Friday, November 26, 2010

Falls Cameo

Damn. Even though D. W. Griffith filmed his famous ice floe climax of Way Down East in Connecticut, I'm almost certain that this cutaway is the Passaic Falls . . . which makes perfect sense, since for a long time Griffith worked in the industry when it was still in Fort Lee, New Jersey, just down the road from Paterson.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Poverty of the Image

The claims of imagism have always seemed to me hyperbolic. There is something more evocative in even the most cliched 19th-century sentence than in a clipped, retentive modernist line--which is sometimes only a self-caricature, more applicable in theory than in practice. But, my suspicion of some of the claims of imagism perhaps comes only when one conceives that the stripped-down poetic image gives more, not less of the reality to which it refers. I've been working through a lot of Bergson lately, and happened upon a good precis of his work, reminding me of the essential poverty of the image:
perception adds nothing new to the image; in fact, it subtracts from it. Representation is a diminution of the image; the transition from image to pure perception is “discernment in the etymological sense of the word,” a “slicing up” or a “selection” (Matter and Memory, p. 38). According to Bergson, selection occurs because of necessities or utility based in our bodies. In other words, conscious representation results from the suppression of what has no interest for bodily functions and the conservation only of what does interest bodily functions. The conscious perception of a living being therefore exhibits a “necessary poverty” (Matter and Memory, p. 38).
Williams' "things," then, as tied to ideas, can only be what Bergson calls "less than things," in that our relation to them subtracts an image of them (thus, they are virtual in the commonly defined way as the simulacrum, but not, for all that, are they purely subjective); subsequently, they return to the reservoir of accumulated images (thus, they become virtual in the more strictly Bergsonian sense of memory inaccessible to action). It is here where the third imagist principle--"as regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of the metronome"--comes into play. When the image is reduced to data, it can more freely engage in speed, dynamism, mobility--thus, just as the modern VJ can create more lively compositions with YouTube crap than with lyrical HD footage (no pun on HD intended), the modernist reduced the world to fragmented images, which in themselves had little power, but which, when entering into the durational play of the art form, opened up powers inherent in some truer nature of time. (cf. the Bergsonism of Stein.) Yet, our ability to choose those images effectively, pulling them from the virtual to make them commensurable with present action inserts the qualitative, creative impact of the temporal interval on what would otherwise be a moment of pure, unthinking action. (cf. the Theosophical background of Pollock; and to continue and contradict my VJ comparison, more thoughtfully captured images may, then, instigate a more complex experience.) This notion of data that is useful for our bodies is a very powerful way to conceive how Paterson was composed along side of Williams' duties as a doctor, as well as the themes he explores dealing with the usefulness of certain forms of knowledge in pursuit of a "radiant gist."

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Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Ironic Midden

Recently, I was able to get my hands on the Charles Olson documentary Polis is This, and then to listen to a fairly recent PoemTalk, where they took on Olson's Maximus poems. The documentary made much of the largeness of Olson himself, and we were implicitly asked to imagine how it may have impacted his poetry. In the documentary's archival footage, we can see how he enjoys this largeness, especially when he gestures towards the "thisness" of not only the space of Gloucester, but also his presence in it.

While in PoemTalk Rachel Blau DuPlessis brings the group's attention to this gesturing that seems to self-reference, Charles Bernstein nuances DuPlessis' (and the documentary's) interpretation with a more anti-essentialist (or anti-lyrical) reading: "[Olson] is suggesting that the I in that is the resistance to the present, the possibility of what the future could be, and also the recognition of the past. . . . He's explicitly rejecting the idea that it's about him in just some biographical sense." Later, Bob Perelman will comment upon the "ironic midden" to which the deixis of this section of Maximus ("Plus this--plus this:") contributes, undoubtedly related to Williams' "of this, make it of this, this/ this, this, this, this ."
I will be talking about this "ironic midden" and the possibility of tracing it throughout history, from Shakespeare to Ron Silliman, this week at the Motto Temporary Storefront in Brooklyn. I will be introducing my new multimedia essay on literary minutiae for Triple Canopy--"The Quiddities," in addition to other related events.

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