Monday, August 30, 2004

Nate, I very much liked the Breton quote about the table, and don't think I had heard it before. I think it says a great deal about how the ambiguity of an image works. We certainly have all encountered in workshops those unfortunate poets who are so devoted to the idea of ambiguity in a poem but can't tell the difference between ambiguity that adds to the poem and ambiguity that just leaves one with a head-scratch. How culturally useful an image is is pretty important. A table makes a strong image not because so many different occasions may be interpreted out of it but because each has social meaning attached to it. The idea of the table inflates no matter which table rises up in the mind.

Why is it that all literature and especially poetry makes use of image drastically more than our regular speech? (For even the more abstract literature still uses more image than the everyday.) Part of it must be this business of the realm of literature being one where something previously inexpressed is expressed and this is somehow more possible/easier? through imagery. Why, because abstraction purely can only be reached through logic and so the original abstract thought is more difficult to come by? Or is literature too coy to trade in such embarrasingly naive directness? It's fine in public, but literature is nothing if not ever searching for the proper stage lighting.

We keep speaking of image and abstraction as polarity. Where would this put something that is a very abstract concreteness, such as if one were to write a description of say a Rothko painting but not clue the reader in to what it is being described? Besides blurring the line, I think this type of imagery can be quite useful, although I suppose many would find it off-putting.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Joe’s response is a good one. In referencing Lautreamont and the surprise inherent in that famous image, you approach the classic surrealist (via Reverdy) definition of imagery which insists upon the ‘spark’ created by two disparate elements (usually of ‘reality’ or of the words in question) brought together. And above all, this notion of the ‘nebulousness’ of imagery really interests me. It seems an inevitable condition of the verbal image. No matter what, the sewing machine you see is not the sewing machine I see. In a preface to the collaborative book Ralentir Travaux, Breton writes:

"Everybody has seen a table but when we say table the trouble is that right now this table is for M. Breton a café table (because he drinks), for M. Char a gambling table (because he does not gamble), for M. Eluard an operating table (because this morning he passed by the Place d’Opéra)."

Joe, if I get you, you’re suggesting that poet’s make this inevitable vagueness work to their advantage in imagery which encompasses at once the physical and the abstract (?) ... This seems highly Ashberian to me, which is not a bad thing.

I disagree, perhaps, that the Lautreamont line is effective because of the abstract half. It is a metaphor (a simile--if I have time, I’ll dig thru the book and find the reference), so that throws a wrench in it anyone--Lautreamont’s not even suggesting a real encounter, merely an analogy. But still, sans analogy, sans the abstraction "beautiful," I think "the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella upon a dissecting table" is just as effective.

This imagery question stuck to me in early summer ‘cause it seemed like so much of contemp[orary][tible] poetry cheapens the notion of the objective correlative in some sort of highly personal, melodramatic equation, such as: emotional situation + appropriate image = beautiful poem, and all this strikes me as rehearsed and predictable.

I also think it’s important to question those ‘unquestioned’ values. There must be room for abstraction in poetry for there is room for it in language and thought. Perhaps the death of abstraction is the marriage of sentimentality and abstraction. Yikes! That’s the road no one comes back from...

I don’t know... other thoughts? anyone? hello hello?

Vicky, don't have a cow. We love you. We're busy...

Friday, August 20, 2004

Sluggish as the blog has been, I will take it upon myself to revive it and address Nate’s very important questions about the position of imagery in poetry. The advantage of imagery is I think the nebulousness of its meaning, by which I do’nt mean a negative type of obscurity. To the contrary, images are able to be nebulous without being obscure precisely because of their tangibility. Images are naturally direct, but when they used well they cultivate indirectness. In this respect, an image's reference to a physicality is significant. The trick, however is to find a way to expand the images referentiality beyond the merely physical. If Lautreamont’s “As beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella upon a dissecting table" is effective it is precisely because of the abstract part of it and because stating the beauty of this coincidence of objects arouses an immense range of emotions from delight to horror which encapsulates beauty in a truer way than the image could on its own. This can easily be a clumsy tool if images are always stand-ins for emotion, but variety is key and imagery can be expanded in many ways but I suppose it always has to have some human glint to it.