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DE PROPRIETATIBUS LITTERARUM

edenda cjirat

C. H. VAN SCHOONEVELD
Indiana University

Series Minor, 6
AGAINST LANGUAGE?
'dissatisfaction with language as
theme and as impulse
towards experiments in twentieth century poetry

by

ROSMARIE WALDROP

1971

MOUTON
THE H A G U E P A R I S
Copyright 1971 in The Netherlands.
Mouton & Co. N.V., Publishers, The Hague.
No part of this book may be translated or reproduced in any form, by print,
photoprint, microfilm, or any other means, without written permission from
the publishers.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG CARD NUMBER: 76-154532

Printed in The Netherlands by Mouton & Co., Printers, The Hague.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I am deeply grateful to Otto G. Graf, James C. O'Neill, Austin


Warren, Fred Wyatt, and especially Ingo Seidler for their en-
couragement, criticisms, and suggestions.
I am also much indebted to the University of Michigan and
the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung for grants which made this
book possible.
CONTENTS

I. Introduction 9
Various complaints against language 9 - Limits of language
are blamed as formerly those of the human mind in gen-
eral 10 - Language as cognitive 11 - Outline of the study
11.

II. Three Causes of the Discontent 16


A. One: Pure Spirit, Pure Form, or the Void: . . 16
Language and the mystical experience 16 - Mallarm's in-
finite nothing, his techniques of elimination and fragmen-
tation 17 - Dada's self-negation 18 - going beyond language,
turn to the unconscious 19 - Mon, Heissenbiittel and Isou
see art partaking in transcendence and eliminate the con-
cept of expression 21.

B. Two: Pure Matter or Energy 23


The way down and in to the unconscious 23 - The uncon-
scious as part of the flux of unformed matter or energy
provoking the scream rather than language 24 - The cult
of the viscous 25 - The technique of automatic writing 29.

C. Three: The Things of This World 30


Objects of perception are found incommensurate with lan-
guage because they partake both of the chaos of matter and
of the emptiness of pure form (Hofmannsthal) 30 - The
interdependence of world, language and the ' 31 - Things
as both elusive and oppressive (Rilke) 33 - The leap into
faith in the word: elastic form 35 - Partial developments 36
- Ponge's yes to things, his new language and new world
37 - Robbe-Grillet's measurement 39.

III. The Method of Disruption 40


A. Implications: . . . 40
The idea of disruption 40 - Its object 41 - Autonomy of
the medium and discontinuity 41.

B. Disruption Within the Semantic Dimension


of Language: 42
Metaphor 42.

C. Disruption Between the Semantic and Syntactical


Dimensions of Language: Contiguity Disorder . 44
Similarity and contiguity 44 - Contiguity disorder 45 -
Its effects of simultaneity, lack of hierarchy, archetype, ex-
pressiveness 45 - Truth of individual fact 49.

D. Similarity Disorder: 50
Autonomy of the medium: sound versus meaning 51 - The
stress on arrangement: the truth of related facts 52 - The
refusal of metalanguage 57.

E. Chance: 64
Selection and combination 64 - Chance combination stresses
arrangement 65.

F. Fragmentation Smaller than the Word: . . . . 68


Reference and combination 68 - Expression 69 - Music
and graphics 70.

IV. The Method of Negation 71


A. Implications: . . . 71
Negation inherent in selection 71 - Negation inherent in
language 72 - Tradition of explicit negation 72.

B. Exclusion of Certain Uses of Language: . . . 73


Rhetoric and empty words 74 - Abstracta and discursive-
ness 75.

C. Exclusion of Parts of Speech: 78


Adjectives 78 - Verbs 80 - Nouns 83.

D. Exclusion of Metaphor: 85
Implications 85 - Poems without metaphors often turn into
one metaphor 86 - Avoiding both metaphors and the poem
as metaphor 87.
E. Reduction in Scope: 88
Reduction of the number of words 89 - Reduction of con-
tents 90.

V. The Method of Borrowing 92


A. Borrowing from Art and Music: 92
Graphic arrangement not as illustration but as rhythmical
or spatial articulation 92 - Music patterns as factors of
arrangement 99 - Art and music borrowing from litera-
ture 100.

B. Borrowing from Autism: 101


Is automatic writing close to autism? 102 - What can be
borrowed from autism 103 - Metamorphosis 105 - Puns 106
- Formal similarity without regard to meaning 107.

C. Borrowing from Mathematics 112


Mathematics implied in poetry 112 - Permutation 113.

VI. Concluding Remarks 121


Importance of experiments with language 121 - None of the
techniques alien to language, but applied to area different
from the one we expect 122 - Experiments part of an
aesthetic change away from expressiveness to greater em-
phasis on composition 123.

Bibliography 124
Index 130
I

INTRODUCTION

George Steiner claims that confidence in language began dwindling


in the seventeenth century as mathematics became a language
beyond the reach of ordinary language.1 While this may be true
for the logicians' trust in language, the dissatisfaction with this
medium is very much older. Gorgias clinched his argument that:
I. Nothing exists.
II. If anything exists, it is incomprehensible,

with the radically nominalistic statement:


III. If anything is comprehensible, it is incommunicable [ b e c a u s e ] . . .
that with which we communicate is speech, and speech is not the
same thing as the things that exist, the perceptibles; so that we
communicate not the things which exist, but only speech. 2

The complaints are also much more varied and complex than
Steiner suggests when measuring language against the more exact
system of mathematics. They range anywhere from the charge that
language is too imprecise, too fluid, too simple, to the charge that
it is too rational, too rigid, too abstract. There is also the notion
that language was adequate in some mythical good-old-days, but
is used up and exhausted by modern mass media. I shall take up
some of these complaints in more detail later, that is, those that
have most relevance to poetry. For the others, just a few examples:

1
"Retreat from the Word", Kenyan Review, XXIII (Spring 1961), pp.
187-216.

Kathleen Freeman, Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers (Cambridge,


Mass., Harvard University Press, 1957), pp. 128-9.
10 INTRODUCTION

Bertrand Russell complains that language presents as simple, as


integrals what in fact is atomistic and pluralistic.3 For Bergson,
language is a crust, far too rigid to let us perceive the flux of
reality.4 Rudolf Carnap and the poet Lon-Paul Fargue both call
language imprecise; but Carnap, because language allows meaning-
less statements to look meaningful,5 and Fargue, because the same
word, let us say 'lamp', is used both by the poet and the lamp-
maker - obviously in quite different senses.* If we look far enough,
language is accused of being inadequate in relation to almost
everything: to thought, emotion, intuition, reality, life, art, the
numinous, etc. The preoccupation with the limits of language has
certainly grown to unprecedented proportions in this century. The
reason may be the coincidence of two factors. On the one hand,
science has popularized Kant's insight that man has no objective
apprehension of reality, that reality is not the same as our aware-
ness of it ("It is impossible to transcend the human reference
point", says P. W. Bridgman7) On the other hand, philosophers
have added that the human reference point, our ordering of real-
ity, is largely conditioned by language. So language becomes our
prison, a "cool web", as Graves calls it, or, as Wittgenstein says:
"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world."8 There
are two immediate consequences or this insight. On the one hand,
man now blames the limits of language in much the same way as
he formerly blamed those of the human mind in general. On the
other hand, if all apprehension is, as it were, filtered through lan-
3
Wilbur M. Urban, Language and Reality (New York, Macmillan, 1939),
p. 370 ff.
1
Henri Bergson, Essai sur les donnes immdiates de la conscience, passim,
especially chapter II, uvres, ed. Andr Robinet (Paris, Presses Univer-
sitaires de France, 1963), pp. 3-160.
5
Rudolf Carnap, "The Elimination of Metaphysics through Logical Ana-
lysis of Language", in A. J. Ayer (ed.), Logical Positivism (Glencoe, 111., The
Free Press, 1959), pp. 60-81.
6
Lon-Paul Fargue, Sous la lampe (Paris, Gallimard, 1937), p. 23.
7
Quoted by James B. Conant, "The Changing Scientific Scene 1900-1950",
in The Limits of Language, ed. Walker Gibson (New York, Hill and Wang,
1962), p. 21.
8
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-philosophicus, trans. D. F. Pears
and B. F. McGuinness (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1961), 5.6.
INTRODUCTION 11

guage, language is a powerful tool of cognition, not just of ex-


pression. Philosophers as different as Heidegger and Wittgenstein
try to deal with problems by making them language problems. If
language is an instrument of cognition, the act of writing a poem
becomes an act of exploration, of knowledge. This is largely the
function that writers of the twentieth century attribute to their art.
Art wants to assume "the function of knowledge",9 according to
Hermann Broch. Yves Bonnefoy says he uses words to "de-
cipher" the sensible world.10
My first main chapter documents that this problem is not only
a concern of philosophers, but indeed one of the poets them-
selves. Rather than attempting a complete history of the poets'
dissatisfaction with their medium, which would be somewhat re-
dundant, I have pursued those statements that at least imply a
cause for the dissatisfaction. I found that most of the poets try to
account for their complaints in terms of the object they try to
know and express.11 They are objects that indeed make obvious
the limits of the mind, the human reference point. They can be
summed up by their extreme points: the notion of pure spirit or
void and the notion of the chaos of unconscious, undifferentiated
matter - extreme points of the complexes of form, abstraction, etc.
on the one hand and emotion, sensuality, energy, dream, madness
on the other. There is a third problematical object: the world of
physical bodies. Its relation to the word proves as difficult because
objects and their names correspond only on the level of conven-
tion, and it is perhaps one of the tasks of art to question our
conventions. But once you do this the physical object becomes as
ineffable as the void or as the flux of matter.
If we keep in mind that language is not only a limitation but

9
Hermann Broch, Dichten und Erkennen (Zrich, Rhein-Verlag, 1955),
p. 203.
10
Yves Bonnefoy, L'Improbable (Paris, Mercure de France, 1959), p. 25.
11
Exception made for Paul Valry who analyses the process of creation,
and with a much more philosophical method than any other poet. Cf.
especially "Introduction la mthode de Lonard de Vinci", uvres, ed.
Jean Hytier (Paris, Gallimard, 1957), I, 1153-1233, and "La cration
artistique", Vues (Paris, La Table Ronde, 1948), pp. 285-309.
12 INTRODUCTION

also an instrument of knowledge, then it is not so surprising that


the poets keep on writing in spite of their complaints and even
apparent despair. There are few who, like Rimbaud, choose si-
lence. There are few who give up writing poems in favor of genres
that do not depend entirely on words, as Hofmannsthal in his
plays and librettos. Most keep writing, implying that they have
reached some point on the way, if not the goal they set out for.
Some, for instance, are confident that they will change the world
if they succeed in changing the language.12
How the poets of this century try to change language is my ac-
tual topic. I am not concerned with the pragmatic aspect of the
linguistic sign,13 with breakdown of communication, but with
poetic technique that affects language. And I mean language in
the most basic sense: the words, the reference code, and the rules
for combination that a given language uses. Thus Rilke's device
of rhyming unstressed contiguity words like dass or und, and put-
ting them in metrically stressed positions can be said to have af-
fected the 'language' of German poetry by its effect of structured
fluidity, but it cannot be said to have affected the German lan-
guage in the basic sense I am using. However, Klopstock's using
intransitive verbs transitively, can.
In other words, I will talk about radical experimentation, about
playing with the rules of language, the kind of experiment that
has provoked the feeling of a crisis of language or crisis of poetry.
(The feeling of crisis is, of course, more general: the novel has
been in crisis for at least forty years. And there are similar feelings
about the media of the other arts.)
I have decided to study systematically (rather than historically)
the devices that break rules of language. One reason for this is the

12
" 'La posie ne rhythmera plus l'action: elle sera en avant.' (Rimbaud.)
Elle est donc dsormais conue comme un moyen d'action sur le monde,
capable de changer la vie." Andr Breton, quoted in Jean-Louis Bdouin,
Andr Breton (Paris, Seghers, n.d.), p. 23.
ls
I am using Charles W. Morris's terms, cf. "Foundations of the Theory
of Signs", International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, eds. Otto Neurath,
Rudolf Carnap and Charles Morris (Chicago, The University of Chicago
Press, 1938), I, 84.
INTRODUCTION 13
great mass of material which, if taken in a historical sequence,
would both be repetitious and introduce problems which distract
from my central concern. Another reason is that this approach
seems rare in the criticism of the field. There are of course ex-
tended studies of at least the older poets and movements. But if
these experiments are dealt with, it is often marginally and most
frequently in terms of personality, Weltanschauung, circumstances
of the time, etc. There are studies on single facets: lack of meta-
phor in Heissenbiittel, omission of verbs in Benn, negative attitude
towards metalanguage in Queneau,14 or, somewhat more general,
works like Donald Davie's study of syntax 15 or J. B. Barrre's La
cure d'amaigrissement du roman. All these studies focus on single
points and do not attempt to treat the phenomenon as a whole.
In the studies that give a synthesis of contemporary poetry or the
present situation of poetry, I found a predominance of the more
or less thematic approach (Leonhard's "dread and inebriation",17
Friedrich's "dehumanization", "empty transcendence", "magic",18
Bosquet's "approximation", irrationality, openness, etc.19 - to say
nothing of studies like that of Rudolf N. Maier, who treats poems
as symptoms of a general retreat from the world20).
What I am trying to examine is much narrower and more tech-
nical. Alfred Liede's Dichtung als Spiel: Studien zur Unsinnspoesie
an den Grenzen der Sprache21 is closest to my effort. These vol-

14
Roland Barthes, "Zazie et la littrature", Essais critiques (Paris, Editions
du Seuil, 1964), pp. 125-31.
15
Donald Davie, Articulate Energy (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul,
1955).
16
J. B. Barrre, La cure d'amaigrissement du roman (Paris, Editions Albin
Michel, 1964).
17
Kurt Leonhard, Moderne Lyrik (Bremen, Carl Schiinemann, 1963).
18
Hugo Friedrich, Die Struktur der modernen Lyrik (Hamburg, Rowohlt,
1956).
19
Alain Bosquet, Verbe et vertige (Paris, Hachette, 1961).
20
Rudolf Nikolaus Maier, Paradies der Weltlosigkeit (Stuttgart, Klett,
1964). "Welt" is defined as "das primr Gegebene, das Grndende, das
Elementare und Gewachsene, die Flle des Naturhaften und des Mensch-
lich-Seelischen" (p. 75).
21
Alfred Liede, Dichtung als Spiel: Studien zur Unsinnspoesie an den
Grenzen der Sprache, 2 vols. (Berlin, Walter de Gruyter, 1963).
14 INTRODUCTION

umes bring together an enormous wealth of poems from the Latin


carmen cancellatum to Dada texts, but they suffer from lack of
theoretical clarity as to what are nonsense, play and language,
their limits, and the relations between them.
Linguistic studies of poetry, as those of Roman Jakobson22 and
Samuel R. Levin,23 have so far concentrated on general laws
operating in poetry. They have not paid much attention to the
so-called experimental poetry.
A third reason for a systematic approach seems to me inherent
in the topic. If I want to find any coherent answer to the question:
what do poets do to language? it seems logical to look at the
poems from a linguistic point of view. My procedure was this:
after collecting poems that seemed to go against the code of the
languages I tried to abstract some categories for ordering them,
if only crudely. The categories I decided on are the techniques of
disruption, negation and borrowing from other symbolic systems.
The fact that these are not altogether exclusive will hardly be
surprising in so complex a subject. I then examined these cate-
gories with the help of some basic linguistic terms of Roman
Jakobson's, selecting poems that seemed best to illustrate the
points. In trying to get something like a spectrum of the possibil-
ities of linguistic disruption or negation, it was necessary to in-
clude some sections on devices which (not being very 'radical')
are of limited interest and are therefore treated only briefly.
In giving examples I had constantly to isolate single strata of
a poem rather than dealing with it in its totality. There are two
other limitations. Even though it is somewhat preposterous to
write about experiments with language without dealing with Ger-
trude Stein and James Joyce, I decided to examine only poetry
since it seems to rely more exclusively on words than novel or
drama. (There are a few passages in prose if it offers a better

22
Roman Jakobson, "Linguistics and Poetics", in Style in Language, ed.
T. A. Sebeok (New York, MIT and John Wiley & Sons, I960), pp. 350-77.
25
Samuel R. Levin, Linguistic Structures in Poetry (The Hague, Mouton,
1964).
INTRODUCTION 15

example.) And, with few exceptions, the poetry is limited to


French and German.
In order to get a readable text, especially in the first main,
documentary, chapter, I have translated theoretical statements as
well as those texts which are quoted for their statement rather than
for their language. I have done this, however, only where it seemed
possible without loss. Page references are always to the original.
II

THREE CAUSES OF THE DISCONTENT

A. ONE: PURE SPIRIT, PURE FORM, OR THE VOID

Mystics of all religions have long accustomed us to the idea that


the vision of God, or the absolute, has no room in language. We
have it on Plato's authority: "This knowledge is not something
that can be put into words like other sciences."1 And does his
Socrates indeed say more about 'the Good' than that it is the
ultimate source of everything?2 Likewise, all mystical sects know
the concept of the sanctum silentium which, according to Max
Scheler, is not so much protection against outsiders as part of
their cognitive method.8 The high point in the initiation cere-
monies of the Greek mystery religions, for instance, was the silent
showing of some simple object, like an ear of corn.4
Our idea of what is simple has changed, but it is still the be-
ginning of the inexpressible. For Lord Russell, "simples" are
"known only inferentially as the limit of analysis".5 And at the
limit of analysis, the scientist too reaches the ineffable, a meaning-
1
Plato's Epistles, ed. Glenn R. Morrow (New York, Bobbs-Merrill, 1962),
p. 237.1 assume that Mr. Morrow is right in taking Epistle VII for genuine.
1
Cf. Ibid., pp. 60-81.
* Cf. Max Scheler, "Probleme einer Soziologie des Wissens", Versuche zu
einer Soziologie des Wissens, ed. Max Scheler (Mnchen, Duncker & Hum-
blot, 1924), p. 52.
4
Cf. C. G. Jung and C. Kerenyi, Essays on a Science of Mythology, trans.
R. F. C. Hull, Bollingen Series, Vol. XXII (New York, Pantheon, 1949),
p. 205; also the remarks on Buddha's "Flower Sermon", pp. 209-11.
5
"Logical Atomism" in Logical Positivism, ed. A. J. Ayer (Glencoe, 111.,
The Free Press, 1959), p. 44.
THREE CAUSES OF THE DISCONTENT 17

less ineffable in his case. Thus his way to the ineffable does not,
like the way of the mystic, go via the infinite and supremely
meaningful but via the infinitesimal where all meaning ceases.
Yet the difference between the meaningful and meaningless in-
effable is spurious because all reasoned distinctions collapse at
the borderline of analysis. We simply cannot say anything about
what transcends the human reference point. Thus, at the limits
of the mind, the meaningful joins the meaningless, and the scientist
the mystic: the absolute is also the void. The bolder mystics knew
this long ago. Meister Eckhart holds that "Gott ist Nichts" 7 and
Angela of Foligno cries out to Him: "o nihil incognitum".8
This identification is very important for contemporary poetry.
There are a number of poets whose terminology and whose ef-
forts towards a transcendence puts them in the mystical tradition.
Yet they are not mystics in the normal sense of the word; they
are at best 'negative', or perhaps abstract mystics, since the trans-
cendence they try to explore is not God, but the void. Among
poets, Mallarm seems the first to say so explicitly (although some
of the German Romantics make steps in the same direction). He
sees the identity of the infinite and the nothing symbolized in the
fact that numbers grow larger by adding zeros: "si un nombre se
majore et recule, vers l'improbable, il inscrit plus de zros: sig-
nifiant que son total quivaut spirituellement rien, presque." 9
Consistently, his striving after "la notion pure" takes the form
of negation. This is still a mystical tradition: the rejection of all
earthly images to make way for the one image of God. But Mal-
larm is explicit about the aim: any object has to be denied as
soon as it is named, because anything that exists hides - not God,
but "the Nothing which is the truth". 10 As he writes to E. Lef-
* Cf. P. W. Bridgman as quoted by James B. Conant in The Limits of
Language, ed. Walker Gibson, pp. 21-2.
7
Quoted in Georges Bataille, L'Exprience intrieure (Paris, Gallimard,
1954), p. 15.
8
Ibid., p. 133.
Stphane Mallarm, uvres compltes, ed. Henri Mondor and G. Jean-
Aubry (Paris, Gallimard, 1945), p. 398.
10
Mallarm, Correspondance 1862-1871, ed. Henri Mondor (Paris, Gal-
limard, 1959), p. 206.
18 THREE CAUSES OF THE DISCONTENT

bure, "I have created my work only by elimination, and all ac-
quired truth was born only from the loss of an impression". 11 His
ideal poem would be silent, the "pome tu, aux blancs". 12 Lan-
guage, even when it denies all earthly objects, still stands in front
of the nothing. Even the word 'nothing' is still a word, and there-
fore still something. But since the silent poem is not possible,
Mallarm has to make do with approximations; such as to negate
every object as soon as it is named and, more important, to dis-
locate French syntax. This has two functions: it obscures meaning
which, too, hides the void which is the truth. And it gives an
impression of disjunction and fragmentation which Mallarm wel-
comes. For fragments approach the Nothing and are therefore
"preuves nuptiales de l'Ide". 1 3
If destruction thus became the Beatrice of Mallarm, as he put
it in a letter, 14 it is also that of the Dadaiste. A t first glance, there
seems to be little comparable between Mallarm who refines and
abstracts and negates things out of existence, and the more ag-
gressive, strident clowning of Dada. But there are a number of
connecting lines. The Dadaists agree with Mallarm that the Noth-
ing is the truth. In fact, this is one of the few things that this so
diverse group seems unanimous about. Tristan Tzara holds that
"Dada means nothing", 15 George Grosz, that "our symbol was
the void". 1 6 And there is the most explicit manifesto by Aragon:

Plus de peintres, plus de littrateurs, plus de musiciens, plus de sculp-


teurs, plus de religions, plus de rpublicains, plus de royalistes, plus
d'imprialistes, plus d'anarchistes, plus de socialistes, plus de bolch-
viques, plus de politiques . . . plus rien, plus rien, RIEN, RIEN,
RIEN.

11 Ibid., p. 2 4 5 .
12 Mallarm, uvres compltes, p. 367.
13 Ibid., p. 387.
14 Correspondance, p. 245.
15 Quoted in Henri-Jacques Dupuy, Philippe Soupault ("Potes d'aujourd'-
hui") (Paris, Seghers, 1957), p. 48 f.
18 Dada: Monograph of a Movement, ed. Willy Verkauf (Teufen [AR],

Arthur Niggli, 1957), p. 75.


17 Louis Aragon, quoted in Maurice Nadeau, Histoire du Surralisme
(Paris, Editions du Seuil, 1945-48), p. 48.
THREE CAUSES OF THE DISCONTENT 19

These quotes also show some of the differences: Mallarm knows


that his poems are only approximations towards silence and noth-
ing, but as such he considers them meaningful. Tzara draws the
consequence that, if the Nothing is the truth, everything else is
meaningless, including his own activity in proclaiming this truth.
"Dada means nothing." Then why does he go on doing what he
has been doing? Because not doing it would not be any more
meaningful. We might consider Dada activity a humorous and
ironical variant to the Existentialist hero who also goes on doing
what he has been doing in the face of meaninglessness, only with
a tragic and dignified view of himself, rather than a clowning
one.
We can imagine Mallarm saying: no more objects, no more
words - in my poems. But Aragon carries the program beyond
the medium of literature with "no more painters, no more literary
men, etc." This going beyond one single medium is characteristic
for Dada events (and certainly connected with the dissatisfaction
with language). A Dada event may, for instance, involve all that
is happening on Rheinstrasse in Berlin with Johannes Baader's
new reading of Der grne Heinrich.1* Or we may think of Tzara's
"simultaneous poems for four voices plus simultaneous with 300
definitive idiocies" 19 which (depending on how you look at it)
can be said to bring a spatial dimension to literature, or to move
the poem from literature towards music, or to be the counterpart
of Mallarm's numbers that grow larger, even infinite, by adding
zeros: the more you have going on at the same time, the more
the impressions will cancel each other out in the listener. Too
much is also too little; the infinite is also the void.
Hans Arp and Hugo Ball quite explicitly connect their void with
the absolute of the mystics. "What we call Dada", says Ball, "is
a fools' play of the void which involves all the higher questions.

18
Cf. the account in Raoul Hausmann, Courrier Dada (Paris, Le Terrain
Vague, 1958), p. 79.
19
Quoted in Christopher Middleton, " 'Bolshevism in Art': Dada and
Politics", University of Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol.
IV, No. 3 (Autumn 1962), p. 413.
20 THREE CAUSES OF THE DISCONTENT

. . . Without religious sensibility a buffoonery is impossible." 20


And Arp tries "to approach the unsayable above mankind, the
eternal", 21 and is attracted by the "radiant splendour of mystical
poetry" to the point that he identifies his goal with Tauler's "un-
bekmmerter Grund". 22 Like the mystics, they consider language
inadequate and when they stick to it alone, proceed to disrupt
both conventional syntax, like Mallarm, and also words. This
fragmentation not only brings them closer to the void, but is also
a perfect expression of their time, in which:
...C'EST A CHAQU
E I N S T A N T LA F
IN D'UN MONDE
EXPLOSANT
DANS LES
ESPACES 23
Thus, their world is indeed apocalyptic; it more than partakes in
the fragmentation and destruction. And the void is not so much
an idea as the basis of everything: the world itself "explodes out
of nihil and falls back . . . into the void". 24
Unlike most of the mystics and Mallarm, the Dadaists do not
reproach language so much for being material. They reproach it
for its connection with reason. And reason, or at least our over-
estimation of reason, is blamed for the confusion of our time.25
Hence, Arp adopts chance procedures which he expects to show
him "secrets, deeper processes of life". 26 "Depth" and "Nature"
is in fact what opposes to reason. It is the basis of that side
of Dadaism which espouses primitivism, childishness, and con-
cern with the unconscious, and which develops into Surrealism.
20
Hugo Ball, Flucht aus der Zeit, in Das war Dada: Dichtungen und
Dokumente, ed. Peter Schifferli (Mnchen, dtv, 1963), p. 27.
Dada, ed. Verkauf, p. 98.
22
Arp, Unsern tglichen Traum ... (Zrich, Arche, 1955), pp. 23-4.
23
Pierre Albert-Birot, Dada, ed. Verkauf, p. 22.
24
Raoul Hausmann, Courrier Dada (Paris, Le Terrain Vague, 1958), p. 19.
25
Hans Arp, On my Way: Poetry and Essays 1912-1947 (New York,
Wittenborn, Schultz, 1948), pp. 86 and 98.
M
Arp, Unsern tglichen Traum . . . , p. 84.
THREE CAUSES OF THE DISCONTENT 21

Hugo Ball keeps stressing the childish associations of the name


Dada and thinks of himself as an infant:
There is a gnostic sect whose adepts were so impressed by the image
of Jesus's childhood that they squeakingly lay down in cradles and
had the women nurse and swaddle them. The Dadaists are similar
infants of a new time. 2 7

He conceives of art as a magical process 28 and with Arp prays


for "Our Daily Dream . . . "
How does this interest in the unconscious and the "deeper
processes of life" relate to the mystical interest and the void?
Clearly, the former are beyond the human mind too and can be
called a void from the human reference point. But it seems a
void of unconscious nature, of matter, whereas, for instance, Mal-
larm's void was a kind of abstract void, a void of pure spirit.
Both pure spirit and pure matter are, however, equally outside the
human experience. And, as I said earlier, once we get beyond
the human frame of reference, all our distinctions break down.
We simply cannot say anything. Thus the difference does not so
much describe two kinds of transcendence, but rather two dif-
ferent ways of approaching whatever may be beyond our reach.
And the two ways of testing the limits of the mind coincide with
our traditional concept of the twofold nature of man: spirit and
matter, form and energy.
Tristan Tzara does not share this interest in the unconscious.
Neither do younger poets like Franz Mon, Helmut Heissenbiittel,
Eugen Gomringer, and Isidore Isou, who otherwise seem to be
heirs of the Dadaists (although more serious). They share with
Dada and Mallarm both the technique of disruption and the ex-
ploration on the border lines of silence, an empty transcendence.
Franz Mon uses near-theological, somewhat baffling terminology
when he speaks of poetry: "since poem is process . . . it must al-
ways have begun before. Nobody is able to imagine its begin-
ning." 29 The poem is here no longer an instrument for approach-
" Ball, Das war Dada, ed. Schifferli, p. 28.
Ibid., p. 39.
2 Franz Mon, Artikulationen (Pfullingen, Neske, 1959), p. 54.
22 THREE CAUSES OF THE DISCONTENT

ing the limits of the mind and that which transcends them; it is
part of the transcendence itself. And even though Mon also has
less startling definitions for the poem, like "shape of articula-
tion", or "time happening and becoming visible", 30 it is clear that
"time" is not meant as a human concept (nor the statement as a
variant to Lessing), but as part of the process which "must al-
ways have begun before". We definitely come away with an
impression that "before Abraham was, poem is".
Consistent with this change is another: the poets no longer
speak of expressing the void, or even expressing nothing, but the
very concept of expression is abolished. The poem does not ex-
press, it is. And its being, its "Artikulationsgestalt", is only per-
ceivable if not just the expressive but also the semantic values
are "reduced so far that they are completely absorbed" by the
eternal process of unrolling articulation.31
It is true, Heissenbiittel protests that the borderline his poems
reach by refusing expression and semantic values "is not the bor-
derline of nothingness, of speechlessness, of chaos . . . it is the
borderline of that which is not yet sayable". 82 But the difference
is small. For even the Dadaists by deliberately saying nothing
have extended the field of the sayable. With Heissenbiittel, it is
primarily language which partakes of the transcendence. In its
"kernel", its "inside", it dissolves into "the realm . . . which in
itself remains undefinable". 33 And the poem has to aim at this
kernel, this inside, where it presumably joins the larger process
of language dissolving into the undefinable.
Heissenbiittel, with his insisting on the "not yet sayable",
seems to work towards assimilating at least little parts of the un-
definable to language, towards pushing the point of dissolving
farther back by examining the beginnings of that process. Isidore
Isou keeps closer to the original Dadaists (and to Mallarm es-

90 Mon, "Artikulationen", M ovens, eds. F . Mon, W. Hllerer, and M . de


la Motte (Wiesbaden, Limes, 1960), p. 111.
31
Ibid.
52 Helmut Heissenbiittel, ber Literatur (lten, Walter, 1966), p. 223.
Ibid.
THREE CAUSES OF THE DISCONTENT 23
pecially) in declaring the undefinable realm, the realm of silence,
the ultimate goal of all art. The point is not to widen the realm
of the sayable, but to lead art by "more and more total purifica-
tion" 84 to the conditions of silence. As long as this is done with
even just vaguely linguistic means, the difference of intention is
nearly a sophism. And he concurs with Mon and Heissenbttel
that it is 'meaning' the poem has to be purified of. But he also
adds all "a-priori-measures",35 namely all combinations of letters
that the code of the French language (or of any language he
knows) accepts as meaningful, and later even all letters recog-
nizable as such and all sound in order to "CONCRTISER LE
SILENCE; CRIRE LES RIENS". 36

. TWO: P U R E MATTER OR E N E R G Y

I have mentioned how, with Arp, the aspiration to a spiritual in-


finite (or a void) leads to a preoccupation with the unconscious.
There is another road to the unconscious: the descent into one-
self. This is the road of Expressionism and Surrealism. (It is also
that of the Romantics who anticipated these modern groups in
many ways.) Their poetry shows little interest in the external,
physical, world,37 but "rotates around experience",38 and that
means around an T . Indeed, "the I floods the world. Thus there
is no more outside." 39 The poet has "neither doors nor win-
dows".40 Only thus does it seems possible to these poets to ex-

34
Isidore Isou, Introduction une nouvelle posie et une nouvelle
musique (Paris, Gallimard, 1947), p. 307.
35
Ibid., pp. 11 and 15.
36
Ibid., p. 17.
37
Cf. Andr Breton, "Position politique du Surralisme", quoted in Jean-
Louis Bdouin, Andr Breton ("Potes d'aujourd'hui") (Paris, Seghers, n.d.),
p. 24.
38
Frank Thiess, in Literatur-Revolution 1910-1925: Dokumente, Mani-
feste, Programme, ed. Paul Prtner (Neuwied, Luchterhand, 1960 ff.), II,
300.
3
Paul Hatvani, Literatur-Revolution 1910-1925, ed. Prtner, II, 214.
40
Jean Rousselot and Michel Manoll, Pierre Reverdy ("Potes d'aujourd'-
hui") (Paris, Seghers, 1965), p. 59.
24 THREE CAUSES OF THE DISCONTENT

plore their innermost self and the yet deeper level: the uncon-
scious which is the source of art and which transcends the in-
dividual. (At least the Surrealists hold to the latter.)
This level of the unconscious is not the ultimate aim, though.
Poetry would be as impossible there as in the silence of pure
spirit. The ultimate aim is a totality, a synthesis of conscious and
unconscious forces: Andr Breton's "surralit", and Gottfried
Benn's "archaisch erweitertes Ich". 41 Of course, this state is a
postulate. At present, the Surrealists are but trying to
throw a conducting wire between the too separate worlds of waking
and sleep, of external and internal reality, of reason and madness, of
the calmness of knowledge and love, of life for life's sake and
revolution.42
The worlds of waking and sleep are not only too separate, they
are not in balance. In Western culture, the world of waking, of
reason, dominates out of all proportion. And this is Breton's con-
ception of the fallen state of mankind. "If there was an original
sin", he says, it was the moment "when the mind seized, or
thought it seized, the apple of 'clarity'." 43 It would indeed be
difficult to find a Surrealist publication without invectives against
reason and logic, which has "systematically poisoned the Euro-
pean mind", 44 if we believe Philippe Soupault. The Expressionists
agree. Benn complains of the "progressive cerebralization" of
mankind 45 and thinks it Freud's great merit that he broke with
the predominance of reason in our concept of the individual:
"psychoanalysis took individuality out of the brain region and
connected it with a more general physical medium." 46 And the
most characteristic feature of Expressionist poetry, the juxtaposi-

41
Gottfried Benn, Gesammelte Werke (Wiesbaden, Limes, 1958-61), I, 81.
" Andr Breton, Les vases communicantes (Paris, Gallimard, 1955), p. 116.
43
Breton, in Maurice Nadeau, Documents surralistes: Histoire du Sur-
ralisme II (Paris, Editions du Seuil, 1948), p. 48.
44
Henri-Jacques Dupuy, Philippe Soupault ("Potes d'aujourd'hui") (Paris,
Seghers, 1957), p. 94.
45
Benn, Gesammelte Werke, I, 435.
4
Ibid., I, 92.
THREE CAUSES OF THE DISCONTENT 25

tion of logically unconnected statements, is a reaction against the


dominance of logic and its linear continuity.
For both groups, language especially is associated with, and
usurped by, logic. "The ears got accustomed until man no longer
heard the word, but only understood the concept", laments
Blmner. 47 Therefore, Breton recommends that understanding
ought to be made difficult. He is not against understanding for
the same reasons as Mallarm, Mon, Tzara, because it deceives
us about the "Nothing which is the truth", but because the under-
standing has been stressed too much, because the mind has en-
croached on what should be the due of the body. If the under-
standing is obscured, he suggests, we may come closer to a "lan-
guage of the heart and the senses" 48 which we need. Breton does
not want to destroy the cognitive aspect of language, of which he
is very aware: Baudelaire, he claims, was the last man for whom
"the thing expressed e x i s t e d . . . prior to its mode of expression". 49
That is, for us the 'thing' is not known before it is expressed, or,
the thing is known only through its expression. But the object
which we most need to know tends to elude language because
Breton defines it as all that has been suppressed by reason, "all
that belongs to the feminine system of the world as opposed to
the masculine system". 50 I.e., it is the unconscious as opposed to
the conscious, the irrational as opposed to the rational, the un-
formed as opposed to the formed. It is therefore lastly matter in its
unformed state, viscous, chaotic.
But how can we express, and thus know, what has no form?
According to Aquinas's famous definition, matter "is not suitably
disposed from the beginning for the reception of the form". 5 1
A n d if it resists form, it also resists the word. The flux of un-
differentiated matter defies formulation. Sartre describes an epi-
phany of the existence of such matter in La nause:

" Literatur-Revolution 1910-1925, ed. Prtner, I, 450.


48
Breton, Arcane 17 (Paris, Les Editions du Sagittaire, 1947), p. 70.
49
Breton, La cl des champs (Paris, Les Editions du Sagittaire, 1953), p. 9.
50
Breton, Arcane 17, p. 88.
61
Summa contra Gentiles, II, Chapter 19 (trans. James F. Anderson).
26 THREE CAUSES OF THE DISCONTENT

Or rather, the root, the grillwork of the garden, the bench, the sparse
grass of the lawn: all this h a d vanished. T h e diversity of things, their
individuality was o n l y appearance, a varnish. This varnish had melted,
and w h a t w a s left w a s monstrous s o f t masses, chaotic - naked, of a
frightening and obscene n a k e d n e s s . 5 2

Roquentin reacts with horror. When, at a different point in the


novel, he has the same experience with the seat of the streetcar,
he tries to exorcise the horror with words: "I murmur: it's a seat,
a bit like an exorcism. But the word stays on my lips: it refuses
to be put on the thing." 63 The horror cannot be purged. The ex-
perience is clearly numinous. Again, we transcend the realm of
the human into a void, this time the void of formless, unconscious
matter, of sheer energy. (Energy is one of the three elements of
the mysterium tremendum, according to Rudolf Otto.) 54 Lan-
guage fails. Only the "antithesis of language", as Gaston Bachel-
ard calls it,55 the unarticulated scream, is possible. It is worth
noting that it is often held that the recourse to the inarticulate,
to the scream, is the one thing that all Expressionists really have
in common. 56 And Breton practically indentifies poetry with this
'antithesis of language': "Poetry is the attempt to represent, or to
restore, through screams, tears ... those things or that thing which
articulate language obscurely tries to express." 57 The conven-
tional evaluation of screams and articulate language is reversed.
When the aim is representing the unconscious or viscous, it is
articulate language which fails, which remains obscure. Screams
and tears are clearer in this case, probably because they are
closer to Breton's ideal of a "language of the heart and the
senses", a language of the body. For what is the scream, the cry,

" Sartre, La nause (Paris, Gallimard, 1938), p. 180.


Ibid., p. 177.
54
Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy, trans. John W. Harvey (New York,
Galaxy Books, 1958), pp. 23-5.
55
Bachelard, Lautramont (Paris, Jos Corti, 1963), p. 112.
5
Ren Schickele, for example, Literatur-Revolution 1910-1925, ed. Prt-
ner, II, 327.
57
Andr Breton and Paul Eluard, Notes sur la posie (Paris, GLM, 1936),
no pagination.
THREE CAUSES OF THE DISCONTENT 27
other than an utterance of energy unchanneled by reason. Again
Bachelard: "I scream, therefore I am an energy." 58
Confronted with this experience of unformed flux, there are
two ways beyond the scream. Not only Roquentin is frightened.
A number of expressionists retreat back to concepts, abstraction,
and spirit, considering their task the "realisation of the Idea". 5
Even painters paint "das Geistige".60 (I am not claiming this as
a necessary temporal sequence, nor that, say, Kandinsky had this
experience with matter. It is just a way of accounting for some
of the different tendencies among Expressionists.) There are on
the other hand those who can conceive of something like a ma-
terial absolute. This conception has a tradition in very early In-
dian speculation "where the Absolute, Brahman, is alternately
identified with 'food', with breath, or with a trinity consisting of
heat, water, and food". 61 Breton seems to have some such con-
ception, though not clearly formulated.62 At any rate, he and his
group develop nearly a cult of the viscous. It is the Surrealists'
most characteristic way of breaking down form. In Surrealist art
the viscous ranges from the merely soft (like Dali's soft deform-
ities which have to be held up with crutches) to the actually
melting (for instance, Man Ray's appropriately titled "Primat de
la matire sur la pense", where a nude is melting at all points
of contact with the ground).
Breton is much taken by the melting of Dali's creatures, by
his "camembert paranoiaque-critique", which Breton defines as
any object's "property of becoming uninterrupted"63 when look-

58
Bachelard, Lautramont, p. 112.
5
Literatur-Revolution 1910-1925, ed. Prtner, II, 279.
60
See Kandinsky, Literatur-Revolution 1910-1925, ed. Prtner, II, 310.
61
R. C. Zaehner, Mysticism Sacred and Profane (New York, Galaxy
Books, 1961), p. 65. Zaehner is speaking of Rimbaud's "universal soul" as
foundation for his "materialist future" (in the letter to Paul Demny) which
most likely prepared the way for Breton's thought on these matters.
62
It is Ferdinand Alqui's despair all through his Philosophie du Sur-
ralisme (Paris, Flammarion, 1955), that Breton refuses a spiritual tran-
scendence even though he seems to come so close to one by rejecting the
world.
63
Nadeau, Histoire du Surralisme, p. 210. Dali's own definition is some-
28 THREE CAUSES OF THE DISCONTENT

ed at in the right manner. This melting and approaching the


state of raw matter, uninterrupted by any boundaries of form
(which is of course associated with reason) becomes one of the
great themes of the Surrealist writers. Robert Desnos puns: "Jeux
de mots jets mous", 84 and considering the importance that puns
assume for the whole Surrealist group, this association of the pun
with the soft and liquid is significant. For Breton not only fish
are soluble, as he suggests in a title, but so is man "in his
thought".85 His books are as full of hymns to rain and water of
any kind (for being formless) as Soupault's are of exaltations of
the night for making boundary lines disappear. The human being
itself is of course rather far from this uninterrupted flow, but
there is another means (besides melting into his thoughts) of sus-
pending, at least temporarily, his individuation, his "structure of
closed being":88 it is love and the sexual act. Breton approves of
Malcolm de Chazal's claim that this is the most important of
man's great subjects of research, because it is the field of ex-
perience which also makes the other two great subjects, birth and
death, as accessible to our conscious experience as possible.87
This connection with birth and death, and the fact that these
three states are man's viscous states par excellence, makes is pos-
sible for love to bring a pre-individuation continuity into play,
or at least an adumbration of the continuity of all nature we have
lost and long for.
All the great themes of the Surrealists can thus be related to
the concept of continuous flux, of undifferentiated matter: love,

what vaguer: "Mthode spontane de connaissance irrationelle base sur


l'association interpretative-critique de phnomnes dlirants", Marcel Jean,
Histoire de la peinture surraliste (Paris, Editions du Seuil, 1959), pp. 207-8.
M
Desnos, Domaine publique (Paris, Gallimard, 1953), p. 52.

Breton, Les manifestes du Surralisme (Paris, Editions du Sagittaire,


1946), p. 66.
M
Georges Bataille, L'Erotisme (Paris, Editions de Minuit, 1957), p. 24:
"Toute la mise en uvre rotique a pour principe une destruction de la
structure de l'tre ferm qu'est l'tat normal un partenaire de jeu."
Bataille develops an evolutionary biological theory for the connection of
love and death.
67
Breton, La cl des champs (Paris, Editions du Sagittaire, 1953), p. 127.
THREE CAUSES OF THE DISCONTENT 29

the feminine, the soft, the liquid, the unconscious, collectivity, the
universe of total analogies (where everything is connected with
everything else by some similarity, where nothing is really 'closed'
and isolated). Still, writing ABOUT the viscous is not representing
the viscous. The problem of language vis vis an object which
eludes formulation is not solved by making the elusive object into
a theme. For this still means using conventional words, which
have been recognized as insufficient; it still means speaking of the
unfixable as if it were fixed.
Automatic writing tries to meet this challenge by approaching
autistic processes which in turn approach the conditions of the
total flux. Undirected thought is usually referred to as 'flow' (for
not having a direction or form of its own but instead following
outside stimuli, etc. in the most unforeseen directions). This is
also the recurrent description of automatic writing, no matter if
they are positive, implying absolute continuity, as with Breton, 68
or negative, as Aragon's later contempt for this "inexhaustible
diarrhea". 89
In trying to capture the flux and a prelogicai state of mind,
Surrealists (and certain Expressionists) try to avoid any stability
and instead try to keep up a dynamism of continual change. (Ap-
parently the opposite of the actual primitive thinker who tends
TOWARDS stability and logic.)70 The poet is "by nature the enemy
of all fixation". 71 "Beauty will be CONVULSIVE or will not be
at all", 72 Breton says at the end of Nadja. And convulsion, wheth-
er religious or erotic or other, is a liberation from the "ordered
life" of man, 73 from life according to laws. Laws of language and
laws of perception not excluded, since they too are subject to
becoming rigid, dead, ruts. And this tendency to solidify is so

68
Breton, Les manifestes du Surralisme, p. 52.
Quoted in Dupuy, Philippe Soupault, p. 43.
70
Cf. Paul Radin, Primitive Man as Philosopher (New York, Dover
Books, 1957), p. 244.
71
Bdouin, Andr Breton, p. 47.
72
Breton, Nadja (Paris, Gallimard, 1928), p. 215. Benn parallels this with
"Poetry must be exorbitant or not at all", Gesammelte Werke, I, 505.
73
Bataille, L'Erotisme, p. 102.
30 THREE CAUSES OF THE DISCONTENT

ubiquitous in man's life that in order to combat it you have to


go as far as to court madness, to a "snobisme de la folie".74 For
after all, this is what 'delirium' means, a wandering from the lira,
from the rut.
Surrealists and Expressionists are by no means alone in the
cult of energy, matter, dynamism. Marinetti sings "the love of
danger, the habit of energy . . . aggressive movement, feverish in-
somnia . . . the beauty of speed".75 Gaudier-Brzeska bases art on
Vortex which is energy and "life in the absolute".79 Blake, the
Romantics, and Rimbaud anticipated the cult of energy as well
as many other traits of Surrealists and Expressionists. Still, the
latter are the best and most articulate representatives of the mod-
ern mystics of matter - this second great realm transcending the
limits of the mind and of expression.

C. THREE: T H E THINGS OF THIS WORLD

In contrast to the two tendencies outlined so far, there is a group


of writers whose interest is not for an absolute, but for the world
of physical objects. Yet they too find language inadequate. While
there is some tradition for the difficulty of language at the border
lines of the absolutes of pure spirit as well as of matter or energy,
the world of physical objects seems to become problematical only
with the beginning of the twentieth century. Earlier writers may
have disliked it, but few had serious doubts about their ability to
name or use it. It is true that some writers have had what I
would call a 'Medusa complex' before this century. They felt
unable to transfer nature into art without killing nature, e.g. the
model in Poe's "The Oval Portrait". Still, in this case, the word,
or the art, seems to have rather too much power than too little.
It is able to kill.
Such a quasi-magical conception of the linguistic symbol we
74
Nadeau, Histoire du Surralisme, p. 271.
75
Literatur-Revolution 1910-1925, ed. Prtner, II, 37-8.
76
Quoted in Ezra Pound, Guide to Kulchur (New York, New Directions,
n.d.), p. 63.
THREE CAUSES OF THE DISCONTENT 31

usually consider naive, as we do the idea of any direct interaction


between the word and the thing it denotes. It is therefore curious
that Hugo von Hofmannsthal should return to some such idea
AFTER having held a view that was perfectly aware of the distance
between them. In 1895, Hofmannsthal conceives of the world of
words as a closed system, a "Scheinwelt".77 This Scheinwelt he
sees as coordinated with the world of phenomena. The problem
of sufficiency or insufficiency of language does not arise with this
parallelism. The problem is simply one of transposing.78 In "Das
Gesprch ber Gedichte" of 1903, however, this idea of trans-
posing is denounced as an "ugly thought":

D o you really mean that? Poetry never puts one thing in place of
another, for it is exactly poetry which is feverishly endeavoring to
put the thing itself. 7 9

'Trying to put the thing itself' could be interpreted in two ways.


It could mean that the poet considers the word as the thing it-
self, or that he is trying to render the world of phenomena direct-
ly. With Hofmannsthal it is the latter. This desire to render "the
thing itself" is recognized as impossible in the famous Chandos
letter. At the same time it is clear that language is not a closed
system but has indeed a close connection with the 'real world';
for as Lord Chandos' repugnance against language grows (felt
first against abstracta, then against judgements, clichs, any stand-
ard connection of words), not only his language disintegrates, but
also his world:

I was forced to see all things that were mentioned in such a


conversation uncannily closely: just as I had once seen, through a
magnifying glass, a piece of skin from my little finger which
seemed an open field with furrows and holes, so it now happened with
people and their actions. I no longer succeeded in grasping them
with the simplifying look of habit. Everything fell apart for me, and
the parts again into parts, and nothing could be encompassed any
more by a concept. 8 0
77
Hofmannsthal, Aufzeichnungen (Frankfurt, Fischer, 1959), p. 119.
78
Ibid.
78
Hofmannsthal, Prosa II (Frankfurt, Fischer, 1959), p. 84.
Ibid., p. 13.
32 THREE CAUSES OF THE DISCONTENT

Words seem inadequate. Y e t when the word is rejected, the world


turns into chaos, it "falls apart", and "the parts again into parts",
into an endlessly changing flux. Isolated objects are the only
things that remain intact for Lord Chandos and provide moments
of ecstasy, a feeling of harmony. These watering cans, dogs, and
little farm houses cannot be talked about either: words seem "too
poor" for them. 81 They seem to approach the state of 'simples'
for Lord Chandos, the beginning of the numinous.
Thus the world of phenomena seems to partake in both the
chaos of matter and, where it is perceived as form, the silence
and emptiness of pure spirit. The latter becomes even more ob-
vious in "Die Briefe eines Zurckgekehrten", where simple ob-
jects are not only beyond words, but lose their reality, their
material existence, and seem to turn into ghosts:

Sometimes, in the morning, in these G e r m a n hotel rooms, it happened


that the pitcher and the wash basin - or a corner of the room with
the table and clothes rack seemed so un-real to me, in spite of their
indescribable ordinariness, so completely and totally unreal, ghostly
in a way, and at the same time provisional, waiting, taking as it
were temporarily the place of the real pitcher, of the real basin filled
with water. 82

Even the world of physical things turns out to be incommensurate


unless domesticated by habit, conventions, words. But those are
exactly the things Lord Chandos and the "Zurckgekehrter" have
recognized to be false. In this dilemma Hofmannsthal seems
stuck. He (or at least his characters) can neither accept the flux
and void (even though Lord Chandos speaks of thinking in a
"material which is more immediate, more fluid, more glowing
than words") 83 nor draw the conclusion that the 'world' is a con-
vention itself and depends on our way of looking at it, which in
turn is conditioned by our language. It is the paradox that habit,
clichs, a certain amount of rigidity is necessary for life and at
the same time deadly.

81 Ibid., p. 14.
88 Ibid., pp. 298-9.
83 Ibid., p. 19.
THREE CAUSES OF THE DISCONTENT 33

What remains? For the "Zurckgekehrter": Van Gogh. Art


appears to be able to abstract and give form without hardening
into clich. Hofmannsthal did not trust the literary work of art
to overcome its more convention-bound medium to the same ex-
tent. For he turned from poetry to the theatre where the word
would be aided by the visual and, in the case of his librettos, by
music.
The experience of the outside world is so crucial for Hof-
mannsthal because, for him, this is man's way of finding himself.
Introspection is rejected: "If we want to find ourselves, we must
not descend into ourselves: outside we are to be found, out-
side." 84 And whether this is to be lamented or rejoiced over, he
states as a fact that "Wir besitzen unser Selbst nicht: von aussen
weht es uns an." 85 This means lastly that, if our world disinte-
grates with our language, so do we.
Rilke parallels this idea of our dependence on the 'world'
very closely:
. . . Wir ordnens. Es zerfllt.
Wir ordnens wieder und zerfallen selbst.86
Whether we disintegrate together with the disintegration of the
"it", the "everything" which again and again resists our attempts
at imposing order, or whether we disintegrate as a consequence
of our insisting on order is a very small problem of interpretation.
Both our attempts at order and life's resisting them are inevitable,
and we die in either case, from too much form or from too little.
But man, and especially the artist, needs the outside world.
Orpheus' arm "goes to the strings via an immense detour through
all things".87 But things are as elusive for Rilke as for Hof-
mannsthal. All even the artist can hope to reach is surfaces, the
more domesticated and conventionalized part. He never goes

84
Ibid., pp. 82-3.
85
Ibid., p. 83.
86
Rilke, Smtliche Werke, ed. Ernst Zinn (Frankfurt, Insel, 1955 ff.), I,
716.
Ibid., V, 215.
34 THREE CAUSES OF THE DISCONTENT

beyond that into the 'interior' of things.88 And even for the re-
duced and limited aim of rendering surfaces he needs to give up
words (at least temporarily while trying to perceive things with-
out prejudice): "For who is still free in the face of forms which
have names?" 89 Rilke considers words conventional to an even
higher degree than the domesticated 'surfaces' of things. And
he questions the 'world' that words give us. It may only be the
weakest part of the world:
Wir machen mit Worten und Fingerzeigen
uns allmhlich die Welt zu eigen,
vielleicht ihren schwchsten, gefhrlichsten T e i l . 9 0

Hofmannsthal stresses the elusiveness of things. With Rilke,


'things' are at least as oppressive as they are elusive. They pursue
and enter man and make him part of themselves. They are too
many, they "overcrowd us". 91 Malte feels somewhat like Sartre's
Roquentin in his epiphany of matter when he looks at the rem-
nants of plumbing of demolished houses. They seem to go right
into him and seem at home in him.92 They seem to make him part
of the great flux, for it is not plumbing by accident. It is matter
in its viscous state that is revealed, the 'it' we constantly try to
order. Other instances in Malte are equally viscous: the 'Big
Thing' that grows over the child's face like a warm bluish boil,
or the horror that makes him feel overflowing like a squashed
beetle.93 The experience of the flux is horrifying and oppressive.
Yet it is also truth. Rilke identifies the flux with the 'inside' that
is ungraspable and sees it as the character of the universe: "the
Innere which constitutes this time is without form, ungraspable:
it flows."94 Again he stresses the mere conventional character

88
Ibid., V, 212.
8e
Ibid., V, 217.
80
Ibid., I, 741.
" Ibid., 1, 716.
2 Ibid., VI, 749-51.
Ibid., VI, 765 and 777.
Ibid., V, 240.
THREE CAUSES OF THE DISCONTENT 35
of 'surfaces': our time, he says, "has no things, no houses, no out-
side".5
Malte feels that the experience of the flux is incompatible with
words. It will disintegrate all meaning. Writing will be impos-
sible.96 Rilke, however, decides for the word even though it may
be untrue and render only the weakest part. This may be sur-
prising, but there are parallels that are familiar to all of us. Let
us look at Susanne Langer's description of the mechanism of
signification: if among two terms which "are merely correlated",
the subject finds one interesting but hard or impossible to per-
ceive and the other one available, the latter will become a sign,
and it may assume all the importance of the inaccessible term. To
use Mrs. Langer's own example: "If we are interested in tomor-
row's weather, the events now present, if coupled with tomor-
row's weather-phenomena, are signs for us. A ring around the
moon, or 'mares' tails' in the sky, are not important in them-
selves; but as visible, present items coupled with something im-
portant but not yet present, they have 'meaning'." 97 Similarly,
for Rilke, the fact that words are correlated with the inexpressible
reality, the "Innere", transfers the importance of the latter to
the words. Thus, what at first sight looks like an inconsistency
in Rilke's attitude turns out to be a general mechanism of the
human mind, or, if you like, a general human inconsistency. At
any rate, Rilke's transferring his attention from things to words
is not just resignation. He does not even try to make new words
or break substantially with the rules of combining them (although
he tries to parallel in the structure of his poems the mixture of
form and flux which he finds in things. He does so by using
rhyme, but having it fall on unstressed contiguity words like und
and dass). His turn to words is something like a fervent leap into
faith: 'saying' even adds a new dimension to things:

* Ibid.
Ibid., VI, 756.
97
Susanne . Langer, Philosophy in a New Key (New York, Mentor
Books, 1952), pp. 46-7.
36 THREE CAUSES OF THE DISCONTENT

. . . Sind wir vielleicht hier, um zu sagen: Haus,


Brcke, Brunnen, Tor, Krug, Obstbaum, Fenster, -
hchstens: Sule, Turm . . . aber zu sagen, verstehs,
oh zu sagen so, wie selber die Dinge niemals
innig meinten zu sein. 9 8

It is the "emancipation of externality into image, nature into art",


which Northrop Frye sees as the natural direction of mimesis.**
And the Innigkeit which things gain in this process seems an in-
tensity they assume by increasing their formality. The word
removes them much more from the flux than their 'surfaces' do.
But at the same time this intensity cannot be achieved by ap-
plying the conventional names and labels. Therefore the art of
the word has to be the kind of elastic form which Hofmannsthal's
Zurckgekehrter could see in visual art, but not in language. It has
to stabilize and give form, therefore it is an activity 'under crusts'
but the crusts have to 'burst willingly' when the activity goes
beyond them and demands different limitations:
Tun unter Krusten, die willig zerspringen, sobald
innen das Handeln entwchst und sich anders begrenzt. 100

Hofmannsthal and Rilke have given the thematic paradigms


for the relation of the twentieth century poet to the external
world. The preoccupation with the physical object and its elusive
life of its own is nearly ubiquitous from the Imagists and the
Objectivists around Louis Zukofsky to Antonin Artaud who,
deciding that there was no force or security except in things, felt
he was mentally ill since he could not hold on to any even in
thought.101 Single facets of the problematic relation of words and
things are developed in Musil and Proust, especially the stabi-
lizing power of the word which eventually results in deception;
in Beckett, the groping for expression in an amorphous world.
Jean Tardieu and Jean Follain both deal with the word as ex-

98
Rilke, Smtliche Werke, I, 718.
Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton, N. J., Princeton University Press,
1957), p. 113.
100
Rilke, Smtliche Werke, I, 719.
101
Cf. Artaud, uvres compltes (Paris, Gallimard, 1956 ff.), I, 17-46.
THREE CAUSES OF THE DISCONTENT 37

orcism against the too obtrusive things and their death implica-
tion.102 Perhaps I ought to mention Alain Bosquet who, in dozens
of poems on the subject of language and particularly in the book-
length poem Premier Testament, gives an explicit rendering of
what Rilke suggests ("J'ai dit 'pomme' la pomme; elle m'a dit
'mensonge' ").*< He adds another very plausible reason for the
affirmation of the word in spite of all the talk about its failings
that we find in so many poets. Even though the poet may profess
to prefer 'things', it is really more than likely that he likes his
words and is unwilling to give them up under any circumstances:

Si j'apprenais que vivre est avant tout se taire,


Je serais hypocrite, et ferais de mes mots
N'importe quoi pour les sauver: des fleurs lgres,
Des toiles fanes qu'on donne aux animaux. 1 0 4

Francis Ponge goes a step further in dealing with the relation


of word and thing. It is a step in technique. His theoretical state-
ments stay very close to those of Rilke and Hofmannsthal. He too
experiences the strangeness of objects, their "dfi au language"105
which makes it impossible to say anything while having everything
to say. He differs in his strong 'yes' to the invasion by things, to
our getting lost and thoroughly jolted out of the human point
of view:
Our hope lies therefore in a poetry through which the world would
invade the human mind to the point where it would become nearly
speechless and then would reinvent a jargon. 1 0 8

Rilke too flirts with the idea of leaving the human point of view
and becoming like things, but it always seems to imply a definite
loss of speech, as when the flowers in Sonette an Orpheus (II,
14) would blossom and praise the 'convert' to all their silent
102
Cf. Jean Tardieu, in Anthologie de la posie franaise depuis le Sur-
ralisme, ed. Marcel Balu (Paris, Editions de Beaune, 1952), p. 119; and
Jean Follain, Tout Instant (Paris, Gallimard, 1957), pp. 9-10.
103
Alain Bosquet, Premier Testament (Paris, Gallimard, 1957), p. 15.
104
Ibid., p. 17.
105
Francis Ponge, La rage de l'expression (n.p. [Lausanne], Mermod,
1952), p. 45.
108
Ponge, Le grand recueil II: Mthodes (Paris, Gallimard, 1961), p. 198.
38 THREE CAUSES OF THE DISCONTENT

brothers and sisters whom he would resemble. But Ponge wants


to reinvent speech. And he undertakes to write the dictionary of
this new jargon by writing "descriptions-dfinitions-objets-d'art-
littraires".107 He is on the one hand intent on enriching the
words (which Lord Chandos considered "too poor" for objects)
by extensive describing and defining which subordinates all state-
ment to the epiphany of the isolated object - or perhaps to the
epiphany of the word that names it. For, in the end, he expects
to create another reality, another external world with these works
of art: his answer to the self-sufficiency of things.108 And again
he is close to Rilke, at least in asserting the objects he makes
against the ones he finds. With this difference, however: Rilke, by
adding the dimension of Innigkeit to things, seems to give them
an essentially human quality, seems to move them closer to man;
Ponge (after having been" invaded" by objects) seems confident
to work in the opposite direction: an object of ART is nevertheless
a n OBJECT.
It is clear that, in all these cases, the object is not considered as
a USEFUL object, as a commodity, as a Zuhandenes10 which is
our usual way of seeing things, of assimilating them into our
frame of reference. It is often exactly 'humble' things that we are
likely to consider only in this way which the poets focus on to
show or approach their "Inneres", their real nature. (Conversely,
poets like Franz Mon or Eugen Gomringer who rebel against the
sign character of the word and want it to be a thing recommend
their poems as Gebrauchsgegenstnde,110 exactly as commodities.)

107
Ibid., pp. 17-8.
Ibid., pp. 12-3.
109
Heidegger's term. Cf. Sein und Zeit (Tbingen, Max Niemeyer, 1963),
p. 69.
110
Cf. the postscript of Eugen Gomringer, 33 konstellationen (St. Gallen,
Tschudy Verlag, 1960), n o pagination. Gomringer's analogies are to in-
dustrial products or architecture. On the other hand, Bertold Brecht and
Hans Magnus Enzensberger use the same term, but in a different sense: the
book of poems should be used, i.e. read, thought about, not just given as a
present and put on a shelf to look nice. For a most explicit statement of this,
cf. the insert, "gebrauchsanweisung", in Enzensberger's Verteidigung der
wlfe (Frankfurt, Suhrkamp, 1957).
THREE CAUSES OF THE DISCONTENT 39

In spite of this effort, Alain Robbe-Grillet accuses Ponge in par-


ticular of denying the real nature of things. Ponge, he says, an-
thropomorphizes the object and thus destroys its reality. He re-
duces it to a mere mirror of man. If. we broke these mirrors that
Francis Ponge sets up, Robbe-Grillet suggests we would find
"the hard and dry objects . . . untouched, as strange as before". 1 1 1
This strangeness he considers essential, an unbridgeable distance:
"Things are things, and man is nothing but man." 1 1 2
Still, Robbe-Grillet seems to offer a possibility for words. Con-
sidering that "the world is neither significant nor absurd. It sim-
ply is", 1 1 3 one kind of description seems possible: a description
that excludes any 'beyond', that deliberately stays outside, a quasi-
mathematical measuring.

Registering the distance between the object and me, and the object's
own distances (its external distances, that is to say, its measurements),
and the distances between objects themselves. 114
But in another essay he describes his narrators as:

no longer just a man who describes the things he sees, but at the same
time one who invents the things around him and who sees the things
he invents. 115
Thus even measuring is humanizing. And if we widen this insight
beyond Robbe-Grillet's narrator, we are back with the total
elusiveness of the world of things. But it is not exclusively a
problem of language. It is, as I suggested before, a problem of
the limits of the mind. Being human we can never know any-
thing except within a human frame of reference. If 'things' have
a being beyond the surfaces our conventions have isolated, it
is inaccessible. It is as inaccessible as the void and the flux for
which our concepts also establish at best a kind of 'surface'.

111 Robbe-Grillet, Pour un nouveau roman (Paris, Gallimard, 1963), p. 78.


112
Ibid., p. 58.
" Ibid., p. 21.
114
Ibid., p. 81.
115
Ibid., p. 177.
III

THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION

A. IMPLICATIONS

When we turn from the theme of the insufficiency of language


to the techniques that accompany it (though not always in the
same writer), we immediately find the notion of disruption, break,
destruction. In art, this notion presupposes two others: that the
artist is a creator and that there is a kind of mental equivalent
to the law of the conservation of matter. The artist is not a cre-
ator ex nihilo. He is not God (as Goethe would have it),1 but only
God's 'ape'. Hence all his creations have an inherent destructive
side, and vice versa, all disintegration brings something into being.
The emphasis can vary from admitting the destructiveness to stress-
ing it as a means of creation. The latter has gradually assumed
more and more importance, and with it, surprise has become a cri-
terion of aesthetic value. A few examples: Rmy de Gourmont was
probably the first to make the dissociation of traditionally as-
sociated ideas (like sexual pleasure and procreation) the explicit
measure of creative intelligence,2 an idea that has been widely
adopted and developed by psychology. There is Nietzsche's "The
one who must create always destroys." 3 For Baudelaire, imagin-

1 Cf. for instance the poem "Prometheus" or the lines "Dass ich mit
Gttersinn/Und Menschenhand/Vermg zu bilden", Werke, ed. Erich Trunz
(Hamburg, Christian Wegner, 1948), I, 62.
2 Rmy de Gourmont, " L a dissociation des ides", in La culture des ides
(Paris, Mercure de France, 1964), pp. 61-89. The essay was written in 1899.
* Nietzsche, Werke in drei Bnden, ed. Karl Schlechta (Mnchen, Hanser,
1954), II, 323.
THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION 41

ation "decomposes all creation, and with the materials . . . it


creates a new world". 4 Gaston Bachelard makes the deformation
of images the measure of poetic imagination.5 And there have
been the destructive creeds of Mallarm, Dada, the magazine
Transition. Gottfried Benn calls all art lethal, and Valry extends
this characteristic to all consciousness.7
When the writers of the nineteenth century theorize about this,
the object to be destroyed ranges all the way from reason (Blake,
Rimbaud) to matter (Mallarm) or life (Poe). While aspects of
language are of course involved in all these, the attacks of the
twentieth century are much more consciously made against lan-
guage itself. They are made largely in the name of discontinuity
and of the autonomy of the medium. In case of the latter, they
are mainly directed against the semantic dimension of language,
in case of the former against both the semantic and syntactical di-
mensions,8 that is, against ANY context. Northrop Frye has shown
'epiphany', the momentary 'illumination', and hence discontinuity,
to be the central theme of the whole of twentieth century litera-
ture. And it is true that it is scenes of apocalyptic vision, of dis-
integration like Thophile de Viau's ode "Un corbeau devant moy
croasse" 10 that strike us as most 'modern' in older literature.
Why should it be this way? The discovery of the discontinuity
of matter may have played a part since it changed our wholie
image of the world. Not that the scientific discovery caused the
literary phenomenon, but it very likely added impact to our ex-
periences of discontinuity, like that of the individual's life or of

4
Baudelaire, uvres completes, ed. Y.-G. LeDantec (Paris, Gallimard,
1954), p. 773.
5
Bachelard, Lautramont, p. 55.
6
Gottfried Benn, Gesammelte Werke, IV, 56 and passim.
7
Paul Valry, "Introduction la mthode de Lonard de Vinci", uvres,
ed. Jean Hytier (Paris, Gallimard, 1957), I, 1225.
8
'Syntactical' in Charles W. Morris's sense of any relation among signs
rather than in the narrower grammatical sense.
9
Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, p. 61.
10
Thophile, uvres potiques, ed. Louis-Raymond Lefvre (Paris, Gar-
nier, 1926), p. 94.
42 THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION

time (which at least the child experiences as discontinuous).11


It will become obvious that even in works that make this theme
of discontinuity into a technical principle, a new continuity arises
in the consciousness of the observer. Likewise, techniques that try
to break with the semantic dimension nevertheless operate with
it or at most change it.

B. DISRUPTION WITHIN T H E SEMANTIC DIMENSION


OF L A N G U A G E

'Disruption' of language is obviously too vague a concept to be


useful. I will therefore try to define the various kinds of such dis-
ruption more closely. Let us first consider whether there can be
any breaking within the semantic dimension of the word.
Paul Henle described metaphor as a "clash of literal meanings"
which "drives one on to seek a figurative sense".12 If we accept
this, every metaphor is an example of disruption as literary techni-
que. But is it indeed a clash? Is metaphor not a natural form of
using language? It seems natural because we are used to taking
into account the two references which each word has: the reference
to the code of the language and the reference to the context of
combination.13 Yet there is a clash. And this clash is the (ad-
mittedly small) difference between simile and metaphor. In the
line: "My love is like a red, red rose", there is no clash because
the word "like" prepares us for the necessity of considering simi-
larity among referents. In the line: "My love is a red rose", there
is indeed an incongruity of the literal senses of "my love" and
"rose" in this combination. And this makes us go to the code of
11
Cf. Henri Bergson, uvres, ed. Andr Robinet (Paris, Presses Univer-
sitaires de France, 1963), pp. 61-71. For an account of Descartes on this
experience, cf. Georges Poulet, Studies in Human Time, trans. Elliott Cole-
man (New York, Harper Torchbooks, 1959), pp. 50-74.
12
Paul Henle, "Metaphor", Language, Thought, and Culture, ed. Paul
Henle (Ann Arbor, The University of Michigan Press, 1958), pp. 182-3.
13
Cf. Roman Jakobson, "Two Aspects of Language and two Types of
Aphasie Disturbances", in Roman Jakobson and Morris Halle, Fundamen-
tals of Language (The Hague, Mouton, 1956), p. 61.
THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION 43

reference to ask, how can he identify these two terms, how are
they similar, and what does the identification mean? Yet this step
is habitual and more or less natural for any speaker.
This is important, for it establishes that a technique of disrup-
tion as such is nothing revolutionary in language. The newness
must then consist in transferring the device from the area where
we are used to it to a different one.
It seems already a very small such step when a sunk metaphor
is used literally. When Robert Musil has Baroque and Gothic
statues wring their hands and then goes on describing them in
terms of laundry,14 or when Boris Vian has prescriptions "exe-
cuted" by a "guillotine de bureau",15 we automatically expected
the figurative substitution and are surprised to find the literal
sense used. The clash is stronger than in the case of metaphor,
perhaps because the mental operation is double (from the literal
to the figurative and back to the literal) or perhaps simply because
this playing with a metaphor is less common and has therefore
not become an automatic response.
Apart from this basic example, there may be clashes within the
semantic dimension when conventions are broken, be it conven-
tions of values or of reality. The clashes will be the harsher the
closer the context comes to establishing a direct contradiction of
the usual definition of the word used. Thus Morgenstern's house
built from the interstices of a wooden fence,16 or even Baudelaire's
"aimable pestilence",17 seem to clash more than Breton's image
of "la rose tte de chatte" 18 (although Breton would argue that
contradiction still belongs to the FIELD of the word and is there-
fore expected). At any rate, these clashes within the semantic

14
Robert Musil, Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (Hamburg, Rowohlt,
1952), p. 192: "die Seele rang die Krper wie ein Stck Wsche, aus dem
man das Wasser presst."
15
Boris Vian, L'Ecume des jours (Paris, J.-J. Pauvert, 1963), p. 94.
w
Christian Morgenstern, "Der Lattenzaun", Alle Galgenlieder (Frank-
furt, Insel, 1950), p. 59.
17
Baudelaire, uvres compltes, p. 121.
18
Andr Breton, Pomes (Paris, Gallimard, 1948), p. 42.
44 THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION

dimension provoke perhaps a smile or laugh, but certainly not a


sense of disruption of language.

C. DISRUPTION BETWEEN THE SEMANTIC AND


SYNTACTICAL DIMENSIONS OF LANGUAGE.
CONTIGUITY DISORDER

I have mentioned the two references of the linguistic symbol. It


seems natural to suppose that, if poets use disruption as a tech-
nique, the break might be between these two dimensions, the
semantic and the syntactical one. It is clear that they cannot really
be separated. However, cases of aphasia divide more or less along
these lines; therefore Roman Jakobson's study "Two Aspects of
Language and Two Types of Aphasie Disturbances" may prove
helpful. I must introduce his use of the terms contiguity and sim-
ilarity which are primarily aligned with the syntactical and seman-
tic dimensions although not identical with them. Jakobson holds
that any symbolic process involves two activities, selection and
combination:
the given utterance (message) is a combination of constituent parts
(sentences, words, phonemes, etc.) selected from the repository of all
possible constituent parts (code). The constituents of a context are
in a status of contiguity, while in a substitution set signs are linked
by various degrees of similarity.19

Similarity is the basis of metaphor, contiguity that of metonymy.


Jakobson shows that cases of aphasia can clearly be divided ac-
cording to an atrophy in one or the other of these two functions.
When we apply their symptoms to the consideration of wilful
changes of language habits we have immediately to take into ac-
count that one writer may very well work at breaking both con-
tiguity and similarity patterns (Helmut Heissenbiittel does, for
instance). Jakobson asserts, however, that every person will tend
" Jakobson, Fundamentals of Language, p. 61. That this bipolarity is
universal for symbolic processes is developed on pp. 76-82. And this is the
original part; for, similarity and contiguity have long been known as the
principles of association and are found (if we count 'contrary' under
'similarity') in Aristotle's De Memoria, 451b.
THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION 45
towards one pole or the other. He describes the aphasie 'conti-
guity disorder' as
diminishing the extent and variety of sentences. The syntactical rules
organizing words into a higher unit are l o s t . . . As might be expected,
words endowed with purely grammatical functions, like conjunctions,
prepositions, pronouns and articles disappear first, giving rise to the
so-called 'telegraphic style'. 20

A literary instance of this tendency in the widest sense is the


juxtaposition of images instead of a discursive statement, as in
the last stanza of Alfred Lichtenstein's "Dmmerung":
A n einem Fenster klebt ein fetter Mann.
Ein Jngling will ein weiches Weib besuchen.
Ein grauer Clown zieht sich die Stiefel an.
Ein Kinderwagen schreit und Hunde fluchen.21

Even though the images are presented in complete sentences, no


relation is established between the fat man, the young man, the
clown, etc. The immediate result is an impression of simultaneity
and of absence of hierarchy.
The 'telegraphic style' proper is a very common feature in
twentieth century verse, especially among the Imagists and Ex-
pressionists. Its effects remain the same even if a later line resolves
an apparently asyntactical (grammatically) series. For instance,
in Benn's "Pappel", the last line of the first stanza shows all the
preceding lines as a series of appositions to "a curve":

Verhalten,
ungeffnet in Ast und Ranke,
um in das Blau des Himmels aufzuschrein :
nur Stamm, Geschlossenheiten,
hoch und zitternd,
eine Kurve. 2 2

As we might expect from a device that aims at atrophying com-


bination (and therefore discursiveness), there is again an imme-

20
Jakobson, Fundamentals of Language, p. 71 f.
21
Lichtenstein, Gesammelte Gedichte (Zrich, Arche, 1962), p. 44.
22
Benn, Gesammelte Werke, III, 42.
46 THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION

diate effect of simultaneity. Also, again no attribute of this poplar


curve seems more important than any other, its being "restrained"
no more than its being "tall" or "trembling". This also is no sur-
prise, for (as in the Lichtenstein stanza) the only conjunction used
is "and". The absence of articles for the properties of the tree, in
its not opening out into "branch and shoot", in its being "only
trunk" (although against "THE blue of THE sky") produces a some-
what archetypal impression. Not "A trunk" about which we will
hear more, but simply "trunk". When finally an indefinite article
appears it has more weight for being the first. It is nearly "ONE
curve" rather than "A curve" (an impression which the rest of the
poem reinforces). That the quasi-archetypal effect is nevertheless
not changed by the article into that of any one curve among many
possible ones is perhaps due to the abstract, geometric quality of
the concept "curve".
It might be objected that the impression of simultaneity comes
from the fact that all elements refer to the same subject in the
Benn stanza, or, in the case of the Lichtenstein quote, from the
time indication in the title ("The Dusk"). Char's "La Torche du
prodigue" has neither of these conditions.
Brul l'enclos en quarantaine
Toi nuage passe devant
Nuage de rsistance
Nuage des cavernes
Entraneur d'hypnose. 2 3

The elements seem as simultaneous as in the other two examples.


But the total effect is very different. An impression of uncertainty,
ambiguity, nearly haziness predominates. The ambiguity is syn-
tactical in the first stanza: It seems most likely that "cloud" is an
apposition to "you" and passe an imperative:
Burnt the quarantined enclosure
You, cloud, take the lead

But the second line could also read: "You, cloud takes the lead."

" Char, Le marteau sans matre (Paris, Jos Corti, 1953), p. 15.
THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION 47

In the latter case, "you" could either be the burnt enclos (unlikely
because of the line arrangement) or it could be an entity by itself,
perhaps a person whose attention is directed to the burnt en-
closure and the cloud. But even if we decide on the least elliptical
possibility (that "you" is the cloud) the uncertainties persist. Was
the burning "enclosure" the "torch" of the title? Or did the "torch"
set it on fire? Or is torche possibly a bunch of straw - all the
"prodigal" has left after the fire? Is the "cloud" a cloud of smoke,
a real cloud, a cloud of worries, doubt, suspicion, a cloud of vague
dreams? Why is the cloud which seems to lead away from the
double enclosure of enclos en quarantaine nevertheless a "cloud
of caverns"? Nothing of all this is ruled out as would happen in
an explicit context. It is true, we come away with a sense of a
definite opposition between the artificial restrictions of the quar-
antined enclosure which is burnt and the cloud. There is, in this
poem, a hierarchy - not logical but emotional and dynamic (re-
striction versus free movement, brul - a static past participle -
versus an imperative: passe devant). The cloud leads to enclosures
too, but those seem rather refuges, caverns and hypnotic sleep,
subterranean and subconscious resistance against restrictions. Yet
the cloud retains all the shades that the code of the French lan-
guage can give it, (even the negative ones of worry and doubt -
caverns and hypnosis might well cause some apprehension). We
might again call it an archetypal cloud, a slightly abstract essence
of a cloud.
Among the effects of diminishing contiguity (which, as I have
shown, vary somewhat from poem to poem) this tendency towards
what I have called the archetypal is perhaps most important.
Reducing the ordinary context's modifications and restrictions,
we approach a word that in the manner of an archetype combines
a certain remoteness and abstraction with an all-inclusiveness of
possible concrete and limited meanings, a word of quasi-mythic
status. This becomes very apparent when we find poems where
the single word is the poetic unit throughout, as in August
Stramm's "Angststurm":24
14
Stramm, Das Werk (Wiesbaden, Limes, 1963), p. 98.
48 THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION

Grausen
Ich und Ich und Ich und Ich
Grausen Brausen Rauschen Grausen
Trumen Splittern Branden Blenden
Sterneblenden Brausen Grausen
Rauschen
Grausen
Ich.
Except for the second line with its connecting "und", this poem is
indeed a heap of single words, of one-word sentences. The line
arrangement, though it combines up to four nouns in one line,
does not provide any relation between these - other than rhyth-
mical. The longer lines make the reader speed up.
There is nothing specific about the poem. The first word fixes
the emotional state of dread and is repeated every few words as
if this one name, if only said often enough, would communicate
what it stands for without further explanation. It is the procedure
of magical conjuring. Another word is repeated as often: "Ich".
Indeed, "Ich" and "Grausen" make up half of the body of the
poem. There is a strong sense of "I am alone" in the "Ich und
Ich und Ich und Ich" of the second line, just as the impact of the
poem as a whole is that of an "I" alone with his fear in an un-
canny, but vague world. What are we told about this world? What
causes the dread? We can infer that it is dark because there are
some blinding flashes of light ("Blenden"). And there are sounds,
But they are presented by gerunds, abstracted from their agents,
from anything definite. The first association are those of wind
("Brausen"), trees or water ("Rauschen"), the sea ("Branden"),
and breaking ("Splittern"); but, except for the last, all the words
might be used for something else. We could be in a forest, at a
coast, on a battlefield. The very vagueness of the circumstances
makes it a poem about fear as such, about a basic emotional
state. It is true, that this state of fear includes a dramatic climax
after all, it is an ("Angststurm") which is achieved by careful
arrangement. The word which seem to indicate a relaxation of
the fear ("Trumen") is followed by those verbs that indicate
suddenness and which also have a brighter vowel sound than the
THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION 49
au of "Grausen" and" Brausen" into which the poem then settles.
But this does not distract from the effect of momentary insight
into a quasi-archetypal state.
Here we have the syntactical equivalent of the epiphany, the
momentary vision - as in John Barton Wolgamot's In Sara,
Mencken, Christ and Beethoven there were Men and Women
where catalogues of names turn into a festival of personality.
Anti-contiguity poets would accept R. G. Collingwood's verdict
that art "is essentially the pursuit of truth. But the truth it pursues
is not a truth of relation, it is a truth of individual fact." 25 Pro-
grammatic statements about the "monadic unity" of the word
abound,26 especially from the Futurists, Expressionists, and the
'Konkrete poesie' group. Marinetti proclaims "Mots en libert",
Herwarth Waiden announces: "Word reigns, tears the sentence
to pieces."27 Or Franz Mon: "die vokabel hat keine folge mehr." 28
But it has been enriched by all the overtones which the folge,
the sequence, would have ruled out and thus has been enriched
in expressiveness. Thus, the 'telegraphic style' is reconcilable with
the expressive theory of poetry which became dominant with the
Romantics. If poetry is expression, why not retain only that word
of the sentence which has the strongest charge of meaning and
do away with all the little connecting and qualifying words which
only distract. The expressiveness is enhanced by the absence of
qualification.
August Stramm's experiments include nearly all the features
that Jakobson mentions for "contiguity disorder". Besides one-
word sentences, he usually uses infinitives rather than inflected
verb forms; and he disregards grammatical categories, using
nouns as verbs, verbs as adjectives, etc. Coinages like schmiege,
in the line "Durch schmiege Nacht",29 could be abridged from
schmiegende, geschmiegte, schmiegsame, or any derivation of
Collingwood, Principles of Art (New York: Galaxy Books, 1958), p. 288.
26
Bazon Ph. Brock quotes Wilhelm von Humboldt saying this, "Zur
poetischen Syntax", Movens, p. 115.
" Literatur-Revolution 1910-1925, ed. Prtner, I, 411.
28
Mon, Artikulationen, p. 20.
2
Stramm, Das Werk, p. 40.
50 THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION

schmiegen. It also blurs the subject-object relationship since the


line could mean "through the night into which we nestle", (or
which invites nestling), or, "the night that nestles against us", or
all these together. Helmut Heissenbiittel holds that destroying the
subject-predicate formula of the Western languages is one of the
most important tasks of the poets:
The experience which is talked about is outside the unequivocal sub-
ject-object relation. Only the formulation that leaves one of the parts
in the old basic model open can say something about it. Contexts are
not formed by systematic and logical-syntactical interweaving, but by
secondary meanings, by ambiguities that result from the weather-
beaten syntax. 30

I would question the exclusive stress on the subject-object relation.


But it is certainly an important part of the tendency towards
contiguity disorder, the tendency against clear grammatical arti-
culation, towards the dominant single word, expressive in its wealth
of unrestricted overtones. As Franz Mon puts it: the aim is a text
in which "the diffuse character of the medium dominates".31

D. SIMILARITY DISORDER

When poets speak about the medium of language (and are not
complaining) one often gets the impression that they are thinking
primarily about the phonetic aspects of the word, its physical
properties as it were. At any rate, poets have long had a grudge
against the transparency for concepts or things which is usually
attributed to words and considered their advantage - by philo-
sophers: "A symbol which interests us also as an object is dis-
tracting," says Susanne Langer.32 It distracts from what is symbol-
ized. But this is exactly what poets would like: attract attention
to their words as objects. Just as a painter might draw attention
to a color rather than to the object painted in it. Is this not one

38
Heissenbiittel, ber Literatur, p. 223.
31
Mon, Artikulationen, p. 44.
38
Langer, Philosophy in a New Key, p. 61.
THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION 51

of the reasons for rhyme and any formal links between words?
Sartre accepts it as the difference between prose and poetry that
the latter treats words as things.33 But, unlike painters (who do
not have to paint representational pictures), the poets are normally
frustrated in this attempt because reference is part of their me-
dium. Wilbur M. Urban tries to console them when he speaks of
the "intrinsic expressiveness" of words that enables them to
"conjure up. . . the object itself" rather than just give a reference
to it.34 But this "intrinsic" quality is seen in relation to the
reference function even though it has the fancy name "conjuring".
And Urban's primary example of this expressiveness is onomato-
poeia; yet onomatopoeia depends on reference, as can be seen in
homonyms. In the phrase, "the little birds cheep", 'cheep' is ono-
matopoetic. The same sound has no resonance of that sort at all
if you say: "The little birds are cheap". So it seems to me that
the word needs the reference in order to be expressive. And this
holds not only for onomatopoeia, but all cases in which a sound
pattern or rhythm is credited with producing an effect alone.
(Hence the possibility of parody, like Pound's denying "the furies
and surges" of Blake's metric with:

Tiger, Tiger, catch 'em quick!


All the little lambs are sick.) 35
However, though the effect depends on the reference, it is true
that onomatopoeia does attract attention to the sound stratum.
Pierre Guiraud, in an article on the aesthetics of the sign, deals at
length with this phenomenon and explains that normally the
mental movement goes from the word to its meaning and stops
there. Whereas in onomatopoeia, the meaning refers back to the
sound substance of the word, bringing it to life: "The thing signi-
fied becomes subservient to the signifier."36
A further step towards 'opacity' of the word takes place when
" Jean-Paul Sartre, Situations, 11 (Paris, Gallimard, 1948), p. 64.
34
Urban, Language and Reality, p. 145 f.
35
Pound, The Literary Essays, ed. T. S. Eliot (Norfolk, Conn., N e w Direc-
tions, 1954), p. 72.
' Guiraud, "Zu einer Aesthetik des Zeichens", Moyens, p. 99.
52 THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION

you not only subordinate, but "short circuit" the sense.371 suspect
this desire plays a part in any literary cultivation of obscurity
even when there are other reasons (as probably religious ones in
the case of the troubadours). Mallarm is certainly a case in
point, and so is the use of foreign words by Pound, occasionally
by Apollinaire, of scientific terms by Benn. I am not saying
that creating opacity is their only function, but it is ONE.
Susanne Langer suggests that poetry can use periodic suspen-
sions of propositional sense analogous to dissonances in music.38
But in contemporary music, dissonances need no longer be re-
solved. So, if we continue Mrs. Langer's analogy, it leads directly
to the claims of the linguistic 'materialists' which Ludwig Tieck
mockingly preformulated as: "Why should contents of all things
be the contents of a poem?"3" Or in their own (i.e. Max Bense's)
more serious terminology: "Aesthetic information . . . is developed
as an arrangement of signs in which the signs are treated purely
as factors of ordering, not as meanings."40
Bense concedes that a text can have meaning, or "semantic co-
information", but it does not have to. What counts, is arran-
ging materials in an order of low entropy, i.e. of high unlikeliness
and surprise.41 Surprise, as I said before, is implied in disruption,
and therefore an aim of all the poets mentioned in this chapter
(in fact, once we have become aware of the connection of surprise
and disruption, it becomes obvious how ubiquitous this technique
is in contemporary poetry). So, naturally, the anti-contiguity poets
also work towards surprise. For them too, likeliness, clichs, fixed
molds for experience are the enemies, the veil that hides truth.
But while they conceive of truth as individual fact, as something
like the unanalysable 'simple' of near-numinous stature that needs
37
The phrase is Paulhan's: "l'attention que l'on porte aux mots comme
tels, en se prolongeant, peut tre dangereuse: tout au moins marque-t-elle
un retard, et comme un court-circuit du sens." Les Fleurs de Tarbes (Paris,
Gallimard, 1941), p. 111.
38
Langer, Philosophy in a New Key, p. 212.
3
Quoted by Alfred Liede, Dichtung als Spiel, I, 121.
40
Bense, Programmierung des Schnen: aesthetica IV (Baden-Baden, Agis-
Verlag, 1960), p. 30.
41
Ibid., passim, e.g. pp. 89 and 92.
THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION 53
to be taken out of any mold, the pro-contiguity poets I am going
to deal with now reject this way as impossible. For them, all truth
is truth of relation. The elements of language as of human ex-
perience are always more or less the same. Knowledge is finding
new ways of combining them, new perspectives.
One way in which combination assumes importance is by becom-
ing playful and variable (this can be achieved by methods as
simple as omitting punctuation or, in German, the capitals of
nouns). First an example that stands between the two groups,
attracting attention to the arrangement as well as enriching the
overtones of a single word: the first stanza of Apollinaire's "Le
Pont Mirabeau":
Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine
Et nos amours
Faut-il qu'il m'en souvienne
La joie venait toujours aprs la p e i n e 4 2

Grammatically, there is no doubt about the arrangement of the


lines. If I had to punctuate, I might put a period after the first
line, a comma after the second, and perhaps a colon or a dash
after the third. But the sound stratum allows us to take the first
two lines as a unit, as if they were written thus:
Sous le pont Mirabeau coulen/ la Seine
Et nos amours

I think it very likely that this grammatically wrong connection


was intended because it is reinforced later in the poem:
L'amour s'en va comme cette eau courante

The two effects seem in perfect balance: the small confusion that
makes us very conscious of the sequence of lines and the asso-
ciation of amour and Seine turns out to be quite wanted.
Now let us consider the altogether different effect of a poem by
Hans Arp:

" Apollinaire, uvres potiques, eds. Marcel Adma and Michel Dcau-
din (Paris, Gallimard, 1959), p. 45.
54 THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION

vor den kunkelstuben jagen die lwen spinnen und


prinzen ungeheuer aus salz und blumen
die spinnen jagen die prinzen
die prinzen geleiten die jagenden lwen in blumen
die spinnen jagen die Spinnerinnen
die lwen sind ungeheuer
die spinnen sind aus salz
die prinzen sind blumen43
The first two lines offer an incredible number of possibilities of
who might be chasing (hunting) whom: It could be that lions,
spider, and princes are chasing monsters (which are made of salt
and flowers), or that they chase the monsters out of a field of salt
and flowers, or that they chase salt monsters and flowers. Or it
might be that only the lions are the hunters, that they chase
spiders and princes, salt monsters and flowers, or that they chase
spiders and princes who are monsters. Or it is possible that lions
chase spiders, and princes chase monsters. The only thing we
seem to be sure of is that spiders do not chase princes since these
two words are combined by "and". But the next line contradicts
this: "the spiders chase the princes". Then follow two lines that
are a kind of interlude. We hear now that princes accompany the
lions and that spiders chase spinning women - two words related
by a pun in German. The last three lines pretend to clear the
confusion by giving three equations (that lions are monsters,
spiders are made of salt, and princes are flowers). But if we look
back the explanation proves to be spurious, it does not match
any of the possible interpretations of the grammatical structure
of the first sentence.
It is obvious that none of the words have acquired a multitude
of overtones and associations. There is no tendency to isolate any
of them, but on the contrary, a number of words are set into play
going though a number of combinations and recombinations. The
impression at the end is one of interplay of relations in which the
nature of the referents plays a comparatively minor role.

43
Arp, Gesammelte Gedichte, eds. Marguerite Arp-Hagenbach and Peter
Schifferli (Wiesbaden, Limes, 1963), I, 62.
THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION 55

While the Arp poem offered a choice of grammatically correct


sentences, there is something lacking in Mon's:
. . . sie sehen
die lache zwischen den fssen
sieht sie . . . 4 4
lache has to serve as object and subject at the same time, making
the process reciprocal and ONE rather than separating into "they
see the puddle between the feet" and "the puddle between the feet
sees them". 45 This is still quite simple. After a moment's puzzle-
ment we supply the repetition or are pleased with the slurring and
pseudo-economy as we definitely are in Arp's lines:
Er zieht aus seinem schwarzen Sarg
um Sarg um Sarg um Sarg hervor 46
It was probably primarily for the sake of rhythm that the fluent
phrase Sarg um Sarg comes in early as it were and spares us the
heavy spondee Sarg/ Sarg. Still, the sliding together of the pre-
positional phrase ("he draws from his black coffin") with the
object ( " c o f f i n after coffin after coffin. . .") in the word "coffin"
which they have in common charms more through the surprise
than the rhythm.
It is also part of Jakobson's syndrome of "similarity disorder",
or defect in the capacity of naming. The aphasie with this disorder
cannot use words apart from a context. He is unable to name
objects pointed to, give synonyms or definitions. "Even simple
repetition of a word uttered by the examiner seems to the patient
unnecessarily redundant." 4 7 (And here is the relevance of the
last examples). Further,
44
Mon, Artikulationen, p. 18.
45
This is a favorite device with Enzensberger. Cf. the following examples
from Verteidigung der wlfe:
die tcher knattern im heissen wind treibst du (p. 42)
alt: du bist alt bist du: alt (p. 51)
auch du auch du auch du
wirst langsam eingehn
an lohnstreifen und lgen
reich . . . (p. 81)
46
Arp, Gesammelte Gedichte, I, 81.
47
Jakobson, Fundamentals of Language, p. 66 f.
56 THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION

Words with an inherent reference to the context, like pronouns and


pronominal adverbs, and words serving merely to construct the con-
text, such as connectives and auxiliaries, are particularly prone to
survive.. . [whereas] Key words may be dropped or superseded by
abstract anaphoric substitutes. 48
A very mild case might be the wild growth of clauses in which
the sense structure gets lost, for instance:
la gare s'paissit de jeux de sifflets
tant de volonts nagent dans l'amre densit
que la sonnerie mne le flot rongeur
avec les noires et ftides indignations entrailles
spumeuses de la terre
aux surfaces veloutes vers quels buts buveurs d'espoirs
qu'on achte au prix de lentes semences
orns des attributs des corps de mtiers
qu'on boit dans les abreuvoirs avec de reniflantes
narines de cheval
qu'on chasse en cercles dans les manges villageois
qu'on fume la pipe vieille d'aigles
qu'on garde bergers des toits fumant le soir
entrevus dans les glaces pressentis au coeur des pierres
au fond des mines de ptrole sur des sommiers de
lourds limons
dans les granges o la vie se mesure avec le grain
mousses clairs coussins des eaux assises dans le soleil 49
I have quoted a whole stanza of Tzara's L'Homme approximatif
in order to show that the syntactical structure is not saved in the
end. Also, it takes a certain length for the effect to accumulate,
for the growing uncertainty of antecedents, and for the growing
suspicion that the seemingly complex hypotactical arrangement
has really no subordinating function, but is Tzara's way of going
on and on forever. N o sentence or even clause is finished. Each
contains some word that is modified by another clause which
contains some word that is modified by another clause, like a set
of chnese boxes. The confusion becomes especially acute in the

Ibid., p. 64 f.
4
Tristan Tzara, L'Homme approximatif (Paris, Editions Fourcade, 1931),
p. 17.
THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION 57
sequence of lines all starting with qu'on. The anaphoric parallel
makes us expect a corresponding parallelism of enumeration.
Instead it masks a chain effect as I described it above. Worse:
we expect at least a grammatical parallelism, but the que suddenly
changes its function, the relative pronoun turns into the conjunc-
tion in "qu'on fume la pipe vieille d'aigles". We come away with
a curiously vague idea of what we read.
Helmut Heissenbttel is the poet who uses the symptoms of
similarity disorder most consistently. At the same time he makes
the impossibility of naming and defining his subject matter, so
that he constantly moves along the border which he does not
allow himself to cross. Here is a relatively simple example:
"schwarze Johannisbeeren".50 The first line reads: "jemand geht
hin und macht was." It is a grammatically complete sentence, but
leaves us quite unsatisfied. We expect the following sentences to
tell us who this "someone" is. All we learn is that he is male
(he is referred to as "he") and that he is not just anybody
("genausowenig wie jemand irgendjemand ist"). Our subject fulfills
its function in the sentence, but frustrates our expectation of iden-
tification. This would probably not disturb us if we found out
what it is that he makes (or does). But instead of qualifications or
definitions of the object we are given a series of subordinate
clauses:

jemand geht dahin und macht das weil er da wo er hingeht was findet
was sich machen lsst und er findet das weil das was sich machen
lsst und was er macht was ist was da wo er hingeht und was macht
ist.

These clauses tell us nothing new. They affirm the possibility of


the first sentence which, however, was implicit in the statement
of that sentence.
There are two interesting phenomena in this text which continues
in this manner. One is that it works with sentences that are
grammatically correct, but which have only very vague meaning
because they have no nouns, no specific names. There are some
50
Heissenbttel, Textbuch 3 (Olten, Walter, 1962), p. 16.
58 THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION

nouns later on, but not for either subject or object. The verbs
which name the activity are the vaguest to be found in the lan-
guage. The other point of interest is what we find instead of nouns.
We find either pronouns - which have an implicit reference to a
context which is, however, not given. And we find subordinate
clauses: "da wo er hingeht" instead of a place name, "das was
sich machen lsst und was er macht" instead of the object. In
other words, this text replaces names by either a context or a
reference to a context.
A more difficult example is "Einstze" I:
berall: immer und berall: je und je: morgens mittags und abends
sogar im Bro: ein dies dies ist ein: wasfrein: wie am wenn auf oder
in das heisst als was andersartiger als: und das was wenn nichts als
dies und so fort: Fixierung fixiert: in der Lage ich man leit in genau
ins man: chanisch chanisiert pfern: meta fern: Domizil mizivil zivil:
ein Zel mir griffig mir greifend mir Kiel 5 1

There is a temptation to dismiss the text as gibberish. But let us


look more closely. It begins with a series of adverbial qualifica-
tions. First, "everywhere" followed by a clich phrase that con-
tains the same word: "always and everywhere". Then variations
("ever and ever: morning noons and evenings even in the office").
The subject can hardly be delayed any longer. What is always
and everywhere? The subject is even announced by an indefi-
nite article which, however, is not followed by the expected
name but by a pronoun: "a this". Clearly, "this" is unsatis-
factory. The text tries to define: "this is a" - again stopping
short of the noun as it does in the following question: "what kind
of a". The attempt at naming and defining has failed. Now begins
a groping for a circumlocution, for something similar to the
unnamed subject. To make the structure clearer I am inserting
ellipses between the elements of the phrase: "as a t . . . when on . . .
or in . . . that is . . . as what. . . other than". Again failure. Each
attempt is rejected even before it is completed. The whole idea
of looking for a description seems summarily dismissed by the

61
Heissenbiittel, Textbuch 1 (Olten, Walter, 1960), p. 39.
THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION 59
"and so on" which ends the next phrase: "and that which when
nothing but this and so on".
"Fixierung fixiert." We have reached a new stage. Here is a
complete sentence even though it is a bit tautological. It seems
to give us the reason for the failure of naming. What Heissen-
bttel is trying to say defies being "fixed". Not that it is something
esoteric, after all, the text affirms at length that it is always and
everywhere. Thus the difficulty of naming and defining is declared
an everyday problem. Or is the statement that "fixation fixes", that
any pinning down, any formulation establishes a rut, the state-
ment which we have been waiting for? Is it this process which is
taking place always and everywhere? In that case, the difficulty
of naming extends even to the name of the process which makes
naming possible.
The rest of the text tells more about this process of fixation.
It fixes "in der Lage ich man". Does Heissenbiittel mean to
say that it fixes us in the traditional pattern of subject ("I") versus
an impersonal object (represented by the impersonal pronoun
"one")? Or does definition, fixation put us in a position where
the "I" becomes identified with the impersonal collective "man",
where everything personal is lost in favor of the larger, cruder
mold which fits everyone and is therefore communicable? The
second half of the phrase seems to support the latter interpreta-
tion. I read "leit in genau ins man" as still referring to "Fixie-
rung" and meaning that "fixation leads into, exactly into the
impersonal 'one' ". This is to say, I take "leit" as a shortened
form of leitet. "Leit" could of course be an imperative, but the
fact that from here on words appear in obviously atrophied form
and the context makes a mangled third person singular more likely.
The impersonal character of "man" is not all that goes with
fixing. It is also mechanical or mechanized. These words appear
as "chanisch chanisiert". Note that here it is part of the stem
that is atrophied, not an ending. It is the part that carries meaning
which is suppressed also in the next word, "pfern". I do not know
what word was mangled into this form. It might have been the
dative plural of any number of words such as "Hpfer" or "Tup-
60 THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION

fer". The form "pfern" might also have come about through
combination of "Pferdestrke" (which might well be an asso-
ciation of "mechanical") and the word "fern" which follows.
That would mean that the surroundings determined which part of
the word would survive. A t any rate, the difficulty with naming
persists. First we were given contiguity words which mainly
build contexts. Now, when we finally find words with more
meaning, the words are atrophied.
Next comes the word "metaphors", but as a pun: "meta fern."
Metaphors are farther than far away, they are beyond "far"; they
are definitely out of reach. Elsewhere, Heissenbttel speaks of
his never using images or metaphors because they are unambigu-
ous and identifiable - "part of that language which is exactly
unavailable". 52 Instead of the unavailable metaphors, the last two
lines have progression by overlapping syllables ("Domizil mizivil
zivil") or by different derivations from the same root ("griffig mir
greifend"). Both are procedures that use contiguity rather than
similarity. The words seem to refer to metaphor, or still to "Fix-
ierung". Both notions are related in his description of metaphors.
All the following words suggest the ideas of security or singleness
which can also be easily reconciled with this description. I have
already quoted the sequence that involves "domicile" and "pri-
vate". The pair "ein Zel" suggests both einzeln and eine Zelle,
"mir griffig mir greifend" the notion of being reachable which is
reinforced by "mir Kiel" if we take "Kiel" as the keel of a boat
on to which you might be able to hold. "Kiel", however, also has
the possibility of meaning "Federkiel" and, with "quill", writing.
The possibilities of writing and of naming are very closely
connected. Thus we have come full circle thematically. This text
tries to write while rejecting the easy, secure, unambiguous name
or metaphor or definition. I have another suspicion about the
end. The words "Domizil", "Kiel", and the pseudo-word "Zel"
seem to approach an unmentioned word from different angles
of sound: Ziel, "goal". Is "goal" the unnamable notion the whole
text turned around? Or is metaphor actually the aim? Is it to
" ber Literatur, p. 223.
THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION 61

become available again at some later point, on a different plane,


made less determined and 'fixed' by much work with the indeter-
minate? Or is the goal the successful solution of Heissenbttel's
problem, the separation of writing and naming? In other words,
is the goal to make that sayable which as yet refuses to be said
and can only be approached and intimated like the word Ziel
itself?
"The aphasie defect in the 'capacity of naming' is properly
a loss of metalanguage", says Jakobson.53 Some of Heissenbttel's
refusals of metalanguage seem to parallel the Logical Positivists'
refusal of metaphysics. Especially, of course, when the topic is
appropriate, as in the poem "Mittwochsgesprch" which is partly
a lecture on the topic: "What is reality?" As in "Einstze", the
lecturer starts to give a definition and stops short: "Reality is
something which." Note the period. Rilke would at least have
put an ellipsis and thus opened the door to an infinite number
of suggestions. But Heissenbttel's sentence is complete. It is sup-
posed to attract attention to the impossibility of defining "reality".
When the lecturer seems to complete the statement in the next
sentence, he again bars the reference by first offering a tautology
("something that is real") and then launches into exploring all
the possible derivations of the root of Wirklichkeit (which are
semantically related by contiguity),54 then of Erfahrung:
Referat: Was ist Wirklichkeit? Wirklichkeit ist etwas das. Etwas das
wirklich ist wirksam ist. Etwas das wirkt wirksam wirkt auf mich
einwirkt. Etwas das erfahrbar ist das ich erfahre etwas erfahrbar
macht. Wirklichkeit ist gleich Erfahrung. Wirklichkeit ist gleich
meiner Erfahrung. Ist gleich meiner deiner unserer Erfahrung. Ist
was an meiner deiner unserer Erfahrung gleich ist. Ist gleiche
Erfahrung gleich Wirklichkeit? Gibt es gleiche Erfahrung? Gibt es
gleiche Wirklichkeit? 55

This speech is interlarded with a listener's train of thought that


stays very much with sense impressions and concrete observations

53
Jakobson, Fundamentals of Language, p. 67.
M
Ibid., p. 73.
55
Heissenbiittel, Textbuch 2 (Olten, Walter, 1961), p. 17.
62 THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION

("bad light there is a draft through the windows badly heated . . ."
or later: "he knows that he is making an effect that he is successful
now he smiles he has noticed it they are applauding"). This
counterpoint which gives us some of the reality the speaker cannot
define is free of 'similarity disorder'. But we are not surprised
that the speech after a while disintegrates into heaps of contiguity
words like: "Etwas worber man nicht reden kann. Etwas das
etwas wovon etwas worber." Here, as in Einstze I, Heissen-
bttel comes close to what Jakobson quotes as a typical utterance
of similarity disorder:
Ich bin doch hier unten, na wenn ich gewesen bin ich wees nicht,
we das, nu wenn ich, ob das nun doch, noch, ja. Was Sie her, wenn
ich, och ich wees nicht, we das hier war ja . . . 5 6

It is true that in its pure state this kind of speech indicates


illness. But we must admit that a good part of everyday speech
consists of similar stammering or of talking in tautologies and
references to unstated antecedents, above all, if the subject of
conversation is difficult or embarrassing. This is what Heissen-
bttel exploits in Textbuch 5. He uses the technique of 'similarity
disorder' for social and political comment. The unstated words
assume the aura of the taboo; and all the relative clauses, the
"it", or "that which" imply hedging. This can be very funny, for
instance when the taboo is sexual as in "shortstory" which begins
like this:
er hatte es mit ihr sie hatte es mit ihm
was hatte er mit ihr was hatte sie mit ihm
er hatte es auch mit dem da sie hatte es auch mit der da
was hatte er auch mit dem da was hatte sie auch mit der da
er hatte es mit ihr und auch mit dem da 57

By the time all the changes are rung, everybody has had "it"
with everybody else, including himself. On the other hand, the
poem "Endlsung" is one of the most powerful poetic statements
about Germany's "unbewltigte Vergangenheit" that I have seen.
54
Quoted in Fundamentals of Language, p. 65.
" Textbuch 5 (Olten, Walter, 1965), p. 26.
THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION 63
Here Hitler's "final solution" for the Jews is talked about without
being mentioned (except in the title). Likewise, the Nazis are re-
ferred to as "those who just simply thought of that". The prose
poem is too long to quote in full, but here is a sample from about
the middle (after most of the elements have been established in
shorter sentences):

das haben die sich ausgedacht und da sind sie drauf gekommen als
sie was anfangen wollten zu machen aber auf was sie dann gekom-
men sind das war nicht was wofr man sein kann sondern wogegen
man sein kann oder noch besser was wozu man die meisten rumkrie-
gen kann dagegen zu sein denn wenn man die meisten rumkriegen
kann gegen was zu sein braucht man nicht mehr so genau mit dem
zu sein wofr man sein kann und dass man damit nicht mehr so
genau sein braucht hat seine Vorteile denn wenn die meisten sich nur
austoben knnen ist es ihnen meistens ganz egal wofr sie sind 58

The power lies exactly in the fact that the text does not state
what it was "they" thought of, what it was they could get people
to be against, etc. Nothing but this circling around an unnamed
middle could convey so much ambivalence. It seems to range
through a whole scale of reactions-from shying away from the
horrible and grappling with something that seems incomprehen-
sible to pushing off responsibility. Paradoxically, the refusal to
name is more expressive (in this case) than naming could be.
The texts that refuse similarity, like Heissenbttel's, are far
more disconcerting than those which abolish contiguity. Jakobson
suggests a reason: that "the principle of similarity underlies
poetry. . . Prose, on the contrary, is forwarded essentially by
contiguity."59 But I wonder whether Jakobson is not being carried
away here by his delight in universalizing this bipolarity. It seems
to me that he accepts as 'poetry' what is really only Romantic
poetry whose essence is indeed the metaphor. Perhaps Stramm is
less disconcerting than Heissenbttel simply because two centuries
of fragments in the name of expression have sufficiently prepared

58
Ibid., p. 12.
59
Fundamentals of Language, p. 81 f .
64 THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION

us for stammer and atom - as long as it is expressive and quasi-


mythical. If this is so, then the emergence of anti-similarity is a
very significant change.

E. CHANCE

Chance is a favorite weapon of the twentieth century against "the


seduction to always the same kind of sentences".60 Since either
or both selection and combination can be left to chance, we are
still dealing with the problems of the two previous sections.
Chance selection is nearly a contradiction in terms. Even if
Christopher Middleton takes a passage from Coleridge's Bio-
graphia Literaria and for each noun, verb, adjective substitutes
the fifth noun, verb, adjective that precedes the given word in
a dictionary, he still chooses.1 It is still an act of the will to decide
on the passage, the procedure, and the dictionary. It is selection
at several removes, but still selection. It can be called chance
only in relation to meaning, to logical continuity. Chance, then,
is an imprecise term when applied to art, and its wide use can only
be explained by the artists' strong bias against logic and all that
is even remotely connected with it. Chance selection is selection
according to a principle other than logic - and seen this way,
chance selection has a long tradition in poetry. For, in the widest
sense, all poetic means on the level of sound, like rhyme and
meter, are agents of semantic indeterminacy. A number of con-
temporary poets have defended rhyme on the ground that it brings
up fresh meanings, words or associations you had not thought of
before. Similarly, a case could be made for the fragments from
coffee house conversations which Apollinaire incorporated into

60
The phrase is Heissenbttel's, Textbuch 1, p. 20.
61
Christopher Middleton describes this genesis of his poem " P a t a x a n a d u "
in a letter to Bernard Waldrop of September 22, 1963. It is a variant of the
" S + 7 " method of Jean Lescure. Cf. Cahiers du College de 'Pataphysique',
Dossier 17 (22 Sable LXXXIX).
THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION 65

his verse,62 or for Benn's snatches from popular songs.83


The difficulty begins when the poet no longer fuses haphazard
elements together, but when he leaves the ARRANGEMENT to
chance, i.e. when he accepts a principle of ordering that would
normally be considered as extrinsic to the material. It is usually a
principle of contiguity, which may be temporal, as in the sequence
of conversation fragments, or spatial, as in the order of paintings
listed in a catalogue (Tzara is said to have used the latter in a
poem). 64 From the Dadaist experiments on, it seems to be chance
combination that dominates the attempts at using indeterminacy.
Tzara recommended to leave both selection and combination to
chance (though with tongue in cheek, as the ironic last lines show):

POUR F A I R E UN POME DADAISTE


Prenez un journal.
Prenez des ciseaux.
Choisissez dans ce journal un article ayant la longueur que
vous comptez donner votre pome.
Dcoupez l'article.
Dcoupez ensuite avec soin chacun des mots qui forment cet
article et mettez-les dans un sac.
Agitez doucement.
Sortez ensuite chaque coupure l'une aprs l'autre dans l'ordre
o elles ont quitt le sac.
Copiez consciencieusement.
Le pome vous ressemblera.
Et vous voila "un crivain infiniment original et d'une
sensibilit charmante, encore qu'incomprise du vulgaire." 65

The most curious line is: "The poem will resemble you." This is
the point the Surrealists elaborate in their games: chance becomes
revelation of the unconscious, of the hidden correspondences.
Breton says, "Chance is still the great veil we must lift. I said it
could be the form of manifestation of external necessity which

62 Cf. Georges Lemaitre, From Cubism to Surrealism in French Literature


(Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1947), p. 115 f. Apollinaire
also used this method for arrangement.
63 Cf. "Impromptu", Gesammelte Werke, III, 308.
64 Cf. Fritz Glausar, in Das war Dada, ed. Schifferli, p. 131.
65 In Littrature, #15 (July/August 1920), p. 18.
66 THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION

opens a path into the human unconscious." The Surrealist


games use deliberate selections (although by several people).
More recent experiments (e.g. those of the American writer
Jackson MacLow)67 make a point of carefully choosing a number
of elements that are then combined by a random method like
throwing dice.
In his collected poems, Arp prints an early poem in which
both selection and arrangement were largely random, together
with a later version in which he "developed this poem further by
interpolation".68 Comparing these two versions will bring out one
important difference in the effect of random and deliberate ar-
rangement (even though the number of elements is not constant).
Arp describes the genesis of the original text of "Weltwunder"
thus:
Words, headlines, sentences w h i c h I picked f r o m newspapers and
especially f r o m their advertisements were the f u n d a m e n t of m y p o e m s
in 1917. Frequently I designated words and phrases in the papers with
closed eyes, marking t h e m with a pencil. T h e p o e m "Weltwunder"
c a m e into being in this w a y . I called these p o e m s " A r p a d e n " . 6 9

It is true that even in the first version, did not absolutely


limit himself to the found elements, but wove associations around
them. However, as Reinhard Dhl has pointed out, there are
especially two passages that can be identified as Arp's own
material.70 For the rest, it is clear that the found material domi-
nates. Most of the changes in the version of 1945 are what we

69
Breton, Situation du Surralisme entre les deux guerres (Paris, Editions
de la revue Fontaine, 1945), no pagination. Cf. also C. G. Jung's essay
"Synchronicity: A n Acausai Connecting Principle", in C. G. Jung and
W. Pauli, The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche, trans. R. F. C. Hull,
Bollingen Series LI (New York, Pantheon, 1955), pp. 1-146.
67
MacLow's play The Marrying Maiden was produced by the Living
Theater, New York, in 1960. The words were chosen from the / Ching,
according to the program notes. Cf. also his note on the composition of
22 Light Poems (Los Angeles, Black Sparrow, 1968).
68
Arp, Gesammelte Gedichte, I, 46.
Ibid.
70
Reinhard Dhl, Das literarische Werk Hans Arps 1903-1930 (Stuttgart,
Metzler, 1967), p. 149.
THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION 67
would expect. Arp makes the disparate elements more palatable
by making the poem the account of a series of dreams. Syntax is
occasionally regularized. Contradictions are eliminated:
. . . erstens ist es staunend billig und zweitens kostet es v i e l . . . 7 1

turns on the second meaning of kosten (costeaste) into:


'.. . erstens ist es staunend billig und zweitens kostet jeder wirklich
leichtfssige gerne wieder die wonnen ... es ist viel und oft versucht
worden . . . 72

While the first version speaks of peasant women who are


wearing "burnt-out stuffed suns" in their hair and also have
goiters, the later version introduces a group of "finstere" who
have to take over the goiters and thus keep the unpleasant attri-
butes separate from the pleasant ones.
More significant is this: The first version starts:
WELTWUNDER sendet sofort karte hier ist ein teil vom schwein . . .73

In the later version, Arp establishes for the beginning the context
of living in a dark country. The word "pig" does not fit this
context, therefore it is made into a metaphor, prepared by another
animal metaphor:

. . . Vom tageslicht bleibt nur ein drftiger krnz brig, die finsternis
ist eine quallige spinne ein stummes schwein ... 74

If we look back at the chance arrangement, there is not a single


metaphor in the text. There cannot be, because there are too
many clashes of literal sense. No theme or motif is persistent
enough to force us to consider the figurative meaning of a word
whose literal sense does not fit. All words seem to have equal
claims to be taken literal. It points in the same direction that the
more 'poetic' passage Arp inserted ("die buerinnen tragen aus-

71
Arp, Gesammelte Gedichte, I, 47.
72
Ibid., p. 53.
13
Ibid., p. 47.
74
Ibid., p. 48.
68 THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION

gebrannte ausgestopfte sonnen in ihrem haar . ..") does not stand


out from the rest of the text. The advertising material does not
become background for this passage, but absorbs it. Or rather,
both are made relative, both are absorbed into the text where
no stratum is more important than the other.
We might have expected random combination to have an effect
like that of contiguity disorder, namely to attract attention to the
single word. But the opposite is the case. The effect is rather like
that of similarity disorder with its failure of metaphor and the
constant surprise of combination.

F. F R A G M E N T A T I O N SMALLER T H A N T H E W O R D

Franz Mon holds that only the infinitesimal can be experienced.


The pretentions at anything larger crumble when confronted
with the infinite field of consciousness or language.75 The single
word is not nearly small enough. The process of fragmentation
does not stop here.
For a while it is still possible to divide the fragmentation of
words into attacks against reference or against the accepted
combinations of phonemes. So when Heissenbiittel has a series
of prefixes end a poem:
. . . zerspleissen zerschleissen zerschlissen zer: ver: zer: ur: ent: eigen 76
it is clear that he is using accepted combinations, but the most
meaningless ones he can find. On the other hand, portmanteau-
words and similar coinages are content with the reference (indeed
aim at enriching it), but take exception to the expected arrange-
ment of phonemes, or at least letters, as Denis Roche's lines:
. . . poste la poste des lilas car elle sent
Siblement en fin annoncer trs vite son amie . . . 7 7

75
Cf. Mon, Artikulationen, p. 15.
70
Heissenbiittel, Textbuch 1, p. 39.
77
Denis Roche, Les ides centsimales de Miss Elanize (Paris, Seuil, 1964),
p. 35.
THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION 69
The same is true for the combinations of letters in Marinetti's
"ortographe libre expressive" which tends to deform and remodel
the spelling of words, mostly in agreement with onomatopoetic
tendencies (e.g. multiplying an important vowel).78 It is equally
true for all the attempts to adapt French orthography to the sound
of the spoken language, from Raymond Queneau's "Doukipu-
donktan"79 to the systems exemplified in the special 'Lettrisme'
number of the magazine Bizarre.80
Beyond these examples, in 'lettrisme' or 'sound poetry' proper,
the distinction becomes meaningless: both the semantic code and
the known combinations are abandoned. So is any pretense of
communication (the poems are not in 'secret languages'),81 but
not the claim to expressiveness. This expressiveness is, however,
as problematical as that of onomatopoeia. It seems to me that
the sound in Ball's "Elefantenkarawane" are heavy only because
of the title. And the following lines from Isidore Isou's Introduc-
tion une nouvelle posie are expressive only if we know that
and M stand for soupir and gmissement, and that the title of
the poem is "Larmes de jeune fille":
M dngoun, m diahl hna fou
82
h s n i o u n in h l i a n h l (V) p n a i o u

Given such help, we can see sound poems to be mainly of two


kinds. There are playful and mocking ones like Kurt Schwittens
"The Fury of Sneezing" or his "Ancient Sound-Poem":

78
Cf. F. T. Marinetti, Les mots en libert (Milano, Edizioni Futuriste di
"Poesia", 1919), p. 51.
78
This is the first word of Queneau's novel Zazie dans le Mtro (Paris,
Gallimard, 1959), p. 7.
80
Number 3 2 / 3 3 of Bizarre (1964) is dedicated to "littrature illettre ou
la littrature la lettre". Beside sections on Lettrisme and calligraphy, they
have examples of "Jargons", like Queneau's.
81
Liede sees secret languages along with sound symbolism and onomato-
poeia as keys to sound poetry. Cf. Dichtung als Spiel, II, 221 ff.
82
Isou, Introduction une nouvelle posie, p. 334.
70 THE METHOD OF DISRUPTION

HHH HH HH HHH
HHH
HHH HHH
AAA

Olalala O A O A lala
Plinius (i.J. 1847) 3

They are directed against "people who cannot read, only under-
stand".84 And there are those which are in pursuit of the "Urlaut",85
half magical or sacred incantations of the elemental, the 'simple',
the numinous.89 This pursuit has logically led to poems of single
letters and finally to Isou's "aphonisme" or silent recitation.87
But even before we reach silence, these experiments leave
literature. Unlike the poems that atrophy similarity or contiguity,
unlike even the poems which leave these functions to chance,
Ball's "gadji beri bimba" needs the "cadence of sacerdotal lamen-
tation"88 he read in it, Isou's poems have to be recited or seen.
The experiment with phonetics leaves literature proper for a quasi-
musical or quasi-theatrical performance. The experiment with
letters, likewise, leads to a new mixed genre. In the extreme
cases, it leads to pure graphic art which happens to use the
shapes of letters as its elements.

83
Merz, N o . 4 (July 1923), quoted ill Liede, Dichtung als Spiel, II, 248.
84
Letter to Hausmann, in Raoul Hausmann and Kurt Schwitters, PIN
(London, Gaberbocchus Press, 1962), p. 11.
85
So Rudolf Blmner, in Literatur-Revolution, ed. Prtner, I, 445.
86
Cf. the account of Hugo Ball's recitation in the Gregorian chant of a
"magical bishop", in Flucht aus der Zeit. In Dada: Eine literarische Doku-
mentation, ed. Richard Huelsenbeck (Hamburg, Rowohlt, 1964), pp. 158-9.
87
Cf. Isidore Isou, "Les grands potes lettristes: du lettrisme l'aphonis-
me", Bizarre, N o . 32/33, p. 66.
88
Huelsenbeck, Dada, p. 159.
IV

THE METHOD OF NEGATION

A. IMPLICATIONS

Why a special chapter on 'negation'? Is negation not implied in the


method of disruption? Yes. But the negation of that method turns
mainly on the axis between the semantic and syntactical dimen-
sions of language. Denial of one results in a hypertrophy of the
other. Yet limitations and exclusions seem to form a pattern in
contemporary literature that transcends this dichotomy. There are,
however, close affinities to the group of examples that stresses
selection over arrangement.
Exclusion is so closely tied to the process of selection that we
could even say, with Claude Lvi-Strauss, that all art is essentially
reduction. 1 Moreover, negation is the invention of man 2 and, as
Kenneth Burke has pointed out, a principle inherent in man's
other invention, language. "To use them [words] properly, we
must know that they are not the things they stand for." That is,
negation is inherent in any symbolification. But in language it is
so on more than this one level:
Next, since language is extended by metaphor which gradually
becomes the kind of dead metaphor w e call abstraction, w e must

1
Cf. The Savage Mind (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1966),
p. 23 ff.
2
Cf. Wittgenstein: "But it is important that the signs 'p' and ' ~ p ' can
say the same thing. For it shows that nothing in reality corresponds to the
sign *~p'." (Tractatus, 4.0621.) Or Bergson: " . . . there is no absolute void
in nature . . . what there is and what one perceives is the presence of one
thing or another, never the absence of anything whatever. Absence exists
only for a being capable of remembering and expecting." (uvres, p. 733.)
72 THE METHOD OF NEGATION

know that metaphor is not literal. Further, we cannot use language


maturely until we are spontaneously at home in irony. 3
Is it surprising then, if there are poetic theories based on the
principle of negation? Like Ren Daumal's:
We have to understand from now on that all poetry has its root in
the immediate act of negation. The poet becomes conscious of
himself by making the forms appear which he denies and which
become through this very act the symbols, the sensible aspects of his
asceticism: he expresses himself through that which he rejects and
projects outside himself, and if we call the images he proposes to us
admirable, it is always at the "NO" hidden behind them that our
admiration is directed. 4
Beyond this inherent level of negation there is a tradition of
explicit negation. By this I do not mean an occasional use for
special effect. For instance, Peter Weiss keeps the reader con-
scious of an empty chair at a dinner table, in the following man-
ner: he describes in turn everybody's hand and adds "and then no
hand"; he describes everybody's mouth in the process of eating
and adds "and then the empty space for a new, still unknown
mouth", etc.5 But this play on emptiness by creating an expectation
and at the same time frustrating it, is not the central method
throughout Weiss' novelette. Whereas with mystic writers it often
is. "Those who enter into intimate union with the ineffable light",
says Dionysius the Areopagite, "speak of God only by negation".8
And not only of God. At least Meister Eckhart says few things at
all without countering with an antithesis, or turning what he has
said, into a paradox, or adding negative prefixes (like un-, ent-,
abe-), or negating it in some way. All these devices (except for the
prefixes) are also central to Mallarm's poems. He seems to evoke
objects only for the purpose of denying them: "vols qui n'ont pas

3
Burke, "Definition of Man", The Hudson Review, Vol. XVI, No. 4
(Winter 1963-64), p. 501 f.
4
Daumal, Posie noire, posie blanche (Paris, Gallimard, 1954), p. 26.
5
Weiss, Der Schatten des Krpers des Kutschers (Frankfurt, Suhrkamp,
1960), pp. 20-21.
* Divine Names, I, 5 as quoted in Bataille, L'Exprience intrieure, p. 15.
THE METHOD OF NEGATION 73

fui", 7 "sans le cygne ni le quai",8 "absent tombeau", "aboli


bibelot",10 etc. With a more thematic turn, Victor Segalen is:
Attentif ce qui n'a pas t dit; soumis par ce qui n'est point promul-
gu; prostern vers ce qui ne fut pas encore. u
And Helmut Heissenbiittel sets up this program:
das Sagbare sagen
das Erfahrbare erfahren
das Entscheidbare entscheiden
das Erreichbare erreichen
das Wiederholbare wiederholen
das Beendbare beenden
das nicht Sagbare
das nicht Erfahrbare
das nicht Entscheidbare
das nicht Erreichbare
das nicht Wiederholbare
das nicht Beendbare
das nicht Beendbare nicht beenden 12
But between this too specific tradition of direct, explicit nega-
tion and the too general connection of negation and literature
through selection and language, there are a number of patterns
of exclusion that have become prominent in this century - and
that have been considered evidence of damage to language.

B. EXCLUSION OF CERTAIN USES OF LANGUAGE

First a few examples on a rather general level: taboos against


rhetoric, abstraction, discursiveness. These are taken together
both because they are much wider and vaguer than the taboos

7
Mallarm, uvres compltes, p. 67.
8
Ibid., p. 68.
9
Ibid.
10
Ibid., p. 65.
11
Segalen, Stles, ed. Henry Bouillier (Paris, Pln, 1963), p. 43.
12
Textbuch 1, p. 6.
74 THE METHOD OF NEGATION

against specific parts of speech or against metaphor and because


they are associated by some of the poets themselves.
The most wide-spread (and least attacked) of the contemporary
patterns of exclusion shuts out "perdamnable rhetoric" 13 and
"vague generalities, however magnificent and sonorous" in favor
of "the language of common speech".14 Whether this is Imagists
versus Swinburne, Ungaretti versus D'Annunzio, the poets of
L'Abbaye versus the French Symbolists, they all speak within
a literary tradition. Since the Romantics, it has been the fash-
ion to denounce the "verbalism" of your predecessors, their
"empty words" that actually hide reality instead of showing it.
Jean Paulhan notes this and gives the nice example of Victor
Hugo who, among French poets, is least spared this reproach,
and yet was the first who explicitly regarded himself as the
personal enemy of empty verbalism.15
To this literary tradition there has been added, in the course of
this century, the feeling that words are being used up, worn out
by the mass media; or, in post-war Germany, that they have been
perverted by the state and its propaganda. Poets felt that only
after a 'deforestation', a "Kahlschlag in unserem Dickicht",16
writing could start again, and start at the very beginning, the very
simplest, like Gnter Eich's poem "Inventur" which simply names
the few objects that belong to the speaker.17
The basis of this feeling seems to be a more or less biological
conception of language: words die in becoming clichs or propa-
ganda. They then form a kind of crust which we have to eliminate

13
Ezra Pound, The Literary Essays, p. 11.
14
Some Imagist Poets (Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1915), pp. VI-VII.
15
Jean Paulhan, Les fleurs de Tarbes, p. 82 f.
1
Hans Werner Richter quoting Wolfgang Weyrauch in "Fnfzehn Jahre",
Almanach der Gruppe 47, ed. H. W. Richter (Hamburg, Rowohlt, 1962),
p. 8.
17
Cf. the first stanza, Ausgewhlte Gedichte, ed. Walter Hllerer (Frank-
furt, Suhrkamp, 1960), p. 25:
Dies ist meine Mtze,
dies ist mein Mantel,
hier mein Rasierzeug
im Beutel aus Leinen.
THE METHOD OF NEGATION 75

if we want to stay in touch with reality and life. This conception


seems the result of a transfer. The mental process of fixing, simpli-
fying, homogenizing perceptions as well as emotions in order to
fit them into the patterns of our culture and especially our lan-
guage is transferred onto language itself. And while the biological
metaphor of rigidity or clich as something 'dead' seems quite
appropriate on the psychological level, it is somewhat question-
able on the level of a symbolic system. The transfer seems even
more questionable to me when the 'dead words' are identified
with abstraction. "Go in fear of abstractions", Pound advises.
Also: "The natural object is always the adequate symbol."18
Fritz J. Raddatz lists as the taboo words in German post-war
literature a series of abstracta like 'faith', 'love', 'duty', 'trust',
'nation', 'mankind' 19 (of course, we might ask whether it is not
rather the emotional appeal which is tabooed in this case).
Rmy de Gourmont associated the concept of abstraction with
the process of becoming empty, of wearing out (if not literally
with death), by defining ideas as "worn-out images".20 And Valry
developed and modified this association when he called conscious-
ness a process of exhaustion of everything that appears.21 But
neither of them was speaking on the level of language whereas
Pound is. And here the difficulty arises. Pound would accept a
word like 'stone' as concrete whereas Cassirer, Jerpersen, even
Bergson have taught us that it is a double abstraction. One, it is a
word, a symbol, not the object itself. Two, we usually assume
that abstraction proceeds from 'concrete objects' to concepts. But
'objects' are already abstractions from experience where there is,
originally, no separation of "seen things" and "unseen feelings
about them", as Jespersen puts it.22 Even the fact that the word
is a symbol makes it impossible to be other than abstract in words,
18
Ezra Pound, The Literary Essays, p. 5.
19
Raddatz, "Die ausgehaltene Realitt", Almanach der Gruppe 47, p. 52.
20
Rmy de Gourmont, La culture des ides, pp. 63-4.
21
Paul Valry, uvres, I, 1225.
22
Quoted in Donald Davie, Articulate Energy (London, Routledge and
Kegan Paul, 1955), p. 108. Cf. also Ernst Cassirer, Philosophie der sym-
bolischen Formen (Berlin, Bruno Cassirer, 1923), III, 40.
76 THE METHOD OF NEGATION

how much more the fact that the most 'concrete thing' words can
refer to, the physical world, is an abstraction. However, the poem,
or even a single image, can in turn become an experience, a
'whole' experience in Jespersen's sense. (I suppose it is something
like this that phrases like "A poem should not mean but be" try
to suggest. As soon as we ask for the meaning, we repeat Jesper-
sen's division). For the poem qua experience it is irrelevant
whether it uses words with or without physical objects of refer-
ence. I am not denying that the quality of the experience is differ-
ent in these lines by J. V. Cunningham:
Yes, we are all
By sense or thought
Distraught.23
and in one like:
The jewelled steps are already quite white with dew 24
But in either case, the experience is an experience with WORDS.
So, while it would be a serious attack against, and change of, lan-
guage if you could avoid abstraction, this is really impossible.
The desire to eliminate 'abstraction' from poems can nearly be
reduced to anti-discursiveness. At least, there is a close link. By
using words that refer to physical objects the poet may be able
to conjure up qualities of the object that defy being verbalized
easily (like smell, or the feel and texture of the "jewelled steps").
Therefore, these words are better suited to becoming the quasi-
numinous 'simples' than words that refer to concepts (like "sense"
or "thought"). Concepts can always be defined in discursive
terms. Secondly, anti-abstractness is often given as the theoretical
basis for the technique of juxtaposition which I have already
mentioned as a device directed against discursiveness.
Fenollosa laments the Western "pyramids" of abstraction where
we extract from a row of cherry trees the concept "cherry or
cherry-ness", from "cherry, rose, sunset, iron-rust, flamingo" the
23
J. V. Cunningham, "L'Esprit de gometrie et l'esprit de finesse", The
Exclusions of a Rhyme (Denver, Alan Swallow, 1960), p. 41.
" Ezra Pound, "The Jewel Stairs' Grievance", Personae (Norfolk, Conn.,
New Directions, 1926), p. 132.
THE METHOD OF NEGATION 77
quality "red" and so on "until we reach the apex 'being' ",25 If I
understand him right, poetry is the better the closer it stays to
"the poor neglected things at the bases of the pyramids".26 Thus
"cherry, rose, sunset, iron-rust, flamingo" is preferable to "red".
Accepting Fenollosa's idea that these rows of basic things and
actions are still discernible in the Chinese ideogram, Pound calls
his technique of "examination and juxtaposition of particular
specimens" the "ideogrammic method".27 As Fenollosa claims
for the ideogram, the effect of the juxtaposition is basically meta-
phoric:
IN A STATION OF THE METRO
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.28
It is metaphoric because there is an immediately obvious simila-
rity in the visual structure, the white on black, of the two images.
There is ambiguity as in the examples of anti-contiguity: For
instance, the perspective of the metaphor is not determined. We
do not exclusively look at A in terms of 29 or vice versa, but
stand as it were between the two terms and can apply the
process both ways. (We will finally consider petals as perspective
on faces, but for a reason extrinsic to the poem: we think our-
selves most important. Or, to put it less facetiously, faces have
greater biological and psychological relevance for us than petals.30

25
Ernest Fenollosa, The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for
Poetry (San Francisco, City Lights Books, n.d.), p. 26.
2e
Ibid., p. 27.
27
Pound, The Literary Essays, p. 61.
28
Pound, Personae, p. 104.
29
This description of a metaphor is Burke's, Grammar of Motives (New
York, Braziller, 1955), p. 503 f.
30
Cf. . H. Gombrich: "Ours is a structured universe whose main lines of
force are still bent and fashioned by our biological and psychological needs,
however much they may be overlaid by cultural influences. We know that
there are certain privileged motifs in our world to which we respond almost
too easily. The human face may be outstanding among them . . . we cer-
tainly are ever disposed to single out the expressive features of a face from
the chaos of sensations that surrounds i t . . . Our whole perceptive apparatus
is somehow hypersensitized in this direction of physiognomic vision."
78 THE METHOD OF NEGATION

Therefore they assume greater importance even though the formal


arrangement of the poem does not give them any.) Also, the
juxtaposition does not isolate one single aspect of similarity be-
tween faces and petals (indeed no good metaphor points to just
ONE similarity). So their relation assumes nearly as many over-
tones as nuage in Char's poem: something fragile against some-
thing sturdier and cruder, beauty against blackness, etc.
If the tendency against abstraction in poetry (in the form it
takes with Ezra Pound, its most articulate spokesman) can be seen
to mean anti-discursiveness, the reverse does not follow. One of
Stramm's most non-discursive poems, "Urtod", is full of 'abstract'
words like "time" and "space".

C. EXCLUSION OF PARTS OF SPEECH

There would be some interest in studying avoidance of a parti-


cular grammatical voice or mode (for instance, Anais Nin's ten-
dency to use nearly constantly the conditional where one expects
the indicative), but more important in my context is the banning
of certain parts of speech. It is more important because the rules
for making sentences normally allow less freedom for the omission
of verbs, e.g. than for avoiding the passive voice.
I have already talked about the dropping of contiguity words in
the 'telegraphic style'. Marinetti's exclusion of adjective and
adverb is aimed in the same direction. Both slow down, both
give qualifications and nuances which he cannot reconcile with
his "dynamic vision".31 He calls both "explanatory, decorative
and musical", and, moreover, the "crutches" that support the
"melodious and monotonous balance" of classical syntax32 which

("Meditations on a Hobby Horse or the Roots of Artistic Form", Aesthetics


Today, ed. Morris Philipson [New York, Meridian, 1961], p. 120.)
31
Literatur-Revolution 1910-1925, ed. Prtner, II, 48.
'2 Ibid., p. 58.
THE METHOD OF NEGATION 79

is of course to be destroyed. Instead of adjectives, Marinetti advo-


cates the dynamism of "naked nouns" 8 8 as he uses them, e.g. in
the beginning of

BATAILLE
POIDS + ODEUR
Midi 3/4 fltes glapissement embrasement toumbtoumb alarme Gar-
garesch craquement crpitation marche Cliquetis sacs fusils sabots
clous canons crinires roues caissons juifs beignets pains--huile
cantilnes choppes bouffes chatoiment chassie puanteur cannelle
fadeurs flux reflux poivre . . . 34

Nobody will debate the absence of nuances in this passage. Espe-


cially the nouns derived from adjectives or verbs, like fadeurs or
glapissement, give the impression of a rapid (or vague) perception
that has no time (or does not take the trouble) to attribute the
fade quality to any specific object, to locate the source of the
"yapping". I am sceptical about the dynamism of stringing nouns
together in this manner. It is true that the pace of the passage is
quite rapid. But less because there are only nouns (Stramm's
sequences of nouns are often very slow), than because they are
arranged as prose. The single noun is not a unit. And since there
are caesuras (indicated by blank spaces like the one between
cannelle and fadeurs) one tends to take everything u p to the
caesura in one breath. But quick pace and dynamism is not the
same thing. I do not have the impression that there is any succes-
sion. It seems a rapid look at a crowded and chaotic scene which
as a whole is static.
While there was wholehearted assent to doing away with adjec-
tives among a large number of the Expressionists 35 and while
there has generally been some caution against the merely orna-
mental adjective in this century, 86 there were immediate protests.
Considering that the adjective is not a vital and absolutely neces-
33
Ibid., p. 48.
34
Ibid., p. 60.
35
Cf. Literatur-Revolution 1910-1925, ed. Prtner, II, 228: "Das Adjektiv
tritt seine jahrzehntelange Herrschaft an das kubistisch schlagende Haupt-
wort ab." (Max Deri.)
38
Cf. Pound, The Literary Essays, p. 4.
80 THE METHOD OF NEGATION

sary part of a conventional sentence, the protests seem rather


violent. Alfred Dblin considers Marinetti dangerous. He writes
in an open letter:
Aber am schlimmsten, gefhrlichsten sind Sie in Ihrer Monomanie -
denn Sie sind monoman - wo Sie der Syntax zu Leibe gehen, der
Schlachtenplastik zu Liebe. Diese Verallgemeinerung finde ich horri-
bel. Wie verstehen Sie das Adjektiv, Adverb. Es gibt in einem kom-
pletten Satz verschiedene Satzfunktionre, bald Subjekt, bald Verb,
bald Adverb: Sie knnen die Wucht eines Wortes erhhen, ab-
schwchen. Sie knnen Stze krzen, knnen in Perioden rollen,
knnen ein einzelnes Wort, Substantiv, Adjektiv, Verb, Adverb einzeln
setzen, gerade so knnen Sie ausserordentlich nahe an die Realitt
heran. Ganz nach Belieben, je nach dem, je nach Ihnen, und wozu
auf einmal diese Amputation? 37

I quote this excerpt not because Dblin very neatly pins down
Marinetti's dogmatism as well as his oversimple interpretation
of the adjective's function. I quote it mainly because it expresses
a feeling of 'amputation'. So far I have been stressing how ex-
clusion patterns are natural because they are tied to the process
of selection. However, these patterns have been felt to do violence
to language. Jean Paulhan, for instance, has great misgivings about
any sort of "privation" as a remedy in literature. He fears that the
wish to break only with what is too conventional in language,
will lead close to breaking with all language.38
As for verbs, Marinetti tolerated them, but only in the infini-
tive39 which is again consistent with the general agrammatism of
anti-contiguity and anti-discursiveness. His justification is (again)
not too well formulated. The infinitive is indeed more "elastic"
than finite forms; but why should it be less "subject to the of
the writer who observes and invents"?40 There can be cases where
the reader is at liberty to connect the infinitive with a different
noun than the writer had had in mind, where the relationship
37
Dblin, "Futuristische Warttechnik: Offener Brief an F. T. Marinetti",
Prtner, II, 66.
38
Cf. Les fleurs de Tarbes, p. 31.
39
Literatur-Revolution 1910-1925, ed. Prtner, II, 47. Also: Les mots en
libert, p. 13.
40
Ibid., p. 48.
THE METHOD OF NEGATION 81

between the words is made fluid. But this depends much on


particular circumstances. Could Marinetti mean that the infini-
tive is less subject to the of the poem, to the speaker of the
poem? That the activity grows (or CAN grow) beyond the indicated
agent as in Stramm's poem "Trieb"?
Schrecken Struben
Wehren Ringen
chzen Schluchzen
Strzen
du!
Grellen Gehren
Winden Klammern
Hitzen Schwchen
ich und du!
Lsen Gleiten
Sthnen Wellen
Schwinden Finden
ich
dich
du! 41
All the infinitives relate to the "I" or "you". Some, like Struben
and Wehren definitely belong to the "you", others possibly to
either the "I" or the "you". But we do not even try to figure out
who does what because the total effect seems that of a superper-
sonal, nearly cosmic activity in which the agents seem much more
caught up than acting, and in which the agents do not matter.
Part of this effect is due to the fact that these infinitives are
actually gerunds. Their function as nouns makes them even
more independent of an agent than their non-finite form does.
Nouns naturally tend to dominate when verbs are omitted
altogether (or for longer stretches than expected).42 The effect
partly coincides with that of anti-contiguity in general, but more
often is stasis. I have already noted this for the passage from
Marinetti (although he seems to assume its impact to be dynamic).
41
Stramm, Das Werk, p. 34.
4!
On the similarity of the effect of verbless passages and those that use
only non-finite verb forms, cf. I. Seidler, "Statische Montage", Monats-
hefte, Vol. LII, N o . 7 (December 1960), p. 326 and passim.
82 THE METHOD OF NEGATION

It is even clearer when the author uses it consciously, and, for


instance, contrasts verbless lines with others that have verbs. At
the beginning of "Noeud des miroirs", Breton uses a sequence of
verbless lines (there are past participles, but in adjectival function)
for a damming device and then lets sentences flow for a while:
Les belles fentres ouvertes et fermes
Suspendues aux lvres du jour
Les belles fentres en chemise
Les belles fentres aux cheveux de feu dans la nuit noire
Les belles fentres de cris d'alarme et de baisers
Au-dessus de moi au-dessous de moi derrire moi il y en
a moin qu'en moi
O elles ne font qu'un seul cristal bleu comme les bls
Un diamant divisible en autant de diamants qu'il en
faudrait pour se baigner tous les bengalis 43

Poems being very complex structures, it is never quite possible to


isolate one single feature as achieving one thing. So the effect of
something like dammed-up water in the first lines is not just due
to absence of verbs. It is helped by the return again and again to
the anaphoric "les belles fentres". It is helped by the reference.
"Windows" are things one can see through, one can see out of.
They imply a direction away from the "I" of the poem. At the
same time, the title makes us expect a "knot of mirrors". Thus
the windows seem to lose their outward direction and turn into
mirrors that throw the "I's" image back at it. The images suggest
night and interior ("en chemise, cris d'alarme et de baisers"). The
second line parallels the effect I have been describing on the level
of an image: the windows are "suspendues aux lvres du jour."
On the other hand, it is not the images alone either that create the
suspension: for the poem seems to begin flowing with line 7 with
the verb, "font", whereas the image at this point contracts: the
windows "form one single crystal blue as the grain". Yet contrac-
tion is motion too, and if it seems to go inwards, "les bls" is the
first definite outside image. And in order to associate the color
blue with a field of corn or other grain, we need some light (a

" Breton, Pomes, p. 92.


THE METHOD OF NEGATION 83

suggestion of blue sky against the field). These suggestions become


explicit and forceful in the next line where the "crystal" spreads
out, at least potentially divides into many diamond crystals,
accompanied by a flood of light - enough to "bathe in"; nearly an
explosion of motion and light. And if the crystals' blue Bengal
light should seem too artificial: there has already been an asso-
ciation of blue with a field of grain to tie back to "les lvres du
jour". Besides, any light is some kind of day; and what really
matters is, here too, the change from the static suspension at the
"lips of the day" to the dynamic spreading of light, which is at
least partially brought about by verbs coming in after having
been absent for a while.
Benn sometimes renders even motion static in this manner. He
renders, for instance, "dice falling onto the table" without a verb,
indicating the motion only with the 'Accusative of direction':
Im Nebenzimmer die Wrfel auf den Holztisch 44
There is a certain effect of freezing the fall of the dice in mid air,
which tends to convey repetition and duration rather than one
particular throw. Again, everything is done with nouns. Benn
himself regarded the poet's sensitivity as directed "especially
towards the noun, less towards the adjective, hardly towards the
verbal figure".45 And he practically identifies words with nouns:
"Worte, Worte - Substantive!"46
This kind of importance given to nouns irritates Fritz Mauthner,
who attacks it in his Wrterbuch der Philosophie: Neue Beitrge
zu einer Kritik der Sprache. He would like to give the dominant
role to adjectives. And while his plea has not had any effect to
speak of in contemporary poetry, this fact itself is revealing. His
complaint is that our language makes QUALITIES, which are "the
only psychological reality", into matters of secondary importance
(that is to say: into adjectives), whereas it declares the purely
hypothetical causes and substrata of these qualities to be our
44
Benn, "Notturno", Gesammelte Werke, III, 256.
45
Benn, Gesammelte Werke, I, 511.
48
Ibid., I, 513.
84 THE METHOD OF NEGATION

reality, our matter, our substance: nouns.47 In spite of some


repercussion among the Expressionists (enough to enter Paul
Prtner's documentary volumes), I have not found any poet who
puts this suggestion into practice. If nouns are avoided, they are
not replaced by adjectives but by verbs (Stramm does this, e.g.)
and contiguity words (Heissenbttel; also Gertrude Stein, who in
her anti-noun period tried to use "names which were not nouns,
if possible", but were instead "pronouns, conjunctions and parti-
cipai clauses").48 Mauthner's distinction seems to be in the Lock-
ean tradition of distinguishing between primary and secondary
qualities. He prefers as "psychological reality" the secondary
qualities which certainly are more immediate (color, smell, etc.)
to the primary ones (time, space) which he considers hypothetical.
But, we see, both nouns and adjectives indicate qualities. And
quality is the basis of similarity. Poets who reject the noun do
not turn to adjectives, but to verbs and contiguity words (both of
which indicate relation, contiguity). Hence, Jakobson seems indeed
right about the polarity of similarity and contiguity. People will
tend to stress either selection and atrophy the factors of arrange-
ment and relation (like words with purely grammatical function)
or they will tend to atrophy selection and similarity, the capacity
of naming, in favor of establishing contexts, relations. It is possible
to reject adjectives in favor of nouns for precisely the reason
Mauthner laments: our linguistic codes make the adjective much
more expendable than the noun. But if the poet rejects nouns,
he does not seem likely to turn to another strong substratum of
similarity like the adjective, but to the parts of speech that support
the opposite pole of contiguity and relation: the verb and the
contiguity word.

47
H e is quoted to this effect in Literatur-Revolution 1910-1925, ed. Prt-
ner, I, 178. Cf. also his earlier Beitrge zu einer Kritik der Sprache (Stutt-
gart, Cotta, 1902), III, 94-102.
48
Quoted in Carl Van Vechten, "A Stein Song", Selected Writings of
Gertrude Stein, ed. Carl Van Vechten (New York: Modern Library, 1962),
p. XXII.
THE METHOD OF NEGATION 85
D. EXCLUSION OF METAPHOR

Another pattern of exclusion falls within Jakobson's dichotomy.


Denying metaphor is part of 'similarity disorder', indeed the most
striking part, since similarity is so obviously the basis of metaphor.
It is through Alain Robbe-Grillet's loud veto that the problem
of metaphor has attracted much more attention than the other
patterns of negation. Also, since language grows by metaphors,
avoiding them seems to have a more serious potential for actually
crippling language than the other exclusions.
I have mentioned earlier that Robbe-Grillet objects to the
anthropomorphizing of things. Metaphor is the chief instrument of
that process:

Metaphor is indeed never an innocent figure. T o say that the weather


is 'capricious' or the mountain 'majestic', to speak of the 'heart' of
the forest, of an 'implacable' sun, of a village 'nestled' in the hollow
of the valley, means to some extent, furnishing indications about the
things themselves: form, dimensions, situation, etc. But the choice of
an analogical vocabulary, however simple, does already more than
give an account of pure, physical p r o p e r t i e s . . . Metaphor, which is
taken to express only a comparison without ulterior motive, introduces
in fact a subterranean communication, a movement of sympathy (or
antipathy) which is its true raison d'tre. For, as comparison, it is
nearly always a useless comparison which adds nothing new to the
description. 4 9

Speaking for the novel, Robbe-Grillet is much less revolutionary


than he thinks. As Jakobson notes, the novel has always preferred
metonymy to metaphor.50 But the fact remains that in poetry too
we notice an absence of metaphors. The poets are often enough
reproached for this ("Heissenbiittel's Experiment leuchtet mir
berall dort nicht ein, wo e r . . . die qualitative Beschaffenheit der
Metaphor bewusst unterdrckt", says . . Horst).51 Sometimes

*' Robbe-Grillet, Pour un nouveau roman, p. 59 f.


50
Jakobson, Fundamentals of Language, p. 78 ff.
51
Horst, "Spekulationen ber Helmut Heissenbttels Texte", Merkur, No.
199 (September 1964), p. 886.
86 THE METHOD OF NEGATION

the poets seem slightly unsure themselves: Tadeusz Rzewcz, a


young Polish poet, admits "I do not know whether poetry without
metaphor is possible." Yet in his work he cannot help attacking
"the image - the metaphor - from all sides, in order to eliminate
it as superfluous decoration".52
As in the other cases, there is no such thing as the poem
without metaphor. There is a spectrum from simple poems in
ordinary syntax, like Gnther Eich's "Inventur" and many of
Brecht's short poems, to the texts of Heissenbiittel and Gomringer
or Ian Hamilton Finlay. Often, though the text of the poem
contains no metaphor, the poem as a whole becomes a metaphor.
Eich's 'inventory' involves more than his few material possessions
even though nothing else is mentioned. It involves a taking stock
of oneself. Brecht's poem about changing tires becomes a meta-
phor for man's situation in the world as well as, on a smaller
and more specific scale, of the situation of the expatriate:

DER RADWECHSEL
Ich sitze am Strassenhang.
Der Fahrer wechselt das Rad.
Ich bin nicht gern, wo ich herkomme.
Ich bin nicht gern, wo ich hinfahre.
Warum sehe ich den Radwechsel
Mit Ungeduld?

The poem is still symbolic. It still speaks with "Beziehung auf das
Innere des Bewusstseins".54 Heissenbiittel, as we might expect
after the examples I quoted earlier, tries to stop such going
beyond the text. The most he will allow is skirting the metaphor,
skirting a symbolic relation:

52
Akzente, Vol. XII, No. 2 (April 1965), p. 99.
53
Brecht, Gedichte (Frankfurt, Suhrkamp, 1960-64), VII, 7.
54
Heissenbiittel quotes this phrase by Hegel with obvious disdain in
"Kriterien fr den Begriff des Gedichts im 20. Jahrhundert", Sprache im
technischen Zeitalter, N o . 9 / 1 0 (1964), p. 777.
THE METHOD OF NEGATION 87

geh ich
immer zu
zu
immer geh ich
wieder zu
ich
geh zu
immer wieder
immer zu
geh ich
wieder zu rck 53

In spite of the fact that few words are used and the few constantly
repeated, it is clear that the single word in this text is much less
important than the typographical arrangement. It is the latter
which articulates the poem. It combines the "zu" of "zurck"
with other words so that we find "geh ich zu", "I go on" (or, if
we want to assume an incomplete statement, "I go to") and
"immerzu". The arrangement gives us new phrases which how-
ever do not add any new meanings or even overtones; both
"immerzu" and "ich geh zu" only underline the repetitive and
continuous character of the basic sentence: "immer wieder geh
ich zurck." The repetition of the words in varying order (if we
read line by line) serves the same function. Or, if we read the
text like an orchestral score, it is again the spacing that produces
the wave effect or perhaps contraction-expansion effect which
goes only too well with the words.
There is a temptation not to stop here, with the look at the
pattern and the savoring of the various combinations. There is a
temptation to interpret this "again and again I go back". On the
simplest level it could be a metaphor for a circular or pendulum
movement. Does it perhaps refer to frustration and starting over?
Does it talk about the daily routines we have to go through? Is it
about the difficulty of making a decision or about the relation
between two people? None of these suggestions are convincing. (In
contrast to Char's " L a torche du prodigue" where nearly all the
overtones made some sense and were hard to reject.) Here we are
55 Heissenbiittel, Textbuch 4 (Olten, Walter, 1964), p. 23.
88 THE METHOD OF NEGATION

given too little to go beyond what the words actually say, beyond
the sheer repetitiveness of always going back. It is impossible to
make this text symbolic. Brecht's "I don't like to be where I
come from./ I don't like to be where I am going" allows a quite
precise analogy on the symbolical level, e.g. man between two
kinds of non-existence, before conception and after death. Heis-
senbttel's text only gives a structure. The structure can be applied
to a number of relations, but not by analogy. It is somewhat like
a geometric shape: the shape of a circle can be seen in many
different circles, but one circle is not simply SIMILAR to another:
the shape is IDENTICAL. Thus the structure of "always going back"
is identical in the examples of interpretation I attempted. In the
two Brecht lines, the structure of being between two states is also
identical on the literal and the symbolic level, but it is qualified
enough not to fit just ANY "in between". Heissenbttel's poem,
like the ones discussed earlier, seems to move right on the border-
line of 'significance'. It seems to demand a symbolic interpretation
and yet refuses it. It attracts our attention to that which it does
NOT do. It does not allow us to overlook the refusal of going
beyond the structure, of metaphoric transference, of similarity.

E. REDUCTION IN SCOPE

It is not that any one of these patterns of rejection matters very


much. But as a collective phenomenon they do. Unlike most of
the restrictions that neoclassical taste imposed, these are much
more against purely linguistic categories. Of older exclusion
patterns, lipogrammatism, the exclusion of a letter, seems to
correspond most closely. But lipogrammatic poems (like Nestor
of Laranda's Iliad in which each book omits one particular letter)54
always seem mainly playful virtuoso pieces, whereas the rejection
of nouns, verbs, metaphors always seem to imply (if the poets do
not state it explicitly) a critique of language and its use. It is of
!
Cf. E. R. Curtius, Europische Literatur und Lateinisches Mittelalter
(Bern, Francke, 1954), p. 286.
THE METHOD OF NEGATION 89
course true, as Ernst Robert Curtius says, that for the oldest
examples of the lipogrammatic mannerism (as he calls it), we
simply do not have any materials that might explain the author's
motivation.57 Looking at a modern example, Josef Weinheber's
poem "Ohne e",58 it is clear that he thought of overcoming, at
least in this instance, the acoustic weakening that German under-
went in dropping the full-sounding endings of Old High German
and Middle High German. Yet even there, the impression of
virtuosity predominates, especially since Weinheber did not try
to make this into a METHOD (which, admittedly, would be impos-
sible, but so seems writing without nouns).
There is one more pattern which goes beyond single parts of
speech and beyond the similarity-contiguity dichotomy. In these
poems, the scope is limited. They work with a very small number
of words, or any combination, but they will be few. We get the
feeling that it is difficult to say anything. That you have to handle
each word carefully, that you have to test its relation to a second
word before adding more. Heissenbttel's poem using the words
"immer wieder geh ich zurck" is an example. Or most of Eugen
Gomringer's poems, e.g.
sticht
spannt sich
sticht
lst sich
sticht
zuckt
sticht durch 5 9

In so far as there is attention to the single word, the effect is


similar to anti-contiguity. Even the method of attracting attention
to the word sticht, namely repetition, fits. On the other hand, the
fact that the subject of the verb is missing in each case, points to
anti-similarity. So does the fact that such a poem may consist

Ibid.
58
Weinheber, Smtliche Werke, ed. Josef Nadler (Salzburg, Otto Mller,
1954), II, 425.
59
Gomringer, 33 konstellationen, no pagination.
90 THE METHOD OF NEGATION

mostly of contiguity words. And what the poem gives is not a


'being', but, as in the example by Heissenbiittel, the structure of
an action: in this case the structure of penetration. Some object,
a needle for instance, is pricking some material whose surface
becomes tense, relaxes, twitches and thus lets the needle go
through. The arrangement of the words, while it isolates one or
two words as line units, helps stress the relation of the two sides.
The first six lines underline the surface contact by aligning the
last letters of the left side with the first of the words on the right.
And the last line pictures the penetration, as it were, since the
"durch" belongs with "sticht", but goes over the established line
of contact onto the right side. Thus we have isolation (as in anti-
contiguity), but it is isolation of a relation. In Heissenbttel's
example (see above, page 87), the aspect of relation is stressed
by making the contiguity of the words used variable. If we read
the poem in the manner of an orchestral score, the sequence of
words is "immer wieder geh ich zurck". But if we read in lines,
the sequence varies: "geh ich/ immer zu/ zu/ immer geh ich/
wieder zu/ ich/ geh zu" etc. This play with variable combination
of a limited number of words has been used systematically by
Gomringer and his "konkrete poesie" group. I shall come back to
it in the next chapter.
The reduction in scope is equally noticeable in contemporary
novels and plays. There it usually takes the form of thinning what
is popularly called the content, rather than reducing the number
of words. The unit is not a word, but a situation or an action.
Thus, in Jean Genet's play Les bonnes, one single action is repeat-
ed ritually throughout the play. And in the novels of Beckett,
Natalie Sarraute, and Peter Weiss, for example, less and less
'happens'. But whatever little happens is told with great precision,
and often with a great number of words. There are two basic
possibilities of reduction, if you doubt the adequacy of language.90
There is Mallarm's way towards silence. This is largely poetry's
way of limiting the kinds and the number of words till you reach
the center of silence which Gomringer tries to articulate by the
60
The distinction is that of James C. O'Neill; oral tradition.
THE METHOD OF NEGATION 91

blank space in the middle of one word, "to be silent" (or


"silence"):

schweigen schweigen schweigen


schweigen schweigen schweigen
schweigen schweigen
schweigen schweigen schweigen
schweigen schweigen schweigen 61
And there is Proust's way to such a host of words that what he
wants to say simply has to be conveyed among them because you
approach it from all sides, envelop, engulf it as it were. This
explains why even poems with obviously long breath and no
shortage of words often complain of words or signs, and praise
silence. Saint-John Perse for example, extolls the sea for its ability
to efface all signs and traces of signs, for its silence:

Face lave d'oubli dans l'effacement des signes, pierre affranchie pour
nous de son relief et de son grain? - et de plus haut encore et de
plus loin, la Mer plus haute et plus lointaine . . . inallusive et pure de
tout chiffre, la tendre page lumineuse contre la nuit sans tain des
choses?...62

el Gomringer, 33 konstellationen, no pagination.


82 Amers (Paris, Gallimard, 1957), p. 28. The ellipses are those of Saint-
John Perse.

THE METHOD OF BORROWING

A. BORROWING FROM ART A N D MUSIC

Language is a system of symbols. If you are dissatisfied with it


as a medium, what seems more natural than to squint at other
symbolic systems and borrow from them? This is an old story as
far as music and art are concerned. Therefore, I think very few
remarks on them will be sufficient before going on to a more
detailed examination of borrowings from autism and mathema-
tics.
Common to the recent borrowing from all four systems is that
it is mainly used for arrangement. This is natural for mathematics
(being pure relation) and autism (since it is above all by arrange-
ment that the language of, e.g., a daydream differs from con-
sciously used language). But it is not so natural with art or music.
When older poets used visual shapes (being less strict than
Lessing, I do not consider description as a borrowing from art)
they mostly used them to ILLUSTRATE a poem that would still be a
poem without it. One of the most famous is George Herbert's
"Easter Wings". Many of Apollinaire's "Calligrammes" are still
like this - although he makes, besides, a strong point against
having the letters stay on a horizontal line. Even in poems like
"Il pleut",1 the rain pattern is formed by letters which state the
theme of the poem or something similar, and again the poem
does not entirely depend on the visual pattern.
On the contrary, most shape poems of the twentieth century
1
uvres potiques, p. 203.
THE METHOD OF BORROWING 93
use the shape to articulate the words. It may be simply a rhyth-
mical articulation, where typography assumes the function of a
"new punctuation", as Pierre Reverdy called it.2 The following is
a short example from Reverdy. Compare the last lines of "Au
large" in this arrangement:
(1) Plus rien que la fume
au passage du fond
les dernires lueurs
le coeur
Et l'motion
with the original:
(2) Plus rien que la fume
au passage du fond
les dernires lueurs
le coeur
Et l'motion 3
There is a marked difference between the two ways of spacing.
1 see two functions. The first is punctuation. In (1), it is ambiguous
whether line 2 is to be read with line 1 or line 3. In the original,
we cannot help taking the first two and the last three lines as
belonging together. The second function is rhythmical (which in
this example is very closely allied to the function of punctuation,
but goes beyond it). In reading the first arrangement, pauses be-
tween the third and fourth lines and the fourth and fifth lines
would be more or less even, except that the capital letter in "Et"
would tend to make you separate the last line somewhat more
from the rest. In the original, on the contrary, the pause after
"les dernires lueurs" will be (or seem) much longer than between
"le coeur" and "Et l'motion" thus grouping these last two against
the "lueurs". (The sequence will however not be as rapid as if
"le coeur Et l'motion" were one line which in turn would still
be a shade more separated than the same line without the capital
E). This effect could be approximated by conventional punctua-

2
Rousselot and Manoll, Pierre Reverdy, p. 126.
3
Ibid., p. 138.
94 THE METHOD OF BORROWING

tion, let us say a colon after "lueurs" and perhaps a dash after
"coeur" - although the colon would immediately stress a logical
relationship that is not there as the poem stands and that would
tend to rob "lueurs" of at least some of their physical presence
by making them metaphors for "heart" and "emotion". Punctua-
tion could even less produce the sense of movement that the dia-
gonal of line beginnings immediately gives us (and which perhaps
saves "Et l'motion" from being altogether heavy and sentimental
as it seems in (l). 4
It is Arno Holz who has most consistently used typographical
arrangement to articulate rhythm. He decided on the line as
rhythmical unit for his mammoth poem Phantasus, and at the
same time believed in a "necessary rhythm". Hence much of his
revising consisted in changing the Une arrangement of word se-
quences which themselves seemed absolutely right to him. The
perfect line arrangement would be the one which best "projects
their [the words'] inner melody" onto the page.5 This is an idea
Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, . E. Cummings, Charles
Olson, and Robert Duncan have accepted wholeheartedly. Charles
Olson specifies in his essay "Projective Verse":
It is the advantage of the typewriter that, due to its rigidity and its
space precisions, it can, for a poet, indicate exactly the breath, the
pauses, the suspension even of syllables, the juxtapositions even of
parts of phrases, which he intends. For the first time the poet has
the stave and the bar a musician has had . . . If a contemporary poet
leaves a space as long as the phrases before it, he means that space
to be held, by the breath, an equal length of time. If he suspends a
word or syllable at the end of a line . . . he means that time to pass
that it takes the eye - the hair of time suspended - to pick up the
next line. 6

4
On the related question: can typographical arrangement make prose into
poetry, cf. the exchange of letters on Hugh McDiarmid's "Perfect" in The
Times Literary Supplement, 1-21-1965 to 2-18-65, especially the letters of
Edwin Morgan (1-28-1965, p. 67) and W. A. S. Keir (2-4-1965, p. 87).
5
Arno Holz, "Evolution der Lyrik", Werke, ed. Wilhelm Emrich and
Anita Holz (Neuwied, Luchterhand, 1961-64), V, 93.
6
Charles Olson, Selected Writings (New York, New Directions, 1966),
p. 22/23.
THE METHOD OF BORROWING 95
The other possibility of articulating a poem by space is that it
gets away from the strictly linear sequence and thus allows various
combinations of the given words and also moves towards a simul-
taneous effect. Mallarm's Un coup de ds seems the first work to
exploit systematically the multiple combination. It is true that
Henri Mondor and G. Jean-Aubry claim that the poem is to be
read on the right and left side of the page at the same time, simply
descending.7 They obviously derive this from Mallarm's remark
about the poem: "le vaisseau y donne de la bande, du haut d'une
page au bas de l'autre."8 But there are several facts that speak
against this view. For one, Mallarm (who speaks about the poem
mainly in musical terms) notes that the place "in the middle, on top,
or at the bottom of the page indicates the rising or descending of
the intonation".9 It seems to me odd that Mallarm should mention
RISING intonation, if all he had in mind was DESCENDING. Accord-
ing to Mondor and Jean-Aubry, Mallarm simply wanted a wide
page - which he surely would have suggested. But, and this is
more important, there are suggestions for various combination in
the text itself. The words of the main motif "UN COUP DE DS
JAMAIS N'ABOLIRA LE HASARD" are, after all, scattered
through the text. It is only the typography that makes you isolate
them from the rest of the text with the sanction of the title - as
one possibility. Moreover, there are pages that descend in a more
or less steady diagonal from the left top corner to the right bottom
corner and can indeed be read only in one sequence - which by
itself would not mean anything, but in combination with the
other arguments seems to me to speak for a plotting of more linear
sections against pages like the one on the following page.

7
Mallarm, uvres compltes, p. 456, editor's note.
8
Letter to Andr Gide, quoted by Valry, uvres, I, 627.
uvres compltes, p. 455.
96 THE METHOD OF BORROWING

I
I

v
<fc>

w
Mallarm, uvres compltes, pp. 466-7.
THE METHOD OF BORROWING 97
It is certainly possible to read line by line horizontally. And this
is undoubtedly the primary sequence intended. It is also possible
to read down the left page and then down the right, which gives us
a different grouping, also intended, I think at least as overtones:
The "insinuation au silence" is no longer "enroule avec ironie",
but takes place "dans quelque proche voltige" (the ship's flying
or vaulting, being a plaything of the waves, the "Hasard", the
flight of thought, the throw of the dice); and it is this voltige which
is "enroule avec ironie" (the irony is now directed more against
the artifice, the mastery, the seemingly effortless effort than against
the "insinuation au silence" with its implications of death and the
absolute); the "mystery" is no longer hurled into a "whirlpool of
mirth and horror", but becomes this whirlpool through apposition,
etc. What is the point? It is that every word becomes connected
with nearly every other word on the page by either contiguity or
grammar. And the point of that? It powerfully supports the
"simultaneous vision of the Page" 11 which Mallarm explicitly
wanted to create through the typography. I think that the com-
plexity of the poem and the typography makes you dwell on the
single page long enough to allow even a testing out of partial
readings that the typography suggests, like: "Une insinuation /
au silence / dans quelque proche tourbillon d'hilarit et d'hor-
reur / voltige autour du gouffre . . ."
Beyond this spatial rather than linear arrangement for the
purpose of multiple combination, and beyond rhythmical consi-
derations, there are instances where space itself begins to speak,
as it were. This happens with the blank space in the center of
Gomringer's "schweigen" which I quoted on page 91. This also
happens in such concrete poems as Emmet Williams' (see page
98).
As he has commented, "The particular poem says what it does,
and does what it says." 12 It is clear that the words without the
spatial arrangement would be nothing. However, this poem could
11
Ibid., p. 455.
12
Emmet Williams, Anthology of Concrete Poetry (New York, Something
Else Press, 1967), n.p.
98 THE METHOD OF BORROWING

like attracts like


like attracts like
like attracts like
like attracts like
like attracts like
like attracts like
like attracts like
likeattractslike
likattractiike
litracke
ltraifce
itrits

still be classed with calligrammes. The graphic articulation is


basically illustration. This cannot be said of most of Ernst Jandl's
poems which frequently direct our attention to properties of the
words themselves. For instance, "stunden":
st
und
en
und
st
und
en
und
st
und
en
und
st
und
en 1S
It is the arrangement that shows us the "und" in "stunden" and
thereby points out how much the repetition, or rather duration of
hour after hour, is contained in the word itself. A yet more strictly
linguistic comment is the following amusing graphic genesis of the
German :

15
Ernst Jandl, sprechblasen (Neuwied, Luchterhand, 1968), p. 20.
THE METHOD OF BORROWING 99
e
ee
eee
oooooooooooooooo
ooooooooooooooo
OOOOOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOO
OOOOOOO
eooooooo
eeooooooo
14
eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

However, as I mentioned before, concrete poetry has quickly


moved to the point where the letters are mere shapes, mere graphic
elements - where we no longer have literature.
Mallarm thought of the typography as articulating the sound
structure of the poem {e.g. boldface for loudness, - an idea for
which Marinetti has become famous). But even though there are
still attempts to make poetry into pure sound (I have talked about
Isidore Isou already), musical devices are mostly used structurally
too. When we think of music and nineteenth century poetry, it is
"singing" lines or onomatopoetic poems like, for instance, Poe's
"Bells" that come to mind immediately, the kind of "Musicality"
that Birkhoff tried to measure mathematically.15 Whereas, in the
twentieth century, we think of Pound's structure of recurrent
themes in the Cantos. Or perhaps we remember Thomas Mann's
analogy to musical augmentation and diminution, when for in-
stance, the uncle's visit in Der Zauberberg repeats the pattern of
Hans Castorp's but in much less time. However,we approach here
the mathematical side of music - even though relations will not be

14
Ibid., p. 95.
15
Cf. George David Birkhoff, "A Mathematical Theory of Aesthetics",
Collected Mathematical Papers (New York, American Mathematical Soci-
ety, 1950), pp. 382-535.
100 THE METHOD OF BORROWING

exact numerically. Moreover, it is really the mathematical side of


literature too, or, actually, of all art.
Literature is not the only borrower. Since the Cubists, painters
have taken a great liking to the letter as form element. Klee has
paintings wholly made up of letters. Besides, his titles are usually
very integral parts of the drawing or painting. Schoenberg relates
that he "discovered how to construct larger forms by following
a text or a poem". 16 This could be continued ad infinitum. In fact,
there is a whole new literary form of music, the so-called "in-
struction music". For example, the first of the Maneuvers for
Small Hands by Robert Ashley (which, after the other four, is to
be played backwards) reads: 17

L.I.F.T.K.E.Y.B.O.A.R.D.L.I.D.E.M.P.T.Y.T.H.E.M.I.N.D.
42"

L.I.F.T.K.E.Y.B.O.A.R.D.L.I.D.E.M.P.T.Y.T.H.E.M.I.N.D.
42"

Even if we only consider the part that could be perceived in a


performance ("lift keyboard lid"): only in its literary form is this
action isolated enough from other possible actions (sit down on
piano stool) to be perceived as part of the composition.
Do not these last examples make it doubtful that poetry's
borrowing visual and musical devices has anything to do with
dissatisfaction with language? Is there not simply a general
confusion of media? But such confusions do not exist without
cause. And rather than denying the dissatisfaction, these examples
seem to show that the restlessness within the traditional bounds
of the medium is general for all the arts. Indeed it seems natural
that the great medium-consciousness of twentieth century art
would result in testing the boundaries and possibilities of neigh-
boring fields. And, after all, sound and visual shape (at least
since the invention of printing) compose the physical stratum of
the poem and so cannot be said to be anything alien to it.
There are always people who react with utter horror to these
16 Arnold Schoenberg, Style and Idea (New York, Philosophical Library,
1950), p. 106.
17 In Generation (Spring, 1961), p. 55.
THE METHOD OF BORROWING 101
experiments (although they rarely have anything against establish-
ed mixed genres like the theater). And no doubt, many (perhaps
most) of the attempts will prove sterile. But there is no pre-
scribing. Besides, critics (who are, after all, notoriously behind
in regard to changes in their subject matter) have turned to exam-
ining and revising notions of genre.18 This seems likely evidence
that we are in process of developing new ones.

B. BORROWING FROM AUTISM

As poetry has an acoustic as well as a visual component, so it


has a mathematical and an autistic one. I am using Bleuler's term
"autism" as the shortest way of referring to all the forms of what
Jung, Piaget, etc. call "undirected thought": dream, daydream,
verbal manifestation of mental illness, etc. I am perhaps stretching
the concept of the symbolic system a little by applying it to autism,
since this kind of thought uses symbols that are not exclusively
its own (words, images). On the other hand its 'grammar' of
combining these symbols certainly is its own. And so is the mean-
ing they assume. There might be another objection: Myth, magic,
many mental illnesses, all are often characterized as presymbolic,
treating symbols not as such but as the things themselves.19 But
without going into the problems of ascertaining this, e.g. for myth,
and even without trying to determine how far myth and magic are
part of autism, I think this is irrelevant. A painter's protest that
his picture is a thing rather than a symbol will not make us stop
considering art as a symbolic process.
The view that the preconscious system is the essential agent of

18
I am thinking of 'modal' criticism, e.g. Northrop Frye's Anatomy of
Criticism; Angus Fletcher's Allegory: The Theory of a Symbolic Mode
(Ithaca, N.Y., Cornell University Press, 1964); Empson's Some Versions of
Pastoral (London, Chatto & Windus, 1935); etc.
19
Cf. Ernst Cassirer, Die Philosophie der symbolischen Formen, II, 51,
and Jean Piaget, The Child's Conception of the World, trans. Joan and
Andrew Tomlinson (Paterson, N.J., Littlefield, Adams & Company, 1960),
p. 161.
102 THE METHOD OF BORROWING

creativity20 has become a commonplace in the twentieth century.


However, when the Surrealists turned this theoretical commonplace
into a method and tried to borrow from the autistic systems
directly, their attempt was widely dismissed. It is of course true
that borrowing from autism is infinitely more problematic than
borrowing from art or music. For one, we know so much less
about autism. (Or more precisely: we know less about its workings
than about the analysable techniques of art - we know just as
much about autism as we know about the basic process of
creation). Secondly, can one know the autistic processes? Is auto-
matic writing an investigation of them, or does the fact of writing
things down require enough conscious attention to make undirec-
ted thought impossible? Is the so-called automatic writing of the
Surrealists then simply an imitation of what they have studied in
clinical reports?
Marcel Raymond, for instance, assumes the latter. He speaks
of the sophisticated artifice of the Surrealists and rejects the
possibility that automatic writing might have anything to do with
autism.21 Raymond's dismissal is hard to answer. In fact, it is
impossible to determine how much of automatic writing is con-
scious imitation of autistic thought and how much is direct mani-
festation of the unconscious. We know too little about the con-
ditions under which threshold percepts rise into awareness, except
that it happens in dreams and sometimes at the beginning of ill-
ness.22 Breton's method (writing as rapidly as possible while
staying mentally passive and not paying attention) corresponds
quite closely to psychologists' recording of daydreams as de-
scribed byVarendonck and Tauber23 and seems therefore as close
to the autistic process as we are likely to come. Breton himself
is rather cautious: "The first sentence will come all of itself . . . It
10
Lawrence S. Kubie, Neurotic Distortion of the Creative Process (Law-
rence, University of Kansas Press, 1958), passim.
81
Marcel Raymond, De Baudelaire au Surralisme (Paris, Jos Corti,
1952), pp. 287-9.
" Cf. Edward S. Tauber and Maurice R. Green, Prelogicai Experience
(New York, Basic Books, 1959), p. 107.
Ibid., p. 47, note 7; p. 48 f.
THE METHOD OF BORROWING 103

is rather difficult to decide the case of the next; it is doubtless part


of both our conscious activity and the other."24 This caution is
justified. The writing down or even saying aloud presupposes a
certain amount of attention which is likely to influence the se-
quence. But then, Breton nowhere proposes relinquishing con-
sciousness for good. Instead he tries to become "conscious of hith-
erto unsuspected resources in us",25 lift them up into the light, as it
were. Alqui is probably quite right in interpreting allegorically
the fact that, in Nadja, Breton cannot love Nadja but remains an
observer, whereas Nadja is in love with Breton; i.e. the precon-
scious and illogical is in love with consciousness whereas con-
sciousness observes the former without actually loving it.26
At any rate, automatic writing comes probably as close to
recording the autistic flow as possible. Raymond's own observation
that automatic writing tends towards prose27 speaks for this. The
formal requirements of verse, even just a rhythm, demand selec-
tion and, with that, some attention, whereas the syntactical
patterns required by prose are quite automatic in all of us. Bre-
ton's preference for rather long lines in his poems may also be
connected with the automatic experiments, even when the poem
is not written in that manner. (Also, in spite of their being auto-
matic, using French syntax patterns as Breton does, means accept-
ing whatever logic is implicit in language).
Even if we accept that automatic writing comes reasonably
close to autistic processes, and even if we decide that it is in the
end irrelevant whether the borrowing is done by approximating
the autistic state of mind or by deliberate imitation or a mixture
of both - there is still the question: what can literature borrow
from autism? What are the "unsuspected resources"? Breton him-
self admits that dream does not bring "knowledge of another or
24
Breton, Les manifestes du Surralisme, p. 51.
25
Breton and Eluard, L'Immacule conception (Paris, Seghers, 1961),
pp. 24-5.
2
Alqui, La philosophie du Surralisme, p. 148. Alqui does not pro-
nounce this as a general truth, but only applying to the specific case of
Breton.
27
Raymond, De Baudelaire au Surralisme, p. 301.
104 THE METHOD OF BORROWING

new reality",28 which Alfred Liede, for instance, has taken to mean
that dream is not a door to any knowledge (as it was for the
German Romantics), it is "just the place where the leftovers of
a destroyed world are heaped up".29
Liede makes really two claims. One is that dream provides no
new knowledge, i.e., no new material for poetry since it does not
bring a new reality. (I am disregarding his assumption that dream
does bring a new reality if you, as the German Romantics, think it
does.) Breton's full statement is, however, that "dreams takes all
its element's from reality and does not imply the knowledge of
another or new reality". I have emphasized 'elements' because
this is the word which Liede apparently overlooks and which
makes clear that Liede is saying something analogous to: "This
writer does not provide any new knowledge because he uses only
words we already know." Liede overlooks the factor of arrange-
ment which is exactly the point where dream differs from thought
even when it uses the same elements. Ferdinand Alqui observed
in relation to Surrealist games that if you eliminate the logical
sense, the mind, changing its attitude, will discover others.30 No
new material, it is true, but new arrangements, new perspectives,
and therefore certainly new knowledge. Besides, it may be that
even this is too modest a claim. Charles Fisher seems to corro-
borate the 'nothing new' view when he reports on his experiments
with subthreshold visual perception and its role in dreams: "It is
entirely possible that the dream work cannot compose a new
visual structure any more than it can a new speech."31 Yet at the
same time he stresses that subthreshold perception is not normally
available to awareness - which puts the cognitive nature of the
surrealist experiment beyond doubt. It is still not another reality
that is made available, but it is parts of this reality that had not
come into awareness.
Liede's second claim is rather widely shared: dream is chaos,
28
Andr Breton, Les Vases communicants, p. 156.
29
Alfred Liede, Dichtung als Spiel, I, 126 f.
30
Ferdinand Alqui, Philosophie du surralisme, p. 138.
91
Tauber and Green, Prelogical Experience, pp. 83-4.
THE METHOD OF BORROWING 105
"the leftovers of a destroyed world". This is the issue most rele-
vant to my argument. For, if dream is chaos, poetry's borrowing
from it would indeed be without value, especially since I have
claimed that the borrowing is used for arrangement. But is it
chaos? Or is it a system with a principle of organization that
poetry can indeed borrow? Considering the incoherence of the
texts, the absence of a focus of thought and a hierarchy of rele-
vance in relation to the focus, autism seems indeed chaotic.32
From the point of view of logic it certainly is. Liepmann tells us
that association progresses by similarity or contiguity.33 But this
is too general a law to be of any help.
Let us look at one of the obvious dream devices the Surreal-
ists use: metamorphosis. Changes like:
Les meubles font alors place des animaux de mme
taille qui me regardent fraternellement
Lions dans les crinires desquels achvent de
se consumer les chaises 34
or even:
Ma femme au ventre de dpliement d'ventail des jours
Au ventre de griffe gante 35
may well remind us of dreams where anything may change into
anything else. We may for a moment feel like a Winnebago Indian
for whom
No organic objects had any permanent form originally. They were all
a sort of tertium quid, neutral beings, that could at will transform
themselves into human beings or spirit-animals. 36
The impression of chaos will be the greater the more frontiers of
concepts and categories are crossed. Lautramont's "Le Tout-
Puissant, chang en rhinocros" is much more shocking in this

32
Cf. H. Liepmann, ber Ideenflucht (Halle, Carl Marhold, 1904), p. 84.
33
Ibid., p. 20.
34
Breton, Pomes, p. 103.
35 Ibid., p. 66.
38
Paul Radin, Primitive Man as Philosopher (New York, Dover, 1957),
p. 250.
106 THE METHOD OF BORROWING

way than his fishtail with albatross wings.37 If we look back at


Breton's lines, we will find there is a similarity between the image
of the unfolding fan and that of the gigantic claw in spite of the
fact that they are such different objects and have such different
emotional connotations. The similarity is between the shapes of
a fan and a claw (and, less close, that of a woman's belly broad-
ening from a slim waist). The pieces of furniture and the animals
they turn into are the same size; and in bare outline we might see
a resemblance in the slope of a lion's mane and a chair with its
back at a slight angle (not to say anything of the four legs they
have in common which would be enough to let the chairs FUNC-
TION as lions for any child). Again, fishtail and wings have similar
shapes. (So it may actually be part of the shock of the line "God
turned rhinoceros" that it makes us expect a SHAPE of God, and
one that already resembles a rhinoceros.) That it is a similarity
of shape will not surprise us if we think of Freud's dream symbols
which always share the OUTWARD FORM with the object signified,
and usually nothing but the form. The church steeple, is not of the
same material as the phallus, nor constructed like it, nor associated
with the same things. The similarity is purely that of shape, as that
between "fan" and "claw".
In contrast to metamorphosis which is generally recognized as
a dream device (whether spontaneous or consciously imitated) the
abundance of verbal play in surrealist texts is often used as the
chief proof for the thesis that surrealist writing is very conscious
artifice - partly because it resembles the witty playfulness of
Baroque poets who were known to construct their poems very
carefully. Puns are indeed abundant. Two collections of Robert
Desnos, supposedly written automatically, consist practically en-
tirely of puns from the title on: "Rrose Slavy, where we find,
for example:
Rrose Slavy demande si les Fleurs du Mal ont modifi les moeurs
du phalle: qu'en pense Omphale? 38

37
Lautramont, uvres compltes (Paris, Corti, 1953), p. 354.
38
Robert Desnos, Domaine publique, p. 39.
THE METHOD OF BORROWING 107
Is this not much too appropriate and clever to come from the
unconscious? And what about the literary allusion (one of the
things that bother Raymond)? In the second collection, L'Aumo-
nyme, even the pronounciation of figures, letters, and solfge is
used: "des ponts NMI", " toute 8-S", "trop f ^ pour
boire".39 Marcel Jean sees puns even at the conception of a
number of Surrealist paintings, for instance of Dali's "montres
molles" in "The Persistence of Memory". He noticed that their
shape resembles a tongue which one "montre molle" to the doctor.
As another possibility he considers the English "watch your
tongue".40
While this may sound like conscious cleverness, Jean Piaget
found in his experiments with children that puns and any kind
of verbal resemblance are the most natural connections for autis-
tic and syncretistic thought to make.41 This seizing on an external
similarity of sound regardless of the meaning of the words is the
same principle that connects the church steeple with the phallus.
It also goes with the kind of punning literalness that a dream
may use on a figurative expression. Tauber quotes a man dream-
ing that he is swimming in the sea, having a hard time against the
waves, and finally thrown against a rock. It turns out that he had
been advised, the day before, 'not to swim against the tide' in
his business venture.42 Does Marcel Jean's theory of the "Montres
molles" still seem so far fetched?
If the seizing on formal, external similarity without regard to
meaning is an autistic activity then this is indeed one of the links
between poetry (and for that matter, all art) and autism. At least
it is a considerably more concrete link than speaking of inspira-
tion, or of creativity being rooted in the preconscious. The il-
logical nature of grouping words by formal similarity has been
readily conceded from the side of the logicians. J. Edeline, in an
article on the "logical aspects of puns in poetry", sees verbal anal-
38
Ibid., pp. 69, 70.
40
Marcel Jean, Histoire de la peinture surraliste, p. 218.
41
Piaget, The Language and Thought of the Child, trans. Marjorie Gabain
(New York, Meridian, 1955), p. 167.
42
Tauber and Green, Prelogicai Experience (New York), p. 43, note 2.
108 THE METHOD OF BORROWING

ogy imply an (in reality non-existent) analogy among the referents.


The relation sign-referent (xl - x2 and yl - y2) is parallel in the
two cases, namely arbitrary assigning of word to thing, and the
four terms seem thus in the relation of the "figure de la simili-
tude classique".43
level of referents: patients patience
Xl yi
X2 y2
level of words: "patients' 'patience'

In other words, since the relation xl - x2 and yl - y2 is parallel,


and since there is a relation of similarity between the two words
x2 and y2, this similarity is also assumed to exist between the
referents xl and yl - which is not true.
After having rejected the possibility that the poet is deliberately
lying, trying to falsify our notions of reality, Edeline is left (some-
what horrified, it seems) with the insight that the poet who puns
thinks with "models which do not function",44 which refuse to be
checked against reality, which are purely imaginary. Does this
not sound like the very definition of autistic thought? And Edeline
himself extends the case beyond puns to any verbal similarity like
rhyme, rhythm, in short, anything the poet is likely to use.
At any rate, the "tangents that words have on each other"
according to the Surrealist Manifesto and that become obvious in
automatic writing45 have turned out to be formal resemblances.
If the similarity gets as strong as to be partial identity Breton lets
words identify "par les bords":46
D a n s la langue totmigue Mattatoucantharide
Mattalismancenillier 4 7

Marcel Jean sees in these lines from a poem dedicated to the


43
J. Edeline, "Aspects logiques du jeu de mots potique", Dialctica, Vol.
XVII, N o . 4 (1963), pp. 297-306, p. 300.
44
Ibid., p. 302.
45
Breton, Les Manifestes du Surralisme, p. 37.
4,1
The phrase is Marcel Jean's, Histoire de la peinture surraliste, p. 124.
47
"Mot mante", Catalogue de l'exposition Matta (Paris, 1946), quoted
by Marcel Jean, p. 124.
THE METHOD OF BORROWING 109
painter Matta the words Matta, tatou, toucan, cantharide and
Matta, talisman, mancenillier superimposed in the manner of pic-
tures on a totem pole.48 Be that as it may, this process of words
melting together into a flow without separations fits Breton's
theory so admirably that it is very strange he did not use it much
more frequently. (In this as in some other points, Breton's theory
is best exemplified technically in Finnegans Wake where there
are words like "upturnpikepointandplace" 49 on every page.) This
example nevertheless has in common with Breton's more common
usage of formal similarity that the similarity or the pun is not the
main point (as it is with Desnos) but that it is used as a connecting
principle. Let us consider a few lines from Les Champs magn-
tiques (which was written automatically and is therefore a purer
example than most of Breton's later works).
Je n'avance plus qu'avec prcautions dans des endroits marcageux,
et je regarde les bouts ariens se souder au moment des ciels. J'avale
ma propre fume qui ressemble tant la chimre d'autrui. L'avarice
est un beau pch recouvert d'algues et d'incrustations soleilleuses. A
l'audace prs, nous sommes les mmes et je ne me vois pas trs
grand. 50
The disconnectedness and seeming arbitrariness begins with "et
je regarde les bouts ariens . . ." It seems to me that a natural
mtonymie follow-up to advancing through swamps might be: I
look at the mud ("la boue"). But here we turn on a pun ("boue-
bout") to "end" which together with swamp brings up fear of
suffocation (we are already prepared for fear by "prcautions":
perhaps there is also a faint overtone of "tre au bout") so that
we get "bouts ariens", bits (ends) of air. These bits of air, how-
ever, "weld themselves" which is very likely suggested by the
similarity of "arien" and "airain". They are welded to the "mo-
ment" which is certainly the now of being alive, and also a "mo-
ment des ciels". The plural "ciels" rather than "cieux" gives this

48
Ibid.
49
James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (New York, Viking, 1939), p. 3.
50
Andr Breton and Philippe Soupault, Les Champs magntiques (Paris,
Au Sans Pareil, 1920), pp. 25-6.
110 THE METHOD OF BORROWING

sky again a strong meaning of 'air' (and definitely rules out


'heaven'). "J'avale" connects with the preceding either by a trans-
ference: I swallow instead of the swamp swallowing me, or by
sound similarity with the beginning of the first sentence (or, most
likely, both). In fact, the first three or four sentences begin with
words closely connected in sound: "Je n'avance" - "j'avale" -
"l'avarice" - "l'audace". After that, this pattern is broken but close
similarities keep occurring ("Faut-il"-"htel", "chasses"-"places",
"oeil ouvert"-"quai aux Fleurs"). "Fume" neighbors both air
and welding as well as anger and vanity (the latter via clichs like
"la fume de l'ambition" or "il s'enivre de fume"). And this van-
ity very likely indeed "resembles the illusion of other people".
Moreover, this illusion is a chimaera, i.e. it breathes fire and so has
another link with smoke and welding. There is an air of sadness
and humiliation over this sentence which may partly also result
from the association of "avaler une insulte", pocketing an insult.
I have already claimed that "j'avale" brought "l'avarice" with it
through similarity of sound. There is an added similarity on the
metaphorical level: swallowing as greed, in contrast to letting go.
That avarice is a "pch recouvert", a sin covered up, a hidden
sin would make sense enough. But "recouvert d'algues" I can only
associate with the rest through a pun between "pch" and
"pche" (or "pcher" and "pcher") which leads us from sin to
fishing, to water (the swamp again?) and thus makes "algae"
possible. "Incrustations" works with both sides of the pun: we
can think of incrusted, hardened sin. Or, the "crust" might call up
crustaceans which would go with algae. There is a possibility that
these incrustations are "sunny" via the kind of starfish called
"soleil marin" which though not a crustacean has an exoskeleton
that might qualify for "crust" (unless "soleilleuses" was simply
brought about by "beau"); besides, it might by virtue of its radial
symmetry be the link to the "rosaces" and "mange" that follow
after the end of my quotation.
The importance of sheer verbal resemblance for the composi-
tion is clear. Yet the verbal resemblance is compounded by simila-
rities on the level of images (e.g., the transference of swallowing)
THE METHOD OF BORROWING 111

or metaphor, which is what gives it the rather rich texture I found


in trying to trace the thread of combination. Rich, considering
that I did not even try to develop more conceptual associations
like "fume" and "air" through which "j'avale ma fume" can
bring up the yoga practice of retaining breath, i.e., soul, which
gives "avarice" and "illusion" another dimension and brings
everything into a life-death pattern.
There is still another link of all these words - a common emo-
tional tone that produces even on first reading a certain unity
behind the disconnectedness. An atmosphere of restriction, of
being closed in, accumulates through the words precaution, swamp,
swallowing, avarice, covered, incrustation, the lack of daring, not
being very tall. (The continuation of the text will mix a more
assertive, even aggressive strain in, which "soleilleuses" and "au-
dace", even though negated, may prepare). This seems a standard
literary procedure - except that normally such an atmosphere
would be used either to reinforce what the text says or to under-
cut it. It would rarely be used instead of logical connection or of
structure and where it is, as it seems to be here, it would testify
to the close connection of poetry and autism as do puns, rhymes,
etc. So, perhaps I should add similarity of emotional effect to the
more formal similarity as principle of combination. I have not
found this stated as a general law for autistic thought, but I would
venture the guess that it plays an important part there since
dreams generally have a very definite atmosphere, indeed the
'tone' is often the only thing you remember when waking up.
It may be that as soon as the similarity begins to interact on a
number of strata you leave autism. If and where exactly this
happens I do not know. And it is not really relevant to my argu-
ment. For that, it is already sufficient that autism uses formal
similarities as principle of combination, and that Breton adopts
this procedure and substitutes it for the normally expected ways
of arrangement (like temporal sequence, logic, certainly always
with regard to the meaning of the words).
112 THE METHOD OF BORROWING

C. BORROWING FROM MATHEMATICS

Breton and Eluard have sneered that there are "two kinds of verse:
verse and arithmetical operations".51 And, popularly, this inspirati-
onal-romantic stance is rather widely shared. Poetry and dream?
Yes. But nothing seems farther from poetry than mathematics.
At best, it will be conceded that, in regular verse, stresses or
syllables are numerically fixed, that the lines in a stanza will be in
numerical proportion which, however, will seem rather external
to poetry.
In her book on nonsense, Elizabeth Sewell points out quite
incidentally that any repetition contains the mathematical notion
of a series:
The crucial point is this: that a recurrence, whether of a sound as in
rhyme, a particular letter or group of letters as in alliteration, or a
group of words as in a refrain, is still a series. If we were speaking
loosely, we might say that each instance is identical with every other;
but that is just what it is not. Strictly speaking there is no question
of identity between one occurrence of a refrain and the next. They
seem precisely similar, but the mind says, 'Here it comes again, for
the third time,' or 'Here it is again, a bit farther down the page.' The
implicit notion of a series is there. 5 2

This means that all structure is implicitly mathematical, and the


more regular its pattern of recurrences, the more explicitly it will
be so. For, as Wittgenstein said, "everything that is subject to law"
is the domain of logic.53
It will now be clear why I said that poetry has an autistic and
a mathematical component just as it has a musical and a visual
one. A poem consists of sounds and a shape on the page. It also
consists of coordinations on the basis of formal resemblance
(either the purely 'physical' similarity of rhyme, alliteration, pun,
rhythm etc., or, on the level of reference, the formal (not concep-

51
Andr Breton and Paul Eluard, Notes sur la posie, no pagination.
52
Elizabeth Sewell, The Field of Nonsense (London, Chatto and Windus,
1952), p. 76.
63
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 6.3: "The exploration of logic means
the exploration of everything that is subject to law."
THE METHOD OF BORROWING 113

tual) similarity of the objects denoted, as in most metaphors). The


poem moreover has a structure that regularizes these analogies into
a pattern. In other words, the mathematical side organizes the
autistic side. (Of course, it is not limited to this, it may organize
conceptual relations as well.)
I am not the first to see the relevance of both autism and
mathematics for poetry. Elizabeth Sewell has diagrammed lan-
guage in general as partaking of both (see diagram):54

Perfect Probable Probable Perfect


Order Disorder
Order Order Disorder Disorder

-Logic
Number -
-Language-
Dream -
Nightmare-

I do not agree with the diagram since it posits logic as the only
way of ordering, whereas I have shown dream as a different
system of order in the preceding section. I also disagree with
Miss Sewell's neat division of functions (Number organizes
"sound-look" the physical aspect of the word, Dream organizes
reference).55 But this is only of marginal relevance here. I have
mentioned the participation of mathematical and autistic principles
in all poetry to stress again that borrowing from these systems
does not mean going into territory alien to poetry.
I have claimed to discern borrowing from mathematics which
must be more definite than these implied relations. I do not mean
such things as Robbe-Grillet's using geometric terms for exact
description or Marinetti's preferring mathematical signs to punc-
tuation. There is one arithmetical principle that has been used
with some consistency in recent poetry (mostly, but not exclusively
by the "konkrete poesie" group). It is the principle of permutation.

54
Sewell, The Structure of Poetry (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul,
1951), p. 50.
53
Ibid., p. 84.
114 THE METHOD OF BORROWING

There are rather few poems that exhaust the possibilities of


permutation of the given elements. There is, of course, Queneau's
Cent mille milliards de pomes and Saporta's Composition No. 1
which provide the possibility of combining the Unes of ten sonnets
or the pages of the novel in every possible way. But nobody would
try it. The reader will consider the idea and be pleased or shrug.
These works make the reader consider the idea of permutation
abstractly and are therefore basically different from, for example,
Claus Bremer's tabellen und Variationen. Here is the text that is
centered on it's first page: 56
steil in die sonne die fliegt
steil fliegt in die sonne die
in die sonne die steil fliegt
in die sonne die fliegt steil
fliegt steil in die sonne die
fliegt in die sonne die steil
der fisch sinkt ins meer
der fisch ins meer sinkt
sinkt der fisch ins meer
sinkt ins meer der fisch
ins meer der fisch sinkt
ins meer sinkt der fisch
At first it looks as if the columns have been arranged for symme-
try. And doubtless they have, with the shortest line of the lower
group in the places of the longest line of the top half, etc. But this
is not all. Both the top and the bottom half consist of three
groups (or one or several words) whose combination possibilities
are exhausted:
abc
acb
bac
bea
cab
eba

56
Claus Bremer, tabellen und Variationen, "konkrete poesie", No. 5
(Frauenfeld, Switzerland, Eugen Gomringer Press, n.d.), no pagination.
THE METHOD OF BORROWING 115

Bremer does no stop here, but plays this rigorous arrangement


against a freer one, removing on each of the following pages three
groups from the columns (choosing from top and bottom half in
symmetrical ratio) which he writes as a line of a poem on the
facing page until all the material is rearranged.
For a detailed analysis I prefer to look at a shorter poem by
Eugen Gomringer which does not exhaust the possibilities though
it clearly uses the principle.
worte sind schatten
schatten werden worte
worte sind spiele
spiele werden worte
sind schatten worte
werden worte spiele
sind spiele worte
werden worte schatten
sind worte schatten
werden spiele worte
sind worte spiele
werden schatten spiele57
The poem uses five words, always with two nouns and one verb
to a line. Considering for a moment the various nouns and verbs
equivalent we find two groupings:
noun verb noun
verb noun noun
The third possibility, noun noun verb, is not used. In a poem
built on the principle of permutation the omissions become a
factor of the poem. It is as if Mallarm's white spaces which he
gave such importance in Un coup de ds had assumed a content.
There are three possible reasons for omitting combinations like
'worte schatten sind'. It might be deference to the rule of German
grammar that has verbs in endposition only after subordinating

57
Eugen Gomringer, 33 konstellationen, no pagination.
116 THE METHOD OF BORROWING

conjunctions or interrogative pronouns in indirect questions. No


such words are among our five. Or it might be that Gomringer
wanted to avoid the reader's filling in the dass that seems lacking.
Since it could be any conjunction, this would extend the relations
beyond the given words into an uncontrolable host of possibilities.
He might also not like (as too fixed) the hierarchy a dependent
clause implies. However, you could always read the line as 'worte,
schatten sind' too, a syntactical alternative to thinking it a depend-
ent clause. It may be exactly this last possibility that Gomringer
liked least. For in it the sind has much more weight than any-
where in the poem. It is no longer copula but existential. And the
two nouns would be taken out of the relations that seem the aim
of the poem in order to have their existence asserted.
In a poem of this kind I think there is a point in taking those
lines together which combine the same words, in addition to
following the given order. If we thus consider the first lines of
the couplets (all the lines using "sind") we find that "worte" and
"sind" remain constant elements whereas "schatten" and "spiele"
alternate regularly for the third, and that the arrangement is this:
abc worte sind schatten
abc' worte sind spiele
bea sind schatten worte
b c'a sind spiele worte
bac sind worte schatten
bac' sind worte spiele
Gomringer uses three of the six possibilities, two of which (verb
last) we have already ruled out. The further omission is 'schatten
sind worte' resp. 'spiele sind worte'. What does this omission
mean? We start with two affirmations: "words are shadows" and
"words are games" which suggest (by their statement form as
much as by what they say) theories about language. The first
brings to mind those who regard language as an abstraction from
reality, especially those who regard this abstraction as pale,
dead, inferior, e.g. Bergson; the second Wittgenstein. Needless
to say, the lines are not condensations of these theories (Witt-
genstein would never sign the line) but they do suggest them. The
THE METHOD OF BORROWING 117

next two lines ask whether the statements are reversible: "are
shadows words?" After all, in mathematics, if a equals b, b also
equals a. But the affirmative answer to this question would be
exactly the combination we saw rejected. A mathematical proce-
dure is used to deny that the nature of this combination game is
altogether mathematical. Gomringer thus stresses the fact that,
although the arrangement is a mathematical pattern, the poem
consist of words. And the word "sind" is not the same as an
"equals" sign. It is wider; it includes a number of non-reversible
usages, e.g. the meaning of "belonging to the class of". After the
two questions that are answered only by omission, the two original
statements are reformulated as questions. Perhaps it is not quite
certain that words are shadows and games.
The group of second lines is permutated in exactly the same
way as the first lines (except for the sequence of "schatten" and
"spiele" and the last line):
schatten werden worte
spiele werden worte
werden worte spiele
werden worte schatten
werden spiele worte
werden schatten spiele
Again we start with statements: "shadows become words" and
"games become words". They seem a variation on the "sind"
series, but there is a difference. The lines no longer give definitions
but processes. This immediately widens the field of reference for
"schatten" and "spiele" which in "worte sind schatten" remained
limited to metaphorical possibilities for words (I made no attempt
to exhaust even those - e.g. the aspect of instability of shadows,
the mixture of light and dark, the reference to the dead). The
metaphorical aspects are still perhaps strongest, pointing again at
the abstraction at the basis of language. Signs are disembodied.
Objects do not become words, only something much less material
does: shadows, the play of light around an object, and games. It
sounds like Kierkegaard's thinking it silly to consider nature a
language since "language is the most perfect medium exactly
118 THE METHOD OF BORROWING

when anything sensual is negated in it".58 But there are other


possibilities, like shadows on someone's face turning into words.
Again reversibility is questioned and denied an affirmative
answer. It is curious how in these lines ("werden worte spiele"
and "werden worte schatten") "spiele" and "schatten" seem much
more denigrating than before. They suddenly seem to have a
"mere" in front of them and describe a deterioriation, or, rather,
two kinds of deterioriation of language. One (words turning into
shadows, i.e. into shadows of shadows) sounds much like the fear
of words becoming empty and used-up as we encountered earlier.
The other (words becoming games) is what, for example, Krolow
reproaches Gomringer with. Both share an air of extreme abstrac-
tion and disembodiedness - much beyond what Kierkegaard
wished.
The last line of this series departs completely from the pattern
by putting shadows and games directly in relation with the ques-
tion "werden schatten spiele". However, it is time to look at the
lines in the order they are on the page.
If we consider the poem by stanzas there are again many
symmetrical arrangements we might note, but much more signi-
ficant is this: While the first two stanzas just seem to play with an
interrelation of the definition and process statements, couplets III
through VI are grammatically ambiguous. Each couplet can be
read as two questions (as I have done so far) or as a conditional
sentence. This adds more suggestions. In the third and fourth
couplets, the effect is not much different from the effect of the
questions, except that the relation beween shadows and games is
more stressed: "if shadows are words then words will become
games". But this is the condition that is never affirmed. The fifth
couplet strengthens the relation of shadows and games with
seemingly more authority since its condition has already been
established. The conditional reading is most interesting for the
last couplet:

58
Quoted in Max Bense, Die Theorie Kafkas (Kln, Kiepenheuer & Witsch,
1952), p. 19.
THE METHOD OF BORROWING 119

sind worte spiele


werden schatten spiele
Besides the identification (through parallel position) of words and
shadows (the unstated premise is always strong because it is taken
for granted) and the final open association of shadows and games
there is a new suggestion. I have to omit but one unstressed e to
get: "if there is word play there will be shadow play". The poem's
comment on itself? Still, somewhat ambiguous. Is the shadow
play with its reduction to the two-dimensional and the black and
white a last reinforcing of the relation of word and referent that
the poem seemed to play with all along? Or does it introduce, by
mentioning pun, word play, the problem of the relation within the
word: the relation between the sign and the reference? If so, does
it say that word play is, as it were, two-dimensional, leaving out
the dimension of reference? Or does it assume that the reference
is a kind of shadow to the more 'roundly' physical sign-aspect
of the word and say: if there is word play there will also be an
interplay of reference? I tend to assume the last possibility,
because this is exactly what the poem has achieved.
Karl Krolow is quite wrong in holding that "Variierbarkeit und
Rekapitulierbarkeit" of single words lead to "verbal suicide"
because of semantic destruction.59 I rather side with Franz Mon:
permutations show the scope of a text60 even as small as this one.
And now we can modify the similarity of the borrowing from
autism and mathematics: they both use formal aspects as principle
of combination. Yet in doing so they set references and their
associations into play. The aesthetic quality of the text will prob-
ably depend on the degree of interaction between the two strata.
There is even a similarity in aim. Both methods try to break the
tyranny of one single way of arrangement of words. However, for
the Surrealists, the tyrant is specified as logic, whereas Franz Mon
permutes a text of free associations with as much pleasure as a

" Krolow, Oie Rolle des Autors im experimentellen Gedicht, Abhand-


lungen der Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur, No. 1, 1962
(Mainz, Verlag der Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1962), p. 15.
f0
Franz Mon, sehgnge (Berlin, Wolfgang Fietkau Verlag, 1964), p. 16.
120 THE METHOD OF BORROWING

text by Aristotle. And he admits that "the original version can


prove to be the truth of all the derived ones" although it may also
be "a mere case among other cases". 91 And there is another
difference: the method of permutation combines stress on combi-
nation with emphasis on the single word whose scope is measured
in very few relations,82 whereas automatic writing lets the single
word be swallowed up in a total emotional effect. I suspect, lastly,
that the method of permutation in its extreme form will turn out
to be a corrective, and that Gomringer will very soon modify it
as Breton modified automatic writing.

Ibid.
82 This is only with some modification true of longer texts, in which there
are so many possibilities of combination that it ceases to be a sufficient
structural principle. Mon adds additional requirements, e.g. arranging the
words alphabetically by line, by according to how many letters a word has,
etc.
VI

CONCLUDING REMARKS

I have shown that the poets who are seriously dissatisfied with
our conventions of language (and do not just take this attitude as
an excuse or because it is fashionable) are working at the borders
of the unsayable and unknowable. They are trying to explore the
areas bordering pure spirit or the void, unformed matter or
energy, and the realm of 'things' considered as having a self-
sufficient being alien to man. A n d since our language is our world,
changing the language seems a possibility of changing our ways
of seeing and thus to some extent changing what is seeable and
knowable. Even people who cannot accept this Whorfian episte-
mology as justification of the experiments will hardly expect a
defense. After all, it is experimentation which keeps art, and in
this case language, from freezing into clichs, and not only lan-
guage, but with it perception, experience, thought. And in spite
of the fact that a certain amount of repetition, habit and clich
forming is necessary, any psychologist will tell us that our usual
danger is not too little rigidity, but too much. A s Ernest G .
Schachtel says,

in the course of later childhood, adolescence and adult life, perception


and experience themselves develop increasingly into the rubber stamp
of conventional clichs. The capacity to see and feel what is there
gives way to the tendency to see and feel what one expects to see
and feel, which, in turn, is what one is expected to see and feel
because everybody else does. 1

1
E r n e s t G . Schachtel, Metamorphosis: On the Development of Affect,
Perception, Attention and Memory (New York, Basic Books, 1959), p. 288.
122 CONCLUDING REMARKS

Art counteracts this schematization and predigestion of experience.


And experimentation in art prevents schematization within art
itself and thus makes it possible for art to have this function.
For those who would say that experiments are fine, but do they
have to tamper with the basic character of language, I have at least
a partial answer. It turned out, in the course of the examination,
that none of the techniques discussed are in fact alien to language.
They all use methods we are perfectly accustomed to in our use
of language. There is an element of disruption in every metaphor:
negation is implicit in the basic linguistic operation of selection;
all poems have sound, a shape on the page, structure, and some
coupling by sound or look, and thus in a way all borrow from
music, art, mathematics, and autism.
The poets I discussed use these methods more intensely or
apply them to an area different from the one we would expect.
Thus the attempt to disrupt the unity of the semantic and syntactic
dimensions of words which takes the form of anti-contiguity
(isolating the single expressive word and atrophying syntax) or
anti-similarity (stressing arrangement and diminishing the impor-
tance of reference by avoiding nouns for example, or by imposing
an arrangement extrinsic to the semantic material, as in chance
arrangement). Thus also fragmentation is transferred to the single
word, normally the smallest independent unit. The negation aspect
of selection ceases to be a matter of course when it excludes such
vital parts of the sentence as nouns or verbs, or when it eliminates
metaphor and reduces a poem's scope to a few words at a time.
Similarly, puns, alliterations, as well as permutation of a few given
words are only unfamiliar when used as principle of arrangement
rather than illustration or texture.
It is true that the result may, in the most radical cases, no
longer be 'language'. But even 'sound poetry', if it leaves language,
leaves it by a linguistic method, by transferring the freedom of
combination which we have on the level of utterances to the
level of phonemes. So even this is in a way an exploration of the
domain of language.
I said earlier that the emergence of poems which refuse the
CONCLUDING REMARKS 123
dimension of similarity in favor of stress on contiguity seems sig-
nificant to me. And this stress is obvious not only in the poems
with actual 'similarity disorder', but also in the patterns of borrow-
ing from other symbolic systems. If we consider that preference
of similarity goes, roughly, with stress on expressiveness and the
conception of the poet as vates, whereas preference of contiguity
implies stress on composition and the conception of the poet as
faber, as craftsman, it is clear that these two types exist side by
side in contemporary poetry (compare the coexistence, in the
United States, of creative writing classes and the poetics of the
'Beat' movement). Yet this very coexistence (together with the
fact that extreme examples of one type: Gertrude Stein's, Heissen-
biittel's, Robbe-Grillets's stress on combination cause much more
bewilderment and discussion than the other) seems a parallel, or
rather counterpart, to the literary situation of the later eighteenth
century. Only, then it was expressiveness and the apparent form-
lessness of 'organic form' which were disconcerting - and which
came to dominate aesthetic sensibility to this day. Even Roman
Jakobson's remark that metaphor is the basis of poetry, let alone
definitions of poetry in literary handbooks (Gero von Wilpert:
"unmittelbare Gestaltung innerseelischer Vorgnge im Dich-
ter. . .") show that Romantic poetry is still taken as the norm of all
poetry, 'organic form' as the norm of all form.
So, if I may hazard a prophecy: it may be that the general
restlessness as far as form and media are concerned is part of a
more general aesthetic change. And the direction seems to be away
from the pole of expressiveness towards greater emphasis on
composition, towards a kind of formalism. This may mean that
the present 'crisis' of language is no more than the unrest, wild
experimentation, and sharp examination natural in connection
with such a change.
And no matter how unsayable the experiences of the poet -
poems are written and, when successful, achieve exactly this
impossible task: saying the unsayable, articulating silence.
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INDEX

Albert-Birot, Pierre 20 Cassirer, Ernst 75, 101.


Alqui, Ferdinand 27., 103, 104 Char, Ren 46-47, 78, 87
Angela of Foligno 17 Chazal, Malcolm de 28
Apollinaire, Guillaume 52, 53, 64, Collingwood, R. G. 49
92 Cubism 100
Aragon 18, 19, 29 Cummings, E. E. 94
Aristotle 44., 120 Cunningham, J. V. 76
Arp, Hans 19-21, 23, 53-55, 66-67 Curtius, E. R. 89
Artaud, Antonin 36
Ashley, Robert 100 Dada 18-23, 41, 65
Dali, Salvador 27, 107
Baader, Johannes 19 D'Annunzio, Gabriele 74
Bachelard, Gaston 26, 27, 41 Daumal, Ren 72
Ball, Hugo 19-21, 69, 70 Davie, Donald 13
Barrre, J. . 13 Desnos, Robert 28, 106-107, 109
Bataille, Georges 17n., 28n. Dionysius the Areopagite 72
Baudelaire, Charles 25, 40, 43 Dblin, Alfred 80
Beckett, Samuel 36, 90 Dhl, Reinhard 66
Benn, Gottfried 13, 24, 29n., 41, Duncan, Robert 94
45-46, 52, 65, 83
Bense, Max 52 Eckhart 17, 72
Bergson, Henri 10, 42n., 7In., 75, Edeline, J. 107-108
116 Eich, Gnter 74, 86
Birkhoff, G. D. 99 Eluard, Paul 26, 103, 112
Blake, William 30, 41, 51 Empson, William 101.
Bleuler, Eugen 101 Enzensberger, Hans Magnus 38n.,
Bonnefoy, Yves 11 55n.
Bosquet, Alain 13, 37 Expressionism 23-27, 45-49, 79, 84
Brecht, Bertold 38., 86, 88
Bremer, Claus 114-115 Fargue, Lon-Paul 10
Breton, Andr 12., 23., 24-29, 65, Fenollosa, Ernest 76-77
82-83, 102-106, 108-111, 112, 120 Finlay, Ian Hamilton 86
Bridgman, P. W. 10, 17. Fisher, Charles 104
Broch, Hermann 11 Fletcher, Angus 101.
Burke, Kenneth 71-72, 77. Follain, Jean 37
Freud, Sigmund 24
Carnap, Rudolf 10 Friedrich, Hugo 13
INDEX 131
Frye, Northrop 36, 101. Krolow, Karl 118-119
Futurism 30, 49, 78-81 Kubie, L. S. 102n.

Gaudier-Brzeska, Henri 30 Langer, Susanne 35, 50, 52


Genet, Jean 90 Lautramont 105-106
Goethe, J. W. v. 40 Lefbure, E. 17
Gogh, Vincent van 33 Leonhard, Kurt 13
Gombrich, E. H. 77 Lescure, Jean 64.
Gomringer, Eugen 21, 38, 86, 89-91, Lessing, G. E. 22, 92
97, 115-120 Levin, Samuel R. 14
Gorgias 9 Lvi-Strauss, Claude 71
Gourmont, Rmy de 40, 75 Lichtenstein, Alfred 45-46
Graves, Robert 10 Liede, Alfred 13, 104-105
Grosz, George 18 Liepmann, H. 105
Guiraud, Pierre 51
MacLow, Jackson 66
Hausmann, Raoul 19n., 24 Maier, R. N. 13
Hegel 86n. Mallarm, Stphane 17-22, 25, 41,
Heidegger, Martin 11 52, 72, 90, 95-97, 99, 115
Heissenbttel, Helmut 13, 21-23, 44, Mann, Thomas 99
50, 57-63, 68, 73, 84-90, 123 Marinetti, F. T. 30, 49, 69, 78-81,
Henle, Paul 42 99, 113
Herbert, George 92 Mauthner, Fritz 83-84
Hofmannsthal, Hugo v. 12, 31-34, McDiarmid, Hugh 94n.
36-37 Middleton, Christopher 19n., 64
Holz, Arno 94 Mon, Franz 21-23, 25, 38, 49-50,
Horst, . . 85 55, 68, 119-120
Huelsenbeck, Richard 70n. Mondor, Henri 95
Hugo, Victor 74 Morgan, Edwin 94n.
Morgenstern, Christian 43
Imagism 36, 45, 74, 77 Morris, Charles W. 12n.
Isou, Isidore 21-23, 69-70, 99 Musil, Robert 36, 43

Jandl, Ernst 98-99 Nestor of Laranda 88


Jakobson, Roman 14, 44-45, 49, 55- Nietzsche, Friedrich 40
56, 61-63, 84-85, 123 Nin, Anais 78
Jean, Marcel 107-108
Jean-Aubry, G. 95 Objectivists 36
Jespersen, Otto 75-76 Olson, Charles 94
Joyce, James 14, 109 O'Neill, J. C. 90n.
Jung, C. G. 16n., 66n., 101 Otto, Rudolf 26

Kandinsky, Vasily 27 Paulhan, Jean 52n., 74, 80


Kant, I. 10 Piaget, Jean 101, 107
Kerenyi, C. 16n. Plato 16
Kierkegaard, S. 117-118 Poe, . . 30, 41, 99
Klee, Paul 100 Prtner, Paul 84
Klopstock, F. G. 12 Ponge, Francis 37-39
132 INDEX

Pound, Ezra 51-52, 75-78, 94, 99 Stramm, August 47-50, 63, 78-79,
Proust, Marcel 36, 91 81, 84
Surrealism 20, 23-30, 65-66, 102-
Queneau, Raymond 13, 69, 114 111, 119
Swinburne, Algernon 74
Symbolism 74
Raddatz, F. J. 75
Radin, Paul 105 Tardieu, Jean 37
Ray, Man 27 Tauber, E. S. 102, 107
Raymond, Marcel 102-103, 107 Thophile de Viau 41
Reverdy, Pierre 93-94 Thomas Aquinas 25
Richter, H. W. 74n. Tieck, Ludwig 52
Rilke, R. M. 12, 33-38, 61 Tzara, Tristan 18-19, 21, 25, 56-57,
Rimbaud, Arthur 12, 30, 41 65
Robbe-Grillet, Alain 39, 85, 113,
123 Ungaretti, Giuseppe 74
Roche, Denis 68 Urban, W. M. 51
Romanticism 17, 23, 30, 49, 63, 74
Rzewcz, Tadeusz 86 Valry, Paul lin., 41, 75
Russell, Bertrand 10, 16 Varendonck 102
Vian, Boris 43
Saint-John Perse 91
Saporta, Marc 114 Waiden, Herwarth 49
Sarraute, Natalie 90 Weinheber, Josef 89
Sartre, Jean-Paul 25-26, 34, 51 Weiss, Peter 72, 90
Schachtel, E. G. 121 Whorf, Benjamin 121
Scheler, Max 16 Williams, Emmet 97-98
Schoenberg, Arnold 100 Williams, William Carlos 94
Schwitters, Kurt 69-70 Wilpert, G. v. 123
Segalen, Victor 73 Wittgenstein, Ludwig 10, 11, 71n.,
Seidler, Ingo 81. 112, 116
Sewell, Elizabeth 112-113 Wolgamot, John Barton 49
Soupault, Philippe 24, 28, 109-111
Stein, Gertrude 14, 84, 123 Zaehner, R. C. 27n.
Steiner, George 9 Zukofsky, Louis 36
DE PROPRIETATIBUS LITTERARUM
edited by

C. H. VAN SCHOONEVELD

Series Maior

1. Marcus . Hester, The Meaning of Poetic Metaphor: An Analysis in


the Light of Wittgenstein's Claim that Meaning is Use. 1967. 229 pp.
/ 36. / $ 10.00
2. Rodney Delasanta, The Epic Voice. 1967. 140 pp. / 22. / $ 5.75
3. Bennison Gray, Style: The Problem and its Solution. 1969. 117 pp.
/ 23. / $ 6.50
5. Raimund Belgardt, Romantische Poesie: Begriff und Bedeutung bei
Friedrich Schlegel. 1970. 257 pp. f 45. / $ 12.50

Series Minor

1. Trevor Eaton, The Semantics of Literature. 1966. 72 pp.


/ I O . / $ 2.80
2. Walter A. Koch, Recurrence and a Three-Modal Approach to Poetry.
1966. 57 pp. f 10. / $ 2.80
3. Nancy Sullivan, Perspective and the Poetic Process. 1968. 56 pp.
/ 1 0 . / $ 2.80
4. Donald LoCicero, Novellentheorie: The Practicality of the Theoretical.
1970. 120 pp. f 16. / $ 4.50

Series Practica

1. Robert G. Cohn, Mallarm?s Masterpiece: New Findings. 1966. 114 pp.


/ 22. / $ 5.75
2. Constance B. Hieatt, The Realism of Dream Vision: The Poetic Ex-
ploitation of the Dream-Experience in Chaucer and His Contempo-
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3. Joseph J. Mogan Jr., Chaucer and the Theme of Mutability. 1969.
190 pp. f 26. / $ 7.45
4. Peter Nusser, Musils Romantheorie. 1967. 114 pp. / 18. / $ 5.00
5. Marjorie Perloff, Rhyme and Meaning in the Poetry of Yeats. 1970.
249 pp. /48. / 13.75
6. Marian H. Cusac, Narrative Structure in the Novels of Sir Walter
Scott. 1969. 128 pp. f 20. / $ 5.75
7. W .Victor Wortley, Tallement des Raux: The Man through his Style.
1969.99 pp. f 22. / $ 6.30
9. Donald R. Swanson, Three Conquerors: Character and Method in the
Mature Works of George Meredith. 1969. 148 pp. f 22 / $ 6.30
10. Irwin Gopnik, A Theory of Style and Richardson's Clarissa. 1970.
140 pp. / 22. / $ 6.30
12. Sylvia D. Feldman, The Morality-Patterned Comedy of the Renais-
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13. Giles Mitchell, The Art Theme in Joyce Cary's First Trilogy. 1971.
136 pp. / 18. / $ 5.00
17. Meredith B. Raymond, Swinburne's Poetics: Theory and Practice. 1971.
202 pp. / 36. / $ 10.00
20. Edgar B. Schick, Metaphorical Organicism in Herder's Early Works: A
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24. Bernard L. Einbond, Samuel Johnson's Allegory. 1971. 104 pp.
/ 18. / $ 5.00
27. Richard Vernier, 'Posie ininterrompue' et la potique de Paul Eluard.
1971.180 pp. / 25. / $ 6.95
28. Hugh L. Hennedy, Unity in Barsetshire. 1971. 144 pp. / 28 / $ 7.90
35. Roman Jakobson and Lawrence G. Jones, Shakespeare's Verbal Art
in Th'Expence of Spirit. 1970. 32 pp. f 10 / $ 2.90

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