1.04.2010

Some reflections on the Bachelard quotation:

"If meanings become too profuse, it can fall into word play. If it restricts itself to a single meaning, it can fall into didacticism. The true poet avoids both dangers. He plays and he teaches. In him, the word reflects and reflows; in him time begins to wait. The true poem awakens an unconquerable desire to be reread."

Avoiding profuseness and a too clean, too neatly compressed language use is a poet's mandate. True. The danger is in not allowing language to skirt middle options since the middle is always the poem's true origin (in medias res).. But I'd like to make distinctions—though none exist really— preferring to see the poem as a "body without organs (BwO)" (after Deleuze) and the desires a poem awakens as flights and intensities skimming lightly over its smooth planar surface. Intentions and works always intersect transversely. Even if thoughts cause unseemly striations, the effect is too free us from stultifying "totalizing" designs and delight in the almost infinite multiplicities the text can now reveal to us.

Wherever you begin in a poem both a beginning and potential for infinite flows and "reflows" can be assured. In Deleuzian theory (as in my acceptation of that term) the BwO is not a metaphor: it's rather an 'abstract' machine universally applicable to any concrete writing project or, more properly speaking, a radical text-becoming that unleashes creative vectors (after Charles Olson) or can, if necessary, disclose the turning or twisting force of prosodic language (after Ron Silliman). I believe Bachelard may have anticipated this postructuralist rethinking of the primacy of "flows" in poetrywriting, pointing the way to a true radical heterogeneity of meaning.

16 comments:

Joseph Hutchison said...

It's interesting to me that (to me) Bachelard is straightforward in presenting his ideas while Mr. Didiodato, following Deleuze (and his partner in crime, Guattari), resorts to tJotM (the Jargon of the Moment) in order to ... what, exactly? "To make distinctions—though none exist"? To suggest, against all reason and experience, that any text can reveal "almost infinite multiplicities"? To pretend that "body without organs" is not a metaphor? This is all, to put it politely, folderol.

Bachelard is talking about the poet as creator, as participant in a mystery that is then shared by the reader. Didiodato prefers to talk about the poetless "text," or "a radical text-becoming that unleashes creative vectors," resulting in "a true [really? true as opposed to false?] radical [ah, that conceptually vacant word again] heterogeneity of meaning." This faux profundity would be funny if it weren't ubiquitous and so often taken seriously. Compared to Bachelard, whose books about poetry are jam-packed with exemplary quotations, poststructuralist rethinkers prefer to spend their time tinkering with abstract machines in featureless rooms where flesh-and-blood poets and readers are not just unwelcome but unnecessary. After all, texts merely exist (no intentionality allowed) and can therefore mean anything—the illusion of "infinite multiplicities" Mr. Didiodato finds so fascinating.

Remember the final scene of Robert Altman's film McCabe and Mrs. Miller? Mrs. Miller (Julie Christie) sits in an opium den, in a slack-jawed trance, turning a small, shiny object in her hand, mesmerized by the colors on its surface. This is your brain on Theory....

Conrad DiDiodato said...

Joseph,

I'm using language not intended to obfuscate but to reveal to my reader my own (yes, very specialized) way of reading & writing text.Bachelard is a very accessible author, I agree, and I accept also that the author in general has a responsibility to convey meanings clearly and directly.

But I believe all texts (verbal, visual, iconographicm etc.), whether accessible or not, wave'ideological flags', by which I mean they both present straightforward meanings but also disclose the porous borders between text and the oftentimes ideological representations they conceal.

I need a theory that critiques that purposeful disclosure of authorial design, and for me Deleuze does the trick. Deleuze is well worth pains it takes to read him.

I appreciate the opportunity here, Joseph, to begin an important dialogue on the scope and limits of postructuralist theory.

Joseph Hutchison said...

My problem, which is really not a problem, springs from the fact that I don't need a theory. The fact that multiple meanings exist is no excuse for inventing a new jargon that as far as I can see does little but make specialized readers feel all the more special. As for taking pains with Deleuze, I happen to think that reading should be a pleasure, not a pain. Not that reading need be easy, of course. My yoga teacher says that we need to distinguish between pain (bad) and intense stretching (good). I have a pretty good grasp of the difference (for myself, of course) and so will leave the pain of Deleuze for others to suffer.

But I do have one question, about your practice as opposed to Deleuze's. Do you ever apply it to a particular piece of writing? If so, could you post an example? I think it would be interesting to see if the result is obfuscation or illumination.

Henry Gould said...

I can see the inherent fascination of the (Deleuzian) approach, Conrad. The poets I admire (Stevens, Montale, Mandelstam...)often seem to play "chords" of multiple meanings. But in my own poetry - & maybe this is just a reflection of the aging process(!) - the main difficulty & challenge for me is to "compose" a clear unity out of these disparate images & areas of interest. I feel the unity is there & the purpose is there, but I can't always achieve it. Like the Polynesian bower-bird, piling up things - is it art or a meaningless mish-mash?

This quest for clear, communicable meaning, & a fusion of various elements, seems a little at odds (in terms of motive) from the readerly position you're describing. I guess I'd say the multiplicity gives pleasure, but without the purposefulness of a unifying theme or argument, it would soon lose interest (for me)...

Conrad DiDiodato said...

Joseph,

you & I obviously diverge at the role (or nature) of reading: for I believe writing is a very historicized and even politicized event. The biggest fallacy (that the postructuralists have tried to undermine) is that language conveys itself 'naturally', always in a direct path straight to ideas and focus audiences, always signifying the world as it is. The world of Art comes to us marvelously layered, contextualized and essentially heterogeneous: almost mystically open to the diversity of life itself. As Deleuze-Guattari put it in "A Thousand Plateaus": "The book as assemblage with the outside, against the book as image of the world."

So that you might say (quoting Canadian critic Linda Hutcheon)poststructuralism 'de-naturalizes' language and the world language claims to represent, showing the underlying 'contexts' and 'power structures' that underlie most of human speech.

Or perhaps it's better to say that postructuralist works give us the ambiguity of writing,substituting irony for the always suspect assurances of linear discourse (words equal ideas equal the world as it is).

As for examples I've recently written a 'deleuzian' critique of Canadian poet bpNichol's major long poem, "The Martyrology: Books 1 & 2" at my blog.

Henry,

I agree that 'unity' is important, and I marvel, too, at the very skilful ways in which Stevens, Montale, etc have rearranged human experiences to give a recognizable unity to their private impressions. It's just that (for me anyways) what poses as 'unity' always looks suspiciously like a master narrative (with its own determinate points and positions on a sort of 'grid'): I like my ideas, however they're presented in poetry, always to be detachable, reversible, malleable, subject to change and status.

I fairly cringe at the thought of having to pin Stevens down to a single 'idea' (reading). Don't you?

Joseph Hutchison said...

If by "historicized" you mean that writing is influenced by history and/or arises in a historical context, of course I agree; if by "politicized" you mean that all writing has political dimensions, again I agree. But I would say that these are "natural" by virtue of being part of our nature. Using language and making art is natural for us. It is marvelous, but not mystical. It is open but only in a limited sense. No sane reader can interpret Lolita as a story about space aliens. Language itself imposes limits, as the wavelengths of light we can see impose limits on painting, and as the frequencies we can hear impose limits on music. What I'm trying to say, very awkwardly, is that the multiplicity Henry admires in Stevens (for example) is actually limited—and by design. The reader is free to read "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" as a poem about racism in Florida or a commentary on the Tarot, but the reader would be wrong. The artist's intentions shape the work, and while the work should always be read creatively, it shouldn't be read into in ways that falsify its nature.

Henry Gould said...

>I fairly cringe at the thought of >having to pin Stevens down to a >single 'idea' (reading). Don't >you?

I could never do that. But I could imagine a careful & informed reader of Stevens, who proposes a reading of his poem(s) which illuminates, or paraphrases, what MAY have been Stevens' compositional intentions - in a convincing manner. I can also imagine "revisionist" readings, which discover further layers of ironic or unintended implications - new meanings, relevant to different times... but I think it's important to distinguish between these two kinds of readings. & I think we have to start with the poem as a work of art which "speaks" out of its own milieu & nexus of intentions.

One possibly major intention would be to "speak" BEYOND immediate & personal circumstances, to address recurrent or universal values & situations. Paradoxically, the only way to avoid platitudes & airy generalizations (in approaching universality), is by way of a capacity to ground the artwork in originality - a distinct, unique specificity of means, meanings & intentions...

Conrad DiDiodato said...

Joseph, Henry,

I think it'd be fair to characterize your positions as New Crit and mine a strong tendency towards 'poststructuralism' (though I too am hoping to find a theoretical "mean between extremes")Again, after the Hutcheon viewpoint, I'm inclinded to see any significant text (with emphasis on 'significant')as both a "complicity and critique", both adhering to a form and a tradition and also (and to me more interestingly) subverting (usually from within )its oftentimes concealed socio-political underpinnings. It's in this sense a text can (and usually must) be politicized.

So that you get the feeling that to a postructuralist a Manet painting, for example, 'parodies' rather represents, say, the established Art/Nature conventions of nineteenth century impressionist paintings.Again: to the postructuralist 'parody' or 'irony' is a very potent type of critical engagement with art works.

Joseph,I like that phrase "limited multiplicity"; it's just the way I think a critic views the text s/he's about to 'deconstruct'anyways, a nice "balance of critical forces". I haven't read Stevens's "Thirten Ways" in a while, but I recall that in it he plays brilliantly on the "variations on a theme" technique. But isn't "13" a random number; couldn't the great poet have written "18", "24" variations on the blackbird subject? And isn't that an acknowlegement of a distinctive type of 'heterogeneity'at work here? And if variations can be randomnly chosen (the poem's 'visible'surface features), what about all those 'hidden' interior (more subjective)intersections between reader and a poet's beautifully crafted piece? Intentions shape the work but, as you can appreciate, the ways of interpreting authorial intention are legion.

Henry, nothing you say is necessarily antithetical to a postructuralist reading. We part company, perhaps, at the use of 'originality',in your view a necessary product of the poem's "milieu" and "nexus" (an unmistakable New Crit orientation)

Henry Gould said...

I don't mean to sound dogmatic or restrictive on that point, Conrad. That is, the effects works of art might have, on different audiences, are (pretty obviously) various, changeable, & mostly unaccountable. Some of the greatest poems seem to find their readers centuries after they appear - as Mandelstam said about the Divine Comedy, it is "futuristic", addressed to readers in the future. I also agree with RS Crane (a "Chicago", not a "New" Critic!) that a variety of critical methods & perspectives are normal & legitimate.

However... I think that for me there remains the option to pursue a poem's (intellectual) meanings & (aesthetic) effects as (possible, potential) forms of "simplicity". By simplicity here I mean, I guess, "form" in a kind of Aristotelian sense : the concrete, substantial structure of a work, taking into consideration what appear to be the poet's MAIN themes, MAJOR argument or concerns, SYSTEMATIC models or forms or stylistic/expressive techniques... in other words, a sort of Coleridgean aesthetic "whole" (one of his definitions of the good poem : "a more than usual state of emotion, with more than usual order"...). & in order to explore these dimensions, we have to be a sort of historian : willing to listen to the work as rooted in its maker's own sources & impulses...

Joseph Hutchison said...

Conrad, I think the imprecision of your language may be a side-effect of your POV. "Randomly chosen?" "Choice" in my dictionary means 1) "pick out or select someone or something as being the best or most appropriate of two or more alternatives," and 2) "decide on a course of action, typically after rejecting alternatives." One simply cannot choose randomly. Stevens's 13 was a choice and means something, even if we don't or can't know what that meaning is. Indeed every word in a poem involves a choice, which involves intentions, which is why detaching a poem from its creator's intent vitiates our understanding of it. As I said, not all authorial choices are explicable from the poem itself, and poets can and do make choices that create multiple simultaneous meanings, but in any case choice is what creates aesthetic value. All the other aspects of a work are open for enriching discussion, of course, but without authorial choice as the foundational quality of they seem pointless to me.

Conrad DiDiodato said...

Joseph,

I admit sometimes imprecision is the charge people—like me— with a penchant for 'abstract machines'have to bear, and with good reason. I use 'random'(as a term from the analysis of postructuralist poetries) to illustrate both creativity and also the "best and most appropriate" form.

I think of a work like Cage's "Empty Words", a verbal pastiche based on a reading of Thoreau and a reworking of the "I Ching" (what Richard Kostelanetz called "text-sound art"), the two disassembled and then put back together again to form a new linguistically designed poetry. The object of his work was to effect a transition from music to literature, two entirely different 'genres', a compositional desire easy to articulate but procedurally very complex (especially as Cage described it) .

Cage methodically subjected words, letters & syllables from Thoreau's work "Journal" to the "I Ching" in a clearly experimentalist vein, assiduously recording (as raw data) all the references to 'music' in Thoreau's text and then subjecting them to purely RANDOM recombinations through the use of an ancient text. Its technical design and tentative "chance-determined" product make this (in my view) legitimate form of expression.

Robert Creeley and Louis Zukofsky, through strict ( & almost canonical) adherence to "repetition" and "variation" techniques, still managed to write the most radical (poststructuralist), experimental works of their day, creating new poetries from almost randomly predetermined rules of composition and design. By subjecting a traditional form (such as a sestina, pantoum,lyric and the musical fugue) to the most RANDOM twistings & rearrangements of the parts of poetic language, something surprisingly new was always created. Roland Barthes said that "the work of art is what man [sic]wrests from chance."

Harold,

it's interesting to me that you almost begin to acknowledge, for all of the restrictions of 'Chicago' and 'New Critic' theories, instead of organic 'wholes' only nomadic traces of it in any discussion of poetic 'form', as if the harder you try the more elusive you find it becomes. Within reach and yet receding at the same time into a horizon of many 'other' viewpoints.It's a Deleuzian way of talking.

I like particularly the ease with which you balance competing (but also homologous) senses of organic unity, citing the authority of Aristotle and Coleridge. Great advocates of formal properties of art, and especially of the "stylistic/expressive techniques" at work in writing (sculpting, painting, etc).But, again, even the masters found it hard to keep the story straight.
Coleridge, in places, certainly seems to accede to a work's strict compositional unity or integrity:even going so far (in "Biographia Literaria") as to say "I have ventured to propose as the infallible test of a blameless style; its 'untranslatableness' in words of the same language without injury to the meaning". But in "On Poesy or Art" he also says "the truths which I hope to convey would be barren truisms, if all men meant the same by the words 'imitate' and 'nature'."

Joseph Hutchison said...

Conrad: "I use 'random'(as a term from the analysis of postructuralist poetries) to illustrate both creativity and also the 'best and most appropriate' form."

Humpty Dumpty: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

Just one reason why reading Lewis Carroll is better than reading John Cage....

Conrad DiDiodato said...

Henry,

I think a lot of people would rather read Humpty Dumpty than John Cage.

I'd like to turn our discussion in another direction by posting, on 'Plumbline', a reading of ONE of Stevens's "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird". Perhaps we can offer our own readings as illustrations of our own critical preferences. I'll begin mine later today or tomorrow.

Cheers.

Henry Gould said...

Conrad, last post was from Joseph, not me (just for the record)...

Conrad DiDiodato said...

My apologies to you, Joseph.

Joseph Hutchison said...

No apology necessary. I look forward to your reading of Stevens!