1. FRAGMENTS = MEANINGLESSNESS?
What are we to do with the seemingly-fragmented works of Jackson Mac Low? Another way to put this question is, "How are we to read these works?" Or "What do these poems offer us besides the momentary euphoria and/or irritating groundlessness we experience in the act of reading such work?" Perhaps simply the fact that Mac Low's project raises such questions about poetry and meaning is sufficient to qualify it as one of the most important achievements in the arts (& beyond) in the latter half of the century. But there is more.
Mac Low as performance artist: inherent in the notion of performance is action. What Mac Low presents us with is a model for acting in a world which paradoxically presents itself as both fragmented (without connections) and totalitarian (all-too connected). He urges a sensitivity to our surroundings that, when taken seriously, forces us into a deeper appreciation of our present and potential impact (both positive and negative) on the world (human and otherwise) around us. As Jerome Rothenberg suggests in his preface to Mac Low's Representative Works: 1938-1985, we should approach his books "not only as a text but as a score & manual."
In the series "Words nd Ends from Ez," for instance, we face Mac Low's work at perhaps its most fragmented. What he has done is to select words and fragments from Ezra Pound's The Cantos in order to create a diastic "reading" of Pound's work. Mac Low spells out the name EZRA POUND by searching through the text for words containing the necessary letters. The first "E" he comes to becomes the start of the poem, whether that letter begins a word or appears in the middle (whence the fragments). He then searches for the next "Z" and takes along with it the previous letter in order to have "Z" take its place diastically as the second letter in the second "word." The next "R" carries along the two letters preceding it, "A" the preceding three. Then the process begins again with the next "P" as the first letter, etc., etc.
Un e deNho ia
"HaD Ever oZzaglio,
lOve blUer thaN oureD
use At P"
n Of trUction eraNts
(Representative Works 323; RW hereafter)
But again: what are we to do with fragments such as "yZance"? One possibility:
|When I began aleatoric verbal composition, I thought
of the works as being "concrete" (I usually resented the application of the
term "abstract" to them). . . . The very fact that these works are composed
of language elements that have intrinsic references precludes their being
completely empty. Even disjunct or collage phonemes remind us of words in
which they may occur. Similarly, words and phrases inevitably lead the
perceiver's mind to possible sentences in which they might be occuring, and
sentences at least connote larger discourses.
There is meaning in even the smallest unit because each unit suggests a larger enveloping context. Nothing occurs in isolation. Consequently, even though Mac Low produces his works through aleatoric means, with no particular meaning in mind, the result is thoroughlyinevitablymeaningful.