Saturday, March 27, 2010

Poetry, Myth, Philosophy: The Haunted House of Our Childhood

Levi Bryant on Larval Subjects takes up narrative and narrativity: in the de-privileging of narrative characteristic of the disjunctive strategies that run through the best and most interesting contemporary poetry and fiction, another intersection of Object Oriented Ontology and literature, . (For posts touching on this, see HERE and HERE. Even a work like CA Conrad’s Book of Frank, which uses or suggests a conventional biographical framework (if only as parody), goes well beyond attacking one suffocating (straight/male/family) narrative, only to replacing it with another (equally restrictive) Queer narrative. This is the “Book,”not the “Life” of Frank—the text is no transparent window to a ‘content’ somehow untouched by the mediation of language. This foregrounding of language in the poems, with its many disjunctive strategies, leaving no possibility for the exclusive (and excluding) force of narrative closure--doesn’t eliminate narrative so much as radically equalizes it. In the language of the post linked here: refuses to reduce the ontological significance to a single element (the narrative as God, in which all else derives its Being), the difference alone which makes a difference.

All narratives, including the meta-narratives of philosophy: and narrative itself, has its genesis in myth, with its totalizing cosmic/human maps, locating the human in shifting intersections of nature and culture, implicitly and explicitly privileging the human, if not denying ontological status to the non-human, declaring it unknowable, or reducing it to a construct of mind.

We cannot free ourselves from the gods without leaving the house we have built for them. May philosophy and poetry lead us, hand in hand, out of the haunted house of our childhood to take our place beside, not above, the things of the universe.


  1. Jacob,
    I don't know who better to ask so I'm bringing something of a personal problem here. In Chapter 10 of CV, The Girdle's Last Gasp, Frances's therapist Serena asks her to keep a journal of her feelings experienced while wearing her deceased neighbor's girdle. The text in the journal says:


    Oh say there Eldrig, my good man, shall we have a spot of tea?"

    And a few pages later, in a therapy session, Serena asks Frances:

    "Who's Eldrig to you? Who's your good man Eldrig?"

    "No one. It's nonsense. It's just girdle spelled backwards."

    Before reading DeLillo's new book, Point Omega, I'd not questioned that this was as Frances stated, nonsense. But DeLillo has a character named Elster (which in Hebrew means hidden God or hiding God) and it got me wondering what Eldrig might mean. Daled, raish, gimmel is the root of drigah or step, grade, rank. So even though I thought I was writing nonsense in fact I wrote God of steps/grades/ranks. What did I mean? Aliyah or derida? Is that even the right question? Is it the right question but the wrong language? If you have even a pinprick of light for me, I would be so grateful.

    (I know it might not seem related to your post, but it is.)

  2. I may have to sleep on this one and hope for an illuminating dream... Aleph Bet Girdle Doilly Hat!

  3. Jacob, I can't believe I typed derida instead of yerida! Oh, please go to sleep early so you can wake up early and tell me what you dreamed.

  4. Just got home from a reading. Off to visit my son. Thinking about this on the way there and back an old poem came to mind... one I'd tossed into the discard file. It was the question: "who's your good man, Eldrig? ... good man, god man..

    I'll try to comment tomorrow, but here's the poem.

    The Good Man is Dead

    The one who makes the rules
    and then believes them
    who paints a world over the abyss
    and then believes it

    is the world
    itself and now
    begins the naming

    the damp leaf-must

    light of morning rain

    broken branches on wet asphalt

    dry azalea pressed

    against the house windows where inside
    women dress
    their children for school themselves
    for work
    and leave
    in a drawer by the bed
    the ivory handled mirror the one
    her mother's mother gave
    the gift of generations a chain
    of giving gave

    and gave and
    until not all the good men in the world could stand
    fast against the power
    of such giving

  5. This was in the throwaway pile? What else is in there?

  6. I haven’t come with anything startlingly esoteric. If there’s a multilingual play on language, seems reasonable that it would be Hebrew, of course, cause of the left-right to right-left reversal. While it may be stretching the text—it does all fit together. The one place where yod resh daled and ayan lamed yod root words are found back to back is in Bereshit—the malachi-elohim ascending and descending the ladder, while ‘good man’ Jacob sleeps, after having been sent to find himself a wife.
    A neat set of reversals (adjacent, not serial… or we’d be back where we started!) —of the letters, the two-way angel-escalator, and finally, from Good Man J seeking a woman, to Frances un-girdling her loins as she goes about freeing herself from her man. Neat! The three levels: Pshat, remez, derash! All coincide to reinforce the same theme.
    Frances, I didn’t realize you were a secret Kabbalist! You hanging around that Moshiach Mobile while you were writing this?

  7. Uh-huh. Huh. Ahhh. I see. Oh. okay. Arighty then. Calling Karen Horney! It's an emergency!!

    (You couldn't get through this wee exigesis without using the word "loins" (you shithead) for God's sake? I am already convulsed and collapsed and it's now official I am going to die laughing. I would volunteer to leave my brain to science but I feel like I already have. I'm a sweet little lab rat, ain't I?))

    Pretty neat trick I have with DeLillo, no? This is getting crazy. Are you sure I am not the Moshiach herself? Does Nicholson Baker know too?

  8. What's your next post? A recipe for roasted, toasted endive en croute, or some other valved leaf?