6 ene. 2006

I could create many meaningful re-orderings of One Thousand Avant-Garde Plays or virtually any book of poetry. Then I could say, Look, the author isn't even competent enough to create the best possible ordering of his or her book. Why in five minutes I did a better job. I would be wrong.

Or with any list poem, by Koch or Whitman, I could rearrange the elements and make other possible texts equal in value to the original. Any text that depends on a concatenation of paratactic elements is somewhat open to this kind of "critique." Hejinians' Life, almost any text by Ron Silliman from the early period. Even an episodic narration, like the Quijote. Borges said that we could imagine the episodes in a different order, or even with different episodes or some left out. It would still be a masterpiece, even though we couldn't justify the exact order or constitution of the plot.

Diaristic works use the device of chronological time to justify a progression that doesn't have any other logical progression. Oftentimes what happend January 6 might just as well have happened January 5, but we accept a certain amount of "randomness" because of the convention of the diary. Why not accept the order of paratactic elements simply because that was the order in which they occured to the poet? The diary of a few minutes in time? Maybe the poet doesn't want to go back and say, I should have thought of that image first.

I often feel the proper names in fiction are arbitrary. That the character has no reason for being called Marie or Jane. If I wrote a novel the characters would have real names in them. Who has written a poetics of proper names?

Borges also said that the inevitableness we feel with "classic" works is simply a function of repetition. We can't imagine a different beginning than "Nel mezzo del camin de nostra vita..." or "En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme...." or "Call me Ishmael." They seem so perfect and inevitable. But for the authors of these lines, there could have been no such feeling of invevitability: they were choosing from among infinite possibilities and what they came up with was random, contingent. The feeling that it had to be that way, according to JLB, is a kind of readerly superstition.

3 comentarios:

Thomas Basbøll dijo...

Yes, and, at least after something has been read the first time, we tend to go back and reread it in all kinds of orderings, wholly obvlivious to the author's intention. This critique-by-reordering seems to suggest that all we do with a poem is to read it through once in the order presented and that this experience is the most important part of the poem.

But, as JBL observed, "a book is more than a verbal structure or series of verbal structures [literary devices?]; it is the dialogue it establishes with its reader and teh intonation it imposes upon his voice and the chading and durable images it leaves in his memory." ("A Note on (towards) Bernard Shaw")

Baus' work (which was given the treatment we're discussing) seems to respect this dialogue (or presume it) much better than more traditional forms.

Thomas Basbøll dijo...

changing and durable images

Laura Carter dijo...

I like your permissiveness---I've been thinking about the same thing a little bit, about how I've never really had a "first thought," about how the order in which thoughts occur is perhaps part of a poem's effectiveness.