Monday, January 18, 2010

Interanimation of Words

"It is not that Williams's language is without history, but that its history is not European; rather, it is local, polyglot, and as likely as not merely personal. It is not that those who learn a language through books rather than through speech rarely come to feel the kinship of words, so much as that the grounds of what I. A. Richards calls the 'interanimation of words' have radically shifted. Much of the language Americans used, certainly, had no visible antecedents as they walked down the street, and the imperative, especially but not only in school, was to adopt an English overlay. Malcolm Cowley complained bitterly that 'our studies were useless or misdirected, especially our studies in English literature: the authors we were forced to read, and Shakespeare most of all, were unpleasant to our palate; they had the taste of chlorinated water.' What landscapes did Charles Olson's father carry in his head as he walked his Post Office rounds in Worcester? What mythologies did he attach to them or find in them? When Williams calls Paterson 'a reply to Greek and Latin with the bare hands' he is identifying his poem as an attempt to end the split between American writing, speech, and landscape . . ." Disjunctive Poetics, Peter Quartermain 14.
I like the idea of "interanimation of words," as a way to deal with the sound/text split by pointing to the power of sound without essentializing it (the Derridean critique), yet it seems that whatever was gained by this move is lost by essentializing some pristine notion of the American language. How can there be no visible language on the street when this era was one of the proliferation of mass-produced signs in the cities (not to mention the language of the papers, the comic pages, the radios blaring from radio shops). That language read in books seems to be the definition of "visible language" here seems a problem. An earlier reader of my copy put an exclamation point next to the quote about Shakespeare. It is unclear whether this ! meant "what a howler!" or "I agree!" but it seems to me that Shakespeare here is the wrong example to proffer. Iambics aside--indeed a bete noire for Williams--the wildness of Shakespeare's unofficial English is precisely American in its inventiveness, and thus, therein, a lot to learn about the ways in which the sonic-linguistic landscape can energize a poetry. Wouldn't this formulation be better than to try to imagine Charles Olson's father as some sort of noble savage? (and if he was carrying the post, did he not have those visible letters--as well as the bric-a-brac of memory shot through with other legenda--to carry him through?)

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