Perpendicular and Parallel

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                              R  I  F  F  S    # 1-10                    

Benjamin Friedlander

FRIE02.01 and RIFT02.01 are copyright (c) 1994. See below for full notice. Click here for EPC HOTLIST




So the risk of rewriting is the admission of
forgery.  And this admission legitimizes the
forgetting of origins our discourses would begin
in, positing revision AS an origin:  origin
WITHOUT origin.  And thus authenticity is written
back into the script.

The inauthenticity of a text would now be our
admission that we stand in the presence of
something NOT original.  And the prospect of such
a standing, such an UNDERstanding, taken as a
definition of reading--though it is not any longer
reading as a form of knowledge--still guards
presence as the final guarantee of meaning.

Discourse (according to the above) is now the long
sought for ``authentically inauthentic


But let's not let the phrase ``the paper text's
economy'' fool us into thinking that the poem in
its traditional aspect--as ink on the page--claims
a ``space'' of literature more fixed than the
temporal one which an electronic text's economy--
by recourse to analogy to music--would claim as
``the initiation of its own echo.''  For an echo
is not dialogue, doesn't extend our words any
farther than their own volition throws them, is no
more a sharing of voices than the venerable lyrics
of Sappho, whose grief of love endures even now as
a resounding WITHIN discourse, answered by sounds
that OVERCOME the echo.


``Experience which is passed on from mouth to
mouth is the source from which all storytellers
have drawn.''  And in ``The Storyteller'' (from
which the above sentence is drawn) Walter Benjamin
thus explores a dynamic not so different from the
one articulated in the essay on mechanical
reproduction (where instead of ``experience'' we
read about the ``original'').  That experience is
a ``source,'' matters less, however, than that it
be shared (and in this lies the chief difference
between ``The Storyteller'' and ``The Work of Art
in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction'').  Though
``presence'' is still strongly at issue, the
``aura'' is no longer crudely drawn as a halo of
THINGS.  Telling a tale, according to Benjamin,
authenticity is handed down--but not as objects
are handed down--along a chain of generations, AS
the chain of generations:  ``mouth to mouth'': 
presence continually resuscitated.


``My tongue sticks to my dry mouth, / Thin fire
spreads beneath my skin, / My eyes cannot see and
my aching ears / Roar in their labyrinths.'' 
(Sappho)  What is original in Sappho's lyrics is
not the shred of papyrus poignantly attesting to
the permanence of the poet's feelings, but the
LANGUAGE of feeling, a thread of sense which--when
we finally unravel it--weaves us into the memory
of time, the chain of resurrection.


An echo is the repetition of a moment of language
which given reign to distance establishes its
kingdom as the text to which one gains admittance
by ``an initiation of attention'' (as Larry Eigner
once put it).  Reading, in this scenario, has as
much (or as little) to do with hearing as seeing. 
These are but metaphors for an access to time
which is the true condition of understanding, a
condition for which ``reading'' too is a metaphor.


Moreover, the hardness of the page is hardly a
guarantee of ``fixity''--ask Ozymandias.  The
survival of Sappho's works in itself only a
reminder of how easily they might have been
destroyed, they along with the world--now UTTERLY
destroyed--in the midst of which Sappho's poetry
once sought its origin.  ``Round the decay / Of
that colossal wreck, boundless and bare / The lone
and level sands stretch far away.''  (Shelley)


Technologies of writing develop and overtake our
conceptions of writing--they are nevertheless far
from becoming technologies or conceptions OF THE
POEM.  To write is one thing, to make a poem
another, regardless of how often these acts seem
to coincide.

Through this distinction alone, perhaps, can we
come to understand Paul Celan's attractive but
paradoxical claim (reported by Beatrice Cameron),
``Every poem is the anticomputer, even the one
written by a computer.''

And perhaps this attractive but paradoxical self-
overturning is the very essence of what it means
to write a poem.  Perhaps the essence of poetry is
its overturning of the essence of writing.


That you can't have art without resistance to
material.  One might equally say, ``You can't have
material without resistance to art.''  Or:  ``You
can't HAVE material and so there is the resistance
of art.''


Allen Ginsberg's work has always been moving to me
for its situation at precisely this crossroads of
matter and memory, meat and art.

``. . . a waxy dream / dying to finish its all too
famous misery / --Leave immortality to another to
suffer like a fool, / not get stuck in the corner
of the universe / sticking morphine in the arm and
eating meat.''


Blossoms will run away,
Cakes reign but a Day,
But Memory like Melody
Is pink Eternally.

(Emily Dickinson)


How does the poem sketch a history of the poem? 
How--reading--do we enter the labyrinths of
primordial discourse along whose tracks we seek an
opening, not FROM the poem, but to it?  How escape
our own questioning?  For the poem is a succession
of turns, a conflicted walking of a constantly
diverging path, and the poem's history--rendered
as verse--is the retrospective understanding that
one couldn't possibly have gotten lost, because
all paths lead to the poem.

And yet why is it that the possibility of getting
lost haunts every decision?


Why is it that the covering up of the beach
elicits more of a sense of loss than the ebb and
flow of the waves?  This is the problematic Keats
explores in his nightingale ode.

Though the sea might return at any time and wash
away the traces of our day, yet the possibility
that some passerby might stop and see and
comprehend transforms the gesture of our chaotic
play, our disturbance of the flat sand, despite
all ephemerality into something whose
disappearance we might properly mourn.  And this
despite the fact that our coming and going has
more in common with the rising and falling of the
tide than it ever had with a making or covering up
of tracks.


O ask not who

  has work to do, but view

the clockholes and hear the ticking

     of the bombast daily passing through


(while the windowglass bangs

 artlessly against the massive fretting


             equivocation is the sound we make



Technology is in fact aesthetics--in an ornamental
sense which art itself labors to dignify.


``What matters most in certain situations is to
curb euphoria in time.''  (Ren Char)

``Lends grace to the beard on his chin.''
(I Ching)

The hexagram ``Grace'' (``Pi'')--from which I have
taken the above line--is said to address the world
of art, the world of tranquil beauty in which
forms arise ``removed from the struggle for
existence'' (as Richard Wilhelm puts it in his
commentary).  ``The beard is a superfluous
ornament,'' writes Wilhelm, ``To devote care to it
for its own sake, without regard for the inner
content of which it is an ornament, would bespeak
a certain vanity.''

Confucius (we are told) was disturbed when he
received this hexagram, for the realizations of
grace are but brief disclosures of exaltation, and
seemed to him to have little to do with serious

As the I Ching itself declares, in its initial
description of Pi:

``Fire at the foot of the mountain:
The image of GRACE.
Thus does the superior man proceed
When clearing up current affairs.
But he dare not decide controversial issues in
this way.''


RIF/T: An Electronic Space for Poetry, Prose, and Poetics
Editors: Kenneth Sherwood and Loss Pequeño Glazier
ISSN#: 1070-0072
Version 2.1 Winter 1994

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