Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Violence and Poetry

I've been thinking lately about violence in relation to language. Not the mere description of violent acts, but rather the violation (or intentional wrenching, distorting, distending) of linguistic norms and procedures--be they syntactical, grammatical, typographical--through which an internalized bodily vulnerability or fragility may emerge. I got to thinking of this relation between violence and art because recently I found an old notebook kept during my infatuation with the painter Francis Bacon. Here are a few Bacon quotes I re-discovered that may give you some sense of what I mean:

"I think of myself as a kind of pulverizing machine into which everything I look at and feel is fed."

"If you're in love you can't break down the barriers of the skin."

"In a painting that's even worth looking at, the image must be twisted if it is to make a renewed assault on the nervous system."

"If I go to a butcher's shop I always think it's surprising that I wasn't there instead of the animal."

Also mingled throughout the notebook are a few passages lifted from Vendler's The Breaking of Style and, in particular, the chapter on Hopkins, wherein she suggests "[Hopkins] succeeded in breaking up, by a kind of creative violence, an outworn convention. He led poetry forward by taking it back to its primal linguistic origins."

Taking up the peculiarities of Hopkins' poetic rythems, Vendler continues: "One could say that the spondees represent the impression of a poet who receives the stimuli of daily life as a series of unforseeable and unsettling assaults. The regular measures of ordinary verse simply did not seem to Hopkins to represent the felt texture of his experience, which was counter, original, spare, strange." In this sense, Hopkins' poetry becomes a mimetic reaction to "a universe of continual irregular shocks in which the normal expectable motions of physical law--from peacable alterations of day and night to reassuringly identical repetitions of iambs--have been replaced by an unpredictable series of unforseen impulses."

It's this last quote that gets me--"irregular shocks" and "peacable alterations." I think of these things in relation to Cystic Fibrosis, which itself is "an unpredictable series of unforseen impulses," and which brings me back to this same aesthetic quetion: Can a body so aware of itself and its physical defects harness the intensities of sound and sound textures in order to convey the physical abruptness of its own violent processes? Or is it always just an approximation, something there merely on the surface?

7 comments:

Michael said...

Berryman, Berryman, Berryman. He wrote in a letter to his mother: "rhythms matter too, and unexpectedness. You lead the reader briskly in one direction, then you spin him round, or you sing him a lullaby and then hit him on the head."

Morgan Lucas Schuldt said...

Valery: "Sensation without the boredome of its conveyance."

steph said...

But can we back up to Vendler's term, "creative violence?" Because I don't see the violence in Hopkin's dismanteling of syntax or re-creation of language ... I get the "creative," the re-imagining, but it doesn't feel violent. Or perhaps I'm asking how it could feel more violent, or whether it can feel violent apart from the words' meanings. Of course one can see the violence in Bacon's paintings, and his word, "pulverized," is a perfect description ... but can language achieve the same effect as painting? The colors in Bacon's paintings, the dark shadows, the reds, suggest violence in a way that the words "shadow" and "red" can't. Are words in and of themselves autonomous "bodies"? Clearly I work with language much differently than you do, M., and would love to hear some thoughts. Also, isn't this harkening back to lots of theorists whose names I won't pretend to throw out as if I know what they're talking about? Why, oh why, didn't I pay more attention in theory class...

Morgan Lucas Schuldt said...

You raise a good point. In terms of Hopkins, I think it's the concussing of his language I'm talking about. To borrow from Kristi--there's a relentlessness to his alliteration and assonance and consonance that I find simultaneously violent and enlightening. The very act of reading his poetry outloud leaves one breathless and tongue -tied. And while he's certainly not the only poet capable of doing this, he is someone I've been obsessed with for some time.

On another note, I would never euqate poetry with painting, but I would like to propose aproximations, similarities of motivation and vision. Pulverizing language is possible, though it probably doesn't lend itself to an immediate emotional reaction. Read some of Steve McCaffery's work, or the work of Charles Bernstein. There's a violence being done in their work, but it's hard to find a bodily presence.

steph said...

Can you post a Steve McCafffery poem for us to look at?

Morgan Lucas Schuldt said...

I could try, but the typographical layout would be tough to maintain on blogger. I'll give you the essay in person.

amfine said...

“We want space at all costs, even if the mind must sacrifice its laws there, its old requirements….a well proportioned sentence, satisfied with its equilibrium or swollen with its sonority, all too often conceals the malaise of a mind incapable of ascending by sensation to an original universe.” –Cioran. Not my italics.