Tuesday, September 25, 2007


“No ideas but in things”: that damn thing to which the poem is reduced. Its block and tackle, its phonograph needle: the means to it and through it. Things! We’ve said before that Williams is not as materialist as it would seem when he says this. But maybe, he is consummately materialist, albeit espousing the materialism of a Deleuzean, who understands the “‘wisdom of the rocks,’ a way of listening to a creative, expressive flow of matter” (DeLanda, "Nonorganic Life"). It seems more and more, as we’ve pointed out with the geological cross section, that the poem is a kind of stratigraphy that pays attention to possible flows and movements in a seemingly rigid and static layering. The song made out of the block. The fire that finds its fuel. The wind, the rocks and water.
This mind creates things rather than finds them: thus, instead of getting out of materiality, it uses materiality against itself. “Things are our way of dealing with a world in which we are enmeshed rather than over which we have dominion. The thing is the compromise between the world as it is . . . and the world as we need it to be or would like it to be. . . It is a compromise between mind and matter, the point of their crossing one into the other” (Grosz, "The Thing"). The thing represents reciprocal poeisis with the world, a “seeking/ down the wind/ until we are unaware which is the wind and /which the wind’s power over us ./ to lead the mind away.”

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Mapping the Void

This summer, I looked into using Yellow Arrow as a possible means to map Paterson. By the time my arrows came in the mail and I figured out the confusing instructions, my stay in Paterson was almost over. Nevertheless, I used one to mark the portal for a trek I took with Anne and Alita along the freight rail that cuts through the city's notoriously turbulent 4th ward all the way to the fetid shores of the Passaic. You can check out the exact location by typing "Paterson" into the search engine at Yellow Arrow's main gallery (one of the many drawbacks to this site/service is that there are no distinct urls you can reference). I think this site may have been a pioneer in terms of Internet mapping experiments; however, other larger entities have surpassed them with their ease and accessibility (e.g. Google, Flickr). Pictures from the trip are above: I love the fake super 8 (courtesy slide.com)! There may be only 8 millimeters between heaven and earth. Such are the mysteries of photogenie.
I'm reading some essays on mapping and psychogeography for a talk I'm giving at Parsons next week via iChat. I'm interested in a point about Situationist techniques of alternative mapping made by Tom McDonough in "Delirious Paris: Mapping as a Paranoiac-Critical Activity": "Freud notes the way in which the animism of 'primitive man' (which bore striking similarities to the neurotic mind) altered the spatial arrangements of the phenomenal world into a new configuration that obeyed a logic all its own. . . . It was the task . . . of the Situationist derive . . . to induce that hallucinatory state, to adopt the obsessional neurotic's belief in the omnipotence of thoughts and desires, in order to momentarily assert the possibility of radical change in the form of a world fully accommodated to the subject." (np) Even though he is appreciative of the Situationists, his language seems to me unproductive, as if this type of remapping is an aberration of the solipsistic, rather than a healthy impulse which civilization has repressed, and which is crucial for survival in the modern city. The value of Situationist experiments is to point up how the habitual experience of the city is neurotic and obsessional, not the derive. Undoubtedly, the neurotic has a positive value in McDonough's essay, but I think this backhanded valorization (similar to his use of the word "animism") points to a deeper suspicion he may hold.
The popularization of alternative forms of mapping may bear my position out, even though most uses of Flickr, for example, are more what I would call obsessional or neurotic proper. But maybe these are the wrong words. Since McDonough is bringing up Freud, I must add that I think the crucial shift in perception may have to do with a shift (unpackable here?) from Freud to Lacan, and within Lacan from the symptom to the sinthome. The sinthome, as Zizek has described it (especially in The Fragile Absolute), announces a constant and fragile arrangement of "quilting points" as they attach to the real. Instead of imagining a "real space" to which we must submit our perception, the network of points composing the sinthome is the reality itself, not a neurosis which must be overcome.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Gould, Lyle, Nardi

Because Williams pastes Marcia Nardi’s pleading, convoluted, obsessive letters full of high dudgeon right into Paterson, we normally think of her presence as the one that uniquely pulled Williams out of the formal constraints of the poem and into a vast territory outside his control. However, as Paul Mariani shows in A New World Naked (1981), Williams was also inspired by David Lyle, whose work did not ultimately make it into the pages of the poem. Mariani describes Lyle as:
an old radio operator who had settled in Paterson . . . to devote all his prodigious energies to one extraordinary project. By dint of hard work he had turned himself into a one-man information station, reading and digesting everything he could get his hands on in an attempt to discover in that aphasic river of random words just what were the central energies and patterns of the times. Blake-like, he moved into the tonnage of news media pitchblende in order to extract what Williams had called the radiant gist, the luminous center. . . . Lyle mailed off his missives—sometimes five or eight or ten pages long, single-spaced and glossed—to artists, musicians, poets, politicians, engineers, in short, to whatever names he found in the news. It was as though he had managed to freeze the very radio waves themselves and make their energies visible in ink as they flowed through the thousands of names and places and especially verbs that were in the air at any given moment. (468-69)
Nardi’s prose, in light of Lyle’s influence, does not necessarily point to some more authentic, democratic, “real” world outside poetry. Rather, its inclusion dramatizes the role of poet as a manager of data—a filter of sorts, rather than creator ex nihilo.
In the same chapter, Mariani off-handedly notes a trip Williams takes to Manhattan to visit Joe Gould on his birthday. Here, perhaps, was another secret well of inspirational company that Williams kept, since Gould was allegedly interfacing massive amounts of live data to produce his Oral History of the World. Joseph Mitchell describes Gould’s vast trove of cheap composition books as “a great hodgepodge and kitchen midden of hearsay, a repository of jabber, an omnium-gatherum of bushwa, gab, palaver, hogwash, flapdoodle, and malarkey, the fruit, according to Gould’s estimate, of more than twenty thousand conversations. In it are the hopelessly incoherent biographies of hundreds of bums, accounts of the wanderings of seamen encountered in South Street barrooms, grisly descriptions of hospital and clinic experiences . . ., summaries of innumerable Union Square and Columbus Circle harangues, testimonies given by converts at Salvation Army street meetings, and the addled opinions of scores of park-bench oracles and gin-mill savants” (Joe Gould’s Secret 12-3).
Mariani tells me that the Lyle letters are at Yale, where, sometime this fall, I hope to go to get a look at them. The Gould books, for a long time believed to be baled up and buried in a cellar on Long Island, are not so retrievable, their substance dispersed into the “infinitude of bushwa.”

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