Thursday, December 07, 2006

Finally, some pleasure

So as I kinda expected, Bob Archambeau has weighed in on pleasure & difficulty, with a rather detailed (& illustrated) “story thus far” post. Only niggling corrections I’d add would be that the business about anti-absorptive work enabling us better to see the “Other” is Josh, not me – me, I stuck with the “feeling in the bones” business without putting any chips down – yet – on a particular politico-ethical mechanism. And I’m not exactly full-throttledly endorsing the “Difficult = Anti-Absorptive [Chas Bernstein / Veronica Forrest-Thomson’s term, by the way, not Silliman’s] = Ethical.” And while I entirely agree with Bob’s call for “data” – something like the “thick description” I hankered for last post – I think one of the crucial disagreements we might have is over this the business of “difficult for whom.” Bob sez, in response to Eric’s point about his students’ struggles with what seem to us like “immersive” texts, that
something like Language Poetry isn't necessarily "difficult" to its primary readership: other language poets and the profs who swarm around them.
And again, in response to something of Eric’s:
there's the point (implicit, I think, in Eric's piece) that difficulty is something experienced by the reading subject, rather than inherent in the textual object. What's difficult for me may be easy for you, and vice-versa. This goes for all schools of "difficult" poetry. I mean, the formidably difficult works of Modernism have become pretty straightforward to thousands and thousands of readers over time, as we (I fear that is the professorial "we") have internalized the linguistic conventions with which they were written.
I think we're dealing with another slippage in terms here. In re the 1st quotation: Sure, Langpo isn't "difficult" to its primary readership in one sense – that is, we (speaking as someone who's taught Barrett Watten, Lyn Hejinian, John Wilkinson, & Tony Lopez to just deliriously enthusiastic students over the past couple years [irony alert]) may have a few more readerly tricks up our sleeves than readers more accustomed to straightforwardly "immersive" texts, but really the big difference is that LangPo's primary readership just isn't as concerned with issues of coherence & meaning – that it has a certain "negative capability" about the kinds of thematic, narrative, argumentative closure that one encounters in the average New Yorker lyric. We've learned to stop worrying and love the bomb of disjunctive polysemic indeterminacy – but that doesn't make the work itself less disjunctively polysemically indeterminate.

2ndly, in re the longer passage: I think this's true of much modernist writing as well – yes, two generations later. It's just that we've gotten used to the demands of modernist writing, not that it's gotten any simpler or any less "difficult." Try this on your own pulses: Do you honestly feel that "Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose" or The Anathemata have become easy poems? We know a lot more about how to read them, thanks to people like Keith Tuma, Maeera Shreiber, & Thomas Dilworth, but they still require an expenditure of effort that marks them as – well – difficult.
Eric is also back at bat, throwing out ideas like Stephen Hawking with an injection of monkey glands. And I'd respond, but I've got a big stack o' tests a-gradin' like everybody else; what I really wanted to do today was to draw your attention to something that gave me a big burst of pleasure last night – my first dip (ashes on my head!) into W.S. Graham. I have no idea, given my own semi-sentimental-semi-scholarly interest in Scottish lit, and given Tony Lopez (from whom I'd buy a used car any day)'s enthusiastic endorsement, why I haven't gotten around to reading Graham before. This, for instance:

What Is The Language Using Us For? (first poem)

What is the language using us for?
Said Malcom Mooney moving away
Slowly over the white language.
Where am I going said Malcolm Mooney.

Certain experiences seem to not
Want to go in to language maybe
Because of shame or the reader's shame.
Let us observe Malcolm Mooney.

Let us get through the suburbs and drive
Out further just for fun to see
What he will do. Reader, it does
Not matter. He is only going to be

Myself and for you slightly you
Wanting to be another. He fell
He falls (tenses are everywhere.)
Deep down into a glass jail.

I am in a telephoneless, blue
Green crevasse and I can't get out.
I pay well for my messages
Being hoisted up when you are about.

I suppose you open them under the light
Of midnight of The Dancing Men.
The point is would you ever want
To be down here on the freezing line

Reading the words that steam out
Against the ice? Anyhow draw
This folded message up between
The leaning prisms from me below.

Slowly over the white language
Comes Malcolm Mooney the saviour.
My left leg has no feeling.
What is the language using us for?


Henry Gould said...

Hi Mark,

I joined this pleasing fray over at me bloog.

Josh said...

Just wanted to say that I'm a big W.S. Graham fan, though all I've read is the Selected Poems. Pleased to see you take notice of him. He's like a Language poet who's got rhythm.