Tag Archives: maurice blanchot

Paul Celan, Emmanuel Levinas, Maurice Blanchot and the ‘Wholly Other’

I need to than John Bloomberg-Rissman for drawing my attention to this review of ‘What are Poets for?’ By Gerald L Bruns. In normal circumstances I would have rushed to order this as it deals with Prynne, Matthias and Celan in ways that seem congruent with my own improvised and haphazard way of reading but the Bebrowed financial controller has made it clear that some of the recent acquisitions should be read first. There is however this paragraph that caught my eye:

“The highlight of the collection is a rather aphoristic essay on poetry and ethics centered around the work of Paul Celan and Emmanuel Levinas. For Bruns, Levinas’ ethics, which demand a sense of radical responsibility toward the other, find their literary expression in Celan’s desire to fill language up with strangeness. Just as Levinasian ethics demands that we disregard our own sense of autonomy or fulfilled obligations and allow our sense of self to be determined by the other beings we come into proximity with, Celan’s poetry forgoes having a unified, consistent speaking voice in order to fling itself into the void of otherness. Poetry, Bruns seems to be suggesting, is ethical in relation to the people and things it narrates because the form of selfhood it expresses comes into being as an attempt to reach out to the other; poetry is being-for-the-other, and therefore capable of having an ethics even when it seems to be at its most abstruse. The essay is delicately constructed and a delight to read, seeming to approach a central idea again and again through readings of different authors and texts (Celan and Levinas but also Charles Bernstein, Martin Heidegger, Osip Mandelstam, Maurice Blanchot, Jacques Derrida, and Samuel Beckett) without ever quite making contact.”

Ignoring the list of usual suspects at the end, I initially took issue with Levinas connection and his notion of our need to focus on the needs and demands of the universal other. I’m reasonably familiar (and agree) with the central Levinas position, especially as articulated by Blanchot, but I hadn’t thought of Celan’s references to the other as anything but a consideration of alterity and the ‘strange’. So this was going to be a robust denunciation along the lines of Celan’s concerns are primarily about the Jewish victims of the Holocaust which are a clearly defined group of ‘Others’ whereas Levinas is more concerned with the universal ‘Other’. I was going to illustrate this with suitable extracts from the later works and the Meridian and rest the bulk of my case on the frequent appearance of Martin Buber (more than anyone else) in the notes made in preparation for the Meridian address and the complete absence of any reference to Levinas. The I re-read the Meridian and fell over this:

“But I do think – and this thought can hardly surprise you by now – I think that it had always been part of the poem’s hopes to speak on behalf of exactly this strange – no, I cannot use this word this way – exactly on another’s behalf – who knows perhaps on behalf of a totally other.”

(I’m using the Pierre Joris translation because I trust it more that the others although Felstiner does have ‘wholly’ rather than ‘totally’.)

Now, the term ‘wholly other’ is how ‘tout autre’ is translated in Levinas’ ‘Time and the Other’ which was published in 1948 as in “through the diverse figures of the sociality facing the face of the other person: eroticism, paternity, responsibility for the neighbour as the relationship to the wholly other (Tout Autre)” which seems to get to the nub of the Levinas position.

Celan’s major philosophical interests in Heidegger and the distinctly Jewish aspect of Martin Buber’s thought is mirrored in Levinas so it is likely that Celan would have read ‘Time and the Other’ and that his use of ‘wholly other’ in italics is a reference to that work- or perhaps this is just because I want it to be.

In Celan’s poetry many poems are addressed to a ‘you’ without any clear indication of who this ‘you’ might be and it may be that some poems do address this universal Other. The notes seem to refer to both addressing the other (“it silences itself toward something foreign and Other imagined as a You”) and speaking on behalf of the other (“..to let the incommensurable of the other speak too”). I’ve chosen three of the likelier candidates from the later work. This is ‘Wirk Nicht Voraus’ from the ‘Lichtzwang’ collection published in 1970:

I’m using Michael Hamburger’s translation for all three poems.

Do not work ahead,
do not send forth,
into it, enter:

transfounded by nothingness
unburdened of all
microstructured in heeding
the pre-script,

I make you at home,
instead of all

This is ‘Mitt Der Stimm Der Feldmaus’ from the ‘Schneepart’ collection which was published in 1971:

With the voice of the Fieldmouse
you squeak up to me,

a sharp
you bite your way through my shirt to the skin,

a cloth
you slide across my mouth
midway through the words
I address to you, shadow,
to give you weight.

Finally, this is ‘Alle Die Schlafoestalin’ from the ‘Zeitgehoft’ collection which was published in 1976:

All those sleep shapes, crystalline,
that you assumed
in the language shadow,

to those
I lead my blood,

those image lines, them
I’m to harbour
in the slit-arteries
of my cognition-,

my grief, I can see,
is deserting to you.

For those who don’t know, Celan was a Holocaust survivor who committed suicide in 1970. I’d like to add the point made by Maurice Blanchot that our responsibility to the other is infinite, unbearable and strips us of our identity yet it is also impossible to ignore.

All three of the above poems can be read as being addressed to either a specific other or a universal other and it may well be that Celan is concerned here with both.

The first poem begins with a series of commands, followed by a description that may refer to the poet’s burden is responding to the other and ends with the poet ‘making home’ for the other. ‘Nothingness’ recurs as an active entity or participant in Celan’s work and it could be read here as equivalent to infinity ie something so vast that it becomes nothing at all, it could also be that there is no longer any need for prayer because Celan is answering this call or because these others are already dead- changed by nothingness.

To make someone at home is how the good host would respond to the needs of a guest. In English, we often say “make yourself at home” as in, “please feel free to behave as if your were in your own home” as a way of making a guest feel welcome. This gesture embodies a key virtue in virtually all cultures across the world. Celan’s ‘welcome’ is tempered by a recognition that the ‘you’ has already gone beyond any notion of rest and may actually be dead.

Trying to recognise and take into account my original bias, I’m still of the view that the ‘you’ in this poem is more likely to be those murdered during the Holocaust and this is not the exact equivalent of the Levinas ‘wholly other’ which is about every other in the world, living or dead.

The ‘Fieldmouse’ poem is much more straightforward (in my head, at least) in that it is a description of the demand made by the other together with Celan’s response. This makes more, albeit tentative, sense if we read ‘shadow’ as ‘neighbour’ and the last verse as the transforming/muting effect that this neighbour has on the poem which exists to transfound the nothingess of the shadow into something more substantial. The biting of the skin through the cloth of the shirt might refer to the real pain in our awareness of the nature of this responsibility.

As someone who has actively planned to kill himself on a number of occasions, I have a real problem with maintaining any kind of objectivity with the third poem which I read as an anguished cry from the soul about the intolerable/impossible burden that the dead impose on the poet and a foreshadowing of his own self-annihilation. I’d like to undertake a rational and attentive reading as with the other two but I can’t because all I can read is the personal pain and suffering that is expressed in these heartbreaking lines. I’m also not entirely comfortable that it was published posthumously without knowledge of Celan’s intention and feel a little queasy about this kind of material being made available without Celan’s consent. End of short speech.

Of course, the reviewer may have misread what Bruns was saying about Levinas and I’m actually arguing with no-one but it has at least enabled me to think (regardless of Blanchot’s extremism) about the possibility of creative responses to this impossible demand which brings to mind Prynne’s insistence on self-removal as part of the poetry-making business……….


The Emily Dorman Problem part 2

I was going to start this with a list from ‘Super Poem Future Machine’ with a list of people I didn’t know, followed by a list of people I’m aware of but have never read followed by a list of people the I’m fairly (reasonably) familiar with and then point out that I’ve never heard of Dana Ward but I have been making use of his site intermittently for several years.

I was then going to ask readers of this blog to mentally do the same with the lists (this would make me feel better) and then to read the poem. I’ve decided not to do that but instead write about Readerly Anxiety. This is a phenomenon that I’ve probably experienced for years but have only just recognised it as a condition. RA is different from the anxiety of the self-taught (which is not the condition as described by P Bourdieu) because it has no straightforward resolution. RA is about the nature of the text rather than the codes and references that trouble auto-didacts and ‘Super Poem Future Machine’ causes me deep RA because there are many things that I admire about it but I’m not sure how much of it is satire and how much (if any) isn’t.

The audio recording compounds rather than eases this worry. The anxiety is whether or not it is deliberately bad or parodic. I’m also not entirely sure of the ‘status’ of the image of the concrete slab that accompanies the text – although I have spent a few moments looking at images of the shiny new building in Chicago.

Vanessa Place comes in the third list and I have looked up both Zucker and Zapruder before I decided that I wasn’t interested enough to follow this through. I don’t think the last sentence is funny enough but I’m prepared to accept that the rest might be hilariously acute.

RA would be more manageable if all of this consisted of weak in-jokes some of it is both inventive and accomplished and there’s the rub- I’d rather have it as all good or all bad but this fretful middle doesn’t do me any good at all. Anyone who can write “Hephaestus loves Carol King with tongs. But no-one writes songs” has got to be good.

Of course, readerly anxiety may just be a sub-set of the bipolar and the problem may well belong exclusively to me but I’ve noticed RA twinges with ‘Kazoo Dreamboats’ too but that’s about trying to position it in what I thought was the J H Prynne project. RA isn’t pleasant, it’s nothing like the Pleasure of Bafflement whereby there’s things that the reader looks forward to doing in order to reduce/alter the degree of unknowing. RA is much more scratchy and queasy than that, more like ‘The Conversation’ than ‘Histoire(s) du Cinema’.

Enough of this, I’d like to draw your attention to the wonderful neediness of the ‘letter’ to Hamiri and the ‘being with’ device applied to both Van Gogh and Ruskin although much more fun could have been had with the otherness of Blanchot and Bataille even if (s)) is a nice touch.

I’ve just read the comments to the earlier part of this and I accept that my knowledge of most things North American is woeful and comes wrapped up in a cacophony of prejudice, I also accept that I’ve managed to steer completely clear of all things flarf and consider this to be an achievement. So, this should come down to frailties in my sense of humour or the inevitable resentment of the self-taught in direct collision with biting satire that is beyond my reach.

However, I don’t think this works as well as the first. To give a brief example- a riff on the ‘integrity of the fragment’ could have been very promising but any wit/satirical intent is fatally undermined by ‘grok’. Perhaps this is due to my ignorance but how many of us are familiar with the works of Thomas Percy?

I started this over a week ago fretting about fretting- now I’m of the view that ‘Super Poem Future Machine’ is a step backwards, except for the reading which remains completely glorious, obviously.


Maurice Blanchot is a poet

What follows is based only on the occasional reading of ‘The Writing of the Disaster’. I’m going to try and show how some of Blanchot’s prose ‘fragments’ in this particular book can/must be considered as poems. I do not intend to give a full description of what this exceptional book has to say because I’m not sure that I’m able to but I do want to draw it closer within the scope of poetry.

I’m not going to provide my own definition of poetry but propose to rely on Celan and Prynne because they are by far the most accomplished exponents of late modernism and may therefore know more than me. I perhaps need to admit that these two are also chosen because aspects of their definitions enable me to make a coherent case for Blanchot.

I’ve been reading ‘The Disaster’ since the beginning of the year and have tried to read it in isolation from the rest of his work, I’ve also tried to ignore what others have said about him with the exception of an interview given by Emmanuel Levinas after his death. This is all by way of saying that I am not by any means a Blanchot expert, indeed I find that this book is best approached in a quite chlid-like way.

Prynne on self-removal

“If then the poet in this kind is under pressure of conscience to be fully active within the disputed territory of poetic thought, at maximum energy and indeed vigilance, riding through the supple evasions and sudden blockages of language just prior to its emergent formation, how can the result be other than some testimonial to the power of the creating poet, an inscribed scriptural witness?9 I believe the answer to be that strong poetic thought does indeed demand the unreserved commitment of the poet, deep-down within the choices and judgements of dialectical composition;
but before the work is completed, the poet must self-remove from this location, sever the links not by a ruse but in order to test finally the integrity of the result. Indeed, until this removal is effected, the work cannot be truly complete, so that the new-discovered and extended limits of poetic thought form the language-boundaries of the new work.”

This is from ‘Poetic Thought’ and I want to look at the centrality of ‘self-removal’ to the process of composition in order to verify the ‘integrity’ (or validity) of the work. I’d like to start by asking if this is actually possible, if any of us are able to detach ourselves completely from the creative process. I think I’m in agreement with the sentiment, if poetry is to show ‘how things are’ then the diminution of what Foucault refers to as the ‘fascist within’ must be a step in the right direction. It is important to recognise that Prynne sees this as an essential step and not a some optional extra just as it is to view his alter output from this perspective. What isn’t mentioned here is the fact that this kind of denial of self does not create a vacuum but a space than can be occupied by the other.

Paul Celan and the totally other.

This is from the Meridian address made in Darmstadt in 1960

“But I do think – and this thought can hardly surprise you by now – I think that it had always been part of the poem’s hopes to speak on behalf of exactly this strange – no, I cannot use this word this way – exactly on another’s behalf – who knows, perhaps on behalf of a totally other.“.

(Emphasis as in the original).

When Celan refers to the poem he is referring to poetry as a whole and here he allows himself to talk about the purpose of poetry, indicating that it should focus on speaking on behalf of others rather than expressing the emotions and thoughts of the poet. I hope that the similarities with the Prynne statement are reasonably obvious, both seem to be saying that denial of the self is crucial and Celan goes further by indicating that speaking on behalf of a ‘totally other’ is essential in poetic composition.

Prior to my recent encounter with Blanchot, I’ve always been suspicious of references to ‘the other’ because it seemed to reflect some distinctly continental notion of the world that I felt was unduly hollow and pretentious. I had tried to apply notions of this otherness to my own position as a mad person and how insanity might constitute an exemplary form of otherness but this wasn’t helpful. I;ve long since recognised that we all have some responsibility for the bad things that occur in the world and that a politically quietist position is justifiable in these terms but I hadn’t given any credence to the demands that Celan’s other might make.

Blanchot the poet.

Maurice Blanchot was concerned with many things but one of the central ‘planks’ of “Writing the Disaster” is the nature of our relationship to the other. This is not presented in a moralising way, in fact Blanchot spends a lot of time complaining about the insistent nature of these demands and the fact that the needs of the other can never be truly met / addressed. The book is composed of prose ‘fragments’ some of which contain only one sentence whilst other can run to a couple of pages.

In order to make my case it isn’t sufficient for me to show that Blanchot has the same objectives as Prynne and Celan, I also need to show that the language that he uses is in some way ‘heightened’. There are many possibilities but this seems to make my point=

“From the moment when the imminent silence of the immemorial disaster caused him, anonymous and bereft of self, to become lost in the other night where, precisely, oppressive night (the empty, the ever dispersed and fragmented, the foreign night) separated him and separated him so that the relation with the other night besieged him with its absence, its infinitive distantness – from that moment on, the passion of patience, the passivity of a time without present (absent time, time’s absence) had to be his sole identity, circumscribed by a temporary singularity.”

I think there’s enough poetic language use going on here to make the case but what is remarkable is the way in which passages like this stay in my brain, the way that poems do. I haven’t got my brain around what exactly might be meant by the disaster but this is a distinctly poetic work that I’m happy to live with.

Poetry and the Scope of Philosophy

“to write in ignorance and without regard for the philosophical horizon, a horizon punctuated, gathered together or dispersed by the words that delimit it, is necessarily to write with facile complacency (the literature of elegance and good taste). Hölderlin, Mallarmé, so many others, do not allow us this.”

This is a continuation of the ‘scope of poetry’ piece that was posted a couple of weeks ago. The above is a quote from Maurice Blanchot in “The Writing of the Disaster” translated by the wonderful Ann Smock. Regular readers will know that I’ve been having a battle entirely in my own head with Simon Jarvis’ view on poetry and philosophy. In the broadest terms, Jarvis is of the view that poetry is good at ‘doing’ philosophy and that constraints of metre and rhyme can be beneficial in this regard. In the recent past I’ve taken the view that poetry shouldn’t attempt to do philosophy and that the two should be kept separate. I have held to this because I think the Jarvis position tries to make poetry grander and more powerful than it actually is.

Blanchot is a staggeringly brilliant writer and ‘The Writing of the Disaster’ is his most staggering work and I’ve been carrying it around all this year more because of the political implications of how he expands on Levinas and our responsibility for the other rather than his literary endeavours. The notion of writing with ‘regard for the philosophical horizon’ seems to me much more reasonable than the idea of poetry producing philosophy. I’m not entirely clear that to write without regard for philosophy will inevitably lead to ‘facile complacency’ but I am happy to concede that important poetry is made in part as a response to aspects of the philosophical horizon. Both Prynne and Celan have more than a little regard towards Martin Heidegger and Prynne’s long standing admiration for the work of Merleau Ponty can be seen as an integral component of his practice. I would argue that both are more about responding and actualising philosophical thought rather than creating it.
In one of my glibber moments I expressed the view that poetry is better at doing theology than philosophy. I now need to modify this because I’m no longer clear where the difference lies. 20th century Jewish philosophers like Buber and Levinas have both managed to ride both ‘horses’ at once and in doing so have incorporated theology into philosophy and vice versa. This matters to poetry because Celan referred to Buber as his ‘master’ whilst also being an avid and attentive reader of Heidegger.
I now want to return to the Jarvis argument in a little more detail. I’ll begin with a confession- I haven’t read ‘Wordsworth’s Philosophic Song’ except for the introduction. My excuses are as follows:

  • I don’t like Wordsworth;
  • Life is too short;
  • I have read and continue to read Jarvis’ own philosophic songs with some degree of attention;
  • The arguments with regard to metre seem too complex for my small brain;
  • There are many other books competing for my attention.

Really rather feeble I know but I reconcile my self with having listened to last year’s lecture and the fact that I’ve read the introduction more than once. In that introduction Jarvis quotes approvingly from a letter written by Wordsworth on the process of doing philosophy by means of poetry:

When in his character of Philosophical Poet, having thought of Morality as implying in its essence voluntary obedience, and producing the effect of order, he transfers, in the transport of imagination, the law of Moral to physical Natures and, having contemplated, through the medium of that order, all modes of existence as subservient to one spirit, concludes his address to the power of Duty in the following words . . .

Jarvis is right to emphasise “in the transport of imagination” as the key element here in describing how one of our greatest poets thought that this should be done and is also correct in saying that the above provides a recipe that allows poets to go where philosophers can’t. My fundamental question is whether this transference produces philosophic poetry or whether it results in an odd hybrid which fails to do either poetry or philosophy very well.

I’ve recently written about ‘F subscript zero’ and intend to do so again in the near future. In that piece I was critical of Jarvis’ polemic against Derrida. I don’t intend to repeat myself here but I do feel the need to quote the rest of the passage as an example of neither being done very well. The first two lines begin with a tick but the html for such an entity is too complex for my non-technical head:

not know left from right
hung for a sheep as lamb = immanent critique
since every break must bridge
in this One atheology what is
in truth as different as life from death

I obviously don’t know enough about Adorno to wax lyrical on the significance of “immanent critique” in this particular context except to say that I don’t think it works as poetry. I’ve already said what I think about the philosophic ‘argument’ and I think this section tries to ride both horses but fails. I still think however that the poem is important and one that we should all pay a little more attention to.

I’d like to turn again to the Blanchot quote and reiterate his point about ‘having regard’ to philosophy which I think poetry does and the best poetry operates with the philosophic horizon in mind but Blanchot is not suggesting that poetry should attempt to become philosophical in the way that Jarvis and Wordsworth suggest. The use of scope in my title is intended to echo the scope of poetry, just as we stand within the scope of verse so poetry stands in the scope of philosophy but it also stands in the scope of love and desire and many other phenomena which stand outside philosophy’s versions truth and fundamental knowledge.

I’d like to finish with a quote from Celan’s notes which for me, as a reader and practitioner, provides a much more accurate picture of what poetry has the potential to be about:

that’s why the poem, in its being and not through its subject matter first – it is a school of true humanity: it teaches to understand the other as the other, i.e. in its otherness, it demands brotherliness with respect before this other, in turning towards this other, even where the other appears as the hook-nosed and misshapen – in no way almond-eyed- accused by the “staight-nosed”…

The poem as a school of humanity which teaches understanding of the other in its otherness, I may have read too much Levinas of late but this strikes me as a much more accurate and relevant notion of what good poetry can and should be about.

Incidentally, Gillian Rose and Pierre Bourdieu have provided much wittier and more telling critiques of Derrida. In prose.

Prynne, “Unanswering Rational Shore” and Blanchot

Before I dive too far into what I need to say, there’s a precursor to try and demonstrate some method to this apparent leap. Some weeks ago I started reading Blanchot’s “The Writing of Disaster” primarily because of my abiding creative interest in Bad Things that happen. I then found my self both staggered and mesmerised by the first twenty five pages to such an extent that I’ve now re-read the first forty pages on about 8 occasions whilst resisting the opportunity to copy out (or learn by heart) every single word. The last time this kind of thing occurred was with Foucault in 1985 but this is much more intense and personal.
Because I’m really enjoying this process, I’ve resisted reading anything else by or about Blanchot except for one interview given by Levinas.
I’m also distracting myself from writing about Eliot for arduity (see the previous post) and I find Prynne, Celan and Sutherland to be the best way to fill up my head. The normal Prynne route is to re-read “Streak~~~Willing~~~Entourage~~~Artesian” but on this occasion I decided to have another look at “Unanswering Rational Shore” and surprised myself with how instantly good it is for reasons that I’ll attempt to explain below. I then did the Google thing and came across Ben Watson’s piece which was written as part of his “Art and Madness Circus” in 2001 and Michaels Grant’s blog on the poem which was written in 2008. Grant, among other things, quotes extensively from Blanchot to contextualise what Prynne might be about and then throws in Celan and Olson for good measure. I’ve never come across Grant before but it’s fairly clear that we share at least some of the same interests so I’ll need to catch up.
So, this is a blog that’s about not being able to get away from Blanchot and whether his views on poetry are helpful in getting to grips with Prynne. I’ll start with the obvious, “Unanswering Rational Shore” (henceforth “URS”) appears to be two sequences of seven poems divided by a single blank page. Each poem contains two seven-line stanzas. We are therefore led to infer that each sequence has a separate ‘theme’ (or that the blank page may be a blank page without significance at all).

I’ll get on to Grant and Blanchot shortly but I’d like to give one example of why I thinks “URS” is utterly wonderful. This is the sixth poem from the first sequence in its entirety:

On the track the news radiates like a planet auction,

for the best rates hard to chew. If it seems too good,
sucker, the pap is surely toxic, unless the glad
hand goes your way, soft as velvet. The strokes
of the palm not even touched, a waft of livid air
gives the take its donation, sexual preening overtly
lavish in symmetry: your flicker goes to mine and

locks into warranty, well why not. Over lush fields
a rising sun pitches out its sulky damp shadow, in
reminder of cost levels in the benefit stream. Oh
fight this fight or sleep when others wake, the
maze of a shining path leads on without a break:
count the steps in retrospect, burnt umber places
engrossed forever in dumb-struck dropped reward.

(There shouldn’t be a gap between the first and second lines but WordPress is being oddly difficult).

I find this to be everything a great poem should be, it’s beautifully phrased, has lines that I would kill to have written, is oblique without being obscure and is incredibly clever without any sign of pomposity. It also makes me smile.

I’m not going to make too many guesses as to ‘meaning’ but there’s fairly clearly references to corruption that’s inherent to capitalism. The “unless the glad / hand goes your way.” is a brilliant compression of our complicity in these tawdry practices and a fine example of what Prynne does better than anyone else. The “or sleep when others wake” takes some thinking about but is nevertheless sharp and to the point. The “well why not” embodies that degree of world-weary cynicism that pervades corporate life and I love/am staggered by “a rising sun pitches out its sulky damp shadow. The last line is a supreme example of how to end a serious poem, summing up how we live our lives in the current economic order. Or (of course) it could be ‘about’ something else entirely.

What I’d like to draw attention to most of all is the exuberant use of language, this is the work of someone who knows exactly what he’s doing and is revelling in his skill. Milton does this and it’s an indication of true value that we need to be able to recognise and celebrate. “URS” is also a powerful rebuttal to those who persist in maintaining an image of Prynne as “fearsome” and “impenetrable” (TLS 2010).

Whether the sequence(s) require what Keston Sutherland calls “the work of interpretation” in the same way that “Streak~~~Willing” does remains to be seen but I’m certainly looking forward to alternating between the two.

“Unanswering Rational Shore” is in the 2005 Bloodaxe and should be read by everyone immediately.

I now turn to Michael Grant and Maurice Blanchot. Grant deploys Blanchot’s “The Space of Literature” to provide an explanation of what Prynne may be aiming for. The piece is full of inspiring ideas and embodies an attentive reading but is (probably) wrong.

I’d like to start with this:

Whereas discourse expressive of truth typically takes the form of propositions, whose structure can be fixed in advance, this is writing that would have us see it as errant and excessive. It is a poetry of exile, of wandering, and ‘where the wanderer is, the conditions of a definitive here are lacking’. The wanderer’s country, the dwelling-place of the nomad, is not a place of truth, but the abandonment of place altogether: such a figure ‘remains outside, on the hither side, apart’ [The Space of Literature, p. 238]. While reading Prynne’s book, one is made aware of language as though one were this side of it, this side of the process of its being uttered. Rather than passing through it to what is said or meant, one is struck by the visibility and fleshliness of it, as the event of it occurs in the here and now, in the singularity of the one, unique, repeatable, and unrepeatable, moment of it.

I quote this at length because I want to give one phrase it’s full context before looking at it more carefully. I’ve read and re-read the section of “The Space of Literature” that Grant refers to throughout his piece and I’ve reconsidered what I know of Prynne and I think Grant is incorrect on two counts. The first is the assertion that there’s an intention to make the reader aware of language “this side of its process of being uttered”. This sounds great and is conceptually intriguing but I think it’s wrong in this particular context and only serves to further mystify and complicate what is reasonably straightforward. I do think think Prynne has an interest in primary unmediated perception and expression and there is an “oh” in the poem above but I don’t think he’s aiming for some kind of primal language prior to it making “sense”. Such a project would seem at variance with Prynne’s repeated intended to say things “how they are”. The Blanchot quote isn’t given in full because, I suspect, it doesn’t say what Grant wants it to say. The last bit of the sentence reads “which is by no means a beyond, rather the
contrary.” which is typical Blanchot but also puts the excluded poet back in the middle of things.

Grant also makes use of Levinas, Celan and Olson in his reading and quotes more from URS than I have to support his thesis which is that the work has a double nature which is illuminated by Blanchot’s observation that the poem is ” the point from which words begin to become their appearance, and the elemental depth upon which this appearance is opened while at the same time it closes”, to which the obvious response is “no it isn’t”.