Thursday, May 8, 2008


[1] Upon waking from his retransformation into human form from that of an ass-man, Nick Bottom says: “I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was. Man is but an ass if he go about to expound this dream. Methought I was—there is no man can tell what. Methought I was, and methought I had—But man is a patched fool if he will offer to say what methought I had. The eye of man hath heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report what my dream was” (Shakespeare 4.1.204-11). Zukofsky would go on to write the book-length essay, entitled Bottom: On Shakespeare, that simultaneously attempts to prove “Shakespeare’s text throughout favors the clear physical eye to the erring brain,” while “tak[ing] expection to all philosophies” (Prepositions 167). While it may seem odd to filter Zukofsky through Deleuzian (i.e. philosophical) thought, given the poet’s desire to “do away with all philosophy (Prepositions 229), Deleuze’s focus on affect (i.e. physical response) as opposed to epistemology, seems rather Zukofskian in nature. Furthermore, although Zukofsky sought to “do away with all philosophy,” Mark Scroggins points out that: “While Zukofsky…often dismisses epistemological issues in quite peremptory terms, they receive extended exploration in Bottom: On Shakespeare” (17).

[2] Of course, there is a striking resemblance between crickets and Zukofsky, in that they are both becoming-cricket. As Deleuze notes: “Even when it is a woman who is becoming, she has to become-woman, and this becoming has nothing to do with a state she could claim as her own” (Essays 1), so one should not confuse crickets with becoming-cricket. But crickets do become-cricket in that their “endless repetition of…sounds…develop into a purely mechanical practice in which the insect indulges as a pastime for its own diversion” (Laufer 5); or, they become a “little machine” made of sound that produces music “like the figures in a kaleidoscope, definite and doubtless due to some internal mechanism, but not to serve any special purpose” (3). Simply, music for the sake of music: asignifying and asubjective. Interestingly enough, the Chinese, as early as the T’ang dynasty (A.D. 618-906), harnessed the instrumentalization of crickets by keeping them “as interned prisoners in cages to be able to enjoy their concert at any time”; furthermore the Shi king was a collection of odes sung in praise of the cricket’s musical capabilities (7). It would appear that the connection between musicality and crickets can be traced back thousands of years.

[3] If one considers the refrain to be a phrase or verse that recurs within a song or poem at regular intervals, rhyme, by extension, can be thought of as a phonetic refrain with the recurrence of a particular vocalized sound-pattern.

Barbara Guest, in her collection of essays entitled Forces of Imagination, opens with an apropos discussion of the differences between “radical” poetics and “conservative,” or traditional poetry. She claims that traditional poetry “is only a guide from which one can look backward, rather than forward” (Guest 11) and that such verse “is comfortable ensconced in the tried leather of a poem and the voice whether from Odessa or London or Cairo is welcome, because although the sensibility may be tired the words when they arrive are refreshingly old…and can be understood. The poem projects meanings or values; it creates an atmosphere of security” (12). Ultimately, the conservative, or traditional, artist “would like nothing better than to believe in the demise of Modernism” (13). In contradistinction to such a traditionalist posture, radical poetics attempts to “say something new.” Furthermore, radical poetics confront issues that are “infinite” and work within an “endless space” (13). In the end, a poet who writes radically “draws no moral from the assemblage. The moral is in the hands of the reader” (12). With regard to Zukofskian poetics, one can only consider them “radical” within the context of Zukofsky himself. If one attempts to merely parrot the techniques and concepts he employed, such a poetry will in-and-of-itself be a “look backward,” and thus conservative. Therefore, the difference between radical and conservative should not be thought of as emblematic of particular stylistic concerns, movements, or schools, but as work that functions outside of established constraints; as such, radical poetics can seen understood as a poetics that champions difference with regard to an entire continuum of variation in lieu of historical and poetic ancestry. Although Zukofsky drew heavily from Pound and the Imagists, he substantively altered many of the dictums of Imagism so as to develop a new, fresh, and radical poetic unto himself.

[5] Derrida, in Of Grammatology, wrote: “In this play of representation, the point of origin becomes ungraspable. There are things like reflecting pools, and images, an infinite reference from one to the other, but no longer a source, a spring. There is no longer a simple origin…The origin of the speculation becomes a difference…the forgetting of a simple origin” (36). In this sense, there is no origination point or absolute meaning with regard to language. True, a signified (i.e. “meaning”) can be ascribe to a particular signifier within a particular context, but that signified is contingent and, in many cases, ambiguous.

[6] Deleuze and Guattari certainly qualify the importance of semiotics though. According to them, the “semiotic system [is] not the first, [and] we see no reason to accord it any particular privilege from the standpoint of an abstract evolutionism” (Deleuze and Guattari, Thousand 117).

In many ways, such an expansion prefigures one of the key tenets of the Language poetry movement that would brand Zukofsky one of its forefathers. As Christopher Nealon states in his essay “Camp Messianism, or, the Hopes of Poetry in Late-Late Capitalism,” one of the three main arguments of the aforementioned movement was active-readership, which “points to a belief that difficult, unconventional texts, rather than being closed to readers, are actually more open than traditional texts because they don’t smother or direct readers with too many genre cues, over determined tropes, clichés, or heavily rehearsed rhetorical movements” (585). Ultimately, such texts “rescue language not only from cliché but also from commodification, from becoming unidirectional, informatics, Power-Point-y medium[s] for social control” (585).

Zukofsky was a mentor to Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan, and to a lesser extent, several other Black Mountain writers such as Charles Olson. Furthermore, the Language poets, particularly Charles Bernstein and Ron Silliman, claim him as a forefather to the movement they helped foster during the late-60s and early-70s. Additionally, Zukofsky serves as a touchstone for many younger poets who write in a more experimental manner.

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