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Barrett Watten
Total Syntax: The Work in the World (excerpt)
The possibilities for statement in art are taken in quite different directions in the work of three contemporary poets: Clark Coolidge, Ron Silliman, and Steve Benson. Like the sculptor Robert Smithson, all three work toward a greater scale in art, and their solutions to the problems of scale reveal new developments in syntax.1

In Nadja, André Breton makes a curious statement, but one that indicates his own priorities: "As far as I am concerned, a mind's arrangement with regard to certain objects is even more important than its regard for certain arrangements of objects, these two kinds of arrangement controlling between them all forms of sensibility."2 The "mind's arrangement with regard to certain objects" is certainly at the basis of syntax in the work of both Breton and Smithson. Breton's surrealist image fixes the flux of automatism in static images, simple objects. Later, an object can be incorporated directly into the poem, which is essentially an oneiric form, without any loss in translation. Nadja is one such oneiric object--a woman. Smithson's generative syntax begins with tropes that are refractions of a single object seen through the lens of an ironic observer. They prepare the ground for other objects on larger, more monumental scales--such as the Spiral Jetty.

In the work of Coolidge, Silliman, and Benson there is, without wishing to overdraw a comparison, a syntactic basis in a "regard for certain arrangements of objects." A relation between things, a situation with its own laws, is the point of departure. Any given "object" has an essential relation to other objects as well as a disposition to the observer. The observer, rather than being ironic, is responsible to the contingencies of any things that might compel him or her. The situation as a whole must be taken in--linguistic, social, psychological--and is not just a projection of the observer. The syntax of the world is elusive, though what is seen in this syntax is different in the case of each writer.

Clark Coolidge must be given credit for realizing the possibilities of extension of a syntax of "arrangement," although a number of writers have preceded him in recognizing its possibilities for art. The mimicking of the painterly surface in the first generation of New York School poets (John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Frank O'Hara), as well as the performance values of experimentalists such as John Cage and Jackson Mac Low, are the two major influences, with Gertrude Stein and Williams's experimental prose in the shadowy past. Coolidge's extension of this possibility proceeded in a deliberate, step-by-step manner over the course of his work. Its contribution to the question of scale in art is due to its exploration of the psychological implications of "arrangement"--extending experimentalism where it may have reached a dead end in painterly surfaces or performance values.

Coolidge's first collection, Space, shows the influence of the painterly surface of the New York School poets, and it also shows the beginning of the path beyond. The book is divided into four sections, each a characteristic area of work. A number of works in the first section bear a close resemblance to the kind of cut-up, painterly lyricism of John Ashbery's The Tennis Court Oath, which uses a number of "exterior" procedures on found texts in a kind of "all-over" mimicry of the surfaces of abstract expressionism. The materials used are generally ironic and aestheticized at the same time; false scenarios, inappropriate remarks, and a skewed, unmotivated syntax reflect the mind at work, along with a continual hint of the philosophical relevance of the impossibility of statement. However aestheticized, the work was a significant breakthrough, as evidenced by the number of its immediate followers. A work by Coolidge that is relevant to this context is the second poem in the book, "The Image Furnace, Under Brine":

     "the good ease!," sighed slamming his pencil
            vacuum of the light bulb drop, the sigh
                                             sign vent of its
                                                              slat
                                                  way 3

The gestures here are much like Ashbery's: "sighed slamming his pencil" betrays the anxiety of the fragmentary; "the sigh/sign vent of its/slat" seems to find a high irony in the problem of representing a mental state. But the emphasis of these anxious fragments is differently arranged than in Ashbery--there is a stronger, more propulsive pulse, an underlining of rhythmic play. This emphasis on the rhythmic, purely temporal dimension sets Coolidge off from the other imitators of The Tennis Court Oath. Coolidge sees Kerouac's "spontaneous bop prosody" in these cool surfaces, bringing to mind Coolidge's brief career as a jazz drummer. The temporal axis gives the go-ahead into a different aesthetic space, in much the same way that pure mental projection gave Smithson his permission. The materials and impulses can be given a kind of play--in the ironizing of meaning in Smithson, or in its basic mutability toward sound in Coolidge.

The jazz drummer is clearly visible in "Bontecou Chandelier"

     jars   jars   jars   oil   staples   donuts
     wire, at the wrist, the Hey
     Crenulated.   Absolving.   Holiday Swells.
     meant snake to draw   to slight slide to it
     cuss snow car crust     (drainage, Albany)   rubble
     can in sincerity            (lumps, jeers)
     bent nose ends fires     (mattress, Iron)
                Jersey, Jersey (16)

If sound is leading Coolidge into the words, the sense is not far behind. The word stock of the above passage is consistently "American Industrial," a vocabulary of castoffs and slag heaps that might be typical of visual artists like Rauschenberg, Johns, and later, Smithson. The listing "jars jars jars" gives an immediately cultural component to the rhythmic drive--one could also have "cars cars cars" or "bars bars bars" and be giving a good picture of what actually follows, "Jersey, Jersey." The scenario in these works is quite different from the more abstract compositional plane of Ashbery--it is the practical, object-oriented, American cultural desert that Coolidge is trying to beat into life. The identification with Kerouac, in a form quite different from the spontaneous sketching of Visions of Cody, is still marked. A new value is being given to "calling up things by their names" in the willful drive of the sound. This syntax is certainly far from that asserted on the dust jacket, where "syntax . . . is simply removed."

Words in Coolidge are cultural facts, rhythmic and semantic imponderables. There are, in real time and space, whole landscapes of such imponderables; they stare one in the face with artifice and inertness, as in Las Vegas. No cultural nationalist, however, Coolidge is not tied down to any simplistic tagging of his materials. The America of his word stock is assumed, leaving open more universal questions as the ontology and psychology of such language. From the development of work in Space (which may not be chronological), Coolidge appears to be increasingly drawn to a scrutiny of words, to questions of their ultimate nature. The third section moves away from the more extended works, which still appear to be bounded by the single page frame of the conventional lyric, to constructions that deliberate over weights and balances of words in highly delimited arrangements. Words are not being given "object status" here; rather, they are being questioned in terms of their relations with other words. One such poem, quoted in full:

     ounce code orange
          a
               the
                    ohm
     trilobite trilobites (68)

Coolidge discusses his motivation in this work in the following terms: "I couldn't stand the idea of one word. I don't think there is one word. ... I was really trying to work with the words, look at the words, try to use all their qualities. There's no question of meaning, in the sense of explaining and understanding this poem. Hopefully, it's a unique object, not just an object. Language isn't just objects, it moves."4

The power of words is not in their status as objects but in their relation to each other. This concern, which runs deep in Coolidge's work, is also stated in an earlier interview: "That's like my idea about arrangement . . . an old alchemical notion that if you take objects, like the objects on this table, any objects, and arrange them in the correct order, that some incredible shift, or something, would happen. Something would be affected. Like the power is in the arrangement not in the objects."5 It is the arrangement of words that unlocks their energies, drives the temporal event. But if words are like objects in an arrangement, there is still a question, for Coolidge, of particular qualities of these entities motivating their possible arrangements. His attention to words is to their differential status on a number of linguistic levels that qualify their use in combination:

"ohm" is the unit of electrical resistance, a quality of metal, let's say, that requires a certain amount of juice to go through. In other words, this is a fuzzy, resistant word trilobites": you know what a trilobite is, it's an early animal of the Paleozoic Age that was a crustacean divided into three lobes. As a word to me it's completely irreducible. What are you going to do with it? "A trilobite": it's like a clinker. ("Arrangement")

Here Coolidge looks into the word--it is not just a question of surface characteristics. The meditation on semantics is enacted in the way the words are placed on the page.

This meditation on semantics can be seen even in those works that use entities below the level of the word, in Coolidge's case morphemes such as "ed," "ing," "tion," and so on. The following is from the last page of "A D," the last work in Space:

     erything
     eral
     stantly
     ined
     ards
     cal
     nize           (120)

These morphemes become words, motivated by their (vertical, sequential) arrangement to the same possibilities of statement. Each is a whole, and like "trilobites" they are irreducible "clinkers."

Possibly Coolidge's most famed investigation into the possibilities of arrangement is in a work published as a separate pamphlet, Suite V. The poems in this work are composed of two words per 8 1/2-by-11-inch page, placed at the top and bottom, with plenty of white space in between. All the words are four-lettered, and all have an s at the end. Some of these minimal pairs are: "taps / / buns," "keys / / ohms," cans / / arms," and so on.6 The amount of space between the words is significant--there is a palpable time-lag between them. The page is being used to specify an interval in time. The temporal gap here induces a certain energy between the words, similar to that of Pierre Reverdy's "light of the image" produced by the pairing of unrelated verbal images, though without particular attention to time. Coolidge has also explored this semantic potential energy gap in a work involving tape loops, in which two loops at different speeds are phased in and out with each other and the phase interaction is recorded. The words on the two tape loops can be heard as two separate words at their maximum temporal spread, or as a phrase of some kind when occurring close to each other in time. The question is when and under what conditions this phrase linkage will occur and what kind of energy will be produced. The phenomenology of syntax is being considered quite literally here, though it should be remembered that Coolidge is listening to the energy of the statement as a compositional possibility for his work.

This analytic interest in the potential energies of words in arrangements is equaled by an expressive impulse in Coolidge that reflects his reading of Kerouac. The opposite of the technical, this identification is cultural (New England) as well as stylistic ("spontaneous bop prosody"). Coolidge's contribution to The World 's "Autobiography" issue begins:

let's chug it up to Diamond . . . maybe or Calumet . . . Jesus, Calumet in the dark? . . . or go climb the Geofort . . . naw, you crazy? we'll get snagged in our basement coats . . . shit on the fucking around we gotta go . . . well, Ray, you know, if we go, we'll end up with your a----s on fire . . . well actually, . . . if you light . . . my ass . . . on fire . . . those guys in the project put their lights'll always go on . . . let's go . . . maybe we can practice to shit off the edge a thousand feet & then the beercans . . . Jesus Ray, remember that time we were goin up in the dark & you got around above somewhere somehow & pushed a huge fucking block loose & down past us? . . . saw the blue sparks . . . Jesus, you really scared the shit out of us . . . Dave . . . HA-HA! HA-HA! 7

The spontaneous verbalizing here has an adolescent character; names and dates on granite in white paint are a similar graphemic response to the New England mentality. The "mouthing off" in this piece seems to be a linguistic "carrier frequency" that can go on indefinitely. In Kerouac an echo of this kind of verbalizing produced a breakthrough in prose, one that is very much on Coolidge's mind:

I was thinking of those long, long sentences [in Kerouac] where he's doing what he calls sketching. He might literally be in front of the subject, or it might be in his mind. It might be a brick wall, or that incredible section of the food in the windows, or the cafeteria section in the beginning of Visions of Cody. Where it goes on for endless pages. It's this beautiful line, it's always changing. Things'll just pop up, and you can see that he didn't think of that. It just came, because he was following this line, what's next, what's next.8

As opposed to the possibilities of combination and recombination Coolidge sees in arrangement, this mode of writing is not reducible to components. Coolidge is interested here in the vectoral potentials of work on a single scale--that of the writer in time. In this sense writing is self-sufficient, a "pure product of America," adequate in itself.

In work that appeared after the publication of Space, Coolidge moves away from the conventional page frame of the lyric poem into longer forms. The Maintains builds a 100-page poem from language taken from the dictionary (and possibly other sources). The breakthrough in this work is Coolidge's use of an "equivalency principle" in the line that demands a larger form. The syntax of statement in the poem is not only word-to-word (as in "jars jars jars") but line-to-line:

     the canna seats
     a shine-hard common
     so-called boat tooth of like shape from the rolls
     on which hue a saturation is secured
     as a candle about the mouth
     mosquito cans stated limes
     recorded off the bark or mummy
     overhang to sing
     a fine coal
     or book list of good mass or omen
     mustard simple
     uses clot in another machines
     pie star sliding
     a perpetual vow9

There is a metalinguistic architecture, derived from the dictionary definition, behind every line. Each line could be a definition of the line previous, and they all might be understood as definitions of "word." A "shine-hard common" could be a definition of "canna seats," with the advantages of ambiguity ("seats" is a noun or a verb) and a synaesthetic image in "shine-hard seats." The play of language is built on the structure of the line. It is possible to see each line as commenting on the one above or as an independent arrangement. The poem continually argues this edge between self-sufficiency and connection. Individual words or phrases may stand out as entities, but they are motivated by their sequence. Language is being proposed as a relation between words--ironically or perhaps didactically, as the dictionary is the source of that language.

The structural concerns of The Maintains are developed in the course of Coolidge's next 100-page poem, Polaroid. The "nounal" emphasis of the line is undermined, first by the use of nonsubstantives and then by the breaking up of the line's accretive "equivalence principle." The last section of the poem is a kind of synthesis of these developments; a new line has been produced in the process, one that increases the ambiguities of syntax as it allows for greater rhythmic variation:

     few part once and then one as around leaves close stays then some
     of you few head so forth by whom why leave either to go
     part and it leaves once you then some do you within stays behind
     either few or just some once of either leaving miss it to close to it beside
     the either one or it you part per whom via either one or
     few do stay once it's close to you missing the whole either one10

The phrase structure of these lines could be bracketed in numerous ways; 'few do stay once it's close" could be, at least: (few do) (stay once) (it's close); (few do stay) (once it's close); (few do stay once) (it's close); and (few do) (stay once it's close). In addition, each word could be given temporal autonomy, as in a list. The possibilities for variation of stress in reading the work, given these multiple bracketings, are enormous. Where the bracketing of the line in The Maintains is reinforced by the dictionary definition, in Polaroid the bracketing is plural, reflecting the multiple elliptical constructions of American English (a structure much more complex than its dictionary). Here there is what Williams called a "buckling" of syntax; words snap in and out of different combinations in a line. The rhythmic play is much more various than in the simple reiterative structure of The Maintains.

In Coolidge's work after Polaroid words are not only used for their potential energies in possible arrangements but point simultaneously to other contexts in the world or in the mind. This expansion of scale parallels a shift in technique from the lyric frame to long verse structures in accretive lines to a mode that Coolidge has designated as "prosoid": an extended, dense, lyric prose form that has past examples in Williams's Kora in Hell, Stein's The Making of Americans, surrealist automatic texts, and, more contemporary, Robert Creeley's Presences. One such work is "Smithsonian Depositions," based on Smithson's writings as well as on numerous other sources such as:

     William Carlos Williams: The Selected Letters; Paterson
     Jean-Luc Godard: Pierrot Mon Ami; Les Carabiniers
     Alain Robbe-Grillet: Last Year at Marienbad
     Salvador Dali: The Secret Life of Salvador Dali
     Joseph Le Conte: Elements of Geology . . . 11

as well as journals and newspaper clippings. Content is layered in the work in a "geological" manner, inspired by the "language as matter formulation of Smithson's work. The text is evocative of the strata of the linguistic bedrock, the reality of which is psychological (memory) as well as cultural (historical time), while still maintaining Coolidge's basic writing values as "spontaneous bop prosodist."

Coolidge's breakthrough work in the "prosoid" form, Quartz Hearts, is in fact a preparatory study for his still untitled "longwork." "It is in every sense a hinge work," begun during writing of the last section of Polaroid. The work is densely argued, involving a querying of the words as they are being produced to make sentences. Statements exist as words and in their "other," referential contexts:

     He walked up and knocked at the front.
     His shoe was the same color as the step.

     The car had an open top that he never
     looked out of as he drove straight
     ahead. An iron mushroom.

     Walking up close to the wall, I felt
     the heat from above, and heard the
     horn below the floor.

     A black tree on a purple shoulder.
     The sock hidden in the stump. Pliers
     in a room beneath a wind across a valley.12

The balance of words within a sentence, again an arrangement, is as much the subject matter here as what the sentences actually say. But possibly there really were "Pliers in a room beneath a wind across a valley."

     There was a block on the door.
     The handle turned out to be square.

     Little women sending postcards from a
     donut factory. They swim toward the
     end of the land. An opening gradually
     presents itself and arrives.

The work seems to be arguing inward, starting from simple, if ironic, units of statement in language. There is a metalinguistic underpinning that is being used to fabricate the context for the next statement, as in "An opening gradually presents itself and arrives." Reference builds structure into statement by virtue of a querying of its essential purposes.

Only sections of the "longwork" have been published as yet, so it is difficult at this point to have an accurate sense of it as a whole. Initially intended to go to 1,000 pages, Coolidge read the first 200 pages over seven nights at Eighty Langton Street, San Francisco, in 1979.13 It is generally understood to be based on a limited number of subject areas, such as geology, the movies, the music of Ives, the writings of Beckett and Creeley, and so on. These are the sources for language materials to be used in the work. There are "topic" sections, in which one particular subject is developed, and "transitional" sections, between subject areas. Medial spaces between areas of language are being "bred," much as in the "geological" interaction of materials in "Smithsonian Depositions," and the work undertakes a large-scale assimilation of related language (taken in at the point of writing, from more "daily" frames) in its development. The steady force of construction is in a constitutive voice, a kind of "verbalizing" carrier frequency generally located "in back of" the utterances of speech (or conventional lyric poetry), a foregrounding of the involuntary memory. The weight of the linguistic materials is balanced in multiple "buckling" prosoid lines. The work mimics an assertion of the self-evident world in a highly elaborate cross-referencing of multiple arrangements. Within the work there is a constant play of unusual "light of the image" between the variously juxtaposed arrangements of words. In this created world there are endlessly refracted interstices, shadows of words creating space for new words in the shadows. In real time and space, the voice in the work intends a present: "What moves can make space," as Coolidge said in writing of Larry Figner. Physical space is being carved out of linguistic space by means of vectors through the combinatorial potentials of the American word stock. The work is presented as an unanalyzable, though completely refracted, whole.

There is, in this work, a definite monumentality. Unlike the Spiral Jetty, the monument is temporal, not spatial, but perhaps it does approach an "object status." Coolidge's gesture after reading the work--prior to any discussion--was simply to place its two volumes on the table between the writer and his audience: "Here it is." However, the work has not yet been named. From "Weathers," a section of the work:

Slipping from, tell me, this is a star and that a fin. That bottle keeps its blink on its side red from horizon. He left it to sun in the hard, black is not black it's night. State of Cadmium set in stint. This is blurring not what could be said from a table to be a ledge. Where, losing firm, is the percolator or perimeter. Thus and so, parts of a limb on a walk, of a bird, myself or have I thought myself febrile.14

The writer appears to be out in the "welter of forms of these events, the events being writing first of all but mimicking a condition as allencompassing as the weather. Journals kept of weather phenomena were the basis for this section, but observations of "daily life" and the weather are functionally close at the level of words. The need to repair the typewriter, the word "Cadmium," and a dark lowering cloud at 4 P.M. are equivalent terms of the work. A more strictly literary area of language is explored in another section:

Caught an eryops. The sander says misericordia. Coronal of thicket plums. A stanchion of much aisle, even, though wooden. Blending stonelight with cornhusker's celimate. Left themselves open to the announcement none of these people died on time. Though Huxley's faith in Iguanodon's bipedality was totally vindicated in 1878 when an entire troupe of iguanodonts emerged from a coal mine in Belgium, the fissure filled with Cretaceous marls. As the thought to tower an erect beast, an enigma remains itself a plural impasse.

"Eryops" is a word from Smithson, though it segues back to its geological home to meet "an entire troupe of iguanodonts." There are other such delimited zones of vocabulary ("misericordia," "cornhusker"), along with a running comment that is the compositional drive of the work: "an enigma remains itself a plural impasse."

Coolidge is not forthcoming on his techniques, but I imagine a writing scenario as follows: words or materials (open books, clippings) are on a table next to a typewriter. Some of these materials might be past pages of the work. The writing is a spontaneous invention starting from these "exterior" materials, and the argument of the work that develops is a projection of the interior voice onto exterior words within a specific temporal frame. This argument is both associative (words lead to arrangements in terms of linguistic affinity and memory traces of their prior use) and dissociative (sequence is used to disrupt habitual patterns of thought). The exterior vocabulary is the cue for both the association and the dissociation--it can lead into a new arrangement, or it can introduce a dissonance that disrupts an arrangement. The "light of the image" that is being given off by these arrangements is an object of meditation as the work progresses, although it is primarily sound, as rhythmic variation being driven by subliminal verbalizing, that is leading the writing from word to word.

The concerns of this work have much to do with surrealist automatism, though for Coolidge any such "pure psychic automatism" is coincident with words as objects--perhaps literally, in front of him on the writing table. The incorporation of purely literary information, such as the Huxley anecdote above, is evidence of this without any confirmation from the author. The vocabulary in the work is not limited to the word stock of surrealism, with its basically interior and organic scenarios, which often seem overly delimited by the past example of Lautréamont. The surrealists excluded large sections of language as quotidian, and certainly words as words had no status for them. The sign is united with its object--there can be no dissociation at this level of language; once used in the writing process, a word or an image is used up. In Coolidge's work the sign is a multiple and possibly exterior reality, and words like "thus and so" have the status of substantives in the work. The relation to language is evaluative as opposed to convulsive--there is a "thinking with things as they exist" as much as any flux of the automatic image. Other aspects of the phenomenology of language than the irruption of the pleasure principle are primary--namely, the axis of memory and the associative contiguities of words. The word iguanodon, established in a brief narrative, may have a continuing life in the work, and it is given a value in contiguous strata (in "eryops" above). Any word in the text can become the enigma of the plural impasse; the act of writing is the continual querying of these impasses by words.

The status of involuntary memory is quite different in Coolidge than in surrealism. In surrealism, the involuntary memory is to some extent theoretical--it gives a value for the automatic image; but in actual practice the work is voluntary and literary--the language of automatism is bounded by fixed parameters of style. Surrealist automatic images often seem to be "exemplary" of the possibilities of automatism--there was no need for the investigation of the automatic impulse on a large (say, 1,000-page) scale. This fixity of the surrealist image is the principal defect in its claims for "pure psychic automatism," rendering the project only partially successful in terms of psychology. But in literary terms, the use of the automatic image as a philosopher's stone leads to its success--the more developed formulations of Breton's theoretical works and of Nadja.

In Coolidge, involuntary memory is taken on directly. The improvisatory mode of writing has access to the vectors of subjectivity precisely because its initial objects--words--are conceived of as exterior to the writer, to be taken on in the ongoing construction of the work. The scale of Coolidge's improvisatory mode is very large in terms of the language and states of mind it can reach; the position of the writer, however, is fixed--there is no travel to the Yucatan, even with mirrors. Writing is a daily task, and the temporal demands of the work are a part of its argument with existence. Language is no philosopher's stone for Coolidge--any theoretical extension of the project is blocked at the "point of production." Coolidge declines to make a metaphor of his work; the querying of language by language in time is the method.

The work is driven into its particulars by this refusal of metaphorical scale. Where Smithson proposes the scale of his work as a metaphor for art, Coolidge holds back from such structural metaphors. The question of overall form is therefore problematic. Where earlier works such as The Maintains and Polaroid coincide at least with temporal frames (they are each one year's writing), the time frame of the "longwork" is open-ended, and it is unclear what it would mean for it to end. Perhaps the only developing structural metaphor in Coolidge's work is that of the romantic subject, certainly an unwieldy figure to maintain.

But Coolidge's syntax is not to be understood only in its temporal sequence. There is a "spatial" syntax of the work as well. The writing continually foregrounds language as its primary reality in the uninterrupted refractions of the form. In the extended time frame of the work, a word at any moment must stand for the whole. Starting from these particulars, the work has a point-by-point structural basis in metonymy. In a standard example of metonymy "Moscow" stands for the system of government located there. One can say, "Go ahead, Moscow, I'm listening," but Coolidge would substitute the word word there instead: "Go ahead, word , I'm listening," in a device to be found everywhere in his work. The various linguistic levels--word, line, phrase, sentence, paragraph--are all structural metonyms for "language" and, ultimately, for "the writer in time." By means of this continual metonymy, the large-scale forms of Coolidge's work, and whatever metaphorical meaning they might have, are argued in the work at numerous levels of language.

For example, in the early lyrics the status of words as American imponderables is a metonym for the actual "state of the art." These atomized "associative contiguities" are inspired by similar values for individual words in Kerouac's sketching. The dictionary definition of The Maintains offers a metonym at another linguistic level; the definiendum is the "part" to the "whole" of the semantic component in language, which is ironically addressed. In the long line of Polaroid, the shifting brackets of phrase structure are a metonym for the "indeterminacy" of the whole. In Quartz Hearts, the sentence is a metonym for the act of writing, and the "prosoid" paragraph is a metonym for the time frame of the entire work. In the "longwork" the shifting line of the improvisation stands in a part/whole relation to the fixed position of the writer. In each of these works, in addition, the word-to-word argument is a metonym for structure at each point in time. "Iguanodon" is a partial assertion of the possibility of naming; when iguanodonts march out of the cave's mouth, they can only be ironic. Any such acts are never more than accidents of parts that interact with each other within the totalizing whole.

Smithson's work invokes a stopped, ironic time, to extend the scale of the work. For a similar reason, the time of the work in Coolidge wants never to end. Its "association by contiguity" is unrestricted; language can only be a metonym for the writer in time. The possibility of naming is inferred, but nothing other than that is actually named. This holding back gives a kind of timelessness to the writer's act in time--all energy of statement is potential. A deferred approach to the world motivates the expansion of scale. Coolidge's time frame approaches the literal, while the work stands apart.

 

Notes

[This text has been excerpted from Artifice and Indeterminacy: An Anthology of New Poetics, ed. Christopher Beach (Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press, 1998) and appears here by permission of the author.]

1. As originally published in Total Syntax (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985), the essay began with a discussion of the work of sculptor Robert Smithson.

2. André Breton, Nadja, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Grove Press,

1960), 16.

3. Clark Coolidge, Space (New York: Harper and Row, 1970), 4.

4. Clark Coolidge, "Arrangement," in Talking Poetics from Naropa Institute, vol. 1; quoted in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E 2.2 (1979).

5. Barrett Watten, "Conversation with Clark Coolidge," This 4 (1973).

6. Clark Coolidge, Suite V (New York: Adventures in Poetry, 1973).

7. Clark Coolidge, "Room for Three Guys," World 28 (1973): 10.

8. Barrett Watten, "Conversation with Clark Coolidge," in "A Symposium on Clark Coolidge," ed. Ron Silliman, Stations 5 (1978): 11-14.

9. Clark Coolidge, The Maintains (San Francisco: This Press, 1974), 20.

10. Clark Coolidge, Polaroid (New York and Bolinas, Calif.: Adventures in Poetry and Big Sky, 1975), 92.

11. Clark Coolidge, Smithsonian Depositions & Subject to a Film (New York: Vehicle Editions, 1980), 44.

12. Clark Coolidge, Quartz Hearts (San Francisco: This Press, 1978), 4-6.

13. Sections of the work have appeared in This 6 and 10, United Artists 6, and Big Sky 10.

14. Clark Coolidge, "Weathers," section 22, United Artists 6 (1979).

 


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