Tuesday, March 26, 2013

La Grande Emission

I would only offer my humble reading of Ashbery's poem "Variant" and let you read for yourself Marjorie Perloff's longer and exquisitely footnoted piece, which I have neither the time nor the inclination to write especially in terms of his "position" or lineage which do not interest me in the least. As Norman O. Brown said: "The body of the world which is broken into pieces is the body of the god." Materiality is thy name, O divinity. He looks a little like his mother, but where did he get those ears? Who can say, really? Quite a shame, I'd say.. Oh well..

 From Houseboat Days (1977), here's (broken by my shaggled commentry):


Sometimes a word will start it, like
Hands and feet, sun and gloves.

Here, a word is not specifically a word, but a neurological trigger composed of at least two elements, in this case words, the genesis of this neurological line requires at least two word points, therefore, a "word" as a line must require at least one combination. What the combination is can easily be cognate with usual logic sets ie hands and feet, but just as easily the word-line can be between disparate elements, sun and gloves, but notice also, the play about the forms, hands, using an S, and feet, a formal word to declare the plural, in short a small essay on morphological subjectivity. The essay is echoed in the second pair, but the 'singular' word now comes first, and 's' word follows, the sound of which is actually handsandfeet sunandgloves, or at least when viewed under the hermeneutic microscope, the phrase begins to speak a little more, as the "ands and and"
speaks of the ampersand * which is three such marks, and which look like a star.

The way
Is fraught with danger, you say, and I
Notice the word “fraught” as you are telling
Me about huge secret valleys some distance from
The mired fighting—“but always, lightly wooded
As they are, more deeply involved with the outcome
That will someday paste a black, bleeding label
In the sky,

This to me, rings squarely of _The Politics of Experience and the Bird of Paradise_, a 1967 book by Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing. The Politics of Experience critiques the idea of normality in modern society, and argues that it is not people who are mad, but the world, but in this case, the madness is simply word-choice, or the play of sense across language posed as a subtle tremor, or as J.A. uses later, something between a luster and wimple, which also "echoes" something between "lust and a whimper" in the sense of sense itself as posed by language. This would be a good way of connecting style to psychology in the sense of something like a 'brushstroke'..

but until then
The echo, flowing freely in corridors, alleys,
And tame, surprised places far from anywhere,
Will be automatically locked out—vox
Clamans—do you see? End of tomorrow.

This is possibly the most interesting, and political part of the poem, but it could also be something about Laing's ideas of culmination in madness. What comprises madness is often this plurality of meaning, and this focus of specific meaning upon a specific object. In psychology this is often referred to as the 'fixed idea' but fixed ideas in madness often give rise to flights of fancy and grave psychosis. The same is absolutely true about history. According to Marjorie Perloff, the vox
Claman(ti)s "has a moral and prophetic charge, excoriating all orders of mankind and social class for their corruption and need for reform." In this universal need for reform, do we not see then Laing's echoic both in its actual form and its reverse, ie Both the world, and the people are insane, and if this seems to effect too much of a negative sense, be enjoined to simply imagine that neither government nor the common people of any class need necessarily be afoot to promote the greatest good whether by ignorance or inclination or by some combination of the two, as in hands and feet, to do so! It impresses me deeply that there is a poem which says this, for it is no doubt a great truth to be reckoned with.

don’t try to start the car or look deeper
Into the eternal wimpling of the sky: luster

I liked where Marjorie took this, but I would simply say that this is akin to Ashbery saying: "There is no escape." Going 'on the road' and escaping into the physical distance is no answer, and conversely neither is rendering it all an opaque elemental abstraction ie an object of reflection, or a sky of abstraction whose vicissitudes are that of 'wimpling'.. That paradox of sound, of rippling as impenetrability, the relationality of silence and speech, their interposable nature, of silence as speach, that politicality, or madness, sense, etc.. depth as flatness, meaning as absence, bliss as torture (old romantic notions, no?)...

On luster, transparency floated onto the topmost layer
until the whole thing overflows like a silver
Wedding cake or Christmas tree, in a cascade of tears.

Now, this is interesting, and I don't want to overdetermine it, but this definitely recalls Norman O. Brown's book _Love's Body_, and specifically section 16, or "Nothing". And without curtailing your own hermeneutic reflection I would just say, here, that Ashbery seems to be in one sense portraying an illuminated banality, or performing an ironic apologetics for both traditionalism and the underlying echoes of its vestiges, ie, (Alchemical) Wedding cake (layers), and "transparency"
or rather a materiality of the ambiguity of words, and /or wordlessness raised to become an etoile, or star, or leader, a dancing star, if we give any credence to Nietzsche, in a cascade of tears (crying), but also tiers (levels, layers) and tears (as rips, or cuts) as in the points of view, as in the physical applied to the search for meaning. But, really, this is also kind of a crazy 60's art image of a fountain of liquid silver, something you might see at Andy Warhol's factory. Try out pages 160-161 of Love's Body, and see if you don't find an echo with this poem. Just a snippet:

The mad truth: the boundary between sanity and insanity is a false one. the proper outcome of psychoanalysis is the abolition of the boundary, the healing of the split, the integration of the human race.

Now, who has lasted longer? Ashbery or Nobby? And look what happened to R.D. Laing.. Perhaps, the world still needs a few illusions, a few boundaries, and I think poetry, is very good at retaining a few of these, of pretending blindness when it actually sees. You won't find Laing being discussed much, nor Brown in all probability, but Ashbery it seems, is perennial, or even constant. Perhaps, it's that poetry is a gentle madness (vox Clemens, say) whose speech is already silence, ie poetry is the very figure of our material transcendence (or near transcendence as impenetrable complexity ie Turing's bugaboo of consciousness) whereas Psychology is seen as closer to medicine, even if both are closer to shamanism than what they portray themselves to be, especially in our age of careers, and careenings, for cannot the same mild suspicions that Perloff leverages onto Ashbery easily be held up as a reflection of herself? I think any psycho-analist would agree? W. Events are much like thoughts, and phenomenality from our fading view, is surely epiphenomenal. We are but a shimmering across an unknown surface. And if this seems obvious or grande, well, "I guess you've seen right through me..."