Friday, October 14, 2005


Reading Jonathan Lethem’s Girl in Landscape: “Archbuilders describe English as a language of enchanting limitations. The English vocabulary is tens of thousands of words smaller than any language native to their planet. English words seem, to an Archbuilder, garishly overloaded with meaning. One Archbuilder describes speaking English as ‘stringing poems into sentences,’ another compares it to ‘speaking hieropglyphs.’”

More on the Archbuilders: “‘They’re so in love with English, they had to go rename themselves that way. Truth Renowned, Rock Friend, Lonely Candybar, Hiding Kneel. You’ll meet the whole bunch, one name stupider than the other.’
      ‘Stupider and more carnivalesque,’ said Hiding Kneel, seemingly taking it as a compliment.”

Carnivalesque and / or Calibanesque:
            When thou cam’st first
Thou strok’st me, and made much of me; would’st give me
Water with berries in’t; and teach me how
To name the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night: and then I lov’d thee
And show’d thee all the qualities o’ th’isle,
The fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and fertile:
Curs’d be I that that did so! All the charms
Of Sycorax—toads, beetles, bats—light on you!
. . .
You taught me language; and my profit on’t
Is, I know how to curse! The red plague rid you
For learning me your language.

I have never quite understood the brouhaha about Creeley’s line (dubbed so by Olson), “Form is never more than an extension of content.” For one thing, it seem’d obvious, a kind of gratuitous observation, available to anyone. And for a second thing, it seem’d overly remark’d by others.

Here’s Viktor Shklovsky’s version (A Sentimental Journey): “The formal method is fundamentally very simple . . . Its most remarkable feature is that it doesn’t deny the idea content of art, but treats the so-called content as one of the manifestations of form.”

More stray Shklovsky: “In a work of art, thought is juxtaposed to thought, just as word is to word and image to image.

Art is fundamentally ironic and destructive. It revitalizes the world. Its function is to create inequalities, which it does by means of contrasts.

New forms in art are created by the canonization of peripheral forms.”

And: “There’s no such thing as nonobjective art. There’s only motivated art or unmotivated art. Art develops according to the technical possibilities of the time . . . Hamlet was created by stage techniques.”