‘...it denies certitude in style and nature’
— Donald Kuspit
Without death there would be no life. Without death, literal death, life would be the primitive notion of undifferentiated logical category. The modern view of life — meaning associated with joy, fervent reaching for beauty, objects, love, a strange sensory understanding, illogical concern for others, the concept of eternal — would not have come into being, would have no basis.
Death is not only the labyrinth of life it is thread that leads us through the labyrinth. Without death humanity would have no perspective to guide it. It would have no structural motive of questioning. Mankind would have nothing to prompt it to be, in Sartre’s terminology, a presence-to-itself. For Sartre, life begins with negation. But negation is not simply negativity. ‘Negation must be like a free discovery; it must tear us away from this wall of positivity which encircles us’. ‘The being of consciousness is a being...in question’.
In Infinity Subsections, Mark DuCharme gives us poetry as an image of fixity, a daily and hourly death, present in all the wide variety of activities that commonly occur, a theme or principle, a center but one that has no particular distinction or meaning other than these things are connected to it. This is not the literal death mentioned above but figurative death, not a reality but a husk of reality, a time past. Rather than showing us the way that a lack of center opens up the discourse of life’s meaning, DuCharme shows us the way that the presence of a center obstructs it. The book’s philosophical critique is of a retrospective vantage that includes no negation. Everything is complete in the manner of an obsolete cosmology. Everything has an unambiguous purpose, like a tool, a proper position, a ‘rectitude’.
Poem titles in Infinity Subsections convey situation, a melodrama of circumstance, the ‘wall of positivity’ which encircles human action: ‘Custom’, ‘Degraded Text’, ‘Enclosure Stolen Text’, ‘Provisional Kiwi’, ‘Snare of Daydreams’. In these poems is a daily life tainted by strange coordinates. The twenty-six section prose piece which is the most significant part of the collection is titled ‘The Envelope of Things’. ‘History of Popular Snarling’ begins with, ‘Relate vast subterfuge/ to last subterfuge’. A section of ‘Noon (Invisible Copy)’ reads,
That was a twist
Betwixt nightfall & morning
Mooring among the sightseers
Where to fray results
The moment tallies
After the wallflowers trembled, & there were
Additional holes at the corners
In the poem titled ‘Oakland’ are the lines, ‘There is no/ Oakland. Nothing/ Unfamiliar’ ‘sort of a prank’. Section 9 of ‘The Envelope of Things’ reads,
...he walked around the city for a long time. Distracted focus of the ordinary bystander. The evidence ruled out any judgment whatsoever — yet something gnawed at him, which would take several days to figure out.
Later in the same section: ‘A jardiniere beside the machinery. Keeled over.’ Note that these two observations are not connected but positioned side by side.
A prose entry farther along in the book, titled ‘The Screens’, reads in part,
the scene of positioning of buildings on the fire in addition to some screen — the interval, true like the setting in sheath or tactical While-You-Wait for, true, like the setting in sheath tactical (the going beyond the moment that your gardener, the deracinated gesture in the disturbance of the household form in the matter which touches them. Was there part to fly or form with regular (I doubted the matter which touches them) was there part to fly or was there in fallen sleep or was there just complete the assignments of launch with regular, disturbing balance.
With an extra space between lines, ‘Enclosure Stolen Text’ begins, ‘Exact moment of cutting/ Ornament to stain/ & Kinship patterns — who inflict/ Heavy roses suddenly’.
Section 20 of ‘Envelope of Things’:
Was it you who was left there with the anchors & pilferage....Whose newness got downplayed in the evasion request. Whose death’s a big bag full of soup & of rain.
DuCharme arranges an ornamental symmetry (which has no ‘you’), experiences as they would be transcribed from an index file of experiences. These are certainly not experiences connected with the author. They are presented as ‘fictions’, ‘captured meaning’. Like ‘songs which eat up the night’ written or sung by an ‘Official Verse Culture’, the experiences here are a deflecting, approved, ‘forlorn Exterior’, ‘dried up under the sun’. They are experiences blunted by confirmation, a confirming sign (‘give me a wink’). Even right actions can be automatic and hollow, a ‘hokey’ ‘thong’ of good deeds, a hierarchical charity.
In contrast, in a poem such as ‘Feeder Kit’, one of the best in the collection, living meaning is between the lines, off-beat, not a weighty irony but something like a momentary musical intonation, a sensual reverberation that makes it real.
I think a topic relevant to Infinity Subsections is insanity. Freud’s notion of insanity is straightforward and clinical, dealing with obvious symptoms. However the concept of insanity has developed much since Freud, to the point where, in a twentieth century book like Michael Foucault’s History of Madness in the Classical Age, insanity is presented as a form of heroism and integrity confined within inflexible and repressive societies. In current common usage, words such as ‘crazy’ ‘mad’ or ‘madcap’ often have a healthy overtone pointing toward originality and innocence, a breaking apart from the socially and conceptually accepted limits that DuCharme recounts in his poems. Madness is a requisite for action itself.
At first, to me, the title of the book, Infinity Subsections, an imaginative unity of contradictory terms, seemed simplistic. But it fits well with the discontinuous, playful (‘play that excludes totalization’ — Derrida) mimicry and colloquial style of its text. It doesn’t do what it criticizes. Its easy-going abstractness, similar to a title such as Miscellaneous Cases, doesn’t supply the sort of clue that can be easily misused. Two poems worth mentioning in particular: ‘P O V’ in my opinion employs visual writing perfectly. Since visual writing can be an interesting language artifact, it is precisely appropriate to place it as a title which is then elaborated by the lines of poetry that follow. Also the poem ‘Trouble Shot’, written with Chris Stroffolino, some thirty stanzas in length, adds a lot to the collection.
Infinity Subsections is an exemplary 70-page small press book of poems and prose that describes persuasively the dangers of what Milan Kundera calls ‘received ideas’. In discussing the novel, a genre well suited to dispel brutal ethical illusions, the triviality that is produced from superficial societal reference points, Kundera writes, ‘Modern stupidity means not ignorance but the nonthought of received ideas’ (his italics). Infinity Subsections could well be considered a criticism of life in the U.S.A. today. The fragments of experience and intimidating exteriors loosely presented are very much from today’s newspapers and newscasts. In my opinion, the main problem with society today, just as Infinity Subsections suggests, is that politics, religion, popular morality have become so well established, such a ‘dominant discourse’ (Mark Wallace) that they are a morality by association rather than by contemplation, an expedient deferential camouflaged shallowness.
The war in Iraq, the war on drugs, the war on crime, the war on terrorism, democracy, family, the Constitution, America the Beautiful, sanctity of life, ‘welfare reform’, sexuality morality, Christianity, religion are I suppose good things in themselves. Any idea that is broadly respectable is in danger of becoming an inept caricature, a name only, ‘easy virtue’, a ‘received idea’. Without negativity, without possibility (i.e. impossibility) ‘groping’ toward the full infinity of our newly discovered universe, without the unknown, what we are and what we were (what we hold important) will die from within in a ‘kristallnacht’ that encircles our lives with a worthless and dangerously destructive positivity.
This review previously appeared online in ‘tool’ ( issue )7.
The Internet address of this page is http://jacketmagazine.com/34/hibbard-ducharme.shtml