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    I just recently finished reading Rational Geomancy: The Kids of the Book-Machine, which collects the writings of the Toronto Research Group, a group founded by the great experimental poets bpNichol and Steve McCaffery.

    Although most of the "research reports" collected in this book date back to the Seventies, there have been few people in the intervening three decades who have rivaled Nichol and McCaffery's committment to interrogating the form of the book, the form of the poem, the form of the word, etc.

    Part of their project hinges on developing more ways of thinking about syntax. If syntax is defined as "sentence construction or its rules," then it follows that rules governing units smaller than the sentence could be thought of as a microsyntax. Once this idea is established, it follows that, just as poets can choose to formally investigate / play with / reject the "rules" of syntax at the sentence level, they can similarly investigate / play with / reject the rules of microsyntax. McCaffery and Nichol also identify a macrosyntax governing "elements and combinations that occur in a context greater than the sentence."

    Particularly inspired, to my mind, is this description of the largest possible macrosyntactic unit:

    "As a macrosyntactic unit all literature is seen as one huge, spherical sentence, continuously expanding, whose grammar and arrangement is continuously permutated and modified... This macrosyntax is the given context of reading: it is the huge block of unread letter sequences that make up textuality."


    "Obviously, from the point of view of readership, the paths through the macrosyntax (which is itself constantly growing and changing) are infinite. The sequence of things read can be as significant as the actual things read. Any path creates valid reader experiences. The notion of any absolute reading is ridiculous. Intertextual travels that cover Husserl, Reader's Digest, Robert Filliou and Maurice Sendak ae as valid as those covering Max Brand, Stan Lee, Jacques Lacan, T.S. Eliot and Robert Crumb. The writer can never know the entire macrosyntactic context from which her readers draw. The only certainty is that they will all be different."

    From this, McCaffery and Nichol conclude that "[b]oth reading and writing are activities of foregrounding from a ground of potentiality, and the history of a person's reading can be seen to constitute that person's own writing through the macrosyntax."

    Of course, if that is true, it raises the question of "why write at all when one could just be reading?" but that's really a question for another day.

    bPNichol died in 1988, but McCaffery is still around, most recently spotted writing about "parapoetics" for the North American Center for Interdiscipliary Poetics.

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    Monday, April 17, 2006
    3:50 PM


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