But here is a small piece of the truth – I am glad to greet you
There, just with a few simple words it is possible to say the truth
– Lyn Hejinian, from Oxota
I continue sincerity with the I under erasure – an I no longer one, but remarkably singular. Truth begins with an encounter. An I which is not the authorial/authoritative keeper of verifiable truth, but an I of a situation. An I which assembles, through writing, the possibility of an encounter.
I continue also with irony – the ease and speed of the ironic – to which as a counterpoint, there is the project of sincerity. The sincere sentence that goes “I am writing the truth,” requires a writing that operates at a different speed, and implicitly a writing that is implicated in time. Irony involves a kind of mastery – at a small scale, a faux mastery which thinks that by containing both the reverse and the obverse, one already contains ‘all,’ or at a grand scale, a disastrous mastery, an attempt at totalization. “We need,” Alain Badiou says, “to create new art, certainly new forms, but not with the dream of a totalization of all the forms of sensibility. It’s a great question to have a relation to multimedia and to new forms of images, of art, which is not the paradigm of totalization.”
What then possibly constitutes writing that operates at a different speed, a writing that is implicated in time? It is easy to posit that writing, like all of man’s activities, occurs in time, and thus, is obviously implicated in it. But to be content with this is to be complicit with what Giorgio Agamben notes as the Hegelian nullification of experience, where, time is imagined as merely “where the spirit falls,” and history is consequently “something into which man falls, something that merely expresses the being-in-time of the human mind.” Karl Marx proposes a revolutionary concept of history opposed to the sterile Hegelian mode, which Agamben notes as history determined “not by an experience of linear time but by praxis, concrete activity as essence and origin of man.”
Yet “the fundamental contradiction of modern man,” Agamben writes further, “is precisely that he does not yet have an experience of time adequate to his idea of history, and therefore is painfully split between his being-in-time as an elusive flow of instants and his being-in-history understood as the original dimension of man.” It is there, in the gap between our experience of time and our experience of history, that it becomes possible to think about writing that is implicated in time.
“The composition is the thing seen by everyone living in the living they are doing, they are the composing of the composition that at the time they are living is the composition of the time in which they are living. It is that that makes living a thing they are doing. Nothing else is different, of that almost anyone can be certain. The time when and the time of and the time in that composition is the natural phenomena of that composition.”
(from Gertrude Stein’s Composition as Explanation)
Composition then is implicated in time: not merely occurring in time, but entangled with it, the time when, the time of, the time in. Living as composing and living itself as being composed – is this not an instance of praxis, of that concrete activity that works with time as its material, and at the same time within time, while composing time?
Agamben writes of a “true historical materialism” that is “ready at any moment to stop time, because it holds the memory that man’s original home is pleasure.” By re-situating pleasure from the instant into history, by aestheticizing the experience of time, it is possible, even minimally, to qualitatively alter this time; aesthetics, in the sense of the pleasurable, but also in the sense of an ethics, of choice, of choosing how to disrupt and commence time, to work in time, and with time as material. The poetry of Lyn Hejinian proffers various examples of composition’s intricate relationship with time. The method of composition, of working across multiple sections in My Life and in multiple chapters/books in A Border Comedy at given durations is an obvious departure from the customary method of composing by writing one poem after another. But the relationship of composition with time is pushed further in Hejinian’s Happily where happiness, possible only in time, but at the same time at risk as time proceeds, is formally presented through accordioning sentences which Hejinian describes as “one with solid handles (a clear beginning and a clear end);” sentences that one can argue as open ended, the end of the line-sentence left unpunctuated, and hanging, un-resolved even as the next line-sentence begins:
Constantly I write this happily
Hazards that hope may break open my lips
What I feel is taking place, a large context, long yielding, and to doubt it would be a
crime against it
I sense that in stating “this is happening”
Waiting for us
It has existence in fact without that
We came when it arrived
(from Lyn Hejinian, Happily)
It has existence in fact without that/ We came when it arrived. What to make of a we whose coming is contingent upon an it happening? Is this not the subject of an encounter possible only in the poem-event’s happening? “The poem presents itself as a thing of language, encountered – each and every time – as an event,” writes Alain Badiou. What possibly allows the poem to be evental, to be new, is composition. The poem does not belong to time imagined as flow of fleeting instants. A poem can, through its prosody refrain, that is, continually resist sterile time by means of repetition.
But what does a minimal qualitative shift in the experience of time, possible through the poem, have to do with a qualitative change in the vastness that is history? Walter Benjamin offers a hopeful possibility by re-situating history outside historicism (which thinks history as a posthumous vastness of like historical moments, and as progress that irresistibly propels man towards the future) and into “a conception of the present as the ‘time of the now’ […] shot through with chips of Messianic time.” Agamben reads this now in Heidegger: “no longer the precise fleeting instant throughout linear time, but the moment of authentic decision in which the Dasein experiences its own finiteness.”
Up the hill is a hut made of sound
where two windows rhyme
and the tiles stay on
because they are nailed to a dream.
The dreamer wonders: Can this be mine?
This is the original home
at the heart of brutalist design.
No storm can slam its shape apart.
No thief can carry it off.
It dwells in ashen buildings where the present sleeps.
(from Fanny Howe, the Hut)
“[M]an’s original home is pleasure,” and man holds this “in memory,” writes Agamben. Fanny Howe writes of a virtual hut, an original home made of sensuous sound, in the dream-situation, and so dreamed (meaning: imagined , and already present but still aspired for) but at the same time dwelling where the present is, but sleeps. By the end of Agamben’s essay, “Time and History,” there is no unified solution proposed to the problem of qualitatively altering our experience of time and giving rise to “authentic revolutions,” yet several concepts are noted: pleasure, the now as a moment of authentic decision, history as the site of happiness…. The poem also offers no solutions, yet these possibilities abound in the poem – a site of non-totalizing sensuousness in an extended now; an open-ended process that works with time, in time, altering time; an encounter, an event, a possibility for choice and decision.
Agamben, Giorgio. Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience. Trans. Liz Heron. New York, N.Y.: Verso, 1993.
Badiou, Alan. “Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art.” Lacanian Ink http://www.lacan.com/lacinkXXIII7.htm. Web May 2010.
Badiou, Alain. Theoretical Writing. Trans. Ray Brassier and Rodrigo Toscano. New York, N.Y: Continuum, 2006.
Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. Ed. Hannah Arendt. New York, N.Y.: Schocken Books, 2007.
Howe, Fanny. Come and See. Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf Press, 2011.
Hejinian, Lyn. The Language of Inquiry. Berkley, Calif: University of California Press, 2000.
Stein, Gertrude. “Composition as Explanation.” Poetry Foundation http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/essay/238702. Feb 15 2010. Web. May 2010.
Raymond de Borja’s book of poems and collage, “they day daze,” was published by High Chair. Past works can be found on: High Chair, Kritika Kultura, HTML Giant, Lemonhound, The Volta Blog.