That this text is designed to interpolate itself into emptiness/silence—to let emptiness/silence in—gives it remarkable breath: possibilities of in- and exhalation to writer and reader alike. I’d like to suggest that it is a woman’s feminine text (denying any redundancy) that implicitly acknowledges/creates the possibility of other/additional/simultaneous texts. This is a model significantly different from Bloom’s competitive “anxiety of influence.” It opens up a distinction between the need to imprint/impress one’s mark (image) on the other and an invitation to the others discourse as necessary to an always collaborative making of meaning. Collaboration with the reader is unnecessary only when meaning is being reported rather than made.
Retallack, Joan. The Poethical Wager. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. 125.
If poethics is a lived pattern of conscious and unconscious values, its contested habits of being are performed in literature as lettristic-phonemic practices. These ventures foreground the parts of our human agency exercised by means of configuring words—words that incorporate and transform experiences of mind, society, and nature at increasingly busy linguistic intersections. Poetry, as chronically blurred genre, can demonstrate just how busy by operating simultaneously from multiple perspectives, in multiple dimensions, in multiple languages that draw on the inherent ambiguities, cross-references, polyglot intercultural vectors of all languages in today’s electronically intimate world. Poetry, particularly authentically contemporary poetry (that which could only have been written in its own time), is polyglossia in motion. The poethics that comes out of the postmodern crisis is in programmatic dissonance with simplistic thinking and ideals of purity.
Retallack, Joan. The Poethical Wager. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. 104.
The problem is no longer getting people to express themselves, but providing little gaps of solitude and silence in which they might eventually find something to say. Repressive forces don’t stop people from expressing themselves, but rather, force them to express themselves. What a relief to have nothing to say, the right to say nothing, because only then is there a chance of framing the rare, or ever rarer, the thing that might be worth saying.
Deleuze, Gilles. Negotiations. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.
But the king said, “Theuth, my master of arts, to one man it is given to create the elements of an art, to another to judge the extent of harm and usefulness it will have for those who are going to employ it. And now, since you are father of written letters, your paternal goodwill has led you to pronounce the very opposite of what is their real power. The fact is that this invention will produce forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learned it because they will not need to exercise their memories, being able to rely on what is written, using the stimulus of external marks that are alien to themselves rather than, from within, their own unaided powers to call things to mind. So it’s not a remedy for memory, but for reminding, that you have discovered. And as for wisdom, you’re equipping your pupils with only a semblance of it, not with truth. Thanks to you and your invention, your pupils will be widely read without benefit of a teacher’s instruction; in consequence, they’ll entertain the delusion that they have wide knowledge, while they are, in fact, for the most part incapable of real judgment. They will also be difficult to get on with since they will be men filled with the conceit of wisdom, not men of wisdom. (274e-275b)
Plato, Phaedrus. in Jacques Derrida. Dissemination. Barbara Johnson, trans. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1981.
People are always saying that the East is the East and the West is the West and you have to keep from mixing them up. When I first began to study Oriental philosophy, I also worried about whether it was mine to study. I don’t worry any more about that. At Darmstadt I was talking about the reason back of pulverisation and fragmentation: for instance, using syllables instead of words in a vocal text, letters instead of syllables. I said, “We take things apart in order that they may become the Buddha. And if that seems too Oriental an idea for you,” I said, “Remember the early Christian Gnostic statement, ‘Split the stick and there is Jesus.’”
Cage, John. A Year from Monday. Middleton, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1967. 136.
Fractal models (with their scalar self-similarities and unpredictable variations) bring into the foreground of our attention the large patterns and erratic details, the dynamic equilibrium of order and disorder in complex life systems like weather and coastlines. …I have begun to think of certain forms of art (for example, the post-1940s music of John Cage) as having a fractal relation to the rest of life. They are complex constructions that, among other things, present their material presence as a dynamically indeterminate “coastline” for audiences to explore via their own complex cultural and psychological dispositions.
Ocean beach and Steinian page are equally contingent and dynamic zones whose life principle is change. The beach changes in its conversation with the vagaries and variabilities of meteorological elements; the page changes in its conversation with variable epistemologies, grammars, and genres, as well as with the associative lements of a reader’s mind as that mind lives within multiple intersecting forms whose rules are neither simple nor readily apparent. All this occurs of course within another strange constancy—the changing cultural climate of the developing contemporary.
Or rather I sense that languages and coastlines operate with similar kinds of principles. If one thinks of a coastline as just one site of mutually transformative exchange between different kinds of complex dynamical systems, then language as it exists in the active mediation between neural network and world ecosystems is surely such a site. There are specific things one gains in thinking of language in this way, particularly when confronted by literature that won’t resolve into simple mimesis or tidy containments and conclusions.
It saves a certain amount of frustration to remember that you will never solve a coastline.
Retallack, Joan. “The Difficulties of Gertrude Stein.” The Poethical Wager. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. 153-4.
You do not write what you know, but what you are unaware you know and then discover, without surprise, you have always known.
As one knows that death is the end or that in a few hours it will be day.
As if you were, in short, exploring a past diverted from the course of your memory, but originally yours.
Jabès, Edmond. Rosmarie Waldrop, trans. The Book of Resemblances 3: The Ineffaceable, The Unperceived. Hanover: Wesleyan University Press/University Press of New England, 1991.
The random function exercised by the writer’s/reader’s mind is the operating principle of the essay as form. One might ask how to understand forms whose pleasure it is to violate or exceed generic expectations. Perhaps the point is not understanding at all, at least not in the sense of grasping. Essays, like poems and philosophical meditations, should elude our grasp just because their business is to approach the liminal spectrum of near-unintelligibility—immediate experience complicating what we thought we knew. In this case “to write” means to engage in a probative, speculative projection of the often surprising vectors of words as they graze the circumstances of ongoing life. “To read” means to live with the text over the real time of everyday life so it can enter into conversation with other life projects. Forms that move the imagination out of bounds toward pungent transgressions, piquant unintelligibilities intrude into our tangible surroundings. They maintain an irritating presence, pleasurable or not, as radically unfinished thought. They give the reader real work to do. If the essay is a worthwhile wager, it is about startling the mind into action when much is at stake and intelligibility is poor.
Retallack, Joan. The Poethical Wager. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. 48.
… To be able to do something quick and then be incredibly slow; that we shouldn’t be all on the same timeline churning out products. I would argue for scenarios that allow for reading to become writing or listening to become talking or looking to become making and for scenarios where there are multi-temporal approaches to engage with the social and what rhythm you want to give to those exchanges. These are the things I find most enjoyable about dealing with art.
Korman, Sam. “BOMBLOG: BOMB GLOBAL: Jan Verwoert by Sam Korman.” BOMB Magazine: Home Page. N.p., 14 May 2012. Web. 23 May 2012. .
As to the poet/artist dichotomy question, I think of myself as being both, and I imagine that my “artist’s books” are really more like books than most publications which fall within that genre. In my own (little) way I am always aware of literature, and it seems to me that artists like Jenny Holzer (for example) would be much better if they were more aware of the literary tradition of the short sentence, text, or whatever; they are clearly ignorant of the aphorism and its related forms. I have to say that I am very modest about my own capacities, but with that reservation, I do think that I have a certain awareness of both art and literature as traditions, whereas people do tend to be aware of one or the other.
Finlay, Ian Hamilton. The Present Order: Writings on the work of Ian Hamilton Finlay. Murray, Caitlin and Tim Johnson, eds. Marfa, Texas: Marfa Book Company, 2010. 65.