in the hug of a wave horizon rolled youngly from nothing.
— Susan Howe, “Chanting at the Crystal Sea” 
For Leslie Scalapino, the poem’s an apparatus, no mere mimetic catch to reproduce world(s) as a backdrop for the poem’s disclosures. That it can be used to observe the manifestations and codeterminations of entangling and unfurling world(s) is also mere axiom; more crucially, the poem tears back the veil of the “real” (in this case, where flesh meets florescence: body/world) to point to the rachitic frame-structure bolstering becoming. As such, rather than merely orchestrate mutual manifestation, juxtaposing worlds through parataxis to produce feedback between conflicting/ conflating realities, the poem is a kind of prosthetic tool — a heuristic — that cuts through the putative real (the veil of the given) to get at something … else. For Scalapino, there’s no outside: only immanent transcendence that accords a bit of leverage to turn and face “the whole” — to watch its vicissitudes while remaining in it. The goal is to both produce and occupy “the process or act of that disjunction.”
As such, the poem is a cutting edge, tearing through the apparent “unitexturality” of infolding worlds to show their jagged seams if only so “mind-phenomena,” as Scalapino has it, can sunder wheat from chaff. However, mind-phenomena itself is a measure of worlding world, world-stuff, so mind turns to face in order to hover safely above world-saturation. In order to think through this in-turning, Scalapino refers to the poetic line as a kind of “event horizon,” a “rim of observation” or experience in which the poem advances on world. Through the poem we “see” mind-phenomena track its own “living productive forms [as they] fail, weaken, or grow monstrous, destroying the terms of their existence.”
In contradistinction to a simple horizon bifurcating interiority from exteriority in an attempt to distinguish subject from world, Scalapino uses writing to produce “‘a relational state’ in which nonhuman perspective is as much a factor as human perspective; nor is this anthropomorphic, rather the opposite, an infinite extension of perspective and possible relations of perspectives: ‘as the horizon when you are moving can oppose the horizon inside.’” In order to illustrate this horizonal dissymmetry, Scalapino refers to the work of friend and fellow poet Mei-mei Berssenbrugge in “The Recovery of the Public World”:
In Sphericity, which is a collaboration with artist Richard Tutttle, when a point is silent, it’s not a vantage point. Really there’s no vantage point, and the instant of apprehension is solely. The event horizon is so loaded, the horizon’s everywhere: “the seam, my experience of your experience, a horizon at dawn, is the instant of apprehension.” [...]
The content of phenomena is scrutiny, according to Berssenbrugge. Her comparison of objects, qualities as events is on a line (of her scrutiny) compared to ‘some other’s’ “event horizon,” their line where events occur. [...]
There is no stability of the structure (of the poem or visual aspect) except the line of occurrence, which is ‘their’ apprehension.
For Scalpino, as for Whitehead, the world we understand as “the one real” is merely a pathwork of events in varying states of wonky concrescence and transition. At our most saturated, subjects are thrown against this flat ontology and are simply swallowed by it. However, the subject (and her poems) are also “real events” in this mutual codetermination: poems “as if floating in reciprocal shapes are as much as are occurrences in the world.” The major difference is that the poem extends mind-phenomena as prehension just ahead of comprehension in order to “see it” unfold in a rhythm of disclosure syncopated with/by the world it hopes to alter. As such, the poem “is per se scrutiny of the present”, an organon for real-making, identifying necrotic tissue in order to cut it back from what still harbors life.
“Scrutiny,” then, is the poem’s cutting edge, its horizon, slicing through static configurations in order to tap pullulating novelty. But here scrutiny is destructive, as when Scalapino claims that French poet Danielle Collobert extinguishes images so as not to continue “the chain of images which constitutes being, and writing.”
[The writing] is ‘active’ negatively in that sense, so the dead moments are also lost, extinguished while being present. [...]
In Zen practice ‘appearances’ which are the world are the same as mind. The mind is freed from itself and those appearances by delusion itself. It can only be in delusion. [...]
Flesh and edge of flesh existing, and not existing, and edge of the writing (articulated as its subject, itself — as the actual flesh — being the notation or observation of it) produce each other.
Which is all to say that world-saturation can be countered; however, to allow the subject to (immanently) transcend the marmoreal stasis of being, the poem must “extinguish” the world’s dead images. When “the real” is merely flattened as backdrop, the poem can cut through its supersaturation to open a portal for ek-stasis. This is what Scalapino meant when she famously discussed “punching a hole in reality” in order to “void [events], but actively.” Or as Levinas has it,
Apparition is a congealed form from which someone has already withdrawn, whereas in language there is accomplished the unintermittent afflux of a presence that rends the inevitable veil of its own apparition, which is plastic like every apparition. Apparition reveals and conceals; speech consists in surmounting, in a total frankness ever renewed, the dissimulation inevitable in every apparition.
1. Susan Howe, Frame Structures: Early Poems, 1974–1979 (New York: New Directions, 1996), 66.
2. Leslie Scalapino, The Public World / Syntactically Impermanence (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1999), 6.
3. Robert Duncan, Bending the Bow (New York: New Directions, 1968), i.
4. Leslie Scalapino, Objects in the Terrifying Tense / Longing from Taking Place (New York: Roof Books, 1993), 64.
5. Scalapino, Public World, 61.
6. Scalapino, Objects, 1.
8. Ibid., 8.
9. Ibid., 9–10.
10. Leslie Scalapino, How Phenomena Appear to Unfold (Elmwood, CT: Potes and Poets Press, 1989), 21.
11. Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969), 98.
- Cy Twombly
- Danielle Collobert
- Emmanuel Levinas
- Leslie Scalapino
- Mei-mei Berssenbrugge
- Michael Cross
- Robert Duncan
- Susan Howe
Prolegomena to (Any Future) Process Poetics