Artefact, Recursiveness, Focus

Anne Carson in Eros, the bittersweet draws on the work of Eric Havelock postulating a shift in the Greek mind with the coming of literacy. She evokes this line of thought in the following terms:

At the same time, a more private revolution is set in process by the phenomenon of alphabetization. As the audio-tactile world of the oral culture is transformed into a world of words on paper where vision is the principal conveyor of information, a reorientation of perceptual abilities begins to take place within the individual.

An individual who lives in an oral culture uses his senses differently than one who lives in a literate culture, and with that different sensual deployment comes a different way of conceiving his own relations with his environment, a different conception of his body and a different conception of his self. The difference revolves around the physiological and psychological phenomenon of individual self-control. Self-control is minimally stressed in an oral milieu where most of the data important for survival and understanding are channelled into the individual through the open conduits of his senses, particularly his sense of sound, in a continuous interaction linking him with the world outside him. Complete openness to the environment is a condition of optimum awareness and alertness for such a person, and a continual fluent interchange of sensual impressions and responses between the environment and himself is the proper condition of his physical and mental life. To close his sense off from the outside world would be counter-productive to life and to thought.
I quote at length to make a few points: self-control is not alien to an oral culture, indeed regulation of information received is important for sorting out life and thought. Carson's individual could be a tool maker or a creator of artefacts — and would there not be need for periods of introspection to build and create?

Substitute tool-making for reading and writing in the continuation of her account to see that all that is ascribed to the power of reading and writing can and does exist in prior oral cultures.
When people begin to learn reading and writing, a different scenario develops. Reading and writing require focusing the mental attention upon a text by means of the visual sense. As an individual reads and writes he gradually learns to close or inhibit the input of his senses, to inhibit or control the responses of his body, so as to train energy and thought upon the written words. He resists the environment outside him by distinguishing and controlling the one inside him. This constitutes at first a laborious and painful effort for the individual, psychologists and sociologists tell us. In making the effort he becomes aware of the interior self as a entity separable from the environment and its input, controllable by his own mental action. The recognition that such controlling action is possible, and perhaps necessary, marks an important stage in ontogenic as in phylogenetic development, a stage at which the individual personality gathers itself to resist disintegration.
What I do grant is that reading and writing permit affordances that enhance recursivity. It is easier in writing to inscribe the writing moment into itself. And easier for the reader to be aware of his or her own reading. But self-relexivity is not alien to an oral culture.

Instead of a historiography of rupture between literate and oral eras, one can following Carson's own triangulation of beloved, lover and the distance between the two, propose a schema between environment, interior self and the distance between them. The structure may vary from historical instance to historical instance but it is not totally absent from any given formation. I still maintain that storytelling in an oral culture demands self-control and writing as a practice can lead the self to disintegrate along lines of flight. In either situation, one can take on or resist voices. Voice-distance-self.

And so for day 1875
31.01.2012

"wild starlight"

It is no wonder that in a book of poems entitled Light-crossing Michael Redhill makes us attentive to starlight.

starblown night, scattered salt thrown for good luck over a shoulder
That was from "Night Driving"
This is from "Mahoney Point"
But the Milky Way is a chalk mark
erased against blackness
And the title to this blog entry is derived from the final words of "Allen's Hill": wild starlight.

What is remarkable for me in these examples is the pairing of a celestial figure with a human gesture. In some ways, one would expect such treatment to result in a domestication of the phenomenon. However, the impulsiveness of the gesture releases a sort of sublimity.

And so for day 1874
30.01.2012

Semagraphic Thought

Ted Chiang "Story of Your Life" — the linguist Louise explaining her acquisition of the writing system of the Heptapods …

As I grew more fluent, semagraphic designs would appear fully formed, articulating even complex ideas all at once. My thought processes weren't moving any faster as a result, though. Instead of racing forward, my mind hung balanced on the symmetry underlying the semagrams. The semagrams seemed to be something more than language; they were almost like mandalas. I found myself in a meditative state, contemplating the way in which premises and conclusions were interchangeable. There was no direction inherent in the way propositions were connected, no "train of thought" moving along a particular route; all the components in an act of reasoning were equally powerful, all having identical precedence.
once. though. semagrams. mandalas. interchangeable. precedence.

These are the terminal words of the sentences in the paragraph. They enact the very thing/event that is described. They work as a syntagm either forwards or backwards. All-at-once time is given.

And so for day 1873
29.01.2012

Codeword Repetition

Way earlier in the sequences

between kisses
now no one can clearly recall
the colour of silence
before the alphabets intersected
A long ways toward the end, in fact the last words to the last of the last
it will have been
an idea of flight and passion
light in breaking waves of time
sea as volume
in the alphabet and the present
Nicole Brossard Ardour translated by Angela Carr

The word "alphabet" seems to stand in for the world of language but we are none too sure of this metonymic interpretation. It could all be a set of letters before coalescing into words.

And so for day 1872
28.01.2012

Syntactical Tactics

The ending of "Not Without" in Mark Doty's Deep Lane stretches the word order so that the reader is invited to linger and puzzle over the word order and the linkages between the elements.

Even that. Endless gratitude,
for the thing I would without be no one I know.
It is the absence of commas that intrigues. It reminds me of a passage in Robert Lowell's "Skunk Hour" where commas and assorted punctuation abound.
And now our fairy
decorator brightens his shop for fall;
his fishnet’s filled with orange cork,
orange, his cobbler’s bench and awl;
there is no money in his work,
he’d rather marry.
It took me a while but that second "orange" finally registered in my brain as a proleptic positioning of the adjective to modify the cobbler's bench and awl. Marry for money? Marry rather than burn? All we readers are left with is a character without — no money, no marriage, but a nicely decorated shop.

And so for day 1871
27.01.2012

Two Portraits From Miller

George Miller. 30 (some odd) poems. Toronto: Three Tree Press, 1977.

"Padraig O'Broin"

[…]
In the tundra between the lines
we eye each other guardedly
"John of Glasgow"
[…]
There is still among the dying
more life than among the dead

[…]
star blood
         earth bone
part light
         part stone

[…]
Our breath hangs in the air
like evidence for the soul
and there are countries we
have not seen which will taste
like crisp apples
when we go to them
in the morning
Ever alert to the traces of life and its enjoyments in a land of cold.

And so for day 1870
26.01.2012

Even A Few More From Miller

George Miller. 30 (some odd) poems. Toronto: Three Tree Press, 1977.

Conclusion to "Gambit"

[…]
He practised madness
in front of his mirror
and when the mirror broke
he found he had perfected it.
A male version of "The Lady of Shallot" and its "mirror crack'd from side to side"?

And so for day 1869
25.01.2012

A Few More From Miller

George Miller. 30 (some odd) poems. Toronto: Three Tree Press, 1977.

"Back to Back — LSD"

[…]

A flower is a lesson in celestial
geometry
I smell its colour
The flower and my vision of it
cross-pollinate
in an obscure but marvellous
act of procreation
A dog is running
and I become its motion

[…]
The poem races off and we are left with the marvellous obscurity of colour and scent mingling.

And so for day 1868
24.01.2012

Even More From Miller

George Miller. 30 (some odd) poems. Toronto: Three Tree Press, 1977.

One of the thirty odd is a poem entitled "30th Birthday Testament"

[…]
a gaggle of friends
who rejected the dance
in favour of
learning how to limp
[…]
Remark how the enjambement ("in favour of / learning how to limp") reproduces that very limp.

And so for day 1867
23.01.2012

More From Miller

George Miller. 30 (some odd) poems. Toronto: Three Tree Press, 1977.

Has the most glorious cover: a cheque (remember those?) made out to "whomever" is written out in the currency of "poems" in the amount of 30 (some odd) signed by the poet.

In those some odd thirty is "Poem for My Daoughters 2" which plays with symmetry
Run away with me

we will forget
what we thought we had
to remember

[…]

Run away with me

we will remember
what we thought we had
forgotten

[…]

We will hold each other
's hands when we cross the street
and maybe we will hold each other
's hands when we do not cross the street

[…]
That splitting of "other's" over the line break is a mark of virtuosity and silliness combined to great effect in a poem we deem addressed to children. It's a cheque we can endorse.

And so for day 1866
22.01.2012