Thursday, April 05, 2007

Between Athens and the Amphioxus

Now’s a good time to reread book III (esp. parts 2-3), taking place in the cold April on Garret Mountain. It’s structured around the open-aired harangue of a preacher, his nacreous pate glistening in the still wintery sun, benches and harmonium set out pell-mell on the plateau of the overlook. Williams is taking a walk and, while listening to the preacher (whose thoughts seem to echo his own), his mind strays to the history of a hanging in the same place, and to the magnified detail of black cloth on the coat that Washington wore at his inaugural, and to the abstract notion of the system of debt and capital, and to the woman who writes long letters pleading for his attention (Nardi). In some ways, this section is about exploitation, the way in which “Cash is mulct of them that others may live/ secure.” But it’s clear as he beats things around in his mind that the preacher who preaches giving all his money away is the only beauty there, a beauty that may be “torn to shreds by the/ lurking schismatists” (the latter is actually a word meaning “non-believer,” although at first I thought it was some portmanteau word with a geological pun embedded.) As such, the preacher is another avatar of the noise and chaos of the falls, which preach their own sermon of return to the nothing that founds the chaos of Paterson. “—with monotonous insistence/ the falls of his harangue hung featureless/ upon the ear, yet with a certain strangeness/ as if arrested in space” (70). This section is a progressive building up to a moment of clarity when, almost in song, Williams delivers his magisterial advice (channeled from the preacher and sung to Nardi and the reader) to “Look for the nul.”

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