Where I Slipped and What I
Slipped On, or,
The Poet Moves for a New Trial
Twenty-One Times 1
I. SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED
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."
II. ARCHITECTURE AND UTOPIA /
BUFFALO BY GUESSWORK /
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
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
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.
III. CUT ON MOVEMENT
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.
IV. SATURDAY NIGHT'S ALRIGHT
He squeezes his eyes shut in order to watch the more essential, ideal
television behind the lids.
V. TAP SHOES
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.
VI. CONNECTICUT ST.
surface on which
or center of
to the armory
this Erie camp
midst of things
comma signals breath
shoring up or
VII. OFF THE RACK
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.
VIII. THE POLITICAL UNCONSCIOUS
boy in the third row:
I think you are
Do you like me?
Check yes __
or no __
IX. MUGGED AT THE MALL
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.
X. EARNEST AS A POWER BALLAD
"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.
XI. AUTO SHOP
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.
XII. POSTCARD FROM SCRANTON
Says Phoebe Snow:
"The miners know
That to hard coal
My fame I owe,
For my delight
In wearing white
Is due alone to
XIII. WHAT TO MY WANDERING
EYES SHOULD APPEAR?
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.
XIV. TURN THIS MOTHER OUT
she used to be
the course of
the turning sprockets
in this projection
The sentence of the law ends by circling back to its capital.
XVI. THE REFLEXIVITY OF HOTEL
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.
XVII. REALITY PROGRAM
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
CanÝt nobody tell me what to do.
XVIII. THE FRAT HOUSE OF
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.
XIX. PLAYS WELL WITH OTHERS
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
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.
XXI. TRYIN' TO GET OVER
I got a mule, her name
is Sal --
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
all dressed up and
in sight or sound
scratches out the code
for this half-assed elision
the fundamental difficulty
"Is that my pencil
in your pocket,
or are you happy to be me?"