Thursday, May 8, 2008

I: Introduction

In her monograph of Louis Zukofsky, Sandra Kumamoto Stanley writes that the poet recognized “that no unified, transcendent, unmediated ‘I’ exists; when we seek to recover ‘LZ,’ we recover bits and pieces of Zukofsky’s life and writings, all filtered through and reconstructed in our minds” (1). Her claim, with regards to Zukofsky’s ontological stance, stems from a letter the poet wrote to his friend John Seed, which states: “I may show some interest in ‘LZ,’ whoever someone else thought he was” (1). By acknowledging multiple versions of his past Self (both as “LZ” and “someone else”) as distinct from his present Self, Zukofsky disassembles the notion of a holistic, unified Zukofsky and instead forwards a fractured and contingent multiplicity of himself. Such a diffusion of the “I” prefigures a Deleuzian metaphysics, in that the philosopher, when conceptualizing Nietzsche’s eternal return, claims that we “must lose…the resemblance of the Self and the identity of the I must perish…For ‘one’ repeats eternally, but ‘one’ now refers to the world of impersonal individualities and pre-individual singularities” (Deleuze, Difference 299). Or, as Deleuze and Guattari write in the incipient chapter of A Thousand Plateaus, the Self needs to be re-conceptualized so that we may not come to “reach the point where one no longer says I, but the point where it is no longer of any importance whether one says I. We are no longer our selves…We have been…multiplied” (3).

But the connection between Zukofsky and Deleuze does not terminate with the manner in which both men re-envision the Self and fundamental propositions of Western ontology; in fact, throughout their respective oeuvres, an inter-textuality based linguistic repetition creates an echoing of language that resonates across both spatial and temporal dimensions. During his seminal essay on poetics entitled “An Objective,” Zukofsky lists several “components of the poetic object,” one of which is “the core that covers the work of poets who see with their ears, hear with their eyes, move with their noses and speak and breathe with their feet” (Prepositions 17). Through a re-distribution of perception that assigns active agency of the senses to new and different organs, Zukofsky seeks to demonstrate how “lunatics,” or poets, “are sometimes profitably observed” in that they can produce an “intense vision of a fact” (17). While no doubt the poet derives the aforementioned quote from Bottom’s dream in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream[1], the words, nonetheless, reverberate just as, if not more, clearly within Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus: “Is it really so sad and dangerous to be fed up with seeing with your eyes, breathing with your lungs, swallowing with your mouth, talking with your tongue, thinking with your brain, having an anus and larynx, head and legs? Why not walk on your head, sing with your sinuses, see through your skin, breath with your belly” (150-1). If one re-distributes sensory perceptions as such, the closer one comes to attaining a Body without Organs (BwO); although, one can never “reach it, you are forever attaining it, it is a limit” (Deleuze and Guattari, Thousand 150).

But what exactly is a BwO? According to Deleuze and Guattari, to have a BwO, one must “be done with the judgment of God” (150), but “God,” in this sense, refers to any mythos reinforced through a hierarchical structure. While Deleuze and Guattari primarily create a BwO by dismantling psychoanalysis, they make clear that the “BwO is what remains when you take everything away. What you take away is precisely the phantasy, and significances and subjectifications as a whole” (151); the BwO, then, is asignifying and asubjective, a body which is “nothing more than a set of valves, locks, floodgates, or communicating vessels…populated by intensities” that are “defined by axes and vectors, gradients and thresholds, by dynamic tendencies involving energy transformation and kinematic movements involving group displacement, by migrations” (153). It must be noted, though, that a BwO “is not opposed to the organs but to the organization of the organs called the organism,” which is, as previously mentioned, the “judgment of God, the system of the judgment of God, the theological system, is precisely the operation of He who makes an organism” (158). Connecting the BwO to the previously mentioned disassembly of the Self, Deleuze and Guattari write: “it is a question of making a body without organs upon which intensities pass, self…can no longer be said to be personal…it is like an absolute Outside that knows no Selves because interior and exterior are equally apart of the immanence in which they have fused” (156). Zukofsky writes about the fusion of “interior and exterior” as well when he states: “In sincerity shapes appear concomitants of word combinations…the detail, not mirage, of seeing” (Prepositions 12). “Word combinations,” or that which derives from an interior space, concomitantly appear with the “shapes,” or objects in an exterior space, that the “seeing” subject apprehends. With both authors, then, the interior and the exterior, the subject and the object, can no longer be divided into separate, hermetic categories; strict Cartesian dualism, or the traditional Western conception of Self, collapses into “historic and contemporary particulars” (12), an “immanence” in which subject and object are fused.

But how does one make a BwO? Or, more precisely, how does one make a Zukofsky without organs (ZwO)? Although Deleuze and Guattari do not provide an explicit template for how this is done, they do present a series of strategies that aid in the production of a BwO; such strategies are as follows:
Lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities it offers, find an advantageous place on it, find potential movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them, produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continuums of intensities segment by segment, have a small plot of new land at all times. It is through a meticulous relation with the strata that one succeeds in freeing lines of flight, causing conjugated flows to pass and escape and bringing forth continuous intensities for a BwO. (Thousand 161)
If one employs these general instructions, a BwO may manifest itself; in other words: “You [will] have constructed your own little machine, ready when needed to be plugged into other collective machines” (161). The BwO as a “little machine,” again, resonates with Zukofsky’s language in “A Statement for Poetry” when he quotes William Carlos Williams: “consider a poem as a design or construction. A contemporary American poet [Williams] says: ‘A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words’” (Prepositions 19). So, to create a ZwO, or a “little machine” made of Zukofsky, one must not solidify into an interpretative mode, mired in the realm of signification with the intent of extracting “meaning” from its content; instead, readers must lodge themselves on a “stratum,” experimenting “with the opportunities [they] offer,” then flow into another “stratum” with the intent of discovering, “through meticulous relation,” a multiplicity of conjugations, intensities, and lines of flight. The poems of Zukofsky, these “little machines” that are ZwOs, should be read in a manner that emphasizes affective elements, such as “sound, pitch, rhythm, and tone” (Bernstein ix) just as much, if not more, than a circumspect search for the “meaning” of a poem’s content. Experimenting with the auditory aspects of Zukofsky’s poems becomes all the more important in lieu of Charles Bernstein’s claim that sonic elements:
Do not accompany meaning, neither are they arbitrary nor conventionally associated with meaning: they make meaning. When words are heard as sound, the poetic mode of expression has taken hold. The result is…an acoustically charge poetry…derived from the newly invented. (ix-x)
Zukofsky himself wrote that poetry should not only “embrace…such action that informs skills and the intellect…in the head,” but also that which is “outside…the head or whatever impinges upon it anatomically” (Prepositions 8): a visceral, affective poetic, no less than a poetic of intellection. Yet, with anatomical impingement, as well as with the BwO, Zukofsky’s poetic displaces perception, in that “what is sounded by words has to do with what is seen by them—and how much what is at once sounded and seen by them cross-cuts an interplay among themselves” (8). The eye of the I becomes the ear of the I, and vice versa; to be a ZwO is to be a seeing ear, “An Objective…lens brining the rays from an object to a focus” (12) that is “associated with ‘musical’ shape…of words more variable than variables” (16).