Monday, December 08, 2008

Ron Silliman: The Age of Huts (compleat)

The Age of Huts (compleat), Ron Silliman (U of California P, 2007)

There's something about Silliman's work that has always been just there for me – an element of the landscape, a big looming presence of possibility. I like the "compleat" Age of Huts better than the old Roof edition – as LZ says somewhere, "more of a good thing." Tho I don't think Ron would appreciate the comparison, I'm put in mind of the "fractal" character of Eno's ambient stuff – ie, the experience of hearing the 61-minute Thursday Afternoon, in details, isn't different from hearing a 6-minute extract: it just that the former is longer. (That longer, however, is a pretty crucial difference.) A poetry which not only (in Auden's phrase) "makes nothing happen," but in which nothing happens. Or rather, nothing big, dramatic happens, only a constant flow of small-scale events. "A poem without development, without events, without end" ("2197"). Every time I read RS I start covering notebook pages with diagrams & numbers for some large-scale recombinative project which I never end up writing.



E. M. Selinger said...


That paragraph does more to illuminate, for me, the potential pleasures of Ron's work than anything else I've seen on it. Of course, "ambient" music is music that's playing while you do something else. What's the "else" one does while reading Ron? (Not a wiseacre comment--a serious question. Think of one's own new projects, perhaps?)

To me, something utopian about such poetry (by Ron or Stein or Ashbery). A poetry that assumes a world in which I have nothing better to do?

Steven Fama said...

I'm right with you re: writing in notebooks while reading RS.

I do believe that Watten used the term "fractal" in writing about RS long ago, in an issue of LANGUAGE. I think you are using it different here, though I must admit Watten's prose criticism often seems particularly opaque to me so maybe I misunderstand.

Curtis Faville said...

Are these comments meant to be praise for Silliman's work?

I'm not sure I get it.

When Ron began mapping out his Alphabet project, what must have been going through his mind?

For me, the striking thing about it is that--whatever the formal structure, whatever the inertia of the expedient method--the same "data" keeps being piped in. Just about every part of The Alphabet consists of the same level of statement, the same kind of seemingly random, quirky, curious observation. It's a little like the Laurence Olivier method of acting: Every part is constructed out of the same materials, with minor variation.

What I find troubling about this is that the form becomes an expedient (there's that word again) for the stream of notation. His over-riding notational habit seems to prevail, no matter what occasion.

Is this really confronting the issue of form in a meaningful way?

In Pound, for instance, we see various approaches to the level of address. There's a preoccupation with vividness of image, with the effect of certain rhetorical devices, but each work, or series of works, accommodates the demands of the form, or the exigencies of the occasion in an unique way.

It's the lack of such uniqueness which troubles me in Ron's work. If all form is relative, then form becomes irrelevant (just a convenience). If all the writing exhibits the same "subject-matter" and the same obsessive kind of observation, to what extent has the author really met his challenge?

No one I've read or talked with about this seems to have asked this question, which--to my mind--seems the crux of his work, since he began The Alphabet.