reading p.inman - part five

The other instalments can be found at the following links:

And you can buy your own copy of Ad Finitum from if p then q

I'd intended to complete this post a lot sooner, but it was much harder to write than I thought. Even now there are moments where I make what look like definitive statements only to retract them later. I have left them as they stand because for me they reflect the process of reading Ad Finitum. The following page from my notebook, if you can read it even in enlarged form, shows that changing my mind on the interpretation of a piece of text is less likely to lead to me altering my essay than searching for the right way to start a sentence, paragraph or argument. I hope it's reflective of the fact that there are a lot of ways I could have examined some of the poems, but chose not to, and by implication that there are many other readings of Ad Finitum than my partial attempts here. I'd also like to underline that I am not an expert, I have no particular knowledge, and that most people reading these posts may be able to make a better job of understanding the poems than I do.

I still want to look at the remaining poems, sided, situ, Roscoe Mitchell (nonaah), 14 panels for Lynne Dreyer, perhaps at pluper again as it falls in sequence, and qua. Of these qua may be in some ways the most difficult. It is a brief poem of only a page, though it has a comparable number of words to ilieu (2) and aengus. It seems awkwardly placed at the end. Exploration of this can wait until next time, for now I want to start with sided.

A few themes and words run through sided. There is a theme of art and artists, Mark Rothko and Eric Dolphy (presumably) are identified by surname, the latter with a strong hint, 'dolphy solo'. That word solo occurs three times in the poem beginning with the first line,

'starts with solo of edge'

While in connection with 'dolphy' solo most probably indicates a solo instrumental passage in a piece of music it's not clear what the meaning of solo is when it appears elsewhere. In the example above, as the line that follows is,

'tiny with Arctic Sea'

then it might be reasonable to infer some solo endeavour such as sailing or crossing harsh terrain on foot. This is a very different sense of solo. A sailor or polar explorer alone is alone in a way that a jazz musician recording or performing on stage never is.

Words and language are another theme. The words dictionary and syllable appear, syllable three times, like solo. Sea, ocean and shoreline can be linked together, as can various words relating to colour, blanch, color, whitecaps, color again. The predominant colour is evidently white. We can carry on doing this for a long time, and perhaps this should raise a question. I will return to this.

For much of sided the language is relatively stable. Recognisable words form almost understandable sentence fragments,

'technique can
only no one'

'decimal light of wolf'

But then on the third and fourth pages (of a total ten) there are incomplete words, (ipsis., obl., and elp., all of which come with a full point. From here the sentences are fewer and more fragmentary. Single words are more common, many eroded to only a fraction. Others may never have been words you could recognise, gluss, plem, vum. This gradual dissolution even affects words that haven't otherwise been altered. In context they begin to look like stubs. For example at the bottom of the seventh page we find 'bug / hue / vum'. Both bug and hue are perfectly acceptable, normal words, yet here in proximity to vum and similar non-words they're made strange. As the words fall apart so the themes I thought I could detect disappear. They may after all have been nothing more than lists of words.

This disarticulation of language and theme continues with situ. Words from sided are scattered like debris, prairie, whitecap, sea. The themes though have been lost. There may be something about birds, aviary, 'a bird in / flight', but it doesn't go anywhere. Theme is the wrong word. It suggests strands of ides that can be unpicked, that will reveal something about the work, perhaps even about the author's intent. The themes here aren't like that. They're more like threads of association periodically emerging. They may even be phantoms like the apparent puns that surface from time to time, the brain finding patterns. Since there is no narrative, no development or exposition, no characters to grasp, unrelated words are connected into themes. What does it even mean to say, as I have, that 'words and language are another theme'? At most it amounts to odd words. So final poem qua includes the word prose, first poem ilieu (2) includes the words book and literature, and the word syllable recurs in sided. Even with other words elsewhere in the collection this doesn't amount to much. I think we have to reject the idea of there being themes that will give us any clues about the book.

That just leaves the words, and perhaps also their spatial arrangement on the page. I wrote previously that n.even, n.else, sided and situ 'are the last poems to really introduce any novel ideas'. I knew perfectly well when I wrote that that there were possible objections to my interpretation. Principally that the quartering in Roscoe Mitchell (nonaah) isn't seen elsewhere. It's true that there is no previous quartering, but the page has been divided both horizontally and vertically in ways that introduce ambiguity about the order in which the words should be read on previous occasions. Horizontal lines are there from the beginning and reach their most ambiguous during sided,

As previously seen sided also introduces a vertical division,

situ though is the first poem to include a vertical dividing line,

This is obviously different from Roscoe Mitchell (nonaah),

but for me the novelty here is more in a slightly different configuration of elements that have already been used.

I want to return to that scan of situ in which the vertical line is introduced. It helps to illustrate both a danger of focussing closely on small aspects of the text, and one of the rewards. First the danger. If you look to the left of the line, then running upwards the last letters of each word against the line spell the word 'taint'. This I am sure is accidental, but it would be easy to imbue it with significance, to look for other 'hidden messages'. But looking at this then drew my attention to the right of the line, which reads, 'ion / on / or / ori / ur' What's immediately striking is that with the exception of ori these are all words, although strictly speaking in everyday English ur is most usually a prefix. It's clear that on is contained within ion, and or within ori, and that there is only a single letter's difference between on and or, and between or and ur. I don't believe it's possible to imply anything more from this. The words just look and sound similar, and that's probably enough.

Incidentally, apologies for the mass of scans, I simply haven't figured out how to achieve the appropriate formatting using blogger.


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