Taylor Brady
Where I Slipped and What I Slipped On, or,
The Poet Moves for a New Trial Twenty-One Times 1

          I was deeply moved today by a short series of texts chalked up in a classroom at the university.  The first of these texts reads, "Writing argues for a way of envisioning the World."  "Argues" is underlined, but this conventional graphism is the only irruption of the visual in what remains otherwise a normatively unmarked sentence.  Not so the second text, displayed in the manner of a rudimentary chart or score in three distinct lines, below and to the right of the first sentence, and written in a different hand.  Its first line is the single word "portfolio," capitalized, underlined, and placed between parallel type-high vertical lines.  Below and slightly to the left of this an open square bracket introduces the cryptic formula "2x Autobiography 4-6."  There is no closing bracket.  The final line, indented approximately a conventional paragraph space, contains the single word "Revision," followed by an addition sign, written much smaller than the rest of the characters on the line.
          I began by saying that these texts moved me ("deeply").  I mean this in several senses.  First, there is the compulsory movement from the first text to the second in a reading of the visual relation between the two as one of dependence or implication: the second text, indented below the first, can be taken as a sub-heading, a particular instance of the general rule given in the first sentence.  What, then, is the argument of this writing thus read, its envisionment of a world?  A portfolio, a quantified (and bracketed) series of autobiographical incidents, and revision -- "plus."  The world that will count as such for this writing will thus become visible as a list of written assignments.  Envisioning turns out to be the reproductive siting of those features of a writing's space which are already most visible prior to its inscription -- in this case, its status as an artifact of a pre-fabricated classroom "box." 


          In some sense the line is implicit in the point, as the radiating web of streets is already inscription and repetition of the epic and its ten thousand sordid variants.  This place is what remains when taking place has packed its bags and left.  Crossing to the other side of town through waist-deep snow, she 2 had the unnerving impression that her body could make no impression, and that in fact her quickly vanishing trail had been a vacancy established in advance of her advance, into which she followed the whispered commands of a choreography falling all about her like snow.  Where he 3  lacks foresight, he resorts to oversight.  Below decks, the infinitude of random couplings, all converging on the same mean.  Even the sudden explosion was construction of space according to a rigorous schematic.


          In this sense, I am doubly moved.  First, the writing calls to me, catches me precisely where I am (I teach composition at the university, the writing could be mine), and jars me into an awareness of that space.  Beyond this, it is responsible for my gross physical movement: by thus forcing my acknowledgment of residence "in the box," it produces in me the desire to leave as quickly as possible.


        He squeezes his eyes shut in order to watch the more essential, ideal television behind the lids.


          I feel compelled to return to the blackboard, not having exhausted my interest in it within the space I first allowed myself.  In a sense, this movement is yet another way in which I am moved by the chalk inscriptions: on my way out the door I catch that word -- "autobiography" -- in the corner of my eye and realize that going home will be of little use.


   Home is where
   the heart


   is that
   surface on which


   or center of
   a ragged


   of defenders
   to the armory


   this Erie camp
   or spooky


   in the
   midst of things


   comma signals breath
   in step


   command which
   shoring up or


   contrary motion the
   break between




          My attempt to opt out in effect deploys the mechanisms of a free and private life against those of a presumably more restricted public role.  But the insistence of the law given by that role on precisely such "autobiographical" maneuvers calls my bluff.  My private reserve is a space encoded within my public performances, a site and a citation within a pedagogy (a word I hate and am stuck with, skewered upon) commonplace enough to be the collocated leftovers of several others' feasts of writerly self-nourishment.  I thus return to the board with a closer attention and a renewed sense of urgency, as if this sentence and list were a passing of sentence on me, to which a list of circumstances has been adduced, or as if I might decipher my own fate as an item on that list, written in a minuscule script (the supplement after the addition sign?), simply one more instance of a general law.
          So, reading for detail as if for the saving grace of a loophole, I note first the dative construction of the object of argument in the first sentence.  Writing does not argue a way, but "argues for a way."  Argument here is not constructive or constitutive, but optative.  It brings nothing into being, but simply enables a choice between existing values -- "way[s] of envisioning."  Ideological labor is here cast as a referendum on competing and extant worldviews. 


   To the boy in the third row:

   I think you are real cute.
   Do you like me?

   Check yes __
   or no __


          Given this model, one might choose a writing -- a style, perhaps -- whose ideological orientation cast it in opposition to the rule of the market, but the fact of having been constrained to make that choice within a marketplace of ideologies would remain of necessity unquestioned.  How to get at this constitutive level, how to argue rather than argue for, might become legible as a question at this point in the argument, did the sentence not move onward so inexorably toward its period.  Here again, I am moved, but by now the compulsion, even the violence of the process has begun more fully to appear.


          "When do we get to stop operating by analogy?" you ask, unbuckling.  Now there is nothing between the two of them.  I'd like to help you, son, but you're too dead to float.  Zero in on the face.  What gets to the bottom is not.


          Having tried, and failed, to extract myself by force from the grip of this text, I now attempt to drop out, to leave off in a confession of only partial competence.  But the unfinished sentence is a suspense, and a suspension, I cannot bear.  So I move back, moving ahead once more.  Just so, the "argument" named in the text moves ahead toward the object of its advocacy, its purchase, which is not, despite my fist impression, an ideological "envisioning," but a "way of envisioning," a method which, if dutifully applied, might finally lead to vision.  It is not enough that the student should choose -- she is also required to perform the labor which produces choice as a surplus to be consumed, for a price, in the university.


Says Phoebe Snow:
"The miners know
That to hard coal
My fame I owe,
For my delight
In wearing white
Is due alone to


          This, in fact, is the vision.  Vision of what?  I expect the text to read: "a world," so the definite article comes as something of a shock, even as I register its predictability, along with that of the capital letter that reinforces it.  The sentence ends by giving the lie to the claim for choice encoded in its verb.  What's argued for is always the one, given world -- or, rather, "World," as capitalized as Spirit and even more inexorable, in that its status as an object prefabricated for choice indicates that its becoming days are done.


   old gray mare
   she ain't
   she used to be was
   me before
   the course of matter
   of fact's  projects ran
   me through 
   the turning sprockets 
   in this projection of
   Modern Times

          The sentence of the law ends by circling back to its capital.


          At bottom, a list of debased particulars.  There is the portfolio, underlined and set off by vertical lines, somewhat like a symbol in linguistics.  So the first constituent of the envisioned world is the sample case, the file of headshots.  Its proximity to linguists' notation argues (not "for") a certain scientistic universality within this collection of the particular works representative of a subject -- the script is posited as independent of any determinate system of signs.  Thus the authenticating products of the subject become a sort of generalized requirement,  a placement test in which the subject itself is universalized as simply that unit which produces and is produced by its placement in a portfolio or list, for which the portfolio itself stands in as a sort of encapsulated repetition or mise en abyme.  Hence also, the visual rhyme of underlining in both "argues" and "portfolio" -- writing argues for a single and inexorable (though freely chosen) world, which is simply its own status as sample within the world taken as an answer already given prior to any question, and thus eliminating the possibility of question.
           Moving on, it would seem that "autobiography" follows the portfolio, that the subject's narrative is produced as an effect of its subject-position, here understood to mean literal poses ("headshots") at the focal point where public performance and private text view each other.  But the indentation of the first line argues a different relation, in which the portfolio is a subset of the autobiography, albeit displaced upwards in the list, and in which by extension the argument serves the autobiography, the law serves its subject, and I am the one who passes sentence.  Finally, the visual relation of these two lines is undecidable as to priority, and lacking other options (I recall here that I didn't even make it all the way through the door before the sentence called me back), I have to conclude that either reading amounts to the same thing.  Even if I pass sentence, it is clear I cannot pass it up, and can only pass the sentence which is there to be so passed.  So I pass into autobiography, past which I cannot go: one enters into an open bracket which never closes, thus taking up permanent residence within the syntax of the sentence or list from which one is simultaneously excised, bracketed.  I note that the term of this lease is doubled at the outset: "2x."  This "x" might in fact be such a multiplication -- or perhaps a focal magnification -- but is primarily an unknown: the double implication of autobiography in the sentence of a law it is compelled to read and never to know.


        So I say to that motherfucker, "I know my rights, and I'm pretty goddamn sure you can't come all bustin' in here without some kind of papers or something."

          CanÝt nobody tell me what to do.


          So the autobiography is an interval, like counting from four to six.  "My life" as a pedagogical imperative begins at a point established by an always-prior counting, and leaves off having taken two steps, as if simply to demonstrate the minimal unit in the operation of its two (all-too?) human feet.  And at the end (or beyond it, taking place on another line, but still, presumably, within the vectorally infinite brackets) there is revision.  The processes of the self in history are thus rendered either inaccessible from the space of autobiography, or else bracketed within it, simply as the figure of a subject's compulsory labor of coming to choose itself in the world.  And then an addition, almost as an afterthought.  What is to be added?  All such questions are contained by this open-ended mathematics, and here my doubt argues me in more surely in the end than my acquiescence.  I am moved into myself as permanent residence by the necessity of listing the stations of my prior itinerary.


          We are still receiving mail for tenants who have not lived here in over three years.  Please locate a forwarding address for these people or hold their mail, as we will no longer accept it.  Thank you.


          "A few belated cowardices 4" : I note that I've moved early on from being moved deeply to being merely moved.  This transition is effected in a sentence which excises that depth by means of parentheses and mocks it by means of quotation.  The excess of punctuation, if nothing else, seems to point to a certain anxiety, which leads me to ask what the truth of this depth might be.  Rather than evade the sentimentalism thus implied, I'd like to inhabit it more deeply.  And in fact these texts do move me deeply, which is to say they move me into and within a deep space, a perspective.  I am the point of their depth of field, which is to say I am the text by whose reading these texts constitute themselves as such.  Might this be a depth from which, within which, I (here I'm not sure which is the position of teacher and which the position of student [two weeks between paychecks is plenty of time for forgetting 5) write back to, write over, these compulsory and moving texts?  I'll leave this as an open question ˇ and thus a less constricted sense of the perpetually open bracket of autobiography.  When I flatten the space in which I am moved into a linear distance of disbelief, I simply move along the items of a portfolio, a series of identical box-shaped rooms.  It is only by examining the depth to which I am moved that I enter the space where the law and the portfolio intersect in the sentence, in which I can effect a writing as an open question.


I got a mule, her name is Sal --
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
all dressed up and  nowhere
in sight or sound
scratches out the code
for this half-assed elision of
the fundamental difficulty --
"Is that my pencil in your pocket, 
or are you happy to be me?"