Invoking Evocation

Gregory Ulmer in Teletheory: Gramatology in the Age of Video brings the memoir work of N. Scott Momaday into conjunction with the schizo-analytic work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. The one is The Way to Rainy Mountain; the other, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. The explanation offered by Ulmer:

Deleuze and Guattari provided an argument for the authority of a nomadic approach to thought at an abstract level of argument. Momaday offers something more specific — a text about a nomadic people, about a journey, that shows how to bring into appearance, for ourselves, the imaginative register of materials we are likely to need in the process of invention.
Earlier Ulmer quotes from Momaday in the context of "attending to the multiple dimensions of thought". He quotes from the Prologue to The Way to Rainy Mountain. What he chooses to highlight reminds one of allegorical emblems with their multiple articulations of image and word. See ...
He [Momaday] insists upon the value of both [oral and written] traditions, which is another way of attending to the multiple dimensions of thought, for "the journey is made with the whole memory, that experience of the mind which is legendary as well as historical, personal as well as cultural. And the journey is an evocation of three things in particular: a landscape that is incomparable, a time that is gone forever, and the human spirit, which endures [...]".
Ulmer's ever so enticing dwelling upon the tripartite whets the appetite. One wants to see in situ what is incomparable, forever gone, and enduring. Explore more how spirit, time and landscape entwine. What informs this evocation of the three things is the figure of the journey and Momaday just prior to this is description of what is evoked appeals to an invocation of imagination.
The journey herein recalled continues to be made anew each time the miracle comes to mind, for that is peculiarly the right and responsibility of imagination.
"Treatise on Nomadology — The War Machine" is of a landscape and time incomparable and forever gone. This section out of Thousand Plateaus can endure through an act of imaginative reading, one that treats the text as a landscape. See ...
It is not the nomad who defines this constellation of characteristics; it is this constellation that defines the nomad, and at the same time the essence of the war machine. If guerrilla warfare, minority warfare, revolutionary and popular war are in conformity with the essence, it is because they take war as an object all the more necessary for being merely "supplementary": they can make war only on the condition that they simultaneously create something else, if only nonorganic social relations.
Towards the end of The Way to Rainy Mountain in the last of the numbered sections, Momaday leaves us with a way that is a way of reading
Once in his life a man ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience, to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder about it, to dwell upon it. He ought to imagine that he touches it with his hands at every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon it. He ought to imagine [...]
And reading as Deleuze and Guattari make us experience is a form of warfare.

And so for day 1191

Cock Tail

Hung over: overindulged alcoholic poets as I have waded through two thick biographies:

  • Poet Be Like God: Jack Spicer and the San Francisco Renaissance by Lewis Ellingham and Kevin Killian
  • City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O'Hara by Brad Gooch
Cure: hair of the dog (not more biographies but a return to the poetry).

First a jigger full of from Frank O'Hara "Meditations in an Emergency" [which excerpt forms the epigraph to Gooch's bio of the New York poet]:
I can't even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there's a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life.
Add one big ice cube chunk from Spicer's After Lorca
Dear Lorca,
When I trannslate one of your poems and I come across words I do not understand, I always guess at their meanings. I am inevitably right. A really perfect poem (no one yet has written one) could be perfectly translated by a person who did not know one word of the language it was written in. A really perfect poem has an infinitely small vocabulary.
And why not add a garnish from Lorca "A Flood of Tears for Ignacio Sanchez Mjias" (translated by Carlos Bauer)?
At five in the afternoon
Stirred. Not shaken.

And so for day 1190


Jeffrey Donaldson's collection of poems Slack Action can at times mislead the reader into believing the author lacks a sense of polish and that there is ample room for tightening up the diction. But the sensitive reader may see in the initial poems bordering on verbose prose the imitation of the titular figure and following the recipe set out by the definition that graces the cover of Slack Action.

A railroading term, slack action refers to the degree of play that opens up in the couplings between moving cars. Loose coupling is often desirable to enable a train to bend around curves and is also an aid in starting heavy trains.
Halfway through the collection there is "More Than Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Listener" which from one perspective is organized like a train. Lots of short stanzas (from two to four lines), all compact and end-stopped, are capped by a bravura run on that takes us on a ride
Listeners at a reading are like a day
in late September, the Bruce Trail
on the escarpment near Grimsby

after the leaves have begun turning
and the air has a sour nip
because it rained that morning

and the colours are deeper
and richer than on the dry days,
and I can see the lake

off through the trees below me
with its heavy blue all the way out
and I keep still for a moment

and there is nothing like a wind
and you can hear a leaf drop
for there isn't a sound

and without a sound I cannot tell
without looking, whether I am
the listener at a reading, or it is.
Like a caboose that concluding "or it is" — attention grabbing but returning us by a long succession to the driver: a day in September in a particular landscape: a segment of the Niagara escarpment. The time and place is personified as a listener. And of course the reader of the poem is through the speaking voice (that "I") made to reflect upon that personification in an odd but compelling fashion for we too are like a landscape in a particular time — ready for a reading.

And so for day 1189

A Vos Souhaits

On the Ides of March, perfect to document a very old joke.

Julius Sneezer: "Etchoo, Brute?"

This image reminds me of the line drawing illustrations in old Latin readers. It is from a coaster that I found. It may have belonged to a set. It was all by its lonesome and I thought deserved some recognition.

I have since discovered that the joke dates back at least to the 1940s in the United Kingdom from a cartoon strip named ""Julius Sneezer, the Sneezing Caesar". Catchy.

And so for day 1188

Simile of Semiosis

Gregory Ulmer in his essay in The Anti-Aesthetic [ed. by Hal Foster] pointed to the distinction between allegoresis and allegory as marshalled by Maureen Quilligan. The Language of Allegory: Defining the Genre. [Cornell University Press, 1979].

The difference is characterized like a misread map with a determination to respect boundaries.

The inappropriate terminology of allegoresis (verticalness, levels, hidden meaning, the hieratic difficulty of interpretation) continues to contaminate the reader's appreciation of the peculiar processes and values of narrative allegory. Hunting for one-to-one correspondences between insignificant narrative particulars and hidden thematic generalizations, he is frustrated when he cannot find them and generally bored when he can. This state of affairs leads logically to Coleridge's strictures against an inorganic, mechanical, and thoroughly unappealing kind of literature.

We need to develop a new set of critical terms derived not from allegoresis but from the process of reading allegorical narratives. Only in his way can we hope to retrieve for intelligent reading and consideration that species of narrative we have called allegorical. And only by looking closely at individual narratives, without imposing any preconceptions on their paratactic development, shall we be able to trace the complicated patterns of interconnected meaning which spread like a web across their horizontal verbal surfaces. Then we may easily sense the essential affinity of allegory to the pivotal phenomenon of the pun, which provides the basis for the narrative structure characteristic of the genre. [32-33]
Later we encounter an overblown simile creating distance between fidelity and overinterpretation...
The nineteenth century is not the century of allegorical narrative; on the contrary, denoted [demoted?] in favor of "symbolism," allegory was labeled a mechanical contrivance of the "fancy" whereby an author with a thematic statement to make hunts down a serviceable vehicle and tows a veritable dirigible of overrriding meaning down an all too predictable road. This definition of allegory, which actually describes an analogy stretched as thin as it will go, was inherited by the twentieth century, and this definition is the one that recent books on the subject have sought to deflate. [193]
Note the word play on dirigible and deflate which is surely akin to the characteristic pivotal pun. I am interested however in the link between airship and the work of allegoresis which is a reading that according to Quilligan is absorbed in verticalness and levels of meaning whereas a critical reading of allegory is horizontal and attentive to the unfolding of story and ever complicating patterns of relationship. The "mechanical contrivance" is in a matter of speaking ideal for going higher and higher in raptures of interpretation but equally for going further and further over the horizon like an airship out of Verne or the anachronistic machinations of steampunk...

If allegoresis is reading as if allegory (a speaking otherwise) is involved, we have at play a certain ventriloquism. Reading as puppetry. And I for one am prepared to follow Quilligan in her interpretations, especially of Melville's The Confidence Man, to the point where allegory arrives in the end at an invitation to reflect upon the reader's act of reading which (and here I am extrapolating) is a type of encounter with the mask. The prime question in engaging literature (allegorical or not) is which face will I as reader prepare to face the quiddity before me. Where will the search end: what quiddity will I uncover or what mask drop, which face save?

And so for day 1187

liminal deployments

An exhibition gave rise to an editorial.

Stanley Schmidt in "Technology and Taste" takes his cue from a travelling exhibition about the life and work of William Morris.

The Earthly Paradise: Arts and Crafts by William Morris and His Circle from Canadian Collections. / Le paradis terrestre. L'artisanat d'art selon William Morris et ses disciples dans des collections canadiennes.

Beginning by commenting on the ironies of artisan production being unaffordable to the working class, Schmidt goes on to argue that mass production has improved affordability and quality and that what stands in the way of realizing Morris's vision is not technology but the social and economic factors involved in its deployment. He observes:

Products of quite respectable quality can be made under decent working conditions and without wrecking the environment. Yes, shoddy workmanship, poor working conditions, and waste and pollution are still all too easy to find. But now the blame must be placed on manufacturers too cheap or unscrupulous to do things right not on the intrinsic inability of machines to do a decent job.
This from Analog April 1995. In the same issue of the magazine one finds a story by Julia Ecklar "The Human Animal" in which an explanation about how humans are animals and that we look the same from baby to adulthood, that is we do not progress from larvae to pupae to adult stage, is told to a race of beings with such distinct stages is interpreted as less about out nurturing instincts and more about insatiability:
You told her worse than that [...] You told her that humans are unChanged children, abominations who would feed themselves to the destruction of everything else around them. You told her that humans cannot be lived with or trusted.
Interesting take on what it may mean to grow up and live responsibly and do a decent job. Time to become changelings.

And so for day 1186

Pearls, Stars and Selves

Lost selves found in symbol.

Fadi Abou-Rihan upon reading the entry about Gwendolyn MacEwen's translation of the Yannis Ritsos poem "Helen" suggested the play by Carole Fréchette Helen's Necklace. The play has been translated by John Murrell. As the back cover to the Playwrights Canada Press edition indicates "Helen's world is irrevocably changed by her search for a trinket." I like how the emphasis is not on loss but upon search.

The play is set in an unnamed Arabic city devastated by war. The play is built upon Helen's search for a lost necklace. In that search she encounters others who have lost far more: homes and children. Through these encounters she becomes more self-aware and eventually finds an appropriate symbol giving her more than what she has lost.

One important stage in this quest, is the exchange of names. In this process, Helen references her namesake of Troy.

Helen: Your name? My name is Helen.

Nabil: Ellen?

Helen: No, Helen, like the woman who caused the war. You understand?

Nabil: The war?

Helen: Some people say she was just a plaything of the gods, that it wasn't really her fault, but others say she was guilty, and that she was just a responsible for what happened as if she had wanted it to happen. Helen of Try. You understand?

Nabil: You are "Helen of Troy," yes?

Helen: No. Just Helen. Helen of the North. Helen who didn't cause a war. Helen who doesn't know anything about war. And you are? ... Mounir? Walid? Youssef?

Nabil: Nabil.
Helen who must learn about the aftermath of war if she is to recover that which she has lost if only in a symbolic fashion. She eventually finds her way to the sea's edge and there as footprints vanish in the wet sand she comes to this realization:
On the frothy crest of a wave, all of a sudden I see my necklace appear for a moment, something ridiculously small and delicate which boils up for a moment and evaporates just as quickly. I reach out to grab it. Ridiculous. My arm is much too short. I close my hand around emptiness, like that. I open my fist. Nothing.
This is not the end of the play but is the end of misprision. Around this kernel of nothing springs greater understanding.

Fréchette's play reminds me of a Heine poem "Das Meer hat seine Perlen" to be found in German and various translations including English ones at LiederNet. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow turned his hand at a version and his begins:
The sea hath its pearls,
The heaven hath its stars;
Heine's poem ends in a moment of plenitude akin to a dissolution. See it here rendered by Emma Lazarus
My heart, and the sea, and the heavens
Are melting away with love.
A fate similar to the pearls of Helen's Necklace.

And so for day 1185

The Great Through The Small

There are these lines from the handsome edition (designed by Tim Inkster and typeset at The Coach House and published by Exile Editions) of Gwendolyn MacEwen's translation of Helen, a poem by Yannis Ritsos, these lines that take on the mystery of what is remembered...

Now and again I can still sense that aroma — I mean, I remember it;
isn't it strange? — those things we usually consider great, dissolve, fade away —
some other things remain, unimportant, meaningless things; I
     recall seeing one day
a bird perching on a horse's back; and that baffling thing
seemed to explain (especially for me) a certain beautiful mystery.
And between these two observations is a description of a necklace sent to Helen. The necklace which our speaker claims as being forgotten came to her after the slaughter of Clytemnestra, a necklace she never wore but is able to describe in minute detail "made / from small golden masks, held together by links / from the upper tips of their ears". What would appear to be a dichotomy between the great and the meaningless becomes upon closer examination a relation of accessibility: access to the great comes through remembering small details. It is all that remains.

And so for day 1184

From Framework to Frame

Amusing anecdote.

Jonathan Warren. "The Lessons of the Living Dead: Marcel's Journey from Balbec to Douville-Féterne in Proust's Cities of the Plain: Part Two". Studies in 20th Century Literature Volume 19, Number 2, Summer 1995.

Note 5

I am grateful to François Lachance who first suggested the alignment of Lot's wife and Kristevan statuary character to me.
How I did so involved a wee bit of mischief. I was one of the translators of Julia Kristeva's lectures for the Special Seminar in Comparative Literature: Proust and Perceptible Time held at the Centre for Comparative Literature, University of Toronto, in 1992. I dutifully translated but added a running set of footers (very easy to do in a document-centred program like Wordperfect; less so in a page-centred program like Microsoft Word). Sometime later I published those running footers as lines in a poem called Metropole in Tracking the Remembrance of Touch. The lines reference Lot's wife as "but a pile / of dysfunctional electrolytes / the unnamed wife" and make of her a forerunner of Antigone who also is not named in the poem. The poem also plays with the notion of foreclosure. As I recall Jonathan was a student in the seminar and liked the trick with the footers and he very kindly sent me an autographed off-print of his article which has surfaced among my Proust books and led me to recall those days of the early 90s where and when we worked the interstices.

And so for day 1183

Directions Separations

In this odd little text set in courier there is a neat trick of severing words with «guillemets» (French quotation marks). There are only two instances.

(details, the rest

s » weep
The next and final instance swerves almost to rewind.
I was s « aying
what is interesting is that in this boundary challenging use of quotation (never really opening or closing) nathalie stephens in Species: Ex(hib)it is working through a kind of s ‹ addness to arrive at yes and affirmations and a set of ampersands & & & built upon syllables so s ‹ light and labile

And so for day 1182