reading p.inman - part four
I'm now fairly clear that after this post there will be two more in the Reading P.Inman series, making a total of six in all. That may be subject to change, but I think the remainder of what I have to say can be achieved in that space.
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
As I suggested in the previous post I have carried out my own recommended exercise of readingAd Finitum without thinking or attempting to interpret. I have done this four times, twice quietly and twice aloud. I was not wholly successful on any occasion in resisting thought, but I did try to stop it wherever it happened. I should observe here that the experience of reading aloud is different from reading quietly. Reading quietly it's easier to pass through sections where there's an ambiguity about how words are pronounced or what order they should be read in than it is reading aloud. Reading quietly you don't have to make those decisions and the text remains relatively open. Reading aloud you have to decide whether eakages;, from acoma, is eek-ages as in leakages or ache-ages as in breakages. You have to decide whether the following from sided,
should be read as,
'a / state of / turn of / syllable in / consist / to what / crunch / extent does'
'a / turn of / consist / crunch / state of / syllable in / to what / extent does'
Having to settle these ambiguities makes reading aloud a more conscious process than reading quietly.
The advantage of reading aloud is that you have less time to think. The demand to keep going and keep a relatively measured pace means there is less temptation to re-read sections, or flick forwards and backwards to compare passages. It's easier while reading quietly to stop reading and to start thinking about what you've read. What you're able to do more easily though is make the poem part of a broader experience. You can open yourself to all the sounds around you, so they have as much weight as the words on the page. This potentially makes the process a lot richer, and a lot closer to the experience of genuinely sitting doing nothing. I felt it was also easier to take the words away from being words, and to take them as visual phenomena with no necessity to signify anything. Although of course for any literate person that's actually impossible.
As I said I never truly accomplished a reading without thought, but I think I came as close as I can. So what was the experience like? In some ways it wasn't very different from reading the book and consciously, deliberately thinking about what I'm reading. Words, individually and in combination still tripped me up and stopped or slowed my reading. Echoes or phantoms of other words or phrases appeared, and I found I was testing other readings that might be made. But when I was able to ignore that the effect was striking. I have already spoken about how the book gives you the impression of being non-linear, and of words and word-fragments, and ways of arranging the text, recurring at different points. This became much more apparent in these readings. Since I was naturally paying less attention to the 'meaning' then patterns of repetition became more obvious. And for me the centre of the book shifted. Previously I wrote that I saw the three poems n.even, n.else, sided and situ as the pivot point. To an extent that's still true. They are the last poems to really introduce any novel ideas. The poems before are a sharp introduction to the methods of the book and a direct challenge to the reader. The poems that follow revisit, rearrange, and in some senses almost domesticate those early challenges. But what became more important was the penultimate poem, pluper.
pluper on this reading is a phenomenal achievement, and in some ways echoes the reader's experience. It draws in words and themes from the rest of the book, and subjects them to intense, energetic transformations. Even its own permutations are subject to examination. Just as the reader interrogates the book and tries out different readings, so pluper interrogates the book, offering potential readings, glimpses of themes, and hinting at poems that could be in the book but that probably haven't been written. This last point is important, Ad Finitum doesn't collapse in to a stable point in pluper. The poem is not a summary or a conclusion. pluper instead draws the rest of the collection in only to throw open new lines of enquiry, new possibilities for poems through its examination of the text. An example is probably necessary,
her basis shape
all that is the case dust on coffee
some silo toward topic
paint meters that all the time goes on
lake of grammar maroons
This extract from pluper features not only st twice, familiar from ilieu (2), but in maroon completes aroon. from the end of the same poem. I'd argue that rather than st. having been drawn to pluper it's more likely that this element has been scattered by a simultaneous explosion outward from this poem to an earlier stage. lymphs and maroons (again) come from acoma, leak, straightens and shape are all drawn from n.even, n.else. sided provides ecimal (from decimal), 14 panels for Lynne Dreyer includes maroon, decimal and coffee, while straightened and decimal also appear later in qua. Some of the rest is drawn from elsewhere in pluper, her, lake and paint. Other elements appear to be novel.
As I said, it is not just words but also themes that are subject to this turmoil. Water, usually the oceans, more specifically it seems the Atlantic and the North Sea, appear frequently. There are what could be references to the process of print and design, 'crop edge', 'a color / print', and 'the crop from / its edges'. Except couldn't that crop equally well be a cereal or vegetable crop? The poem still refuses to explain and the links between the Atlantic, writing and print, Stalinism, the weather, music and others remain obscure. But for me at least, all these connections were made by trying to read the book unconsciously. Now, having glimpsed a possible structure, I can return to my reading of the text in the next post.
But finally for today a quick word about a major omission in these posts. I have not made reference to, or any explicit use of literary theory. This is not because I feel it's unnecessary or wouldn't help, in a lot of ways it's something I'm quite ashamed of. While I'm happy with what I have written, I haven't made use of some very useful tools. The reason is simply this, I haven't read any literary theory for a long time, and I'm no longer familiar with a lot of basic concepts, or with current thinking. And for the purpose of this reading I simply don't have the time or inclination to catch up. I did study literary theory as part of my first degree which finished twelve years ago, so I have a passing familiarity with Marxist, Feminist, and Post-Colonial readings, but I always found Structuralism, Post-Structuralism and Deconstruction difficult to get to grips with beyond a crude precis. Ideally if I had more time and more current texts to hand then I would attempt to apply some of their techniques here. Sadly, or arguably happily for those of you who don't enjoy literary theory, I won't be doing that.