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Monthly Archives: September 2016

there is a way in which rigid systems of description and classification, the articulation of difference by taxonomy– these are tigers, but this is not-yet, this is no-longer, works against, of course, the proper becoming(-intense, -animal; –aliquid). the becoming-new of a species or of an individual or set of individuals perceived as always immanent and imminent (I seriously mean both) in that species as conveyed by, perhaps and at least, U.S.American secondary-curricular biology (if even this is taught), is not at all the Deleuze+Guattari becoming-animal, becoming-intense. these are tigers, and this is something new, or these are tigers, and this is their antecedent… the possible for Deleuze+Guattari (I look to Aden Evens here, “Digital Ontology and Example”. The Force of the Virtual: Deleuze, Science, and Philosophy. Ed. Peter Gaffney. Minneapolis: Minnesota Scholarship Online, 2010, 147-68), is not problematic, the virtual is problematic, and solutions are not immanent in problems… that is, the problem of these things being called tigers is their virtuality; calling some tigers, some new arising, some old preceding, is a solution that is neither immanent nor actually imminent in that virtuality… pp 258-259 of A Thousand Plateaus, in “1730: Becoming Intense, Becoming Animal, Becoming Imperceptible . . .”, is another place to look…

With my mouth, which in turn receives an investment in the assemblage, becoming a dog muzzle, insofar as a dog muzzle is now used to tie shoes […] there is a way in which the failure of the plan(e) is part of the plan(e) itself: The plan(e) is infinite, you can start it in a thousand different ways; you will always find something that comes too late or too early, forcing you to recompose all of your relations of speed and slowness, all of your affects, and to rearrange the overall assemblage. An infinite undertaking. But there is another way in which the plan(e) fails; this time, it is because another plan(e) returns full force, breaking the becoming-animal, folding the animal back onto the animal and the person onto the person, recognizing only resemblances between elements and analogies between relations.

and Berssenbruge, p. 25:

My wishes aren’t separate from the environment, which is a portion of
connectivity, with new species emerging all the time.

I myself may be part of an emergence, dizzy, unaware I’ve crossed a threshold
into new focus.

[…]
There are beings who combine what I diversify, qualities of environment and
qualities of self.

can it be that Berssenbruge move towards an emergence of species nearer a Deleuze+Guattari becoming-? I have a sense that the “dizzy, unaware” troubles the ersatz becoming proper to the biology classroom, proper to rigid (diachronic?) taxonomies, which proposes (will you say: fabulates) the threshold? what threshold, other than the liminal spaces at every scale and everywhere at once; against thresholds like logic gates, thresholds at genesis, at expiration, life-time of an organism, life-time of aggregates of individual organisms (qua species)? the logic gates takes a range of voltage as either indicative of 0 or 1; this is the acceptable voltage range for “True Tiger”; this is not, is “Longdan tiger”… against the logic gate, Berssenbrugge offers “a portal, a rabbit hole of inspired orientation. // I attend to the portal effect, sun doubling in a cloud reflection, array of filament recordings, and I’m attended as a portal myself” (71). each with a threshold, a liminality; the logic gate accommodates uncertainty, the better to flatten it, and taxonomies accommodate the sub- of all sorts, but ever towards a flattening; the portal of the rabbit hole with liminality indefinite, elongated; it swerves… this is the “inspired orientation”, looks to the ‘”infinite undertaking”…

I want that there is a poetics of gentle articulations of difference, and a pursuant responsibility for gentleness; a responsibility for failures, for “something that comes too late or too early”, insofar as any work of classification is to be undertaken, any poetics. I want to say, to believe that solidarity arises precisely where we find contingency and contingency of difference, without allowing or accepting a flattening, a totalizing regime, essentialisms… the poetics might be: wasp starts closed, opens, closes, ends in aspiration; orchid starts open, and is stopped airtight; I’m not trying to be arch, but something happens here, poetics has a relation to sounds that is of the virtual, and the critic’s etymological impulse, their onomatopoeic parse and postulation: this is the solution that reads a possible into poetics’ problematic. the whimsical critic stretches, says the mouth pronouncing wasp (better still, vespid) articulates an abdomen and thorax; pronouncing orchid, a bulb or bell (ō), and its ballasts, its roots that come to a point (d). that isn’t it (/at) all. so: hawk and auk, auk and awl, awning and anhinga, “buttons on the yoke shaped like swans (Berssenbrugge, 13), yolk, and ox, hem and hawker …

Zeb, 30 Sept

Hello, the Roses was, for me, one of those poetry collections that works well as a collection, where the style has a cumulative effect (that was not meant to be a cloud / weather pun, but it is now) – that is to say, that while I was straining to get through the first few poems, by somewhere halfway or two-thirds through the book, it was finally starting to have a pleasurable effect on me, and by the end of the collection I was disappointed it was the end. I think this may speak to some of the effects of accumulation in the work, and that one could likely make the argument that this works on a narrower level as well, within the specific poem as well as within the collection.

Dorothy Wang’s chapter on Berssenbrugge makes a similar argument across a career, with her list of “certain patterns, recurrent images, themes, one might even say obsessions, [which] gradually become apparent.” (253) Wang notes that they can “roughly be divided into those that describe phenomena or the natural world and those that describe states of consciousness and feeling,” and, too, that they are “states that are both embodied and disembodied . . . concrete and curiously abstracted” — and while I think this is correct, its focus is on ontologically characterizing Berssenbrugge’s obsessions, trying to determine what the nature (again, not intended to be a pun, but here we all are) of the content is and what claim this can make about her poetics. In the spirit of attention to form as much as content, I’d like to draw attention to the formal effects of repetition as well, and in particular the (botanical, meterological, etc.) specificity of the things being repeated.

To be clear, this functions on a book level better than it could across a career: we have the broad favorites Wang points out (light, cloud, presence, absence, dawn, sunset, color, form, and so on) but the collection has its own that – as far as I can tell – are more specific to the landscape of this book: saxifrage, green, rosettes, violet, glitter, artemisia, pine, forest, lady slippers, lavender. These are natural phenomena, and they are imbued with energy, but they don’t span the material/immaterial gap Wang is interested to see in Berssenbrugge, and I wonder whether one could reasonably say they contribute to any sense that “human consciousness and natural phenomena are not discontinuous” (254). Rather, I think they provide a counterpoint to the broader energies, flux, and dissolving borders of Berssenbrugge’s poetics; perhaps a specific setting for a broader epistemological drama. What could it mean, then, to say that sometimes nature flows and shifts into (and with) human identity, while other times it seems to stand as a force more to itself?

Perhaps I sound too much like a Romanticist (or a Miltonist) here, and in fact it has been a struggle not to shout about flower catalogs in this post, but I don’t want to list too hard in that direction either: I’m not suggesting that it’s wrong to view that flux in Berssenbrugge’s work. Rather, that it exists along with, interstitched with, the sense of a landscape as an exterior and almost traditionally sublime thing — but that this force is achieved through the specificity of natural language and its accumulation across the whole.

-MJ

Early in “Outing Texture,” Renu Bora adduces something called “the reality effect” (effet de réel) in order to make a point about the fundamental mode of description in The Ambassadors. Invented by Roland Barthes in his essay of the same name, the “Reality Effect” obtains when a narrative includes “useless” (superflus) descriptions of objects—descriptions whose uselessness signifies nothing more than that “we are [in] reality” (nous sommes le réel). These useless descriptions are contrasted against pregnant, useful ones: in Madame Bovary, Barthes argues, Flaubert deploys the ‘narratively luxurious’ technique of bundling a character’s social position (bourgeois, ie) into the simple, straightforwardly-signifying items in a room (dans la notation du piano). Bora argues that Henry James’ The Ambassadors foregoes this traditional, social-realist “Reality Effect.”

Surely it could be argued that something approaching the “Reality Effect” does obtain significantly across The Ambassadors; in any case, I am happy to believe that Bora’s main point stands. His point is that

instead of describing perception in terms of the visual properties of the objects themselves, James tends simply to note the abstract effects and results of such impressions and perceptions, as in words such as ‘rich,’ ‘massive,’ ‘shabby,’ ‘solid,’ ‘ponderous,’ etc. (98)

Writing about description in the wake of social-realism, Barthes claims that “concrete reality” itself presented the sufficient justification for speech (la justification suffisante du dire). By contrast, Bora is saying that James chooses to imbue, via free-indirect discourse, effectively all the perceptions of his narrator with what we could just call “value judgments.” James prefers to have Strether’s perceptions tugged ‘with a high degree of subjectivity’ (rich, massive, shabby) into the descriptive-narrative scene.

That said, it is not as if James’ disavowal of the reality effect means he ‘only engages in useful descriptions’ in Barthes’ sense of use (owning a piano = wealth, etc). According to Bora, the capaciousness and energy of Strether’s private imaginative wanderings itself “signifies luxury”:

Strether with his comrades will refer to Chad, Mme de Vionnet, and her daughter   without anchoring his virtue and taste vocabulary in concrete scenarios, so his curiosity has a perpetual lightness even in its persistence. The very levity of the curiosity performs perhaps a decadence of lifestyle itself, of having the luxury, leisure, and taste to lounge about Paris suspending countless acts, quests, and questions with an equally decadent circle for whom time is as abundant as money. (113)

“Without anchoring his virtue and taste vocabulary in concrete scenarios.” (I am, I think insolently, avoiding actually engaging with Marx and class, here.) This passage from Bora seems to want to claim that, for instance, the free-floating, impressionistic / synaesthetic quality of Strether’s social-psychological mind accomplishes a similarly signifying function with respect to (something like) class as Flaubert and Barthes’ piano accomplishes. That Bora praises James’s “refusal” to deploy either the luxe de la narration or an unbundled “effet de réel” suggests Bora wants to call their replacement—Strether’s unbounded social synesthesia—aesthetically fulfilled; or else an art-historically incisive / utopic response to a social realism that had by James’ moment run its course. In any case, Bora would position the late James not as an “apogee” (98) of psychological realism (Dostoevsky/Stendhal) but as the bridge to a modernism which, by saturating its narrative reality with the impressions and aesthetics of its protagonist, might very well figure the utopic in the textures of a subject.

Reading/viewing the texts for Week 4, I felt compelled to revisit the role of “intention” in Harman’s model of vicarious causation, a model which many of us—myself included—were quick to dismiss as one based in ill-defined, anthropocentric language. While I think this criticism is still valid in many instances (I still refuse to accept a marble can be “sincere,” even if I do understand what Harman means by the word), I have somewhat less of a problem with Harman’s framing of “intention” as a ubiquitous quality of the universe after reconsidering his argument through this week’s texts.

Every student interested in literary criticism will learn very early in their education to distrust the “intentional fallacy”: There is no way to recover an author’s intention from their text, and thus the critic should focus exclusively on their own intention and the text’s demonstrable effects. But when faced with Emily Dickinson’s meticulously refigured envelopes, the squeezed-in words seeming to float between her verses, and the erasures and stains which obscure her already difficult handwriting, I found it impossible not to consider her intentions. As the introduction to “The Gorgeous Nothings” makes clear, one intention she certainly did not have was to provide material for university students to dissect 130 years after her death. But we can hardly detach ourselves entirely from her intentions when we see the raw material of a poem like “A202,” where the words “thats’” and “‘tis” hover indeterminately between two lines that begin with “He’s” and “Had.” These four words seem to switch places with one another even as we look at them, with significant implications for the poem’s meaning. While the current arrangement suggests that she settled on “He’s liable with them/Had we the eyes,” it seems that she considered “Thats’ liable with them/‘Tis we the eyes” to serve her purpose equally or almost as well.

The potential differences this change would make for our reading of the poem as a whole are too vast to enumerate here, but I’ll single out the importance of whether or not “‘Tis we the eyes/within our Head-s-,” simply because it offers a nice thematic linkage with the tension between the “real” and the “sensual” in Harman’s depiction of an “intentional” world. Harman describes our perception of a tree as an “intention” which encapsulates us, “the real I,” and the tree as we see it, “the sensual tree”; he defines this type of “confrontation…between a real object and a sensual one” as “asymmetrical.” My question, then, is what would it mean for our “confrontations” with Dickinson’s envelope writings if we were to consider texts as “intentions” in and of themselves? Or, perhaps more accurately, our encounters with texts as “intentions”? I don’t want to try to address this question fully in a blog post, but I think Susan Howe gestures toward an answer when she declares: “each collected object or manuscript is a pre-articulate empty theater where a thought may surprise itself at the instant of seeing. Where a thought may hear itself see.” Negotiating the aporias in Dickinson’s manuscripts felt to me very much like my thoughts were “hearing themselves see.” I saw very clearly the asymmetry between the certainty I had in my “real” existence as a reader and the “sensual” uncertainty brought about by such an indeterminate object entering my vision. Moreover, if I, like Howe, were to hold challenging archival artifacts in my hands, the “intention” of this encounter would come to encapsulate a reciprocal confrontation between “the real text” and “the sensual reader” who holds it.

I could go on for a while, but I will keep this somewhat brief by finishing with the suggestion that Harman’s notion of “intention” might be a productive lens through which to look at the other sensual encounters described in this week’s texts, such as Hayward’s experiments with “fingeryeyes” and Jen Bervin’s textualizing of silk. ~Graham

 

Somewhere around page 41 of Spontaneous Particulars, where she calls the fragments that she is considering “singular whispering skeletons,” I was struck with the unshakeable feeling that Susan Howe understands archive work as a way of communing with the dead – not of talking with them, but of touching them, and feeling their touch. It was then that I remembered that her husband had died suddenly in 2008, and that in 2010 she had transfigured his death into the incendiary and haunting That This (which I haven’t read, but heard her read portions of like a woman possessed), and soon learned that Frolic Architecture, repurposed fragments of which appear throughout Spontaneous Particulars, is the second section of that work. The reappearance of a piece of something that has passed before, taken into the self and made at once to speak and other to itself is the precise figure of Derrida’s conception of mourning – which is also his conception of knowing in general.

 

I set this aside as an interesting and almost-certainly-unkosher bit of biographical criticism, however, until I came to some of the closing lines of Crochet Coral Reefs, in which Christine Wertheim discusses the various textures that come about when one uses yarn made from various materials; “a series of small jellyfish…constructed from the cheapest, thinnest trash bags” (96), or the ways that “[a]udiotape, being soft and fine, is difficult to form into rigid peaks, while video has a marvelous toughness that can hold almost any shape.” Suddenly, I realized that many of the texts we’re considering this week deal with one form or another of recycling – repurposing detritus, the material-left-behind, and spinning it into something new and vital and alive again, whether that be Dickinson’s transformation of used envelopes into writing surfaces, or Howe’s repurposing of Williams’s repurposing of old prescription pads (“Name. Age. Address. Date.” [40]). Recycling is, after all, literally the resurrection of matter, and this figure seems to me to give us a different way of thinking about liveliness in poetics practice – not as the question of how to represent the force of living, but how to breathe life into the inert – to bring out the dead. For the most part, the texts for this week seemed to me to be suspended between the question of how to capture life and the question of how to bestow it – the crochet coral reef at once representing the vibrancy of coral and conceived of, from the beginning, as something that might preserve – or even stand in for – that vibrancy, should it vanish from the earth.

 

All of this brought me back to a passage from Lucretius: “When you look at the immeasurable extent of time gone by and the multiform movements of matter, you will readily credit that these same atoms that compose us now must many a time before have entered into the selfsame combinations as now” (88) – a vision of reincarnation as a purely materialist process. But Lucretius differentiates these recyclings from our selves, properly understood:

 

“…[E]ven if that matter that composes us should be reassembled by time after our death and brought back into its present state – if the light of life were given to us anew – even that contingency would still be no concern of ours once the chain of our identity had been snapped. We who are now are not concerned with ourselves in any previous existence: the sufferings of those selves do not touch us … our mind cannot recall this to remembrance. For between then and now is interposed a break in life, and all the atomic motions have been wandering far from sentience.”

The recycling of material returns life to the dead, but transformed; it does not bring the dead back to life. Something is lost – not the form, or the touch, but the entities constituted in their particularity by that particular touch. In an inversion of Hayward’s acknowledgement that her “fingeryeyes” bring death to the coral they touch in the erotics of reaching out to know them, it seems we must understand that the kind of reanimation effected by recycling materials evacuates them of something, some measure of their original being, no matter how lovingly they are handled. — Ilan

 

 

 

I bristle at the facsimile, even as it lures me. Reading the Howe/Bervin after the Sedgwick/Bora/Hayward, I couldn’t help but read the fetish gleam onto the reproductions of archival materials in Spontaneous Particulars and The Gorgeous Nothings. In her prefatory comments, Susan Howe describes Spontaneous Particulars as a “collaged swan song to the old ways” (9), to some time before electronic technologies transformed the encounter between observer and object in the archive. Yet the codex is a slightly older technology that makes its own corruption of the physical encounter. Texture flattens. Howe approaches the textural difference between the paper of Dickinson’s envelopes, the “singular whispering skeletons” (41) of Williams’ prescription pad paper, and the alluring center spread of Edwards’ Efficacious Grace—made from “discarded semi-circular pieces of silk paper his wife and daughters used for making fans” (46)—through description, facsimile, and historical contextualization. A facsimile suggests a similar make, but something about the cleanness of the image reproduction (of what amounts to only a facet of the object) obscures what’s lost from tactile experience of the material form. It seems I’m bemoaning the impossibility of a full representation of these objects’ textural variance. And really how else could Howe possibly mark her study of these objects, and the compelling resonance they have with one another, except by subjecting them to the smoothness of the page? [Though I, too, am interested in thinking about these reproductions originating as slides projected into a lecture room, before they occupied the book form.] A textural engagement would require a visit to each of the special collections, and even then (hoping access would be permitted), perhaps the archival glove* would be enforced, for unlike Hayward’s entangled/reciprocal laboratory experience, the archive prohibits any impress from observer onto object. Touch here means accelerated obsolescence. I’m curious, too, about how Howe’s figuring of the archive as “an ordinary room” (63) distracts from its actually very unordinary protocol. Jen Bervin notes how Dickinson’s envelope writings have been referred to as “scraps” in scholarship, and though I agree with the urge to engage with the fullness of Dickinson’s praxis, the use of the word “scrap” (small piece; from skrapa “to scrape, scratch, cut”) seems to maintain more of the at-hand-ness, or “in-pocket-ness” of these works as Dickinson herself worked them. Their scrappiness invites the question, How did they get that way? And their getting that way causes us to encounter more deeply Dickinson’s physical mark-making.

*A bizarre and probably unnecessary detour, here, but a shallow glance into archival gloves and their rules of use vary based on the material composition of the gloves in a way that’s so compelling to me: For metal objects, cotton gloves. For handling objects “with a high probability of slipping through a cotton gloved hand,” latex or nitrile gloves are preferred. For handling paper, though, “any glove reduces tactile sensitivity in the fingers, and with that loss of sensitivity the risk of damaging paper is increased.” [A gloved touch might mean, then, immediate destruction.] “Cotton has a tendency to snag on sharp edges and will tear brittle pages which have angular protrusions.” [All quotes by Glenn T. Johnson, archivist]. Even the archival glove has variable material configurations that shape its encounter with human hand, with “nonhuman” object.  

-Carolyn

The expectation of encountering occlusion or fragmentation is inherent in some ways to the experience of looking at early drafts of written materials; there is the disarming glimpse of process, a dimension of text often elusive or invisible. Access to the illegible as a visual representation of process is especially interesting in conjunction with Howe’s gestures of returning polished text to different forms illegibility again, or reconstruing text to distill not altogether different meanings of the original, or final version; this recalls the line in ‘Hello, The Roses about thoughts having their own thoughts.

I am also interested in the way space is extended between Howe’s words and punctuation. This space evokes a pause better, in a manner, than ellipses can, but somehow a wide space that would aesthetically convey what is meant sonically by an ellipsis could cause the anxiety of being incorrect, or otherwise draw attention to itself as a non-normative depiction of the absence of speech within a sentence. It seems counterintuitive to signify absence or omission by filling space with a symbol for absence, or that that should be the primarily acceptable method for signifying absence. In the case of Lucretius, as well, the illegibility of lines was noted in the text, but the lines were, themselves, in their illegible form, not visible; something may be lost in the use of a legible symbol or phrase to communicate the presence of illegibility. Even redacted text is marked with black.

Put more succinctly by Howe: ‘What if words’—in this case, the spaces and punctuation around them—‘possess a “spirit” potential to their nature as words’: permeable, plasticine, subjective; the generative receptacles Bianchi refers to, rather than fixed signifiers.

I felt very deeply struck by the passage on p. 44: ‘I remember the summer before my sister Jerusha’s death, and I was thinking in this manner, that I was never likely to do better and where should I go etc.’ Even here, something is lost in the way it’s typed versus the way Howe has arranged it, bracketing the illegible. I did not initially process the text as manipulated to the extent that it was, although it was clear that something had been condensed, erased. The lines jarred pleasingly in that their disjunction seemed very natural. It led me to consider how the route of memory provided in this model can organize narrative elements; the death provides a point of inquiry into the past and the self, but not necessarily an interrogation of death or grief, or even of the dead sister as a pivotal subject. The death serves as a demarcation in time, contextualizing events unrelated to it, but it is as if those unrelated events would not have been placed in narrative at all if this emotional rupture had not occurred. I found the implied associations between the death and ‘I was thinking in this manner’ far stronger than the explicit connectedness expressed in the version of this passage in the endnotes. Even ‘So I left myself’ would have tipped this into overly neat territory. Thinking about the self, as the second line in the passage makes clear, already implies a kind of dislocation or separation. –Alex

Drawing on the previous blog post on spatialized relations of being beside, and anticipating slightly what I will discuss in my presentation tomorrow, I’m interested in how language is materialized in the readings for this week, particularly in Susan Howe’s book. While Howe draws an explicit etymological link between text and texture, text as fabric, Hayward and Bora both write about communication that happens through a combination of the optic and tactile senses (both using variants of Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘haptic’ space). Howe is drawn to what occurs on the edges of things—the marginal notes, the fragments, the doodles, the scraps of material—which turn the text at hand into a textile object. In her archival work, thoughts have their own kind of agency. Telepathy (from the Greek tele and pathos, or distant meaning) implies the involuntary crossing of a thought within spatial relations of otherness; it is the transfer of meaning without touch, without sensory involvement, and as such the seemingly necessary inverse of the kind of communication that happens within Bora or Sedgwick’s epistemology of texture.

Howe, in the opening pages of Spontaneous Particulars, writes: “A cool of books / will sometimes lead the mind to libraries / of a hot afternoon, if books can be found / cool to the sense to lead the mind away” (11). The temperature or coolness, implying a smooth texture and comfortable space, belonging to the books is itself the subject of this sentence. And repeatedly, the reader-figure that Howe describes loses her sense of agency, is led away from the obvious train of thought or path of research and into the margins, into the unexpected. I’m curious about how this coolness, later called a “a wind or ghost of a wind” (13) relates to the close of the book when Howe invokes a kind of aura of poetry in the space of the research library. She calls it “the granting of grace in an ordinary room, in a secular time” (63). The unexpected gift of grace seems to alight in the figure of the dove that runs through this book, originating from Henry James’s cousin, Minny Temple, who died young and became the inspiration for Milly Theale in his novel, The Wings of the Dove. Howe is invested in exploring how James altered his cousin’s letters, took up her life for his fiction, so that now it seems as if we only have access to Minny through Milly.

The “spectral grapheme h” takes on its own spatiality because it enacts this separation. It is a letter seen but not pronounced, suspended beyond breath, and thus serves a similar function as Derrida’s a in différance. That is, it gestures to the optic and tactile nature of written language. Howe writes that “in research libraries and special collections words and objects come into their own and have their place again” (59). She draws no clear distinction between words and things, between a random scrap of paper or an unexpected bobbin. Moreover, the space of libraries, their coolness, instantiates the essential tactile and material aspects of written language through a logic of grace—giving and receiving unexpected gifts. As such, names are not simply signifiers, but places that “shelter us under the wings of first creation” (60). For Howe, the letter h in Theale is a space that we can reach through to access, to touch Minny Temple, not because we can ever arrive at concrete knowledge of her as a person, but because in the space of the library, when handling archival materials, the act of reaching is not different from that of touching.

Eva Hayward’s “Fingeryeyes: Impressions of Cup Corals” begins with a scientific description of the species Balanophyllia elegans, on which she has based her study. Positioned where the article’s abstract should be (and remarkably isn’t – it appears at the end, for reasons I will consider later), this brief paragraph purports to perform an expository function; an encyclopedia entry paired with an image, it promises to describe the creature in biological terms, but far exceeds this task. It may be egregious to classify Hayward’s pseudo-taxonomy as a prose poem, and yet it certainly has poetic elements. Beginning with the coral’s Latin name, she free-associates from its nomenclature: “elegans” becomes “gorgeous,” and, elaborated by a simile, “each polyp appear[s] as a miniature display of fiber optics” (Hayward 577). The description proceeds according to this kind of metonymic logic, following not a linear path of argument, but a contiguous evocation of meaning, pairing biological fact with personal anecdote. Hayward identifies an affinity between herself and the coral, which should be alien to such purely scientific discourse: “My own experimenting fingers grope, manipulate, and reach. Cup colors seem full of touch, of sensing or rather being literally tact, touch” (577). Even when she classifies the creature—“They belong to phylum Cnidaria, class Anthozoa, order Scleractinia”—one gets the sense that this denotation has been included as much for the beautiful texture of the language as for its clarificatory function (577). The strange rhythms and associations of the language evoke movement itself, feeling “the effects of passing excitation that produces [the] ontology” of both the text and the being it describes (577). Description—that fraught term—may be the limit case for both science and poetry: where their tasks become confused, where they begin to borrow from each other.

I am interested in how description, particularly how the category of “scientific” description, may function as its own aesthetic object, even—and especially—as it appears alongside other images, artworks. These week’s readings are filled with instances of such a genre, of works of art (or in many cases, their reproductions) paired with explanatory texts that may themselves be read as works of art: forewords, captions, introductions. Susan Howe situates us in the library, turning the act of curation, of research, into one of production. In her introduction to The Gorgeous Nothings, Jen Bervin reminds us that these transcriptions of Dickinson’s poetry “were created with the aim of a clean, legible text to act as a key into—not a replacement for—the manuscripts” (Bervin 12). We are exhorted to consider these things side-by-side, in a spatial relation—to make them touch—in order to make them mean. Contiguity is mobilized in the same way as in what Eve Sedgwick calls the “spatializing disciplines,” like geography and anthropology, which encourage horizontal systems, ecologies of meaning, rather than linear logic (Sedgwick 8). This is why she privileges the preposition “beside” over “beneath and beyond”: “there’s nothing very dualistic about it; a number of elements may lie alongside one another, though not an infinity of them. Beside permits a spacious agnosticism” (8). In spatial relation to each other, the fields of science and poetry—of exegesis and poiesis—find that they share borders (Wertheim explores this in “Science and Art”), according to a kind of radical interdisciplinarity of touch. Again, Sedgwick: this is “the art of loosing: and not as one art but a cluster of related ones” (3).

The readings for this week explore the spatial logic of being beside in their various explanatory forms: expositions of poems, artworks, poems-as-art, and (even) science projects. There is a noticeable strangeness to Hayward’s article, which does not seem to follow any kind of rhetorical logic. Rather than proving a hypothesis, she arranges her argument according to constellations of related topics. She seems to slip between scientific explication and memoir quite easily; anecdotes about her personal relationship with Cris are given equal weight with scientific/theoretical citations. She often falls into a kind of deferral of becoming-language, creating ecologies of synonyms-with-slight-difference: “My sensual, sexy fingeryeye involvement with B. elegans led me phenomenologically, perversely, similarly to disarticulate sex, sexuality, and reproduction” (589). The same kind of play may be seen in Donna Haraway’s Foreword to the Crochet Coral Reef, which sets a multiplicity of terms side by side: “This hyperbolic reef is material, figurative, collaborative, tentacular, worldly, dispersed within the tissues and across the surfaces of terra, playful, serious, mathematical, artistic, scientific fabulous, feminist, exceeding gender, and multispeciest” [emphases mine] (Haraway 11). According to this kind metonymic logic, we are asked to consider Hayward’s piece alongside her cup coral experience, rather than as a logical extension of it. Perhaps this is why, when we arrive at the abstract at the end of Hayward’s piece, it seems like an afterthought, descriptive of perhaps another project because it restricts itself to a purely academic language.

By the same token, it is crucial that Howe’s Spontaneous Particulars has been transposed from its original lecture and slideshow form into a book. This volume spatializes the strange “telepathy of archives”: how images and objects communicate with each other across disciplines and across distances. It is important that “telepathy” is here a non-linguistic term, that the dialogue between archival materials (and with those who study them) is one that creates meaning by both collapsing and maintaining distance between objects. As in The Gorgeous Nothings, Howe prints transcriptions and their originals side by side, as if to say these are both one poem, and yet are not the same; they must be known in their comparison, their continuity, and in the irreducible distance that remains between them. There is thus something about the mode of description that, despite its claim to exposition, actually exceeds language—precisely because it is to the side of it. Even Howe’s biographical or historical interjections read as poetic, consecrated by their proximity to relic. Descriptions are not explanations, but “rubbings[,] of reality,” depending on their activation by touch and contiguity (Howe 34). Forewords, captions, scientific journals, and even Webster’s dictionary entries may have affective freight: “Often the Calvinist lexographer’s terse definitions, particularly when read aloud, resemble prose poems” (26).

 

 

“The reason for the creation; the world as a living being, modeled on a unique, perfect and eternal living being” (Plato 20). The chapter called “The Work of Reason” begins with this statement, and then the whole text becomes a tool to prove this statement to be true. Timaeus makes such statements like facts to be accepted without questioning, and then tries to prove these statements true with logic. For example he believes that God brought universe to order form disorder, under his own image, so he assumes how he went with his plan. By the end of the previous section, Timaeus says that we should accept “the likely myth” and should not question any further about how the universe came to be. However is accepting something as true without further questioning right?

Through the text, Timaeus then states that work of intelligence is more beautiful than without intelligence. He further mentions that “it is impossible for something to gain intelligence without a soul”. The first statement can be proven right easily, however thinking about our era, the second statement seems too bold. Nowadays there is artificial intelligence and robots like Asimo, which can be coded to act like a human being, even though they don’t have “a soul”. Thus perhaps it is not a good idea to make such bold statements as facts can change over time with new discoveries. Facts are facts till proven wrong, just like in science.

After seeing world as “a single living being” that contains “living beings of the same natural order”, Timaeus goes on to question the existence of one universe or multiverses (plural or infinite). He says that there is one universe, as beings cannot have a double. However is this enough proof to accept this as a fact? Perhaps there are parallel universes that we’re not aware of, as they coexist in reality. It would be difficult to prove that as a fact, yet the chance of them existing cannot be so easily denied without any further questioning. Perhaps with every decision that we make, we create other parallel dimensions, just like a tree branch growing out and getting divided into other smaller branches. Considering the question of having an origin, perhaps the universe started as one and got multiplied in time, as also we are thinking of it as “living”. This can sound outrageous, yet could there be a chance?

At the same time, in Mei-mei Berssenbrugge’s book “Hello, the Roses” space, time and energy are also mentioned. On page 87, it is said “You could be a person or you could be immortal, a wave in the environment. / How to describe energy without matter, without dimension or gods? / Through space, the world has passed; a year has gone by. / The word for earth, world is year, which moves in time like water in water, it does not pass. / Their word for cosmos is year”. I perceived “energy without matter” as soul wondering in space, as soul can exist without a body or form. Going back to Timaeus, God created the universe by “implanting intelligence in soul and soul in body” and made it the best as possible. Thus perhaps it is possible to describe such energy without a form or a space. Perhaps soul can be of intelligence, even when it doesn’t have a body.

Moreover, this quote shows that the understanding of time is subjective. In space it may feel like a year has passed on earth, but perhaps time passes on a larger scale. Even when it feels like it doesn’t pass, perhaps time feels different in different scales. This may be because of the amount of happenings in time. Most probably more things would come to be in a larger scale than in smaller scale, which would change the understanding of time passing. Also Berssenbrugge mentions the relativity of time, re-emphasizing the subjectivity of the passage of time: “Time rushes forth with the appearance of any new thing. / It makes an orientation in four directions and above and below, marking clouds’ movement and potential for rain, the sky with morning star in winter, when time proceeded so slowly” (Berssenbrugge 88). According to her, time can pass quickly when there is something new, and slows down around wintertime. When we can accept the subjectivity of time, as it is a part of our own individual experience, how can we deny the possibility of multiverses?

Berssenbrugge’s poetry is a lot about perception and experiencing, whereas Timaeus keeps making statements and tries to prove them right with logic. Perhaps combining experience with logic is a better way of proving things right, as solely experience and perception can also be misleading. However making a statement to be accepted as fact without proving other possibilities wrong cannot be the right way to go. It only creates more questions and possibilities.

(PS. sorry for writing way too long)

~ Melis