juxtaposition and the constructedness of meaning in contemporary avant-garde writing

Date: Wed, 1 Dec 1999 09:33:47 -0500 (EST)


Here is P.T.'s observation about juxtaposition or connection between two
sentences or lines. Read it VERY carefully....:

| For example, if you talk about a fly buzzing
| around in Montana and a soldier killing an innocent victim in the middle
| east, by juxtaposing those two images, I'm drawn to think that they are
| somehow connected.  

Great examples. Sentence 1 has seemingly "nothing to do with" sentence 2,
so we can get into a big debate with some people taking this side:

	* connections between sentences have only arbitrary
	  relation--and we should experiment with no relations.
 	  The relation is not meaningful.

and some people taking this side:

	* there is no such thing as no relation between two
	  (or more) sentences--there is always some relation,
	  there is always meaning. The relation is meaningful.

Believe it or not, these are essentially the same positions! If we decide
(with the chapter 9 writers) that all relation between language parts
(2 sentences, 2 images, 2 words, 2 sounds, etc., 3 sentences, 3 images,
etc. etc.) are constructed in some way (are not natural but imposed), then
we agree that the work of the writers (AND OF THE READER) is to comprehend
the relation, however "unmeant" or "accidental" or "happened-by-chance."

(Ashbery in "Some Trees": we arrange by chance to meet..... [How can we
"arrange by chance"? We can! We can! Create a rigid operation or system of
writing and then apply it arbitrary to raw (or raw-like) language data.
This is what we'll talk about when we study John Cage and Jackson Mac

How much of life--relation between any two (or 3...) moments in
life--happens "by chance"? Well: all. Well: none. It's the same thing!
Whatever coherence you make to unite or relate 

		a fly buzzing and Montana
and		a soldier killing an innocent person in the Middle East

is going to be a coherence "made". (WCW kept saying: poems are
words--words as things!--put on--*made*--made like
machines--there--here--like *that*--like *this*--like dabs of paint put on
canvas with a brush!).

Meaning is an operation we put on language.  The coherence of your life is
basically like the meaning Sara Rabold made when she used the dictionary
to imply an accidental connection between Frost's "Mending Wall" and *her*
"made" "Mending Wall." Accidental? No! What Sara's N+7 version does is--at
least--force readers of Frost to think of what he says about mending walls

		itself a constructedness.

Yet by using a fixed system she took the subject or subjectivity or "I"
out of the writing. She operated on Frost but "she" as a subject didn't do
it or shape it. 

It is not that Frost says something natural and Sara says something
artificial. It is that Frost says something artificial and Sara's
rejoinder, a piece of radical artifice (or extremely intended artifice),
also says something artificial which *also* spends its energy pointing out
that artifice of Frost's "original." Sara's rewriting of Frost was thus AN

	A fly buzzes in Montana.

By itself, it seems like just another thing that happened. Until

	A soldier kills an innocent person in the Middle East.

Putting the two (accidentally, randomly) together, we then think: can
flies just keep on buzzing in Montana while all this is going on? Or we
think: does the soldier think killing a person in the Middle East is just
as natural an event as a fly buzzing? Do I? What is Montana after all? Why
is it so far away, so natural, so different, from a place where the
killing of innocents goes on? Who constructed Montana to be such a place.
Why did P.T. pick Montana as his example of a place far from the political
meaning of the soldier killing example? What if we say a fly buzzed in the
Middle East and killing happened on Montana? Well, that happens! Why
(historically) did Montana become P.T.'s stereotyped "Montana" and why
(historically) did the Middle East between the notoriously violent "Middle
East." What if Moses has wandered with his people into Montana? Flies
would not buzz there meaninglessly. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Conscious, conscious, conscious we are that meaning is made and needs to
be WORKED ON or WORKED THROUGH by writers and readers. Readers are
interpreters--the collaborating constructors of meaning (co-constructors).
Writers behave (as Sara did--egolessly) in relation to their writing the
way readers traditionally have, and readers begin to behave as writers
traditionally have (creating meaning)....

Meaning is an occasion for collaboration. 

(So is teaching, by the way.)

feelin' *that* kind of teacherly,

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