Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Saturday, March 14, 2009
We observed how Ponge focused his writing—often over many years—around ordinary objects, often producing complexly self-referential hieroglyphs that politicize and philosophically reflect upon the everyday experiences we have with oysters, doors, and other such things. We chose as our oyster Oreo cookies and as our door the wood floor of the Mess Hall. Each of us wrote for a half hour on these objects, then combined some of our most interesting passages to make the following:
When it comes to printed foodstuffs, Oreos are the leaders of the pack.
The intricate delicacies of printed foodstuffs. A fragile fringe, interrupted by small breaks, rings an inner orbit of dots and dashes—the Morse code of taste. This code encircles a ring of Kaiser’s crosses which in turn enclose the name of the object—stamped upon the cookie’s face like a coin.
The box of Oreos is comprised of four rectilinear struts dividing three Oreo phalanxes, which rest in curved, grooved basins like the stupefied devotees of a royal luminary.
The tease of a white petticoat hangs from a double-rimmed chocolate wheel. A twist of the top one way, a tug of the bottom the other way bares the lingerie to front teeth that scrape, leave skid marks that must be licked.
When broken apart the cookie with less cream on it is lighter and appears inadequate. The cookie with more cream on it is heavier and appears more than satisfied.
An Oreo is to a floor is an impossible metaphor.
An Oreo is to a floor as an offering is to a church.
An Oreo is to a floor as an American is to a European.
The cross-hatch strengthens on an axis.
The cross-hatch patterns fill the bounded space.
Oreo, you are waiting to become manipulated and fondled. Chocolate cream duality, round, transforming my spit into grocery paste.
Why is it man wants nothing more than to put coins in his mouth? He’s been doing it since he was a child. Is it the tiny raised images his tongue desires? Is it the tiny grooves along the edge?
Someone told me once: “that white stuff—it’s all lard, kid!” Tasty lard! Who cares! Wabisco, Wabisco, Nabisco!
Prepackaged, manufactured, mass-produced clones of pearly lusciousness, perfection of joy denied the diabetic & love-child of cocoa & milk lobbyists penetrating the kindergarten with blackened teeth and whitened arteries.
Remember when you heard you couldn’t just start over? New hardwood panels over poison only equals prettier poison.
Who would have known wooden floors were insomniacs who understood Atlas and his back problems?
Scratches, scuff marks, paint stains, dust, dirt, crumbs, candy wrappers, notebook scraps on the floor, but no apology letter written to the floor promising restorative justice in the form of a fresh varnish job, new nails, or buffering from its owners.
No one shoveling out the small soil the boards have been pushed away from each other, soon the floor will be given over to the dirt rows.
Floors are beginnings—offering the solidity of no mistake, the delight of constructing the future.
It became a floor a long time ago when logs were placed at right angles and other logs were added to these first four—no five, there was a door—to become walls and a roof—made of something, I don’t know what—and the grass died, and they started sweeping it. Now it’s hard and flat—so hard it broke a teacup once.
Bottom or top, position relative to the head or foot, two by fours, march in line, bear the skid marks, slips, scratches as the veneer, impregnated with Oreo cookie crumbs, mop water, sheds its natural color, its milled odor to bare itself.
Cracked, chipped, skinned—intimately familiar with the gutter anatomies of rodents, ants and roaches. Scuffed, scratched, scorched—supportive of the refuse of construction. Scrubbed, brushed, buffed—slippery for socked soles, summer swells & littered with scraps & bits of toe nails, toe taps, boot heels. Hollow echoes of lives lived.
Brown, dull and secretly Russian, the floor provides the perfect metaphor for . . . something. We’ve yet to decide on an approach or even any sort of tone but there it lies forlorn, forgotten and forever flat until we, the self-appointed givers of life and meaning, use it to launch all that it could represent—what it could be—to the reader—to the writer—to the reader—to the reader.
So snug. So cozy. So fair. Three points make a place. But a thousand make a floor. There in the corner a baseboard makes an unwelcome but necessary interruption. Scuffed only to the point of character. Maybe a tad beyond this floor is as welcoming as any timber can be in its double lacquered form. Unbroken verticals random horizontals or maybe the other way around. Cro-Magnon man never knew the simple pleasure of a spine pushed unnaturally close to a perfectly parallel floor.
Sturdy, solid, and old, wood that could have been pulled from the forest or pulled from a hull. Singularly the planks only the slightest of significance unless perfectly applied. But as part of a floor part of this floor it provides a place to build an area to gather. A plane on which to rest.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
This Thursday we will read several short pieces by Francis Ponge. Here is the first of them:
From Taking the Side of Things (Le Parti Pris de Choses)
Translated by Beth Archer (unless otherwise noted)
The oyster, about as big as a fair-sized pebble, is rougher, less evenly colored, brightly whitish. It is a world stubbornly closed. Yet it can be opened: one must hold it in a cloth, use a dull jagged knife, and try to more than once. Avid fingers get cut, nails get ripped: a rough job. The repeated pryings mark its cover with white rings, like haloes.
Inside one finds a whole world, to eat and drink; under a firmament (properly speaking) of nacre, the skies above collapse on the skies below, forming nothing but a puddle, a viscous greenish blob that ebbs and flows on sight and smell, fringed with blackish lace along the edge.
Once in a rare while a globule pearls in its nacre throat, with which one instantly seeks to adorn oneself.
If figuring out what sensations are alive to the imagination in this & similar work, then attempting to discern the mechanics of the situation so that we can all write like this sounds good to you, JOIN US THIS THURSDAY!
OPEN TO THE PUBLIC!!!!!
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Here is my initial take on just a very little of all that we discussed. Other objectivists & interested parties are welcome to join in by posting their own takes on the poetry!
I have read Alexander’s work for many years & have known some of Gallagher’s as well for quite a few years. In my view, both poets practice exemplary forms of poetry from the outside. Their writing is often intertwined in various way—they have recently co-authored a number of remarkable books (including Thumb Suckers & Pundits) written by various objectivist methods—particularly the use of another medium as the primary source text from which to draw poetic experiences (TS&P is drawn from television “talking head” news programs watched from May to November, 2007). The basic principles of imagism are everywhere present in this writing—economical, melodious but prose virtues, a collage of images rather than a coherent narrative.
But their presentations at the Next Objectivists on Saturday were from quite different poetic practices. Reading this work, it occurred to me that a some of the larger assumptions that motivate what I’m calling objectivist practice can be discerned when regarding so of the differences in poetic style.
We began with a sequence from Gallagher’s project “No Goal.” I write ‘project’ because although a book entitled No Goal was published in 2006 by Rubba Ducky Press, Gallagher’s more recent work continues to appear under this title: for example in the Fall 2008 issue of the absolutely lovely magazine Model Homes. The project is clearly an on-going experiment with various methods of writing everyday life in the modern world & the writing is itself about processes, rather than nominal states. Processional writing is a very important part of the Next Objectivism—because our focus is on the work, not the resume, we tend to reject the implicit narrative of a moment often found in first-person lyrics in favor of on-going experiments which are sliced into various samples.
The first passage of Kristen Gallagher’s work that we read was from a sequence entitled “Reading a Map”:
We’re facing this way. We came down. We just came from here so this is that – what is that? This is that and and this is that – OH!—ok wait—what is that? This is that Am I wrong? I just don’t know! well, yeah. I thought we were coming from here—we are—but then that would be here then—oh—and this Yeah, I don’t remember june beetle bridge….mm-mmm, so I guess we came this way. That’s ok, whatever, here we are. This way? This way? I dunno. This way? Yah, you’re right. This way.
I was forgetting that we were meant to come.
The forest is ending.
Oh, it’s Cars.
This poetry takes an austere, holistic approach to the imagination. Gallagher states that this approach to poetry begins with Wordsworth’s famous decision to write in “the real language of men.” At the beginning of what Jacques Rancière calls the “aesthetic revolution”—the ‘silent revolution’ that shifted the relationship between art and the world toward its modern subversion of classical genres—Wordsworth declares that poetry belongs to the domain of ordinary language as its spoken. William Carlos Williams later calls this project “writing in the idiom,” and the contemporary poet Bob Perelman—an important influence on Gallagher’s work—carries on this tradition by tracing the movements of “vernacular” thought.
Gallagher’s approach is remarkably straight-forward: she records conversations using a hand-held audio cd recorder, and makes transcriptions of these overheard conversations the basis for her writing. Gallagher speaks of her poetry as a kind of sampling—the poet as d.j., which is version of the poetry as editor. (Marianne Moore is an important influence here—she also cultivated an editorialist sensibility for writing from the outside.)
I call this style “holistic” in order to indicate the very clear distinction that is maintained between the word as embodied speech act—language caught up in the flesh of the moment—and the word as literary orphan—the faceless, nameless letter of the text which confronts us from out of nowhere (from the clean slate, blank void of the page) & without the clear intent of meaningful communication. This distinction between the words as spoken and the words as printed—the basis for Williams’ notion of the imagination—is everywhere evident in Gallagher’s poetry.
On the one hand: immersion in the immediacy of the world—the voice or voices are lost, turned around, living in the confusion of the moment. Absorption in the drama. Words as moment by moment efforts to make sense of the world. On the other hand: the distance of mechanistic recording. The simple but absolute difference of transcription as a removal and return. The dramatic turning away of anti-absorption. Words revealing their own impersonal patterns of relation as they are carried away from their immediacy into the subtle negation of utility occasioned by the aesthetic regime.
If the ultimate goal of the Next Objectivists is to teach ourselves a mode of composition I call “Harmalodics” (the word is Ornette Coleman’s, used to describe a mode of collective improvisatory composition based on the rhythmic spacing of ideas—in short a melody of meanings), Gallagher’s work shows us how poetic harmony can be produced by allowing the clear and direct distinction between two modes of language to reveal itself. A lower pitch—the immediate, idiomatic, vernacular register—resonates alongside a higher pitch—the straining toward the free circulation of words in the aesthetic realm of the literary.
Chris Alexander’s work, by contrast, engages a multiplicity of tonal shifts to generate a flashier, more intricately textured harmonizing. Alexander also draws from idiomatic source texts—but his sources are internet conversations and blog posts. For several years, Alexander has produced Zombie Safety Puppet Show (http://zombiesafetypuppetshow.blogspot.com/), a poetry blog that actually makes poetry out of the material on other blogs. We began with this passage from one of Alexander’s recent blog poem “More Than Meets the Eye, Bitches!”
I LOVE THE FUCKING TRANSFORMERS
oh yes, I told you it was awesome
now I’ll start to critique it…
crazy product placement in like every shot
no this product placement was way over the top
like all the GM cars & everybody scarfing up
Pepsi with the logo fixed & in focus.
The xbox placement was cool though,
they weren’t all GM cars.
Yes they were, name one non-GM car
even the ambulance was a fucking GMC
& do not get me started on the military propaganda
The same poem ends with these lines, which delighted everybody:
how about that Transformers movie
Are there some robots in that shit or what?
Uh your moms in it
Alexander pays minute attention to both idiomatic textures of the literary chatter of the internet and the melodic elements of imagist poetry, as practiced by Williams, Pound, Moore, Reznikoff, Zukofsky, Neidecker & other poets. As the poem begins, we disentangle the nets of being that make up internet chatter. The voices are not particularly distinguished on Alexander’s page, so that it takes a moment to recognize the terms of the debate one is ‘overhearing.’ An argument about whether or not every robot car in the Transformers movie was branded by General Motors or not is itself peculiarly precise—it reveals a critical engagement on the part of wary consumers, while at the same time showing the terms of their debate to be caught up in a crippling—if also exhilarating—minutia.
A similar set of conversational gambits unfolds in the second quoted section: the delicate tones of bored playfulness are brought forward in this little poetic dialogue, which is also about engaging and refusing to engage in the production consumption of mass-marketed entertainment cultures. Deadening apathy (the stupid, obvious joke) & organic modes of resistance to consumer culture (Rabelasian crudities and playful reproductions of verbal speech acts) intermingle.
In many of Alexander’s short pieces, this harmonious positioning of tones & textures calls attention to a species of shame cultivated in proximity to the culture industry’s shameless promotion of all things cute, adorable, cuddly, and otherwise gooey with cheap sentiment. The poems manage this relation formally, by partially imitating the textures they describe, even while maintaining a clear sense of nausea. This ‘inside/outside’ relation to the aesthetic and political sensations provoked by cultural products in something Alexander learned from Ed Dorn’s Abhorrences, and one way to think of this poetry is as a sequence of poetic editorials on the politics of cuddling in post-Columbine on-line American world-culture. Consider “Haiku Super Explosion”:
1 plastic measle, 6 glasses of cola & absolutely no sleep
46 Beanie Babies, all mint with tags apart
a devil doll on stick legs in fascista leather
gray distressed Converse sneakers,
big flapping horse’s ears & crap film acting
El rey de los Monstruos contra el Rey de Skull Island
no tag chubby free celebrity porn video
Enough rubber to make even the Michelin Man blush
A polyphony of collaged passages that belong and don’t belong to the “voice” of the poem—a voice against itself, a patterning of different tones of signification to produce a harmonic essay on a very protean topic: the way desires are organized by the marketplace to produce opiates. Adrift in a sea of endlessly proliferating choices, we become like Williams’ “automatons,” “locked and forgot in their desires—unroused.” Alexander objectifies this drifting. His poems are like glass submarines immersed in the ocean of imagination, charting the little pink blossoming devils’ flowers & glowing sea snakes of democratic culture.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
On Thursday, 26 February, Guest Objectivists Christopher Alexander & Kristen Gallagher led the Next Objectivists in a workshop & writing exercise beginning with passages from Georges Perec.
The exercise was one that Kristen & Chris frequently teach to students at the City University of New York. We read aloud from the section entitled “The Street” in Perec’s Species of Spaces and Other Pieces. The section begins:
The buildings stand one beside the other. They form a straight line. they are expected to form a line, and it’s a serious defect in them when they don’t do so. They are then said to be ‘subject to alignment’, meaning that they cay by rights be demolished, so as to be rebuilt in a straight line with the others.
This parallel alignment of two series of buildings defines what is known as a street. The street is a space bordered, generally on its two longest sides, by houses; the street is what separates houses from each other, and also what enables us to get from one house to another, by going either along or across the street.
One feels immediately the grip of Perec’s abstraction. Crucial to his project is a shift in attention which involves the disintegration of ordinary scripts of seeing & the reintegration of new visual patterns that are less obvious as one goes about one’s daily business. Each day we go up and down streets, with little regard for the structures that organize the world in this particular way.
Perec, in his cool tone—offhand, hip to practicalities—suggests that it is possible for us to observe systems as he does. We, too, can write like this if we wish: we need simply “Observe the street, from time to time, with some concern for system perhaps.” “You must set about it more slowly, almost stupidly. Force yourself to write down what is of no interest, what is most obvious, most common, most colorless,” he tells us. “Detect a thrythm: the passing of the cars. . . . Look at the number plates. Distinguish between cars registered in Paris and the rest.” Simple & clear passages that suggest how one might generate this abstraction from person to system.
He doesn’t offer us a view of how things ‘really are.’ Only the world that coalesces around these abstractions. In other words, a negative dialectics: the ‘real’ of ordinary life is not there for Perec. There is no representation of the street beyond what is written. That other street lives in its steadfast flux, unorganized, ordinary. We begin the passage with the big abstractions because there is only the writing.
For Perec, it seems that the inevitable transformation of the world that happens when an objectivist poetic exercise is engaged begins with prepositions. Writing inevitably transforms the world into prepositions: when one stops and writes about the street, the temporal, spatial & otherwise causational relations between events calls out for attention. Hence the move toward systems: in language the things that we see have relations, and in ordering those relations, Perec orders the world. His effort is to order it in favor of objective abstraction:
Decipher a bit of the town. Its circuits: why do the buses go from this place to that? Who chooses the routes, and by what criteria?
In this straight-forward sense, Perec’s work nicely exemplifies an effort to produce an objectivist ‘factory of the sensible.’ By trying to write what he sees in the most objective manner possible—in this case, figure out how to record systems, rather than merely moving along one of them—Perec supplies models for a simple & powerful strategy of writing outside the self. He writes fully within the imagination, reworlding the world\ in a radically democratic fashion.
The move away from the first-person un-seeing ordinariness that is absent from Perec’s text toward the abstraction that results from sitting and observing for long periods of time (a disruption at the level of visual & aural rhythms produced by the act of writing for no reason but that of objective observation) is typical of the poetry of the outside. One of its most prominent origins—no doubt an influential one on Perec & the Situationist & Oulipian writers with whom he affiliated—is Edgar Allan Poe’s fascination with what Henri Lefebvre would eventually dub “everyday life in the modern world.” A much celebrated early conceptualization of how to relatievto the imagination that makes reading the world in this manner possible can be found in the opening pages of Poe’s “Man of the Crowd”:
At first my observations took an abstract and generalizing turn. I looked at the passengers in masses, and thought of them in their aggregate relations. Soon, however, I descended to details, and regarded with minute interest the innumerable varieties of figure, dress, air, gait, visage, and expression of countenance.
In his laconic manner, Perec advises us to attempt the very practice that Poe articulates:
The people in the streets: where are they coming from? Where are they going to? Who are they?
People in a hurry. People going slowly. Parcels. Prudent people who’ve taken their macs. Dogs: they’re the only animals to be seen. You can’t see any birds—you you know there are birds—and can’t hear them either. You might see a cat slip underneath a car, but it doesn’t happen.
Nothing is happening, in fact.
Here a predominantly objectivist attention to details described in the ordinary relations produced between them when one simply sits and contemplates (“You must write about it more slowly, almost stupidly,” he tells us “Time passes. Drink your beer. Wait.”) produces new knowledge. The world transforms itself in our gaze. It suffers a decent into language, in order to arise again as the aesthetic reorganization of itself. The imagination envelopes us & the dignities & endless possibilities of the collective self replace the pissed-off, errand running, nervous, on-the-way-to-work I-self that has prevented the whole world from erupting into poetry.
Slow your mind & your ass will follow.
Or is there something else going on?
In their conversation, the Next Objectivists soon discovered that something else was going on in Perec’s text. Another kind of world was possible—a world saturated with sentiment & alive to the endless possibilities that emerge all the more vividly for being operative in the immediate flux of experience. Regarded with this figuration in the driver’ seat, another voice manifested itself—a slightly tweaked first-person lyric suffering the street in on-going trauma. Stephen Dedalus as a Parisian hustler, juggling Oxycodone & amphetamines & strung out to the point of mentally bopping out. A comic book reality: the story of Raskolnikov as told by Guy Ritchie. Try reading these lines aloud in the stressed-out voice of a hophead gangster who can’t act—like Ray Liotta’s character in Goodfellas if it had been played by Leonardo DeCaprio:
The street: try to describe the street, what it’s made of, what it’s used for. The people in the street. The cars. What sort of cars? The buildings: note that they’re on the comfortable, well-heeled side. Distinguish residential from official buildings.
The shops. What do they sell in the shops? There are no food shops. Oh yes, there’s a baker’s. Ask yourself where the locals do their shopping.
This is the more sentimental Perec—the limits of the program. The subjective emerges as a fascinating remainder, a ghost that shimmers across the surface of the words. There is much more that should be said about the shift that occurs in Perec’s writing when read with collective attention.
Led by Chris & Kristen, the Next Objectivists participated in a group writing practice. We brought our chairs to the large plate glass window of the Mess Hall and turned off the lights. We sat in several rows looking out at the dark, rainy street, notebooks on our laps, writing what we saw. After a half-hour or so of writing in silence, we returned to the table and each person cut & pasted into a sequence some of the most interesting passages we had produced. We read the passages aloud together, then ate & drank collectively before parting ways.
Here is our poem:
Attributes of the frame—
two bars, and a pane
between, lightening towards
1. Glass 2. Water 3. Concrete and water 4. Pavement & water 5. Cement and water 6. Gravel and water 7. Branches and water 8. Brick and water 9. Sky and water
The wild—disobedient lines have stopped
movement, as if lines can be shy—
you can only assume 2 or more eyes
you changed its speed of motion
I forgot to mention the power lines.
raised margin of unformed vegetation
in the plans the zone labeled “unplanned”
For all its art, the wall depends on the street. The wall wants to demean the street—its plain black flatness but behind its screaming mouth and bulging eyes and red lips
it depends on the street.
the wall wants more than art, it
street you are a nostril
matched past CTA by
your other nostril, northbound
as alleys, hiding green-apple trees
A red & white sign supported by
slender metal posts among the
e e p O u t
c tric c ent
it tells us.
The trees live on our embankment of dirt held up by the mural’s wall.
There are rectangles of yellowish light, pieces, rooms of a building where someone is away inside.
“Arts for all” says the mural. I am terrifically
bored. Some engineers have raised
the earth about 25 feet above the street.
Half the height is a retaining wall
of concrete. Then tress and shrubs
anchoring the steeply sloped earth
upon which, smeared like cream frosting
sit twelve inches of white gravel.
The train cuts right across
the center of the image
5 minutes must have passed
since I began this piece
b/c the train has come again
& blocks out the dust and yellow light of those house windows
street cleaning scheduled
for something to avoid we could attend
come see the street cleaning
An exit sign is reflecting onto the window (as is my pen, hand & notebook The exit sign looks like it was planted,
glowing into the earth.
10 feet away, wild lines, resting on
circles, 4 in all, with a 5 on its side with
letters J E E P
Trees and other brush approach
the very edge—some ominous
others possessed of a slight lethargy
The street is sincere. Dark and straight. It asks nothing from the buildings that stand facing it—staring at it relentlessly. The street has no demands.
How much can you cherish
a person as much as their