Louis Zukofsky

 Zukofsky feature: Return to the Contents list 

Abigail Lang

The Remembering Words, or
« How Zukofsky Used Words »

“The remembering words” is an expression Zukofsky uses at the beginning of the second part of Bottom: On Shakespeare (33) in relation to etymology. It refers to the ability of words to retain the memory of their past forms in their orthography, such as the H in the words heir, honor, honest, hour. The subtitle derives from Zukofsky’s own title for a project on Jefferson he never completed: “How Jefferson used words”.

In “For Wallace Stevens”, Zukofsky writes:

This material has been removed as a result of this demand from Paul Zukofsky: “I am the only child, and sole heir, of Louis and Celia Zukofsky. I am also the person with sole control over all their copyrights, including works both published and unpublished. Jacket 30 is in gross violation of those copyrights. [....] I demand that you remove all Louis (and Celia) Zukofsky material forthwith, from Jacket 30, as well as any other material that you may have posted. Please be aware that I reserve all options in the vigorous defense of my property. Sincerely, Paul Zukofsky”

The direction appears simple enough. All it takes is to elucidate the two words “read” and “word”. What’s in a word? How to read?


What’s in a word?

The word is clearly the unit, the atom of Zukofsky’s poetry — where other poets may view composition more in terms of the line (Williams for instance), paragraph (Stein), breath (Olson), or page. From the 1931 “Objectivist” declaration in Poetry magazine to the late prosody based on word-count, throughout his writing life, Zukofsky’s main unit of count and account remains the word.
I will begin by looking at the word in isolation, then at the word in context, that is, at the effect of the context on the single word.


How to read?

The hypothesis I am going to make in the second part — that of the remembering words, the fetishistic functioning of words — stems from a conviction born from close scrutiny of the work but is delicate to prove because the phenomena are tenuous and Zukofsky sparse, not to say silent, on the subject. My conviction that Zukofsky had an implicit belief in the ability of words to accumulate meaning, to record their past uses and to stand for long intertexts has grown from close scrutinizing his work and studying the manuscripts at the Harry Ransom Center. When immersing oneself in a text one may tend to doubt’s one objectivity, wonder how much is really there and what one is actually projecting onto the text — the usual epistemological problem. When I discovered the manuscripts and typescripts, especially the later ones of “A”-22&23 and 80 Flowers, I was struck to find out that what sometimes seemed the most fantastic, far-fetched hypotheses had been included by Zukofsky, foreseen.


One last thing as to method: one way to learn how to read Zukofsky is to watch him read — read and quote.


I. The Word in Isolation

I. 1. The Word as Arrangement

The word is the atom in Zukofsky’s poetry. But like the atom, which is itself composed as the twentieth century discovered — and contrary to its Greek etymology which defined it as undividable —, the word too is already composed:
In “Sincerity and Objectification”, Zukofsky laments the fact that our culture should have forgotten that:

This material has been removed as a result of this demand from Paul Zukofsky: “I am the only child, and sole heir, of Louis and Celia Zukofsky. I am also the person with sole control over all their copyrights, including works both published and unpublished. Jacket 30 is in gross violation of those copyrights. [....] I demand that you remove all Louis (and Celia) Zukofsky material forthwith, from Jacket 30, as well as any other material that you may have posted. Please be aware that I reserve all options in the vigorous defense of my property. Sincerely, Paul Zukofsky”

One word carries a number of facts and, therefore, theoretically, a single word can make a poem. Further down, Zukofsky specifies the arrangement:

This material has been removed as a result of this demand from Paul Zukofsky: “I am the only child, and sole heir, of Louis and Celia Zukofsky. I am also the person with sole control over all their copyrights, including works both published and unpublished. Jacket 30 is in gross violation of those copyrights. [....] I demand that you remove all Louis (and Celia) Zukofsky material forthwith, from Jacket 30, as well as any other material that you may have posted. Please be aware that I reserve all options in the vigorous defense of my property. Sincerely, Paul Zukofsky”

One can try to unfold and gloss these specifications further:

- the word as relation: the word as sign, establishing a relation between sound and thing. The symbolic or referential function of the word. (See also Taupin’s view of words as “etiquette”, that is as label or tag, in Poetry 37)
- the word as implied metaphor: dead metaphors such as catachresis (e.g. the legs of the table) or Emerson’s idea that language is fossil poetry, that “the deadest word” was “once a brilliant picture”, or the fact that abstractions are often named after concrete things.
- the word as arrangement: as specified in “A Statement for Poetry”: “Words — consisting of syllables, in turn made up of phones that are denoted by letters that were once graphic symbols or pictures.” (Prepositions 21)
- the word as harmony — “the combination of (simultaneous) notes to form chords”—: a simultaneity of meanings, such as denotation, connotation, pronunciation, etymology, and so on.


I. 2. For or against connotation?

The difficulty in assessing Zukofsky’s position on connotation stems from the vagueness of the term and the ineffectiveness of the denotation / connotation paradigm[1] as thinking tool.
In the wake of Pound who castigated the Victorian mushiness and advocated Confucian exactness of terminology, Zukofsky criticizes Hart Crane for such haziness:

This material has been removed as a result of this demand from Paul Zukofsky: “I am the only child, and sole heir, of Louis and Celia Zukofsky. I am also the person with sole control over all their copyrights, including works both published and unpublished. Jacket 30 is in gross violation of those copyrights. [....] I demand that you remove all Louis (and Celia) Zukofsky material forthwith, from Jacket 30, as well as any other material that you may have posted. Please be aware that I reserve all options in the vigorous defense of my property. Sincerely, Paul Zukofsky”

But later on in the same article Zukofsky writes that “The diction employed by Pound, Eliot, Williams, Marianne Moore and Cummings has always tended towards precise intension [sic] and to varied play of connotation.” (Prepositions 147) Clearly that “varied play of connotation” is here meant as something positive. Apparently there is good and bad connotation.

In the preparatory notes to “A”-22, Zukofsky writes:

This material has been removed as a result of this demand from Paul Zukofsky: “I am the only child, and sole heir, of Louis and Celia Zukofsky. I am also the person with sole control over all their copyrights, including works both published and unpublished. Jacket 30 is in gross violation of those copyrights. [....] I demand that you remove all Louis (and Celia) Zukofsky material forthwith, from Jacket 30, as well as any other material that you may have posted. Please be aware that I reserve all options in the vigorous defense of my property. Sincerely, Paul Zukofsky”

And in an interview with Carroll Terrell, Celia Zukofsky confirms:

This material has been removed as a result of this demand from Paul Zukofsky: “I am the only child, and sole heir, of Louis and Celia Zukofsky. I am also the person with sole control over all their copyrights, including works both published and unpublished. Jacket 30 is in gross violation of those copyrights. [....] I demand that you remove all Louis (and Celia) Zukofsky material forthwith, from Jacket 30, as well as any other material that you may have posted. Please be aware that I reserve all options in the vigorous defense of my property. Sincerely, Paul Zukofsky”

What one can infer from these two quotes and these two uses of the words, is that the ‘good’ connotation is not a question of association of ideas, of personal musing, but of full meaning[2], and in particular of the full dictionary meaning.
A meaning fuller than any one would think of or probably wish for.
Increasingly irrespective of part of speech and inclusive of unrelated homonyms.


I. 3. All the meanings of the word

There is this very striking note to the first poem of Anew (“che di lor suona su nella tua vita”, written in 1937) which says regarding the word bay used in the poem:

This material has been removed as a result of this demand from Paul Zukofsky: “I am the only child, and sole heir, of Louis and Celia Zukofsky. I am also the person with sole control over all their copyrights, including works both published and unpublished. Jacket 30 is in gross violation of those copyrights. [....] I demand that you remove all Louis (and Celia) Zukofsky material forthwith, from Jacket 30, as well as any other material that you may have posted. Please be aware that I reserve all options in the vigorous defense of my property. Sincerely, Paul Zukofsky”

The Oxford English Dictionary has thirteen different entries for bay (one hesitates whether to say the word bay or the words bay), distinguishing between meanings and parts of speech. Most of these bays are of different origins and differ radically in meaning.

This shows that for Zukofsky, a word is not defined in terms of unity or even of similarity of meaning, but in terms of its written form: certain letters in a certain order. A materialistic definition of the word.

The same holds true for the spoken form, the pronunciation; what is pronounced alike is alike, is one word. Hence, for instance, the numerous associations of quasi homonyms such as hair heir, air, Er, err, the encouragement to permute sea, see and C and the consistent practice of transliteration.

This material has been removed as a result of this demand from Paul Zukofsky: “I am the only child, and sole heir, of Louis and Celia Zukofsky. I am also the person with sole control over all their copyrights, including works both published and unpublished. Jacket 30 is in gross violation of those copyrights. [....] I demand that you remove all Louis (and Celia) Zukofsky material forthwith, from Jacket 30, as well as any other material that you may have posted. Please be aware that I reserve all options in the vigorous defense of my property. Sincerely, Paul Zukofsky”

A word is a material thing, with two physical forms, one written, one spoken.
This stance is clearly anti- or pre-linguistic, refusing the arbitrary or unmotivated character of the sign, in favor of a Cratylism, the belief that “who knows names knows things”[3].


I. 4. Conveying the full meaning

The poet may well, as his wife reports, spend days and hours on every denotation and connotation of a word, how can he bring his reader to read like him, to retrieve all the senses enclosed within a word? (cf. Williams’ own difficulties as a reader of Zukofsky). How can he restore “the habit of reading 4 or 5 times for a meaning” as he writes in “Recencies”?

Both in some of the shorter lyrics and in the dense or constrained poems, Zukofsky’s syntax and lineation encourage the reader to unravel the full meaning of words. This he achieves by keeping them in a certain isolation. The main tool to achieve this partial isolation is the willful confusion or indetermination of the parts of speech. This is clearly felt when reading “A”-9, “A”-22&23 and 80 Flowers aloud: the voice falters, hesitates where to pause, where to cut, because so many words in a row can belong to two or more parts of speech. I will only cite one example from 80 Flowers where many of the recurrent words seem to have been systematically chosen for their ability to be read as noun or verb, or even adjective: winters can be the noun in the plural or the verb in the third person singular. The same goes with springs, summers, weathers, gardens, greens, yellows, grays, buds, … . And if green as adjective, verb, or noun suggests a similar idea or picture in the reader’s mind, this is no longer the case with spring (a season, a fountain, a spiral or leaping?) or fall (a season or dropping?). Hence, for instance, the multiple meanings of the final line of “Clover”: “perennial springers onto bog falls”. Confusion increases when several such words are juxtaposed, allowing for several readings.

“Deutzia” (CSP 335) begins:

This material has been removed as a result of this demand from Paul Zukofsky: “I am the only child, and sole heir, of Louis and Celia Zukofsky. I am also the person with sole control over all their copyrights, including works both published and unpublished. Jacket 30 is in gross violation of those copyrights. [....] I demand that you remove all Louis (and Celia) Zukofsky material forthwith, from Jacket 30, as well as any other material that you may have posted. Please be aware that I reserve all options in the vigorous defense of my property. Sincerely, Paul Zukofsky”

Does the second line qualify bells or blossoms? Actually, blossoms can also be a verb in the third person singular (the color white blossoms) and in that case, white is used as a noun rather than as adjective. The words recurved and japanned can be epithets or past participles; gray yellow in sequence can be heard as two adjectives or one of them as a verb: blossoms can yellow or gray. Stems can be a noun in the plural or a verb. The bluish leaves green cities sequence can suggest bluish leaves and green cities or leaves that green cities, or a vanishing of blue…

Some parts of speech make more sense than others, especially when one knows the plant, but syntactically speaking, the absence of punctuation makes multiple syntactic groupings and readings possible. Again a proof that “there is no such thing as putting them together without sense” (Gertrude Stein What are Masterpieces 101) since the reader cannot help establishing links, filling in the blanks, testing possible connections, supplying the missing connectives and at the same time pondering over each word as a notion, letting all its meanings reverberate. Each word’s multiple meanings radiate and intersect with those of its neighbors, creating different links and harmonies of harmonies, chords of chords[4]. This syntax, or parataxis[5], tends to isolate words[6]. Thus the semantic and the syntactic process reinforce each other. The less clear the part of speech, the more necessary it is to examine all possible meanings. And vice versa. Syntactical indeterminacy and semantic completeness reinforce each other.

When reading stalls, in Thanks to the Dictionary, in Bottom, in 80 Flowers, one option is to pore over the words. And compare occurrences. One way to learn how to read Zukofsky, is to watch him read. Bottom displays Zukofsky reading Shakespeare.


I. 5. Comparing occurrences

How does Zukofsky read Shakespeare?

 — The whole work is considered as a homogeneous and contemporary field of investigation: “It is simpler to consider the forty-four items of the canon as one work [… ] always regardless of time in which it was composed” (Bottom 13); “Begin anywhere” (Bottom 28).

 — Reading is carried out from a personal focus, with personal interests in mind. For example, the reader consciously selects a thread, an angle, without presuming that his interest was Shakespeare’s:

This material has been removed as a result of this demand from Paul Zukofsky: “I am the only child, and sole heir, of Louis and Celia Zukofsky. I am also the person with sole control over all their copyrights, including works both published and unpublished. Jacket 30 is in gross violation of those copyrights. [....] I demand that you remove all Louis (and Celia) Zukofsky material forthwith, from Jacket 30, as well as any other material that you may have posted. Please be aware that I reserve all options in the vigorous defense of my property. Sincerely, Paul Zukofsky”


 — Recurrences of a word are tracked and occurrences compared[7]. Zukofsky records the recurrence of the word “eyes” throughout the plays: “I have never counted the variations on eyes in A Midsummer-Nights Dream (1595). [… ] A count of the word eyes in the other plays and poems would prove just as considerable.” (Bottom 283) And dreams he could tag and chart these recurrences, wishing for a system of notation that would specify the binary coding that italics afford. Italics simply highlight (or not) a word. A finer system would specify the type of occurrence with a system of musical notes:

This material has been removed as a result of this demand from Paul Zukofsky: “I am the only child, and sole heir, of Louis and Celia Zukofsky. I am also the person with sole control over all their copyrights, including works both published and unpublished. Jacket 30 is in gross violation of those copyrights. [....] I demand that you remove all Louis (and Celia) Zukofsky material forthwith, from Jacket 30, as well as any other material that you may have posted. Please be aware that I reserve all options in the vigorous defense of my property. Sincerely, Paul Zukofsky”


I. 6. Connecting recurrences: Gezera shava and index

There is a Talmudic way of reading that says:

Take two verses in the Bible, V1 and V2, located at any point of the text, for instance, the first in Genesis, the second in Isaiah. These two verses contain the same word and we have a certain knowledge about that word in V1. The gezera chava allows one to transfer that knowledge from V1 to V2 irrespective of any context or likelihood. Only the written connections count [… ] the specialist of the Midrash consider this practice as the generalization of another interpretative operation, the most fundamental, the semoukha: two juxtaposed verses, whatever the heterogeneity of their apparent signification, possess a logical link and can be read as a single utterance [… ] This favors the contiguities, the connections of the text and thus give the Talmud its style. (G. Haddad, Manger le livre (Eating the book), 209-210)[8]

The literal presence of the word counts over and above context. And words are seen as capable of transferring knowledge, as condenser and conveyors of knowledge.

Zukofsky encourages such a reading of his works by supplying indexes at the end of Bottom and “A”. The index isolates words, displays pure notions, out of context. At the same time, it points, like a finger, to occurrences in the text and invites the reader to read these occurrences one after the other, as a series. Each context adds to the bare notion, the dictionary meaning. And reverberates in the mind. A selection, the index ascribes special emphasis to the words selected. And the varied length of the page references that follow each word display — visually — the relative recurrence and hence also importance of a word. When going back to the poem, the reader’s eye will start whenever reading an indexed word, and maybe conjure up its occurrence in other contexts.


II. The Word in Context

To sum up the above: the isolated word is a heterogeneous arrangement or harmony; it comes with the full dictionary meaning (in mind); it is linked — explicitly by the index or implicitly — to its other occurrences in a given text.

Zukofsky’s increasingly massive and idiosyncratic use of quotation has already been commented, and I will here trace the development of a faith in the memory of words, in the ability of quoted words to remember their origin, to stand for a longer development, to accumulate information.
Five phenomena enable its coming into being.


II. 1. One-word or invisible quote

Zukofsky’s view of the word as arrangement makes it eligible to be quoted on its own. In Zukofsky’s first major poem, there are already instances of one-word or invisible quotes and an anticipation of the index. “Poem beginning “The”“ (1923) opens with what appears as a list of entries referring forward to the passages quoted in the poem. Most of the quotes are recognizable as such, they include terms characteristic of their authors (the reference to Stephen Daedalus points to Joyce, Mauberley to Pound, “les neiges” to Villon) or are composed of a sequence that suggest a voice that is not Zukofsky’s (“O the time is 5” (Cummings) ; “Gathered mushroom while you mayed” (Herrick)). But a few oddities stand out. The entry Horse, for instance, refers to lines where the word horse itself appears, on its own. Here the list functions as an index, not as a reference list. (The references to the words Zukofsky, Obvious, Sun and Mother function similarly.) Without the reference or dedication list, the word horse would not stand out.


II. 2. Brilliant and memorable uses

In chapter 4 of Pound’s ABC of Reading Zukofsky would have read:

… the good writer chooses his words for their ‘meaning’, but that meaning is not a set, cut-off thing like the move of knight or pawn on a chess-board. It comes up with roots, associations, with how and where the word is familiarly used, or where it has been used brilliantly or memorably. (36)

Pound here develops an interesting aspect of connotation by pinpointing the capacity of words to record their brilliant and memorable uses. What could be imagined as an imprint left on the word is really an impression left in the memory of readers. Pound gives the following example: “You can hardly say ‘incarnadine’ without one or more of your auditors thinking of a particular line of verse” (37). Similarly, you can hardly read “hyaline” in “A”-2, without thinking of Pound’s Canto II: “And So-Shu churned in the sea [… ] Lithe turning of water,/ sinews of Poseidon,/ black azure and hyaline,/ glass wave over Tyro”; and of many others before him, including Milton or Swinburne. For a French reader, the word azur will evoke Mallarmé, and when it appears on the second page of “A”-19, it functions as a signature. My impression is that Zukofsky radicalizes this process, postulating, as it were, a capacity of words to record also their non-brilliant and non-memorable uses.


II. 3. The material context

This issue of context is primarily discussed by Zukofsky in “Recencies”, the preface to the Objectivists’ Anthology, and in terms of an organicist metaphor borrowed from Pound, that of capillaries and rootlets.

This material has been removed as a result of this demand from Paul Zukofsky: “I am the only child, and sole heir, of Louis and Celia Zukofsky. I am also the person with sole control over all their copyrights, including works both published and unpublished. Jacket 30 is in gross violation of those copyrights. [....] I demand that you remove all Louis (and Celia) Zukofsky material forthwith, from Jacket 30, as well as any other material that you may have posted. Please be aware that I reserve all options in the vigorous defense of my property. Sincerely, Paul Zukofsky”

Words are like roots and capillaries, plant-like and animal-like, organic and continuous. They form a mesh, a network of fine interconnections. For Pound, the context in question is termed life. Zukofsky replaces life by world: “The context necessarily dealing with a world outside of it (15), and later specifies further: “capillaries and veins binding up and bound up with events and contingencies”[9] (16). Context defined as life, the world, events and contingencies. I would contend that for Zukofsky, the context of a word refers to where it was found, that is, heard or more often, read, and then copied out to be eventually quoted. The context can be a logical or intellectual entirety such as sentence, line or paragraph, but also a material or physical entirety such as a page.

Thanks to the Dictionary was composed with the help of a die that selected dictionary pages to draw from; hence the heavy alliterative effect (words from the same dictionary page will often alliterate), and the wildly heterogeneous semantic fields of each section (words from the same dictionary page have little logical connection). Words drag their definition along:

This material has been removed as a result of this demand from Paul Zukofsky: “I am the only child, and sole heir, of Louis and Celia Zukofsky. I am also the person with sole control over all their copyrights, including works both published and unpublished. Jacket 30 is in gross violation of those copyrights. [....] I demand that you remove all Louis (and Celia) Zukofsky material forthwith, from Jacket 30, as well as any other material that you may have posted. Please be aware that I reserve all options in the vigorous defense of my property. Sincerely, Paul Zukofsky”

One also gets the impression that illustrations provide particular attraction. If the twenty-seventh section begins with “Dates! dates! dates! the oblong, sweet, fleshy fruit!” (291), it is certainly because the most striking feature on page 303 of the Funk & Wagnall edition Zukofsky used is an illustration featuring a palm tree, a cluster of dates and a blown up date. It is my impression that what is here carried out systematically and playfully will persist in later writing: if to write is to quote the dictionary[10], then words tend to drag their context along with them: definition, pronunciation, etymology, famous uses, synonyms, and even illustrations. When uprooted, the word tears off with it some of its soil. Again, one can speak of a physical or material connotation, in the sense that the word drags with it associations from a material context: a book, a page.


II. 4. Quoting the dictionary

Thanks to the Dictionary [11] begins with two short sentences: ““A”. Quoting the dictionary.” (270) The first sentence is a capital A between quotation marks. The second sentence explains it as a quote from the dictionary. But of course, it is also a quote of Zukofsky’s long poem “A”, the title of which derives from its first word, as Zukofsky explains in a letter to Anne-Marie Albiach in 1969 : “The quotes around “A” for the first word of the whole long poem.” (HRC J1.1) The same synecdochical principle as “Poem beginning “The”“, but with the explanation dropped. The first sentence of Thanks to the Dictionary then embodies two limits of the practice of quotation: the quotation of the dictionary and self-quotation. Both are barely quotations in a sense. There is something vertiginous, almost Borgesian in the idea that every time we speak or write we are quoting the dictionary, as if the dictionary preexisted to language in use. To write is always to quote, if only the dictionary.

The fifth practice enabling the emergence of the remembering words phenomenon is the synecdochic mode. Zukofsky’s use of synecdoche goes back to the title of “Poem beginning “The”“. A title stands in a symbolic relationship to the whole it designates, but Zukofsky prefers to refer to a whole by its first word.

The conjunction of these five practices — one-word quote, memorable uses, material context, quoting the dictionary, synecdochic mode — provide the conditions of possibility for the emergence of Zukofsky’s remembering words. I will now look at its use.


II. 5. The one-word quote as fetish

The first canzone of “A”-9 begins: “An impulse to action sings of a semblance” (106). First Half of “A”-9, the booklet that records the intertexts and constraints that make the poem, indicates that the word semblance is a quote from the Capital, taken from the very sentence in which Marx defines fetishism: « We are concerned here with a definite social relation between human beings, which, in their eyes, has here assumed the semblance of a relation between things ». Semblance here stands for the whole definition of fetishism[12]. And in doing that the word semblance functions like a fetish[13]. It is a synecdoche — the part for the whole, a fragment for the totality —, a word standing for a whole sentence or paragraph. Freud exposed the metonymic and synecdochic working of fetishism: a body-part for the whole sexual object, and a piece of clothing for the body part it covers.

The fetish is a substitute, an imperfect symbol, which refers to its former whole, to what it stands for and at the same time, obscures the reference and becomes a dead end, an end in itself. Indeed it would be impossible to trace back the source without the appropriate help provided by First Half of”A”-9. This was the last time that Zukofsky would provide such help, in the way he had done with “Poem beginning “The”“, and ““Mantis”“. But Zukofsky was to keep an increasingly detailed record of the composition of his more complex poems in the manuscripts he entrusted to an archive center. This fetishistic practice of quotation and the converse difficulty of tracing back sources questions the reading and reader Zukofsky expected. How much should one know? Is the purely sonic enjoyment of “A”-22&23 enough or is a comprehensive awareness of sources expected, necessary, desirable, possible?

The purpose of these fetishistic quotations can be further enlightened by comparing them to the literal constraint at work in “A”-9 which rules the frequency of the letters N and R in the stanzas. This extremely restrictive constraint is inaudible and invisible, imperceptible to anyone who does not know about it. Besides, it is solely addressed to the intellect. What is its purpose? In hampering composition and reducing the number of eligible words at a given place in the line, it participates in the selection that makes composition, thus determining the language — the ‘style’ — of the final poem.

Or to put it another way: the constraint is invisible like love in Cavalcanti’s canzone (“E non si puo chonosciere per lo viso”), like labor in Marx’s capital; invisible, yet potent and real. To quote Zukofsky quoting Marx: “The process disappears in the product”. This invisible constraint testifies to Zukofsky’s faith in the transforming capacity of labor, in its capacity to transmute material, to shine through, to fluoresce[14] as he put it. Similarly the fetishistic mode of quotation testifies to a faith that the reading, selecting, copying, condensing process can crystallize in a single word.

And remain there. When Zukofsky later uses the word “semblance” in the essay “Poetry for my son”, the memory of its original context survives: “words which are the semblance(s) of things” (Prepositions 7). Replace semblance by fetish and you have a statement that enlightens Zukofsky’s approach to words: “words which are the fetishes of things”, i.e. words not as transparent signs but objects, obdurate ends in themselves.

Interestingly, the process of the memory of words combines a fetishistic practice and its opposite, a faith in fluorescence, in the ability of the invisible work — seven years of thought and two years of writing for the first canzone alone — to shine through, to affect reality.


II. 6. The one-word quote as talisman

Some twenty years later, in the preface to Found Objects, Zukofsky seems to reconsider his early work-input and authorship, by implying that nature had more of a hand in it than one was aware:

This final statement echoes Marx’s definition of the fetishism of commodities: they seem naturally exchangeable, they appear to go to the market of their own will thus concealing a social exchange. Their fetishism is their ability to appear natural, to conceal the labor that they have incorporated. But I do not believe that Zukofsky here rejects his earlier Marxian view and falls a victim of fetishism. Each word weighs: “as it were”, “seem”, “appear”. These works of art seem natural. They have a semblance of found objects. But words, like found objects or ready-mades, are chosen, picked, selected, displayed and signed. They are works of art.

What this later quote introduces is the anthropological dimension of the fetish as talisman, charm or amulet. This dimension is increasingly present in Zukofsky’s work. I will cite an example from 80 Flowers. While writing this final book, Zukofsky was reading Henry James, taking several pages of notes. Going through his by then usual process of condensation, he saved only a few lines, and ultimately only four words in his final set of notes for the poem “Lilac”: “sure angels in tournures”. But in the poem, the more common “bustle” having replaced “tournure”, only the word “angel” survives from James. A quotation reduced to a single word. No indication it is a quote, no Jamesian ‘flavor’: not very different from quoting the dictionary. Zukofsky has come a long way from Pound’s “brilliant and memorable use”.

The word “angel” seems to me to function as a guardian angel, a talisman, a good omen, in the same way that Zukofsky seems to have considered as a good omen that James visited the Lower East side the year he was born, as he reports in his Autobiography. An instance of happy contingency. “I was born in Manhattan, January 23, 1904, the year Henry James returned to the American scene to look at the Lower East Side.” (Autobiography 13) The fact that the word has been used, touched by James endows it with special properties, with added value. This reminds one of Frazer’s descriptions of contagion by contiguity, of instances of metonymic, magical thought. Zukofsky’s later work has something of these Roman temples built on the ruins of previous civilizations and incorporating Greek columns or Egyptian boulders. Or of the churches sanctified by the irretrievable burial of a relic within the altar or in the foundations.


What prompted this research was a curiosity as to the finer working of Zukofsky’s process of condensation, his cubed condensation one might say, his body of work incorporating three accounts: first, an account of the world; second, an account of the world’s writing (and especially of those books which already postulate as totalizing accounts of the world: the Bible, the dictionary, Marxian theory, contemporary physics… ); and finally an account of his own world of writing, 80 Flowers being a condensation of condensation and incorporating synecdochically references to almost all his previous works, “like the sea fishing / constantly fishing / Its own waters” (“A”-12 214).

List of works cited

An “Objectivists’” Anthology. Edited by Louis Zukofsky. Le Beausset, Var, France & New York: To, 1932. Contains a preface by Zukofsky entitled ““Recencies” in Poetry”, pp. 9-25.

Garza-Cuaron, Beatriz, Connotation and Meaning. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 1991.

Haddad, Gérard. Manger le livre. Rites alimentaires et fonction paternelle. Paris: Hachette, coll. Pluriel, 1984.

Iacono, Alfonso. Le fétichisme, histoire d’un concept. Paris: PUF, 1992.

Paulhan, Jean. La preuve par l’étymologie. Cognac: Le temps qu’il fait, 1988.

Poetry. A Magazine of Verse. Edited by Harriet Monroe. Vol. 37, n°5. February 1931. Entitled “Objectivists” 1931 and edited by Louis Zukofsky. Contains two articles by Zukofsky: “Program: “Objectivists” 1931”, pp. 268-272 and “Sincerity and Objectification. With Special reference to the Work of Charles Reznikoff”, pp. 272-285.

Pound, Ezra. ABC of Reading. London: Faber, 1991.

———. The Cantos. London: Faber, 1986.

Terrell, Carroll, F. ed. Louis Zukofsky: Man and Poet. Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, 1979.

Williams, William Carlos. Something to Say. William Carlos Williams on Younger Poets. ed. James E. B. Breslin. New York: New Directions, 1985.

Zukofsky, Louis. “A”. (1978 by California UP). Baltimore and London, Johns Hopkins UP, 1993.

———. A Test of Poetry. New York: Objectivist Press, 1948; London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1952; Highlands (NC) & New York: Jargon & Corinth, 1964; New York: C.Z. Publications, 1980.

———. Autobiography. New York: Grossman, 1970.

———. Bottom: On Shakespeare. (1963 by Ark Press). Berkeley: California UP, 1987.

———. Collected Fiction. Foreword by Gilbert Sorrentino and afterword by Paul Zukofsky. Elmwood Park: Dalkey Archive, 1990.

———. Complete Short Poetry. Foreword by Robert Creeley. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1991.

———. First Half ofA-9. New York, Louis Zukofsky (mimeographed), 1940. (55 copies)

———. Pound / Zukofsky. Selected Letters of Ezra Pound and Louis Zukofsky. Edited by Barry Ahearn. New York: New Directions, 1987.

———. Prepositions. The Collected Critical Essays. Expanded edition, with a foreword by Hugh Kenner, Berkeley & Los Angeles: U of California P, 1981.

Notes

[1] From its apparition with medieval logic to twentieth century linguistics, the term connotation has been used with widely different meanings. Initially used by the nominalist William of Ockham (inspired by Porphyry through Abelard) in his theory of proprietas terminorum to designate terms that have either a polarized meaning or signify two things at the same time (the individuals who possess a quality and the quality itself; e.g. a term that covers those who are just and Justice itself), it came to mean “a confused way of signifying”, “accessory ideas”, an adjective for the Port Royal grammarians, and association of ideas for the English Empiricists. See Beatriz Garza-Cuaron’s Connotation and Meaning.

[2] This is a discovery that Williams himself made after years of reading Zukofsky:

This material has been removed as a result of this demand from Paul Zukofsky: “I am the only child, and sole heir, of Louis and Celia Zukofsky. I am also the person with sole control over all their copyrights, including works both published and unpublished. Jacket 30 is in gross violation of those copyrights. [....] I demand that you remove all Louis (and Celia) Zukofsky material forthwith, from Jacket 30, as well as any other material that you may have posted. Please be aware that I reserve all options in the vigorous defense of my property. Sincerely, Paul Zukofsky”

 

[3] As Paulhan contends in La preuve par l’étymologie, the use of etymology denotes a (possibly unconscious) belief in a pre-Babelian language, unique, original and even God-given; hence a belief in truth, origin; an idealism. Interestingly, Zukofsky’s consistent use of etymology (especially in Bottom), which is coherent with his punning and Cratylism (his refusal of linguistics) clashes with his materialism and nominalism.

“L’idée qu’en détruisant les mots, ce ne sont ni des bruits ni de purs éléments arbitraires qu’on retrouve, mais d’autres mots qui, à leur tour pulvérisés, en libèrent d’autres, — cette idée est à la fois le négatif de toute le science moderne des langues, et le mythe dans lequel nous transcrivons les plus obscurs pouvoirs du langage, et les plus réels.” (Michel Foucault, Les Mots et les Choses, Paris : Gallimard, coll. Tel, 1966, 119).

[4]

This material has been removed as a result of this demand from Paul Zukofsky: “I am the only child, and sole heir, of Louis and Celia Zukofsky. I am also the person with sole control over all their copyrights, including works both published and unpublished. Jacket 30 is in gross violation of those copyrights. [....] I demand that you remove all Louis (and Celia) Zukofsky material forthwith, from Jacket 30, as well as any other material that you may have posted. Please be aware that I reserve all options in the vigorous defense of my property. Sincerely, Paul Zukofsky”

 

[5]

This material has been removed as a result of this demand from Paul Zukofsky: “I am the only child, and sole heir, of Louis and Celia Zukofsky. I am also the person with sole control over all their copyrights, including works both published and unpublished. Jacket 30 is in gross violation of those copyrights. [....] I demand that you remove all Louis (and Celia) Zukofsky material forthwith, from Jacket 30, as well as any other material that you may have posted. Please be aware that I reserve all options in the vigorous defense of my property. Sincerely, Paul Zukofsky”

 

[6] In Thanks to the Dictionary, the isolation of words is achieved differently: the syntax and grammar are straightforward, but words stand in isolation because they belong to radically heterogeneous semantic fields.

[7] Zukofsky’s comparison of the occurrences of the word table serves him to rebuke an editor who changed Shakespeare’s text to make the meaning more understandable by deleting the word table:

This material has been removed as a result of this demand from Paul Zukofsky: “I am the only child, and sole heir, of Louis and Celia Zukofsky. I am also the person with sole control over all their copyrights, including works both published and unpublished. Jacket 30 is in gross violation of those copyrights. [....] I demand that you remove all Louis (and Celia) Zukofsky material forthwith, from Jacket 30, as well as any other material that you may have posted. Please be aware that I reserve all options in the vigorous defense of my property. Sincerely, Paul Zukofsky”

 

[8] Soit deux versets bibliques V1 et V2, situés en n’importe quel point du texte, par exemple, le premier dans la Genèse, le second dans Isaïe. Ces deux versets contiennent le même mot et nous possédons un certain savoir sur ce mot dans V1. La gezera chava permet de transférer ce savoir de V1 à V2, sans aucun souci du contexte ou de la vraisemblance. Seules comptent les connexions d’écriture observées. [… ] Les spécialistes du Midrash considèrent cette pratique comme la généralisation d’une autre opération interprétative, la plus fondamentale, la semoukha : deux versets juxtaposés, quelle que soit l’hétérogénéité de leur signification apparente, possèdent, au-delà de celle-ci, un lien logique et peuvent être lus comme un seul énoncé. [… ] Elle privilégie donc les contiguïtés, les connexions du texte et donne ainsi son style au Talmud. (G. Haddad, Manger le livre, 209-210)

[9] In “American Poetry 1920-1930” Zukofsky calls capillaries the sources where images begin. (Prepositions 143)

[10] This hypothesis of writing as quoting (if only the dictionary) also questions authorship and authority as does the compositional device of Thanks to the Dictionary, written with a die, a dictionary and a Bible, two books without authors, two embodiments of authority.

[11] As for context, Thanks to the Dictionary was begun in the early 30s: Eugene Jolas was advocating the revolution of the word in his magazine transition, Ogden and Richard were publishing The Meaning of Meaning and suggesting the adoption of a simplified English for world commerce and communication, and the final volume of the OED was appearing, a dictionary which not only included etymology but also early, remarkable or famous uses of words.

[12] Similarly, the word action is a quote from Stanley Allen, Electrons and Waves and implies the whole intertext of physics: “In Applied Mathematics a quantity called ‘Action’ is employed, which is defined as the product of energy and time, and if we consider the action during one complete period of vibration we find it equal to h, so that we may regard h as an atom of action.” (First Half of “A”-9 27).

The nod to the intertext can be reduced to a smaller unit than the word, to a rhyming syllable. At the end of line three, Zukofsky substitutes the word labor to Cavalcanti’s original amor. The rhyming syllable –or is a trace, a sonic outcropping of the original canzone that it conjures up; the original Italian shows on the surface. It also carries ideological and political meaning. Pound had said that love was the key concept to understand the thirteenth century. Zukofsky implies that labor is the key concept to understand the twentieth.

[13] Fetishism is the name given by pre-twentieth European anthropologists to the cults of “savage” and “primitive” people who worshipped inanimate beings. Fetishism is the name given by Marx to the inversion by which a relation between men appears as a relation between commodities. Fetishism is the name given by Freud to the perversion that in place of the normal sexual object substitutes a constitutive or representative part of it, body-part or article of clothing. (For a study of the concept, see Alfonso Iacono, Le fétichisme, histoire d’un concept.)

[14] Fluorescence is a crucial term for the understanding of the poetics of “A”-9 and that of later condensed poems. In the preface to First Half of “A”-9, Zukofsky places his faith in fluorescence, in the capacity of his several intertexts to convey their black light, their ultra-violet rays to his poem which will fluoresce, that is, convert this energy into a visible light.

This material has been removed as a result of this demand from Paul Zukofsky: “I am the only child, and sole heir, of Louis and Celia Zukofsky. I am also the person with sole control over all their copyrights, including works both published and unpublished. Jacket 30 is in gross violation of those copyrights. [....] I demand that you remove all Louis (and Celia) Zukofsky material forthwith, from Jacket 30, as well as any other material that you may have posted. Please be aware that I reserve all options in the vigorous defense of my property. Sincerely, Paul Zukofsky”

 
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