Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Ceci n'est pas une starling

Via Falstaff, I found this wonderful piece by Naeem Murr on living with a Poet (caps and all):

I find her reading in her office, and ask what her new poem is about.

"That starling we saw," she says, "the one trapped in the Amtrak station."


"And that's what it's about."

"So a tale of triumph," I say. "Little guy against the corporate machine?"

"No," she says. "Via negativa. Apophasis. I'm thinking of what it is not. That's the best way sometimes."

"What what is not?"

"What the starling is not." She points at her corkboard. "Why don't you just read it?"

I do, and for a moment I feel as if the top of my head has come off; immediately followed by the rather unpleasant sensation that someone is rattling a stick around in there.

"Whoa!" I say. "Deep." I pretend to stagger for a while under the weight of its profundity.

A little later on, Joseph Cornell makes an appearance. Being unashamed of admitting my illiteracy, let me admit here and now that I had to google him. I find that, though not a Surrealist, 'he admired the work and technique of Surrealists like Max Ernst and René Magritte'.

This is the kind of thing I love: chasing fleeting thoughts before they evaporate. This is when I remember that Magritte is famous for his painting, La Trahison des Images (ceci ne'st pas une pipe), or, The Treachery of Images (This is not a pipe).

Of this painting, Foucault said "Magritte knits verbal signs and plastic elements together, but without referring them to a prior isotopism. He skirts the base of affirmative discourse on which resemblance calmly reposes, and he brings pure similitudes and nonaffirmative verbal statements into play within the instability of a disoriented volume and an unmapped space. A process whose formulation is in some sense given by Ceci n’est pas une pipe."

Ah, yes. The theorist in an artist's space. The opacity could make you weep; our Poet who, if she doesn't exactly wail and gnash her teeth, has disastrously frank things to say:

She pushes the coffee table aside so she can see me, and with a little struggle, props herself up on her elbows. "Don't you understand?" she cries out with slurred despair. "They're coming for you, too. Fiction is the new poetry. They're going to start writing essays like, 'Can Fiction Matter?'"

"Who's coming for me?"

"The great monobrow! All those goddamn fundamentalists, hungry for the literal truth." She points at me.

In vino veritas.

Of course, Cheshire Cat, commenting on this post at Falstaff's, asks a question that would make Magritte proud: "wouldn't it be perfect if the Poet was fictional?"

Who says she isn't?!


??! said...

that description by F is at once, a brilliantly worded one, and a superbly pretentious one.
and you're not alone in having to read up on Cornell :)

Banno said...

I'm getting my initiation into poetry from you. Until now, I've been a totally fiction person, so really enjoyed this experience with a Poet.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...



Falstaff said...

Love Rodrigo the surrealist plumber.

If it's any consolation, I'd never heard of Cornell either.

Cheshire Cat said...

And I'm unashamed to admit that it isn't so much that I was inspired by Magritte or other meta-fictional eminences as that I am an inveterate gossip-monger and was merely enquiring in my oblique way as to the identity of this delightfully distrait "girlfriend" of Murr's...

Cornell was in the Emily Dickinson mold, he fitted the "genius in a garret" stereotype perfectly. Perhaps he embodies the ideal that complete devotion to one's art is all that really matters in the end; worldly success is irrelevant. It's true that poets, especially, are taken with him - among others, Charles Simic has done a critical study of him, and he's the inspiration for the protagonist in Michael Redhill's novel "Martin Sloane".

Space Bar said...

??!: Brilliantly worded yes; pretentious I don't know. Will reserve judgement until I've read theentire essay.

Banno: I'd like to say, 'ah, but Is This Poetry,' but if there's one thing I hate, its' eyebrows that have, in what's-that-guy's-name-in-lighting-practicals-who-said-about-me's words, 'no separation, no'!


Falstaff: Thanks for the pointer in the first place (Banno, you ought to thank him and not me). And I'm relieved that so many people, barring only Cheshire Cat, knew nothing of Cornell.

Cheshire Cat: I also want to know who she is. Some day I will come across the word 'glaucous' in a poem and that will give me a clue!