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Rachel Blau DuPlessis and William Watkin

“Draft 33: Deixis” / Notes on “Deixis”: a Midrashic Chain

an exchange of thoughts

Editor’s Note [by William Watkin]:

paragraph 1

In March 1998 Tony Lopez organised a conference at the University of Plymouth at Exmouth. The conference, entitled “Postmodern Poetry,” brought together anglophone poets and scholars from both sides of the Atlantic. Its aims were to establish contacts between younger and older American and British writers on poetry and poetics, and to investigate further the incredibly rich field of contemporary and postmodern poetry. Among those who attended and participated were Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Lyn Hejinian, Bob Perelman, Peter Nicholls, Marjorie Welish, Andrew Crozier, Douglas Oliver, and John Kinsella. As part of the conference I gave a paper on John Ashbery’s The Tennis Court Oath and Lyn Hejinian’s Writing as an Aid to Memory,[1] which was attended by Lyn Hejinian. Hejinian’s paper, “Reason” was one of the plenary sessions,[2] as was Rachel Blau DuPlessis’ poem “Draft 33: Deixis”, read as an essay in poetry.


While I did not meet Rachel Blau DuPlessis at the conference, Lyn Hejinian mentioned my paper to her and, eventually, we set up a correspondence on deixis, “Draft 33: Deixis”, my notes on “Deixis” and issues relating to pointing and indicating in language. Included below are extracts from our letters. Rachel calls them a “Midrashic chain” after the Jewish tradition of glossing scripture. They cover a period of four years and I have edited them together to form a coherent debate on issues pertaining to poetry and deixis, but they also address the inter-relations and conflicts of two urgent contemporary problems in literature: contextual materialism and textual materiality. I have also included extracts from my notes when needed, and occasional excerpts from my own work. These extracts come from unpublished work of my own so I have not paginated them or given full bibliographical detail, I refer to them simply as (Notes). I am not sure if she counts our letters on this subject as a continuation of Draft 33, but I hope so.


Many in the U.K. only know Blau DuPlessis through her groundbreaking studies on gender and modernism and the recent history of feminism, but she is also an important and accomplished poet whose work recognises no real disciplinary or generic divisions, especially between analytical and creative formats. Her poem “Draft 33: Deixis” is thus a poem about deixis, a poem of deixis and an essay on deixis.


Is it that Words are Waste?
Will sheer pointing
save the place?
        Cannot be.
        For ’twas also a dream,
to show, shining

        wordless, pointing to
pierce thru absolutes of here,

how the present
        becomes historical.[3]


In a footnote, Blau DuPlessis cites this passage from linguist John Lyons. “By deixis is meant the location and identification of persons, objects, events, processes and activities being talked about, or referred to, in relation to the spatiotemporal context created and sustained by the act of utterance and the participation in it, typically, of a single speaker and at least one addressee”.[4]



21 February, 1999

Dear Rachel


I have been working on “Deixis” and would like to respond in full to that poem but I am currently figuring out the right way to do so. It is very difficult to approach, conceptually, such a conceptual piece and still do justice to it. Such a process of “thinking through poetry” asks us to do two things simultaneously, whereas poetry or philosophy generally only asks for one half of this. So I want to react to the ideas within the confines of poeticity through which they are expressed. This will take me a little while.


I enclose, by way of a meagre response or exchange, my version of the indicative, as opposed to the representative, mode of language, for which I use the term taxonomy.[6]  By taxonomy I mean a mode of naming that does not dispense with the representational capabilities of the sign, as indeed one cannot totally, but in taking it for granted as something that will come along with the sign anyway, feels freed up to do something else. So it names the system, better the process, of naming. Taxonomy relates to deixis because they both indicate or point to the thing in paradoxical relation to language. Taxonomy points but not in the pronominal sense of deixis; rather it indicates nominally through nouns.[7]  It points to language as a structural grid that is in excess of itself, just as deixis points to the thing in a temporal/spatial grid that is in excess of itself.


I also work extensively on anaphora/cataphora. These too are modes of pointing, and of course “it” is one of the central modes of anaphoric designation. John Lyons also talks about this area I believe. It would seem all deictic acts are what one might call cross-anaphoric, taking, for example, a pronoun to repeat the person, or “it” to repeat the thing, “there” to reiterate the place. As you can tell, this is only half-formed and I want to work a lot more on whether this is actually true. Lyn [Hejinian] thinks one must put some restrictions on what deixis is capable of indicating otherwise all language would be deictic.[8]  I am not sure if that would be a good thing, but still it may be the case that each phrase is a form of deixis all the same.


Sorry to hit you with all this in one go. I have fully annotated your piece “Deixis” and will send you my thoughts, such as they are, soon enough. Until then I hope you are well.
Yours, William Watkin.

20 June 99

Dear William


My query would involve the relation of deixis to the line. Segmentivity as that which defines poetry.


(A brief excursus — I do believe this — the line segment defines poetry. I discussed this somewhat in “Manifests” in Diacritics.[9] Those works that exist in prose, of which a terrific amount of Language Poetry work, such as My Life,[10] many of Ron [Silliman’s] members of the Alphabet,[11] some of Bruce Andrews, of Carla [Harryman], of Barry [Barrett Watten] in Bad History,[12] I take to be acknowledging the power, but problematic power of line segmentivity by turning to another form of the segment: the sentence).


It seems to me that the line in poetry is a mode of pointing (i.e. look at Oppen). Could it be that line itself (in poetry) is deictic? So then my question is: in what sense is what you have said illuminating specifically of poetry — I mean, could the procedures apply equally to prose, to fiction, and so forth. I don’t mean that what you say is not illuminating (brilliant, really — as the comparison between taxonomy “pointing to the thing in language as a structural grid in excess of itself” while deixis “points to the thing in a temporal/spatial grid that is in excess of itself”). But I would be interested in how you distinguish this as pertaining to poetry exclusively, or what it brings to bear on poetry — I am trying to struggle against (with!) ways of talking about poetry that regard it as an oddball delivery system for ideas or theories, but don’t engage with the materiality and situated histories of poetry (poetries) as modes of using language.[13]


Line foregrounds itself startlingly whenever I consider [James] Schuyler, whose lines are masterful — sometimes so short, so syntactically striking, so interested in creating an impact on the reader. So full of “turns” — verse as verso.


If I understand your work on decollation, you are trying to figure out how (or why — for what motives on the part of an author) an avant-garde text ends (establishes closure), especially a text that in principle could go on forever. Why stop? what induces ending? and so on. Ending changes the now of the poem, putting the poem into a then. It makes some sort of a transition one might discuss via deixis. Does this make even the most radical work problematic at the moment of ending? What does Gertrude Stein do with this problem? How does she absolutely avoid the organic? Is the organic always a villain? Is it possible that there are a number of very situational answers to this question, ones it is possible to justify theoretically, but maybe don’t originate in theory?

Warm Regards, Rachel


Dear Rachel


Before I move on to the ongoing debate over deixis, anaphora, it-ness, and thing-ness, just a few responses to your responses. First, on segmentivity, a word which itself cries out to be broken up. From my perspective I am very wary of singling out any one thing that defines poetry, coming from the same perspective as Derrida who responds to the question “What is poetry?” with an admonition. A bit like Kennedy’s “ask not what my country can do for me...”, Derrida suggests that we ask not what is poetry but, perhaps, what is our cultural and philosophical motivation in putting forward such ontologising enquiries.[14]  Poetry answers all its own questions as regards its essential being, but they may not be the questions we like to ask. Further, the issue of the phenomenological status of the line is, for those of us actively involved in contemporary and avant-garde poetics, simply a very difficult one.


Taking all this into consideration I still, like you, see the line break as the one thing that separates poetry from prose if we take the line break to be an enforced segmentivity that does not follow the laws of grammar and syntax. Thus the new sentence would be poetic in the same way that a pentameter would be;[15] both should not end where they do and how they do within the normative rules of rational grammar and rational syntax. With nonrational poetry being defined by what it has that’s extra, what it holds over in remainder, the semantic break at its heart.[16]  Lyn  [Hejinian] at the Exmouth conference suggested that absence within nonrational poetics was a dead end, but in this way absence is the very thing in excess of presence that sets poetry free from rationality while retaining materiality. A gap is as much of a mark, as much of a thing, within the segment, as the mark.


As regards your second point, I believe I am directly addressing the specific material and situated history of poetry in all that I say about it, in as much as all that I say about it is prompted by poetry in the first instance. For example, if the avant-garde does not originate at least 50% from poetry, then all my years studying it have been in vain. Essentially, all these questions come, to a large degree, from Mallarmé. Taxonomy exists in prose as do line breaks, as does the mark/re-mark, parataxis, decollation, rhyme, metre and so on. And it may be again that we are asking the wrong question. Is it our job to ask what poetry is or to tell other people what it could be? I think the latter. What makes my categories specifically relevant to poetics, and yet not all poetics but just the nonrational, asemantic poetry that we are talking about here (asemantic only in the sense that its meaning is not generated in a normal, rational fashion) involves two simple facts:


1. that all my work has been generated from poetry, from what goes on in poetry, from listening to what poets say and observing what they do in their work, and starting out from there. Taxonomy is central to poetics because poets, consciously or unconsciously, see it as such


2. that the radical semantic break at the heart of nonrational poetics only exists in poetics, and any prose writers who look for it are writing prose poetry, as you suggest. Basically, nonrational poetics organises its phrase segments (marks, letters, syllables, words, phrases, lines, sentences, and so on) around a central lack of grammatical linkage between one part of its syntax string and the next. And it learned to do this from those facets of poeticity that were already doing this to a degree, especially the line break and the measure of syllables. It was because poetry had other things on its mind than syntax and grammar, that new modes of language usage occurred which followed other kinds of rules.


The line, if it is deictic, indicates a space for itself to exist as poetry, and further it also draws attention to itself. The line break and the semantic break cry out, “look at me, here I am” in an aggressive avant-garde fashion, like dada performers insulting their audiences and the like. So yes, the line seems deictic, but Lyons’ work warns against mistaking deixis for anaphora and I think that the key difference between the two is probably the difference between your position and mine. Deixis sends text out to the thing, and it’s the first utterance of outside space in language. It says “this”, it says “it”.[17]  Language enunciates itself by the indication of a thing that is not within it: the outside world. Anaphora then repeats this if you like. The “it” of anaphora does not refer, as Lyons notes, to the original referent, but to the original reference. Deixis points outwards, and anaphora points inwards. This being the case, the line of poetry as deixis is really anaphoric in that it is a mode of language that points out a mode of language. To answer the impossible question “what is poetry” with the line “this is poetry” does not, therefore, seem very credible. Unless one takes poetry to be material in the world, which I guess we both do.


Lyn [Hejinian] again warns of taking all nouns and all phrases to be taxonomic, which in a fundamental sense they are. We should also be careful not to take every line of poetry to be an act of pointing, and yet each line is an act of spacing and this is another difference between deixis and anaphora. The space of a deictic “it” is out there. The line break is proof of this, as the line comes to an end but space never does. The space of anaphora is much more cramped and baroque; the illumination within the letter, the reiterations within the line.


This being the case, in reference to the opening lines [that is, the epigraph] of “Draft 33: Deixis”, it does not give “it” its authority, culture and discourse give “it” its authority by using “it” to indicate what is not in language and saying that because of this “it” is better than it actually is. It is just a word. Anaphora is a much more degraded, impure, unsuccessful form of indication, and because of this it is much better suited to poetics, and also because of this I like it better. Lyons says that,


Anaphora involves the transference of what are basically spatial notions to the temporal dimension of the context-of-utterance and the reinterpretation of deictic location in terms of what might be called location in the universe of discourse...The basically deictic component in an anaphoric expression directs the attention of the addressee to a certain part of the text or co-text and tells him, as it were, that he will find the referent there.[18]


But of course one does not find the referent there as it is already too late, the thing in the world has already become the thing in language in the world. Still, it is an illuminating point. In his early work, Derrida notes a transition from the mark to its codification. Any mark can become writing if it is reiterable, can be repeated, a point that echoes throughout all poststructural thought of the last 30 years. This is actually what Lyons is arguing. The first “it” was deictic, but by the time it was uttered it was open to repetition within utterance and so it immediately becomes anaphoric. It referred to “it” over there but in doing so it brought that thing over there, over here. So ultimately it referred to itself. If “it” does give “it” its authority, that is because “it” is rational language basing a whole system of grammar and syntax on the presupposition that one can refer. You talk about specificity, but what is more non-specific than the deictic indicators, it, this, that, him, her, us?...


At some point, not here, not today, we have to reconcile deixis and anaphora, and I think accept that, contrary to Lyons’ belief, deixis does not precede anaphora in all language systems. Rather, deixis is just a desire for the thing, something that comes from the universe of discourse. Things don’t care how we feel about them; things do not really exist anyway in that way. Thing-ness is also such a non-specific word: why can we not say exactly what we are referring to? Lyons also suggests that deixis precedes the proper noun as a mode of indication, which suggests the desire for specificity is a modern phenomenon. Anaphora is the time of the text, let’s say of the poem, the context of text, which makes deixis the pretext, but its actual pretext is to undermine language as a thing, in favour of things as things. That it can only do this through language is the classic argument of deconstruction. Not that things don’t exist, but that the words we use to refer to them are just that, words, and no one sign is better than any other. This is a point Gertrude Stein makes as well. Deixis’ gleaming record of direct object relation through spacing can only come about after language’s fall from the state of grace with the object, again another basic point from early Derrida.


Presumably we will disagree over this but only in as much as it is important to work out exactly what we are saying/doing with phrases like “this is this” or “that is that”. In contrast to what we think or would like to believe we are thinking and saying. Especially when we realise that deixis is the political realm of linguistics, the point at which marginalisation of the other or its overwhelming appropriation can occur. As regards decollation,[19] I won’t go into that too much here as I have gone on a bit, but I see it as the same issue in macro or discourse level terms. The end of a poem takes us from its vertical spatiality, a defining feature because of the line break (prose being basically horizontal) to a temporality; the “then”. Thus decollation is the shift from primary level reference, this here is the poem, to secondary level, that was the poem. Stein, say in Stanzas in Meditation,[20] overcomes this by never really beginning the work. In effect most lines are discovered in medias res, the thing being language. Lyn [Hejinian] said that she removed the end lines of all the poems in The Cell as they seemed too conclusive, which simply made the penultimate lines more conclusive, and so it goes.[21]  


The end of the poem is a kind of defining moment, but because of the way the nonrational poem is constructed, the end may not be the end except nominally, due to an accident of extreme spacing. The space after any written work is a real problem for readers, so what defines poetic language is how that space is prepared for and orchestrated within the poem as a whole. The end of a nonrational poem must be taken in context along with its internal spacing and breaks, the biggest segment only makes sense in light of the smallest. And so I would say yes, organicism is a villain because it is a lie based on the idea of nature as a particular kind of ideal order. Such arguments have been the mainstay of patriarchy, fascism, capitalism, and western metaphysics. Stein avoids this by being non-organic, although anyway organic is a critical term not really a poetic one, even if it did originate from German and English Romantic poets. An organic poet chooses a word because it fits within the whole limited system, Stein chooses a word based on what she wants to say. Again, an organic poet emphasises a word’s importance through placement within the poem, say at the end of a line, in the title, within stress, and also choice, what poets in Ireland call craft. The right word in the right place. If Stein wants to emphasise a word she simply says it again.

Yours William

Editor’s Note:


Blau DuPlessis’ letter which follows forms the central link of this midrashic chain. In it she refers in part to my previous letter and part to my long gloss on “Draft 33: Deixis”. When relevant, I have included extracts from this unpublished gloss directly before her comments, which I have placed in square brackets. My gloss includes detailed extracts from “Draft 33: Deixis” so I have included these as well as many readers may be unfamiliar with the piece.

4—5-6 and 11 and 12 and 14 August 2000, printed 1 Sept 2000

Dear William —


There might be a lot of ways to begin this letter. One would be to say “Well, I’m not Cid Corman” — the US poet known for responding to correspondence on the day received. Another would be just to tell you all the things I did last year — but other people’s writing, cutting, proofing, indexing, and generally messing with manuscripts is not necessarily of General Interest. Though I will fill you in on that news later, willy nilly. Another would just to say “sorry” — for the fact that it has taken me just shy of a year to write back! Am I really that bad...? BUT — but what I really want to say is how much I appreciated your letter-essay about “Draft 33: Deixis” — so much so that it’s taken me about a year to come to terms with it. To let it settle for me. I want to write you a nice, long, friendly letter back, just assuming that you still care about any of what you said with such intensity and seriousness. Because I cared about it a lot, in fact. So here goes. [...]


The first thing you did in your letter was challenge the term segmentivity. I feel a little disadvantaged, as I do not have on hand (here) my original letter to you. So you’ll forgive me if I repeat. I guess I was not so wary of singling out something that defines (over-defines) poetry, because it was not an attempt to pre-empt the field. There was such a “simple” problem — I was at the MLA and everyone was talking about narrativity blah blah and performativity blah blah — and I just got to wondering whether one could suggest an “-ativity” that distinguished poetry. In a sense this move was related to the low status of poetry theoretically and practically within such gatherings — and to the fact of the hegemony of narrative poetry/ mainstream poetry — so poetry disappears into narrativity, and related also to some current interest in poetry disappearing into performativity, on the other hand. So I wanted a space where poetry was not erased! Thus my attempt at an “-ativity” to distinguish poetry. I think distinguish is a better word than define. So I worked on it, and came up with a suggestion. The reason I like segmentivity is that it works no matter what the general genre of poem is (song-ode-meditative-descriptive), the historical era, and even the culture. It does not depend on rules of meter to define segmentivity, though of course it hardly excludes these. I include the new sentence kind of writing — not as sophisticatedly as you just did. “if we take the linebreak to be an enforced segmentivity that does not follow the laws of grammar and syntax. Thus the new sentence would be poetic.....because it should not end as it does within the normative rules of rational grammar and syntax”. RIGHT. But I am not sure what you mean by “phenomenological” in the phrase “the phenomenological status of the line” — since the line depends on more than how a certain person perceives and registers the world. It is always/already invested with some of its own poetic histories, and a person writing is using those histories as tools of investigation and resistance.


I most emphatically agree with your eloquent “a gap is as much of a mark, as much of a thing, within the segment, as the mark”. ABSOLUTELY. Indeed — that’s part of what I mean by segmentivity, as it is a word that can account for what I call visual caesura — white space in and helping to constitute the line.


I am going to read you back your essay. A midrashic chain — you glossed me, I’ll gloss you. This is actually a thrilling and daunting enterprise, but one thoroughly in the spirit of the poems called Drafts.


[“‘It gives it its authority’” (Blau DuPlessis, 219, actually citing Wlad Godzich, as will become clear in her response, below). Authority comes from elsewhere and always from over there. Deixis has no authority as such as there should be no power attached to the simple act of pointing. So where does the authority of indication come from? From the act of pointing into language. Deixis indicates not just the thing’s location, but it also invites the outside world of space into that of the text. This privileges deixis within our culture because, firstly, deixis is non-expressive. It does not express anything, rather it points to something. And secondly, because deixis reaches out with its simple act of pointing, seems to want to touch the real, as opposed to the other form of pointing, anaphora, which only touches on itself. The authority of deixis comes not so much from its own ability to point out and spatially differentiate, as from the fact that rationality prefers that way of going about things, about the thing, than other more apparently text-based ways. (Notes)]


When I wrote “‘it gives it its authority’” I was citing. Taking what Wlad Godzich said into a larger and more general frame. I would accede to both the authority of theory and the authority of deixis. (What’s my alternative??!) But I think there is more. When I cited, I was interested in Godzich’s ambiguity — I couldn’t tell what he meant, that is, what the referent of the “it”s were. Though I suspect he meant theory’s authority giving deixis its authority, an interested professionalising claim. But to me it’s the opposite, so far as I can follow these debates. (This is very swirly language — let’s not get too vertiginous. And don’t forget I am no expert in these matters.) But what I was interested in is the incredible interplay of it/its and later it’s — in his language and in the language in general. (Actually, it was difficult to tell whether he cared about the funny awkward sentence he had produced, cared about it as language, not statement.) This grammatically different set of IT’s (a pronoun, a possessive pronoun, a contraction of pronoun and verb, and then a very awkward plural) seems to have a secret door in it. These verbal signs open a very large space for me. The ITness of everything. The realness of the real world into which we can only point. (And also in which we act.) Yet this pointing is a very large fact of life for us (and you say this, too). So I agree that deixis “seems to want to touch the real” but it’s not clear that “anaphora only touches on itself” for why would that not be parallel — that anaphora “seems to only touch upon itself” because of the repetition of the same language gesture, presumably, and because anaphora comes first in a line, so the incantation in language is emphasised. The proposing of anaphora with deixis struck me as a very creative move — and you gloss it in your letter (not the article).


So let me turn to the letter for a minute, where you speak of Lyons on anaphora. And you. I am not sure that our positions differ. Indeed, adding anaphora creates a very appropriate critical sophistication of which I am very admiring. The issue is — I don’t THINK I am arguing (in the poem) that every line of poetry is deictic. But I guess that is a potential implication of my argument if only because I am, and we are, so interested in the line and linebreak. Poetry’s use of the line is LIKE a way of  deictic pointing, or draws on the gesture of pointing, but it is not deictic by the strictest definition, because that would imply that every line was spoken from a specific context and would change within any other context (like the word “today”). (This is only “true” in the sloppiest kind of post-structuralist relativism, and anyway that idea, even if it were acceptable, would not distinguish poetry solely, but all kinds of writing, performed by the subjectivity of the enunciation as = reader.) This would oversimplify poetry. I think I was arguing that deixis cannot be theoretically sustained by such a strong separation of here and there, but by what I’d call, in my own shorthand, the additional ethical acknowledgement of “of” — the of-ness or relationality, intersubjectivity, betweenness.


Could I take what you say here: “Deixis points outwards, and anaphora points inwards” and modify it to lose that lovely binary? “Deixis points outwards, and anaphora points to the repeated acts and speeches of pointing. They are therefore helixed together as poetry”.


“The space of a deictic ‘it’ is out there. The line break is proof of this as the line comes to an end but space never does”. YES. So you, here, are not mixing deixis with linebreak but showing how one (line break) expresses the other (deixis).


Maybe it’s just my relative lack of critical sophistication, but I think we are in some agreement.


But in your letter, when you say “The first it was deictic, but by the time it was uttered it was open to repetition within utterance and so it immediately becomes anaphoric. It referred to it over there but in doing so it brought that thing [that was] over there, over here. So ultimately it referred to itself”. I disagree with the last sentence. It does not ultimately refer to itself. It ultimately refers to the process of exchange between deixis and anaphora — “the ethics of poetry being that fold”. I will grant you that I was speaking of this without any notion of the problem — or potentials — of anaphora.


I find the notion that poetry “repeats the original reference” persuasive, and actually quite interesting to me as I apply this back to the method of self-citation and deliberate repeating that now are at play in Drafts. (I was talking to someone about my love of Matisse’s Red Studio — perhaps the first time I saw self-citation — when I was really young.) So the idea that “it gives it its authority” — I was really mocking Godzich’s inability to see how amusingly vertiginous his language was. I was not arguing his proposition, but using it to begin. So precisely — it is not a simple thing to point.

Editor’s Note:


In my gloss I attempted to present a taxonomy of pointing and it is to this taxonomy that Blau DuPlessis refers in the following section. I include an edited version of the list here.


1. The thing may or may not be there, it is neither here nor there, what matters is the desire to point out a thing as being apart from all others, and then to place it in space.


2. Once one points to it, it no longer exists, and instead becomes a thing designate.


3. And yet it also still exists as just a thing.


4. It #1, the deictic “it”, can only occur once, if it recurs, and it always will, it becomes not a reference to a referent but a reference to an act of referring.


5. It #2, the anaphoric it, seems to come after but in fact precedes the deictic it as its precondition of failure. Again, in a classical deconstructive turn, it will always be in excess of the thing because it is an act of iterable language while the thing proper is not. Thus the excessive anaphoric indication is the precondition for the aggressive closing down of indication to a single, nonexpressive, unrepeatable act comes about, or to put it another way, the authority of pointing comes about precisely because of a need to deny anaphora. Yet deixis and anaphora cannot be deconstructed, they are two facets of the same impulse and all that separates them is the instant of time it takes to convert space into time; the space of the world of things into the time of its repetition.


6. Does the actual thing care about “it”? No, not at all.


7. Further, language is also a thing, an issue of spacing, thus while it is true that there is always a remainder that denies true deixis in the sign “it”, by a kind of perverse logic, the anaphoric “it” becomes, in fact, the deictic “it” for as soon as it points to itself, to language, language becomes a thing unto itself, liberated of the need to refer to the world of things. At this stage “it” becomes a thing. Poetry has been a major force in developing this idea, as has abstract art.


8. One must also add into this that while we talk of a text remainder, there is also another form of remains:  the thing. The thing remains the same and is untouched by the finger of its designation. Let me restate the problem:  we care a bit too much about the thing, the thing couldn’t care less about us.


9. When we talk of the remainder and excess it always seems to spiral out of control, out of our reach, but in fact the remainder here can be fairly strictly limited. Language precedes the thing as much as the thing precedes language. It purports to a zero-level of language:  this is it and it is here, or that is it and it is there. But this purity of referentially, before the world as discourse as Lyons puts it, is a fiction that comes from discourse. It is only because language has degraded the thing that we want to elevate language though actual proximity to the thing. On the other hand, the anaphoric, post-lapsarian “it”, through ignoring the thing in favour of the word, makes language into a thing. It #1 points to the thing. It #1 becomes it #2. It #2 points to it #1. It #1 becomes the thing. Conclusion:  the thing remains the thing. (Notes)]


Passing to your second paragraph, the one option or set of options that are absent from your list is the evocation of context. Sometimes one can only know “the thing pointed to” in its context. Your #1 speaks of taking it and placing it in space apart from other things, but one might imagine equally well placing it in context — like site sculpture. (Incidentally, site sculpture turned out to be a metaphor of praxis for me at the end of a new poem — the one to Silliman, that is enclosed.)[22]


We have no evidence of your #6, and also #8 — it is possible that the actual thing does not care about “it” — a statement that can be taken in a couple of ways. Surely there is no consciousness like ours out there. And there is no sense that out there cares about gestures in language. So you are probably right. YET while those things probably have no will, we are intermeshed with lots of ITs. It is more that kind of feeling (“something far more deeply interfused” o goodness) that I am trying to communicate. There is also no doubt that we have meddled, as a species, fiercely with lots of things. This is an ethical observation. [...]


[“poems / say the unsayable twice, / once to another language. / Speak to each other / Twice thru another, yet once in one again,/ say bits of conjunction, fragments of mark”.[23]  What to make of the spacing of the text when one considers the self-consciousness of the text to issues of spacing. If deixis is about pointing it is just as much about spacing, as deixis is the spatial aspect of language. The poem, by being about deixis, is effectively pointing to itself and to deixis at the same time, conferring a difficult logic of double-deixis. This is further problematised by the layout and design of the text on the page. There is nothing that radically new about it, but because the poem is about indication, one is forced to reconsider the indicative spacing of the poem, to ask what does that space there mean. While in the end concluding that it means nothing. Instead the poem’s spacing is merely indicative:  the poem is here, and is not there where the space is. (Notes).]


I could not agree more about line, space and the nature of poetry. How poetry actually makes its thoughts within its own language techniques is something I think about all the time, and linebreak is for me a stunning mechanism. Line and its break are ways of “Controlling the pace of disclosure” Oppen said with a Heideggerian turn. That and the way syntax both drapes over the line — or more exactly, the way syntax creates the forwarding or withdrawal of words along the line, precisely a music of meaning. (I know that Zukofsky speaks of this too. Among others.) These things have transfixed me for many a year. And your turn to Williams and then to Schuyler names two poets who are very important to me in their use of the line. (Oppen is of course my primary influence for a variety of reasons.)


Translation. You’ll maybe be amused or touched by my prescience and yours: one of the poems I enclose here is a work written to Jean-Paul Auxeméry — a wonderful poet and translator who has done (extending work accomplished at Royaumont) 4 of my poems into French.[24] What you say in your sentence “the new text is a text unto itself perhaps outstripping the original or introducing a whole new emphasis” is what I found in this poem to Aux. So “being translated” in many senses is the subject of “Draft 42: Epistle, Studios” that I enclose. Including in the old-fashioned 19th century sense of being transported upward. Let me say very clearly that I do NOT think poems are like translations (i.e. of a prior reality that precedes themselves), and that’s not what I said (I hope). But poems can be translated, and even when they are not, the act of writing is like translating from the unsayable into the unsayable. There’s no sense that you’ve ever got it — and there is no ONE original (as there would be if a poem were a translation).I thought your sentence [Poetry] “fails to speak in its own language” is right, but I would hardly think, given spells, incantation and magic of all kinds, that the origins of writing are “rational” and “non-poetic” — anyway, why bother with words like original, since it is an endless argument what is the first — and who cares?


The still-patriarchal rejiggering of firstness is actually the subject of the Rachel in the Hebrew Scriptures...for whom I am indirectly named.


So you are grand, and I agree very fully that the poem “demonstrates unsayability” with the caveat that poetic tradition is filled with poems that do not follow this ideal model of unsayability. Hence — one might have 2 choices here. Keep the ideal of poetry in a Platonising mode so that some poetry is “better” and other is “worse” at achieving this ideal of unsayability. Or try to make some poetics that approaches both the “nonrational” and the “rational” poem. Example: With unsayability as the ideal, what is to be done with “The Rape of the Lock”? I mean, it tries so hard to be rational — even though it leaks all over the place. (“Women” — female figures — are often the site, inside poems, of this problem — they get the nonrational or the mystery settled on them, but the poet wants it too, even though it is somewhat taboo. Which is why gender in poetry interests me so much — a side note to our issues here.) I feel torn between these options. Like on the cusp. One option — the interest solely in unsayability — seems to reject all, or most, of poetic tradition, a claim that is impossible, no matter who avers that it’s possible and just and necessary.


[“It’s ‘Now’ / full-empty, / and site specific / because anyone and everyone / lives poised there, / so to speak, put in its place” [In triadic-foot form].[25] The now of  the text is another example of double unsayability, if a thing isn’t worth saying then it also isn’t worth repeating. “Now” as deictic indicator refers to the temporality of the outside world, the “now” of utterance, not of the actual utterance, but of indicating that now has happened. This refers us to Lyotard’s work on the postmodern sublime. One cannot say the now, cannot speak, but deixis at least indicates that it is happening. And yet, of course, a text is as much an event in the world (temporal category) as it is a thing (spatial category). If in this text Blau DuPlessis says now or here, similarly I as reader can say I am reading “Deixis” now, or the text is here. This now is, therefore, always full and empty, site specific and yet also, as suggested by the subtlety of “poised”, vague and mystical. This is where Mallarmé must be brought in. Surely the most profound deictic expression still resides in “Un Coup de Dés”, “nothing will have taken place but the place”. Language puts us in our place, our place is language, but this has the effect of displacing us from placement, from the spatio-temporal realm of the real. And just like here and just like now, our place is always poised, held shimmering between alternatives, pretending to be a site. We are involved in no more than a lay-over or overnight stop in a cheap boarding house on the edge of town which we arrive at so late, and leave so early, that we never get a sense of the town proper. (Notes).]


I follow you perfectly (let’s say) absolutely thru Mallarmé. But when you speak as in a fable, of the little town (so Oppenesque!) (so Keatsean!), one might say again, you are asking for context. Wanting the gesture of deixis not to be towards one thing at a time, but to all of it. IT being created by Thereness and Theyness. So I think I don’t believe that we exist to do this only in language. But in community or sociality. [...]


If you want more examples of the fierce force of a single letter — look at my page 223 and footnote from Hegel.[26] This translation says Hegel: “The Now that is Night is preserved.... My poem says “Now is a Night preserved” for how can he generalise to all Night when he just wrote down one (a) Night??? o well, I can’t answer. But maybe someone like you can. Can the habits of some poetry criticise some philosophy? This poem rests on the presumption that it can at least question some of those philosophic moves. (Of course one is limited by using a translation, but that only doubles the questions one must bring to these texts.)


I liked your honesty of “I never understood the triadic foot when Williams started to use it..”.[27]  Me neither when I first encountered it — “the descent beckons...”.). But if you read the linebreaks as mini gulps or pauses, and listen for a long time, you might hear this peculiar “off-beat” hesitation  and rushing forward across the phrase sometimes occurring in American speech — and here I am SURE the cadences are different in English speech. (This is not a tendentious or polemical remark — tho it sure was for Williams who was always holding forth against English — UK — speech, which was probably among other things a muted argument with his father.) Of course, I would love to think that  (as you say) I have improved on the linebreaks of WCW and O’Hara. How could anything be more calculated to appeal to pure narcissism? But all I can say is I really think about linebreak all the time.


[“It calls up a spot between the recto/verso / somewhere along the knife of the page...// the out-there is connected / precisely / to the over-there, / folded upon it / the ethics of poetry being that fold”.[28]  To turn the question back on Blau DuPlessis, what does poetry have to do with it? While the staggered drop line effects here make the point well, what is there that is fundamental to poetry that it, and seemingly only it, can occupy the ethical position of language indication? Clearly it all comes down to the fold which Derrida rightly identifies as a foundational moment in poetry in his reading of Mallarmé in “The Double Session”. The fold only exists in a work that is materially edged. For example Derrida reads a story by Blanchot in “The Law of Genre” using the internal/external edge of the story, which is allowed because Blanchot’s story has that kind of self-referentiality where the theme of the text, un récit, is also the form. But this only happens once. Poetry has ethics running through it like the “Blackpool” in Blackpool rock as we say here. Every line has a break, an edge to be folded over. This makes the ends of the line very important again, in fact they have never been so important since the French and American poets of the nineteenth century pioneered free verse and got rid of the structured line break. However, we must also note that it is not the end of the line but both ends. Poetry then becomes, in a postmodern ethical poetic practice, double joined, ambidextrous. Choose your metaphor. In addition to this, nonrational poetry with its internal semantic break, which effectively imposes line break between each phrase, word, or even letter, has a further ethical dimension. We are still at the beginning of this area of enquiry but it seems that this could be what makes poetic language fundamentally ethical in the way Blau DuPlessis states, while also giving us a sense of what it is that marks poetry apart from prose and nonrational poetry apart from rational poetry. However, having said all this, such projects are themselves no longer ethical. If one considers what one does in trying to determine what marks poetry out, one is defining a genre in quite a conservative way, even if the genre-markers are themselves radically unsettling for the bourgeois rationalist project. (Notes).]


As a typology or topography of linebreak edge/ledge is good.[29] I am so glad that you understood my placing of “ledge or edge” just on the line there so the reader did have to see that he was making little leaps — like a bird unchained from the clock, or a very big leap down the vertigo of poetic lines. (This constant interest in the powers of linebreak is why — by the way — while I think “the new sentence” is a stellar achievement in Lyn and Ron, I don’t myself use it.) I think (vide Blaser) of the blaze of the path — punning on his Holy Forest and his ImageNations.[30] Or my vertiginous sense of linebreak as stepping into the void in late Oppen. Exactly like your “leap” — it is so interesting what the rupture of exact metrical counting in 20th century poetry eventually allowed in the way of metaphysics. I mean by making every single line involve a choice of where and how to begin and where and how to end. Is metaphysics the right term? Or non-theistic mystery? In the Letters (actually in a letter to me) Oppen speaks of “the vertical dimension — what linebreak is for” — that was something I had to ponder for a long time — and then I did begin to get it. IT IS TERRIFIC that this is one of your conclusions: “the end of the line” — or “both ends” the ambidextrous line — and its ethical dimension.


That’s why I wish (for my sake) you had stopped to say why “one It. detail too many” corresponds to the mathematical sublime.[31] I know I should know Kant, but don’t. And this very minute, on a hill in Italy, I can’t. And the other thing here is: my sense of the grounding of the poem compared to what you make of it really startles me. I will tell you what you’ve probably surmised — where this comes from. A friend was translating a poem (indeed, Lawrence Venuti is a distinguished translator from the Italian, a language I am sloppily learning). He showed me the work, and I found that he had (of course by error) simply skipped a line. The issue was a description of a cuckoo clock, a very circumstantial description. Had he skipped the line because, as he rendered the poet’s work into “the Am.Lang”, there was the “one It. detail too many”? The coincidence of it and It. made me feel absolutely lofted in an ecstatic silliness — as if the language itself was throwing up to my consideration endless moments and examples of “itness”. (There was also the egotism of Am. to consider — the ego of any translator being a very complicated mechanism.)


If I had any thoughts of cuckoo as cuckolding anything, I probably would have attributed those thoughts to the original poem by Pozzi, as it was her choice to discuss cuckoo clocks. I just followed, via Larry Venuti’s draft of a translation. But of course such clocks, with their reedy little sound, are mocking reminders of time on every hour. So in reading your  paragraph I make a mental separation between my sense of what I was doing, and what you are saying, until the last sentence — which I experience as a terrific idea, very complex and enriching — especially because of my sense of aphasia in relation to poetry in general — I mean when you say that the “complex logic of deixis” suggests “a kind of variable aphasia of pointing, sometimes pointing to the actual thing, sometimes to the act of pointing; at one moment specific and singular, then suddenly vague and sublimely large”. BRAVO. This corresponds uncannily to my sense of the poem. And actually to my sense of what I want in general from  Drafts. It is interesting to use the word “aphasia” in this context. Does it suggest that a person might have a lapsus and forget what the THING is to which she is pointing? I find, for me, unless I see a thing I’ve never seen before (such as loom weights in a museum of ancient artifacts — etc), I am more prone to the stun of things in the world, not to losing the sense of what they are or what they are for. But the feelings are probably equivalent. What does it mean to forget a thing? It might be equivalent of taking something apart (like a faucet, or something) and forgetting the order, the functional order, in which that simple thing has to be put back. “Let’s see — does this piece go here or there, is it put on first or second?” All the language to say this in is deictic. You’ve probably just said this, but in other words. [...]


Since the poem is going to end with the evocation of intersubjectivity — an ethics of the fold of “ofness” — I have to say that most everything I understand of Levinas is important. “the unsayability of history” — “the size of the loss is the size of humanity”. But I am not sure we are going in the same direction — I am heading into the claims I will be making at the end of the poem — the dead, loss, “poetry is folded right over” taking the “out-there” and putting it over “the right-here” — “making deixis the process of the between” — that we must have ethical witness (that last for want of a better word). That we are not just talking about words and the materiality of the signifier. etc...


[And so the echoing vibrations, the effervescent space between two words as much as between the word actual and the word textual, this is the real of deixis, like pointing out a wild animal to your friend, “there, oh you missed it, no there it goes again”, “where, I don’t see it”, “you missed it...”, “oh”. What is it that deixis points to except pointlessness, not only something without a point or discernible telos, but also some essential problem of text indication that cannot be drawn up to a point? There will always be remainder enough, and so what of those nonrational texts that dwell on this? Is it any wonder the avant-garde is always unpopular, it likes stating the obvious too much:  that there is nothing over there, nobody there, when you say “that” or “you” (or “them”), and similarly there is nothing here, no one here (we don’t exist) when you say “this” or “I” or “we”.” (Notes).]


I agree — again you say things so well, that “deixis actually is a nexus or meeting point of two otherwise heterogeneous discourses: the real and its representation”. I adore your phrase about “texts that try and fail [to demonstrate the inexpressible and unknowable]” texts that are “these sublime underachievers” — this is an absolutely cunning and brilliantly winsome way of indicating my desire. I find by the way, that your writing is wonderful when it gives those little amusing and situational examples. When you talk of time lag, I “illustrate” that and the question of echo and changes in what is echoed, (in the section of the poem beginning “And here is the oddity: that/ I is not speaking to you but to it”).[32]


Also about dice, and Un Coup de Dés — that poem has really affected me, from the glory of its page use to the pressures of creation and disappearance that it portends — something swirled up, and gone. Foam, and the wave. The dice for me also involves the Holocaust. And the English singular “die” — for it is a strange shadow word. When one is more-or-less Jewish (certainly my case, thoroughly secular but rather Jewish), and born when I was, one thinks of the other life, and death, that one would have had by the accidents of birthplace. Had most of my relatives stayed in Europe, I, or an equivalent me, would not now exist. Most likely. This is a fact that washes up and back like a tide within the poem. The poem (Drafts, I mean as a whole) is not about only this, but it certainly is about this in part.


My sense of subjectivity is always filtered through this fact, although it is not always evident — that is, not always spoken of. [...] Since you speak a number of times about L=A=N (etc) let me tell you what I might have said already. I am certainly not historically a language poet. I was not in any contact with any of the groups either on East or West Coasts [of the US] at the time of their intimate formation and interior debates (Talks series, etc). I began learning about them in the early 80s. And reading the people under that rubric, of course, and distinguishing them, their varieties of works and approaches. Now I do know people, individuals AS individuals, and oeuvres who were part historically of those formations. I would say that in isolation (Pennsylvania was nowhere poetically in the 70s) and involved with other things, both personal and intellectual, I formulated, out of the feminist project, a poetics of critique and of social meaning parallel to some of the language poets. That is, the rupture of language as usual, genre as usual, telos, closure, “poeticalness”, — the lot. See The Pink Guitar: Writing as Feminist Practice for more info.[33]  I have a LOT of sympathetic attraction to a good deal of that work, but, and this is parallel to my relationship to NYSchool figures whom I now deeply admire, like Alice Notley, I had a constitutional resistance to “surrealism” that has marked a good deal of my work — and is a very “Oppenesque” position, I’d add. [...] One thing that you don’t mention in your piece that is probably worth noting is that as a poem this is a pretty odd duck. That is, it is a) an essay in verse b) has footnotes NOT in poetry, but real scholarly stuff c) it is very allusive and gnomic at times in tone. Just the look on the page (triadic lines, serial leaps between sections, and footnotes?!) is counter-generic (I mean to 99% of poetry that we generally run into). Or hetero-generic — perhaps the “between” I talk of. I do know that essays in verse occur, and are part of literature — the brilliant recent example is A Poetics by Charles Bernstein — but they are still not so prevalent that the move should go unremarked.[34]
warm regards, Rachel.

Afterwards: (Editor’s Note)


At the end of a series of letters on the business of this collaboration over the intervening months and years, Blau DuPlessis ended our midrashic chain with these final comments, although as her comments end on the word transactional this ending merely points, in deictic fashion, to an ongoing, future debate. [35] This seems to be very much in the spirit of the open-ended and transactional project that Blau DuPlessis has been involved in over the years and which she calls Drafts.

Tue, 7 May 2002 11:12:44 -0400

Dear William


A few more thoughts about deixis.
April-May 2002


Dated somewhere between 1957 and 1959, Charles Olson sent Robert Creeley a tiny poem, elaborately entitled “One Word as the Complete Poem”.[36] A one-word poem is always an intentional challenge to the norms of poems in general, since to call a word equal to a poem invests a good deal in that word, and manifests an elaborate resistance to the many, many words of other poems. In Olson’s case-that would mean to his own poems, too. That one word, the one word that comprises the whole poem is “deictic”.[37] The poem says: pointing, the pointing function, and illustrates itself simply by indicating itself as word. The OED (under deictic) defines this word as “directly pointing out, demonstrative”. Making this word the whole thing-the whole idea, the whole poem — is shocking and amusing. It implies that a complete poem, by extension a necessary poem, and even a suggestive poetics can be found in this one minimalist summation. The contrast between the six word title (with four capitals) and the lower case one-word poem is also very pleasant, not to say gleeful in the editorial presentation. The minimal thereby becomes challengingly maximal. Titling this word as Olson does suggests that pointing to pointing is fully adequate statement, a claim interesting enough to ponder as the content and message of a “complete” poem. By a glissade, the poem also presents the idea that a complete poem-any complete poem-is an extension or elaboration of the deictic function. (This poem may serve as one of Olson’s homages to Pound, a politically damaged and rejected figure, but a poetic inspiration.) Such a singular work points into its own pointedness. Its very limits offer it up as a mantra or epigram that claims the poetic functions are forms of knowledge. Poetic method, through selection and indication (plus combination), offers a knowledge as pertinent as argument or logic. Indeed, we thereby return to the origins of the word deictic-as a form of immediate argument in contrast to the more sophistical “elenctic”. Beyond this (this “poem”, this “one word”) you need nothing, it seems to say.


Beyond what? Deixis comes (into Greek) from the Indo-European root “deik-” to show and pronounce solemnly. To teach. To make a sign or mark. To betoken, to say, tell or proclaim-and the word digit, the indicator, finger (or toe). From the Latin version of this root, “dict”, there is not only dicere (to say, tell), but words like interdict, dictate, contradict, edict, predict, addict, verdict. And veridical. Expressing the truth. All the functions of poetry (except to please) are contained here, in the etymological aura of the word.


Deixis in linguistics is a particular category of words: the shifters, precisely those that change in reference given the position in time and space of the speaker. They are words that can only be fully understood as particular statement about particular contexts; they point into this situation, Now. When we say “we” what we is meant? What is this today and that tomorrow? What is that when here is this? Where is there? Deictic words acknowledge that my here is not your here; my tomorrow is not your tomorrow. They demand situated knowledge and contextual readings. They acknowledge differences between and among people, situations, temporalities, places. The words take on specified meaning spoken from and to a located situation. Why can the deictic mean both the shifter and the pointer? Why can it be both situational and static, contextual and absolute? It must be because only then will the full sociality of the deictic be acknowledged. Without the strange doubleness of deixis, one is left with an inadequate theory of language. Pointing needs to be accompanied by a sense of sociality, of the transaction, while speaking and understanding require abilities to decode and appreciate contexts.


Saying “just point” or “lo” underplays the way language represents. The differences in fanciness between the uncommon word “veridical” and the plain-spoken words “truth telling” indicate what I mean. Which is everything — about the social discourses of language, about tone, status, usage, choices, dictions, syntax, address, position of audience, all learned and changing social conventions about address. Everything about language’s flexibility and its transactional functions seems ignored in the claim made for poetry in the whole poem: “deictic”, if this means simply to point. There is perhaps a utopian message of immediate apprehension, epiphanic imprinting, a flash transferred via that pointing, but this is a utopia without sociality. The Poundean claim: I will point to what I see, and you will be treated to an immediate insight without passing via the turgid impediment of what Pound scoffed at as abstract thought. Pound’s much-touted rejection of abstraction allowed a system-building move without the problematic of system-building; it also helps the purveyor deny he is building any system whatsoever. The Poundean claim is followed by the less pleasant Poundean paradox: Pound thought that in that flash of insight, you would be treated to the truth, that is, to Pound’s immediate insight, the only true immediate insight. The test of the deictic for Pound was that you were to see what he saw. If you saw anything else, you didn’t get it. Is this problematic imprint of an overtly unmediated, but covertly controlled worldview the only plausible reading of the deictic pointing?


This desire for the flash is also expressed by Walter Benjamin. “Method of this project: literary montage. I needn’t say anything. Merely show. I shall purloin no valuables, appropriate no ingenious formulations. But the rags, the refuse — -these I will not inventory but allow, in the only way possible, to come into their own: by making use of them”.[38]  To collect and set forth, Benjamin claimed, would allow a myriad of flashes to be generated over the whole texture of the collaged project. With cinematic imagination, Benjamin proposed a montage of images offering instantaneous meaning,[39] but he also modified this desire for instant epiphany by a focus on the syntax between: “intervals of reflection” or “distances lying between”.[40]  (Incidentally, the page numbers here, in reverse order of the argument I have extrapolated, should also indicate the intense, spotty, anti-positivist mode of presentation that Benjamin uses.) These words insist on the creation of structure by interactive space between the images (very much the theory of poetic seriality, as in Oppen.) The key word is interactive, and this undercarriage of the other meaning of the deictic is everywhere in evidence in this passage, apparently rejected, but palpable in image and rhetoric. Benjamin rejects the malign academic method of stealing and appropriating the points of others-collecting and restating already existent theories and interpretative explanations. He refuses this option, and with it, a whole social apparatus of indebtedness and quarrels, positions, debates, sources and camps, institutional practices from the university or journalism. He says that what he wants to present is (metaphorically) the socially despised debris, the cast-off stuff, the detritus. Of this material a new analytic constellation will form. This last is the “Poundean” or intuitive-flash” place, and the field poetics of pieces of juxtaposed plethora touching each other. But it is supported and surrounded by many acknowledgements of the sociality of knowledge. Thus this famous passage in Benjamin brings in, covertly, what it rejects overtly. By invoking interactional or transactional meanings resting on the social only to reject them, isolating the pointing function of the deictic, nonetheless Benjamin embraces the social in claiming to find the debris and refuse of greatest value.


Contextually, in the unrolling serial sequence of Benjamin’s juxtapositions, this famous passage about the deictic showing forth comes next to a rejection of the base-superstructure relation of economy to culture. So all of his formal ideas here are involved with a desire to show how details are saturated in larger schemes (but never into totalities or grand history).


And Benjamin proposed, as well, another important, saturated flash: of the dialectical image.[41]  This is a way beyond the simple showing or shining forth, because, while the dialectical image emerges in a flash it consists of a “constellation saturated with tensions”.[42]  It is a mode of thinking within the material and historical when normal thinking is blocked; in a flash a “dialectical image appears” at the point of  maximal opposites. This “dialectical image” is a form of poetic knowledge, because it is deictic in the full sense; it is a showing forth that is also transactional.

Rachel Blau DuPlessis


[1] See John Ashbery, The Tennis Court Oath (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1962) and Lyn Hejinian, Writing is an Aid to Memory (Los Angeles: Sun and Moon, 1996).

[2] See Lyn Hejinian, The Language of Inquiry (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000) 337—354.

[3] Rachel Blau DuPlessis, “Draft 33: Deixis” in Drafts 1—38, Toll (Middletown Conn.: Wesleyan Univbersity Press, 2001): 219—241. The poem is dated May-November 1998. Citation from 221.

[4] John Lyons, Semantics Vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977) 637.

[5] Stéphane Mallarmé, Un Coup de Dés in Collected Poems, trans. Henry Weinfield (Berkeley Cal.: University of California Press, 1994) 142.

[6] Watkin refers here to his article “‘Let’s Make a List: James Schuyler’s Taxonomic Autobiography” Journal of American Studies, 36 (2002), I, 43—68 and sections from his book In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant-Garde (Lewisburg Penn. :Bucknell University Press, 2001) to which he also refers later.

[7] See Lyons 636—7.

[8] References to Lyn Hejinian’s comments and ideas come from unpublished correspondence between Watkin and Hejinian from between 1998 and 2000.

[9] Ron Silliman, such works as What (Great Barrington, MA: Figures: 1998), Lit (Hartford CT: Potes and Poets Press, 1987), Demo to Ink (Tucson AZ: Chax Press, 1992)

[10] Lyn Hejinian, My Life (Los Angeles: Sun and Moon, 1991.

[11] Excerpts of The Alphabet, appear distributed across many of Silliman’s books. Probably the most major of these is N/O (New York: Roof Books, 1994) it being, as far as I am aware, the first volume given over entirely to the project.

[12] Barrett Watten, Bad History (Berkeley, Cal.: Atelos, 1998).

[13] This attempt to show how the poeticity of poetry bears ideas and concepts is an argument made in DuPlessis, Genders, Races and Religious Cultures in Modern American Poetry, 1908—1934 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

[14] See Jacques Derrida “The Double Session” in Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (London: Athlone Press 1981): 173—286.

[15] This is a reference to Ron Silliman’s influential essay “The New Sentence” in The New Sentence (New York: Roof Press, 1987).

[16] The term nonrational poetry is taken from Julia Kristeva’s early work on revolutionary poetic language. For a full discussion see especially Julia Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language, trans. by Margaret Waller (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984) and ημειωτιχη [Semiotike]: Recherches pour une Sémanalyse (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1969). The term “nonrational” has caused much confusion since Watkin first began working on such material and Watkin now avers that is not a term that he would continue to use, as it raises more problems than it solves. Here its usage is meant as a catch-all descriptive phrase for experimental, avant-garde, postmodern and dissenting poetic practices.

[17] This might be illustrated from some lines by Blau DuPlessis, from Draft 8: The: “Words from before, words/ from after,/ they/ specified into my blank voice/ the. They said this this,/ that that, and glut in the wonder/ of all such singularity became the work” Blau DuPlessis, Drafts, Toll, 49.

[18] Lyons 670.

[19] Decollation, which refers to the decapitation of John the Baptist, is a term Watkin uses in considering the cutting off or ending of lines and poem bodies as a whole.

[20] Getrude Stein, Stanzas in Meditation (Los Angeles: Sun and Moon, 1994).

[21] Lyn Hejinian, The Cell (Los Angeles: Sun and Moon, 1992).

[22] She refers to “Draft 41: Of This” Abacus 130 (May 15, 2000) 1—12.

[23] Blau DuPlessis, Drafts, Toll, 219.

[24] She refers to “Draft 42: Epistle, Studios” Abacus 130 (May 15 2000) 13—18.

[25] Blau DuPlessis, Drafts, Toll, 219.

[26] “Of it, speaking awkwardly / in the convergance of quirks. // So Now is a Night preserved / in yet another space, in space that’s / neither Night or Now. / It is a site where language hangs / over itself vertiginous / and locks” Blau DuPlessis, Drafts, Toll, 223.

[27] Much of the first two pages of “Draft 33: Deixis” is in triadic-foot form.

[28] Blau DuPlessis, Drafts, Toll, 232 and 233.

[29] “Why in that poem / did he miss the ledge or edge / on which the chronic bird / was come to stand— / charged to tells us / when now becomes then” Blau DuPlessis, Drafts, Toll, 220. [In triadic-foot form].

[30] The letter was written in Italy, but not printed until DuPlessis returned to the United States.

[31] She refers her to my reading of the following section: “one It. Detail too many / given cuckoo bird / and striking from”, Blau DuPlessis, Drafts, Toll, 220. I suggest that this is similar to Kant’s theory of the mathematical sublime which is based on the point where singular units combined together reach a point where the mind can no longer conceive of them in their singularity. At this point, their numerousness becomes an order of magnitude and the sublime occurs. This can be contrasted with the sublimity of magnitude where the universe, for example, is too vast as one singular unit for the mind to comprehend it fully enough to be able to give a case of it.

[32](For the poet I, is speaking / and it to I, / (to it, and it / the shift between then / (to I; shifting / brings I to the status of it. / (brings I to it like a gift” Blau DuPlessis, Drafts, Toll, 230.

[33] Rachel Blau DuPlessis, The Pink Guitar: Writing as Feminist Practice (London: Routledge, 1990). Reprinted by the University of Alabama Press, 2006.

[34] Charles Bernstein, A Poetics (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992).

[35] The following material has been published as DuPlessis, “Two more thoughts about deixis”" (Feb. 2008).

[36] Charles Olson, The Collected Poems of Charles Olson, Excluding Maximus, edited by George Butterick (Berkeley: University of California Press, TK) 660

[37] Olson 425.

[38] Walter Benjamin. The Arcades Project , translated Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999), 460

[39] Ibid. 458.

[40] Ibid. 456.

[41] This in a series of passages from Benjamin 464—475.

[42] Ibid. 473.

Rachel Blau DuPlessis

Rachel Blau DuPlessis

Rachel Blau DuPlessis announces a new Draft, Draft 85: Hard Copy, mapped on "Of Being Numerous," by George Oppen.
and announces her newest book, now available from
Torques: Drafts 58-76. Cambridge, UK: Salt Publishing, 2007. She has new work read on PennSound and both new work and some translations of Drafts into French on C.A. Conrad interviews Rachel Blau DuPlessis for PhillySound: Conducted via e-mail in March 2008: Her website is

William Watkin

William Watkin

William Watkin teaches twentieth-century literature and literary theory at Brunel University in West London, UK. He is also co-coordinator of the [»] Archive of the Now, a new archive for contemporary, innovative writing. His first book, In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant Garde, (Bucknell 2001) is the first theoretical overview of the four main poets of the New York School: John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Frank O'Hara and James Schuyler. On Mourning: Theories of Loss in Modern Literature (Edinburgh 2004) presents a thorough theoretical analysis of contemporary issues of mourning, loss, melancholia and depression. He is currently working on a third book, a theoretical reconsideration of British and American Postmodern Poetry.

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