Thursday, May 8, 2008

III: "The Problem of Meaning"

Yet, one should not completely negate signification; in fact, even Deleuze and Guattari acknowledge that such a regime exists and operates, at times, in quite powerful ways[6]. What needs to be stressed, though, is that there is no “problem of meaning”; meaning, instead, becomes an effect of sound and the poetic techniques employed to enhance those sonic aspects of the poem. To enter into Zukofsky’s poetry, then, one must engage the work on its own terms and not foist incongruent, interpretative models upon it. If we are to treat the poem-object properly, it would be wise to appropriate a reading strategy that echoes Zukofsky’s approach to writing with an object: “Writing occurs which is the detail, not mirage, of seeing, of thinking with things as they exist, and of directing them along a line of melody. Shapes suggest themselves, and the mind senses and receives awareness” (Prepositions 12). How, then, can we as readers think with the poems “as they exist” so as to “sense and receive awareness” of their shape? What reading strategy will enable us to see the “detail,” not the mirage, of Zukofsky’s work?

First and foremost, one must take Zukofsky at his word when he writes that the poet must give “some of his life to the use of the words the and a: both of which are weighted with as much epos and historical destiny as one man can perhaps resolve” (Prepositions 10). Such attention to article usage, between the definite and indefinite, signals a highly attuned relationship with language: word combinations are not chosen in a slapdash manner, but “weighed” with the most exacting precision. Mobilizing the theoretical framework of Deleuze will aid in a more thorough understanding of Zukofsky’s poetry. In fact, Deleuze shares Zukofsky’s belief in the profound difference between “the” and “a”:
the indefinite article a covers the entire zone of variation included in the movement of particularization, and the definite article the covers the entire zone generated by the movement of generalization. It is stuttering, with every position of a or the constituting a zone of vibration. (Essays 109)
The “stuttering, with every position of a or the” and the subsequent zone of vibration constructed between their difference, in Deleuze’s opinion, is what makes for great writing because it minorizes language and forces it down a line of flight, creating “a state of disequilibrium, making it bifurcate and vary in each of its terms, following an incessant modulation” (109). By “exceeding the possibilities of speech,” a great writer becomes “a foreigner in his own language: he does not mix another language with his own language, he carves out a nonpreexistent [sic] foreign language within his own language. He makes language itself scream, stutter, stammer, or murmur” (110).

As a matter of example, Deleuze provides some brief examples of stuttering within literature: Artaud’s abandonment of “grammatical appearance in order to [develop] breath-words” coupled with “deviant syntax,” Celine’s “exclamatory sentences and suspensions that do away with all syntax in favor of pure dance words,” and Melville’s ability to have “words create silence” (Essays 112-3); likewise, the stutter is no less active in the poetry of Zukofsky through paratactic elisions. The poet’s use of elision is primarily employed to create, develop, and enhance the sound of the poem, but it also effects signification, in that elision: “opens [the poems] to active thinking, to enable them to move into new…contexts all the while constantly transforming themselves” (Bernstein viii). Lines five and six of section sixteen read: “sleeper’s eyes,/ keeper’s;” (Zukofsky, Short Poetry 48), which are preceded by a colon in line four; ostensibly, then, line five and six should be an enumeration of line four’s “delight.” But what is the relationship between the “sleeper’s eyes” and “keeper’s”? Indeed, there is no way to tell due to the absence of relation syntax. In this sense, Zukofsky creates word combinations and a poetics that traverse the space between the “tensor and the limit, the tension in language and the limit of language” (Deleuze, Essays 112). To further explicate, the limit of language, in Zukofsky’s case, is a word’s sonic possibilities; as he writes in section twelve of “A”: “I’ll tell you./ About my poetics…An integral/ Lower limit speech/ Upper limit music” (138). The tensor, or “lower limit,” is “speech” or “traditional” usage of language. In Deleuzian terms, language’s basic function is a “centralization of information…an abominable faculty consisting in emitting, receiving, and transmitting order-words. Language is made not to be believed but to be obeyed, and to compel obedience,” wherein an order-word is the “elementary unit of language” (Thousand 76). As such, every “rule of grammar is a power marker before it is a syntactical unit” (76). By eliding relational syntax, Zukofsky’s poems enable the reader, in that they decentralize information and attempt, not to “compel obedience,” but to expand the range of possibilities within a piece[7]. Moreover, given the two extremes of tensor (speech) and limit (music), Zukofsky’s poetry oscillates between these two boundaries and creates a “tension” that forces language into a “pure dance of words” (Essays 112): the words dance to the music they create, a self-sustaining music-machine moving in time with its own rhythms.

Punning further amplifies the dance of words within Zukofsky’s poetry. In line seven, where the aforementioned half-line occurs, the reader encounters the one word sentence “Plies!” (Zukofsky, Short Poetry 48). While the word can be read as the present-tense of ply, and as such provides an exclamatory enumeration of “sleeper’s eyes” that are joined together to “keep” the “light.” Yet, the half-line can also be read as the plural of “plié.” The plié, or a choreographed ballet movement where the knees are bent but the back remains straight, resembles to some extent the physical characteristics of a “singing” cricket: while the cricket’s legs remain perpetually bent, it’s wings, when chirping, are raised “above [it’s] body and then rubbed…together” (Laufer 3). In fact, crickets “belong, in the entomological system, to the order, Orthoptera (from the Greek orthos, ‘straight,’ and pteron, ‘a wing’; referring to the longitudinal folding of the hind wings)” (2). The ballerina and the cricket both bend their legs, while keeping their back and wings respectively straight. The “Pliés!” of the poem can be thus read as the cricket chirping, or an insect-created “lightning”: in other words, the “crickets’ air” (Zukofsky, Short Poetry 48). Just as the signifiers dance about the poem through the elision of syntactical markers, so do the signifieds dance through the technique of punning. This fluidity concomitantly highlights the arbitrariness, and relative unimportance, of the signifying regime as a system of judgment, as well as providing the reader with a series of word combinations that allow one to pass through a variety of strata. At very least, such fluidity demonstrates how sound “makes meaning,” not the oppisite way around. Such a passage allows the poem to sing, to stutter, to become a ZwO. And so to, then, does the reader.

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