Language in the reality making operation #4

To end this very enjoyable exchange … maybe no real conclusions, but indexed 1 to 10 some refinements at least.


“We teem with references” [#1 GA1]


Everything unsaid but taken as said in what we are saying—or think we are saying, because the ‘message’, if one is intended, is always a surplus, a distinguishing element attempting to sit in front of a teeming referential mass. Even the slimmest of cues does the referencing. Conventional formalities are not even required. Indeed where they appear they represent a sort of failure of confidence or of trust in the reader to pick up on the biggies. Yet it is confidence in the multi-layered mundanities that represents the bigger risk. What you are reading is never written in exactly your own language. The set of all operable references never operates; they are like genes, in any particular being some are switched on, most are not. Confidence is thus easily misplaced, and this we recognize. Our realities coalesce in a world only in their denser cores; the blurred, sparser edges defy resolution and become the territory for self-delusion, imagined solidarity where none can be realized. Yes, “once your madness has been absorbed by history.”


A touchstone for me has long been Charles Bernstein’s remark somewhere in Content’s Dream (1986) that the question to ask of any poem is not ‘What is its message?’ but ‘Does it make sense?’—not in the sense of ‘meaning’; rather, Does it make sense that this—this stanza form or otherwise, this approach to a topic or otherwise, this rhythm, this play of syllables or of word-lengths, etc—is worth adopting / combining right now? Or (to tack on) does it make sense that this poem from Chaucer, or ancient Egypt or China, or Emily Dickinson, or Basil Bunting, etc, is worth turning to at this point? In other words, as a reader, Does it resonate? As so often in this exchange of ours, it turns out that one (whether poet or reader) can answer this only for oneself, but it does, I think, look to some kind of sociality, not least because other poets provide crucial degrees of guidance or, again, touchstones.


“… what can be glimpsed or grazed, startled into apprehension, via the potentially heretical notion of ‘a pidgin of one.’” [#1 GA1]


Without realizing it Data teaches us the profound discomfort that the Faustian project holds in store for all literates. As culture ‘evaporates’ it does not disappear; it becomes concentrated in the one. What then could possibly form bridges better than suitably energized, ameliorating ‘pidgin of one’ projects? Newspeak, at the other end of the spectrum of possibilities, perhaps demonstrates by negative comparison the alternative tendencies: Newspeak towards exhaustion and extinction under advancing ice; pidgin-of-one towards diversification and regeneration at the edges of advancing rain forest.


The more I think about it, the more ‘potentially heretical’ the notion of a ‘pidgin of one’ feels, bristling w/ seductive invitations to colonial-style appropriation, esp if by ‘pidgin’ one means the kind of work-situational tongue assembled from words in this, that, & the other language (w/ the ‘lexifier’ the main source of vocab), a syntactical structure mainly from not necessarily the lexifier, etc, that I tried to outline in #1 GA. How dip toe into that w/out referring everything to ‘one’ guidance? You capitalize ‘Data’ in arguable allusion to Mr Data, the android personification of infinite computer banks in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987–1994) that would reduce all these alien situations to scenarios conceivable by our own. Data thus has colonial agency, which is what the posts of #3 were very much about. In the same posts I gave a brief rundown of some complexities of Coleridge’s wonderful formula ‘suspension of disbelief’ (SoD); one strategy for a contemporary poet here might be rather than avoiding narrative on principle to exploit SoD to the full in relation to a historical situation while dropping pointers that the poem’s account is radically incomplete (to be blunt, that one has been flat-out lied to) & can only be completed(?) by looking for data outside it …


 “… retrieval of an originary linguistic mode” [#1 PP1]


A writing that is inventive according to immediate (psychic) survival needs. The long-term prospects maybe kept out of mind … left to be apparent after (perhaps long after) the fact of each inventive episode.


“… there are times when language fails us completely” [#2 PP1]


The symbolizing machine has limitations, maybe it never fails completely, but that is not the point. The point is that no matter how much use we make of the shared, the synchronic, linguistic resource it still operates like an ocean-going super-tanker, impossible to manoeuvre in the more awkward corners of the world.


“how can we think to make aesthetic form at all?” [#2 GA3]


At my first mention of a pre-linguistic reality-making in which the Real stands as an inherent limitation, we latch on to a reformulation that promises a better outcome. Either by generalization or by discrimination between notions of ‘thought’ we proceed. …


We’ve said a lot about language & the Real, but it may be worth adding that there’s an element of poetic voluntarism involved: We seek out situations, problems, etc that seem to baffle linguistic grasp—what else are worth going for?—as you suggest in #3 in citing Badiou’s attention to “the possibility and even the necessity that we do not remain silent about that of which we cannot speak.” The poems I cherish most bring w/in reach of articulation some scenario that I’ve at some point experienced (eg how the apparent shape of lower Manhattan changes, at one point dramatically suddenly, as the Staten Island ferry approaches South Ferry), thinking almost reflexively the while that this one really is beyond language—but see Louis Zukofsky’s early poem “Ferry.” Such poems are resolutely personal in the experience; there are relatively few of them; & they can arrive at any point as gifts from the world.



What is the poet’s job? Is it to observe and celebrate through the unpredictable

play of words? This would meet popular expectations. Poems that work well in these limited terms entertain in the expected way; for ‘ordinary’ readers (audiences) the aesthetic pay-off is pleasurable. Such poems also succumb to conventional critique; criteria such as ‘sharpness of perception’, ‘affective quality of expression’, ‘mastery of word-craft’, and even ‘recognizable formal affinity’ can apply. But I am being deliberately contrary here; putting the conventional in those terms makes it easier to understand that there are other necessary motivations, that there is more to say on the motive for poetry. I said of my own: “… compensating for the anachronistic, the dislocated, and the alienated qualities of for me ‘ordinary’ experience.” [#2 PP6] I am not denying that I operate in conventional playful ways in much of my poetry; that much is plain to see and hear. Some of my poetry, however, comes from a very different place. A ‘feeling for the eerie’ perhaps is one way of putting it, because its basis is anticipation rather than observation, and because it alerts rather than celebrates. A ‘feeling for the absurd’ is another, although this would seem to lead inevitably to a political poetry which until recently had hardly begun to emerge, but it will. (While one is salaried, to stay ‘in place’—sane, productive and hopefully secure—one has to be to some degree resigned to the absurdities of organization. I retired over six years ago and that ‘resignation’ no longer applies.)



Resistance and play extrapolated far enough to lead on to the question I dodged: “if you sense some pressure there toward martyrdom, given Judeo-Christianity is burrowed into the habitus & the poet shorn of broad social relevance.” [#2 GA7] The exposure to danger entailed in the poet’s resistance it seems to me signals a desire for intensity of being and a desire to refuse all resignations. Insofar as these desires can never be fully satisfied (who amongst us could be that constant?) the “pressure” toward martyrdom might be felt as a consequence of residual allegiance to Judeo-Christianity, but not I think of resigning oneself to its residual presence, either in moments of ‘weakness’ or of ‘recouperation’. I have found no ‘cause’ in the political or religious sense for which I desire to sacrifice myself. The ‘resistance’ and ‘play’ routines I delineated could lead to that outcome, but I think if they did it would need a remarkable overturning of my ‘neurodiverse’ constitution. “We do what we do” might be as close as we can get to an authentic statement on the mystery of poetic motive.


I think as an Irishman my interest in martyrdom has much to do w/ the Irish nationalist dwelling on it in song & instant legend. “A terrible beauty is born” Yeats repeated of the Easter Rising in lines I still can’t read aloud w/out cracking up; Patrick Pearse used to insist that the time had come for the blood of young Irishmen to be shed for the liberation of Ireland; the rather more nuts-&-bolts socialist James Connolly demurring, “No, for the blood of young Englishmen to be shed for the liberation of Ireland” … W/ respect to poetry, I’ve just started The Martyrology Books 1 & 2 by the late Canadian poet bp Nichol, a near-career-long project (1972–1988; 9 books) into which he proposed packing everything he’d learned ever, which hopefully will be enlightening … In terms of the poet’s desire for “intensity of being and a desire to refuse all resignations,” don’t you think St Sebastian, in the lethal consummation, felt precisely that? Or St Teresa of Avila, who wrote, “I die because I cannot die”?—even as she was working her frail body to death.


“the music hovers constantly on the brink” [#3 GA1]


A lovely moment in your notes on the Abdullah Ibrahim jazz piano sessions does indeed capture something of the poetic magic of something I hinted at, ‘deceptive intelligibility’; call it a ‘slow release’ as it “gradually becomes shared or at least beautiful”—although I might say “… shared and then (perhaps very much later) beautiful.” Again this does tell us a lot about the grand notion of aesthetics; the concern is for (an adequate account of) reception. How can a piece of music, a play, a poem, induce a riot one year and entrance us all a century later? Aesthetic reasons for this proliferate. A ripple effect through the language that distributes affectivity through the world; the point of entry is a violation and history records this; the ripple is like an echo it becomes a dissociated part of the mix, part of the atmosphere, and affect becomes free to change.


The wording of your comment here is wonderful in the most literal sense, & again, speaks to a huge (imagined, felt) sociality—



Why ‘deceptive intelligibility’ takes on such valuable cargo.

In poetry by adopting grammatical, even if at times interrupted, structures it appears to contribute to a consolidation of reality while in fact deliberately loosening things up. It does so, perhaps in that Olsonian sense of being more ‘up to the real’ (I follow in your attachment to this insight), but perhaps—and this works better if one adds in the speculative philosophical notion of the Real as a unified beyond—in a deeper liberatory sense. This is the anarchic manoeuvre retained, as a moment of personal animism, in the vain hope that there is another solidarity to be had. It is a solidarity achieved through communion rather than communication, through condensates and precipitates of the Real admitted from ‘the beyond’ into reality, i.e. sharing in a world not through a force of rational thought processes—the political, the scientific, the critical-theoretical, etc.—but through a release of energy, creative energy if you will, of which art at its purest is the embodiment.


Here I would recommend John Wilkinson’s “Harmolodics” for what one of our very finest poets can do w/ a Harlem marching band—which, as I began to write this sentence, I ‘remembered’ as w/ the Notting Hill Carnival—in context of a multiply regimented society.



In accounting for the unprivileged and unsanctioned voices that entered into the cultural arena through force of projection during the 20th century: what one does not need to focus on is new institutions forming and adopting their own versions of privileging and sanctioning procedures. Yes, the working man’s voice, the gendered voice, one ‘typified’ voice after another, is gaining, has gained, some space, but that is all about the group-identifying—actually world-forming—mechanism that emerges and constructs a new institution. One does not need to talk too much about this because the mechanism is already discursive; it generates its own justifications for, and accounts of, inclusions.

The focus then shifts elsewhere by chasing after peripherals. There is a genuinely asocial social being, an acultural cultural being, an apolitical political being, … yes and somewhere in there a faithless martyr whose being refuses even these categorizations. Such radically unprivileged and unsanctioned voices appear with two levels of potential transgression already implied in their arrival.

Privilege is that bestowed favour on the individual within the framework of the law, “typically the exemption of one individual from the operation of a law.” The transgression implied here is a nullifying one that diminishes both the pre-eminence of the identified individual and the operational distinction between law and justice. The unprivileged condition is thereby not a flattened-out legislated-for existence, but is rather one unconstrained by or released from legislating mechanisms. Oh, I don’t take any notice of that; I just do things my own way. I don’t care what people think of me, I just get on with things. Below the radar, beyond suspicion, out of sight, far out, off-grid, bit of a nomad, that’s me … none of that is quite right, but whatever.

The double edge of the sanction disappears: neither permitted by nor penalized by an authority, because no authority is recognized as operating or no authority appears able to operate. Subjection requires submission to authority of one sort or another. Where no submission is forthcoming everything authority recognizes falls apart, and the unsanctioned recognizes only an emptiness in the illusion of authority. This is bloody dangerous … we might engage in passive resistance; what’s that worst that can happen, you could end up in prison or they could kill you, yeh, but I’d still be me, I might even be a better me, a better poet … and let’s face it, the best poets are all dead … so you want to be a martyr? What, me?

Asocial social being, yes, but that’s autistic temperament. Acultural cultural being, no. I certainly have not released all the bonds of behaviour and belief that define me as specifically cultural, although they are weaker than they were ten or twenty years ago, so I am more open and more myself in my being in the ‘retirement’ I am not really in. Apolitical political being, no. For similar reasons except, as I have aged, an anarchistic ignorance has evolved into a somewhat informed Kynical response to political posturing, factionalism, party allegiance, etc. The incompetent is easy to spot, or is it? Increasingly thoroughly diffused it becomes its own camouflage.

Why is this important? I suggest it comes down to an ancient point; it is important because every individual retains a ‘personal animism’ which they cannot afford to bury under adopted, enforced, conventional ‘identities’ if they are to remain human.


A spirited closing para. I would note that surfers, eg, talking of ‘unprivileged voices’ (except on surfing channels), say things like this; politicians & business people only when they’re out on their yachts, eg, or playing games where everything seems at stake. Does this mean that poetry, for all its play & resistance, finds its essential rationale in self-realization?—which I suspect is the dimly visible gorilla slouching in the armchair all the way through … Myself, I would say no, but that comes at the price of insisting that the motive for poetry is at bottom irrational, involving as it does some kind of dogged faith in poetry itself as something making its way through centuries & histories—& how is that not then collectively necessary, if for reasons remaining obscure—?

And here the dialogue suspends … dear reader. I hope you enjoyed the little thought experiment.

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