Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Recent Reading

Giorgio Agamben, Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience, and Laura Moriarty, Ultravioleta
I took these two very different books with me on a trip to New York a couple weeks ago and read them alternately. They are both, among other things, fussy investigations of the pronoun I. Agamben interrogates it discursively, with reference to the history of philosophy, and Moriarty allegorically, with reference to the history of poetry, using standard science-fiction tropes as a scaffolding. (In her novel, "the I" are a semi-disembodied alien race that feed on human and Martian emotions—perhaps by entering their poems—and that have colonized the solar system—"it was like an invasion of therapists.") Both make reference to Descartes's "I think therefore I am" and Rimbaud's "I is another," and both seem to conclude that "I" is a creature of, a creation of, a convenience of, language: the thing that speaks, the thing limited by language. Which throws a new light on Wittgenstein's dubious "The limits of my language are the limits of my world." I never cared much for poets' and philosophers' pronoun anxiety, but now it's starting to get interesting.

Clark Coolidge, At Egypt
A long strange trip through a solider cosmos than Moriarty's. One theme is the infinite gradations of blue sky:
But the blue now, the blues through the roof they intended
is a coal blue, as if radiation rates a mineral explanation
that hue of blue darkening past sunset seen through
sandstone gaps, in temple, past navy blue dye of a fountain pen
a metallic crystal I lost like its sickle to the earthshine
slice of the moon, near Islamic sun, and its one pilot star
its second one in reddish conjuction, such stellar cycles
I time through masterful space, sandstone laps
metered to meet on this silver against feather night
brought to plumb downtown under weight of no words
George Kubler, The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things
A meticulous little treatise on the methods by which we learn from and categorize human-made objects. Full of brilliantly offhand examples drawn from the whole history of art, craft and architecture (Kubler also wrote a book on 16th-century Mexican architecture), all illustrating rather sketchy schemes of categorization. There's also a beautiful index: Talent, Taste, Taxco, Tedium, Temperament, Teotihuacán, Text editing, Time, Toledo, Toltec-Maya, Tomb-furnishings, Topology, Trait, Tree-rings, Triviality, Twain, Mark, Typology.

Benjamin Friedlander, The Missing Occasion of Saying Yes
A disorienting poet. I'm just beginning to get my bearings. Scary, strained lyrics for a scary, strained America.
Oh it calls to me where I've gone
araft. A reft in the never placid
water wrapped out of tune.
In the picky lap of luxury.


Chris said...

Describing Agamben as "fussy" = awesome.

Also, if you haven't read Retallack's doubleplusgood essay "The Poethical Wager", she also goes into "I" issues.

Chris said...

Also, the weird thing, to me, who does not have native understanding of French, has always been that Rimbaud's famous line goes:

Je est un autre.

where you'd really expect it to be:

J'est un autre.

though googling suggests it's really:

JE est un autre.

which might explain the lack of elision, but which is especially hard to render in English.