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Authors: Ann Lauterbach

Tags: #Poetry, #American, #General

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BOOK: Under the Sign
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It is impossible to say anything else, Alice said to herself. I think everything has been said, so the only thing to do is to repeat what has been said but to repeat it somewhere unexpected. I suppose this is what writers do, or some of them. It's a little like a baseball that starts in the pitcher's glove and travels to home plate and then gets hit far off into the stands, changing its history as it goes. I wonder if this is a good analogy, she said to herself, and then decided it wasn't at all, that she had confused the elements of the argument, so that saying or writing something had become a baseball. There was some kind of difficulty between the immateriality of thought and the materiality of a baseball, even one with Babe Ruth's signature on it, which could be worth a lot of money.

Money seemed to negotiate this place between the immaterial and the material.

The day was windy, the leaves were already partly down from their niches, bittersweet vines were crawling and twisting around the trunks. She walked down to the river, which gave off a strong, brackish odor that reminded her of the sea. Perhaps, she thought, if you do one thing every day at the same time you feel better about the way everything shifts around you, and you are not sure of your relation to these shifts—if you are part of them, or apart from them. What if you decide to be tossed from pillar to post, and not attempt to hold on? What does one hold on to anyway? What pillar and what post? I wish I could hold on to the light, but that is an impossibility, the same as holding on to time.

I suppose that memory is a way of holding on to time, but it seems to me quite inaccurate and clumsy, compared to a tree with its rings or a skeleton, both of which hold time much more firmly in place. I guess while we are alive there isn't any chance of holding on to anything. And then when we die, something or someone holds on to us, for a while, and then that goes away as well.


after Bataille

A format

thrown from purchase

exaggerated, a

wish-bloodied sign,

disoriented comfort, a

reversal played as habit

and fortuitous, a gaze

as if the image

could make its way

into desire's unmade bed

there configured by ghosts

and night's arrival

marked by force,

a vicissitude, pun,

or a chronic tryst

felt slowly between

lovers, bequeathed

and the essential veil

inward as soil

bitterly tossed

is thinly deceived

as mud and seed

not ever to capture

or recall but

to send again

the bliss quotient

also undetected a new

molecular dust

to open

now culpable

now nude now bare life

and emancipate

pictorial restraint

from veracity's cave

and the recalcitrant


by silent advent

day's vigilant stare

flared into voice

and the bright air cries

for the street's permission

to liberate and revive

the conjurer's trick

among phantoms

blinded by fears his

enigmatic touch

drawn into wet tracks

another will attest so

the dissonant lament

lifts the prey

risks the broken

finds miraculous.

to Nathan Lee



I miss New York, a sense of living inside a rational plan—the grid—given over to spontaneity and complexity without measure. When I go there now I am sometimes overcome with a sense of abundance and familiarity; faces I pass seem to belong to persons I know, or once knew. The city seems to keep the past in play as active, uncanny material palimpsest. Passing the building on East Eleventh Street where I went to grade school. Footsteps. The dead.

Abundance of constant noticing, old practice of city life, before everyone looking at, speaking into, machines.

Now I live where flaws and ghosts are abundant, moving about in the winter air. Snow, and the heightened radiance of snow-clad branches: knowing that they are transitory, without meaning, without consequence. Why try to capture, in words, in pictures, to still or distill what vanishes even as it is being noticed?

Now it seems without point even as the word
is close to tears: forgive this, I know we do not approve tears. The cat, dying, brings me to tears, a creaturely embarrassment similar to the augmented beauty of the snow-clad trees. Emily Dickinson:

We introduce ourselves

to planets and

to flowers

But        with


Have     Etiquettes


And awes


American mandate: be at once the
same as
different from
—conundrum at the crux. Be all that, better than, more than! Be normal, ordinary, unafflicted, unaffected by difference. My students thrashing through these contradictions, trying to decide what to keep and what to give up. To what does one belong? Political discourse stymied at the threshold of adamancy.

Language on this tightrope.

The idea of having something in common, the Commons; the singular person and the crowded arena, village green, agora; Plato's
; Times Square. Social media blurring these temporal-spatial distinctions. We meet now in Nowhere.

The Strange approaches, ill-equipped to bring forward a method to ease difference from the contagion of the same.

An obligation of art: to allow for these conditions to be fruitful, contested.


From Emerson's
about his visit to Malta, February 1833:

A few beautiful faces in the dancing crowd, & a beautiful face is always worth going far to see. That which is finest in beauty is

Did Emerson pause between the first and second sentences? Did he note the beautiful faces in the crowd—not petals—and then get up and take a walk before adding,
“That which is
finest in beauty is



Reading Roland Barthes's
The Neutral
causes awe at the apprehension of his inquiry; notational array, thought-sparks, marginalia, arising from what seems to be the functional generosity of doubt: doubt as engine of curiosity; the merging of skepticism with something akin to the structure of belief, but not in anything absolute or specific. So that belief is part of what it means to be affected by thought? the very terms of thought?
That we can know.

Writing as the permeable edge between inward meditation and outward connectivity; in a sense
about that
, pulse and elastic flicker of the subject-object dyad that defines acts of being, reading, listening. These are acts of delicacy and attention, to allow for an opening, to let something unknown in, let it combine with what is already there. How else do we change? How else love?


. Snow on ground accumulates. Shootings in Tucson; shootings in Newtown. How events invade without filter, without choice. The far is always already near.

Thinking that there are too many; one feels simultaneously remote and overwhelmed by a crowd inside solitary confinement. This sense may be both tendentious and obvious. Not interiority but welter of accessibility and exposure, the incessant streaming that makes the urban, by contrast, seem gentle, particular, slow.

On the computer, revisions are lost. To
save the changes
is to erase them.

Writing as temporal trace of a singular presence, different from film or photography; closer, perhaps, to music. Listening to music and reading enable a kind of time travel. At stake: the possibility of a particular form of reciprocity, intimacy. Something about actual touch; touch in relation to presence. How the virtual confounds this.


The psyche jumps—old toy, doll or clown—brought into fantastic focus and then cast aside into the dump; internal drama played out against diffuse rituals. The question of intensities unmet by reality and so of excess. Shaky autonomy of being a self, capable at times of dividing into proximate agitated figures, provenance of fiction and dream.

Making a painting, a poem; making or being in love; reading: these
time from the prison of the clock.

Lisa Robertson, in “Time in the Codex”:

The substitution of personae for self, of a series for an origin, of a rhythm for a state: Here is love's tension, love's politics. Here is form. The reader loves without knowing. I read
the book, simply because the book is there to be read. Sometimes my fidelity is for materiality.

I face something delicate and fragile that could span a great distance and then it closes. One time cancels the other, exercises its authority upon the other. I am suspended between form and perception, inflected with an outside temporality. Attention becomes impersonal.


In our current climate, concept trumps percept: a requisite underlying or anchoring idea seems to guide what we value in art and poetics.

Task: not to lift what
into what

The imagination is the grace of
what could be
. Transcendence is the grace of
what is not
. I learn a new word:
: unsaying, saying-away: the unsayable.

Plotinus to Celan to Beckett.

“What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.”


Empirical knowledge refutes mythos.

Wallace Stevens (“The American Sublime”):

But how does one feel?
One grows used to the weather,
The landscape and that;
And the sublime comes down
To the spirit itself,

The spirit and space,
The empty spirit
In vacant space.
What wine does one drink?
What bread does one eat?

Desolation of the real—landscape, weather—
without symbol, ritual: Blood and Body. Stevens negotiates this obdurate deficit throughout; this is his bravery in the face of the ascendancy of rational empiricism; a consummate understanding of a perhaps infinite, restless permutation (the
) that swerves beyond mere logic. Frank O'Hara (“Personism”):
“Pain always produces logic, which is very bad for you.”

The sound of wind and a constant nodding as if everything were in agreement with everything else,
yes yes yes
: the world is not a dichotomous monster being pursued by techno-giants with unspeakable skills, but instead is a dilation opening into fluid arrays, permissions, and potentials. This chorus seems insufficient in the face of technological negation, as we turn from the merely sensed, intuitive guide that, listening, awakens us to follow, to find.

From time to time we are
to transgress, or trespass, or just to be in an imagined
The affirmation you are witnessing is blessed because it cannot know itself and therefore cannot find itself. Wind picking up, moon before long, hugely full, to rise. Poor overburdened Eros, asked to step into the breach between fact and feeling, into the very
fact of feeling
(William James)


William James: the pragmatic method:
“the attitude of looking away from first things, principles, ‘categories,' supposed necessities; and of looking towards last things, fruits, consequences, facts.”
A kind of elasticity in relation to decisions, so that the past has no final jurisdiction over how the future might unfold; a tenuous relation to tradition as such; a form of curiosity that enables risk to occur without jeopardizing the discovery, or the perpetuation, of value. But we still need to ask: what value?


Robert Rauschenberg's art a matter of putting things next to other things; next to, beside, around, above, under; primacy of the preposition throughout late modernity. Knowing only
as relation
(Rancière). In the service of an arrangement that is not lifting elsewhere, not transcendence. What he, Rauschenberg, inherited perhaps from Matisse, great master of
or distorted
arrangement, but not Cubist, not collaged enjambment, not about either the flat plane or edge; ease and generosity in compositional relations, these as the actual form of perception in which we are invited to dwell. Rauschenberg's constant amusement, self-delight, games and finesse with words, origins, placement, displacement, borders, layers. Pleasure here distinctly neither guilty nor recondite.

A friend, an architect, remarks that he thinks the desire to arrange material objects in a room is a form of optimism. I recall the joy of installing a show in a gallery. This delight in arrangement is not bound by culture, taste, age, or class.


Integrity must be the site in which intention and action are as one, in unison, seamless, without abrasion;
, that idea we rarely hear of anymore, pulls us away from what we most intend and most want to do. There is a rip, a wound, and so we attempt to heal in the place where this wound recurs and cannot leave it be.

The poem forms around the impulse to find out what is going to happen to the poem. If one is under constant revision, does one lose integrity? Integrity (
) as a form of the
as an idea of consistency. But humans are flexible in being, in bearing; we shift demeanors in relation to others, an Other. As we change, we animate the historical pulse. Fashion pretends to reflect these shifts, but often is mere preening mask. Art is a better shape-shifter, both avatar and response to what informs. Charles Olson:
“what does not change / is the will to change.”


Poet Charles Wright was featured on PBS. He talked about his late style as being more stripped down; he says his poems come from going out into his backyard and
. Poem as

The work of art is already in the realm of the unreal; it attests to the way the unreal enters reality.

Habit, habitat, inhabit, habitual
. The monk's habit; Saint Francis in his soiled robe. Etymologically connected to the Latin
, to have and hold. The range of meaning distributed between
dress and
Also to temperament, disposition, and the native environment of particular species; also the lovely

an astonishment; it never betrays its capacity for renovation. Why, then, do we rush to turn it to purely instrumental purposes?


Andy Warhol was a radically lonely person, as far as I can tell, and he attracted to him other socially alienated persons, gathering them into his Factory. The notion that one might be released from normative relations—to church, to family, to community—guided his vision of a culture increasingly dominated by the persuasive tropes and signs of media and advertising. All this is now familiar. Warhol's relation to these topographies of mediated iconography was prescient in its anticipation of the banality and addictiveness of our culture's incessant

I think Warhol's vision was seeded in his Catholic upbringing; the martyrdom of Jesus that reaches its endgame in the transgressions of capitalism, where transcendent promise, a human idea, is perverted into markets indifferent to the specificities of individuals except insofar as they can be conscripted into their forces. Warhol's stated desire to be a machine was an ironic commentary on the way capitalism behaves toward persons; as if to say, in order to live, one must denude oneself of specific affective registers—joy, for example, or despair.
Machines do not feel
. In this fallen world, good and evil are playmates, and desire loses its specificity, its capacity to articulate difference. Choice mimics freedom. Warhol's painting of Marilyn, ensconced in tarnished gold, where the visage of a single person radiates into myriad evocations of a tragic historical momentum. What might he have made now when techno-spirit adumbrates the human as avatar of the human?


Freeman Dyson, reviewing James Gleick's
The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood

Information is independent of the meaning that it expresses, and of the language used to express it. Information is an abstract concept, which can be embodied equally well in human speech or in writing or in drumbeats. All that is needed to transfer information from one language to another is a coding system.

What, then,
the relation of information to knowledge? Is knowledge the way information becomes meaningful?


Open: dilation greeted by a perceptual space that blurs outlines of things—
: the what, the I—and releases them from their names, so that the stitch of linguistic attachment is broken or suspended; a temporal-spatial enlargement, eliding dualities; evacuating signified and signifier, forgoing the sign. An immense breath that is different from normal physical
in and out

BOOK: Under the Sign
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