Commentaries - May 2013
Translated from Spanish by Jen Hofer, Christian Nager, and Brian Whitener
[Excerpted from the edition published by Chain Links in 2013]
There are Laws: Taking Down the Pantopia
“There are laws,” begins Olson’s essay “Human Universe” written in Mexico. How does one create the illusion that there are general laws? The foundation of time reduced to space is, precisely, the supposition that there exist laws that function in the same way (homogeneously) across all (heterogeneous) times. If different times are united by the same laws, then, these times are not separated and thus form a single space.
This belief is the basis of totalitarian thought, in all its forms. Television fabricates images—and society fabricates images for television—and the spectacular relations between these fragments produce the fallacy of a commonly held reality: the space of a “nation,” a “territory,” an “epoch.” The takeover of the center of Oaxaca by striking teachers, the flooding in Ciudad Juarez, and civil resistance in Mexico City, in co-existence with the war between Libya and Israel, the state of maximum alert in the United States and England—these events are represented in discourse and the news as symptoms of the same phenomenon, as events related to each other. The pantopia has penetrated deeply into our semi-consciousness and is situated at the border between the unconscious and conscious, in such a way that it permeates, in both directions, human thought. It is thus the Interzone or semi-consciousness that has become the key site in our present-day psyche. Pantopia seems so “natural” to us that doubting that its events are related and even considering that each event might obey its own laws in the space-time in which it is realized, as distinct from other space-times, can only appear a strange or at least very unusual idea.
Olson was not entirely wrong. He had come to Mexico looking for the traces of another concept of time. His error was not having been sufficiently patient to generate a personal time that would be capable of grasping Mesoamerican cultural notions of time, of not leaving behind the time of USAmerican English as he knew it. Moreover, Olson encountered an indigenous culture with an essential similarity to his own: a culture that had mutated towards a notion of imperial time. We have discussed before the ideas of time of the Maya and present-day indigenous communities in Mexico and the United States and we know that the Maya fluctuated between ancient notions of time as plural and an imperial political decision of forming a total calendar—their model of kin. The Maya were a civilization based in a single time, or a set of universal laws which ruled in the same way, macro and micro. However, the greatness of the Maya was that their notion of time captures many models of time—each one functioning in accord with its own process—under a mysterious macro mathematical and poetic model. For the Maya, kin functioned as a cycle of time that turned around itself—and that periodically changed its motor, its god—and this changing cycle functioned as a component of a larger cycle, composed of various smaller cycles, and this new cycle as a component of another larger cycle… And thus, for the ancient Maya time was a series of distinct cycles placed one inside another, concentric or centripetal times. In the Mayan chronovision, imperial notions of time—pantopic—are combined with nomadic understandings. Mayan hegemnemic Time could be defined as an enormous machine of molecular appropriation of other micro-cultural-times.
Imperial ideas transform time into space. Nomadic ideas, on the other hand, tend to understand time as a multiplicity of times. These times—tribes of monads—are autonomous from each other, each one obeying its own laws. (The notion of a single spatialized time is linked to the historical appearance of the State.) The Rarámuri, for example, developed a model based on the existence of more than one internal time, sustaining the existence of various “souls” that simultaneously co-existed within the human body. While the Huichol believe that when a pair of nomad groups meet two different times collide. This understanding of time not only functions to plumb the profound nature of the human animal but also to impede the formation of a unitary political order, a system of centralized control.
For cybermnenetics to be possible, a civilization has to choke off the nomadic notions of space-time and to institute a general calendar, a hegemonic, spatialized notion of time, “universal.” The Maya and Aztecs conserved nomadic notions of plural space-times, although in debased and manipulated forms, used to justify an Imperial centralized order, based in numerical science, just as in Oxidental empires from Greek antiquity to the United States. In the roots of these empires there exists as well nomadic notions of time as polytopic and polychronic, wherein time is represented in diverse forms, precisely, because there is not one time but rather many times, with each forming its own world.
Writing is, certainly, pantopic.
What imperial documents—from official histories to poets and mass media, from films to nightly news—do is make sequential images of distinct space-times, creating the mediatic simulation that they belong to the same visual horizon of events. The creation of the illusion of a total space-time simultaneously shared by all is a lie that builds up a social coexistence. It is this fantasy that I have called pantopia: the notion of a total space, individuated from every other space, which contains all things, all events, ordered under the same set of laws, under the same empire. This idea, of course, is the cruelest of all of them. The pantopia is absolute control: the pantopia is the inexistence of time.
In the pantopic fantasy, time does not annihilate things, allowing death to liberate the world from itself and allowing the world to be always incomplete, which should be the idea that governs us, incompleteness not Totality. Without death, beings are allowed to share, cryogenetically, the same site, forever. In the pantopia, time as individual measure, as autochronology, in which each being lives its own chaosmos, is not allowed to exist.
In the pantopia, time as death and the successive forgetting of each world have disappeared, and time as its own-law, as individual-time, not determined by the laws of another time has disappeared as well. The pantopic is the fantasy of creating a space—whose avatar can be a poetics or a global empire—from which nothing can escape.
As in the house in Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel, once one enters, for some unknown reason, one cannot leave. In Olson, the pantopia took the form of not a totalizing agglomeration (as in the theory of the black hole or the vortex in Pound or in the Aleph of Borges) but in the gaze. Again and again in his work, Olson speaks of a gaze that can hoard everything it falls upon. The pantopic is thought throughout his work more and more in terms of a screen.
In the present state of civilization, the pantopia is reenforced daily by television. I am not referring exclusively to the device that plays the role of pater familias, but to television in a broader sense and of which the contemporary television set is but a rudimentary precursor of coming televisions. Television makes it possible—as state legislation, monolinguism, and writing once did—for distinct space-times that do not share common laws to appear to possess one via the daily compiling and updating of images that produce the cinematographic illusion of real time and a common omni-space, amongst what are, in reality, dissimilar realities, separate-cosmos.
If images are the units of pantopia, then to undo its regime it is indispensable, before anything less, to impede the formation of images, thereby destroying spectacle. Impeding the function of empires signifies preserving languages alive and increasing the number of them, as in the passage from one language to another—in the impossibility of translation—supposedly common notions, shared images are destroyed, undone. Languages are the primordial defense against the pantopia, as each language is its own chaosmos. And if not letting go of memory produces pantopias, ergo, the cure is to forget.
[NOTE. Over he last two decades Heriberto Yépez has emerged as a new & provocative voice in Mexican letters & as a thinker about writing, art & performance, & a range of literary, philosophical and social issues. Over that same span he has published in a wide variety of genres – fiction, poetry, essays, translation, criticism, & theory, & has proven to be a controversial literary artist & critic in Mexico, while the range of his critical interests covers both Latin American & North American issues, extending into works of experimental & political interest on both sides of the border & beyond. His innovative writing & his critical essays have won him – at latest count – some fourteen awards in Mexico, including four national literary awards over the last decade, & he has received increasing recognition among experimental & younger writers in the United States. With all of this in mind the distinguished Mexican critic Evodio Escalante has written that “there is no question that Heriberto Yépez is one of the most powerful literary intelligences now active in our country.”
The Empire of Neomemory begins as a sometimes harsh critique of Olson’s experience of Mexico but expands into what the Chain editors describe as “a breathtaking investigation of the relation between USAmerican poetry and Empire that careens idiosyncratically through the great men of empire—not just Olson, but those many other men who also traveled to Mexico, such as William Burroughs, Antonin Artaud, D. H. Lawrence, Herman Melville, and Ray Bradbury.” Writes Yépez himself in summary: “Olson is part of the American dream, the dream of expansionism in all its variants. It is with the purpose of understanding this empire that I have written this book. Olson in and of himself does not interest me; I am interested in his character as a microanalogy for decoding the psychopoetics of Empire. Philosophy tries to comprehend reality through a discussion of abstract concepts produced by floating masculine heads (decapitalisms); in contrast, what I want to understand is the present via concrete bodies, historical microanalysis via the hunt for biosymbols. Using the text, I want to see through it to glimpse the substructure and the superstructure.” And the Chain editors again: “This work is a dismantling of Olson, and of empire, and yet it is also clearly an inside job, a book that could only be written by someone who had spent hours thinking with and through—and beyond—Olson.” (J.R.)]
First edition of Weeks published by Xexoxial Editions in 1990, with photos by Barbara Rosenthal, and my introducton.
Full text from Xexoxial
She’s grateful to her new boyfriend for a new lease on life
Many other cities broke the record high for the day It’s a
woman’s political issue It is absolutely the woman’s right
to decide whether she will or whether she will not have an
abortion 13 years after abortion was legalized Friday and
Saturday prying into the private lives of public people
Questions about any relationship between the two The US
Mediterranean fleet The US insists Sidra is international
waters Italy today issued an international arrest warrant
The opposition challenging his election Just how long is a
day on Uranus Higher pulse rates, necessary for building
fitness, seem easier because more muscles share the exercise
Wildly independent and beloved of the younger set The white
minority government There’s a lot for other cats to live up to
Including nine thin rings which are barely visible It
discovered active volcanoes on undiscovered moons The Ball
Court seen from the Jaguar’s Temple, Chichen Itza If mankind
is guided by such radiation, ianstead of being destroyed by
that of atomic fission, all will enjoy eternal peace in the world
A man like that would be unhappy in heaven I am innocent of
these changes The church fully understands Jewish concern
walking westward in the city I just try to refine the boy’s
talents a bit I have reason to believe that someone is
trying to poison her to death Interest rates go down
Admission to Museum field station in Arizona There will be
Several city employees indicted Travel opportunities led by
Museum Scientists to all parts of the world They voted over the
weekend to accept a new contract I think there’ll be some snow
Below 0 in 21 states Challenger explodes The tragedy defies
any easy explanation There were no signs of abnormalities on
the screen The twin solid boosters had not shown any trouble
at all The huge ball of fire shortly after 11:30 this morning
A minute and ten seconds into the flight—a fireball Never a
disaster like this in the history of the space program
My introduction (collected in My Way: Speeches and Poems)
Every day. Day by day. The hours hang and the headlines punctuate a passage through time that we move through, head bowed at the collision of flesh and indoctrination. Yet there might be (might there be?) some doctrine to get us out of this viscous circle of self-enclosing artifacts that we call news, as if the world was already lost before we could speak a word to it.
In Hannah Weiner's Weeks, the daily bite of world-event narrative achieves the grandeur, perhaps the quiet desperation, of background music (ambient ideology). Weeks is an unnerving foray in a world of prefabricated events: a world we seem to have fallen into, as if from the cradle.
Weeks was written in a small notebook, one page per day for fifty weeks. Each page of the book is the equivalent of a single week, with each day taking its toll in about five lines. The material, says Weiner, is all found – "taken at the beginning from written matter and TV news and later almost entirely from TV news."
Here parataxis (the serial juxtapositions of sentences) takes on an ominous tone in its refusal to draw connections. Weeks, in its extremity, represents the institutionalization of collage into a form of evenly hovering emptiness that actively resists analysis or puncturing. In Weeks, the virus of news is shown up as a pattern of reiteration and displacement, tale without teller. Yet, while Weiner follows a strict poetic method of refusing the "lyrical interference of ego", the result is that these deanimated metonymies take on a teller, as if to call it "Hannah". This is the voritcal twisting, or transformation, at the heart of Weeks' prosodic inquisition.
Weeks is poetic homeopathy: a weak dose of the virus to immunize our systems – let's say consciousnesses – against it.
What do we make of our everyday lives: make of them, make out of them? What do we make of, that is, these materials that we can no where (not anymore) avoid, avert our ears as we do, or, as in poetic practice, hide behind the suburban lawns of laundered lyricism?
Weiner's Weeks is a shocking cul de sac to a tradition of the found in American poetry – a tradition that includes, by any brief accounting, Charles Reznikoff's Testimony, Sterling Brown's ethnographic encounters with the black oral tradition, William Burroughs's cut-ups, Jack Spicer's "received" poems, Jackson Mac Low's processing of source material, and Ronald Johnson's erasure of Milton in RADI OS; not to leave out Weiner's own Clairvoyant Journals, where what is found is the words seen (projected? transferred?) onto the objects and bodies surrounding her.
Cul de sac not in the sense of "no more to be found", any more than no more to be lost. Only that in the world of Weeks there's no way out and ascent upward is effectively blocked, since Weeks presents a world in which "I went by [can only go by] the information I received": i.e. not very far. What's left is to descend into this world of "our" very own making, to attend (to) its forms so better to reckon with it. "The standoff began as a botched robbery."
When is a text not a text?
Dan Waber’s Another Tool for Discovering your Favorite Letter (ATDFL) is an online interactive poem, a mandala-like, kaleidoscopic hallucinogenic roundabout tilt-a-whirl hurricane pinwheel rabbit's hole sawblade exploration of the letters of the alphabet and the keyboard.
You type a key and on the screen that glyph begins rotating. The up and down arrow keys allow you to control the opacity — how much of a visual trail the letters leave. The left and right arrow keys control the speed of rotation. And the space bar allows you to do that roller rink thing where suddenly, everyone — G, }, h, and * — skates in the opposite direction. There’s also an option for choosing the font. I think I might have a fontcrush on Times Roman h.
When is a text not a text? When it’s a writing desk.
In an email, Dan writes that he’s hesitant to call ATDFL a poem. He thinks maybe ‘fun-with-typography.’ But, though that is true—its funneling type graphs are certainly a type of typographic fun — I think he’s being too modest. To me, this poem enacts writing, a specific performance of letters. Not a moment of oral performance, but a scribal moment. Each experience of ATDFL — because it is user controlled — is a unique per perf perform performative moment. And it’s not the Platonic ideal of a perfect moment, but the wheel thing.
Dan notes that “when I showed it to my wife [the writer Jennifer Hill] the first thing she noticed was how many of the letters would form into shapes that were very analogous to how she experiences the letterform. “k” is very jaggedy, “s” is slippery, and the piece as a whole begins with “j” because she loved how the first letter of her name looked (because it looks in this instance not dissimilar to how she experiences it).
And I agree with Jenny. There is a kind of reading/language-centered attention that the work evokes. As she observes, it brings out something inherent in the letters that we suspected—or didn’t suspect--was there. Something that corresponds with our understanding or our appreciation of them. Something to do with their sound, shape, symbolic or associational heft. Isn’t this ‘reading’? Because it’s language-related, specific to these particular glyphs — language mark(er)s? Because it's an exploration of the sign and the signifier, of the operation of language? And because it’s an exploration of how we interact with the forms of language? Which font do we prefer? What is our favorite presentation of S? How much should linger after X? Are we serif satisfied or are we sans teeth sans eyes? These spinning typeshapes evoke a wide range of sensory (visual, tactile, auditory) and even verbal associations. There’s certainly much aesthetic pleasure in the images and in interacting with them. A pleasure in the tech. A glyphouissance. Text evoking images? Hmm. That sounds like that thing I’ve heard that poems sometimes do. So, ATDFL, I’m looking at you (as): text, poem.
But let’s leave Dan Waber with the last words: “I'm reminded of a reading where one poet read a poem about falling into a mineshaft, and after the reading another poet came up to him and said, “Wow, that poem of yours about the writing process was AMAZING.” And the first poet said, “Huh? What poem?”
All of the images are screen captures of various iterations of Dan Waber’s Another Tool for Discovering your Favorite Letter. The living, squirling thing can be found here along with other of Dan’s processing pieces. I’d particularly recommend his beautiful The Book of I — a potential book with an ‘i’ for every person on earth. Dan Waber is a poet, publisher, and multimedia artist. More about him and his varied work can be found at his website.
Gallery hours are Fri., Sat. and Sun. from 1 - 6 PM and by appointment. Subway: L train to Bedford Avenue. For more information, please contact Maika Pollack at 718 599 4884 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The poet's novel
The first thing you might notice about The Malady of Death is the visual components to this book. It is slim, only sixty pages of text, like many volumes of poems. On each page the font size is larger than most large-print editions of books. I measure the opening capitol “Y” beginning “You” at one-half of a centimeter. The page that appears the fullest contains one-hundred and sixteen words. A page appearing one of the sparest contains sixty words. Section breaks appear as multiple paragraph breaks, a multitude of white space, and an occasional asterisk.
The two characters in this text are referred to only as “you” and “she.” This is a story told in particulars by nobody named. Or I should say, this is a non-story, a story about the inability to happen. The characters are present only in relation to desire or a lack of desire. This poet’s novel is a fable of sexual deadness, numbness, told in a very compressed episodic manner. A man approaches a woman, asks if he can pay her to spend many nights with him. She is to be passive, silent. He is hoping to discover if he has the ability to love. “She,” though she speaks little and is mostly asleep, is able to diagnose his “malady of death.” Though sexuality is often a subject in works by Duras, the real focal point is usually the question: what happens to a human being that renders them incapable of intimacy? Often the answer is war, but the focus is never war, but its psychological remains.
What is Duras’ influence on contemporary poets? On the novel? This is one vein to consideration of the form — the realm of a novelist and her particular influence. Poet and novelist Jeanne Hueving writes, “Marguerite Duras has greatly influenced my poetics because of her sense of being ravished and because of the synthesized mixture in her writing of perception and medium — of filmic seeing, framed documentation,and fictional apparatus. Her two “novels,” The Ravishing of Lol Stein and The Lover comprise an inquiry into female love and sex like no other.”
Duras was one of the first modernist writers I read who wrote openly about women’s sexuality in a manner in which the unsaid was as essential as the said. Cinematically, one can see her texts. At the end of The Malady of Death instructions are given for a theater or film version of the work. These notes are as interesting as the text itself, in that they change how one reads the book and illuminate how Duras conceives of her text. She suggests that the piece could be staged, with the “young woman of paid nights”  lying on white sheets on a bed. She later adds notes regarding the text being filmed:
“If I ever filmed this text I’d want the weeping by the sea to be shot in such a way that the white turmoil of the waves is seen almost simultaneously with the man’s face. There should be a correlation between the white of the sheets and the white of the sea. The sheets should be a prior image of the sea.” 
This metaphoric process is movement akin to a poem. Duras tells the reader in her notes on staging that the man in the story should never appear. Instead, another man reads (does not perform from memory) the text. In this way Duras suggests that the central male character does not actually exist in her text. After reading this note one’s sense of the work is entirely changed. The main character, speaking most of the text, is an instance of absence. Duras has written absence into the center of the text in a way in which only becomes apparent once one has finished reading. The reader is required to rethink the experience of the text. Instead of moving forward, from beginning to end, as in most fiction, this text sends us back to the beginning.
Duras also connects the white space on the pages of the text to time and silence. She writes “There should be great stretches of silence between the different paid nights, silences in which nothing happens except the passage of time.” .