San Diego Poetry Guild

notes on guild, poetry, and San Diego


Excential Texts 5

Lyn Hejinian, The Language of Inquiry, 2000

[some bits...]

Language is nothing but meanings, and meanings are nothing but a flow of contexts. Such contexts rarely coalesce into images, rarely come to terms. They are transitions, transmutations, the endless radiating of denotation into relation.

Poetry, to use William James’s phrase, ‘is in the transitions as much as in the terms connected.’

Poetry comes to know that things are. But this is not knowledge in the strictest sense; it is, rather, acknowledgment—and that constitutes a sort of unknowing. To know that things are is not to know what they are, and to know that without what is to know otherness (i.e., the unknown and perhaps unknowable).

This acknowledging is a process, not a definitive act; it is an inquiry, a thinking on.

The spaces in which meaning occurs are social spaces, ones in which human practice as well as artistic practice is at stake.

One makes a form, sketches it out, looks to see it, and pursues the suggestions it has made. The initial step is a gesture—or the result of a gesture.

These initial objects of one’s alertness serve as the points of departure for a foray into the world and back again.

The artist…displays a vast tolerance and an infinite capacity for questioning, and her work exerts the moral force of combination. It constitutes a relation.

…it is the bibliography that is the text. The writing emerges from within a pre-existent text of one’s own devising or another’s. The process is composition rather than writing.

The “open text,” by definition, is open to the world and particularly to the reader. It invites participation, rejects the authority of the writer over the reader and thus, by analogy, the authority implicit in other (social, economic, cultural) hierarchies. [It is] generative rather than directive [and] often emphasizes or foregrounds process, either the process of the original composition or of subsequent compositions by readers….

Form is not a fixture but an activity.

A central activity of poetic language is formal. In being formal, in making form distinct, it opens—makes variousness and multiplicity and possibility articulate and clear.

In The Experimental Novel (1880) Zola identified the task of the writer with that of the scientist…: ‘No more lyricism, no more big empty words, but facts, documents,’ he wrote.

…verisimilitude and veracity…

It is customary and to an extent automatic to think of landscape as a space, as a framed spatial configuration enclosing natural phenomena. But to think about time as it takes place in a landscape makes it much easier to understand some of Stein’s central concepts…

…Stein has discovered that every relation with phenomena is colored in mood…. She is often in mood amused.

In the realm of the political as in that of the material world around us, “knowledge of sensible realities” is vital, and if I have argued that poetic language contributes critically to making realities sensible, it must address both the material character of the political and the political character of the material.

Introspection has writing as its exemplar, as a radical method with disintegrating and dispersive effects.

The metonym operates within several simultaneous but not necessarily congruent logics, oscillating inferentially between induction and deduction…. Metonymy moves attention from thing to thing; its principle is combination rather than selection. Compared to metaphor, which depends on code, metonym preserves context, foregrounds interrelationship.

Metonymy moves restlessly, through an associative network, in which associations are compressed rather than elaborated.

…to the extent that metonymy conserves perception of the world of objects, conserves their quiddity, their particular precisions, it is a ‘scientific’ description.

…direct and sensuous contact with the concrete and material world…unmediated by preconceptions…. The materials of nature speak….

According to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century philosophers of science, there is a specifically scientific way of seeing, which looks at, not over, the object of inquiry.

When the term realism is applied to poetry, it is apt to upset our sense of reality. But it is exactly the strangeness that results from a description of the world given in terms ‘there it is,’ ‘there it is,’ ‘there it is’ that restores realness to things in the world and separates things from ideology….

…collage is a predominantly spatial technique (developed in paintings), whereas montage (deriving from film technique) employs devices that are related to time. In this sense montage preserves its character as a process.

The only qualities necessary for reading and enjoying and learning from poetry are freedom from preconceptions as to the limits (and even the definition) of poetry and curiosity and confidence in the possibilities of something’s being new and interesting.

The idea of the person enters poetics where art and reality, or intentionality and circumstance, meet. It is on the improvised boundary between art and reality, between construction and experience, that the person (or my person) in writing exists.

Knowledge, like speaking or writing, is not an entity but a function—it would best be called ‘knowing’—and the purpose of that function is to contextualize—to contextualize in the profoundest sense, so that knowledge is not only knowing of (which is experience in potentia) and knowing that (which generates propositions) but also knowing how.

Knowledge, in other words, is transitive. It is also transient, though recurrent, occurring in situ, in experience. One doesn’t know something constantly or continually, but only episodically, in the event. The following of the paths in the metaphor requires a knowing how.

The function of art is to restore palpability to the world which habit and familiarity otherwise obscure; its task is to restore the liveliness to life. Thus it must make the familiar remarkable, noticeable again; it must render the familiar unfamiliar.

In experimental poetry, aesthetic discovery is congruent with social discovery. New ways of thinking (new relationships among the components of thought) make new ways of being possible.

Poetry after Auschwitz must indeed be barbarian; it must be foreign to the cultures that produce atrocities. As a result, the poet must assume a barbarian position, taking a creative, analytic, and often oppositional stance, occupying (and being occupied by) foreignness—by the barbarism of strangeness.

The barbarian is a ‘normal person’ who creates ‘a new picture’—the poet qua poet. This poet-barbarian, Virgil-like figure of my extended metaphor is a rigorously attentive observer and active participant in the interminable newness of poetic language….

…to produce the phrase this is happening and thereby to provoke the sensation that corresponds to it—a sensation of newness, yes, and of renewedness—an experience of the revitalization of things in the word…not necessarily to produce knowledge nor even a unit of cognition but rather to discover context and, therein, reason.

There is no context without thought and history. They exist through reciprocation of their reason.

To take a chance is to enter the moment in relation to it….

Poetry’s ability to contribute to the work of doing philosophy is intrinsic to its medium, language. Every phrase, every sentence, is an investigation of an idea.

Each day is drawn to its scene or scene to its day the image already under way and formed to proceed


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