Henri Michaux II


1911–1914 ... Discovery of the dictionary, of words that do not yet belong to phrases, to phrasemakers, masses of words, words he can use himself in his own way.


1925 Klee, then Max Ernst, Chirico... Extreme surprise. Up to now, he had hated painting and the fact itself of painting, "As if there still weren't enough of reality, of that awful reality," he used to think. "But to want to repeat it, to come back to it!"

Translated by David Ball in Darkness Moves: An Henri Michaux Anthology.


Henri Michaux


Sometimes, when I'm feeling really low and I'm always alone too and I'm in bed, I have my left hand do obeisance to me. It raises itself on my forearm, turns toward me, and salutes me. My left hand is extremely weak, and quite distant toward me. Lazy, too. For it to move, I have to force it a bit. But as soon as it has begun it keeps on going, with a genuine desire to please me. It goes into such genuflections and is so courteous to me that even a third party would be moved.

Translated by David Ball in Darknesss Moves: An Henri Michaux Anthology.


Frontiers in Music

I find this both amusing and charming. And go here for the audio samples you know you want to hear.


Declamations of Ignorance

When in the cold of hoarfrost evenings, it becomes necessary for old phantoms to disperse the polite banter which has calamitously tempered them with anodynes, and to assume the powers of eldritch times, the sere and earnest station to which the loss of nature and of nature’s god entitle them, a dolorous rending of the obtuse of mankind requires that they should descend with caustic will, invoking the thunder of seraphim.


The Referent of My Middle Finger

In the February Poetry in a review of Fanny Howe's On the Ground, Brian Phillips writes, "If the complete collapse of reference sounds like a peculiar point of origin for poetry, it is; words are referential."

Oh, really? What is the referent of "as"? The referent of "the sound of one hand clapping"? The referent of "I promise to pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today"?

Phillips's comment demonstrates a glib ignorance, an ignorance inexcusable for someone writing criticism in the 21st century.

Whether or not words are referential, and if so, how, is one of the questions that endured the 20th century and is still with us in the 21st.

Let's take that last example above, "I promise to pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today." In the early twentieth century, J.L. Austin realized that sentences in this form aren't referential in the usual sense. Rather, they depend on context and future events. He called them "performatives," rather than statements. In the odd, frustrating, and wonderful little book, How to Do Things with Words, Austin teases out the implications of the distinction, finally realizing that, ultimately, statements are themselves performatives in that they can be recast. "The cat is on the mat" is really a shortened form of the performative "I believe the cat is on the mat." John Searle later, in Speech Acts, tried to systematize the notion of performatives in order, in part, to re-establish referentiality. It didn't succeed, as Derrida demonstrated in a pair of essays, "Signature, Event, Context," and "Limited, Inc." the latter an ill-tempered response to Searle's inability to understand the issues.

Am I being unfair to Phillips? Should most people know about performatives? No. However, it is inconceivable that one could have been intellectually engaged at any point in the last century and not understand that referentiality is fraught with problems. And those problems make interesting and infinite sources for poetry.

Which leads to a more obvious and disqualifying ignorance on the part of Mr. Phillips. The non-referentiality of language has been the source of a great deal of poetry. Language poetry, surrealism, and zaum all provide ample evidence. Mr. Phillips may not like them, but there they are. He needn't look any farther than the latest appearance of Ashbery in The New Yorker to understand this. And yet he doesn't.

Phillips's glib reference to the referentiality of words not only shows him ignorant of linguistics, but also innocent of critical knowledge of the previous century's poetry, an art of which he would claim the mantle of arbiter.


"I shot an arrow in the air..."

Courtesy of Skippy.


Happy Darwin Day!

'nuf said:

Courtesy of the folks at The Nonist.


Jackson Mac Low (1922 - 2004)

I've been meaning to write about Mac Low since December. For now, see Charles Bernstein's article.