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    writing opacity

    In a piece on Gertrude Stein and Ludwig Wittgenstein, Guy Davenport describes the main movement of twentieth-century lit as being "a movement from assuming the world to be transparent, and available to lucid thought and language, to assuming ... that the world is opaque. This would seem to be the assumption of Joyce, Borges, Beckett, Barthelme, Ionesco."

    To this list, you could add most major American poets since probably Charles Olson. My short list would include poets like Lyn Hejinian, Ron Silliman, Barrett Watten, Rae Armantrout, Leslie Scalapino, and Charles Bernstein: all writers who seem to me write in a way that acknowledges the inability of any written work to articulate the totality of the phenomenal world (to make it "transparent") and so accepts the reality that both author and reader exist in a state of near-total occlusion. Taking this reality as a given allows these authors to write in a way that plays off of it, that in effect depends upon it in order for their work to take on its particular set of qualities.

    Davenport again, on Olson's long poem "The Kingfishers" : "[The Kingfishers'] seeming inarticulateness is not a failure to articulate, but a declining to articulate images and events which can be left in free collision."

    This idea of "declining to articulate" the relationship between things is of increasing interest to me: one of the difficulties with what I've been calling the Novel of Adequacy is that it has to describe all the linkages that connect that suburban American teen to that woman in China in a way that both feels mimetically true and retains narrative interest. This is an enormous task, and one that leaves out far more important connections than it manages to illuminate. I feel like most of the poets I've discussed in this post would be more content to leave the woman and the teen in "free collision": to simply juxtapose the two of them, and jettison all the laborious claptrap-construction involved in drawing out the link narratively. A reader would grasp the point that the two figures are interrelated, even if he or she were unable to fully articulate the exact particulars of the relationship: in fact the work would partially be about the fact that for the vast majority of us, these networks of interrelationship are best characterized by our partial (or total) ignorance of them.

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    Thursday, October 20, 2005
    10:32 AM


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