especially clever:

You should, of course, have a look at my series of pieces, entitled "The Annotated Pilot" on Tony Tost's "I Am Not the Pilot", which is a poem you should read in any case. I think Part IV of this series is probably the most coherent.

For some general observations and exercises of a vaguely philosophical kind, try "Remark and Strophe", "Metaphysical Composure", "Do your own thing, man" (about Heidegger's "The Turning"), "The History of the World" and "Likeness, Transparency, Delinity".

For light entertainment (or superior amusement, if you will) I recommend "Cécité à l’aspect", "Untested Poem", "Intermission" (which is also recommended by my sister) and (before bed) "Anodyne Pillow".

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".

Friday, December 10, 2004

Apparatus and Machination: an approach to form

Like you, I'm suspicious of etymological analysis. But here's something I picked out of my Concise Oxford Dictionary tonight. In "The History of the World" I said, in effect, that (laboratory) apparatus is to science what (parliamentary) machination is to politics. I very much like that way of putting it. Now, here's what I discovered.

Apparatus comes from the Latin for "to make ready for", while machination comes from the Greek "contrivance". An apparatus, of course, is just scientific or technical equipment, while machination involves the laying of plots and intrigue.

(Readers of Foucault, by the way, will note that "apparatus" translates "dispositif" and that a disposition is a kind of readiness. Readers of Shakespeare, meanwhile, will note that Claudius' machinations are underscored with the slogan "Be in readiness.")

Now, a "scheme" (when it is not also just a plot) is "a systematic plan or arrangement for work or action". And it comes from the Greek for "form, figure". It is also the source of Kant's schematism by which the transcendental categories were to be somehow imposed on empirical experience. Lastly, we have the German "Bild", as in "Bildung", also meaning "form", and which gives us both "picture" and "image".

None of this proves anything, of course. But it indicates a direction. Between our scientific apparati and our political machinations, we have our imagery, the imagination at work (according to the plans, arrangements, plots, intrigues, etc. of our culture and our nature), and this is precisely the site of form. One should imagine (!) two enormous rigs, one material (the apparatus) and the other social (the machination). We connect the one to the other and call this thinking.

The task now is to make all of this experimentally plausible, that is, to devise (to contrive) clever ways of peeling images off appearances and applying them to surfaces. To think.

The History of the World

[Compare Ben Lerner's "Didactic Elegy"]

‘. . .a successful scientific theory of cognition must account for phenomenality, that is, . . . for the fact . . . that things have appearance.’

From the introduction to
Naturalizing Phenomenology

The world is everything that is on my case.
The solution to the problems
of phenomenology, which are problems
of action
as much as of perception,
is that
things appear as people surface.
Appearances are things arranged
on the surfaces of people
And surfaces are people arranged
among the appearances of things.
Note that the tenses are preserved.
Note the surface tension; the apparent ease
Of the presentation is an illusion.
We push against surfaces
and stand before appearances.
The appearance is the locus of our seeing.
It is the ambivalent object of sensation,
Determined in perception.
The surface is the locus of our doing.
It is the ambivalent subject of motion,
Determined in action.
We may push and push
and remain immobile.
We may stand and stand
The immediate determination
of what is seen
is intuition.
The immediate determination
of what is done
is institution.
The image is detached
from appearances,
and applied to surfaces
with equal ease.
The image is what can be done
without effort,
and seen,
without strain.
The image is easy*.
It is no substitute
for thought
for feeling.
Beauty remains the difficulty.
To negotiate the passage
between the intuition
and the institution.
To grasp the concept
is Begrifflichkeit
and to hold emotion,
We play them
off against each other
like third rate diplomats.
Style is negotiation.
The image is a concept
backed like an emotion.
The facility of style
lies in the arrangement of imagery.
May the republic retain
its style.
Imagination is not for children
Politics is to action
What science is to perception.
A doing that transforms the
immediacy of doing, the institution.
A seeing that transforms the
immediacy of seeing, the intuition.
Note where we stand to see.
Note what we see to stand.
History is all that has been done,
the total subject, everyone.
The world is all that will be seen,
the total object, everything.
Knowledge is the rightness of perception,
power the rightness of action.
Science cannot plumb the mind because
the mind itself is stretched
Between the surface and appearance.
Science works alone
on the appearance.
Science wants to see all that it can
Forgetting all that it has done.
Science assembles its apparatus,
and forgets.
By this means it locates objects
in space.
Just as politics positions subjects
in time and
its machinations.
Phenomenology recovers the time lost
In the spaces between things,
The space lost in the time
that is left to the people.
The history of the world:
Everything and everyone
that is on my case.

Post Script

Ezra Pound’s vision of elysium stipulates that ‘First came the seen, then thus the palpable.’ (LXXXI/535). This eidology is here corrected. Motion is as fundamental an experience as sensation. Spirit or mind is not sensation sensing itself (Novalis). Spirit is to be moved by sensation, to be sensitive to motion. To move against sensation. To sense against motion. To stand before and push against. To understand. To stand firm in this middle distance and write.

*We lift images from appearances and apply them to surfaces never the other way round. A surface is that to which an image may be effortlessly applied. An appearance is that from which it is lifted without strain. To imagine is sometimes to see and sometimes to do. The image may equally well be seen or done. The same image is equally compatible with surfaces and appearances. There are not some images that go better with surfaces than with appearances. But we must keep in mind that we cannot impose an image on an appearance; we must lift it from there. Nor can we lift an appearance from a surface, we must put it there. Thus, we lift an image off the appearance of the closed door and apply this same image in opening its surface. This whether in imagination or in experience. That is, the door appears closed as we run into it, and it surfaces in its openness as we pass through it. Note here that the door's openness is nothing to the door but belongs to you and me (the subject), i.e., that which is in motion. Its closedness, on the other hand, is the door’s imposition on our motion (and is objective).

Wednesday, December 08, 2004


One question that is worth asking, if only to show that it can't be answered, is what images are made of; another is where images may be found. The non-answers are: nothing and nowhere.

Images are often attached to things when one thing serves as an image of another thing and therefore represents it (though there are other ways of representing). And images are also, perhaps necessarily, instantiated in or as things (paintings, drawings, photographs, to take standard examples).

But I want to situate the image itself. I want to know how it materializes.

Consider the fact that experience includes something we call "appearances". These are often distinguished for philosophical purposes from "reality" and are sometimes qualified as "mere" appearances. Science compares a great many appearances in order to discern what we are told is an "underlying" reality, unfooled by deceptive appearances.

But experience also includes surfaces. I would like to distinguish these, with a similar aim in mind, from "ideality" again in order to give a sense to the "mereness" of a surface, or its superficiality. Reality and its mere appearance. Ideality and its mere surface. Politics, they say, brings together a great many surfaces in order to approach an "overarching" ideality, undaunted by disconcerting surfaces.

Now, the image, I want to say, is what can be immediately peeled off an appearance and applied to a surface. It is what can be seen without strain and done without effort. When expressed in a well crafted remark or strophe, it is also what can be said without question. Notice, then, that in working with images (at least on my definitions here) we are cut off from representations of the real and the ideal (which we will leave to science and politics).

Pure imagery is the perfect immanence of the presentation. It is what the poet and the philosopher are after.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The Image and the Item

We make ourselves pictures of the facts.

I am thankful for Jay's question a couple of weeks ago about "the conditions (assuming they can be defined) which permit something to qualify as a full image" because it has given me so much to think about. I think I might have something halfway coherent to say about it now.

The first thing I want to note is the adjective "full", which I also used in the original post. I had talked about "full imagery" in contrast to the, as it were, "mere" aesthetic feeling of Kitasono's sample line

a shell, a typewriter and grapes

But I think it is important to remember that the items on this list are quite real, and the words themselves are "fully" meaningful. There seems, then, to be two sets of conditions: those that permit something to qualify as an item on a list and those that permit it to qualify as an image in a poem: indeed, we can say that what we're after here is the distinction between "mere" lists and "full" poems. And Kitasono's procedure is very interesting because it suggests that it is possible to produce imagery, and to go on to produce ideoplasty (or what he called "orthodox poetry"), by the accumulation of lists, i.e., by the concatenation of items.

Some will pause at the other words we seem compelled to use to state this problem, as I do. The conditions in question are to "permit" imagery, by "qualifying" something. We can ask, what is this "something" when divested of the relevant conditions? What is it qualified to be? I think we can proceed experimentally here.

Put three grapes on a white plate.

I am asking you actually to do this, or to do something that is, for all phenomenological intents and purposes, similar (put a couple of round purple somethings on a flat white something . . . or something.) It is not enough that you imagine it because that would of course beg the question.

You're stuck with the image as long as you look at this plate. Cover the plate with a napkin (or something). The image is lost but the items remain there under the napkin. My question now is whether something comparable can be achieved with words. I think Kitasono managed it.

The individual words, "shell", "typewriter", "grapes", evoke images immediately, but when listed along with the conjunction "and" we can't get our minds easily around what is supposed to be happening. That is, when listed, they become items. Now, consider our experiment in terms of a "mere" list

three grapes and a white plate

Well, this is qualitatively almost as good as

three grapes on a white plate

which is to say, it "qualifies as an image". Why? Because the grammar of these words themselves, "grapes" and "plate", so to speak, put the grapes on the plate for us. This sort of thing is no doubt what poetry teachers make a great deal out when trying to explain the brilliance of William Carlos Williams' art of lineation. Kitasono carefully selected words that are held together only by a vague aesthetic feeling, if at all.

I will say more on this tomorrow.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Untested Poem

In hopes of a future owner who will do the honor
I have not yet named Humphrey Gilbert.
I have not yet named him.
I have not yet named the dog the research circles round.
I have not yet named it.
I have not yet named or pointed fingers.
I have not yet named old bills that have my name on them.
I have not yet named members of the Planning Committee.
I have not yet named a second qualifying machine.
I have not yet named the trust.

Yes, I will bring the new basset horn, but I have not yet named it.

I have not yet named who is.
I have not yet named the end of the dream hazy.
I have not yet named this image.
I have not yet named the reasons I chose.
I have not yet named any parts of my site.
I have not yet named Xanthippe's planet or the antagonistic race.
I have not yet named my fliers, but will report.
I have not yet named my loss to her.
I have not yet named this constraint.
I have not yet named the world, but I would not recieve advice.

It occurrs to me that I have not yet named my digital camera.

I have not yet named the most beautiful thing about America.
I have not yet named its geographical features.
I have not yet named them as each is known from only one male specimen.
I have not yet named what is far more vile than this.
I have not yet named the “project”.
I have not yet named the most objectionable and fatal ingredient in the English Magna Carta.
I have not yet named the story of Kano himself.
I have not yet named my secretary of environment and natural resources.
I have not yet named him but I have asked one of his children to name him.
I have not yet named “it”.

My newest car is a 1998 Ford Taurus. I have not yet named it.

I have not yet named the chords below.
I have not yet named a chair.
I have not yet named it cause I don't know what to call it.
I have not yet named any specific individual.
I have not yet named this one.
I have not yet named the fact that all of my own set travelled on foot.
I have not yet named the age.
I have not yet named the price of Warch's freedom.
I have not yet named his requiem.
I have not yet named him as a Cardinal.

Check out my first poem. I have not yet named it. Click here.

I have not yet named the other option open to you.
I have not yet named Robert Louis.
I have not yet named the Father.
I have not yet named the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans).
I have not yet named them, nor have I built anything on them.
I have not yet named these things and simply calling them Titans would be an absolutely blatant and unoriginal ripoff.
I have not yet named them, and will probably allow a variety of names with similar syllables or sounds so that they can have names that suit the cultural contexts
I have not yet named. But ply me with them:
I have not yet named my machine but when I do I’ll let you know.
I have not yet named a world I’ve not completely tested.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Parsing Flarf

I heard a fair lady sigh: 'I wish someone would write a good treatise on prosody.'

Ezra Pound, 'Treatise on Metre' (ABC of Reading)

A poet who writes prose poems is like a grammarian who parses sentences into words. Having chosen the on the face of it least complicated approach to lineation, the poet must now accomplish the (necessary) versification, the rhythm and the rhyme of the strophe, in the smooth (unintentional) space between each single word (intentionally) chosen, and must accomplish the requisite ideoplasty, not as an accumulation of aesthetic feelings (protopoetic emotional content) line by line, but, again, in the concatenation individual words and bits of punctuation. This, in fact, allows for a high degree of prosodic subtlety, and here as elsewhere flarf offers a unique opportunity to both the critic and the poet.

["A poet who writes prose poems is like a grammarian who parses sentences into words," I wrote, but I wonder if the force of the point is obvious. Consider the fact that grammarians normally parse into "grammatical units" or "parts of speech", the joints or articulations of which are not located unambiguously in the spaces between each word. The poet (like Kitasono, whom I've dealt with previously in regard to ideoplasty) often approaches prosody at the level of the line. My own belief is that grammar is constitutively a matter of individual word usage; and, indeed, one meaning of the word "parse" is to situate a word grammatically in its context (describing its inflection, etc.).]

A colleague drew my attention to a mystery I had not noticed when I composed (if that is the right the word) "The Anodyne Pillow". I googled its title and my poem is, in fact, the whole text provided by the search engine (at the time of this writing, Google continues to return only one hit.) He, however, had found, in his own search, a slightly different text, he said (wanting to know why I had made the changes that I seemed to have made.) Looking into it, I discovered something odd. Try googling only

"locality to the spring"

You end up getting four strangely similar texts, which are also strangely similar to "The Anodyne Pillow", but (strangely) the list does not include it.

... well curve. Indeed, the basilica nearby the pillow silk thai trades an unit stuck between a locality to the spring. An irreverently ...

... Indeed, the basilica nearby the car interior upholstery trades an unit stuck between a locality to the spring. candle centerpiece floating glass,

... curve. Indeed, the basilica nearby the motorcycle oil trades an unit stuck between a locality to the spring. winchester gun collector. ...

... a well curve. Indeed, the basilica nearby the dba filing trades an unit stuck between a locality to the spring. An irreverently ...

This cannot be a coincidence, we think, and our natural impulse is to click ourselves onto the pages indicated. The critic who tries this will notice that the text is not available at the source indicated by Google. Indeed, even the domain names alone (www.mdmk.org, for example) redirects you first to adfarm.mediaplex.com and then, you guessed it, to search.ebay.com, i.e., you've been baited and switched. This is true of all the hits, as was true of our remarkably similar "anodyne pillow" search.

I hope there is someone who can explain to me how this sort of "marketing" works, but the very fact that there are machines out there that are ready to construct language for the purpose of being searched is very important to flarf.

After all, I had simply been working on my series of critical pieces under the title "The Annotated Pilot" and had grown tired. I let my mind wander, doing the James Joyce thing, and came on the words "anodyne pillow", which I liked immediately, given my mood. So I searched "the public mind" for precursors to exonerate my innovation and, lo and behold, discovered (it seemed) that someone some time ago had tried to sell a pillow by calling it "anodyne", meaning "mentally soothing", I took it, or perhaps "metalic" (like electrolyized aluminium). In any case, the phrase "anodyne pillow", i.e., the grammatical form where anodyne modifies a pillow, was not my own creation but, I thought, someone else's.

There is a lot of grammatical garbage out there it seems. Palinurus sayeth "the stream is being polluted by a string of refuse-barges tipping out their muck." Flarfists should take it all in stride, of course, though the commercial applications, as it were, are disturbing. If marketeers are putting words together at random, then perhaps Google will not serve the purpose I had hoped in regard to prosody. I thought Google could determine interesting proportions in various word combinations, distinguishing orthodox from original grammar (in order, of course, to avoid the latter). I do not want to give the power to determine orthodoxy to e-bay's henchmen.

Can self-respecting poets really apply the luminous ideoplastic of "the basilica nearby the motorcycle oil" or the "frippery at some saggy panorama" to their work knowing what their source may be? Are we back to searching through the whole language within, word by word, hoping to be blessed by the muses?

I leave it as a question.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

The Annotated Pilot, Part V: Gubernator non sum

. . .nor out of cheap material create what is permanent.

It would be (has been) foolish to set out to produce what one hopes to be a seminal piece of Tost scholarship without consulting Palinurus. As I now flip anxiously through the pages of The Unquiet Grave, a reading of "I Am Not the Pilot" recommends itself that both mocks my investigations and confirms them.

In 1944, Cyril Connolly published The Unquiet Grave, A Word Cycle under the pseudonym Palinurus. It was, Connolly reports, described by critics as "merely an anthology, a collection of extracts chosen with 'outremer' snobbery and masquerading as a book or . . . if book it be, then it is both morbid and depressing." It would seem that Tony set out to produce an anthology that might provoke an equal but opposite critical force. Connolly said that his was "inevitably a war-book", and it seems to me that "I Am Not the Pilot" is inevitably a 9/11 poem. I mean "inevitable" with the same irony that we find in Connolly's introduction. "Although the author tried to extricate himself from the war and to escape from his time and place into the bright empyrean of European thought, he could not long remain above the clouds." (We see the cover of Invisible Bride before us, of course.)

This book mocks my analysis because its existence strips the poem of its innocence of tradition. The Palinurus of the Æneid was a pilot, and Connolly's first chapter is accordingly called "Ecce Gubernator [Behold the Pilot]". Thus a whole subtext, in the traditional sense of that word, unassisted by search engines of any kind, installs itself under the poem. The story of Palinurus is the story of a sailor who falls into the sea (because he falls asleep) and spends three days and nights in the ocean until he "at last [comes] safely to the seashore near Velia", after which he is murdered for his clothes by the locals and left on the beach to rot without burrial. Now, the Oracle tells us, "The shade of Palinurus must be appeased." Connolly explains that the real theme of the book emerges from this injunction: it denotes "the core of melancholy and guilt that works destruction on us from within." The simple theme of Tony's poem, then, is "I am not Palinurus and must not be appeased." If that were all, the critical flarfing so far explored would be a waste of time. While mildly interesting, the nature of the sources would be incidental to the poem, would have nothing to do with "what we vaguely call its poetical effect" (Kitasono). Tony's poem simply inverts a theme of Connolly's (who seems, however, to have wanted it to be inverted) and Peter O'Leary's recent suggestion that flarf is a mode of parody and Google-sculpting just a method of inspiration seems to be more or less right.

Two rhetorical figures will bring me from this mockmaking to confirmation. The first is an exchange between Allen Ginsberg and Robert Duncan during a writing class at Kent State in 1971.

RD: . . .Inspiration. You can't learn that, nobody can teach it to you, you either feel it or you don't.
AG: I think you can teach inspiration.
RD: Teach inspiration?
AG: Taking it literally, inspiration being a matter of breath, you can teach breathing.
RD: Oh, breathing, right. And you can teach vowels.
AG: And if you can teach breathing then you can teach a certain body looseness and mind-freshening-- (Allen Verbatim, p. 109)

Which might remind us of a page from Pound's ABC of Reading.

Perfectly sincere people say you 'you can't teach literature', and what they MEAN by that is probably true.
You can quite distinctly teach a man to distinguish between one kind of book and another. (p. 87)

The sense in which both of the arguments pass from the unteachable mystery of poetry to the teachable craft, is exactly that which at some point brings us up to the flarfomatic algorithms built into Google. You can quite distinctly program a machine to identify words and phrases and use this to establish a body-looseness (if you will).

"I Am Not Palinurus" is not a meaning that the poem carries, but is embedded in the very grammar, the apparatus of the poem itself. Meaning, here, is use. So it, too, is an anthology, but it is neither morbid nor depressing: has no melancholly core, feels no guilt. It is, on the contrary, shameless. And its sources display no snobbery at all, no erudition, no "empyrean of European thought", just the Global Idiom in use.

Connolly compared the English language to a polluted river (a river actively now being polluted) while "a few patient anglers are sitting" on its shore. It

has, in fact, so contracted to our own littleness that it is no longer possible to make a good book out of words alone. A writer must concentrate on his vocabulary but must also depend on the order, the timing and spacing of his words, and try to arrange them in a form which is seemingly artless, yet perfectly proportioned. (p. 93)

Here flarf is more optimistic about what can be fished out of the waters. Connolly called the classicism/romanticism debate "a dead dispute over the distribution of emphasis between man and nature". I wonder if I can still recover the poem as a classical exercise; or at least my criticism. In any case, I think I've been pushed to the edge of my own transatlantic snobbery and must now try to find a body-looseness somewhere in the new American idiom. Google. Blog. Flarf.