William Carlos Williams' Paterson used as a map to navigate the city Paterson and other territories. The poem, the city, the highway and you shape the impossible object. Special guests. Songs from Paterson. Experiments in psychogeography. Getting lost.
Monday, March 30, 2009
"So Much Depends on What You Mean by Failure"
"But assuming that the aim of rhetoric is to establish a connection between language and reality, this is rhetoric of the highest order--the rhetoric in the word itself. This is risky business, and it may explain to a large extent why when Dr. Williams fails he falls flat on his face. Depending on no artifice, he has no artifice behind which to conceal his failures to complete realization." --Mary Ellen Solt, "WCW: Poems in the American Idiom" (13)
"147: The failure of Williams to go beyond his work of Spring and All and the Great American Novel seems to verify Bergmann's assertion that nominalism inevitably tends towards (deteriorates into?) representationalism." --Ron Silliman, "The Chinese Notebook"
"[Marianne Moore] thought Williams' intention to find a redeeming language had been woefully sidetracked--Williams answered brilliantly that if the close of Patersoncontained its own failure, that was because the very grounds of the search had implied a failure (indeed the whole American experience as he had lived though it had demonstrated over and over a tendency, a proclivity, toward failure). 'If the vaunted purpose of my poem seems to fall apart at the end,' he was willing to concede to Moore, 'it's rather frequent that one has to admit an essential failure.' In fact, what better strategy to assert the need for a redeeming language--a language that would reveal ourselves to ourselves--but 'by stating our failure to achieve it'?" --Paul Mariani, A New World Naked (614)
While the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers has multiple remakes and half-mutant cousins, we forget, perhaps, Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1884 “The Body Snatcher” as well as a more significant and overlooked precursor . . . Paterson. Now hear me out. Some of the data I’ve strewn along the blog-lines of time go unnarrated either because they sing for themselves, or there’s nothing yet to say. The last piece of data, a 1960 announcement for a reading of Paterson at the world’s most literary gym—the Y at 92 and Lexington in NYC—became striking precisely for what was not immediately striking. The names “Robert Lowell” and “Kenneth Koch” were perhaps the most immediately recognizable, the more boring aspects of this notice. A Google search for “Arthur Luce Klein” shows that he was the director of spoken word LPs, and that “Talley Beatty” danced in Maya Deren films, among other things. Beatty’s name was one which, as an experimental film buff, I should have had in my brainpan, but luckily it is a name that Google searches shine their grace upon. The name “Kevin McCarthy” is another matter. There must have been a deep sigh that accompanied my typing his name into the search engine, knowing I’d get all matter of Facebook pages from 17-year-olds in Illinois, and track and field stats from La Jolla. You cannot be famous with a name like Kevin McCarthy—you are doomed to be usurped by your doubles at all turns. Which is probably why the most famous Kevin McCarthy, and perhaps our man, played Dr. Miles Bennell in the 1956 Body Snatchers. Who better to play out the drama of more perfect alien bodies replacing yours than someone with a name which is as empty a repository as is “John Smith”? What, then, was going on in this performance of Paterson? It may be that McCarthy was brought on board merely for the imprimatur that celebrities tend to give avant-garde works. Or was there a more pointed connection to his most famous role? Because one can imagine the poets reading and the dancer dancing (creating, it must be said—if I imagine correctly—a racialist division between the white poets’ work of words and the “natural” inaccessible beauty of the Falls as a black man). But the B movie actor? What was he doing? What else? B-movie-ing: with paranoiac intensity, he must have performed the body-snatching confusion of “who speaks?” in Paterson. Does the man inhabit the place or the place the man, his thoughts sitting and standing on the bus, animated automatons abounding, “They walk incommunicado . . . . They begin!” It’s like a blob and robot movie rolled up in one. Now that I think of it, you could subtitle all of Invasion of the Body Snatchers with random lines from Paterson, and it would make sense, especially given Paterson’s talk of fertility, gamma rays, and sleep (if you remember, you become one of them if you go to sleep . . .). Compare, then, if you will, the following representative passages:
Listen to me, Please listen. If you don’t, if you won’t If you fail to understand Then the same incredible terror That’s menacing me Will strike at you! --Invasion of the Body Snatchers
A false language. A true. A false language pouring—a language (misunderstood) pouring (misinterpreted) without dignity, without minister, crashing upon a stone ear. --Paterson
"As mental acts torqued by the 'perception' of rhythm become automatic, the 'economy of attention' is freed and the mind expands. Miner conflates the vocabularies of psychology and economics here: if production and production-level workers can be automatized through the agency of rhythm, then time, capital, and mental resources may be freed up for expansion--both in economic and in psychological registers. What is generated in both cases is 'interest.' The economic principle at work here--that is, capital converted into automatic production frees up other capital for investment--also mobilizes the intelligence: automatized by rhythmic perceptions, the mind is free to increase its 'economy of attention.' According to Miner, economy is the end of biology, and the ability to perceive rhythmically constitutes the foundation of all human speculation." (Rhythm and Race in Modernist Poetry and Science, Golston p. 21)