josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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22 Feb '05 12:30:38 PM

I first finished my first reading of V. a little over seven years ago, on the twelfth according to the list I kept then. I should start writing down starting dates - or, I should have, when the way I read them still made it significant when I started them. I don't know where this memory comes from, but I remember being stuck in Mondaugen's story forever, making little progress for weeks or months, and I remember it being hot; it being Iowa, it could have been hot as late as October, or I could just be fusing the delirium of that chapter (part in-frame, part out, just my reaction to the sluggish struggle through it) with the way I imagined its setting, hottest desert (hardly even accurate to all the outdoor scenes - and much of the chapter is spent under siege at Foppl's). I think I started reading in the summer of '97, became mired in chapter nine and distracted from important things like reading by school, and then finished in some desultory way probably over my overly long Christmas break: my memory of events, sensations, revelations after Fausto's confession in chapter eleven (of which, even, I remembered little) seems to be almost nil. I suppose an incomplete recollection of the plot has hindered me somewhat, and also a poor grasp (I'm sure I got it, some, at the time, but it apparently didn't stick) of the structure, let's say narratively and epistemically. Last week I sat down with great pleasure to map out some of the basic features.

Along the way I didn't find what I thought I would find. I had wanted first of all to think about the connections between the chapters, not so much the connections as far as Stencil would be concerned, or if there is some difference, as far as a disinterested historian would be concerned (Stencil is certainly not disinterested, but they would deal with the same matters of concern, I would think), but the connections that might pull the reader through, maintain their interest in the time that I had begun to feel as kind of parallax. Instead, when the narrative seemed much more linear to me, once I had noticed the most prominent clues in each Stencilized story that motivated their placement in his V.-narrative, and more importantly, when I noticed the occasions for their telling, I lost my interest in relating the stories to the 'present' timeline in which the Whole Sick Crew story moved. But I noticed:

Chapter 1. 33 pages (5 sections)
Ch. 2. 16 pp. (2 s.)
* Ch. 3. 33 pp. (8 s.)
Ch. 4. 16 pp. (3 s.)
Ch. 5. 22 pp. (2 s.)
Ch. 6. 17 pp. (2 s.)
* Ch. 7. 59 pp. (11 s.)
Ch. 8. 15 pp. (4 s.)
* Ch. 9. 51 pp. (4 s.)
Ch. 10. 23 pp. (5 s.)
* Ch. 11. 41 pp. (1 s.)
Ch. 12. 19 pp. (6 s.)
Ch. 13. 25 pp. (2 s.)
* Ch. 14. 22 pp. (2 s.)
Ch. 15. 8 pp. (3 s.)
Ch. 16. 30 pp. (3 s.)
Epilogue. 34 pp. (3 s.)

- that the sense of the historical seemed pretty plainly to involve, as a matter of rhetorical technique, or of calling on certain experiences of reading from the reader, more immersive writing than in the 'present' scenes, simply on the basis of sheer length. Look at the way any chapter is divided up, too: the section breaks are generally along the divisions of scene, or time, or perspective, in a way that is exploited by the different forms of the Stencilized chapters to emphasize their difference from the more straightforward form of the Sick Crew chapters (more, but not completely). The asterisked chapters above are Stencilized, though I'm still reading 'V. in love' and haven't decided if it's appropriate to regard it as such yet (there are signs of it being so, but for this chapter, I think these signs might come only as commentary from a narrator with more epistemic authority than Stencil - though it's hard to tell since the narrator refers to Stencil in the third person just like Stencil does) - and I have yet to reread the Epilogue, set in 1919, yet either.

Chapter 3 is called 'In which Stencil, a quick-change artist, does eight impersonations', and the eight sections (the figures I gave are slightly off, I suppose, in the few chapters that contain material that starts before the first section break for section 'I') are each pieces of a story about V., each part advancing the story from the perspective of a different third party narrator who crosses paths with the story's main figures. It's implied that each section is one of these 'impersonations' performed by Stencil not in person but imagination, with the means provided by the evidence in his dossiers - though it's interesting that each one is from the perspective of, if not a person actually impersonating someone or other, then at least a person with a certain inwardness, the kind that contrasts to the outward appearance that renders them, in each particular set of circumstances from section to section, able to overhear or observe the interactions between Porpentine-Goodfellow-Victoria. Together with the remark that Stencil has only veiled references to Porpentine in his father's journals, the positioning of the narrators of the sub-stories make it clear that Stencil can hardly have known (through historical investigation) all that he imagines in his impersonations.

In glancing back at Chapter 7 - 'She hangs on the western wall' - I realize that I don't even have a ready answer to the mode in which we're receiving the historical material there. The introduction to the chapter suggests that it's a Stencilized version - from the bottom of a fold, instead of a crest - of what the narrator says that Stencil relays to the psychodontist (= dentist + psychiatrist, or mebbe dentist x psychiatrist) Dudley Eigenvalue about V. in Florence. But it doesn't make that explicit, just enters into the story in the next section. (The fact that this story would be relevant to Eigenvalue because it concerns the young Evan Godolphin, and that Stencil knows this, is also not mentioned, though of course if the story we read is enough of a representation of what transpires in the conversation between Eigenvalue and Stencil, then Godolphin would have been mentioned and Eigenvalue would have known that Stencil at least suspected his connection, whether Eigenvalue would confirm it or not.) The sectioning here I am less clear about; on the surface it seems like usual time/scene formal marking, which at least sets up the crisscrossing-paths feel that the story has (some); I don't know whether to say that it's probably also due to, or caused by, the sheer number of tertiary characters and events mentioned, and the demands of ordering them in the story. This would not be to lose the epistemic coloring that would make this chapter an example of various modes of historical access (would it sound frightening here to say 'historical consciousness'?) - think of the way a plot ('one of those grand conspiracies or foretastes of Armageddon which seemed to have captivated all diplomatic sensibilities in the years preceding the Great War') would be relayed, captured, by a party like a diplomat interested in such things as plots, conspiracies, history made out of confluences of events and actors.

There is much to say about the other Stencilized chapters, but for now, a note for later: the time is out of whack, fucked up as the kids and also me say, in Mondaugen's story, and so the sectioning relative to the page count is especially effective (note also the remark in the introduction to this story, at the end of the preceding chapter: Stencil gets the story from Mondaugen, in person, over beer, in about thirty minutes or so, which I reckon would be a pretty explicit way of saying, even if it hadn't been said in the subsequent narratorial remarks on Eigenvalue's behalf about Stencil's retelling of the story to Eigenvalue, that the story Stencil gives us could not have been the story given to him by Mondaugen - and this is to say nothing yet about the disorienting representation of mixed consciousness between persons and across time that Mondaugen experiences and then apparently cannot separate from the telling, or that Stencil cannot). I am so far too impatient to read my Thomas Mann and adequately suss out some likely antecedents for this kind of technique. As for Fausto's confession in chapter eleven, it is a single section presumably because what we are getting is not Stencilized at all but merely a look at the same thing he is reading - introduced as such in the previous chapter and then framed as such in the little coda paragraph to the chapter (after the date Fausto places on the confession, which is written as a letter to his daughter Paola: 27 August 1956, which by my reckoning makes it current in the Sick Crew timeline, and hardly having spent any time at all in Paola's hands before she brings it to Stencil). The form here is confession, by letter, but more importantly by commentary on Fausto's old journal entries, selectively rather than representatively chosen (to the ends of: his confession to Paola of how he treated her, raised her, and the sources of and reasons for his actions; his theorizing about time and the self; and?), and though written in response to lived experience and thus potentially the best means in the novel yet to history, positivist style, dazzlingly, bewilderingly inventive, varied, catholic in its language and form, suiting the Fausto that we know from the chapter. Which is to say, history has the fuck mediated out of it.

The jury's still out on 'V. in love'.

13 Feb '05 11:16:06 AM

This post is called 'Some Things to Note About Robert Creeley'.

- Drawn in as I was by the shorter lines and Williams- and Zukofsky- descended poetics of the seventies to eighties poetry in So There (heavily reliant on the push-pull between the forward motion of ordinary English speech, and the frequently broken, short-running lines that tend to extend the poem vertically more than horizontally), I now find myself put off by the earlier poems in the 45-75 volume - covering The Charm up through apparently a good deal of For Love, that is, to 1960 or so. Things pick up with Words and Pieces. It's odd to fan the book open and see how plainly my receptiveness depends on the length of the line. But in my glancing passes at the earlier poems so far, I've had a number of impressions that seem to support my basic intuition. Things there feel more literary, or maybe I should say, 'literary'. There are more elevated turns of phrase, allusions to the canon. There seems to be a tendency to educated irony, and maybe calling for it, a tendency to have the poems be 'about' 'things'; single things that remind me of English class for the more compact poems that bear more signs of his later style, and big-picture things (often people, dedicatees or addressees) for thicker, indentation-heavy page-length free verse. The latter reminds me most of Pound, who I still find largely unpleasurable to read. I do not understand him on the basic level, of the movement of words, that I need. Williams, who I love, raved so constantly about Pound's ear, and his feel for measure, that I take his similar comments about Creeley seriously, as a reason to be optimistic (but this is after all the older stuff, which to be frank makes me wonder why bother, even as good as I am at internalizing my supposed responsibility to know about things). But my intuition so far is that Creeley had yet, at this point, to find a reason: to find something to write about that would call for the extension of the earlier poetics, an extension that would belong to him as much as to what he was writing on, or for. (One without the other would have been something to do, too, I suppose, but then again since when do I read poetry for its content?)

- There are different reasons for the dates in different places (in introductions, in formal separators internal to books, finally right in the poetry in Hello: A Journal), but all throughout they speak to an interest in occasionality, one made explicit in many places (like the large number of dedicated poems).

- When I get there, I will be curious to see whether I think of Pieces as a book with large-scale form.

- One thing accomplished by the later poetic is the creation of a totally selective emphasis: any word in the poem can be given its own line, can be made to start its own line, can be given a tiny bit of extra motion by breaking it from its expected successor appearing on the next line, can be set up for a surprise by making that next word something other than expected. This may not seem like much if you have in mind a more traditional poetics, where even words embedded in the middle of longer lines can be charged in all kinds of ways by the sonic or semantic relationships they have with words in structurally significant places elsewhere; the poet is supposed to have control over these ways. But apart from being syntactically selective - not really being called on, unless he feels like it, to deform the run of English as it is spoken by you or me, in any effort to pick out an arbitrary word for emphasis - Creeley's device here (and, yes, it's not just his - it feels to me though like a sort of fusion of some things of Williams', and the more compressed, unfamiliar, stacked lines or even syllables of Zukofsky) lets him make that emphasis into an emphatic gesture, a way of pointing at that or this (hello, l=a=n=g=u=a=g=e) by calling on the reader's sense of time, of rhythm, as it's aware of the formation of time built into the structure of the sentences and speech fragments.

- Then, of course, by having this, Creeley also gets to subvert it. This is one reason for having a style, and one reason for reading the whole of what a person writes.

- The reason: suitability of form for content, and the other way around: this trick, let's call it to make ourselves feel a little better at not having done it ourselves, does not just make use of the reader's capacity for time in order to do poem-work, but is used by Creeley to do time-work, consciousness-work, awareness-work, on the reader, or for him. Creeley thus gains access to a whole world of moments; and he can make them, and their settings, his theme without having to depart in a literary-sounding way from the language with which we normally confront them, discover them, keep them, tell them.

- I bought myself a copy of Creeley's 1945-75 volume, finally, on my aunt and uncle's dime. So I wanted to pass my selected Creeley on to someone else. I got into a car with Crystal and handed it to her, saying I didn't need it anymore. She threw it out the window.

12 Feb '05 10:18:21 PM

'And in all the seriousness of truth, listen: without It a human being cannot live. But whoever lives only with that is not human.'

11 Feb '05 11:18:17 PM

Glenn's alignment statistics now include information on singles votes.

10 Feb '05 08:17:02 AM

Bakhtin's list of the basic characteristics of menippean satire as defined in antiquity, slightly edited (greatly edited):

1. more comic than Socratic dialogue
2. fuck historical fidelity
3. 'the adventures of an idea or a truth in the world'
4. philosophical dialogue x lofty symbol-systems x crazy adventures x shitty locales, only, like, organic
5. big questions, no bush-league bullshit
6. triple-pronged action including IN HELL
7. 'experimental fantasticality'
8. fruitful exploitation of psychological abnormality
9. so naughty!
10. felix/oscar
11. utopianism
12. rampant and unprotected genre heterogeneity!!
13. mad styles and crazy flows
14. what the fuck is happening? (right then, that is)

(Bakhtin's interest in menippean satire is totally different from Nothrop Frye's (quoted earlier), so they are fruitfully read in combination.)

9 Feb '05 07:59:02 PM

Glenn McDonald's annual critical alignment ratings (for albums only) for the Pazz & Jop poll. Without his seven like-minded Juvenile fans Ethan gets his zero (but not the only one).

9 Feb '05 04:40:08 AM

I would hope it goes without saying that the difference in agreement has little to do with correctness or quality.

9 Feb '05 04:37:48 AM

The 2004 Pazz & Jop Results are out. For idle amusement I checked the placement of the records on my ballot. They are listed below; the numbers are the ranking on my ballot / the final ranking / the number of other ballots, not including mine, on which the record appeared.

1/41/27: Junior Boys
2/37/39: Sonic Youth
3/11/85: Madvillain
4/55/25: De La Soul
5/261/6: Mouse on Mars
6/291/3: Pan Sonic
7/469/2: Kompakt 100
8/117/9: The Ex
9/50/30: Ted Leo + The Pharmacists
10/32/45: Ghostface

Likewise with my singles:

1/514/0: Xzibit
2/24/31: Fabolous
3/56/11: R. Kelly
4/3/120: Usher feat. Lil Jon and Ludacris
5/135/4: Petey Pablo
6/35/21: Alicia Keys
7/299/1: Memphis Bleek feat. Freeway
8/2/134: Jay-Z
9/514/0: Houston feat. Chingy, I-20 and Nate Dogg
10/64/10: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists

It seems the worst an album could do was tie for 1776th place by scoring 5 points from a single critic. The worst a single could do (there is no minimum point requirement as for albums, but fewer critics submit singles ballots) is tie for 514th from a single mention. This has the interesting (to me, anyway) consequence that records that only a handful of people rate at least well enough to stay on a ballot (with 5 points) will do better than scores of higher-rated records that were voted for by a single person. Of course, this isn't very informative. Most of the places in the hundreds are massive ties.

But, for contrast, look at Ethan's ballot. If it weren't for the eight other people who voted for 'Slow Motion', his cohort of voters in agreement with him about anything at all would have contained exactly zero people. Mine has 603.

5 Feb '05 08:17:15 AM

'River Deep, Mountain High': I keep turning it up, and it's never loud enough.

'Body and Soul': this take, the one that appeared on Monk's Dream in 1962, is Monk playing alone, dissonantly rather than with the jovial slash corny slash lovable stride inflections that he often adopts solo, as on Solo Monk. Imagine the gently disturbed resolutions of 'This Is My Story, This Is My Song' from Straight, No Chaser, only, knotting the entire span of the song - one that at the moment still leaves me inclined to say 'difficult' and mean it.

'Hot Love': until I heard the extended 'la la la' outro of the T. Rex original I guess I just figured Justus Köhncke picked this song to mash into (not up with) 'Frei' because of the provocative lyrics, especially receptive to being camped up.

'Tush': the production is less glossy than I first thought, and the beat less clubby, and the plays on 'ush' more clever, so now it barely sticks out at all on The Pretty Toney Album. I think I might intermingle the time where Ghost says 'push push push' here, talking about fucking, with the time somewhere else where he's talking about childbirth. But I think only good comes of it.

'99 Luftballons': tell me when you can ever hear something so massive and gutsy now. That synth, not even the sole virtue of the song, is obnoxious and perfect.

'Heart Problems': if the songs on Tyrrany of Distance were obviously in some ways of the past, it at least felt like a past that Ted Leo had breathed in, lived in, even if only by listening to records, which anyone who listens to records knows is enough to make it real; on Shake the Sheets the tense rigidity of the song structures, the relative austerity of the musical materials, and the uneasily punchy, single-surface production also come across as historical, but I'm more tempted to call it atavism this time, even if there are some records somewhere that Leo has lived just as much with: it sounds too defensive. I lose the thread somewhere in the middle of this, after the striking opening line, and then wake up most at the catalogue of prescription drugs at the close; this little detail strikes me as one of Leo's favorite touches, the important-sounding detail that doesn't fit with a surface non-reading of his lyrics (so it at least feels meaningful) but comes back massively once you use it as a handhold with which to climb back through the song. This came on the new indie-styled NPR rock outlet this weekend and I momentarily forgot about my griping about the station's playlist.

'20th Century Boy': you want it to come back as huge as that first roar of guitar, but I suppose if it did you wouldn't want so much through the rest of the song.

'Sorry for Laughing': 'there's too much happening'.

'Donna Lee': I keep feeling obliged to throw at least one jazz song on the playlists I cobble together, and then am disappointed by how they never seem to fit. The Parker less so than the others. I think that's because I'm still leading with the mental story I have, that I've picked up from elsewhere, about his radicality. But it takes concentration and familiarity both to always be able to hear that, in every track. Apart from the frequent lack of the former on my part, this is one of the many cuts from the Dial and Savoy sessions that I've only had since the fall and hardly absorbed yet.

'Sixty Minute Man': the second time through they should've doubled up the hits after 'blowin' my top', and held them back that extra-exciting syncopated half a count. Oh well. It's still loping and warm-bodied.

'Where Were You?': I don't know what it means, but by the sound of the guitar I expect it to.

'West Coast Mentality': what does it say if I don't want to represent my town? I mean, I do, some, but sometimes, er.

'Mote': I think it's never loud enough, and keep turning it up, but I always forget that soon Lee's singing ends and the part comes where the guitars genuinely impair my ability to do more than one thing at once. (Though the galumphing bass is sort of comforting - should it be?)