Wednesday, October 05, 2005


What’s that Frank O’Hara line city-dwellers use for a mantra against total “civilized” immersion? “I can't even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life.” Recall’d to me whilst reading Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn, Lionel Essrog in Maine, first jaunt (ever) out of the five boroughs:
I was off the page now, away from the grammar of skyscrapers and pavement. I experienced it precisely as a loss of language, a great sucking-away of the word-laden walls that I needed around me, that I touched everywhere, leaned on for support, cribbed from when I ticced aloud. Those walls of language had always been in place, I understood now, audible to me until the sky in Maine deafened them with a shout of silence. I staggered, put one hand on the rocks to steady myself. I needed to reply in some new tongue, to find a way to assert a self that had become tenuous, shrunk to a shred of Brooklyn stumbling on the coastal void: Orphan meets ocean. Jerk evaporates in salt mist.
What a city is: a language dump.


And here, again, Lethem in the “writing (“Freakshow!”) is only another version of Tourette’s” vein:
Assertions are common to me, and they’re also common to detectives. (“About the only part of a California house you can’t put your foot through is the front door”—Marlowe, The Big Sleep.) And in detective stories things are always always, the detective casting his exhausted, caustic gaze over the corrupted permanence of everything and thrilling you with his sweetly savage generalizations. This or that runs deep or true to form, is invariable, exemplary . . .

Assertions and generalization are, of course, a version of Tourette’s. A way of touching the world, handling it, covering it with confirming language.

Start’d, in my madly obsessive “coverage” of a writer, Lethem’s As She Climbed Across the Table.

Peter Culley, who, from behind the mosses of the Old Manse, invariably points to things worth looking at (and occasionally interlards those with ’s own fine-weighted lines—see, “& if on that night I'd drowned / your sleek otter dive / would have been my unearned / polaroid epitaph”), got me recently to the tenth issue of “W,” the Kootenay School of Writing’s magazine, an issue subtitled “A Duncan Delirium.” At which I paw’d this morning over my Cheerios, skimming the transcription of a talk call’d “A Life in Poetry” that Robert Duncan gave on August 5, 1963. Lots of talk about “drawing the sorts” (see, too, Ashbery’s “Sortes Vergilianae”), that scant-shabby and amusing game of opening a book and plowing one’s finger into it to demarcate a future, an advice. Hence, the following, out of the Natural History of C. Plinius Secundus, translated by the great “translator-general” of the late sixteenth century, Philemon Holland. Under the title “Compensation”:
As touching the statue of L. Actius a famous poet, I will report unto you what writers have recorded, namely, that being himself a very little man and low of stature, he caused his image to be made exceeding big and tall, and so to be set up within the temple of the Muses of Rome.