Undecidable: a remembrance for Lyn

Lyn Hejinian's 'The Unfollowing' (2016).

“She does not, will not, should not, did not, can not, would not separate, compartmentalize, segment, subdivide, parcel out…”
                                                                            —Lyn Hejinian, The Unfollowing

My first encounter with Lyn was at a gathering of prospective graduate students, at which I, among other prospectives, listened to faculty plug UC Berkeley’s English doctoral program. Lyn’s un-pluggy plug was this: she celebrated an absence, something, she was happy to report, that Berkeley’s English department did not offer — an MFA in Creative Writing. I was struck by her language, her presence, her intensity, as she eloquently eviscerated the distinction between analytical and creative modes of writing, a distinction which, she assured us, rests on complete and utter bullshit. She spoke seriously and joyously about the English department’s decision not to offer a formal MFA degree-granting program, the idea being to avoid the cognitive and social siloing that a programmatic separation of PhDs and MFAs would likely bring about. As Lyn spoke, her words signaled a thoughtful mode of not-doing, a happy negativity. Although Berkeley did not offer an MFA, she was very clearly calling out to us as poets. Back then, I had had my heart set on applying to MFA programs, but — I was disappointed to discover — they were prohibitively expensive and mostly unfunded. I applied to English PhD programs instead. The PhD programs came with stipends, which — depending on one’s point of reference (one’s background) — were not inconsiderable. One tends to, and sometimes one has to, make whatever decision is going to “make things work,” but what I heard through Lyn that day was something else altogether: a kind of unworking, a conscious deprogramming, or perhaps just the possibility that one kind of decision might ward off other, more nefarious forms of decisiveness. She taught me many things, including how to “read” utterly unreadable works of literature, as well as the joy of not understanding Alfred North Whitehead after spending the better part of an academic year collectively reading him (no sarcasm here, Lyn’s Whitehead reading group was extremely fun). But what I come back to most in my memories of her is her appreciation for the undecidable, her many ways of offering rigorous and loving attention to the compatibilities that subtend the urge to “separate, compartmentalize, segment, subdivide, parcel out.” As she wrote, 

You were born like a rocket and live with fins 
I’m working small
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