Sunday, November 23, 2008

Khurbn & Kopóltuš

An idea which is, or ought to be, central to my thinking can be presented by bringing together a sentence of Jerome Rothenberg's with one of Robert Duncan's. In his preface to Khurbn, Rothenberg writes:

Our search since then has been for the origins of poetry, not only as a willful desire to wipe the slate clean but as a recognition of those other voices & the scraps of poems they left behind them in the mud.

Let us leave aside, if only for a second, the question "Since when?". Here's Duncan's contribution, taken from "Kopóltuš":

The figure of the jig-saw that is of picture, the representation of a world as ours in a complex patterning of color in light and shadows, masses with hints of densities and distances, cut across by a second, discrete pattern in which we perceive on qualities of fitting and not fitting and suggestions of rime in ways of fitting and not fitting—this jig-saw conformation of patterns of different orders, of a pattern of apparent reality in which the picture we are working to bring out appears and of a pattern of loss and of finding that so compels us that we are entirely engrosst in working it out, this picture that must be put together takes over mere seeing.

(I am relying on one of Ron Silliman's old posts. He provides a useful lineation of this "serpentine sentence". I have only removed his linebreaks.)

Khurbn means simply "destruction" in Yiddish. The back cover of Khurbn and Other Poems says "total destruction", and, as Rothenberg notes, it means specifically "Holocaust" in this context. "Khurbn beysamigdesh" means "Destruction of the Temple". I am, of course, no expert on any of this. Here's something I found "on the internet":

The spontaneously generated, circulated, and adopted name for the Holocaust among the survivors themselves was the Hebrew/Yiddish word "khurbn"—or, more specifically, the third "khurbn," the first and second having been the destruction of the first and second Temples.

"Total destruction" in the sense of the destruction of the signifying totality. There is apparently some question about whether even the Holocaust can be said to measure up against the destruction of the Temples in this regard. But it is, in any case, against precisely the catastrophic loss of meaning that the Kopóltuš may be proposed. Before the sentence quoted above, Rothenberg writes as follows:

The poems that I first began to hear at Treblinka are the clearest message I have ever gotten about why I write poetry. They are an answer also to the proposition—by Adorno and others—that poetry cannot or should not be written after Auschwitz. Our search since then...

After khurbn, we might say, there is, in the first place, only the "mere seeing", vision without significance. A kopóltuš is a "picture that must be put together" to "take over" this "mere seeing", it is an arrangement of items (drawn from patterns in light and shadow, loss and finding) that occasion complex associations and, by this means ... by this means alone ... produces significance. If khurbn is total destruction, kopóltuš is elemental creation.

The poet, being human, "creates" only by arrangement. Significance is produced, not "out of nothing" (ex nihilo) but from "scraps left behind in the mud". The origins of poetry.

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