On opacity

Two days ago, Ron Silliman noted on his blog, in a piece on a poem by Geoffrey Brock:

While there is nothing here that could be called opaque, as such, the scandal of opacity – representation’s ultimate failure-from-within – lurks everywhere.

I’ve been trying to think through that sentence, but am having a hard time. Maybe because I’ve been thinking about opacity from a diffferent angle all together. But is opacity such a “scandal” (& what a French formulation for such an American writer as Ron is)? I.e., is opacity indeed “representation’s ultimate failure-from-within.” Then it would be a scandal only for Brock, or better, essentially for poets, like the SoQ, who have invested so much in clarity — to the point of claiming a fake clarity for the world in their poems? A thought-provoking formulation, but one which also makes me wonder if opacity is really a function of representation. Is locating it there a way of denying opacity to the world or even to the poem itself? Or to the relationship between the two?

Though, maybe I am simply not getting it, because too caught up on some formulations by Paul Celan on the subject of opacity, from his notes on/for the MERIDIAN essay, which I am in process of translating. Paul Celan, whenever asked about the difficulties of his poems, insisted that they were “ganz und gar nicht hermetisch,” in no way hermetic and that all one had to do was to read them again and again. At the same time he claimed a necessary opacity for poetry today, first of all because the poem is “dunkel” (dark, obscure) due to its thingness, its phenomenality. In a note toward his essay “The Meridian” he writes:

Regarding the darkness of the poem today, imagination and experience, experience and imagination make me think of a darkness of the poem qua poem, of a constitutive, even congenital darkness. In other words: the poem is born dark; the result of a radical individuation, it is born as a piece of language, as far as language manages to be world, is loaded with world.

Language, for Celan is not simply an instrument for humans, even less a simply human object. Language is assimilated to a solid matter that exists out there in the world. Celan has a note around that same “Darkness” complex that reads: “Thickness: to be understood from the vantage of the geological, and thus from the quiet, the slow catastrophes and the dreadful fault lines of language.”

There is of course a profound disbelief, an absolute skepticism in relation to history (& what is world to us but space & time, history) in Celan, understandably so for a survivor of Khurbn. Not a Hegelian bone in his body — Benjamin’s blown-backward angel is a closer figure. Thus he writes in one of the unused pieces toward the MERIDIAN essay:

I am not speaking of the “modern” poem, I am speaking of the poem today. And one of the essential aspects of this today — my today, for I speak on my own behalf — is its lack of a future: I cannot keep from you how to answer the question [in the direction] of which morrow the poem is moving; if the poem borders on such a morrow, then it possesses darkness. The poem’s hour of birth, ladies and gentlemen, lies in darkness. Some claim to know that it is the darkness just before dawn; I do not share that assumption.

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5 Responses

  1. Clayton Eshleman says:

    Comment on “opacity” re the Celan material: of course, if one is seeking to genuinely explore any area of consciousness, the con-genital, or simply, genital, lowers its head and drinks. The core we arise fromis entangled in psyche, and to a great extent, is the enigmatic signifier (or sacrificer) complex that generates psychic power. Blake’s “explicit to the idiot” remark is pertinent here. Willful obscurity should not be confused with the opaque, or with what will not yet stand fully revealed. Blake appeared totally opaque to his contemporaries (to the extent that he was considered mad by many of them); today, we regard him as a hero of the voyage into the new. Both Celan and Cesar Vallejo, in their terminal writings, arise from the black water they have delved into, as human forms stuccoed with the collectings of their descent. Were this “news” to be immediately understandable in the way that reportage is held accountable, it would be worthless. The opaque is an aspect of coherence, the part of its spectrum that is imbued with the abyss.
    –Clayton Eshleman

  2. Ron says:

    What if I had written “the scandal of the materiality of the signifier”?

  3. Pierre Joris says:

    That would have been, I am tempted to say, clearer? Well, it would put the comment into graduate school theory-speak, however. I much prefer the way you phrased it — the fact that it puzzled me was what interested me in it — & led on to think about the Celan comments on opacity.

  4. Belle Gironda says:

    On Opacity

    First exposure:
    on a package of pantyhose—


    a kind of false skin.

    I always got it flipped:
    thinking it meant
    translucent or transparent,
    not the reverse.

    The vowels,
    nearly a full set,
    minus I,
    U silent, sigh
    sheer enough for
    Breath through

    p and q

    like mirrors facing
    each other.

    a better model
    for the “problem”
    (of representation)

    anything but
    density that diffracts,

    a poem about stockings

    or words out

    the dark world.

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