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Rae Armantrout, Versed, Wesleyan University Press, 2009

Miles Champion, Eventually, The Rest, 2008

Kevin Davies, The Golden Age of Paraphernalia, Edge, 2008

Carla Harryman, Adorno’s Noise, Essay Press, 2008

Larry Price, The Quadragene, Roof Books, 2008

reviewed by Alan Davies

Alan Davies

Five Sound Minds

The Words Speak Themselves

Rae Armantrout, Versed, Wesleyan University Press, 2009

Versed is (you might say) what happens to words when a poet touches them.  In Rae’s case this is true to an extraordinary extent – she is the mistress of line breaks / and it’s line breaks that (in large part) make or break the poem.  

Rae has a sharp tongue.  She also has a wry eye.  Combine these with the fact that she’s as smart as a whip / and you’ve got what her poems are made of (not made-from).  

She has a way of analyzing things as she goes along that makes it seem like the poems are turning themselves into meaning.  At the same time / each line (each phrase) seems to skate along as if it’s mostly there all by itself (going its way / alone) – although (of course) the poem revises that by turning the whole into a whole.  

The poems proceed (in this way) like a sequencing of integers / and their meaning arrives (in part) via that.  

It is no kind of exaggeration to say that the poems are all (and each) about meaning / about how and when and where and why things mean (if they do).  She parses reality into a poem / and that parsing displays the meaning (when there is any meaning) and shows us how it comes to be (how it comes into being).  And there’s often something elegiac about this display / something pert and elegiac.

Look how
we “attempted to express ourselves.”

Every one of these words is wrong.

It wasn’t us.
Or we made no real attempt.
Or there is no discernable difference
between self and expression.

You can see from that brief example the ways in which meaning gets secreted / the way meaning secretes itself in the acts of the poem.

Any statement I issue,
if particular enough,

will prove
I was here

There’s always a kind of rock-like specificity to what is being said (written) / a substance-ness – we know we’re grounded / and the poem with us (and us with the poem).  But (as intimated above) this groundedness often turns in on itself / so that what is then (at that point) being grounded is the meaning being the producing of which makes the poem (go / grow).  

Sometimes it feels (seems?) like Rae’s speaking to the words and telling them what to say / as they say it.  Even a small cluster of words (a stanza /say) that is about (“about”) the image it enacts / still feels like it has some kind of push of emotional energy that’s keeping it there.  (Maybe the first sentence explains (“explains”) the second sentence.)

As if, after all,

the thing that comes to mind
times inertia

equaled “the real.”

Rae exists in the long line of sardonic philosophers – (I won’t tell you who they are because it’s the need to find them that preserves the sardonic).  Often here the poem or the part-of-poem ends with a somewhat-whispered but somewhat-stated tongue-in-cheek avowal of disavowal.  Maybe it’s a little more cheek-in-tongue (at times) than that.  

And everywhere a beautiful precision with language – let’s not forget that – an ability to place the words (with or without splicing) in exactly that (that (in exactly that)) spot.  It is this that makes the reality of the words speak something like truth / something that we accept (something that it would appear impossible to-not-accept).  These words were pre-thought (in whichever sense you take that).


The thing that makes us human,

monkey-see, monkey-do speed-up,

a “call to mimesis, ”

now comes from everywhere at once.


The cumulus

and the white flash

from under

the mocking-bird’s wing

make what?


Repeat wake measurement.

“Check to see”

“Check to see, “

birds say,

“that enough time

has passed.”

The sense of particularity with which she handles the words is a way she has of holding them to her.  They are hers.  Her words. Here / she says / have some words.  Some of my words.

It’s as if she wanted to give the poems (these poems) the particularity of her own face.

And perhaps that’s why (that personal commitment to a personal utterance always at one with the personal) that there is never a moment when anything is forced here.  Each word comes of its self to be where it is – that’s how it feels to us / that’s how it is.

The words (seem to) take comfort in themselves.  Even when they come forth with a little bit of that juicy humor (even then) they seem to take comfort in themselves.  So that a cluster of words moves (warmly (we’d have to say)) toward its own conclusion.  And these poems are composed of nothing so much as clusters-of-words.  

Rae lets us see (here and there / peeping through here and there) the marks of her own satisfaction at having made these things / at having thought like this (like that).  The words are (in a wry sort-of-way) always a comment upon themselves / as they’re going along / and without any duplicity implied or permitted – just that they be doing that (that that).  

In these ways (multiple as they are) / each moment contains the fact of Rae’s attention-to-it and (not at all separate from that) Rae’s making-something-in-words out of what that attention affords.  This gives to it all (each-by-each) a sure studied breath (a sure steadied breath). Shortening the lines (as she does throughout) hastens this also / this attention / this-slowed-down-attention – but it isn’t an easy trick / the words (thereby) have to live up to it (as they do).

The whole plain
with bunchgrasses

across which
some loose flocks
are thrown

– the language gets as particular as that / and it has feelings like this in it –

I’m looking for a
heart to heart,

a rhyme

between the blankness of my

and the blue emptiness

Most progressive poems nowadays raise the questions of ambiguity somewhere between their first line and their last – but Rae’s poetry literally thrives on it / it’s what sustains it / it’s what gives it whatever there is that is peculiar about its being (and there is something peculiar about its being).  One thing that has to be noted is the apparent (the apparent) disjunction (the apparent disjunction) between the artful (ie real) specificity of the lines / and the ambiguity that seems to almost crawl over the poems seeking within them whatever interstices in which to inhabit (itself).  It is the balancing of these two apparent antipodes that gives to the poems their specifically crafted reasons for being.      

One source of the ambiguity (one of the ways that it is (is (that it is))) is the several ways that lacunae can figure in the poem / the several locations where it can come to be – between words / between phrases / between lines / between the smaller chunks of the poem (what would pass for stanzas in Rae’s way of working) / and (perhaps most especially) between the separate sections of the individual poems (sections separated by their being numbered / or by asterisks) / and also those lacunae that might find their place between the title of the poem and any (or all) of its parts.  With regard to the relationship of the parts (the pieces) to the title / it’s rather as if the title and the parts of the poem (often about three) had met quite by chance (no / almost-quite-by-chance) and decided to go home (into this book of Rae’s) together.

And because most of the poems are written in numbered or asterisk-separated parts / there is always the ambiguous presence of the question whether these parts are separate or are not-separate.  And the relationship between these parts each-to-each also hangs (always) in the balance / as does the relationship of each to the whole.  

The poems seem to be asking us (us (asking us)) to inform them of their meaning.  And isn’t that what a reader is supposed to be asked to do / isn’t that what a reader does (does (what a reader does))?

It’s as if many of the referents in the poems are seeking their antecedents (the referents that came before them) – they’re seeking them / back there / just a little earlier / there / in the same poem (perhaps).

The following (a sort of gloss on our topic) is taken from the Contents page of William Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity / and might be taken to throw these questions further into the cloud-bank of consideration –

First-type ambiguities arise when a detail is effective in several ways at once, e.g. by comparisons with several points of likeness, antitheses with several points of difference, ‘comparative’ adjectives, subdued metaphors, and extra meanings suggested by rhythm.  In second-type ambiguities two or more alternative meanings are fully resolved into one.  The condition for third-type ambiguity is that two apparently unconnected meanings are given simultaneously.  In the fourth type the alternative meanings combine to make clear a complicated state of mind in the author.  The fifth type is a fortunate confusion, as when the author is discovering his idea in the act of writing or not holding it all in mind at once.  In the sixth type what is said is contradictory or irrelevant and the reader is forced to invent interpretations.  The seventh type is that of full contradiction marking a division in the author’s mind.  (Chatto and Windus, 1947, pp v-vi)

Let’s read again (together) through (through) Rae’s book / turning over as we go the types of ambiguity to be found there (I’m not going to quote examples / I have no intention of doing your reading for you) –

 — cultural referents taken out of that context
 — contiguous sentences linked by a word (or even a sound) / but by nothing else (?)
 — words seemingly taken-back-in-for-reprocessing at the same time that they’re being-given-out
 — inexplicable lacunae between parts (stanzas / segments / sections / sentences) of one poem
 — words-significant-to-the-(overall)-meaning used without referent (without apparent referent)
 — phrases offered apart from any sense of their completeness / ie we’re left expecting a phrase to continue producing (more of) itself
 — whole phrases seeming like neologisms (existing apart from ambient explanation)
 — motive ascribed to inanimate objects
 — assertions are made / but in a place as if surrounded by blank space
 — images stand alone / even though here they’re in a-book-of-words
 — space between two phrases made (exasperatingly) large by the two phrases’ dissimilarities
 — line breaks seeming to articulate what still defies articulation
 — words seeming the shadow of words (the unclear (?) shadow-of-words)
 — feelings eke out inexplicably between sentences
 — awkward junctures of poem sections seem to make of the whole a word-sculpture / but then that only coheres as yet-another-possibility-for-meaning
 — things seem to be spoken within the daily order/disorder of things / but at the same time from without it
 — uncommon things said about common objects
 — slight flutters of humor interrupt serious considerations
 — things referred to but not named
 — tongue-in-cheek attitude accompanies philosophical ruminations
 — one word has suggested another which has been used in its place
 — word at the end of a line switches meaning because of what is written on the next line
 — the whole white part of the page
 — density of the poem remains the same throughout / while the density of meanings fluctuates therein
 — uncertain referents of the word you
 — varying uses of the word you in one poem
 — inanimate objects doing animate things
 — reader forced to guess at one phrase’s meaning before going on to the rest of the poem / or to let that meaning go
 — no appreciable differentiation made between what comes via the television and what comes via the window
 — no appreciable differentiation made between what is recounted and what is offered as comment / the two on an even plane
 — poems move from the more-concrete to the more-abstract (so where does meaning equalize? / so where is the ideal spot for you (reader) to enter in (to hold on)?)
 — questions / such as / Is it the time of year that ties these blocks of verse together? / Is it something else like that? / Is it anything at all? / Are they tied together? / Are they blocks of verse?!
 — the reader becoming implicated in the thrust of the verse / in what it has to (has to (in what it has to)) say / but not knowing (hence wondering) what that implication is
 — when Rae passes judgment it comes-down/passes-through so quickly that tons of stuff get all unsaid / and then there are the spaces between what-is-enunciated and that all-that-isn’t
 — in one block of poetry / space shifts from eg a country way over there to eg an appliance in the living room / leaving (again) all that’s (or that might be) in between
 — do the words mean what they used to mean? / or what they’ll come to mean? / or what they mean right now? (and what would that be?)
 — the body-of-the-poems define their titles – but how? / to what extent? / and for how long?? / and do (do (and do)) they???
 — the words are (sometimes) defined just off to the side of where they’re usually defined / and when you put lots of them together in short rows something close to anything could happen (and does)
 — sometimes the definition that we need for a word near the beginning of a poem shows up part way through the poem (or are we just making that up?)
 — the questions philosophy urges on us are here always lurking behind the particulars / and behind the particulars of syntax – but what is the relationship we can intuit? / if there is one / and is there one?
 — as often happens with poetry / the music of the words moves the thing forward / makes choices that move the poem forward – such that the meaning then somewhat slurries along on top of that (with a kind of wonderment being engaged between the two)
 — stanzas of a poem sometimes seeming like signs all attached to the same post (the left line / in fact) but each pointing the measured way to a different place (each being (undoubtedly) a place of a different sort / and off in a different direction)
 — emotion sort of surges out of the poems in such a way as to sort of clog your reading pores
 — are the words just defining themselves (as usually happens) / or is there something there too / behind that? / or is it in front of that? / and then (with all of this going on (and more)) / what is that (that (what is that))?
 — and sometimes it’s just about what might be known / and whether or not you know it (do you know it?)
 — poems that break off / the language propelled beyond itself (its self) by an excision (that comes from where?) / such that the ending (or is there an ending (here)?)
 — are the things described as happening / happening so the poem can exist? – it seems that (that (it seems that)) certain / it seems that uncertain
 — the words of the whole poem being put forward as something that has (that has) to be understood (that has to be figured out)
 — a human narrative (the author’s?) can be intuited behind much of what’s written (here) / but it is never stated – so upon what does this writing (ultimately?) depend?

Don’t get me wrong – these ambiguities are not about ambiguity / they each say something / and each is couched in words as precise (and as precisely etched) as the objects of the (author’s) mind.

Sitting on Memory’s Blade

Miles Champion, Eventually, The Rest, 2008

I’m humorously engaged by the title of the first work (COLOR IN HUYSMANS) / which might seem to be promising us a dissertation of some sort / only to deliver a poem-of-phrases instead / while still lingering is the notion that those Huysmanesque colors might be somewhat drab if they were to exist at all! – a lovely start to the proceedings.  And the way the poem is organized seems to keep that levity going (but where?) / in that the indented phrases often read as modifiers to those flush-left and capitalized phrases that precede them (and as modifiers they are almost always quite funny).  

And this kind of organization is sort of seconded in WALLS where the second line of the couplets ends up defining the first (or feeling like it does) / and we end up wondering to what end (but not in a futile way / because that wondering (that wondering) is the end (of that (of that that))).


give bound to a susceptible formalism

bends the show of things to a brain-like source

Signs of rust
abandon a whistle or paint chip

are prefigures like flowers

frisk in the air

flip an aesthetic switch

transfigure maples and alders

comes into ear

milling about

At the same time I feel that I’m reading something (of-a-sort) by (say) Schuyler.  I don’t wish to front for anything like argument-by-comparison (and would normally eschew same) / but the lines are so beautifully drawn and so sinuously sonic that (that).  Where Schuyler had the scenery of the out-there for his subject matter (most often at least) / Miles has what we might perhaps (and we might have to!) characterize as the inner (is it really inner?) scenery of thought and language.  Anyway / the material burgeons with itself as material (and what (here (at any rate))) could be more gratifying than that?!  

The density of AIR BALL seems to be playing with itself as a slender and stanza-separated thing / in that way sort of keeping the ball up in (in (up in)) the air.  That kind of specificity seems designed to feed our hunger.  I feel like I’ve been enlightened about something (but I don’t for the life of me know what!) / and then that not-knowing-what begins to succeed as the enlightening factor / and we’re in to the poem and on from there.  At the same time we know that we’re being told about the daily (the daily daily) / see Tom run / (hi Tom (hi me)).  

A likeable humor (never overdone) again in WHEELS / with lines like The word pump say / adding to the shape lingering as comfortable discourse (let’s call it what it is – talk (talk)) while at the same time questioning that (and all discourse) – very finely done.  That kind of philosophical language (or / let’s call it what it is – understanding (understanding)) occurring again in such lines as –

                                               just as
The permanent present notes
A postponement as to the plans
Being furthered

– at the same time nothing greedy in the way the lines consume the space of the page / but their being there (where they are) as near to an absolute as one can get with (with what?) with words.  

The other two poems likewise furbished with the best that thinking can bring by / and with similar pleasures (treasures) to yield up at the lightest touch of an eye (aye).

The Great Negate

Kevin Davies, The Golden Age of Paraphernalia, Edge, 2008

Just when we thought we had the (age of the) simulacrum tucked neatly under our belts – (and perhaps we do).

Kevin always finds enough words to say it exactly / and no more.  

This is (for example) perhaps his analysis of cultural studies –

Specialists   | in the analysis of dance   | Coming
                        into ever-greater focus   | until

they are literally in-
           side the surface
                                              Trying to eat their way out

Everything here is (in any event) a trying-to-figure-it-out (and (much of it) a very-successful-having-figured-it-out! (but not at all quiet for all that / no / not at all quiet for all that)).

I actually believe that in trying to interpret Kevin Davies one runs a terrible risk (one runs a terrible risk).

Still / we forge on / to say (if nothing else) that we have read – and it was us.  

The book reads as a sort-of-autobiography-of-America / except that it remembers (so much) more fully than we ever thought America would (could).  America forgets all real events / and then forgets that it forgot them (protectively?) – Kevin even remembers that he remembers (but (not being a continental philosopher!) he never stumbles over that).  Do you have any idea how cheap memory / is now?

Paranoia is the other name for the American nervous system – (American politics is one of the drugs it takes to forget it (that)).  Kevin has his whole mind wrapped around the American nervous system (and it shows).

And always (well / often) the humor actually threatens to overcome the words (as in) –

The great
               transformational protocol   | spoken aloud in a trance

                  potassium of the   |   chronology of the
                  lenity of the   |   way you look tonight
                                 Becoming a fungus

and sometimes more blatantly –

You can tell
    a lot about
A dialect
    by how it uses pigs in insults

(Someone said that a language is a dialect with an army.)

And Kevin’s humor has culture in it.

Everything changes over time (Kevin seems to be saying) but why wait / because it’ll kill you (one way or another) if you don’t get to it first (one way or another).          

The language of the text kind-of-drags-us-forward into-through-it.  It progresses us – it makes of us something that we weren’t – it stands (down) for us.  Sometimes it sort-of-trips along / sometimes it falters-all-over-itself – and always it seems to be passing-by (but not by-passing) the joke of the century (the century-as-a-joke) in the form of Burma Shave signs posted along beside.  And everywhere (here) the language keeps speaking up for itself.  There’s an elegiac feeling to the whole thing (sometimes fractured / sometimes let go a leap at a time).  We live in an age that doesn’t know the difference between an elegy and an ode – and why shouldn’t we? / and why should it?  The words sort of stumble forward (sort of) the way we sometimes do / but they get to a lot more places and they get there a lot faster (too).  It would be sad / if it wasn’t funny.  And it is true, not false.

There are sort-of-self-referential-moments –

                                                WHAT I LOOK FOR IN A VIDEO
late at night, drinking—
       the opposite of identification,
             negation of catharsis,
       plus lots of landscape.

– but they always tend toward (an examination of) the present moment (the moment being written).  It’s as if we are armed (or as-if-we-arm-ourselves-as-if-armed) by the thoughtful provocation of what happens / and it is as if much of that is thought.

And there are sort-of-philosophical-notes-(often jokes)-along-the-way –

                Avoid, at
                  all costs, coming into

or –

So settle for knowing the approximate time
Because think of the alternative

or –

          And once you are actually in
the future,   | pretend it’s the present

or –

                       Seeing is similar to

These examples begin also to highlight something about the grammar of the text – many of the words are grouped as imperatives (The reader / wants not advice but instruction) / and many of the rest form phrases (sort of phrasal-asides) unconnected to more durable structure apart from proximity to their neighbors and their being a part of that larger thing – and these two modes are certainly sufficiently far apart to form a contrast in the tone of the thing / and there are few constructs of other sorts that might otherwise mediate between them.  It’s an interesting set of the mind.   

The question will arise – what is it that holds this book together?  The question is perhaps made more poignant by the fact that large portions of the text are composed of three works cobbled together more-or-less a-page-at-a-time (a-page-of-this-one / a-page-of-that-one / etc) – and that the resultant expanses of text are themselves interrupted in two places by other fairly substantial works.  But it is curiously enough a fact that once one grasps this fabricated structure it in fact serves to make the whole seem more (more (seem more)) of a piece (seem more of-a-piece (rather than less of one)).

Another grounding element (if we can call it that (it is perhaps more propulsive than grounding)) is the tone – which we might describe as being throughout more-or-less fraught with (something like) whimsical sarcasm.  It is of course possible that Kevin read way (way) too much Schopenhauer when he was young (younger).  In any event / this tone (which in the hands of a lesser verbalist would remain nothing but abrasive) is so buoyed by humor that the reader soon forgets that he is being taught something (a lot (lot (a lot)) of somethings (a lot of somethings)).  In its lower registers (that’s what I’m calling them / I’m not quite sure why) the tone is ruminative. Kevin is quite simply one of the very funniest poets we have / and quite possibly one of the most argumentatively hilarious since Catullus (ca 84 BC—ca 54 BC) and some of his confreres (BC (by the way) stands for Before Canada).  And Kevin’s humor is handled with matchless dexterity in the form of these poems – the line breaks serve as pauses (just like they’re (always) supposed to) / and other rhythmic turns and punts serve similarly / but in the service of humor it works rather marvelous wonders (making all of this type of work (Kevin’s) perhaps the first stand-up dramatic-monologue to make its way (with complete success) onto the page as poetry).  And sometimes the cuts from one text to another leave a punch line (a punched line) hanging for as much as several pages / at which point it both rewards and challenges you (while making you look back / linger (as well)).     

So – Kevin pulls the rug out from under whatever crosses his mental path (including his mental path (ie he pulls the rug out from under the rug)).  The question (then) is – is there a rug? / or is there just this pulling-out-from-under?  In this way Kevin rethinks the words / the words he uses / all (all) the words (all the words).  He pulls the plug on history.  This becomes the emblem of his presence in the world / this bemused and sometimes delightfully sarcastic wonderment.  The world seems – fresh / and tossed-about / and held-down-and-examined / and spoken-to and -of / and reorganized (with-the-bottom-up (where-it’s-supposed-to-be)) / questioned / and let-go / written / and unwritten / laughed-at / and laughed-with / composed / and decomposed – and then we’re left with the imperative question – what’s our response to all that?

The Next Sentence is not a Death Sentence

Carla Harryman, Adorno’s Noise, Essay Press, 2008

But the idea of the vengeful dedication fascinates me.

We stay where we are in order to get where we’re going.

We stay where we are in order to be where we’re going.

In a way this writing is a spin-off from spin / a sort-of-outside to spin’s frenetic interior – it’s the mould that makes the void possible that makes the next object (of thought) possible.  In this way copy after copy of each spin can be produced / and (don’t you kid yourself) each copy redefines the mould (a lot) – each copy is the effect of this mould that surrounds it and in that way it might come to not be.

The sentence in whole or part remarks on this from a long way off while it concurrently pours out of the frame.  The sentence imitates bodily fluids pouring out of inflicted wounds before it becomes an abstract line.

Carla controls the pulse of the moment with words / so that its even flow (rarely (really) interrupted) tells the mind of the reader where to go.  Prose is (always) about things that probably (probably) happened (that probably happened).  Prose paces our way through life / making it happen / as if (as if) anything could happen (that way).  

In a way though prose is a bodily thing.  It can sing.

If normality is death then regard for the object rather than communication is suspect.

I wonder if it would be the case that if normality were not death, regard for the object would be purely an entailment of belief and communication would in turn become the object of thought.  

Carla displays more wonderment in the face of the word (in the face of the actual word) and what happens to it when another is added to it / than anyone I can think of (and this goes even more so for sentences).  This wonderment is grace / this wonderment is a (the) form of grace.  What she says about Anaïs Nin could be said about her own work –

She has set about the task of explaining women to men using a language men can understand, one that is persuasive but not frightening.

But the writing does not define itself in relation to (only) that project / or to any project other than itself.  But again / that doesn’t mean that it is at all solipsistic – that simply means that it is here (here (that it is here)).  

We know that Carla is telling us stuff about living / about how to go on living / about what living is like / about what living-together is like / about what to expect from living / about the problems and pit-falls of living / and so on – but she tells us this stuff kind-of-obliquely (or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that she does so directly-but-from-one-vantage-at-a-time-and-then-very-quickly-from-another-vantage). Very often this kind of oblique-rendition-of-ideas has been brought to us via the novel (eg H G Wells / J G Ballard) – but here it is the essay form (replete with plenty of narrative elements) that is called into service.  The obliqueness comes not from a general or all-over obscurantism or vagueness – (quite the contrary) / each sentence is remarkably simple in a declarative-sort-of-way.  But the sentences exist in relation to one-another as equals / normal (or common) progressions are pretty-much-eschewed in favor of the building-up block-by-block (sentence-by-sentence) in such a way that the overall effect is somewhat more like music (linear and additive but with significant resonances and recalls) than prose usually is – so in this way it is wonderful prose and it instructs us by its mean(s) as well as by its meaning(s).  

For a moment it is unclear whether this is a piece of music or something else, then for a little while things seem to proceed in a narrative fashion.

And another thing that keeps the language kind-of-floating (and not too much too-much-to-the-point) is that (here) everything (everything) is under consideration / nothing is fixed (decided-upon) / everything is still being worked into the fabric of possibility (such that everything is (is) possible (everything is possible)).  

In Carla’s world there is really no difference between the lived-daily and the politically-imposed world(s).  This is brought home by the way the language examines itself-as-language / and by the way it examines other-languages(-as-not-other-languages).  It’s frightening – I mean the impact is frightening / clarifying and frightening.  

in writing a poem she is not writing a novel in writing a novel she is not writing an essay in writing an essay she is not writing a diatribe in writing a diatribe she is not putting her body on the line in putting her body on the line she is not going to jail in going to jail she is not getting a job she is not protesting in protesting she is not elucidating her point of view in elucidating her point of view she is not writing a poem

Everywhere she is writing thought. Everywhere she is thinking writing.  

What does it mean to describe anything? – how do words bring a thing into space in a way that a painting of it does not? / a photograph of it does not? / that it itself does not?  This question begins to get a lot of exercise in the text called HEADLESS HEADS – I don’t say that the question is answered (it is not) but that it is taken out and put through multitudes of its possible paces.  What does it mean to analyze? – what does it mean to analyze such an image? / or a text (of whatever sort)? / or a text with such an image in it?  These questions (too) are given the space-of-pages in which to roam.  

A mention of what is proper (Proper) in this text (HEADLESS HEADS) will give only one way of our seeing our way through it (and a singularly linear one at that) – I am addressing the high instance of proper nouns.  Of anonymous people there are 4 / 5 articles / 5 artists / 4 art critics / 1 art show / 1 assassin / an astrologer / 16 books / 2 children / 1 dancer / 1 director / 6 editors / 2 fictional characters / an illness / 1 literary theorist / 8 novelists and prose authors / 3 other people / 1 painting / 5 periodicals / 1 philosopher / a photographer / 5 places / 1 play / 6 poems / 11 poets / 1 politician / a psychiatrist / a revolutionary / a couple of royalty / 2 scholars / 3 social groups (that is if you’ll permit me to ensconce the  Red Army Faction / the ROTC / and the San Francisco Bay Area Poet’s Theater) / 1 story / 1 text / and 2 translators.  In this way Carla’s evaluation of Oe’s novel is academic (I state this while drawing your attention to how much (how very much) the academy likes (and needs) Proper references (against which to distil itself)).  It seems that a cultural object is more-and-more (or is more-and-more-seen-as) existing in a world not only circumscribed by culture but also composed (almost exclusively) of it.  Often the passages quoted (that then necessitate the citing of the author and text and such) are extremely brief / almost as if they have been quoted in order to make the larger reference a possible part of Carla’s text (perhaps this sort of thing happens subconsciously).  And here we might want to find ourselves saying something like “and that is precisely Blake’s flea / under magnification… ” / so that we too can enter into the mechanics of the inquisitive moment.

So on one level it is an article about Kenzaburo Oe’s novel Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age!  But as Carla writes – The mind takes advantage of this phenomenon to produce its own scenes.  Any analysis calls us back to the analyst / and in Carla’s case the analyst is also herself a maker of fabricated prose (so that (as they say) anything goes).

Rather, Oe relies on the device of simultaneity.  He brings into proximity disparate associations of personal consciousness with events of personal and cultural history to create a location between the space of consciousness and the time of event.  The constructed narrative that brings associational consciousness into simultaneous contact with temporal event serves as a test of both consciousness and event.  His motives are existential in nature: his writing is a continuous challenge to (his own and society’s) bad faith.   

When Carla writes this she could as accurately and compellingly be writing about her own writing (including the writing in ADORNO’S NOISE) – in that sense (in a curious way) Oe is here writing about Harryman (if you see what I mean) – this is then all just about how literature is made (thought-about and made).  Her approach to writing about Oe’s book (and the multiple things it brings to life for her) could somewhat adequately be compared with cubism.  Some people might find Carla’s way of going at (and through) her subject(s) baseless (if we forget ourselves) or difficult (in a labyrinth) – but the reality is that subjects of thought more-and-more demand that they be approached from a variety of directions (and (sometimes) at once) / probably in part because the world(s) in which they nowadays occur is(are) so remarkably fractured and multitudinous (so demanding (in that way)).

Being lost requires that we pay attention to where we are: we are not going to simply give in to the overwhelming feelings that may accompany “being lost.”  We are tracing a meaningful shape, or thing outside ourselves, under the circumstances of being lost.

(Whether what we make is at any time actually outside ourselves is certainly debatable / and would be very difficult (I think) to prove – but it at least survives as a useful and graphic metaphor for that part of the creating process.)

This statement about Oe’s text could (again) be taken to be about Carla’s own work –

The fragments seem to touch, fall on each other, merge, agitate, separate, and float above the forward-sliding narration.

Or / as she says later (and is about her own work) –

For me writing often involves a necessary dissimulation, dismantling, undoing, refusing, renegotiating, criticizing, and diminishing of the weight and value of symbols.

Regardless of its focus (moment-by-moment / phrase-by-phrase / paragraph-by-paragraph / and (perhaps most particularly) segment-by segment) this text of Carla’s is primarily an exercise in hermeneutics / in elucidation / and in coming to understand (the self through the text / the text through the self / the various selves through the self / the self through the various selves / the utterances of one through the utterances of another (of multiple others) / and so on).  It is an essay / but it lives on a number of associated shelves in the library (this being the-library-of-recent-literary-conscious-thought).  And / because Carla tells herself stories as a way of being (as a way of understanding / as a way of living) this essay proceeds in part (perhaps in large part) through stories – and that should not surprise for another reason as well / it is an essay about a (about Oe’s) story.    

The book ADORNO’S NOISE ends with a text called ORGASMS / the way (human) life begins / and which (we are reminded by a note preceding the text) is THE OPPOSITE OF SLACKNESS.  The text begins with what (perhaps for want of a better term) I will call gibberish (although it is often hard to distinguish that from poetry now that we have more-than-reached-the-end-of the twentieth century).  Here is a sample –

spot smear spot squashed stadium clinging pillar out here a-rear basting let low lyric violet storm

loaned honey nothing doing behind gravy train evil fell to slow entrance gained a billow in the random rain   

That first half of this short text (four-and-a-half pages total) seems there to prepare us (in some way(s)) for the second half / which begins –

Everyone now began to tear at Adorno.  An orgasm is an elegy.  I can’t explain this rationally.  It’s site-specific emotion lodged in a small barking noise—an escape hatch in the negative dialectic.

This last part of the text is there (in part) to give some kind of unified summation to the book-as-a-whole (and / to the book-as-a-hole) / about the value of decisiveness in the-face-of-what’s-gone-before.  There are sentences that could have been part of an Italian futurist manifesto:

An orgasm is an elegy in which there is no consolation.  Machines, like orgasms, are inconsolable things.

Text is the electricity that moves the body from one thing to the next even as it cannot break out of its instrumental rationality.

This bit of the book (and in a way what can be said of it can stand for the whole) is a-kind-of-stream-of-consciousness / but one where the consciousness moves-from-idea-to-idea (and where that (and the compassion underlying it) is the (main) force).  We share with Cara the joy that she feels at pulling these non-sequiturs out of her consciousness and giving them a place (sentencing them) in-and-to this text (an acting-artifact of that acting-consciousness).

I ask you, who has yet to speak, where shall we meet again.

[ Should the fact that Adorno changed his last name in an evident effort to be less Jewish figure in all of this somewhere? – is that perhaps the source of all of his noise? ]

If You See Something Say Something

Larry Price, The Quadragene, Roof Books, 2008

The world is about to end.  The only reason it might last is that it exists.
                              – Charles Baudelaire

It’s been said many times in world-art writing that one can find some of painting’s meanings by looking not only at what painters do but at what they refuse to do.
– Ad Reinhardt  

It takes a long time to learn to say more than you have to say / to say it / and to have said nothing at all.

What elegance!

There’s a factor whereby we’re subtracted from our works / and that factor is contained (contained (is contained)) in the works.  There it hibernates (a furnace working over time) until it has consumed (first) itself and (then) all around it. It’s where we live when we think in words.

Everything we say is a specimen of something outside / and virtually (sic) extraneous.  But it can kill us if we don’t get there first / but it changes the rules just before it hints that it might (it might) tell us (something about) how to get there / but.

We become the empty set of everything that is.  And then something else.  Everything that is is something.  And then something else.  And everything I am is different than something else.  The same one who is and the same one in the empty set of the one who is are neither.  As we’ve seen, I am neither, and neither is something else.  Something else is the Other, both the one that is and the one that will-have-been when the one that is is everything.

Pluralism is a defense against the one / otherwise it wouldn’t survive.  Otherwise it wouldn’t attack the one (which it does to survive).  Writing (great writing (this writing)) kills pluralism / and that is why it is defenseless (undefended (by all but a very (very) few)).

What I’m trying to say is that we’re fucked.  Fucked from the git go! – fucked.  

Still / we struggle on / almost lamentably. Sisyphus had it good compared with those of us who are alive now / and alive to now / and trying to write our way out of this mess (or in to (in to) it so we can get out of it (out of it)).  We’re freaks.  Things are their own nihilisms.

You take this language (Larry’s language (as great as it really is)) and you put it against the tanks in Afghanistan (or Halliburton everywhere that Halliburton is) / and what have you really got?  (We don’t even have a river to piss in.)

We’re all just trying to live here / and literature helps us do that (it really does (trust me)) / but then what? / then what impact does it have on that here apart from something like a little spray-painted graffiti that’ll be washed off in the transit yards before anyone can see it in the morning anyway?  So those of us who don’t give up are totally fucking nuts / and some of this writing is (going) about saying that.  

Larry has put this so bluntly (so blatantly) that he has actually had to have recourse to the One / that’s how serious all of this is.

We all live in transit.  We don’t last.  We have no cause / or we’re caused by everything (you choose).  And where does that leave us?

[ I wish I could print every paragraph of this article on a separate page / and have that page totally self-destruct as soon as you’d read it.  That’s how badly I want you to understand that there’s no going back.  I’m giving this my all.  Damn it! ]

It wasn’t better before / but at least we could talk about it. It wasn’t better before (or was it?).

Like an American poet saying: I hate money.  – As if that doesn’t scrape the bottom of the barrel of meaninglessness (!) / and leave us as poor as when this all started (meaning isn’t worth anything / knowledge is a form of meaning / therefore (you get it)).  We all take off into the stubborn breath of what we’re being told / and then that ends – what was that (anyway)?  We find that we can only give meaning back to meaning / and that in this culture (sic) meaning doesn’t want it.  (Don’t forget that helpless little exclamation point (!) (in the first sentence (above)) feigning being there / and now no more here (this explanation (sic) having exhausted (exhausted (having exhausted)) it).  And for what?)

We weren’t made for this / we’re a part of that part of the species that still has endoskeletons – the newer models (the human Humvees) are out in force we notice / and we notice that it doesn’t take many of them.  

[ I wish I were more paranoid than I am. I’d be closer to the truth of the moment. We need more Artauds.  Even one more would help.  And it would be encouraging if we had at least one more Brecht back on board as well. ]

I.e., words have their meanings.  We have ours.  Meanings don’t lie.  People do.  Having lied, we sleep.  The System never sleeps.  In a system, everyone says that everyone says something.  Everyone who, in the parable of human radius, shows meaning as all there is.  It certainly is.  

The world is moving away from us.  The world is moving away from us at a rate faster than any of us can even imagine.

And now (now) – The world is precisely all that is not the case.

[ I’m going to have a hard time getting over this. ]

[ I’m not going to get over this. ]

[ I was right / I haven’t gotten over it. ]

[ It’s over. ]

History is plagued by us – that’s what it comes down to – so it’s going to get rid of us.  That’s simple.

Larry does offer us this glimmer of hope (a door / left slightly ajar / but (upon inspection (no one ever inspects it)) a door going nowhere / Duchamp’s door that is always both open and shut offering another interpretation of this oh-so-modern dilemma) / anyway –

Whatever, art was born on the crude, specular border between thinking and truth.  It’s the freedom we spend to keep the subject equidistant from its articulated halves.  A means to mean.

Art is that door (measurable (qualitatively)) by the extent to which it is left ajar / and it is (at-one-and-the-same-time) the nothing on the other side (in that sense there is no other side).

[ Just as I thought. ]

No one needs more art, just as more & more cash makes cash irrelevant. There’s no such thing as more or less truth.  Truth empties (absolutely!) the black bags of our existence.

Art promises its beautiful, impotent opposite.  The problem is that something and nothing have nothing to add.

Is truth now the opposite of art?

Is beauty now the opposite of existence?

Is existence now the opposite of truth?

[ Do any of these terms even exist (exist (even exist (do any of these terms even exist)))?  Do any of them have reality? ]

Are the specular and the spectral finally one? – is that what we’ve become?  Were we ever anything else?  A ghost in a mirror.  

Where meaning accrues to objects (owned) faster than to persons (reduced by the objects to owners (object-owners)) – (Every freedom comes with a corpse.) – or (as we say in common parlance / and in parlance that is common (very common)) / I’d kill for that (overhearing (say) a kid in the sneaker shop at the mall) or (alternatively) I’d die for that (meaning the same thing (?)).  

What’s happening can’t be curtailed / what’s happening can no longer be curtailed – that’s the meaning of event in this post-spectacular society (not really a society). That’s the lesson learned here.

We want to know why things are happening / but they’re no longer telling us – things are being designed such that they’re incapable of speaking their place of origin / their method of manufacture / their purpose / or anything of that sort (their purpose (then) being to serve the function of a commodity (any commodity) / and commodities are now designed to make us (sic (no us)) docile (at best (ie can you feel it?))).

The writing in this book is tense  / the writing in this book is dense.  The message is threatening / (actually) it has already threatened / it’s we who are threatened (ie can you feel it?).  So the message implicates the writing / the way the writing occurs.  The words are blatant and incredibly graphic / even at their most abstract they are not in the least (they are not in any way) evasive / because they are screaming at you about the abstract (and what the abstract does).  So the pace is staccato / Gatling gun quick / fighting fire with fire (or something like fire).

A mutual if toothless alphabet.  We can give it away.  We can refuse it and so exercise the power to deny power its significance.  A mirror in the salt pit.

The language is paranoid – I don’t mean that Larry is paranoid – his use of the language (throughout) is designed to show us that (to let the language show itself to us as (as) that).

Irreversible then, we trek monumentally toward a condensed, fissional universe in which the butterflies and the bats are inversions stenciled on themselves as axioms of what they signify.  Their Being is excision-to-be.  The same and not-the-same.

In places like that (in instances of language like that) the paranoia (implicit / it’s implicit now) in the language coincides with the paranoia of the event / so that (in this instance for example) the loss of species after species is (just) a language event (if that). That’s what this language shows us.  

The nation’s languages are its vital body – we can diagnose with confidence the health of the nation from the present state of its languages.  The American language is covered with dry rot / a state similar to that in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans where thousands of square miles do not have enough oxygen in the water to support any kind of life.  We are dying in the midst of this dead language / made solipsistic by the spin put on normally conversant words by politicians / made a sort of vacant vacuum by the silly sayings of the famous and rich / degraded beyond recall by the incalculable volumes of phlegm coughed up hourly in the place of news / and made increasingly dumb by our (the populace’s / especially the writers’) inability to give it sufficient new life in face of the back of those going away (not on).  

Larry’s language gives voice to this dilemma (this catastrophe) in ways more dense with meaning (and sadness / and conviction) than what I’ve mustered here in an attempt to explain it to you (to bring it across to you).  The amount of meaning in each of his lines is comparable (in today’s cultural market) to that in Horace’s lines (in his time) – they quake.

I am nothing if not a wall between flux and delirium, a blindfold asking of fixed reason one eye or another to be the runway in my alphabet, which is the truth of the impossible: we want, therefore, we invert (dissolve) into the spectral head putting terms in the terms that put them there.

and –

Inscrutable power has no content other than what language fulfills in the present.

– such that in his writing the language explicates itself / and where it doesn’t explicate itself it aids (significantly) in its explication.  

Language was (for a time) annexed by big business (politics (ie power) and commerce (ie money)) – now language is (is (now language is)) big business (now language is big business) / in the form of pronouncements and analyses that actually take the place of (that actually take the place of) what used to be money (paper and metal).  This is so post-Pound that there’s almost no point in looking back (was there ever?).

As the client of a nation having woven violence & self-loathing so starkly within its ruinous operation that to be myself I must hide myself, let me state here and always that this useless, national strategy of embracing contradiction (even of nothing, to the POINT of nothing) is not a figure in anyone’s imagined future but is and will be here and everywhere if so pursued the absence of all existence because it is only in the facts of our proximal extensions, and imaginal life, that our existence comes to be at all. I do NOT bind myself to death.  I will NOT limit my work in order to eternalize it (end quote) nor will I offer even one penny of my human capital to national renewal unless it is irrevocably in the interests of a ONE.  THIS is MY ars poetic.

This is writing of the highest order.  But where (tell me (where (where (tell me where)))) there is (outside of it) any livable order.  All the same.


A definition of (some of the) terms:

In that this is a technical book (in the sense that technically it exists) a definition of some of it’s more evasive (ie more meaningful) terms would seem (but to whom?) to be in order:

quadragene – the genetic splicing of two-or-more mathematicians (something that happens only in New Jersey (so far))

a transferential crisis – the failure of any two individuals to communicate (as has happened incessantly between either of the-two-Bushes and any other human being on the globe / the failure (endemic) of reality (so-called by itself (occasionally)) to come across (across (to come across)) to us

tautology – the American government / other forms of fascism as well / the world as we know it / the world as it knows us / what we were taught

a copular suspension – two fetuses copulating in a jar of fluid in the office of a rabid right-to-life organization / two fetuses copulating in a jar of fluid in the offices of a rabid freedom-of-choice organization

signifier – an outmoded (outdumbed) term / it once had meaning / they no longer exist / now we have (instead) lapses (lapses) and fifty-per-cent-grey placeholders (placeholders) and more meaningless promises (more meaningless promises) than we can possibly stomach

memic – anything that mimics me in the current “world” (ie everything)

the Revelator – the one who is never revealed (not even to herself)

inversion function – that function whereby everything (everything) that is said is exactly the opposite (exactly the opposite) of what is / In inversion, things lived a long time ago. / and – The only useful art is an inversive one, applying thought as a complaint.

operand – something lost (that’s all) / something lost (not regained)

subtension – the amount of tension one is under when living under (under (when living under)) anything (which everyone does) / a lot of tension

carceral storm – the whole universe now has cancer / such that the cancer that we know of as existing “within” it is actually the inverse of cancer (therefore more deadly than deadly?)

ding-an-sich – Vladimir and Estragon

monogene – a pair (not-really-a-pair) of trousers made of denim and very popular among the survivors (ie the maimed) in Iraq and Afghanistan and other countries the USofA has quote visited end quote (with your tax dollars)

prosperocidal – death from (or suicide by) overwork (there’s a word for it in Japanese as well)

altercidal – death from (or suicide by) religion / inordinately common throughout all of world history / (I know / the spelling / but that (that) itself (that itself) is an early sign of the onset of altercidal tendencies (that kind of (lack of) awareness))


PS – Remember when the only thing we had to fear was fear itself?

Alan Davies edited A Hundred Posters, one of the important “little” magazines of the “Language” movement. Subsequently, Davies was included in the crucial anthology devoted to “language-centred” writing: In the American Tree, edited by Ron Silliman (National Poetry Foundation, 1986; 2002). Davies, who is a Buddhist (as pointed out by Juliana Spahr), is originally from Canada. He has lived in Boston and is currently living and working in New York City.

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