PERPENDICULAR AND A T R H A E L S L E FOR READING ALONGSIDE L R I F F S # 1-10 BY Benjamin Friedlander
A. So the risk of rewriting is the admission of forgery. And this admission legitimizes the forgetting of origins our discourses would begin in, positing revision AS an origin: origin WITHOUT origin. And thus authenticity is written back into the script. The inauthenticity of a text would now be our admission that we stand in the presence of something NOT original. And the prospect of such a standing, such an UNDERstanding, taken as a definition of reading--though it is not any longer reading as a form of knowledge--still guards presence as the final guarantee of meaning. Discourse (according to the above) is now the long sought for ``authentically inauthentic experience.'' B. But let's not let the phrase ``the paper text's economy'' fool us into thinking that the poem in its traditional aspect--as ink on the page--claims a ``space'' of literature more fixed than the temporal one which an electronic text's economy-- by recourse to analogy to music--would claim as ``the initiation of its own echo.'' For an echo is not dialogue, doesn't extend our words any farther than their own volition throws them, is no more a sharing of voices than the venerable lyrics of Sappho, whose grief of love endures even now as a resounding WITHIN discourse, answered by sounds that OVERCOME the echo. C. ``Experience which is passed on from mouth to mouth is the source from which all storytellers have drawn.'' And in ``The Storyteller'' (from which the above sentence is drawn) Walter Benjamin thus explores a dynamic not so different from the one articulated in the essay on mechanical reproduction (where instead of ``experience'' we read about the ``original''). That experience is a ``source,'' matters less, however, than that it be shared (and in this lies the chief difference between ``The Storyteller'' and ``The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction''). Though ``presence'' is still strongly at issue, the ``aura'' is no longer crudely drawn as a halo of THINGS. Telling a tale, according to Benjamin, authenticity is handed down--but not as objects are handed down--along a chain of generations, AS the chain of generations: ``mouth to mouth'': presence continually resuscitated. D. ``My tongue sticks to my dry mouth, / Thin fire spreads beneath my skin, / My eyes cannot see and my aching ears / Roar in their labyrinths.'' (Sappho) What is original in Sappho's lyrics is not the shred of papyrus poignantly attesting to the permanence of the poet's feelings, but the LANGUAGE of feeling, a thread of sense which--when we finally unravel it--weaves us into the memory of time, the chain of resurrection. E. An echo is the repetition of a moment of language which given reign to distance establishes its kingdom as the text to which one gains admittance by ``an initiation of attention'' (as Larry Eigner once put it). Reading, in this scenario, has as much (or as little) to do with hearing as seeing. These are but metaphors for an access to time which is the true condition of understanding, a condition for which ``reading'' too is a metaphor. F. Moreover, the hardness of the page is hardly a guarantee of ``fixity''--ask Ozymandias. The survival of Sappho's works in itself only a reminder of how easily they might have been destroyed, they along with the world--now UTTERLY destroyed--in the midst of which Sappho's poetry once sought its origin. ``Round the decay / Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away.'' (Shelley) G. Technologies of writing develop and overtake our conceptions of writing--they are nevertheless far from becoming technologies or conceptions OF THE POEM. To write is one thing, to make a poem another, regardless of how often these acts seem to coincide. Through this distinction alone, perhaps, can we come to understand Paul Celan's attractive but paradoxical claim (reported by Beatrice Cameron), ``Every poem is the anticomputer, even the one written by a computer.'' And perhaps this attractive but paradoxical self- overturning is the very essence of what it means to write a poem. Perhaps the essence of poetry is its overturning of the essence of writing. H. That you can't have art without resistance to material. One might equally say, ``You can't have material without resistance to art.'' Or: ``You can't HAVE material and so there is the resistance of art.'' I. Allen Ginsberg's work has always been moving to me for its situation at precisely this crossroads of matter and memory, meat and art. ``. . . a waxy dream / dying to finish its all too famous misery / --Leave immortality to another to suffer like a fool, / not get stuck in the corner of the universe / sticking morphine in the arm and eating meat.'' J. Blossoms will run away, Cakes reign but a Day, But Memory like Melody Is pink Eternally. (Emily Dickinson) K. How does the poem sketch a history of the poem? How--reading--do we enter the labyrinths of primordial discourse along whose tracks we seek an opening, not FROM the poem, but to it? How escape our own questioning? For the poem is a succession of turns, a conflicted walking of a constantly diverging path, and the poem's history--rendered as verse--is the retrospective understanding that one couldn't possibly have gotten lost, because all paths lead to the poem. And yet why is it that the possibility of getting lost haunts every decision? L. Why is it that the covering up of the beach elicits more of a sense of loss than the ebb and flow of the waves? This is the problematic Keats explores in his nightingale ode. Though the sea might return at any time and wash away the traces of our day, yet the possibility that some passerby might stop and see and comprehend transforms the gesture of our chaotic play, our disturbance of the flat sand, despite all ephemerality into something whose disappearance we might properly mourn. And this despite the fact that our coming and going has more in common with the rising and falling of the tide than it ever had with a making or covering up of tracks. M. O ask not who has work to do, but view the clockholes and hear the ticking of the bombast daily passing through TONIGHT (while the windowglass bangs artlessly against the massive fretting frame) equivocation is the sound we make thinking-- N. Technology is in fact aesthetics--in an ornamental sense which art itself labors to dignify. O. ``What matters most in certain situations is to curb euphoria in time.'' (Ren Char) ``Lends grace to the beard on his chin.'' (I Ching) The hexagram ``Grace'' (``Pi'')--from which I have taken the above line--is said to address the world of art, the world of tranquil beauty in which forms arise ``removed from the struggle for existence'' (as Richard Wilhelm puts it in his commentary). ``The beard is a superfluous ornament,'' writes Wilhelm, ``To devote care to it for its own sake, without regard for the inner content of which it is an ornament, would bespeak a certain vanity.'' Confucius (we are told) was disturbed when he received this hexagram, for the realizations of grace are but brief disclosures of exaltation, and seemed to him to have little to do with serious teachings. As the I Ching itself declares, in its initial description of Pi: ``Fire at the foot of the mountain: The image of GRACE. Thus does the superior man proceed When clearing up current affairs. But he dare not decide controversial issues in this way.'' RIFF
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