Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Mystery of His One Two, One Two

On the track of Williams' play with numbers, which might give us a sense of his theory of sexuality (reducing, difficultly, notions of sex to epiphenomena of mathematics), I've happened upon a "number" of secondary sources that philosophize the one, the two (and multiples beyond) in a similar spirit. I won't go into the passage I originally intended to comb through for this entry, the passage on pp.17-18 of the two girls and their hair and the ribbons of their hair (in the air of the falls), because I thought it would be easier just to excerpt a part of our discussion at the VSW about it here. Nevertheless, here are the chance finds that accompanied me as I started philosophizing the one and the two that underpin Paterson's "elucidation by multiplicity:"

1. Saul Anton's new book, Warhol's Dream, which contains a fictional conversation between Robert Smithson and Andy Warhol about the important difference between a single Empire State Building and the Twin Towers, in a discussion of infinity, time and space. (Williams, of course, was a big influence on Smithson, so the resonances here come as no surprise.)

2. Italo Calvino's t zero, short comedies of cosmogony--the originary split of the one into multiplicity at the beginning of the world. (When he talks about the one and the city, Williams seems like he's attempting modern urban technogony.)

1. Elisabeth Tonnard's The Two of Us: an artist's book made here at the VSW, based off the Selle collection, an abandoned ocean of street vendor photography from Fox Movie Flash, taken in the 40s and 50s. There are literally a million images, saved from the dumpster, with each roll containing 1500 pictures (the process was a hybrid of flash photography and film), and I was able to see the numbered rolls in their drawers, where they share a toxic, moldy storage room with castaway magic lantern slides and other dead media. The past is not for the faint of heart, not only because of the air quality with which any tomb raider must reckon, but also because projects like Tonnard's interface an archival substrate so vast as to verge on the unknowable (even though, technically, it can be "counted": there is a good essay on the aesthetics and philosophy attending the sheer numbers of these photos by Christopher Burnett in Afterimage 35.3 called "The Streets of San Francisco: Encounters with the Selle Collection of Street Vendor Photographs"). Tonnard's The Two of Us is based on a simple organizational premise: collect pictures from the relatively small number of those digitized (18, 000) that hold within their frame the figure of the "double." So this fiction of two--an unsettling two--holds off the infinity of actual, material everyday (which may constitute its "virtuality") that is the difficult substance of which both this project and Williams' Paterson attempt oblique knowledge.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Old Dreams of the Void

In this performance and lecture given at Visual Studies Workshop on 5/7/08, the occasion was an invitation to discuss my Paterson work at the beginning of my residency (t)here (now almost over); for this event, however, I talked about the blog and Williams only after a detour into the alchemical work of Michael Maier, Jakob Böhme, Robert Fludd, with further divergences into UFOs, Robert Smithson, and Marlene Dietrich. If you want to skip around this big file (1 hr., 16 min., 327 MG), it starts with a laptop performance, which lasts about 6 minutes. Then , starting at 6 min. 55 sec., there begins a discussion of alchemy (under the assumption that in it we can find unexpected alliances with Williams’ work, as we move from the Philosopher’s Stone to the Williams’ less exalted rocks). At about 52 minutes, I begin the more plodding requisite rehashes of the blog. Maybe at one point, I'll encapsulate this lecture in something less bandwidth-intensive, less murky, perhaps something along the lines of what I did with "Theogony of the Parking Lot." Until then, process, process, process.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

There is No Verse That is Free

Listening to Williams talk about beat and metrical rhythm, he draws some very fine distinctions, hard to live up to. On the one hand, he has disdain for what gets called “free verse,” even though he praises Whitman for breaking from the iambics of the English. On the other hand, he finds the rhythms of the Beats, and their jazz inspirations, dulling to the poetic imagination (even though his excitement about Bunk Johnson seems to contradict his contempt for jazz as expressed). His notion of the variable foot—always to me a little vague—is starting to seem not as much an exact pattern, but rather a middle ground between a totally free demotic voice, and the regular, obsessive patterning of the jazz and meditational droning in Beat poetics.
I seem to be thinking about the same issues when trying to organize my documentary material for this project in a “musical” way; and in fact, whenever I make any piece which uses samples of vocal material, I’m always wary that an interesting repetition can easily devolve into a kind of anxious circling. Somehow, the danger is greater when dealing with words than with traditional instrumental rhythm. Experiments of this type that are successful—notably the text-based phase-music of Steve Reich, the scratch-cinema of Martin Arnold,

(better together!: although bottom video is being difficult, but you can still click here and it exists) or documentary-musical hybrids like Pamela Z’s Geekspeak and Adam Goddard’s The Change in Farming—are able to make the repetition meaningful (sometimes, in fact, thematizing obsession rather than just fetishizing the technological ability to repeat a recorded sample.) So perhaps it is a bit perverse that preliminary mixes for my intro (for the hopefully forthcoming large-scale audio piece) remix Williams in a clunky, obviously mechanical, techno beat. I wondered whether I should put it out yet, but since the process is the thing, I will post it here now. And I might as well include this fragment as well, which I find interesting, but perhaps unusable.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Two and Two with Language

Click here for the recording of our recent book discussion of Paterson Book I at the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, NY. We discussed numbers and mathematics; the archive as the condition of knowability; man as a city, woman as flower; nature and industry; as well as rehearsing some issues regarding Book One that weren’t recorded in our earlier real-space discussions of Paterson.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Williams: A Very Sexually Suc-sexual Young Man

I’ve been trudging through the Williams material on PennSound, trying to log the material that may be useful to my purposes, and it has not been fun. Like celebrities are apt—especially celebrity old-timers—we hear the same pat formulations, the same stories. It may be that the famous just lack imagination in general (at least outside of the spheres of their imaginative control) or that we live with a notion of fame that points to our own lack of imagination (we make people famous because we need these human signposts, and require them to turn out these same stories about themselves). Nevertheless, here are some of the more juicier moments dealing with Williams’ relation to sex, which of course is really what we want of our celebrities:

“I don’t like jazz. It’s tiresome. I hear the people, the artists, in Paris would rave about jazz, but it’s too tiresome! It’s too much of the same thing! . . . Not subtle. If you’re going to be sexually excited about it, it shows you to be a boob. But if you want sex, go and get a colored gal, and she’ll teach you sex, but don’t be kidded. Erections mean more to me than rhythm.”

“I was very sexually successual as a young man [sic], but I did not believe in going so far that I lost my head. I wanted always to be conscious, quite. I didn’t want to indulge in sex so much that I lost my head!”

On Ginsberg: “I’m disgusted with him and his long lines . . . . [The Beats] tend towards homosexuality. For God’s sake what is homosexuality but a variant of sexuality? It’s the same thing. There’s nothing new about that. It’s been done before. No enlightenment!”

On Toulouse-Lautrec: “I was attracted to Toulouse-Lautrec by his social position, which I sympathized with. But the whore’s just as much a human being as a saint. And I wanted to emphasize that, that he was the man who respected the truth of the design. For God’s sake, what the hell difference is it to him that she’s a whore? He was indifferent to it! And the poet is also indifferent to it.”

These all come from an interview with Walter Sutton that he did late in life; something about that interview situation must have brought out the cranky old man in him, and it’s more revealing than the genteel commentaries and interviews that were recorded. The reason I’m fixating on these fragments is more than just idle salaciousness, or playing to Williams-bashing. Since I’m reading Paterson once again, I wanted to take on a challenge. Since I, like many other readers, find his formulations “man like a city, woman like a flower” etc., inane and glance over such with embarrassment or intellectual indifference, I wanted to take them seriously, since they are part of the structure of the poem. How did Williams theorize sex and how does this theory inform the poem? By passing these passages over, we are lacking the type of vigorous imagination that Williams is calling for—that which sees what is before you clearly. Even though these little biographical tidbits give us a sense that—though he be suc-sexual in things sexual—he has quite a bit of issues with sex (and race), we might be giving the poem short shrift by taking references to sex with too much literalness. Again, I’ll admit I might be perversely generous here, but it seems a productive, counter-intuitive inquiry to take up. I’ll probably approach this issue in later blog entries, but I think one thing to think about is that he’s obsessed with this notion of unity, design, and the one, and that identity categories that take on the guise of “difference” (starting with the idea of “woman”) are an instance of a kind of divorce (a favorite word for Williams). So Williams’ poetics, which implies an intense unity with the object, a kind of spiritual-optico marriage with things, also implies the “unity of man” ideal of the Enlightenment to make it work. And as was troubling for Enlightenment thought, he is troubled by that which splits from his optics, and exerts difference, desire, and distance. I think he does not ignore these splits, but makes them very palpable (as with, for example, the Marcia Nardi letters), so that his poem is able to be a performance of the problem rather a symptom of his anxieties.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Archeology of Sluice

I’m beginning to read Paterson again (assuredly this is the end . . .) and so, whereas the last re-read looked for overarching design not readily perceivable in the first reads’ struggle with thingness, now I am back to the thing, its minuteness, with a vengeance. I wondered how specific was Williams about the “mechanics” of the “sluice” evoked on the poem’s first page (the pre-page, the extended subtitle starting “: a local pride . . .”) “Sluice” is undoubtedly the first vaguely complex technology on this page, predominated by “a reply to Greek and Latin with the bare hands.” Confession comes first, the primitive radio booth of guilt linking mouth to silent ear of authority; then a basket, and then—whether it be for tabulation or architectural support—a column (is this a very sketchy pan of history from neolithic to classical times? From the loosely gathered to the artistically or actuarially organized? I’d rather, as in my comments in an earlier entry, consider it more surreal non-sequitur rather than overinterpret the history of the world onto these fragments. Nevertheless . . . Williams is not a surrealist, nor is he yet a language poet. And there is a consistency with these technologies as kinds of “gathering up.”) Then we get: “the clouds resolved into a sandy sluice.” Footwork in the city of Rochester—which, like Paterson, is another northeastern city which owes its life to the powers of the falls, and the webwork of canals, factories, raceways, and railroads that extend from their harnessing, which here, mirable dictu then becomes the fount of all photographic images, creating a double of the world via Eastman's photographic processes—delivered me, serendipitously, to an actual sluice which fed a waterwheel still extant (pictured). Now, while a sluice controls and regulates flow, it doesn’t normally accommodate clouds, unless of course, Williams is skipping as many steps here as he does between neolithic basket weavers and classical aestheticists. It is an ellipsis that is “poetic,” yet not sluicelike (since the sluice depends on an active surface-to-surface connection of contiguous parts—such as gears—in order to do anything; or rather, it is the place where this process starts out from an undifferentiated flow.) Perhaps poetry's penchant for ellipsis is why the outcome is sandy. Unless you are Sam Patch, a poet can’t go from the clouds (mystical transcendence) to the sought-after gold in one jump, just as the sluice (which one normally thinks of as “sandy” when designating the filter used for panning gold) is best used to power a kind of plodding continuity—the weight of water falling, the slow grind of gears, and the painstaking transformation of that into various powers (triphammers, furnaces, and a “beyond” not metaphysical, but organized up to its gills.)

(5/10/08: Belated discovery . . . the Rochester falls pictured above are not merely a random stand-in for the Passaic Great Falls, but were the place where Sam Patch met his demise, as mentioned in Book I.)

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Gnostic Hymn for Williams

Sunday, May 04, 2008

In sterquilinio putredinis

I am convinced that the future is lost somewhere in the dumps of the non-historical past; it is in yesterday's newspapers, in the jejune advertisements of science-fiction movies, in the false mirror of our rejected dreams.
--Robert Smithson
The essential starting requirement is in the shit-heap of our putrefaction.
--Morienus, the Roman
Somewhere between Smithson's kodachromed futurism and the epiphanies of ancient alchemists, one can find one's way through Williams' Paterson. However, in getting together some materials for another talk I'm giving on Paterson, I'm finding that trying to unify all these transhistorical strategies for perceiving the everyday has many rabbit holes to fall through. At one point, I thought it might be interesting to think about the univocity of being (as it manifests itself in German mysticism, Spinoza, Deleuze) as a way to think about the ways in which Williams confounds a clear notion of his own position, and its relation to the city and poetic "transcendence." That didn't really pan out. I think, in the end, things get too "profound," full of secret underlyings-- difficult to pin on someone who said "the surface/glistens, only the surface./Dig in--and you have/a nothing, surrounded by/a surface, an inverted/bell resounding." (124) This is a long cry from "aaa ooo zezophazazzzaïeozaza eee iii zaieozoakoe ooo uuu thoezaozaez eee zzeezaozakozakeude tuxuaalethukh"--a gnostic password that immediately gets one into VIP lounge of angels and archons.
In any case, throughout May I'll be working on the more large-scale portion of this project as a resident at the Visual Studies Workshop. Not sure how much of that will pan out in blog entries, but we'll see. I'm still hoping to get a reading group together in Rochester (not sure if this will happen yet either), and I bet I can find an all-female thrash band who will do the Marcia Nardi letters. One can only hope. Some more Paterson visits?: not sure. I think Richmond, Virginia is closer to Paterson than Rochester is, even though I fooled myself into thinking that Rochester would put me in close contact.
This much, however, I know so far about Rochester: chair 223 is a deathtrap.

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