wittgenstein: the words of the poets pierce through our lives

§155   A poet’s words can pierce us. And that is of course causally connected with the use that they have in our life. And it is also connected with the way in which, conformably to this use, we let our thoughts roam up and down in the familiar surroundings of the words.

—Ludwig Wittgenstein, Zettel


rilke helpfully itemizes just what all goes into the writing of a poem

 

… Ah, poems amount to so little when you write them too early in your life. You ought to wait and gather sense and sweetness for whole lifetime, and a long one if possible, and then, at the very end, you might perhaps be able to write ten good lines. For poems are not, as people think, simply emotions (one has emotions early enough) — they are experiences. For the sake of a single poem, you must see many cities, many people and Things, you must understand animals, must feel how birds fly, and know the gesture which small flowers make when they open in the morning. You must be able to think back to streets in unknown neighborhoods, to unexpected encounters, and to partings you have long seen coming; to days of childhood whose mystery is still unexplained, to parents whom you had to hurt when they brought in a joy and you didn’t pick it up (it was a joy meant for somebody else — ); to childhood illnesses that began so strangely with so many profound and difficult transformations, to days in quiet, restrained rooms and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, to nights of travel that rushed along high overhead and went flying with all the stars, — and it is still not enough to be able to think of all that. You must have memories of many nights of love, each one different from all the others, memories of women screaming in labor, and of light, pale, sleeping girls who have just given birth and are closing again. But you must also have been beside the dying, must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and the scattered noises. And it is not yet enough to have memories. You must be able to forget them when they are many, and you must have the immense patience to wait until they return. For the memories themselves are not important. Only when they have changed into our very blood, into glance and gesture, and are nameless, no longer to be distinguished from ourselves — only then can it happen that in some very rare hour the first word of a poem arises in their midst and goes forth from them.

—from The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

scenes from the writing life: the silent estate of louis zukofsky

"I can perhaps understand your misguided interest in literature . . ."

[Zuk_alone1.jpg] 

Don’t quote me

 

In any alphabet of modern American poets (Ashbery, Bishop, Creeley … ), Louis Zukofsky (1907- 78) conveniently fills twenty-sixth place. He is less well-known than contemporaries such as Langston Hughes and Kenneth Rexroth, or even his friend Lorine Niedecker, who has benefited from "a posthumous boom in her reputation", according to David Lehman’s recent Oxford Book of American Poetry. No boom has sounded in Zukofsky studies, and none will do so in the near future, if the poet’s son has his way. Paul Zukofsky, who administers the author’s estate, has posted a "Copyright Notice" on an independent website devoted to his father’s work:

 

People have been misled into thinking that, in terms of quoting LZ, they may do what they want, and do not have to worry about me. These people are then suddenly faced with the reality of an irascible, recalcitrant MOl, and are confronted with the very real prospect of years of work potentially down the tubes.

 

He wants scholars and critics to know that he is planting "an obvious ‘do not trespass ‘sign where LZ aficionados may see it". He has no desire to cultivate interest in his father’s poetry, the most prominent example of which is the long poem "A", which occupied fifty years of Zukofsky’s life. "I urge you to not work on Zukofsky, and prefer that you do not", Paul writes. "You will be more appreciated working on some author whose copyright holder(s) will actually cherish your work. I do not."

 

Should you insist, you and Paul may "more or less amicably work out the fees that I demand". Otherwise, "remove all quotation; or we can turn the matter over to lawyers". As for those (like us) who believe that the "fair use" clause in copyright law permits reasonable quotation for critical purposes, be warned. "I promise to do my utmost to hamper, hinder, and preferably prevent all quotation."

 

The TLS is one of the few mainstream journals in the English-speaking world to have paid critical heed to Zukofsky, an allegedly "difficult" poet. In the issue of September 7, 2007, Marjorie Perloff reviewed a biography by Mark Scroggins. Needless to say, she quoted all she needed to qualify her well-informed argument. Would Zukofsky have enjoyed the serious attention devoted to his poetry? Probably yes. Does Paul? No.

 

I can perhaps understand your misguided interest in literature … but one line you may not cross, ie, never never ever tell me that your work is to be valued by me because it promotes my father. Doing that will earn my life-long permanent enmity.

 

You wouldn’t want that. You could, alternatively, calm your nerves by reading Zukofsky. We recommend the charming "To My Wash-stand", included in Mr Lehman’s Oxford Book.


—from the Times Literary Supplement, November 13, 2009

kurt schwitters’s great dada love poem

File:An Anna Blume.jpg
 

"Anna Blume"

By Kurt Schwitters

 

“An Anna Blume” ("To Anna Flower") was written or perhaps more accurately constructed by the German artist Kurt Schwitters in 1919, and was soon interpreted as emblematic of the chaos of the times and a harbinger of the new poetic language.

 

O beloved of my twenty-seven senses, I

love your! – you ye you your, I your, you my.

–We?

This belongs (by the way) elsewhere.

Who are you, uncounted female? You are

–are you? People say you are, –let

them say on, they don’t know a hawk from a handsaw.

You wear your hat uon your feet and walk round

on your hands, upon your hands you walk.

Halloo, your red dress, sawn up in white pleats.

Red I love Anna Blume, red I love your! — You

ye you your, I your, you my. –We?

This belongs (by the way) in icy fire.

Red bloom, red Anna Blume, what do people say?

Prize question: 1.) Anna Blume has a bird.

2.) Anna Blume is red.

3.) What colour is the bird?

Blue is the color of your yellow hair.

Red is the cooing of your green bird.

You simple girl in a simple dress, you dear

green beast, I love your! You ye you your,

I your, you my. — We?

This belongs (by the way) in the chest of fires.

Anna Blume! Anna, a-n-n-a, I trickle your

name. Your name drips like softest tallow.

Do you know, Anna, do you know already?

You can also be read from behind, and you, you

the loveliest of all, are from behind, as you are from

before: “a-n-n-a”.

Tallow trickles caressingly down my back.

Anna Blume, you trickle beast, I love your!

 

Watch and listen to the poem in the original German here. For more on Schwitters’ music, go to this page on the great ubu.com site.

 

beckett on writing poetry

Beckett held the idea of the ‘professional’ poet in abhorrence. To him it was virtually a contradiction in terms. Craft, structure, rhythm, linguistic energy were assumed prerequisites, but poetry was a calling, not a profession, not something you could decide to do at a certain moment. He meant what Keats meant, whose work he knew so well, when he wrote that ‘if poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all’. He certainly did not mean that poets should not earn money – he himself had taught for a while (was miserable during that time), had translated prolifically, written essays and reviews — but that the poem itself should not be academic or intentional, that the library shelves must not crush the furze. Beckett was a poet down to his teguments, ligaments, cells; standing or sitting, poetry’s presence in his presence was as pervasive as oxygen.


—from Anne Atik, How It Was: A Memoir of Samuel Beckett. Faber & Faber, 2001.

christopher logue’s reworking of the iliad

Christopher Logue has been painstakingly revisiting/rewriting/transliterating Homer on a sporadic, piecemeal basis with his Kings: An Account of Books 1 and 2 of Homer’s Iliad (1991), The Husbands: An Account of Books 3 and 4 of Homer’s Iliad (1995), War Music (1987) and All Day Permanent Red: The First Battle Scenes Of Homer’s Iliad Rewritten (2003).

Cover Image

Two excerpts from Christopher Logue, All Day Permanent Red:

Drop into it.
Noise so clamorous it sucks.
You rush your pressed-flower hackles out
To the perimeter.
And here it comes:
That unpremeditated joy as you
—The Uzi shuddering warm against your hip
Happy in danger in a dangerous place
Yourself another self you found at Troy—
Squeeze nickel through that rush of Greekoid scum!
Oh wonderful, most wonderful, and then again more wonderful
A bond no word or lack of words can break,
Love above love!
And here they come again the noble Greeks,
Ido, a spear in one a banner in his other hand
Your life at every instant up for—
Gone.
And, candidly, who gives a toss?
Your heart beats strong. Your spirit grips.
King Richard calling for another horse (his fifth).
King Marshal Ney shattering his sabre on a cannon ball.
King Ivan Kursk, 22.30 hrs,
July 4th to 14th ’43, 7000 tanks engaged,
"…he clambered up and pushed a stable-bolt
Into that Tiger-tank’s red-hot-machine-gun’s mouth
And bent the bastard up. Woweee!"
Where would we be if he had lost?
Achilles? Let him sulk.

*


To welcome Hector to his death

God sent a rolling thunderclap across the sky
The city and the sea
And momentarily—
The breezes playing with the sunlit dust—
On either slope a silence fell.

Think of a raked sky-wide Venetian blind.
Add the receding traction of its slats
Of its slats of its slats as a hand draws it up.
Hear the Greek army getting to its feet.

Then of a stadium when many boards are raised
And many faces change to one vast face.
So, where there were so many masks,
Now one Greek mask glittered from strip to ridge.
Already swift
Boy Lutie took Prince Hector’s nod
And fired his whip that right and left
Signalled to Ilium’s wheels to fire their own,
And to the Wall-wide nodding plumes of Trojan infantry—

Flutes!
Flutes!
Screeching above the grave percussion of their feet
Shouting how they will force the savage Greeks
Back up the slope over the ridge, downplain
And slaughter them beside their ships—

Add the reverberation of their hooves: and
"Reach for your oars. . ."
T’lesspiax, his yard at 60°, sending it
Across the radiant air as Ilium swept
Onto the strip
Into the Greeks
Over the venue where
Two hours ago all present prayed for peace.
And carried Greece
Back up the slope that leads
Via its ridge
Onto the windy plain.

Download All Day Permanent Red here.


john asbery on writing & reading a poem



John Ashbery being intense in 1962

“Paradoxes and Oxymorons”


This poem is concerned with language on a very

plain level.

Look at it talking to you. You look out a window

Or pretend to fidget. You have it but you don’t

have it.

You miss it, it misses you. You miss each other.


The poem is sad because it wants to be yours, and

cannot.

What’s a plain level? It is that and other things,

Bringing a system of them into play. Play?

Well, actually, yes, but I consider play to be


A deeper outside thing, a dreamed role-pattern,

As in the division of grace these long August days

Without proof. Open-ended. And before you know

It gets lost in the stream and chatter of typewriters.


It has been played once more. I think you exist

only

To tease me into doing it, on your level, and then

you aren’t there

Or have adopted a different attitude. And the poem

Has set me softly down beside you. The Poem is

you.


—from Shadow Train (1981)

If infinitely many monkeys are set before typewriters, the statistical paradox goes, they will sooner or later produce Shakespeare’s plays. Ashbery’s poem “has been played” like a record or a trick. But perhaps it is the reader’s trick as well. In the communication system, the ideal reader now resembles the Divine Paradox: “I think you exist,” the poet asserts, “and then you aren’t there.” In his final paradox, the poem is you,” varying the dedication “the poem is yours,” Ashbery yields himself to the reader, who nevertheless continues to “miss” him.


—from John Shoptaw, On the Outside Looking Out: John Ashbery’s Poetry (1994)

scenes from the writing life: robert graves, poetry and mushroom cults

Rent "The Road of Excess: A History of Writers on Drugs" book by Marcus Boon by BookSwim Rental Library Club.

 

. . . The other great psychedelic pioneer of the 1950s was a J. P. Morgan vice president and amateur mycologist named R. Gordon Wasson. Wasson and his wife had already written a voluminous work on the history of mushroom lore, Russia, Mushrooms, and History (1957) when, apparently through a conversation with the English poet Robert Graves, he found out about the continuing existence of a cult in Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, that used teonanacatl, the vision-inducing mushrooms that Spanish writers had talked of after the conquest of Mexico. This mushroom cult had been discovered by an Austrianborn physician, Blas Pablo Reko, and picked up on by the Harvard botanist Richard Evans Schultes, who had traveled to Oaxaca in 1938 with Reko to witness the ceremonial use of the mushrooms. Schultes’ interest in the cult was botanical (he claimed that he experienced none of the visionary dimensions of the plants he “discovered”), but Wasson saw the cultural and religious significance of the story and traveled to Oaxaca, where, on August, 15, 1953, he took the mushrooms (which were of three species, the best known being Stropharia cubensis) with the Mazatec shaman Maria Sabina.Wasson published a widely read account of his trip in LIFE magazine in 1957, but was apparently appalled when others who read his account began traveling to Oaxaca. Wasson argued that psychedelic mushrooms provided the key to many of the world’s religious mysteries, including the soma of the Vedas, the Eleusinian rites of Ancient Greece, certain visions related in the Zend Avesta, the holy scripture of Zoroastrianism, and the tree of good and evil in the Bible, but made no comment on contemporary use of the drugs. Forgetting his own LIFE article, he later criticized the vulgarization of contemporary discourse about the drugs, calling the term “psychedelics” “a barbarous formation,”101 and with a group of colleagues proposed a new term, “entheogen,” to describe the drugs—a term that conveniently obscures the nontheogenic nature of most twentieth-century use of the drugs.

 Robert Graves also believed that the psychedelics provided a source for much of the world of classical and preclassical mythology. In a review of Wasson’s work published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1956, he already speculated that the cult of Dionysus held mushroom orgies.102 On January 31, 1960, when he was sixty-four, Graves took mushrooms with Wasson in New York, and wrote an essay about it called “The Poet’s Paradise” (1961), which he read to Oxford students in the early 1960s. Graves described his experience in highly mythical terms, feeling that the mushrooms were taking him back to the world of Gilgamesh and the Babylonian paradise. He experienced worlds of jewels, demons, and erotic fantasy, while Wasson played a tape recording of Mazatec shaman Maria Sabina chanting. Graves was impressed, although he noted caustically, that “what was for thousands of years a sacred and secret element, entrusted only to persons chosen for their good conduct and integrity, will soon be snatched at by jaded sensation-seekers.”103 Such people would be disappointed, however, because instead of drunken oblivion they would experience heightened insight into themselves—which they might find less than recreational. Yet Graves believed that the experience of the mushroom was passive when compared to that of poetic trance: “It seems established that Tlalocan [Aztec word for paradise], for all its sensory marvels, contains no palace of words presided over by the Living Muse, and no small white-washed cell . . . to which a poet may retire and actively write poems in her honour, rather than bask sensuously under her spell.”104 A little later, Graves had an experience of synthetic psilocybin with Wasson, which disappointed everyone involved. Graves wrote that it had been “all wrong, a common vulgar drug, no magic, and followed by a nasty hang-over.”105 In the late 1960s he dismissed marijuana in print as being a low-class type of drug.

 —from Marcus Boon, The Road of Excess: A History of Writers on Drugs. Harvard (pp 253-255).

Notes 

101. Wasson, R. Gordon, Stella Kramrisch, Jonathan Ott, and Carl Ruck. 1986. Persephone’s Quest: Entheogens and the Origins of Religion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 30.

102. “Centaur’s Food,” reprinted in Graves, Robert. 1960. Food for Centaurs: Stories, Talks, Critical Studies, Poems. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. A review of Wasson’s “Soma, Mushrooms, and Religion” was published in Difficult Questions, Easy Answers (1973)—in which Graves notes that Wasson does not credit him for developing the idea of Greek soma. The book also contains another essay on the mushroom experience, “The Universal Paradise.”

103. Robert Graves, 1969. On Poetry: Collected Talks and Essays. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 380.

104. Graves, 1969, 382.

105. Graves, Richard. 1995. Robert Graves and the White Goddess, 1940–1985. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 306.

 

 

henri michaux’s vision of art-as-exorcism

From Ordeals, Exorcisms  

The title of this little collection of poems and prose texts (121 pages in the original edition) could define much of Michaux’s work. Its Preface is particularly important: in it, he explains the function of art-as-exorcism and its reason for being: “to ward off the surrounding powers of the hostile world.” As in Facing the Locks, a collection he published almost ten years later, some of the texts in Ordeals, Exorcisms reflect, more clearly than usual, a reality outside the self—in this case, the Nazi Occupation of Europe. If Michaux’s basic situation is one of exploring the sicknesses of the self inside a room, there are times when the outside world will come to resemble the prison of a sick man’s room: from 1940 to 1944, all of France seemed to be transformed into a prison or a hospital.  

  

This work also reflects the poet’s continuing preoccupation with inner space, the field of consciousness, the imagination and its monsters . . . Most of it could have been produced at any period of Michaux’s career.

 

—from Darkness Moves: An Henri Michaux Anthology, 1927–1984. Selected, translated, and presented by David Ball. University of California Press, 1994.  

  

 

  

Preface 

It would be truly extraordinary if perfect harmony emerged from the thousands of events that occur every year. There are always a few that stick in your throat; you keep them inside yourself; they hurt.  


One of the things you can do: exorcism.
 


Every situation means dependency, hundreds of dependencies. It would be unheard-of if this state of affairs were perfectly satisfying or if a man—however active he might be—could really fight against all these dependencies effectively.
 


One of the things you can do: exorcism.
 


Exorcism, a reaction in force, with a battering ram, is the true poem of the prisoner.
 


In the very space of suffering and obsession, you introduce such exaltation, such magnificent violence, welded to the hammering of words, that the evil is progressively dissolved, replaced by an airy demonic sphere—a marvelous state!
 


Many contemporary poems, poems of deliverance, also have an effect of exorcism, but of exorcism through subterfuge. Through the subterfuge of our subconscious nature that defends itself with an appropriate imaginative elaboration: Dreams. Through planned or exploratory subterfuge, searching for its optimum point of application: waking Dreams.
 


Not only dreams but an infinity of thoughts exists in order to allow us “to get by,” and even some philosophical systems were essentially exorcistic, although they thought they were something else entirely.

Their effect is similarly liberating, but their nature is quite different.

Nothing here of that rocketing surge, impetuous and seemingly super-human, of the exorcism. Nothing of that kind of gun turret that takes shape at those moments when the object to be driven away, rendered as it were electrically present, is beaten back by magic.


This vertical, explosive rush upward is one of the great moments of existence. The exercise cannot be recommended enough to those who despite themselves live in unhappy dependence. But it is hard to start the motor—only near-despair will do the trick.

The understanding reader will realize that the poems at the beginning of this book were not made out of hatred of one thing or another, but to shake off overpowering influences.
 


Most of the following texts are in a sense exorcisms through subterfuge. Their reason for being:to ward off the surrounding powers of the hostile world.
 

Voices 

I heard a voice in those unhappy days and I heard: “I shall reduce them, these men, I shall reduce them and already they are reduced although they don’t realize it yet. I shall reduce them to so little that there will be no way of telling man from woman and already they are no longer what they once were, but since their organs can still interpenetrate they still think themselves different, one this, the other that. But so terribly shall I make them suffer that there will no longer be any organ that matters. I shall leave them only their skeletons, a mere line of their skeleton for them to hang their unhappiness on. They’ve run enough! What do they still need legs for? Their movements are small, small! And it will be much better that way. Just as a statue in a park makes only one gesture, whatever may happen, even so shall I petrify them—but smaller, smaller.”
 
 

 

I heard that voice, I heard it and I shuddered, but not all that much, because I admired it, for its dark determination and its vast though apparently senseless plan. That voice was only one voice among hundreds, filling the top and bottom of the atmosphere and the East and the West, and all of them were aggressive, wicked, hateful, promising a sinister future for man.  


But man, panicky in one place, calm in another, had reflexes and calculations in case of hard times, and he was ready, although he might generally have appeared hunted and ineffectual.
 


He who can be tripped up by a pebble had already been walking for two hundred thousand years when I heard the voices of hatred and threats which meant to frighten him.
 

The Letter 

I am writing to you from aland that was once full of light. I am writing you from the land of the cloak and shadow. For years and years, we’ve been living on the Tower of the flag at half-mast. Summer! Poisoned summer! And since then it has always been the same day, day of the encrusted memory . . . 


The hooked fish thinks of the water as long as he can. As long as he can, isn’t that natural? You reach top of a mountain slope and you’re hit by a pike-thrust. Afterward your whole life changes. One instant smashes in the door of the Temple.
 


We ask each other for advice. We don’t know any more. One doesn’t know any more than the other. This one is frantic, that one nonplussed. All of us at a loss. Calm exists no longer. Wisdom lasts no longer than an inspiration.
Tell me: with three arrows shot into his cheek, who would walk around looking natural?  
 

 


Death took some of us. Prison, exile, hunger, hardship took the others. Great sabers of shuddering slashed through us, then everything base and sneaky passed through us.
 


Who on our soil still feels the kiss of joy in the very bottom of his heart?
 


The union of wine and the self is a poem. The union of self and woman is a poem. The union of heaven and earth is a poem, but the poem we have heard has paralyzed our understanding.


Our song in unbearable grief could not be uttered. The art of carving in jade has stopped. Clouds go by, clouds shaped like rocks, clouds shaped like peaches, and as for us, we too go by like clouds, full of the vain powers of suffering.


We no longer like the day. It howls. We no longer like the night, haunted by worries. A thousand voices to sink into. No voice to lean on. Our skin is sick of our pale faces.


Vast events. The night, too, is vast, but what can it do? The thousand stars of night can’t light a single bed.
Those who knew no longer know. They jump with the train, they roll with the wheel.
 

 


“Stay within oneself?” Don’t even think about it! On the island of parrots, no house is isolated. In the fall, villainy showed its face. The pure is not pure. It shows its stubbornness, its vindictiveness. Some can be seen yelping. Others can be seen ducking out of the way. But grandeur is nowhere to be seen.
 
 

 

The secret ardor, the farewell to truth, the silence of stone slabs, the scream of the knife victim, the world of frozen rest and burning feelings has been our world and the road of the puzzled dog our road.


We could not recognize ourselves in the silence, we could not recognize ourselves in the screams, nor in our caverns, nor in the gestures of foreigners. Around us, the countryside is indifferent and the sky has no purpose.
 
 

 

We have looked at ourselves in the mirror of death. We have looked at ourselves in the mirror of the sullied seal, of flowing blood, of decapitated surging, in the grimy mirror of humiliations.
 
 

 

We have gone back to the glaucous springs.

Labyrinth

Life, a labyrinth, death, a labyrinth
Labyrinth without end, says the Master of Ho.

      Everything hammers down, nothing liberates.
The suicide is born again to new suffering.

      The prison opens on a prison
The corridor opens another corridor:

      He who thinks he is unrolling the scroll of his life
Is unrolling nothing at all.

      Nothing comes out anywhere
The centuries, too, live underground, says the Master of Ho.

After My Death

I was transported after my death, I was transported not into a closed space, but into the immense vacuum of the ether. Far from being depressed by this immense opening in all directions as far as the eye could see, in the starry sky, I pulled myself together and pulled together all that I had been and all I was just about to be, and finally all I had planned to become (in my secret inner calendar), and squeezing the whole thing together, my good qualities too, and even my vices, as a last rampart, I made myself a shell out of all this.
 
 

 

Around this nucleus, energized by anger, but by a clean anger no longer based on blood, cold and whole, I set about playing porcupine, in a supreme act of defense, in an ultimate refusal.
 
 

 

Then, the vacuum, the larvae of the vacuum that were already extending their soft pockets tentacularly toward me, threatening me with an abject endosmosis—the larvae, astonished after a few futile attempts on this prey that refused to give in, retreated in confusion and disappeared from view, leaving alive the man who deserved it so much.
 
 

 

Free, henceforth, on this front, I used my power of the moment, the exaltation of the unhoped-for victory, to weigh towards Earth, and repenetrated my motionless body, which the sheets and blanket had luckily prevented from growing cold.
 
 

 

With surprise, after this struggle of mine which outdid the efforts of giants, with surprise and joy mixed with disappointment I came back to the narrow closed horizons where human life, to be what it is, must be lived.

In the Company of Monsters

It soon became clear (from my adolescence on) that I had been born to live among monsters. For a long time they were terrible, then they ceased being terrible and after great virulence they weakened little by little. Finally they became inactive and I lived among them in serenity.

 

 

 

 

 

This was the time when others, still unsuspected, began to form and one day would come before me, active and terrible (for if they were to come and spring up only to be idle and kept on leash, do you think they would ever come?), but after filling the whole horizon with darkness they began to weaken and I lived among them in serenity, unperturbed, and this was a fine thing, especially since it had come close to being so hateful, almost fatal.

 

 

 

 

And they who at first had been so excessive, repulsive, disgusting, took on such delicate contours that despite their impossible forms, one would almost have classed them as a part of nature.
 
 

 

Age was doing this. Certainly. And what was the clear sign of this inoffensive stage? It’s quite simple. They no longer had eyes. With the organs of detection washed away, their faces—although monstrous in form—their heads their bodies were no more disturbing than the form of the cones, spheres, cylinders or volumes that nature displays in its rocks, its pebbles and in many other domains.

The Monster Lobe

After my third relapse, through inside vision I saw my brain all sticky and in folds, macroscopically I saw its lobes and centers, none of which were functioning any more, and instead, I expected to see pus or tumors forming inside there.
 
 

 

As I was searching for a lobe that might still be healthy, I saw one, unmasked by the shrinkage of the others. It was at the height of its activity and a very dangerous activity too, for it was a monster lobe. The more I saw it, the more certain I was.
 
 

 

It was the monster lobe, usually reduced to an inactive state, which, given the failure of the other lobes, suddenly, by a powerful act of substitution, was supplying me with life; but it—the life of monsters—was welded to mine. Now, all my life, I had always had the greatest difficulty in keeping them in their place.
 
 

 

Here, perhaps, was the ultimate attempt of my Being to survive. In what monstrosities I found support (and in what way!), I would not dare relate. Who would have thought that life was so precious to me?
 
 

 

From monster to monster, from caterpillars to giant larvae, I kept on clinging . . . 

The Monster on the Stairs

I met a monster on the stairs. When you looked at him, the trouble he had in climbing them hurt terribly.
 
 

 

Yet his thighs were impressive. He was even, so to speak, all thigh. Two heavy thighs on plantigrade paws.
 
 

 

The top did not seem clear to me. Little mouths of darkness, darkness or . . . ..? This being had no true body, except just enough soft, vaguely moist zones to tempt the dreaming penis of some idle man. But perhaps that wasn’t it at all, and this big monster, probably a hermaphrodite, crushed and bestial, was unhappily climbing a flight of stairs that would no doubt lead him nowhere. (Although I had the impression that he had not set out just to climb a few short steps.)
 
 

 

Seeing him was upsetting, and surely it was not a good sign to have met up with a monster like that.
 
 

 

You could see he was vile immediately. But in what way—that was not at all certain.
 
 

 

He seemed to carry lakes on his undefined mass, tiny lakes, or were they eyelids, enormous eyelids?

In the Hospital

The pain is atrocious. They have given me a room in the hospital at some distance from the others.
 
 

 

I share it with a coughing woman.
 
 

 

No doubt they expected that with the screams my suffering would soon wrench out of me I would destroy the sleep of all the patients in the ward.
 
 

 

No! Every morning I examine my strength on the one hand, and the progress of my pain on the other, and I decide as firmly to hold on today as,irrevocably, the next, to let myself give in to the screams of my infernal suffering that I can now only hold back with extreme difficulty whose overflow is imminent, imminent, if it has not already been reached. Yet the next day again I resist the growing pressure that is well beyond what I thought I would be able to stand.
 
 

 

But why, oh why did they give me a coughing woman who lacerates my rare moments of peace and is shredding to pieces, disastrously, the little continuity I can still manage to keep, in this terrible harassment of pain?

 

—originally published in Epreuves, Exorcismes 1940–1944, Gallimard, 1945; new edition, 1967.)

 

poetry by charles bernstein


By ‘‘language’’ Bernstein does not mean what logicians, linguists, and philosophers of language mean, namely, language as a formal system for framing representations (signifieds, concepts, propositions, narrative descriptions, expressions of feeling, and so on). There are, in his view, no ‘‘chains of signifiers’’ that can break down, because language is not made of signifiers, chained or unchained. (It is, shall we say, a complex system.) Bernstein was a student of Cavell’s at Harvard, and so it is no surprise that he thinks of language as situated speech, a social practice entirely visible on its surface rather than a deep structure that gives the rule to disposable paroles. For Bernstein the task of poetry (like that of ordinary language philosophy) is to explore these practices of everyday language, framing or staging ‘‘what we say when,’’ often in comic takes and parodies of the voices that circulate in the social environments (from high to low) that we inhabit. The first poem in Dark City, “The Lives of Toll Takers,” is a collage of such voices:

 

Gerald L. Bruns, On the Anarchy of Poetry and Philosophy: A Guide for the Unruly. Fordham University Press, 2006.

 

 

“The Lives of Toll Takers”

Charles Bernstein

 

There appears to be a receiver off the hook. Not that

you care.

       Beside the gloves resided a hat and two

pinky rings, for which no

finger was ever found. Largesse

with no release became, after

not too long, atrophied, incendiary,

stupefying. Difference or

differance: it’s

the distinction between hauling junk and

removing rubbish, while

I, needless to say, take

        out the garbage

            (pragmatism)

 

Phone again, phone again, jiggity jig.

            I figured

they do good eggs here.

            Funny $: making a killing on

junk bonds and living to peddle the tale

            (victimless rime)

 

(Laughing all the way to the Swiss bank where I put my money

in gold bars

[the prison house of language]

                                                  .)