Commentary on Larry Eigner's 'On My Eyes'

A response to Charles Bernstein's 1960 symposium presentation

Eigner’s On My Eyes, which was published in 1960, was “edited” as nearly all Larry’s books were during his lifetime: by other hands. Apparently it was thought — and I’m not clear about exactly why this was deemed to be necessary — that Larry was unable to do it himself, and needed this “help” to do it. It may have been as a result of his modesty, or his sense of mental “confusion” which was an effect of his prose writing — people tended to think he was scattered, or unfocused, or perhaps they thought his disability made him “disorganized.” So what we have, with On My Eyes, is a manuscript cobbled together out of a mass of work selected over the preceding decade, though the kind  and style of writing which Levertov chose and arranged was clearly biased towards a specific preference. The work in On My Eyes is stylistically rather unlike most of the writing previously published in From the Sustaining Air and Look At the Park. And it’s also rather unlike the work which appears in his next major collection, another time in fragments. In other words, it feels atypical. Williams’s decision to pair it with Callahan’s photographs had nothing to do with Larry, except perhaps in Williams’s mind. Though the book itself feels professional and carefully presented, there’s a distinct sense that Larry’s work is being shaped by other hands. This imposition, or interposition, is an important issue in Larry’s writing career; it reinforces our sense that his original texts were too rough to be taken on their own terms. This imposition did not permit his readers to see how clear and specific his approach to the page was; i.e., the setting in equivalent spaced typeface.  People (editors) thought Larry needed to be “translated” into the conventions of “verse” and typography.  This misconception was was a guiding feature in the reading audience’s apprehension of his work all his writing life. This isnt necessarily “wrong” or “right” but something that needs to be acknowledged in any discussion of his writing and publications.   

I also have published three blog posts about editing Eigner: