THE MILLENNIUM WILL BE NOMADIC OR IT WILL NOT BE
NOTES TOWARDS A NOMADIC POETICS
"nomads-by-choice in the welfare of settled rings"
- Allen Fisher, Dispossession & Cure
The days of anything static - form, content, state - are over. The past century has shown that anything not involved in continuous transformation hardens and dies. All revolutions have done just that: those that tried to deal with the state as much as those that tried to deal with the state of poetry.
- A nomadic poetics is a war machine, always on the move, always changing, morphing,moving through languages, cultures, terrains, times without stopping. Refuelling halts are called poases, they last a night or a day, the time of a poem, & then move on. The sufi poets spoke of mawqif - we will come back to this.
- A nomadic poetics needs mindfulness. In & of the drift (dérive) there is no at- home-ness here but only an ever more displaced drifting. The fallacy would be to think of language as at-home-ness while "all else" drifts, because for language to be accurate to the condition of nomadicity, it too has to be drifting, to be "on the way" as Celan puts it.
[Think through Heidegger's Abgeschiedenheit, apartness as the free domain or land where such nomadic drifting takes place. But that domain is always here & not somewhere else. It is the smooth space in D&G that deterritorializes all striated spaces.]
nomadics: the poet as comet. See Hölderlin's "In lovely blue" & thus to escape the metaphor of sun, center, etc.
10/25/94 If the mind is only the body's invisibility (Merleau-Ponty) then the poem is merely the unreadability, the non-transparency, the opaqueness of that mind. An opacity grounded in the materiality of language as much / if not more than in the viscosity of psyche. A turbulent opacity -not a monumental, laminary , marble-or-granite opaqueness.
Robin Blaser: "The muse requires a politics
where the tongue meets
in the thick of it
the sour sweat." [Cups, 1960]
If Empedoklean terms or reveries may be taken as valid, then the two major modes of poesis would also involve love (eros) & strife (nike). To see the poetics of the century thus would divide them between, say, Pound/nike and Duncan/eros. But somewhere else - here, now, later & beyond this fin-de-siècle identikit - eros & nike are both less & more than self-sufficient modes, are both simply that tiny deviation from equilibrium, stasis that makes movement, i.e. life, i.e. poetry, possible: they are the clinamen, thus in a poem from the early eighties:
One moment earlier
something had deviated
This is local fortuity
the clinamen exactly
& more exactly
deviation from equilibrium
the streak of lightning
bars the clouds
immediately a shape happens
roughly (&) circular no need for more
a little hole around which people gather like bees
a dead body at center
a world where accident is rule
& now these five points:
1) that language has always to do with the other, in fact, for the writer (l'écrivant) is the other.
2) that there is no single other, there are only a multitude of them - plurality; even multitudes of different multitudes - hetero-pluralities.
3) language others itself always again -> nomadic writing is always "the practice of outside"; writing as nomadic practice -on the move from one other to another other.
[3a: the critic/theorist: the dog that barks as the caravan passes]
4) poetry is always, then, "on the way" -- yes, on the road, as Kerouac has it here in these States where, as Sun Ra has it, "space is the place." It is also unterwegs, (underway) as Celan writes, where I hear the unter also as under the Weg, the way. (& pace, the Schwarzwalder's Holzwege!),
under the way
a between-ness as essential nomadic condition, thus always a moving forward, a reaching, a tending. (I hear the need for both tension & tenderness). & an absenc eof rest, always a becoming, a line-of-flight [as against Being, which is always a veing-toward-death, stillness].
[4a: insert here a critique of Buddhism, of any spiritualism as quietism -- certainly Euro-Am adaptations of Buddhism are transcendental -- while only a truly immanent spirituality is viable. cf Janus]
5: Celan: "Reality is not. It has to be searched for and won." Replace "reality" with "poetry" or "millennium."
That is the fin mot, last words, toward the fin-de-siècle, or a poetics thereof. (Celan's phrase is the quest, as it includes the critique of the "society of the spectacle" -- & of the whole specular natures of our mis-takes on the real.)
We can still use notions such as Burroughs "astronaut of inner space," or Dorn's "inside real and outsidereal," though we must be aware that for the nomad- poet, the NOET, even those distinctions have to be abolished. There is no difference between inside & outside at the poem's warp speed. We can still use Olson's statement that the need is to move, instanter, on -- but no Interzone for us, no Idaho, in or out, no Gloucester hankering for a more perfect past.
NOET: NO stands for play, for no-saying & guerrilla war techniques, for gNOsis & NOetics. ET stands for etcetera, the always ongoing process, the no closure: it stands for ExtraTerritorial, for the continuous state of being outside (not a margin that would be always definable as the margin of something called the real (territory). ET stands for Electronic Terrain, where the poem composes, recomposes, decomposes before your eyes, de- & re-territorializing at will or chance -- without there being the ability to tell which of those two determinants it is.
(The WE here is not-I, or if you prefer, the Wild East)
As far as moral or social values are concerned, total miscegenation is the only goal we believe in. Purity is the root of all evil.
We will make good use use Nate Mackey's sense of a DISCREPANT ENGAGEMENT
From Pound we will retain that a poem has to include history. And we will add that a poem and its poet are included in history, which he forgot.
We will keep all of Valère Novarina's theatre for its ludic nomadology of names that dissolves character into a fluidity...
We will keep Robert Kelly's notion of "ta'wil of the first line," the poem as nomadic/ rhyzomatic extension of some given or found beginning, but a ta'wil reduced to immanence, to a "writing through." As he tells it otherwise in A MY NAME (RA 185) "This chant was my first news of the Great Trade Route along which scarce and isolate merchant-poet-nomads carried goods from tribe to tribe, over the mountains and under the sun, bringing the only news."
We will reread Melvin Tolson's The Harlem Gallery & ponder it's "bifacial" multiphasic poet Hideho Heights & ponder Tolson's statement on the poet's place, a statement which still startles: "The most violent revolution in the world is taking place -- not in Russia, not in China, but in American poetry."
We will meditate on Henri Michaux's drawing-poems, scribe of the post- semantic nomadic condition which is ours.
Of Rothenberg's work we will keep everything, because his immigrant/emigrant nomadology of translation, poetry-making, anthologizing is an exemplary process at this end of the century.
We will attend to Don Byrd's Nomad Encyclopedia, he'll lead us through what he calls the "mesocosm -- the dense locale of the common, that is absorbed by the exaggeration of symbolism, on the one hand, and by mere biology, on the other."
We will reread Maurice Blanchot again and again & think through, among other things, the following of his reflections on the idea of exile and exodus as a legitimate movement: "If Judaism is destined to take on meaning for us, it is indeed by showing that, at whatever time, one must be ready to set out, because to go out (to step outside) is the exigency from which one cannot escape if one wants to maintain the possibility of a just relation. The exigency of uprooting; the affirmation of nomadic truth. In this Judaism stands in contrast to paganism (all paganism.) To be pagan is to be fixed, to plant oneself in the earth, as it were, to establish oneself through a pact with the permanence that authorizes sojourn and is certified by certainty in the land. Nomadism answers to a relation that possession cannot satisfy."
Right here 78 pages of commentaries on the century have been deleted to be summed up now:
From the 20C we will retain everything -- in memory. We will forget nothing and we will forgive nothing.
We will also remember that the twentieth century was the tail wagged by the nineteenth century dog.
04/05/96 a nomadic poetics' method will be rhyzomatic: which is different from that core 20C technique, collage, i.e. a rhyzomatics is not an aesthetics of the fragment, which aesthetic has dominated poetics since the Jena romantics even as transmogrified by modernism, high & low, & more recently retooled in the neo- classical form of the citation -- ironic &/or decorative -- throughout what is called "post-modernism."
& remember that the romantic is the anti-nomadic par excellence, i.e. Wordsworth's "emotion recollected in tranquility."
A nomadic poetics will cross languages, not just translate, but write in all or any of them. If Pound, Joyce & others have shown the way, it is essential now to push this matter further, again, not as "collage" but as a material flux of language matter, moving in & out of semantic & non-semantic spaces, moving around & through the features accreting as poem, a lingo-cubism that is no longer an "explosante fixe" as Breton defined the poem, but an "explosante mouvante."
Useful in this context too is Charles Bernstein thinking about idiolects: "English languages, set adrift from the sight/sound sensorium of the concrete experiences of the English people, are at their hearts uprooted and translated: nomadic in origin, absolutely particular in practice. Invention in this context is not a matter of choice: it is as necessary as the ground we walk on." Replace "English" here with "all" or "any" & you have a nomadic idiolectal stance.
Not the end of man, pace the French twisted desire for disappearnce, but, possibly the end of the alphabet needs to be envisaged as a millennial scenario. As Don Byrd speculates:
The great poetry of the 1960's was created in resistance to the alphabet as a medium that had become dangerously fluent. By the 1970's, no one could resist. For the time being poiesis is in abeyance.
Now we gather the resources of modernism for the new medium as the poets of the sixteenth century gathered the resources of the classical tradition. Digital speech, musical sound, and image all merge in one grammar. The alphabet will continue in this mix for some time, but, in popular discourse, this obsolete mnemonic is even now largely decorative. It remains to be found out if IBM, Microsoft, and the Turner Boardcasting Corporation have already coopted the renaissance.
The alphabet thus done & over with. "We'll keep it for the sake of a one-day classicism." It belongs to a brief 2000-year history of parcellisation, hierarchization. It's most useful fringe, its last binge being the Mac Low/ Cage investigatory methods. The suggestion here is that our space rather than being visual is much more profoundly "haptic," sonorous.
The visual thus a special case only & to be revisited as such: The nomad eye of cubism (& dada/surrealism) as against the sedentary perception of perspective. As James J. Gibson (The Ecological approach to Vision Perception) suggests, motion is the natural mode of human and animal vision: "We must perceive in order to move, but we must also move in order to perceive."
Thus the usefulness of writing in painting, Cy Twombly, etc. Or for me right now, the work of Nicole Peyrafitte, her ink drawings, those shapes & figures crossing & recrossing animal & vegetal, human & non-human, combining in a wild metonymic grammar of desire, & through that pictorial space, these thin lines of near-microscopic writing, in red or black ink, traversing, circumventing, circumscribing, separating, piercing, splicing, connecting the figural volumes & the smooth space of the paper. The attraction of language, the desire to read the lines, pushes the onlooker to move in, to close in on the drawing in order to decypher the text. Her haptic performance of the drawings she calls "Riding the Line." The lines move freely & the reader cranes her neck, twist herself around in order to follow the contour of the lines of writing, then steps back to grasp a figure, moves in again to read -- & while reading can no longer "see" the organised, striated space of the figural volumes which themselves now dissolve into lines-of-flight. This constant destabilisation of view-point, this continuous eye-&-body-act of de- & re-territorialising the spaces of the drawing keep the viewer from ever being able to find that fictional single static point, that center outside the painting/drawing that would organize a fixed, rectilinear, thus hierarchical world & gaze, as was the aim of Renaissance perspective.
The nomad poet, the NOET, gives allegiance to INDRA the warrior god as that is the point of entry to break open the unholy trinity that, so Dumezil, has ruled the Indo-European organisations, from Asian days to Xtian America. If Varuna and Mitra, king and priest, constitute the double points of power they need Indra to consolidate the static state (of everything) -- but Indra always escapes, exceeds. Write D/G: "Indra, the warrior god is in opposition to Varuna no less than to Mitra. He can no more be reduced to one or the other than he can constitute a third of their kind. Rather, he is like a pure and immeasurable multiplicity, a pack, and irruption of the ephemeral and the power of metamorphosis. He unites the bond just as he betrays the pact. He brings a furor to bear against sovereignty, a celerity against gravity, secrecy against the public, a power (puissance) against sovereignty, a machine against the apparatus."
One of the new machines of a nomadic poetry -- & we are not afraid of technology, all poetry has been techno-bonded from the beginning -- one of the new machines is the computer. Interestingly enough, one of those investigating cyberpoetics -- one incarnation of nomadic poetics -- is John Cayley whose ongoing work is called INDRA'S NET. Here is what Cayley has to say concerning his project:
"Indra's Net pieces employ generative algorithms and semi-aleatory processes and the composition of the algorithm is seen as an integral if normally invisible part of the composition of the piece. One of the unique facilities offered by the computer in this context is the ability to set up a feed-back loop. 'Experimental' texts can be generated and the results reviewed quickly and painlessly enough to allow the processes to be modified and improved. Once distributed, the pieces 'run' and generate text for a reader. The reader can interact but does not choose pathways between words directly in the way that she might choose a pathway through the spaces of hypertext fiction. However in my most recent distributed piece, readers can alter the work itself (irreversibly), collecting generated lines or phrases for themselves and adding them to the hidden given text so that eventually their selections come to dominate the generative process. The reader's copy may then reach a state of chaotic stability, strangely attracted to one particular modulated reading of its original seed text. [NB] Work in progress is towards a series of '(Plastic) Literary Objects' which will be both generative and responsive, triggered by as many as possible of the program- and user-generated events which are accessible using a standard computer system. This latest object will be a far cry from the average web page."
THE NOET AS INDRA AND INDRA AS PACK, AS MULTITUDE or multiplicty, lays to rest another fundamental misconception recently inherited from France. Barthes' doleful sense that "the author is dead." Were it so, that would only tanscendentalize him or her, for who else is god but the dead author, deus absconditus? The binary on-off logic of Descartian discourse haunts even the most sensible of the French to this day. No, what has happened is that the author has multiplied, has lost its his her identity as singular subject. Rimbaud accurately said, way back towards another fin-de-siecle, "I is another." We now have to say: "I is many others".
A nomadic poetics will thus explore ways in which to make -- & think about -- a poetry that takes into account not only the manifold of languages & locations but also of selves each one of us is constantly becoming. The nomadic poem as ongoing & open-ended chart of the turbulent fluxes the dispersive nature of our realities make inevitable.
This French Trouble, which has colonized English departments in the American University, needs further & ongoing critique from the NPLF, the Nomadic Poetic Liberation Front. Here's how, in a forthcoming book of essays, Don Byrd & Jed Rasula deal with, and "détournent" (to use that tactical situationist word), among many other things, just such a sacred cow -- the Lacanian axiom according to which "the unconscious is structured like a language:" "Lacan's attempt to make the unconscious homologous with language is a bid for escaping the vicious circle of representation by affirming a principle of unconscious as all surface. Where Lacan says, 'the unconscious is like a language' we might well substitute: the unconscious likes language. The libidinal hunger, the drive or Trieb that Freud finds lurking as a primal disposition of the unconscious, thus assumes an amatory/predatory relation to the constitutive grounds of consciousness as such." This opens up the possibility of thinking the unconscious as a nomadic war-machine. Freud's hyper-cathexed erotico- thanatosian one-way "drives" have been refirgured as what D/G call "affects." These represent the ability to affect & be affected rather than a personal feeling. An affect is "a prepersonal intensity corresponding to the passage from one experiential state of the body to another and implying an augmentation or diminution in that body's capacity to act." "It is the active discharge of emotion, whereas feeling is an always displaced, retarded, resisting emotion." Amatory/predatory affects are nomadic lines of intensity having to do with ways of moving between different strata such as consciousness/ unconsciousness, etc.
The NOET learns & then writes in foreign langues (real or made-up ones) in order to come to the realization that all languages are foreign. Do away with the prison-house of the mother-tongue, or, as I have written elsewhere: "..why does one have to write in the papa-maman, the mummy/daddy language, why should that oedipal choice be the only possible or legitimate one, why should it not be my own sexual choice, that moment of one's discovery of the other, that moment when it is our sex that speaks and not that of our progenitors. So now the mother- tongue will have lost the m and have become the other tongue but that other will also now lose it's hairy, impronouncable, "the" & gain a lamda & a little victory- sign and become the lover's-tongue. As if the vowels somehow stood steadfast while the consonants, like my continents, kept on drifting. The lover's tongue then." A nomadic language of affects, of free lines of erotic flight, that break the triangular (the strongest of shapes, as Bucky Fuller has shown us) strictures of the Freudian scène de famille. Which also brings to mind an unfinished project -- I'm offering it here to anyone who wants to pick it up -- I had concocted in the late seventies with my sadly departed old friend, the Swiss-Italian poet Franco Beltrametti (another true noet): an anthology to be called BLOWS AGAINST THE MOTHER-TONGUE & which would gather the work of poets who had written nomadically in a language that was not their mother-tongue: from Ovid, say, to Anselm Hollo.
Jerome Rothenberg & I have over the last six years put together a large work called POEMS FOR THE MILLENNIUM. Talking about it in Chicago some months ago I said: "Sometimes I say I. Sometimes I say we: Jerry may or may not agree. We are two authors but already an anthology in ourselves. To quote Deleuze & Guattari at the opening of A THOUSAND PLATEAUS: 'The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us were several, there was already quite a crowd.'" The authors are, pace Blake, both in eternity & in time. And that vast assemblage we called POEMS FOR THE MILLENNIUM, & which on the face of it looks like an anthology edited by two poets, should maybe better be seen as a nomadology in action, an event authored by us, which means the two multitudes that Jerry & I are, plus the multiplicities the poets in the book are.
But if it is all flux, all nomad wandering, when & how to write. How not to stop & yet do the poem? At the beginning of this text I had referred to the poem as a poasis, an poem-oasis, i.e. a stop in the moving along the nomad line-of-flight. Recently the Tunisian poet Abdelwahab Meddeb brought my attention to a term used by the 10C Sufi poet Niffari who introduced the concept of "mawqif" into his poetics in order to define what the poem is: The mawqif is the pause, the stop-over, the rest, the stay of the wanderer between two moments of movement, two runs, two sites, two places, two states. Writes Meddeb: "It enjoys a rest, raises itself upright; between two durations it scrutinizes briefly the instant when from its heighth it confronts the vision or the word exteriorising itself."
Of course this notion of the stop-over, of the resting place or moment of the weary nomadic traveller between two travels or travails gets hypostasized in Christianity as the stations of the Cross and in the medieval imperial church reduced from a nomadic line-of-flight to a circular, domesticated movement -- the procession -- inside or around the church or cathedral. (Just as in official, imperial Islam the nomadic line of flight gets domesticated into the circular movement, the circumambulation of the Ka'aba). Fascinating to note that one of the early text of modern poetry, along the noetic line-of-flight of blasphemy & comedy, of universal convertibility of all principles, goes straight for that corralled hypostasis of the christian stations of the cross, liberating its movement in a belly-laugh of the blasphemous & absurd. I am of course referring to Alfred Jarry's THE PASSION OF JESUS CONSIDERED AS AN UPHILL BYCICLE RACE.
The mawqif has to be conceived as a tension, a movement of a peculiar kind, & not as some static resting point -- not Wordsworth's tranquility-- it is a momentary, moving placement on a smooth space, metonymic in relation to before & after, and not a resting place, metaphor for the final resting place, that transcendental parking lot, above or below. It is a (momentary) stance in relation to & with space, the horizonal, thus active, in motion, even if of a different motion than that before or after. A whirling motion, making for the connection (rhizomatic) between today's & tomorrow's nomadic moves, whirling dervish, or that dance/stance, as Charles Olson once put it: "How to dance / sitting down."
This "mawqif," or station or"poasis," this moment of movement- in-rest, of movement on another plane or plateau, between today's & tomorrow's lines of flight. Niffari, in the 10th century, worked this one out, be it in relation to something called "god."
Just such a nomadic poetics is profoundly at work in the great Beduin poetries -- the pre-islamic mu'allaqat or odes -- that are so often described as stilted, overdetermined, static poems because of their presumedly predetermined closed structures and monorhymes. In fact, these poems can be seen exactly as nomadic dérives, or as rhizomatic structures.
There are 10 -- in some more restricted canons only 7 -- poems, mu'allaqat, or odes that make up the established, examplary corpus of pre-islamic poetry. Of greatly varying length, the odes usually start in the same place (the atla'l, or meditation on the traces of an old camp the poet comes across in his wanderings), then goes on to a hymn of his camel (a moment of stasis & then precipitous movement) after which it will often laud the poet's lady, then his weapons & exploits in the manner of the praise poem, & go on to tell of the tribe's great feats. What is fascinating is the rhizomatic way in which the poem, inside that set structure, proceeds via series of images, moving from realm to realm, human - animal - vegatable - mineral, & back up, away & around & through, horizontal & vertical, taproots, transfers. Writes Jacques Berque: "This process, where one or the other series alternate, does not worry about coherency. Its most moving aspect, I mean its most mobilizing aspect, is the heteroclite richness of its calls [appels], much more so than their respective compatibility or their mutual cohesion. What is important for this process is, literally, to transfer. It takes the trope seriously, or at leats has not yet had the time to reduce it exclusively to a rhetoric. And that rhetoric is also present in some of these poems, permitting the outrageous, the ironic and the precious to come through, as well as the reflexive from the instinctive, the factive from the originary, -- it is that dérive, no, that perpetual hunt from realm to realm, from stadium to stadium, from genre to genre, that could appear as specifically Arabic."
The monorhyme scheme (something obviously impossible to reproduce or use in English -- though some dubb poetry tries something similar but with great constricting, limiting results) is interesting however for nomad thought. It is pure repetition & not pattern. One of these, & maybe my favorite, is Ibn Tarafa's Mu'allaqat, on which I worked with an Iraqi friend in the late seventies, & which has been much on my mind again lately. He is the most modern, rebel of the nomad poets, an early Rimbaud. And an examplary political poet, in Tarafah we witness the clash of the nomadic war-machine, its poetic line of flight & attack in this case, with the hierachical sedentary orders of king & governor, arbitrary law & executioner. Vide his VIDA (to borrow nomadically from the bio-form of later wandering-poets, the troubadours).