Dworkin after Coolidge
'The Crystal Text' stripped bare ...
Craig Dworkin, The Crystal Text (Compline), n.p.—Importantly, the “author” of this chapbook does not appear on the cover or back. Instead, Dworkin’s name appears on the title page below this parenthetical note: “(After Clark Coolidge).” Thus the cover foregrounds only the “crystal text,” recalling Pound’s insistence that it doesn’t matter who writes great poems, only that they be written. In addition, though no date of publication appears anywhere, a note on the last page tells us that the text “marks Craig Dworkin’s reading with Myung Mi Kim on December 14, 2012 for Small Press Traffic.” Since the editors do not indicate that the text is a graphic recording or transcription — faithful or not — of Dworkin’s reading, the verb of choice, “marks,” gains significance, especially as it concerns a text that is an ‘edited’ version of Coolidge’s monumental work, first published in 1986 by The Figures and republished in 1995 by Sun & Moon. A detractor might wryly note the pernicious influence, still, of Borges’ “Pierre Menard,” or more distantly (and perhaps less likely), Nabokov’s Pale Fire.As with all modes of appropriation — and here it doesn’t really matter whether we name this procedure Conceptual or not — the looming question (though not the only or even most important one) is does Dworkin’s text measure up to Coolidge’s, by which I mean, is there a reason to read this one with, in place of, or in ignorance of, Coolidge’s “original”? I’d say yes to all three parts of the question. In offering us a drastically reduced, more economical version of Coolidge’s text, Dworkin has also, per Pound, made it “new,” though in doing so he has not necessarily made it “better.” For me the primary difference is the way Coolidge works with the predominant traditions at hand — that is, post-Romantic narrative, post-Imagist deep imagism, etc. — in order to undercut the assumptions of presence, if not immediacy, that so often were guiding ideals of those poetics. Dworkin’s reworking of the text underscores the political ramifications embedded in Coolidge’s work. I am not suggesting, of course, that Coolidge himself is unaware of these concerns. It’s just that Dworkin largely eschews the literary/aesthetic critique, even as he employs many of its “guaranteed” affects (alliteration, assonance, etc.). Mimicking the indicative voice of Coolidge’s text, Dworkin reminds us that, “The rock is a clock.” Moreover, “The crystal quills. It evinces a will to formation, and the impossibility of forming any other way.” And in case that isn’t clear, “The crystal encysts. The crystal is discrete. Its xenophobic structure is allergic to the stranger.” The canvas Coolidge paints on is broader, his strokes more sweeping and encompassing than Dworkin’s. But I like miniatures too.
Hunches, hedges, etc.