L I t T e R

Back to Leafe home

Back to Litter home


It is as though in removing its mask the landscape shows on its face an expression one recognizes but is unable to immediately place.

The press release calls them prose blocs and/or prose poetry. Gordon himself just calls them paragraphs.

What about what I’ve called the “semi-free-floating bits of text”? The press release calls them Sapphic fragments. Ashbery calls them “ghostly fragments”. That would mean that they should be read as if other text, text that would give them semantic significance, once surrounded them, and has since been lost, or erased. I’m not sure we have any authority to read them like that (and, of course, I need not bring up the problematic of authorial intention in front of such a sophisticated audience). Might it be fair to wonder whether the need to contextualize every free-floating signifier or string of signifiers, and to attach meaning to it/them, means that in fact some of us are not postmodern or posthuman yet, in spite of all the press?

All I can say is I tended to leave the bits alone, to let them float, to let them be as-is. I didn’t assume they were fragments. They were just “semi-free-floating bits of text”. I don’t know why they have to “mean” “something”. Especially when the “theme” of the book is the difficulty of “meaning”. To quote the press release, which gets this more or less right, I think, Gordon is concerned with the difficulties of “communicable understanding.” That includes “communicable to oneself”, I think:

Somewhere, a garage door goes down. Thus, a fiction begins. Clouds gather, disperse. Let this suffice as a working formula for working a formula: what I’m coming to terms with – repetition’s liberating constraint. What occurs in the courtly world has little currency to those taking up arms against it. What I’m coming to terms with builds that which contains the components to construct an evolving sense of entropy. The grand narrative the end of narratives had had had had no grandiose ending. It is as though in removing its mask the landscape shows on its face an expression one recognizes but is unable to immediately place.

Gordon raises, and refuses to solve, several issues that impact the possibility of “communicable understanding” : narrative (do the conventions of narrative bring us closer to the mystery we share, or do they screen us from it?) and the so-called end of narrative (do the conventions of the “end of narrative” bring us closer to the mystery we share, or do they screen us from it?); repetition (is there really such a thing, and if so, does it constrain or liberate?); “reality” (does it wear a mask? And if so, what’s under it? And if we lift that veil, will we have words for it?); and one’s social situatedness (thought I do think that “What occurs in the courtly world has [GREAT] currency to those taking up arms against it”).

In many ways, these are indeed (at least in the musical, and I think in the semantic, sense) themes of the book. On the facing page one finds

between What draws
equates of

And that’s all. Is this, as the press release suggests a “Sapphic” fragment, part of a narrative, or does it stand as-is? Does it “stand for” some sort of reality? Or is it just what it is?

I would like to insert a quote here, from a book not under review, Gordon’s “A Fiddle Pulled From the Throat of a Sparrow”, also published in 2007:

afar lies the world

or down over there, far, lies the world

or the world lies to us …

(“A New Hymn to the Old Night”)

Well, yeah. Or – we’re just not equipped.

Some may say that these are old questions, as old at least as Plato. And that they’re tired. But my take is we’ve never been free of them. We can pretend for a while, but – certainly – with quantum mechanics, dark matter, dark energy, the hard question of consciousness and the mind-brain “explanatory gap” – we can’t pretend any more. All our questions and confusions and uncertainties are back with a vengeance .

Gordon is intent on grappling with these questions, at least with their particularly linguistic manifestations. And with refusing to accept interim answers as anything other than interim. Sometimes language itself takes center stage: “Time curls round the bend. Furls round the end? Girls in the glen?” But usually his questioning is language based if not so directly language-oriented:

is ambiguity expression
is intention use

The 1st line is language –oriented. But is the 2nd? And the 3rd? On the facing page the “world” creeps back in:

The first option is to rattle the world in its frame. The second frames the world in its rattle. Between them, an amplifier without its instrument. This is not a metaphor. Each paragraph requires the participants to reposition themselves. From up here, I can make out the action as if it were taking space. Several ants beelining back to headquarters. Reportage lacks ideology as painting lacks performance. Some of these statements are false, including the present example. If one were to take transgression as one’s starting point, then it would be limitation that throws one satisfyingly out of joint.

Here’s a quote from Myung Mi Kim, one that Gordon uses as the epigraph to the last poem in
A Fiddle …: “Cohere who can say”. Who CAN say? And if one does say “Splendor, it all coheres”, well, does it?

The problem of doing justice to sun coming over the hills, morning light accentuating dust on a bureau’s surface, then becoming surface, as one collects tha vagrant thoughts of last night’s proposition for tomorrow into a tenuous plan for today’s action, a course to be followed for its familiarity, for the comfort of greeting again that particular tree, trinkets arranged on a neighbor’s lawn, the same attempt to decode graffiti on the back of a stop sign, rather than the difficulty of inundating one’s self in an alien landscape, which, with its stultifying complexity of surplus imagery, forces one to simultaneously recognize and reject textual symmetry.

Not a bad place to end. Not a bad place to begin. And begin and begin and begin.

Copyright © John Bloomberg-Rissman, 2007

Noah Eli Gordon, “Novel Pictorial Noise”, (pub. Harper Perennial, 2007).

Noah Eli Gordon’s “Novel Pictorial Noise” is John Ashbery’s choice as one of the winners of the 2006 National Poetry Series Open Competition. In addition to publication, Gordon got $1000. And a red dot reading WINNER on the cover of his book. Unfortunately, HarperCollins did a lousy job producing the thing. The cover stock is flimsy and the paper is crap and I think they even tried to save on ink.

Leaving all that aside as worth whatever it’s worth, inside the book one will find untitled paragraphs on each verso, and semi-free-floating bits of text on the rectos. It is possible to read each paragraph and each bit of text separately, or to read the book as a “continuous” whole, or as something where these distinctions are no longer particularly meaningful. My reading tends to fall somewhere between “book as a whole” and “distinctions no longer meaningful.”

Are the paragraphs poetry or prose? It should be obvious by 2007 that this too is another no longer particularly meaningful distinction, but Gordon plays with it. Many of the paragraphs, especially early in the book, are rhymed at the end:

… such that the only relevant plane remaining is constituted entirely by the hue of the grass – the ground over which anyone which to approach must pass.