Posts Tagged ‘transversality’
“There is no progress in art, any more than there is progress in making love. There are simply different ways of doing it.’ (Man Ray, in his essay ‘To Be Continued, Unnoticed’ (1948).
- – -
Recent research has shown that nonsense sharpens the intellect and verse broadens the mind. But at the same time several people have recently been lamenting that social networks like Twitter and Facebook are one cause of the decline of the ability and/or tendency to read (fat) novels. In one way this is probably true (my reading behaviour, at least, has changed noticeably over the past few years, from more deep-reading to more skimming and reading bits and pieces). However, I think that a certain hard and fast opposition is often assumed between these kinds of reading that is unnecessary and should probably be re-thought.
I used to immerse myself in fat novels, so I sympathize when Don Share writes that he is ‘tired of mini-reflections’ and protests them by reaffirming his love for the weighty novel/book (having for example read all of Dr. Johnson). However, I think that Twittering and big books need not be mutually exclusive:
1. if you really want you can read Tweets as a story (haven’t been following it, but I think Vanessa Place is even Tweeting a story of some kind (although that does sort of defeat the whole purpose doesn’t it?), and someone, I believe it was Darren Wershler compiled a poem from Tweets, or were they Facebook status updates?). And of course, it is in the minute, the fragmentary, that bigger histories wait to be unveiled, and which can be the genesis of lengthy monographs – as Tara Brabazon points out:
I am drawn to the monographs that take small ideas, moments, events or objects and use them to understand major issues of our time: war, terrorism, social injustice, intellectual despair or collective loss. Something seemingly insignificant – a song, an organisation, a law – reflects large contextual concerns. The resultant projects are applicable and extraordinary, transforming fragments and filaments of culture into the building blocks of social challenge and change.
2. Conversely, there is nothing to say that big fat tomes of books must be read from cover to cover, page 1 to page 1000. Many people approach books as objects of fetish. I used to hardly open a book so as not to crack the spine. After I had finished a book it would look newer than before it had been read. And I am still inclined to worship books, but after working in an antique bookstore (where they throw out one cubic ton of books per months), I learnt to also handle books somewhat less spastically as precious objects and to treat them more as objects of use. It was also at this bookstore that I started experimenting with different ways of reading, like reading only the first page or sentence/paragraph of each of the many different books that would pass my hands each day (from Manga comics, to regional history, self-help books, philosophy, poetry, gardening, porn, etc).
Anselm Berrigan writes similarly of his reading habits, also mentioning that he likes to read his books in varying order:
Anyway I like to read books of poems in any order I can make work. Often enough that’s one to back, but that can be a bore, a pain, an order that is simultaneously important and out of the question unless we’re dealing with one long shot, some epic or some unquartered thing.
But where he gives in with the epic, saying these he does read linearly, I say why stop there? Of course, they are obviously meant to be read from beginning to end, but even an epic poem/novel allows for multiple approaches. A book need not be written like the labyrinthine House of Leaves (filled with black blocks in the pages, footnotes within footnotes, and a house that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside) to read it as such.
Curtis Faville recently wrote something surprisingly similar about what he call skip-reading as a creative act:
As a voracious reader of many disciplines, I’ve had to limit my coverage of most of the work I sample. I rarely read a novel end-to-end, and prefer shorter works–poems, essays, short stories–because I can skip around, sample taste, and derive vivid impressions of style, drift, form, without having to invest hours and hours, or days and weeks, methodically and laboriously devouring long works. Few long books (texts) justify such laborious expenditures of time.
This is great, although he too prefers to synchronize books with reading method, where I feel that any book could be skip-read, or read transversally. But where Curtis Faville also developed a method for utilizing skip-reading for chance methods of writing, I would like to emphasize the affective part of the reading and the possibility of transposing that experience directly on to some other activity.
I just wanted to make the point that reading methods, styles, and affectations can overlap and need not be restricted to the medium they most obviously appear to be most suited. Academics are constantly skimming through vast numbers of books in search of particular information. But it can be perfectly valid to read a philosophy book in such a way; not to find a particular footnote or paragraph, but simply to be affected by it in a certain way, to allow the book to affect you in a way that you might then go on to express in any number of other ways.
Philip Roth thinks the novel will disappear in the foreseeable future.
His friend Paul Auster respectfully disagrees.
I think I do too. But that doesn’t mean there is only one way of reading them.
Update: great piece here on ‘what is a constellation’
(Thanks to Shane Anderson for the pictures of Dickinson’s poems, below. He also reported on Susan Howe’s talk).
Last Tuesday Susan Howe (1937) gave a fascinating lecture at the American Academy (which overlooks Wannsee lake, where the famous conference took place). Her topic was Emily Dickinson. Howe talked about the tremendous difference between the fragments of Dickinson’s original writing – on pieces of paper and envelope – and the way they have since been presented in print as neat, tidy, safe poems.
Howe showed that the original poems have been radically changed, ‘manhandled into print’ as she said (with a pun on the fact that two white men were responsible for Dickinson’s legacy). 1. extreme editing choices have been made (in the publishing of Dickinson’s poetry) that leave out many of the words in the original, for a long time without any mention of these deletions even in the form of notes; 2. the form of the poems was radically altered, sometimes even changing line-breaks, but more importantly, giving the poems a tidy look and according to Howe perpetuating the myth of Dickinson as an ‘afraid-of-the-forest spinster’. (Although near the end of her talk Howe said half jokingly that she did not consider Dickinson’s books violations of the original, since she (Howe) is a writer herself).
I and clearly many others in the audience, were indeed very taken aback at the difference between the two versions of the poems that were shown. I had not even the beginning of an idea that Dickinson had written in such experimental, playful form. Although some present did not see the significance of the difference, for me, seeing examples of original fragments completely changed how I will think about these poems.
In some pictures the text is clearly written according to patterns; writing runs both horizontally and vertically along a paper, the well-known dashes are seen, but in one case there are also crosses, like plus signs (unfortunately no pictures of that one). In yet another example the small piece of paper has a triangular shape which seems to have influenced the poem’s language, or perhaps the other way around), and there are also pictures (of which one is a stamp, but one is a (Dickinson’s?) drawing of a gravestone).
Of course we simply cannot say anything, or at least not much about Dickinson’s intention with the forms of these fragments, since hardly any (was it six poems?) of her work was published during her lifetime. But regardless of the poet’s own intention these fragments nevertheless present poems of which many more elements are in mutual interaction than the printed versions of those same poems. A poem can always be seen as a constellation (assemblage, collection) of various elements – language, the qualities of language, the way it is laid out on the page, the page itself, etc. However, in the original fragments, more elements are brought into open connection with one another – the poem becomes more ‘holographic’.
The poems, as Howe points out, become characterized by a hybridity of disparate elements, blurring for example the boundaries between visual and verbal art. They inhabit what Howe calls a space of inbetweenness, and what could also be called transversality, a network of disparate elements. Transversality thus allows for a much more inclusive consideration of a poem (or any other object of analysis) than a reading that only looks at the language on the page. Simply anything can be included and the photos of Dickinson’s original fragments make clear that they indeed merit such a transversal approach. Not only language, but the spatial organization of the text and the paper, the plusses and dashes, other visual elements, Dickinson’s handwriting.
The pictures and description in themselves are not so spectacular of course, what is amazing is that they are so very different from the printed poems and that they do not at all fit the image that has been constructed of Dickinson. However, the distributive style of writing immediately point forward to Olson’s page-as-field, which is a term Susan Howe also used in her talk (as Howe also remarks, quoting someone (I don’t recall who): she was ‘out of her time, in her time’). It is also similar to some of Susan Howe’s own poetry, like this section from ‘Thorow’ (in Singularities, 1990):
Other examples abound: there is Ezra Pound, the endless experiments of the Language poets, Rachel Blau DuPlessis’ Drafts, and going back, Apollinaire’s concrete poetry, Mallarmé’s ‘Un coup de dés’. It is this last example that Louis Armand evokes in his essay ‘Towards a Techno-Poetic Method’ (Solicitations, 331), in which he describes a method of transversality, whereby the poem is read as a constellation-event, rather than a linear sequence of words:
a flattening out of depth-of-field in the simultaneous vision of the page and the typographics of visual intensity, such that the mimesis of linear evolution of a meaning is broken apart, replaced by a generalised transversality, wherein, as Mallarmé writes, ‘NOTHING WILL HAVE TAKEN PLACE BUT THE PLACE EXCEPT PERHAPS A CONSTELLATION’.
So the poem is no longer merely referring to a supposed external reality, but becomes an event in itself, an occasion of experience, a block of intensity. Armand thus reads Mallarmé’s poem not only as a description of contingency, but as performative of contingency in its appearing. In other words, as the famous throw of the dice that is mentioned in the poem: ‘A THROW OF THE DICE WILL NEVER ABOLISH CHANCE…NOT EVEN WHEN CAST IN ETERNAL CIRCUMSTANCES’ (Solicitations, 334).
And Quentin Meillassoux, who argues that the only constant is contingency:
…the term contingency refers back to the Latin contingere, meaning ‘to touch, to befall’, which is to say, that which ahppens, but which happens enough to happen to us. The contingent, in a word, is something that finally happens – something other, something which, in its irreducibility to all pre-registered possibilities, puts an end to the vanity of a game wherein everything , even the improbable, is predictable. (After Finitude, 108)
- – -
I believe this poem was on the triangle:
One note from one Bird
Is better than a Million Word–
A scabbard has – but one sword