Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Fatalist (no.2)

Here’s a stanza and part of another from The Fatalist that should help illustrate some of the points below, and those to come. If they don’t… get the book! A lot of what I’ll write won’t make sense anyway if you haven’t read it, and anyway I don’t want to get sued by Omindawn for overquoting here. I’m numbering the stanzas in my own copy, and will often refer to stanza numbers as well as page numbers.

Some days have gone by that were “good”
as blindly as the justice that a tightrope walker parodies
in her act. The gulf that usually separates one
from all else, the gulf that isolates one and keeps one conscious
of one’s self, disappeared. Not once did I say “I”
but I know that the only “inviolable” privacy lies in dreams
where things are experienced without thought to their having been
“permitted.” Constant change figures the waking time we sense
passing on its effect, surpassing things we’ve known
before making the case that memory of many things
is called experience, and that’s what we call nature
without pictures. Whether or not what we call life
is a valid criterion for these meditations
in time and narrations out of time in which we invent
and criticize too remains to be seen. “I feel right
with myself,” said Diderot, “only when I do what I ought to do.”
What about that for a nickname
nicknamed Annie pronounced Sam and Carl?
I too eagerly await news of gender. I’ll never keep up!
What is an anchor? An anchor is that which keeps one from drifting
     from the subject.
What is a battery? A single battery is seldom sufficient to produce
     energy. The more batteries there are (as in “batteries of
     observers” (unless the observers are critical)) the greater the
     energy produced.
What is cooking? The best cook knows ingredients rather than recipes.
     She also knows whom she is cooking for. The best cook with s
     can of anchovies and three children to feed will leave the
     anchovies on the shelf and go to the grocery store for
     macaroni, milk, and cheese.
What are darts? In an article of clothing, darts (created by gathering
     small portions of the fabric and stitching the folds together)
     provide shape. A game of darts takes place when a number of
     people are sewing.
And everyone? No credible comments can be made about everyone.
                              The Fatalist, pp. 20-21

Autobiography (the ghost (inadvertently
I first wrote goose) of modernity)
always involves social commentary, which is great
except that it puts pressure on me (to get things
right) and you (to be pleased even if, for some reason, things
disgust you) and becomes
either an emblem of love or a site for love’s contestation. What
will save the project? Why didn’t they call an electrician instead
of three cop cars and a fire truck? The detective
whose name incidentally is Askari Nate Martin
will make unexpected appearances the way clowns do in a real circus
and I suppose they do and maybe I should too.
[…] The numerous persons she has been
have each died until here is one listening
but I won’t bug you by playing them
while you are asleep. […]
[…] Their shouts go round
and round in virtual space and even if legitimate never get to where
they will do any good and also be good in relation to things
that come later and will appear in some index as traces
in an alphabetical structure, always a possibility, that we can talk about
at a moment which is merely rhetorical and indicative
only of frustration that we can’t simply reprint the whole wondrous thing.
I want also to be sure to wander around the city. Experience
doesn’t reveal one’s own reality but the reality of things
alien to one, the sea lost in the sky, the sky lost in a sequence of paragraphs
and the wind blows—do I have that
right? the only thing to offer posterity is life?

                              (pp. 22-23)  

Some things to consider in going through the poem (each of these probably deserves an independent post, and so they’re here presented as often fragmented notes):

1) PHRASE PARATAXIS: Where sentence-by-sentence parataxis refers us to a higher level of synthetic activity, making us conscious of combinatorial activity in a “trans-temporal” way, Hejinian’s sentences emphasize movement within the sentence. We reach a word like “them” (in the fourth sentence from #8 quoted above) that doesn’t clearly refer to anything in the previous clauses, and have to retrace our steps, to “go back in time,” rereading the past from the perspective of its future. The “them” is an event; until that point the sentence seems to work, at least in the sense that one can trace references, and though any given sentence may be structured on digression. This is a characteristic of Hejinian’s writing here: the sentences are almost right, and their “bumps” are carefully placed so that that “almost” becomes glaringly apparent—rejection of closure. The kind of thought here is concerned with motion, process—travel of various kinds as themes. Itinerary as “where I’ll go” or “where I’ve been,” an order of paths and pauses, locations and transitions, moments and their turning into one another, not quite fluidly.
     Also kind of motion: speed, way of circling back, how far one goes…
     The “them” of a sentence as a viewpoint from which where you’ve been can be seen differently?
     The fact that few sentences end where the line ends (there are actually more than the usual number in the examples above). The interaction of phrase, line and sentence… ways of keeping us in motion, in transit.

2) STANZAIC UNITY: Various kinds. Often they start & end with similar concerns, often as “different views” of them (as in #8). Within a stanza, clusters of concepts, in counterpoint to the sharing or repetition of concepts or syntactic forms or kinds of motion of thought between stanzas.
     Or there’s a formal unity: alternation of short sentences with long, complex ones (relation to point #3). Or, for example, the series of definitions in #6, which form occurs nowhere else so far in the poem, but which may refer to the definitional quality of the whole project (“what might it mean to be ‘a fatalist’?”.    

3) GENERAL AND PARTICULAR: Funny that there’s a concept of the particular.
     … we usually think of the general concept as providing the context for the particulars. Here the concrete detail, in a short sentences, contextualizes and specifies what’s more general. This happens in the transitions through the first four sentences in #8.
     Though it’s not that the concepts are exclusively generated by the details; she is investigating concepts, but they’re concepts that relate to particularized experience.
     Also see Hejinian’s statement, in the essay “The Rejection of Closure,” about the open text as one that can never be reduced to the arguments that get brought into it, but doesn’t abandon them either. This points toward an answer to one of my initial questions about poetry and philosophy.
     The “cooking” part of #6 as an example: the general definition of “cooking” becomes the definition of “a cook” (recall “fate” vs. “a fatalist”), and the good cook is one who takes into account the particulars: the ingredients, the given situation.

4) STATUS OF “I” AND OTHER PRONOUNS: “I” as nexus of experience and as interlocutor. Same with “we,” people represented by their initials, “you.” These are always present in Hejinian’s sentences, at least by implication.  Experience includes the experiencer and the experienced, which is ALIEN, strange. Encounters with things. Expand on the difference between this and the lyric “I.” And various narrative “I”s; this one is quite involved in what’s narrated.  

5) and more…

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