Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A Slip

The dying Kafka, under doctor’s orders not to talk, wrote notes on little slips of paper:
Somewhere in today’s newspaper there is an excellent little article on the treatment of cut flowers, they are so terribly thirsty, another such newspaper . . .

Above all, I would like to tend the peonies because they are so fragile.

And place lilac in the sun.

Have you a moment to spare? If so, would you please lightly spray the peonies?
Eleven years earlier in a letter to Felice, Kafka’d admitted that he’d “never had any real feeling for flowers”:
Ever since childhood there have been times when I was almost unhappy about my inability to appreciate flowers.

That terrible lack of purity that dogs Kafka: “almost unhappy.”


To work.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A List

Against Lists

For the list constitutes a first impulse towards commodity-making.

For it is a blind prospectus, a devil in the sun.

For an inevitable hierarchy shall storm the leaflets, and damage the tender crops.

For it makes of all items equal, the flotsam and jetsam of indiscriminate minding.

For it skates like a water strider across the tense surface of the community, and dares not roil its surface.

For it solicits unwarrant’d attention of men and women of true industry.

For it indicates none of th’internal pressures of its source.

For anthology (a collection of flowers) be verily related to anther, a male organ (“a double-celled sac containing the pollen, and the filament, a slender footstalk supporting it.”)

For I see no pistillogy in listing.

For the field itself, unspaded and untill’d goes barren.


To work.

Monday, August 29, 2005

A Thing



Pool bottom scorch-mark of
An angel. Post-precipice angelic

Mark. Memory cut of sweet
Fleet angel gone. There against

Pool-shimmer where I dove
Like a seizure, tongue-clamp’d

Against a fit. To name
A thing burns nobody clean.


Emerson to Fuller: “Whoever lives must rise & grow. Life like the nimble Tartar still overleaps the Chinese wall of distinction that had made an eternal boundary in our geography.”


A confederate demands more about how “reading without regard for clique- and claque-lines” gets label’d dilettantism. See my scruffy one-liner about “hypervigilance.” Fair enough.

Reading against one’s clique—that is, omnivorously, unhesitantly, exceedingly—is the sine qua non of any robust criticism (or its recent simulacrum of “author-divvying”) or poetry writing. Part of the job description. To constitute it as a particular “project” (donc, “admirable,” donc, “worthy of our attention”) smacks, yes, of dilettantism, attending schematically to a superficies. Gourmandizing.


Noted: a moth gone mad, a little two
Millimeter ash-color’d smutch of a thing,
Launching and re-launching itself and expertly
Landing. Flying loops the size of a hole.


To work.

Friday, August 26, 2005

A Bug

Continuance of rough translating: Emmanuel Hocquard’s Ma Haie. Here’s another selection of “Ma Vie Privée” (“My Private Life”):
3. Entering a bar, the Continental Op sees a sign posted:
He reacts by observing: “I am trying to count how many lies I can uncover in that statement and I find four of them, just for starters.” (Dashiell Hammett, cited by Steven Marcus.)

[. . .]

8. Suppose you stumbled on my letters and read them: what I wrote my girlfriend is not what you’d read. Because you are not my girlfriend. On that subject, one could say something like: you’d see only our profiles, while we saw face to face.

9. Anecdote II. Nightfall. In the distance, behind the house on the rue du Village, the blackening contours of Old Mountain. Paul and two friends are getting ready to camp there overnight in a tent. They ask if I’ll come along. Though I want to go the thought of it fills me with fear. I don’t dare say no and so hide myself in a bed of periwinkles, where I see them depart without me after some lengthy calling out and looking for me. Lights flicker up on Old Mountain, whose outline is now invisible against the night.

10. Nobody ever insists enough on the one who’s addressed. Everything is there. In my end is my beginning, dear Thomas Stearns. Dear Mademoiselle Lynx. And the madman of an Author who reads Kierkegaard to the chickens. Then when the grey wolves everychone / Drink of the winds their chill small-beer / And lap o' the snows food's gueredon, dear Ezra. My intention is the one who’s addressed.

11. I’ve never had a calling card. However, there was a period when I told myself that if I had to have one engraved, I’d put “television viewer” under my name. Just as television is aimed not so much at people as at television viewers, so the Literature Machine is aimed at its Readers. The reader is a piece of that machine. A machine that runs on itself and for itself. The chicken makes eggs and Literature manufactures Readers. When I write to my girlfriend, I don’t write to a Reader.

12. In the course of producing Readers, the Literary Machine produces Authors. Cows make milk and Literature makes Authors. These days, they’re even seen on television. And there’s where the superiority of television over literature lies: it goes further in the same direction: toward the obscene. When I write to my girlfriend, I am content to sign my letter. I am not the Author of my letter.

13. I don’t reproach television for being what it is. It is very good such as it is and if it didn’t exist someone would have to invent it. Television shows not things as they are (cf. Battman, in Le Commanditare), but television as it is when it intends to show things as they are. It seems to me one would need a huge helping of hypocrisy or ignorance to imagine that Literature could be more pure, in Mallarmé’s sense of that term. Literature, too, is a corrupt place, though its corruption wears a mask of all that is honorable. It’s that mask that interests me.

14. Literature is a machine to produce Literature, not thinking, not critique. In order to study, or to critique, I have no need of Literature. No more than I do philosophy. To tell the truth, for thinking, nobody needs it. I have no need of Literature for critical thinking, but I need to think critically about Literature seeing as how I’ve so imprudently fallen into it. To think critically about Literature is not a way to make it; it’s a way to remove it, to rub it out, to undo it. And, by doing so, remove it in me, undo it in me, rub a hole in the paper of my faults. I’m in the camp of the chicken and the cow, but I think about what the little girl reads. About what there is a little suspect in what she reads.

15. [. . .]

Stray notes, translating. Th’impulse is mostly to avoid the literal: disappointment with the loss of exoticism of the French results in a certain tendency to gussy up th’English. Tant mieux. I’m trying to make a device as thrilling to the tactile tongue of the ear in English as I find even the most maladroit or mundane French original. La camionette est en panne, il me faut marcher. It is an unutterly untenable comme but. I cannot decide if my meretricious English combined with my slaughterhouse French is “up” to the task. That is, if th’execrable is of service.

It is preposterously slow work, even done “messily.” Am I entering into Hocquard’s head? No. I am riffing, rambunctious, one way to begin. Le Commanditaire, and Battman: completely unbeknownst and mystifying. The Pound lines: wolfishly aping filler for Loup qui fait sa cour pour de la nourriture. The Hammett via Marcus: “somebody ought to check that.” Don’t ask, as Philip Levine’d say.


Needed: a method for “desaturating” a whole landscape. Whole memory palaces of ghost shrews under echinacea, &c. in want of expunging. In need.

Found: a cicada, perfect specimen, green iridescent tinged wings, that moist chalkiness underslinging th’abdomen, perfect, dead. When I tried to place it back down into the long grasses, it stuck to the smooth skin of my hand, its pattes hooks. Unbearably tiny hooks.


To work.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

A Story

Common Rue

If one supposes that Hotel Point throve here, 11, rue Hazard à Sombreville, one supposes wrong. An ounce of chance ratiocination’d tell one that. That meretricious “establishment”? Home of naïfs, runaways, giddy bumpkins? With décor of daffy buncombe? Forget it. Here the ruddy featureless apothecary reigns, and the dispensary is punctual, measure’d rot, spansule by spansule of immeasurable rot. Oh boy.

One thing that’s needed: translation of a fat slice of Emmanuel Hocquard’s work. Here’s a selection of “Ma Vie Privée” (out of Ma Haie: Un privé à Tanger 2 (P.O.L., 2001), put raw, and roughly:

1. There’s that absurd story of the Chinese artist to whom the Emperor has offered a commission for a landscape that’ll go in one room of the palace. The painting finished, the Emperor is invited to come examine the work. Delighted by what he sees, he turns toward the painter to commend him. The painter, however, is nowhere in the room. He’s gone into the landscape. There’s something a little suspect about that story. I always get caught up there: there’s something suspect about that story.

2. Here, too, there’s something a little suspect. My sixth sense is warning me that this is a trap. I’m going to have to proceed on tiptoe. Or scuttle sideways like a crab up to the world of Official Literature.

3. [. . .]

4. Did you say Literature? Last night, December 32, 1994, in answer to the question, “What’s on television tonight?” Alexandre said: “Television! on every channel!” Well put! In answer to the question, “What is there to read in all these books of literature?” one’d say: “Literature, on every shelf!”

5. Anecdote I. A late afternoon walk around the playing fields. Light going down under the eucalyptus trees. Back to the house. Having along the way bought a roll, Life Saver-shaped, of red candies. With a hideous pharmaceutical taste. And eaten all of them. Nightfall. Disgust. Nausea. Terrible guilt. That day my life changed. Boredom and mistrust, the result of eating red candies.

6. Yesterday, aboard the Paris-Bordeaux express train, a little girl reads in a loud voice: “The chicken makes eggs, the sheep makes wool, the cow makes milk.” I am struck by the complete absurdity of what I hear. And the poet, what does he make? This is the way we become such liars. Through repeating such absurdities in loud voices on express trains.

7. Let’s suppose, for just a minute, that a chicken could talk. And that it says: I make eggs. Does anyone think, even for a minute, that its egg-making talk would have the same meaning as that of the little girl on the express train? No, of course not. The meaning could never be the same because the intonation wouldn’t be the same. If anybody asks, I’m in the chicken’s camp.

8. [. . .]

There are forty-two parts to “My Private Life.”


Any notes regarding fautes, sauts, howlers, Bowdlers, &c. appreciated. I make my French up pattes de mouches, meaning to say—heartily, on the fly, avoiding all but the most club-foot’d moochers.


How does hypervigilance differ from dilettantism? Something disagreeable about such agreeable even-handedness, particularly when coupled with no apparent gumption to indict malefactors.


Somewhere in late 1569 or early 1570, Montaigne, the essayist, had a brush with death “when he was knocked hard off his horse in an accidental collision on a narrow lane with a bigger man on a bigger horse.” Semi-conscious, ill, half-recovering, what Montaigne consider’d on th’occasion: whether he oughtn’t purchase a horse for his wife.


To work.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A Humbug

O Praxilla of Sikyon, you number the uncucumber’d days!
The loveliest of the things I leave is sunlight,
Followed by the blazing stars,
The face of the full moon,
Ripe cucumbers, apples, and pears.

Melville, in Pierre or The Ambiguites: “Now he began to curse anew his fate, for now he began to see that after all he had been finely juggling with himself, and postponing with himself, and in meditative sentimentalities wasting the moments consecrated to instant action.”


To work.