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A preface to William Carlos Williams : the prepoetics of Kora in hell: improvisations Miki, Roy 1980

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A PREFACE TO WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS: THE PREPOETICS OF KORA IN HELL: IMPROVISATIONS B.A., The Un i v e r s i t y of Manitoba, 1964 M.A., Simon Fraser U n i v e r s i t y , 1969 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY i n THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES (Department of English) We accept t h i s thesis as conforming by ROY AKIRA/MIKI to the required standard THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA January 1980 (c) Roy Akira M i k i , 1980 In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanced degree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make i t freely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensive copying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the Head of my Department or by his representatives. It is understood that copying or publication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my written permission. Department The University of British Columbia 2075 Wesbrook Place Vancouver, Canada V6T 1W5 D E - 6 B P 75-51 I E i i ABSTRACT F i r s t published i n 1920, Kora i n H e l l : Improvisations i s the f i r s t of a series of remarkable books which can best be described as experiments and affirmations of the w r i t i n g act, improvisational texts through which Williams sought to e s t a b l i s h a "poetics" of w r i t i n g . Williams c a l l e d Kora "an opening of the doors," and c e r t a i n l y the work that came of i t , immediately i n the 1920's, and throughout the r e s t of h i s w r i t i n g l i f e , would follow t h i s key book, t h i s "secret document." And he also thought of i t as a "wonder" because he had no book i n mind when he f i r s t sat down to write something d a i l y f o r a year, simply for the sake of w r i t i n g . Unpremeditated and unplanned as i t was, Kora f i n a l l y became a book and showed Williams that a wri t e r composes a£ he writes. This i s the key discovery which makes Kora a c e n t r a l document i n Williams' beginnings as a writer. At the same time, and j u s t as importantly, Kora also i n i t i a t e d Williams into what would be c a l l e d "modernist" w r i t i n g — that i s , w r i t i n g i n which the act of w r i t i n g i s affirmed as a mode of consciousness, actual to that extent. For t h i s reason, t h i s study not only examines the " h i s t o r y " of Kora's composition i n r e l a t i o n to the o r i g i n of Williams' poetics, but also argues that Kora i s a primary text i n the development of "modernist" w r i t i n g i n America, For Williams, i n f a c t , the two were inseparable. Williams -viewed the beginnings of modernist w r i t i n g i n terms of a s h i f t from language used as a transparent v e h i c l e of thought to a new sense of i i i language as i t s e l f a c t u a l . " I t i s the making of that step," he says i n h i s Autobiography, "to come over into the t a c t i l e q u a l i t i e s , the words themselves beyond the mere thought expressed that distinguishes the modern, or d i s t i n -guished the modern of that time from the period before the turn of the century." Williams aligns t h i s discovery with, e a r l y 20th century modernist a r t i s t s l i k e Stuart Davis, Marcel Duchamp and Juan Gr i s . Alongside t h i s change i n a t t i t u d e s toward language came an equally r a d i c a l awareness of the otherness of the world, i t s " o b j e c t i v i t y " i n r e l a t i o n to the " s u b j e c t i v i t y " of the mind's orders. This emphasis upon the p a r t i c u l a r i t y of things made possible a new understanding of man as a creature of nature, a l i v e thing i n a world of other l i v e things: "a speaking animal." This d i s s e r t a t i o n i s divided into three sections. Section One focuses on Williams' understanding, e s p e c i a l l y i n the 1920's, of modernist w r i t i n g and art by considering his "reading" of Dadaism and Surrealism as well as his c r i t i c a l appreciation of Gertrude S t e i n , James Joyce and Shakespeare. Section Two examines the texture of Kora, . - s p e c i f i c a l l y the opacity of the w r i t i n g i n i t , as the e f f e c t of a c r i s i s i n meaning. This c r i s i s i s t i e d d i r e c t l y to a c r i s i s i n language. The text of Kora i s thus discussed as a drama through which a doubletalking f o o l ' s voice emerges. The w r i t e r undergoing the act of w r i t i n g finds himself thrown into a c r i s i s of mind which subverts the closure of f i x e d points of view. A s i m i l a r e f f e c t i s evident i n the texture of Stuart Davis' drawing, the f r o n t i s p i e c e ; t o the f i r s t e d i t i o n of.Kora. Out of t h i s r e j e c t i o n of perspective Williams begins to perceive the nature of c r i s i s as a condition of experience. I t i s from t h i s basis that Section Three explores Kora as the o r i g i n of a new poetic for Williams. A f t e r dealing with the imaginative world of p r e h i s t o r i c art i n r e l a t i o n to the i v b i r t h of the imagination i n Kora, i t then argues that the improyisational method — an act comparable to the act of d r i v i n g a c a r — i s the one method which operates within the experience of c r i s i s , F i n a l l y , Section Three looks at c r i s i s as a l i f e - p r i n c i p l e and examines the new sense of a feminine " s e l f " i n Kora, one constituted through, the c r i s i s of w r i t i n g . For Williams the appearance of t h i s other s e l f i n the act of w r i t i n g i s a re-enactment i n the. imagination of the Kora myth. V TO SLAVIA & WAYLEN FOR PUTTING UP WITH ME & TO ELISSE FOR BEING BORN RIGHT AT THE END This immediacy, the thing, as I went on writing, living as I could, thinking a secret life I wanted to tell openly — if only I could — how it lives, secretly about us as much now as ever. It is the history, the anatomy of this, not subject to surgery, plumbing or cures, that I wanted to tell. I don't know why. Why tell that which no one wants to hear? But I saw that when I was successful in portraying something, by accident, of that secret world of perfection, that they did want to listen. Definitely. And my "medicine" was the thing which gained me entrance to these secret gardens of the self. It lay there, another world, in the self. I was permitted by my medical badge to follow the poor, defeated body into those gulfs and grottos. And the astonishing thing is that-at such times and in such places — foul as they may be with the stinking ischio-rectal abscesses of our comings and goings — just there, the thing, in all its greatest beauty, may for a moment be freed to fly for a moment guiltily about the room. In illness, in the permission I as a physician have had to be present at deaths and births, at the tormented battles between daughter and diabolic mother, shattered by a gone brain — just there — for a split second — from one side or the other, it has fluttered before me for a moment, a phrase which I quickly write down on anything at hand, any piece of paper I can grab. It is an identifiable thing, and its characteristic, its chief character is that it is sure, all of a piece and, as I have said, instant and perfect: it comes, it is there, and it vanishes. But I have seen it, clearly. I have seen it. I know it because there it is. I have been possessed by it just as I was in the fifth grade — when she leaned over the back of the seat before me and greeted me with some obscene remarks — which I cannot repeat even if made by a child forty years- ago, because no one would or could under-stand what I am saying that then, there, it had appeared. (.The Autobiography of William Carlos- Williams, 288-289) v i i ABBREVIATIONS A The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams AN A Novelette and Other Prose CEP The Collected E a r l i e r Poems of William Carlos Williams CLP The Collected Later Poems of William Carlos Williams EK The Embodiment of Knowledge GAN The Great American Novel IAG In the American Grain IW I Wanted to Write a Poem K Kora i n H e l l : Improvisations P Paterson PB Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems PO Poems, 1909 SA Spring and A l l SE Selected Essays of William Carlos Williams SL Selected Letters of William Carlos Williams For convenience I have used the texts of Kora i n H e l l : Improvisations, Spring  and A l l , "The Descent of Winter," The Great American Novel, and A Novelette  and Other Prose c o l l e c t e d i n Imaginations, ed. Webster Schott, A l l page references f o r these t i t l e s r e f e r to Imaginations. For example, K, 39 refer s to a quotation from KOra i n H e l l on page 39 of Imaginations; SA, 92 a quotation from Spring and A l l on page 92 i n Imaginations, and so on. v i i i TABLE OF CONTENTS ABSTRACT PREFACE PROLOGUE: MY SELF WAS BEING SLAUGHTERED SECTION ONE: THE WORD MAN INTRODUCTION: RING,-RING;-'RING, 'RING • 33 CHAPTER TWO: RIEN, RIEN, RIEN 52 CHAPTER THREE: THE LANGUAGE . . . THE LANGUAGE 66 SECTION TWO: PERSPECTIVE AS CLOSURE CHAPTER FOUR:'fOi? WHAT IT'S WORTH 87 CHAPTER FIVE: TO LOOSEN THE ATTENTION 128 CHAPTER SIX: THE FRONTISPIECE? 148 SECTION THREE: A NEW STEP CHAPTER SEVEN: THE BIRTH OF THE IMAGINATION 169 CHAPTER EIGHT: WRITE GOING. LOOK TO STEER. 209 CHAPTER NINE: A.1NEW DIRECTION 244 CONCLUSION: AN OPENING OF THE DOORS 273 NOTES 287 BIBLIOGRAPHY 306 Pages i i i x 2 PREFACE There i s an anecdote t o l d me by his mother, who wished me to understand his character, as follows: The young William Carlos, aged l e t us say about seven, arose i n the morning, dressed and put on h i s shoes. Both shoes but-toned on the l e f t side. He regarded t h i s untoward pheno-menon f o r a few moments and then c a r e f u l l y removed the shoes, placed shoe a. that had been on h i s l e f t foot, on his r i g h t foot, and shoe b_, that had been on the r i g h t foot, on his l e f t foot; both sets of buttons again appeared on the l e f t side of the shoes. This stumped him. With the shoes so buttoned he went to school, but . . . and here i s the s i g n i f i c a n t part of the story, he spent the day i n c a r e f u l consideration of the matter. (Ezra Pound, from "Dr. Williams' P o s i t i o n , " 1928) Once I came .near .drowning, I dived from a row-boat during a storm to recover my oars which I had l o s t , having "caught a crab." I had l i g h t clothes on. I am not a very strong swimmer. I recovered one of the oars but the wind c a r r i e d my boat away f a s t e r than I could follow. The waves were high. I swam as hard as I could u n t i l out of breath. My clothes began to drag. I t r i e d to remove my shoes. I couldn't. I swallowed some water. I thought I was done f o r when there crossed my mind these sentences: So t h i s i s the end? What a waste of l i f e to die so stup i d l y . The thought was s i n g u l a r l y emotionless, simply a clear v i s i o n of the s i t u a t i o n . So much was th i s so that I was i n s t a n t l y sobered. My action taking at once the q u a l i t y of the thought, tucking the one oar under my l e f t arm I swam qu i e t l y along hoping someone would see the empty boat and come out for me, which a man did. My courage, i f you w i l l , turned upon the color of my thought. (William Carlos Williams, from "Three Professional Studies," 1919) X The l o y e l y anecdote Pound /uses to begin his essay "Dr. Williams' P o s i t i o n " (.1928),"'" i t s obvious .playfulness aside, indicates how immediately he understood Williams to be the kind of writer who could dwell on an inconsistency and turn i t around and around -until i t f i n a l l y engaged his whole undivided attention. An intimation of th i s same c a p a b i l i t y l i e s embedded i n a l i n e from Kora; i n H e l l : "Or throw two shoes on the f l o o r and see how t h e y ' l l l i e i f you think i t ' s a l l one way" (K, 80). Williams' mind operates i n contraries — many ways a l l at once — that are held i n t h e i r complexity. And i t can do so simply because i t thrives on what i s indeterminate, unknown, and i n the play of change. C r i s i s i s the very a i r i t breathes. The passage from "Three Professional Studies" was written around the same time as Kora, and although i t reads as a biographical s t a t e -ment, no other s i m i l a r statement written then could better reveal the texture 2 of his w r i t i n g i n t h i s unique book. He apparently saved himself i n the boating d i s a s t e r when he released h i s mind to the condition of the accident. By so adjusting i t to the confusion of t h i s c r i s i s , he discovered how to work his way through. His actions turned on the v a r i a b i l i t y of his thought. In essence t h i s drama presents the terms of what happens i n Kora. The book began out of a c r i s i s i n Williams' w r i t i n g l i f e ("my s e l f was being slaughtered" (A, 158), he says i n his Autobiography), but given his nature as a wri t e r , i t quickly translated i t s e l f i nto a c r i s i s i n language. In Kora Williams allowed himself to leap into his own "slaughter" to see i f the act of w r i t i n g i t s e l f could r e t r i e v e him. And the text f i n a l l y published i n 1920 i s the remarkable outcome of th i s venture, Throughout the massive amount that Williams would subsequently write, i t continues to read as a key, the one book that prefigures the Tinderlying pattern of assumptions i n x i Williams' w r i t i n g . Kora reveals Williams' own beginnings, or to use the term I have chosen f o r the s u b t i t l e : o f t h i s study, the "pre~poetics" of his w r i t i n g . In t h i s sense, what follows may be understood as a "preface" to Williams, Other than that, Williams himself offered me a clue as to how an extended study of such an unusual text might be structured. " I t i s r a r e l y understood," he says i n Spring and A l l , how such plays as Shakespeare's were written — or i n fa c t how any work of "value has been written, the p r a c t i c a l bearing of which i s that only as the work,was produced, i n that way alone can i t be understood. (SA, 128) ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would l i k e e s p e c i a l l y to thank Peter Quartermain for supervising t h i s d i s s e r t a t i o n . His support and thoughtful advice throughout have helped me to see my way through. Warren Tallman and Robin Blaser have encouraged me at the r i g h t moments. And f i n a l l y , I would l i k e to thank the Dean of Arts, Simon Fraser U n i v e r s i t y , for providing me with the services of Miriam Walker, who typed the f i n a l draft of t h i s d i s s e r t a t i o n . ? 1 KORA IN HELL: IMPROVISATIONS By^ WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS 2 PROLOGUE MY SELF WAS BEING SLAUGHTERED 3 In 1920 when the Kora i n H e l l was o r i g i n a l l y published by The Four Seas Co., of Boston, I was a young man, f u l l of yeast that was soon to flower as the famous outburst of l i t e r a t u r e and p a i n t i n g marking the e a r l y years of the present century. The notorious Armory Show had taken place i n 1913, seven years e a r l i e r , James Joyce's Ulysses was to appear i n 1922. (K, 29) Af t e r a long 37 year i n t e r v a l , Kora i n H e l l ; Improvisations was f i n a l l y republished i n 1957, the occasion of these opening l i n e s from a b r i e f "Prologue" that Williams wrote to replace the o r i g i n a l one. In 1920, Williams was 37 years old, perhaps not a "young man," but c e r t a i n l y " f u l l of yeast," who would soon flower i n h i s own "outburst of l i t e r a t u r e . " A v e r i t a b l e barrage of t i t l e s appeared i n the years immediately following Kora, as Williams wrote his way into the 20's: the magazine Contact (1920-1923) with Robert McAlmon; Sour Grapes (1921), a c o l l e c t i o n of poems; the experimental prose of The Great American Novel (1923); the c r i t i c a l prose and the poems of Spring and A l l (1923) ; the essays on American h i s t o r y that 4 comprise In the American Grain (1925), a portion of which was written during a t r i p to Europe i n 1924; the improvisational prose and the poems i n "The Descent of Winter" (1928).; A Voyage to Pagany (1928), a f i r s t novel that grew out of the European escapade; a t r a n s l a t i o n of P h i l l i p e Soupault's S u r r e a l i s t novel, Last Nights of P a r i s (1929); and f i n a l l y , A Novelette and Other Prose (1921-1931), more improvisations alongside a c o l l e c t i o n of essays, not published u n t i l 1932, but a book that c e r t a i n l y belongs to the 20's, and i n fact acts as a summation of Williams' involve-ment i n modernist w r i t i n g during the 20's. By the time Lawrence F e r l i n g h e t t i from City Lights Books approached Williams to re-issue Kora i n h i s Pocket Poets Series, the one book that had thrown Williams into a new decade of w r i t i n g had become one of h i s most hidden, though i t had, at the same time — by then — become one of the l o s t " c l a s s i c s " of modern American w r i t i n g . Long unavailable, but read by a growing number of poets and w r i t e r s , by the middle 50's Kora had entered another generation, another time. F e r l i n g h e t t i was acting on t h i s currency, and perhaps t h i s explains why Williams wrote another "Prologue" i n which he mentions that Kora has "remained more or l e s s of a secret document for my own wonder and amusement known to few others" (K, 30). Let another age, he implies, make of the text what i t can. Yet the phrase "secret document" resonates, despite the f a c t that Williams o f f e r s no further explanation or expansion of i t . And the same e f f e c t holds true f or another statement on Kora, which he made at about the same time, i n I_ Wanted to Write a. Poem (1958) : Kora i n . H e l l : Improvisations i s a unique book, not l i k e any other I have written. I t i s the one book I have enjoyed r e f e r r i n g to more than any of the others. I t reveals myself to me and perhaps that i s why I have 5 kept i t to myself. (IW, 26) 1 A "unique book, not l i k e any other I have written." A "secret document." An "amusement." The one book that "reveals myself to me," which i s why i t was kept "to myself" f o r so long. Kora did remain for Williams both an unusual and a s p e c i a l book, one that he often l i k e d to r e f e r to. In I_ Wanted to Write, a^  Poem, indeed, he goes so f a r as to provide a f a i r l y lengthy gloss on the unexpected way Kora came together as a text, written backwardly as i t was — The Improvisations . . . came f i r s t ; then the Inter-pretations which appear below the d i v i d i n g l i n e . Next I a r r i v e d at a t i t l e and found the Stuart Davis drawing. (IW, 29) As though he did not know u n t i l the very l a s t —- or l a s t but one — what i t was he was doing. His remarks seem to make Kora le s s obscure; i t i s s i g n i f i c a n t , however, that Williams does not t a l k about the severe personal breakdown — or about, a breakdown at a l l ! — that drove him to write i t i n the f i r s t place. The c r i s i s i s so priv a t e that i t s l i d e s only b r i e f l y into the 1957 "Prologue," but without further commentary — s c r i b b l i n g i n the dark, leaving behind on my desk, often past midnight, the sheets to be f i l e d away l a t e r . . . . (K, 29) The c r i s i s , Williams t e l l s us i n h i s Autobiography, was p r e c i p i t a t e d by the war, the war i n Europe, that was destroying everything he believed i n : "Damn i t , " he writes, the freshness, the newness of a springtime which I had sensed among the others, a reawakening of l e t t e r s , a l l that delight which i n making a world to match the supremacies of the past could mean was being bl o t t e d out by the war. (A, 158) " A l l that delight . . . could mean," destroyed. And the image of t h i s destruction gave r i s e to the figu r e of the maiden Kora (the Greek, Kore), 6 the v i r g i n deflowered or "raped" by Hades and abducted by him in t o the Underworld, into H e l l . "Kora was the springtime of the year; my year, my s e l f was being slaughtered" (A, 158). In such an impasse, the mind turns f o r r e l i e f , where? Against the l o s s , against the slaughter: "What was the use of denying i t ? For r e l i e f , to keep myself from planning and thinking at a l l , I began to write i n earnest" (A, 158). By 1917 (America entered the war i n •.April) Williams .could quite possibly have seen the war as a large-scale breakdown, a sign that an older world was c o l l a p s i n g inward upon i t s e l f . And the vengeance unleashed i n t h i s "slaughter" — which made a mockery of any b e l i e f i n reasoned orders — might i n turn have supported h i s growing sense, embryonic i n 1917, f u l l - f l e d g e d i n the 20's, that European culture was dying. His fr i e n d Ezra Pound wrote i n Hugh Selwyn Mauberley that so many "of the best" died f o r "an old b i t c h gone i n the teeth," f o r "a botched c i v i l i -2 zation," a c i v i l i z a t i o n bankrupt of s i g n i f i c a n c e and now brought to the nightmarish edge of d i s i n t e g r a t i o n . The war, for Williams, could thus very well have been an image of "Reason i n madness," to quote a l i n e from King Lear. 3 Having s a i d t h i s much, however, as readers of Kora, we s t i l l get the uneasy f e e l i n g that we are outside the text. The book, written during the war, was perhaps conditioned by i t s senseless violence, but nothing on the surface of i t would lead us to conclude that the war, and only the war, stands behind i t . Instead, we are drawn into the privacy of the w r i t i n g , the voice i n s i d e i t undergoing an i n t e r i o r i z e d c r i s i s , the very foundation of i t s mind being shaken apart — at war with i t s e l f . Hence the "secrecy" of Kora. In other words, the war i n Europe i s less the cause of Kora and 7 more the external equivalent of a l i k e disorder i n Williams' mind. And yes, i n t h i s sense, the w r i t i n g does manifest the c r i s i s of a breakdown, a former world of b e l i e f s destroyed by unpredictable forces that break i n t o the mind of the writer and s p l i t i t apart. And t h i s cleavage does account fo r the very texture of the w r i t i n g i n which the "slaughter" occurs. Hence the "documentary" nature of Kora. The "newness of a springtime" i n the "reawakening of l e t t e r s " that Williams says the war "blotted out" s t i l l l i n g e r s i n the opening paragraph of the 1957 "Prologue" to Kora. The Armory Show had happened seven years before. No mention of the war at a l l . The International E x h i b i t i o n of Modern Art at the 69th Regiment Armory i n New York opened on February 17, 1913 and brought to l i g h t what had been latent up to then. As Williams says i n "Recollections" (1952), t h i s infamous show "shocked New Yorkers into a r e a l i z a t i o n , a v i s u a l -i z a t i o n , that t h e i r world had been asleep while the art world had under-gone a r e v o l u t i o n . " Later i n the same year Williams would, have The  Tempers (1913), a sl i m volume of poetry, published i n London through the d i r e c t e f f o r t of Pound. I t was Pound who also wrote, a year before, the f i r s t p u blic statement on Williams. "A Sel e c t i o n from The Tempers" appeared i n the October, 1912 issue of The Poetry Review (London), the " f i r s t magazine p u b l i c a t i o n of the poet" (IW, 11) and Pound's "Introductory Note," the " f i r s t published send-off of the then unpublished Williams" (IW, l l ) . 5 8 Williams would l a t e r consider The Tempers h i s f i r s t book of poems — i n h i s Autobiography, f o r instance, he c a l l s Kora h i s t h i r d book, a f t e r The Tempers and A l Que Quiere! (1917) (A, 158) — but there i s a "secret" l i f e : years before, he had p r i v a t e l y published Poems (1909) i n Rutherford. Perhaps Williams was almost immediately embarrassed by t h i s c o l l e c t i o n of early poems. He never allowed the book to be reprinted i n h i s l i f e t i m e , and hoped never. I t i s of course quite s u r p r i s i n g , at f i r s t , to discover that, the poet who wrote Paterson, or for that matter Kora, could have begun wr i t i n g by thinking up such l i n e s as: Hark! Hark! Mine ears are numb With dread! Methought a f a i n t h a l l o o i n g rang! Where a r t thou hid? Cry, cry again! I come! I come! I come! (PO, 9) Or: A l l o'ergrimed With dust and sweat art thou, which, j o i n t l y , mar Thine else smooth, well-watched bulk, t i l l many a scar Quick fancy sees there aptly pantomimed. (PO, 12) Much l a t e r , Williams was the f i r s t to admit that Poems was " f u l l of inversions of phrase, the rhymes inaccurate, the forms stereotype" (A, 107); "The poems are obviously young, obviously bad" (IW, 10). In Kora, Williams w i l l b l a s t those poets who use language to " r e c t i f y the rhythm" (K, 32) to make i t conform to r i g i d patterns, and who impose an a r t i f i c i a l p oetic method onto experience to " l i f t a l l out of the ruck" (K, 32) of the world: an exact measure of what he himself attempts to do i n the "'high f a l u t i n ' " (IW, 14) language of Poems. In "The Uses of Poetry" (PO, 11), for instance, the poet has a "fond a n t i c i p a t i o n of a day / O'er-f i l l e d with pure d i v e r s i o n presently." And why? "For I must read a lady poesy / The while we g l i d e by many a l e a f y bay." And on t h i s same day, he and h i s "lady" w i l l d r i f t away from a world of "woes" and be transported 9 "On poesy's transforming giant wing, / To worlds afar whose f r u i t s a l l anguish mend. Poems reveals Williams' i s o l a t e d state of mind at t h i s time, the poems heavily dominated by a disguised privacy, the poet i n them wanting his poems to l i f t him i n t o some transcendent completion that w i l l resolve the tensions of experience. Beneath the transparency of the language, however, we can detect a c e r t a i n s t r a i n , as i f Williams were himself aware that h i s poems are enclosed i n the privacy of his int e n t i o n s , his speech cons t r i c t e d by h i s own i n a b i l i t y to break through the closed forms of perception.in which h i s mind i s caged. In the same poem, "The Uses of Poetry," we glimpse b r i e f l y the q u a l i t y of a wholly d i f f e r e n t kind of mind: "at random play / The glossy black winged May-flies." This sharp image seems i t s e l f to appear at random, but i t i s almost l o s t i n a poem that i s being shaped by a predetermined end, "To worlds a f a r , " away from the aimless play of p a r t i c u l a r s . Or i n "The F o l l y of Preoccupation" (PO, 20), we are t o l d that "imperfection c l i n g s a l l forms about," and aside from the forced inversion of phrase ("about" must rhyme with "st o u t " ) , the poet who desires a "wisdom" to "out-face" t h i s condition i s , as the poem following, "The Bewilderment of Youth" (PO, 20) makes c l e a r , conscious of the aberrational nature of things, t h e i r m u l t i p l i c i t y and indeterminacy: . . . views forms which myriad seem, D i s t r a c t i n g here, there, each with changing gleam, Like f i r e f l i e s pointing midnight's c u r t a i n smooth. And a l l h i s purpose stands amazed, unknit By wonder, knowing naught of where nor why, Compassed about with f r e s h v a r i e t y Where'er his chancing eager looks may f l i t . "The Bewilderment of Youth," predictably so, moves to old age when a l l the " v a r i e t y " w i l l mingle " i n t o one," to t h i s end, but the a c t u a l i t y of a 10 "formless rout" nevertheless remains to exert an unacknowledged pressure that s t r a i n s t h i s closure. A l l the while Williams was assembling Poems for p u b l i c a t i o n , he was working as an i n t e r n , f i r s t i n French Ho s p i t a l , and then i n the Nursery and Child's Hospital on the west side of New York, " i n a notorious neighborhood c a l l e d San Juan H i l l , " or more simply " j u s t p l a i n H e l l ' s Kitchen" (A, 90). In the Nursery and Child's Hospital e s p e c i a l l y he was i n i t i a t e d into a sense of li f e - p r o c e s s e s quite removed from the kind of poetry he was w r i t i n g i n his off-hours, or even from "poetry" at a l l ! So he was lonely. Pound had gone o f f to London, and soon a f t e r , H i l d a D o o l i t t l e (H.D.) followed, h i s "lady" i n "The Uses of Poetry." They were his only poet-companions at the Univ e r s i t y of•Pennsylvania. Now he was l e f t to make h i s way i n the world of medicine. H e l l ' s Kitchen: "There were shoutings and near r i o t s and worse p r a c t i c a l l y every week-end" (A, 93). The violence of the area was mirrored i n the everyday l i f e of the children's ward of the h o s p i t a l . The administration was corrupt, Williams' "sleeping quarters . . . on more than one occasion f u l l of bedbugs" (A, 94), so many i l l e g i t i m a t e babies born there that a Miss Diamond suggested a banner with the sign '"BABIES FRESH EVERY HOUR, ANY COLOR DESIRED, 100% ILLEGITIMATE!*" (A, 94). be hung around the h o s p i t a l . And there were b a t t l e s among the women i n the ward, once, f i v e pregant women "s n a r l i n g and s p i t t i n g l i k e c a t s," two of them apparently "pregnant from the same man" (A, 94). Another time, Williams got the job of transporting a dead c h i l d i n a suitcase "by public con-veyance," and he wondered what would; happen i f the r i c k e t y container should f l y open and the body of the c h i l d f a l l out j u s t at the 11 wrong moment. I t e l l you I sweated over that job, plenty. (A, 96) S t i l l another time, Williams had to improvise a s o l u t i o n to the bedbug epidemic. The ward was fumigated with the fumes of bar-sulphur set on f i r e with alcohol. "When we opened the place up l a t e r i n the day," he r e c a l l s , "you never saw such heaps of insects on the f l o o r s and i n the corners of each bed!" (A, 98). Is t h i s image maybe the basis of those "forms which myriad seem" i n Poems? In any case, the s t o r i e s accumulate, one a f t e r another i n an endless stream. Williams' memory i n h i s Autobiography i s u n f a i l i n g here. As an i n t e r n i n H e l l ' s Kitchen, he was undergoing a major transformation, the poet i n him being thrown into another world that had u n t i l now escaped him. I t was at th i s time that Williams decided to become a p e d i a t r i c i a n . "I was fascinated by i t and knew at once that that was my f i e l d " (A, 95). The choice was fundamental and permanent. He entered, then and there, into the realm of c h i l d b i r t h , a woman's world h i s medicine gave access to: During my time there I delivered three hundred babies and faced every complication that could be thought of. I learned to know and to admire women, of a s o r t , i n that place. They l e d a tough l i f e and s t i l l kept a sort of gentleness and kindness about them that could, I think, beat anything a man might o f f e r under the same circumstances. (A, 94) 7 During t h i s time, Williams was going home to work on the poems gathered together i n Poems where the immediacy — and complication — of his l i f e as an i n t e r n i n New York was being transposed into poems that d i s f i g u r e d language, made i t conform to h i s own sense of distance from a contemporary a c t u a l i t y absent i n his poetic endeavors. He l a t e r confessed that the poems were dominated by "my idea of what a poem should be" (IW, 14). Should be: the r e l i a n c e upon predetermined intentions i s 12 the very narrowness that makes Poems the prototype of the kind of compo-s i t i o n a l method that Williams i n Kora would attack with, a vengeance, so d i r e c t l y would he associate i t , by then, with w r i t i n g that forces experience into conventionalized forms that, p e r s i s t by c l o s i n g out the present. A sign of the divorce from the actual i m p l i c i t i n Poems surfaces i n the opening l i n e s of "A Street Market, N.Y., 1908" (PO, 15): Eyes that can see, Oh, what a r a r i t y ! For many a year gone by I've looked and nothing seen But ever been Blind to a patent wide r e a l i t y . The v i z o r s are beginning to l i f t from Williams' eyes, and as they do, we can hear, however f r a g i l e l y , a poet who i s j u s t becoming aware of the i s o l a t i n g e f f e c t of h i s privacy and h i s separation from a present that he has yet to experience i n i t s p a r t i c u l a r i t y . Or as we read i n "The Loneliness of L i f e " (PO, 16-17): But now among low plains or banks which rear ;-Their flower hung screens o'erhead I wander — where? These f i e l d s I know not; know not whence I come; Nor aught of a l l which spreads so touching near. The very bird-songs I have heard them n'er And t h i s strange f o l k they know not e'en my name. Williams explains, i n retrospect, that the poems he was w r i t i n g around 1909 "had to be got out of my system some way" (A, 106), so what better way than to publish them himself. A l i t t l e further on i n the same section of h i s Autobiography he says that "Ezra was s i l e n t , i f indeed he ever saw the thing, which I hope he never d i d " (A, 107). But Williams had sent a copy to Pound i n London, and Pound had written an uneasy (yet t r u t h f u l ) reply. The tone of Pound's l e t t e r , dated May 21, 1909, suggests that he wanted to be honest without unduly hurting 13 Williams' f e e l i n g s . Poems shows that Williams has "poetic i n s t i n c t s , " but other than that, the book i s no d i f f e r e n t from "the innumerable poetic volumes poured out" r e g u l a r l y i n London. "Your book would not a t t r a c t g even passing attention here." No doubt Williams was disappointed, and yet no doubt he knew that Pound was r i g h t . Despite a l l the best intentions on h i s part, Poems was f i n a l l y not the kind of book he wanted to write; no matter, then, that he did take the task of poetry s e r i o u s l y , no slack-ness there. This may even be the same " i n t e n t " (A, 107) he l a t e r con-sidered the only value i n a book he would otherwise have preferred to forget. "I was t e r r i b l y earnest" (IW, 14). In any case, and fortunately so, Williams had no time to dwell on the l i m i t s of Poems. The p u b l i c a t i o n brought one phase of h i s l i f e to an end. In July, 1909, a f t e r only a few months, he l e f t New York "on a second-class vessel f o r Germany" (A, 108) where he planned to study p e d i a t r i c s . The following year, he would f i n a l l y get his chance to see Pound: that never-to-be-forgotten week i n London i n A p r i l , 1910 when he experienced Pound's l i t e r a r y m i l i e u f i r s t - h a n d and had a chance to hear. Yeats l e c t u r e — "a very fashionable a f f a i r , to be presided over by S i r Edmund Gosse, who, i t appears, hated the Irishman's guts" (A, 115). During Yeats' discussion of younger I r i s h poets who were, i n h i s mind, unjustly neglected i n England, Gosse i n protest rudely banged a b e l l and continued to do t h i s each time Yeats t r i e d to carry on his discussion. Af t e r the t h i r d time, Yeats was "forced to s i t down and the lec t u r e came to an end" (A, 115). What continued to dwell i n Williams' memory, however, was not simply the callousness of the event i t s e l f — l i v i n g evidence that English poetry was l i t e r a l l y c o n t r o l l e d by the heavy hand of 14 authority — but the fa c t that no one i n the audience, not even Pound, had the nerve to protest Gosse's actions. No one defended Yeats, not even Williams. And so Williams r e c a l l s h i s own i n a b i l i t y : What a chance i t had been f o r me — but. I wasn't up to i t . I must have shown by my face, however, how near I was to an.explosion, f o r a woman back of me, an extra-ordinary-looking woman, almost spoke — but didn't, and so I sank back once more into anonymity. (A, 116) London was not Williams.' place, and t h i s at l e a s t was c l e a r : " I t seemed completely foreign to anything I desired. I was glad to get away" (A, 117). It i s nevertheless a strange turnabout — t h o u g h not altogether so, Pound being at that time h i s only l i n k to a l i t e r a r y world — that Williams' f i r s t magazine p u b l i c a t i o n would appear two years l a t e r i n the same " f o r e i g n " place he was "glad to get away" from, and with a "Note" by Pound introducing him to a B r i t i s h audience as a younger American poet. Pound points to Williams' honesty ("He has not sold h i s soul to e d i t o r s " ) , his strength ("He has not complied with t h e i r niminy-piminy r e s t r i c t i o n s " ) , and h i s s t r a i g h t - t a l k i n g manner ('.'He apparently means what he says") , a l l of which indicates the emergence of a poet who "may write some very good poetry." Pound then goes on to affirm, the absence i n The Tempers of one qu a l i t y which had been written a l l over Poems: "the magazine touch" which feeds on conventional, expectations of what poetry should be. Pound also confesses h i s " f e e l i n g of companionship" with an American poet with whom he can " t a l k without a l e x i c o n . " This free-wheeling tone seems intended to taunt h i s so-called " c r i t i c a l English audience," but i n the b r i e f 15 l i n e s he quotes — . . . crowded Like peasants to a f a i r , Clear skinned, wild from s e c l u s i o n ^ — the accuracy of the image and the directness of the syntax reveal immediately a great change i n Williams' poetry. I t i s as i f Williams himself were one of the peasants "wild from s e c l u s i o n , " h i s own nature coming into i t s own through a language charged with desire. Pound's influence i s present i n The Tempers, the Provencal q u a l i t y of " F i r s t P r a i s e , " for instance: Lady of dusk-wood fastnesses, Thou art my Lady. I have known the c r i s p , s p l i n t e r i n g l e a f - t r e a d with thee on before, White, slender through green saplings; I have l a i n by thee on the brown fo r e s t f l o o r Beside thee, my Lady. (CEP, 17) But the temper of the whole volume displays a much d i f f e r e n t Williams. "There i s , " we are t o l d i n I Wanted, to Write a Poem, "a big jump from the f i r s t book to the poems i n The Tempers (IW, 15). What i s s t r i k i n g i s the new push toward a re-valuation of desire, the same desire that was confined i n Poems. In "Postlude" we f i n d the l i n e , "Blue at the prow of my d e s i r e " (CEP, 1 6 ) . ^ The image returns at the end of the "Prologue" to Kora, but modified, more e x p l i c i t , more d e c l a r a t i v e : "The poet should be forever at the ship's prow" (K, 28). For the rest of his l i f e , Williams considered The Tempers his f i r s t serious book. Slender as the volume was, i t did, i n d i r e c t contrast to Poems, allow f o r the b i r t h of a more authentic voice. The following l i n e s from "Postlude," as one example which comes quickly to mind, exemplify t h i s change: Your h a i r i s my Carthage And my arms the bow, And our words arrows 16 To shoot the stars Who from that misty sea Swarm to destroy us; (CEP, 16) The poet who surfaces i n The Tempers i s r e s t l e s s with narrow confining orders that deny the a c t u a l i t y of desire: We r e v e l i n the sea's green'. Come play: It i s forbidden'. (CEP, 20) The s i r e n voice i n these f i n a l l i n e s of the poem "Prom 'The B i r t h of Venus,' Song" c a l l s out seductively to those who w i l l follow the lead of i t s " f o r -bidden" movement; i t s p l a y f u l tone p u l l s the reader out to the sea of a laughter s t r a i n i n g to break free from i n h i b i t i o n s that confine desire. The counterpart to t h i s female voice speaks through a f o o l ' s voice, that i s ready to break out of i t s cage in."The Fool's Song": I t r i e d to put a b i r d i n a cage, 0 f o o l that I am! For the b i r d was Truth. Sing merrily, Truth: I t r i e d to put Truth i n a cage! (CEP, 19) This loosening of d e s i r e . i n turn makes possible a noticeable s h i f t away from the former r e l i a n c e on what poetry should say. In "Con B r i o " the speech i s sharp and cutting, n o • s l i d i n g o f f into strained inversions of phrase, no attempt to force words into an a r t i f i c i a l l y balanced syntax. The mind ins i d e the words cuts across the grain of the "perdamnable mi s e r l i n e s s " of petty orders that attempt to freeze the world into a neatness contrary to i t s natural rhythms: Bah, t h i s sort of s l i t h e r i s below contempt! In the same v e i n we should have apple trees exempt From bearing anything hut pink blossoms a l l the year, Fixed permanent l e s t t h e i r b e l l i e s wax unseemly, and the dear Innocent days of them be wasted quite. (CEP, 31) Pregnant apples, the i n s i s t e n c e of b i r t h , the fact of i t i n a world that 17 can never be "Fixed permanent":' Williams' experience as an i n t e r n comes home to roost. In The Tempers the p h y s i c a l i t y of desire, as well as the p h y s i c a l i t y of the world, asserts i t s e l f . The poet, caught i n the midst of estranging himself from those systems (poetic, moral, s o c i a l or other-wise) that deny desire, thus re-enters the world from i t s "back s i d e " (K, 80), to use a key phrase from Kora. "Hie Jacet," i n t h i s sense, stands as a measure of the jump from Poems to The Tempers: The coroner's merry l i t t l e c h i l d r e n Have such twinkling brown eyes. Their father i s not of gay men And t h e i r mother j o c u l a r i n no wise, Yet the coroner's merry l i t t l e c h i l d r e n Laugh so e a s i l y . They laugh because they prosper. F r u i t f o r them i s upon a l l branches. Lo! how they j i b e at l o s s , f o r Kind heaven f i l l s t h e i r l i t t l e paunches'. It ' s the coroner's merry, merry c h i l d r e n Who laugh so e a s i l y . (CEP, 30) What stands out i n t h i s l o v e l y short poem i s the almost p e r f e c t l y , but not quite, balanced opposition between the form and the subject of the poem. The two stanzas echo one another i n rhythm, language, and structure. There are rhymes but they are " i r r e g u l a r . . . yet u n i t i v e , carrying.from beginning to end" (IW, 15). When they are regular, the rhymes ( l i k e "eyes"/"wise" and "men"/"children") are p l a y f u l , they c a l l a t tention to themselves as rhymes. There i s no pretension behind them, no attempt to disguise t h e i r p a r t i c u l a r i t y . The near rhymes i n stanza two ("prosper"/ " f o r " and "branches"/"paunches") are also j u s t as p l a y f u l , near rhymes, nothing more, no d i s f i g u r a t i o n of the language to f i n d the correct rhyme. And the word "paunches" s t r i k e s home, the suddenness of i t s c o l l o q u i a l appearance i n an otherwise conventional l i n e of me t r i c a l poetry, almost as i f the poet were t r y i n g to d i s l o c a t e the reader's expectation with an 18 exact word that, as such., works to undermine the apparently regulated form of the poem. This tension between predetermined metrical patterns and precise wording i s the exact double of the s p l i t perception w i t h i n the•poem. Death can, from a perspective outside the conventionalized perceptions which disguise i t , be f r u i t f u l . Look, says the f o o l of a poet, j u s t look at the "paunches" of the coroner's "merry c h i l d r e n . " Once again, the doctor-Williams moves i n s i d e the poet-Williams, the one a s s e r t i n g i t s e l f within the other. The form of "Hie Jacet" i s thus deceptive. Inside the apparently neat and orderly e x t e r i o r there i s a l i v e mind at work, watching and waiting for i t s turn, attentive to contradictions, i n f a c t a c t u a l l y t h r i v i n g i n them. Williams says he was, at the time, "conscious of my mother's i n f l u e n c e " : Elena Hoheb, a stranger to America who, i n her detachment from the world of Rutherford, because of t h i s distance, could see i t s i n s u l a r forms as a " f a n t a s t i c world where she was moving as a more or l e s s pathetic f i g u r e " (IW, 16). The same detachment, and a s i m i l a r pathos i n Williams, made possible the poems i n The Tempers, the severance from the narrow perceptions of Poems allowing him to re-view h i s own world i n i t s otherness, as a foreigner l i k e h i s mother would, outside but curiously, for t h i s reason, inside i t s o b j e c t i v i t y . In the "Prologue" to Kora, Williams w i l l envision h i s estranged mother as the figure of the imagination. In The Tempers he was searching about f o r "a new order" because he "was p o s i t i v e l y r e p e l l e d by the old order which, to me, amounted to r e s t r i c t i o n " (IW, 18). The w r i t i n g l i f e was, so i t seemed, f i n a l l y assuming a shape of i t s own: "I was budding, had no r e a l confidence i n my power, but I wanted to make a poetry of my own and i t began to come" (IW, 16). 19 From 1913, and perhaps from the Armory Show on, Williams began to turn more and more to h i s own immediate world for the resources of h i s w r i t i n g . His c i r c l e of friendships i n New York quickly expanded to include the painters and writers who, l i k e himself, were hunting for new forms to accommodate t h e i r sense of the New, both i n painting and writing."'"'*" By then, h i s London experience s t i l l fresh i n mind, Poems and The Tempers behind him, Williams was hungry for companionship. Most of his enthusiasm found a focus i n the Grantwood group of painters and writers who clustered around Walter Arensberg and Alfred. Kreymborg. Kreymborg l i v e d i n Grantwood with h i s wife and edited Others magazine. Pound t o l d Kreymborg to get i n 12 touch with Williams. I t was to Grantwood that Williams, whenever he could get away from Rutherford, would drive to see Kreymborg and the others. In Troubadour, hi s autobiography of t h i s period, Kreymborg preserves a snap-shot of Williams p u l l i n g into Grantwood i n his car: One man, looking l i k e Don Quixote de l a Mancha d r i v i n g the rusty Rosinante, - came 'in. a. battered, two-^seated Ford. Though the actual place he started from was an ugly town, c a l l e d Rutherford, there was enough of the Spaniard i n h i s blood and the madman i n hi s eye and p r o f i l e to have warranted the comparison. Whenever he climbed down from the saddle, with an oath or a b l e s s i n g , he disclosed the bold or bashful features of Ezra Pound's old and Krimmie's new f r i e n d , Dr. William Carlos Williams.13 And against Kreymborg's impressions of Williams' energy, Williams' own memory of t h i s same period of his l i f e : There was at that time a great surge of i n t e r e s t i n the arts generally before the F i r s t World War. New York was seething with i t . Painting took the lead. (A, 134) 20 Grantwood was the focus of a l l these events. I was hugely excited by what was taking place there. For some unapparent reason, someone, years before, had b u i l t several wooden shacks there i n the woods, perhaps a summer colony, why, I cannot say — at l e a s t they were there and were rented for next to nothing. Several writers were involved, but the focus of my own enthus-iasm was the house occupied by A l f r e d and Gertrude Kreymborg to which, on every possible occasion, I went madly i n my f l i v v e r to help with the magazine which had saved my l i f e as a w r i t e r . (A, 135) For the f i r s t time, Williams found some semblance of the community of writers he had always yearned f o r , those who were a l l involved i n the excitement of a possible beginning i n t h e i r own l o c a l e , i n l o c a l America. "There had been a break somewhere," he writes, we were streaming through, each thinking h i s own thoughts, d r i v i n g h i s own designs toward his s e l f ' s objectives. Whether the Armory Show i n painting did i t or whether that also was no more than a facet — the poetic l i n e , the way the image was to l i e on the page was our immediate concern. For myself a l l that implied, i n the materials, respecting the place I knew best, was f i n d i n g a l o c a l a s s e r tion — to my e v e r l a s t i n g r e l i e f . I had never i n my l i f e before f e l t that way. I was tremendously s t i r r e d . (A, 138) And so during the period from 1913 to 1916, knee-deep i n a new world of writers and painters, excited that a new poetry was l y i n g there on the horizon waiting to be un-covered., Williams began to write poems i n earnest, tr y i n g to clear h i s speech of a l l a r t i f i c i a l i t i e s of d i c t i o n , experimenting with a poetic l i n e more natural to actual speech patterns, the images drawn from h i s immediate surroundings — a l l the f r u i t s of which he gathered together i n A l Que Quiere.' h i s t h i r d book of poems, published by The Four Seas Company of Boston i n 1917. "From t h i s time on," Williams says i n I_ Wanted to Write ji Poem, "you can see the struggle to get a form without deforming the language. In theme, the poems of A l Que Quiere! r e f l e c t things around me" (IW, 23). And yes, the language i s d i r e c t , the rhythm of speech without the a r t i f i c e of meter and rhyme, as say i n 21 "Pastoral" which begins: When I was younger i t was p l a i n to me I must make something of myself. (CEP, 121) Line breaks follow the syntax of the f l u i d movement of perception, as i n another poem c a l l e d " P a s t o r a l : " The l i t t l e sparrows hop ingenuously about the pavement quarreling with sharp voices over those things that i n t e r e s t them. (CEP, 124) And l i k e the sparrow himself, the poet i n A l Que Quiere.' comes down to what in t e r e s t s him, a more common earth, the one which grounds h i s l o c a l world, that of his "townspeople" whom he now addresses as a poet. The images are a l l close i n , near the skin of his immediate l i f e , the same mind i n "Hie Jacet" now coming out into the open a i r to see what there i s to see i n h i s own community: l o c a l f a c t s , d a i s i e s and chicory, poplar trees, neighborhood figures l i k e "the old man who goes about / gathering dog-lime" (CEP, 124), or the young housewife who comes out from "behind / the wooden walls of her husband's house" (CEP, 136), the "murderer's l i t t l e daughter" (CEP, 155), the cat "Kathleen" who reveals "a d i g n i t y / that i s d i g n i t y , the d i g n i t y / of mud" (CEP, 157), and so on. Many poems deal with the a r r i v a l of spring — "Spring closes me i n / with her arms and her hands" (CEP, 120) — a phase of existence i n which the dark earth discloses i t s e l f through the nameless p a r t i c u l a r s making up the .poet's l o c a l world. In A l Que Quiere! he senses the presence of forces pushing to break into the i n s u l a r i t y of his townspeople. They use r e l i g i o n to block out the very tensions he attempts to hold onto, i n "Winter Sunset," for instance; above the decorative clouds on:a h i l l .stands- "one opaque / stone, of a cloud," and 22 above the cloud, "a red streak, then / i c y blue sky" (CEP, 127). And the poet comments: It was a f e a r f u l thing to come into a man's heart at that time; that stone over the l i t t l e b l i n k i n g stars they'd set there. (CEP, 127) Running through A l Que Quiere! i s t h i s pressure of a largeness sur-rounding the p a r t i c u l a r s of the l o c a l . Here the movement of g u l l s spans an empty space so opaque that i t w i l l not admit of transparency. And a l l t h i s happens i n the midst of what i s close at hand: i n a walk before breakfast with the poet and h i s son i n "Promenade" (CEP, 132-134), i n the glimpse of a b i r d " i n the poplars" who becomes a "Metric Figure" (CEP, 123), or i n a turn up the back side of a street where the houses of the poor show the absence of the kind of order that shuts the world out — roof out of l i n e with sides the yards c l u t t e r e d with old chicken wire, ashes, f u r n i t u r e gone wrong (CEP, 121) And the poet concludes: No one w i l l believe t h i s of vast import to the nation (CEP, 121) If the poet of Poems was overly conscious of h i s own divorce from " a l l which spreads so touching near,!' i n A l Que Quiere! t h i s same poet attempts to close the gap by paying at t e n t i o n to those l o c a l p a r t i c u l a r s no one else seems to notice. These things go unnoticed because they are simply there, l i k e faces that go unrecognized up and down the streets of the town. In "Apology," w r i t i n g thus comes, of a necessity to reveal the hear world through i t s l o c a l i z a t i o n i n a s p e c i f i c place: The beauty of the t e r r i b l e faces of our nonentities s t i r s me to i t : (CEP ,131) 23 This "beauty" remains hidden p r e c i s e l y because i t i s so near, so immediate, being the very world we are i n because we are a l i v e , common i n our p a r t i -c u l a r i t y . Just t h i s , our "nonentities," which the poet i n A l Que Quiere! comes to from outside the s e l f - r e f e r e n t i a l forms of h i s "townspeople;" his estrangement, i n t h i s sense, i s a way back into a present resonant with a subversive desire: Love i s so precious my townspeople that i f I were you I would have i t under lock and key — l i k e the a i r or the A t l a n t i c or l i k e poetry! (CEP, 156) Or i n the l o v e l y poem "Love Song," the second to l a s t of the volume, we encounter the figure of the lover i n s i d e the density of an earth-world vibrant with forces and powers that are woven into the p h y s i c a l f a b r i c of things. This e a r t h - p u l l i s so strong that i t p u l l s the poet's heart into i t s l i q u i d play: I l i e here thinking of you: — the s t a i n of love i s upon the world! Yellow, yellow, yellow i t eats into the leaves, smears with saffron the horned branches that lean heavily against a smooth purple sky! (CEP, 174) The t i t l e A l Que Quiere! translated by Williams reads "To Him Who Wants  I t " (A, 157), and i n t h i s t h i r d book of poems, he c l e a r l y wants to h i t out on h i s own and create a readership for h i s poems, not vice-versa. He no longer t r i e s to pander to conventional expectations of what a poem ought to be. Now, i n f a c t , the opposite p o s i t i o n a t t r a c t s him.. The "true music" (CEP, 126) of poetry works contrary to habituated forms of perception, the r e a l poet always the one who walks the back s t r e e t s , on the other side of. 24 the forms h i s townspeople l i y e i n . The bravado behind t h i s implied assertion i s perhaps a l i t t l e s t y l i z e d — who was Williams as a poet at th i s time? — but there was a future to ac t u a l i z e and now seemed the ri g h t moment to make a s t a r t . This i n s i s t e n c e becomes the announcement of "Sub Terra," the opening poem of the c o l l e c t i o n . Here Williams envisions a l l of his p o t e n t i a l companions underground, l i k e "seven year locusts / with cased wings," l y i n g dormant but waiting to be re-born i n a springtime when they s h a l l return to the surface of the earth — a premonition of the fi g u r e of Kora i n Kora i n H e l l : That harvest that s h a l l be your advent — thrusting up through the grass, up under the weeds answering me, that w i l l be s a t i s f y i n g ! The l i g h t s h a l l leap and snap that day as with a m i l l i o n lashes! (CEP, 117) Appropriately enough, A l Que Quiere! has t i e s with Kreymborg, a close companion during t h i s time. Talking about the t i t l e , Williams says that " A l f r e d Kreymborg noticed that the cacophony was a re-echoing of his name and f e l t complimented. We were very close friends then and I think h i s surmise was a proper one" (A, 157). And the volume concludes with the one poem — a rewriting of a long narrative poem Williams was working on around 1909 and which he abandoned then — that reads as a kind of mani-festo. The c e n t r a l event of "The Wanderer" i s the r i t u a l i s t i c baptism of the poet into the f i l t h y Passaic River through the agency of a magical old woman. She i n i t i a t e s him into the transformational nature of process, and by so doing, marries him to the body of the world. "The Wanderer" was pub-l i s h e d a few years e a r l i e r , i n 1914, i n The Egoist, but i t s i n c l u s i o n i n Al Que Quiere! points to Williams' b e l i e f i n the p o s s i b i l i t y of a future. 25 There i s s t i l l more to come. If there had to be one c l i m a c t i c moment i n Williams' l i f e when a l l the excitement of his new found friendships came to a head, i t would have to be the large party he and Floss — " s i x months pregnant" (A, 152) — threw at t h e i r home i n Rutherford i n the spring of 1916. Everyone i n the Others group came, poets and painters, and the party lasted a l l day Sunday and into Monday; as Williams says, "We fed 'em and wined 'em a l l day long" (A, 153). The Arensbergs were there, Marcel Duchamp, Kreymborg, Man Ray, Alanson Hartpence, Maxwell Bodenheim, and many more, the whole "gang" that made up Williams' l i t e r a r y m i l i e u i n and around New York. "We were i n and out a l l day over the lawn. I f anything was said I've forgotten i t . Yet i t was a good party" (A, 153). Later i n 1916, or early i n 1917, however, a l l the energy of new p o s s i b i l i t i e s i n the world of " l e t t e r s , " to use Williams' term, seemed to expire almost as suddenly as i t appeared. Williams blamed the war that America entered i n A p r i l , 1917 for b l o t t i n g the r e -16 awakening out, and i n a way, his assessment i s accurate. But by l a t e 1916, there i s already an i n d i c a t i o n that he was beginning to doubt the effectiveness of the so-called "Others movement." In a revealing a r t i c l e c a l l e d "America, Whitman, and the Art of Poetry," which Williams never re-published, we are given an i n s i g h t into his evaluation of contemporary w r i t i n g at t h i s time. In the process of glossing the strengths and weaknesses of .various recent magazines — Poetry, The  Poetry Journal, Contemporary Verse, The S o i l , to name a"few -- he - • admits that Others has not proven to be, as i t had intended to be, the 26 strong front for new forms of wr i t i n g . "Ah, but Others," he writes, the magazine with which I am connected, i s of course excellent. Here we have an attempt to present a blank page to Tom, Dick and Harry with the i n v i t a t i o n to write a masterpiece upon i t . I f Others came out once or twice every three years and consisted of four pages i t would be the i d e a l magazine for poets. I t i s at l e a s t naked. 'But the r a i n i t raineth every day.'-^ The fo o l ' s voice again, quoting Shakespeare's King Lear to c r i t i c i z e the pretentiousness of a magazine that began with the highest intentions but which, l i k e a l l the r e s t , f i n a l l y s e t t l e d into a s t e r e o t y p i c a l form. Now any "Tom, Dick and Harry" can publish i n i t . Was Williams f e e l i n g that his own work was j u s t as pretentious? He does not say, but the message i s clear to him that the new poetic which so many of them had i n t u i t e d as early as 1913, or 1914, the year Others began, was simply not a r r i v i n g . And now the current magazines seemed to be r e t r e a t i n g into narrow c l i q u e s , l i t t l e niches, enclaves of, i n short, personalized s t y l e s : E i t h e r a magazine i s concerned with i t s own pet l i t t l e aversions, or i t i s too poor to e x i s t , or i t i s hope-l e s s l y without agbroad comprehension of what modern verse i s about. This l a s t statement leads Williams to suspect that h i s contemporaries r e a l l y have not moved beyond the opening provided by Whitman who, over 50 years before them, began the serious exploration of the "democratic groundwork of a l l forms, basic elements that can be comprehended and used with new force. "Have we broken down f a r enough?" Williams asks, or i s there s t i l l work to be done before new work that does, i n deed, mirror the age they a l l share can be possible? "America, Whitman, and the Art of Poetry" appeared i n The Poetry Journal i n November, 1917, only a month a f t e r the 20 f i r s t of the improvisations from Kora appeared i n The L i t t l e Review, and 27 Williams' misgivings concerning Others i s an i n d i c a t i o n that something had happened i n h i s mind to a l t e r his former faith , i n the magazine. He was to publish a group of sixteen poems i n the December, 1916 issue of Others, but a f t e r that, he stopped publishing with the same magazine that had "saved h i s l i f e as a w r i t e r . " He would not publish i n Others u n t i l J u ly, 1919, three years l a t e r , when he edited an issue and announced that i t had come to i t s end, that the magazine was, i n e f f e c t , defunct, h i s issue i t s f i n a l one. During t h i s period, Williams was to write what eventually turned into Kora i n H e l l . Perhaps the demise of Others was i n e v i t a b l e . The i n i t i a l excitement soon wore t h i n , and nothing of earth-shattering s i g n i f i c a n c e had come of i t s existence. In f a c t , the writers associated with the magazine could now continue publishing whatever they wished, no one would r e a l l y care. The large-scale r e s t r u c t u r i n g of w r i t i n g that before seemed possible was ju s t as f a r away as ever. Williams began to p u l l away, back to Rutherford. Because of his loss of b e l i e f i n Others? Or h i s fear that he too would continue to write the same kind of poems i n A l Que Quiere! f o r years on end, maybe i n time getting half-hearted recognition as a minor l y r i c poet of " l o c a l " i n t e r e s t i n the development of 20th century American poetry? In "The Ideal Quarrel," a short piece published i n the December, 1918 issue of The L i t t l e Review, two;years after, he stopped publishing with Others, Williams t a l k s about the necessity f o r anger, the force of i t a p o s i t i v e thrust forward that s p i t s "through a mush of lumpy s t u f f — mouldy words, l i e - c l o t s , " anger the very negation that gives way to a "new alignment." But the new s h i f t cannot simply be based upon a denial of the past. I t depends upon a f u l l - s c a l e destruction of the past which brings the past 28 into a present that demands to be recognized i n i t s terms. There i s , according to Williams, no other way to begin again. For to break and begin a new alignment i s r e c a p i t u l a t i o n but to recement an old and d i s s o l v i n g union i s without precedent, a t o t a l l y new thing. The old union i n t h i s case i s a part of the new and being d i r e c t l y a part needs no counterpart, the recemented union being ready at b i r t h to go forward. And anger, i n t h i s turnabout, becomes a strong negative force that returns the mind to i t s ground: It i s the roots of roots we desire! the flower of a flower! the man of a man! the white of a white — From the beginning again! "The hard backbite of anger recurring i n the ebb flow," Williams says at 21 the end of t h i s short piece, " i s sturdiness holding i t s own." He could very well be t a l k i n g back to Others. More anger and le s s complacency, more desire and le s s back-slapping, more serious w r i t i n g and le s s a clique of writers supporting t h e i r own biases. Had t h i s disturbance been a l l that Williams had to worry about, he may well have weathered the storm. Simultaneous to the breakdown i n his w r i t i n g l i f e , however, was an anger much closer to home. In 1917, Williams was drawn back into the same l o c a l world he had affirmed i n A l Que Quiere! but t h i s time i n ways, to say the l e a s t , that did not make for the short, c r i s p poems c h a r a c t e r i s t i c of t h i s volume. His p r i v a t e l i f e was also undergoing i t s own slaughter. The treatment during the war of Floss's father, Pa Herman, by the townspeople of Rutherford sets the tone of a number of setbacks. Williams r e c a l l s the s p e c i f i c incident i n his Auto- biography : The war was on and Pa Herman, being by b i r t h an East Prussian from near Breslau, was emotionally deeply involved. This marked a basic phase i n our l i v e s . I was a l l for the man whom I profoundly admired. •.' I t was a 29 tough spot. We were o f f i c i a l l y neutral before 1917, but i n d i v i d u a l l y most of us were pro-French i f not p r o - B r i t i s h . But Pa Herman was outspokenly pro-German. He was also president of the s o c i a l club of the town, which met f o r t n i g h t l y , a semi-dress a f f a i r , and when the club as a group wanted to write to the President advocating assistance to B r i t a i n , he voted no. (A, 154) When America declared, war.on.Germany l a t e r i n 1917, Pa. Herman was branded a " d i s l o y a l c i t i z e n " (A, 154), and although, as Williams says, he was l o y a l to Americaj the l o c a l c i t i z e n s - e v e n t u a l l y forced him out of Ruther-ford. Naturally Williams took Pa Herman's side and got caught up i n the b r o i l . He too was accused of being pro-German. "Later," he writes, the same mouths were c a l l i n g me a Communist, saying that F l o s s i e had gone abroad to divorce me because of my l a s c i v i o u s l i f e . I j u s t kept w r i t i n g my protests i n t o poems, essays, plays and reviews. (A, 155) Williams wrote a l e t t e r to The Rutherford Republican and Rutherford American 22 'newspaperdisclaiming a l l these charges. His own mother turned on him for supporting Pa Herman: "With fury i n her eyes she accused me of being pro-German" (A, 155). A l l the while t h i s frenzy was churning on the l o c a l f r o n t , Williams' father was "dying of cancer" (A, 159) , i n 1918 confined to the house. He died December 25th, 1918. But more, j u s t a f t e r the Hermans l e f t Rutherford, Floss's 14 year old brother, Pa Herman's only son, died i n a chance mishap — tripped over a strand of barbed wire hidden i n the grass at the top of a steep cut, f e l l , and was accidently shot and k i l l e d by h i s own gun which s l i d a f t e r him down the bank. (4., 156) On top of these d i s a s t e r s i n his family l i f e , Williams' work as a doctor i n t e n s i f i e d enormously when the infamous inf l u e n z a epidemic h i t — " i n the early months of 1918 what doctors remained here were driven o f f t h e i r feet by the work" (A, 159): We doctors were making up to s i x t y c a l l s a day. Several of us were knocked out, one of the younger of us died, others caught the thing, and we hadn't a thing that was e f f e c t i v e i n checking that potent poison that was sweeping the world. I l o s t two young women i n t h e i r e arly twenties, the f i n e s t p h y s i c a l specimens you could imagine. Those seemed to be h i t hardest. They'd be s i c k one day and gone 9the next, j u s t l i k e that, f i l l up and die. (A, 159-160) The world, f o r Williams, had suddenly turned, topsy-turvy, uncertain, indeterminate, a tangled web of i r r e s o l v a b l e complexities, a l l of i t coming to a point of c r i s i s i n the epidemic that k i l l e d 18-20 m i l l i o n people a l l over the world. The disease had-no known cause, hence no cure, but simply seemed to come from nowhere, from a darkness out there. And at the same time, i n the l o c a l world Williams had accepted i n A l Que Quiere! — "You see, i t i s not necessary for us to leap at each other" (CEP, 126) — he was undergoing a series of shocks that overturned his l i f e . His f a t h e r - i n -law ostracized, ostracized himself f o r s t i c k i n g by him, h i s father dying of an incurable disease, his brother-in-law k i l l e d i n a freak accident, and as we l l , the " l i t e r a r y " world that had consumed so much of h i s attention i t s e l f c o l l a p s i n g into narrow forms of self-defense. In his Autobiography, Williams mentions almost casually, "how much can happen i n a few years — from happiness to d i s a s t e r " (A, 155), but th i s i s , as f a r as we can gather, the shape of the c r i s i s that i n i t i a t e d him in t o the wr i t i n g of Kora i n H e l l . I t was Persephone gone into Hades, into h e l l . Kora was the springtime: o'-f the. year; my-yearmy. s e l f was being slaughtered. What was the use of denying i t ? For r e l i e f , to keep myself from planning and thinking at a l l , I began to write i n earnest. I decided that I would write something every day, without missing one day, for a year. I'd write nothing planned but take up a p e n c i l , put the paper before me, and write anything that came into my head. Be i t nine i n the evening or three i n the morning, returning from some de l i v e r y on Guinea H i l l , I'd write i t down. I did j u s t that, day a f t e r day, without missing one day f or a year. Not a word was to be changed. I didn't change any, but I did tear up some of the s t u f f . (A, 1 5 8 ) ^ I t i s , then, through w r i t i n g that Williams eventually got through the c r i s i s , but equally, i t i s through w r i t i n g that he managed to f i g u r e himself into a modernist world. SECTION ONE THE WORD MAN I make a word. L i s t e n ! LIMMMMMMMMMM^  — (GAN, 162) It i s the making of that step, to come over into the t a c t i l e q u a l i t i e s , the words themselves beyond the mere thought expressed . . . (A, 380) Words are the keys that unlock the mind. (SE, 282) Therefore he writes, attempting to s t r i k e s t r a i g h t to the core of his inner s e l f , by words. By words which have been used time without end by other men for the same purpose, words worn smooth, greasy with the thumb-ing and fi n g e r i n g of others. For him they must be fresh too, fresh as anything he knows — as fresh as morning l i g h t , repeated every day the year around. (EK, 105) The word i s the thing. (GAN, 171) Am I a word? Words, words, words — (GAN, 166) 34 INTRODUCTION RING,. RING, RING, RING "Am I a word? Words, words, words" (GAN, 166) — l i k e the i n s i s t e n t r i n g i n g of the phone or the doorbell. At the most unexpected of moments: pick up the receiver or open the door, and i n they rush, a whole multitude of them. The act of speaking through "the words themselves beyond the mere thought expressed" (A, 380) — w r i t i n g came to Williams i n t h i s kind of heightened way. Such speaking i s primary because i t i s both necessary and a c t i v e : In our family we stammer unless, h a l f mad, we come to speech at l a s t And I am not a young man. (PB, 77) So Williams writes i n the l a t e and moving poem, "To Daphne and V i r g i n i a " from The Desert Music and Other Poems (1954). And given the immediacy of t h i s drive to "come to speech at l a s t , " i t i s not s u r p r i s i n g that Shakespeare, a "Grandfather" (EK, 110), should become i n h i s mind the l i v i n g instance of a human condition — Shakespeare as the f i g u r e of the 35 writer who i s , above a l l , a type of man: "Man the speaking animal. Man, then at his highest p i t c h " (EK, 11). As a writ e r himself, then, Williams l i v e d a r e s t l e s s l i f e . He gave himself over completely to the i n t r i c a c i e s of w r i t i n g as an act, one i n which the writ e r constantly undergoes the complexity of h i s medium: Oh c l e a r l y ! Clearly? What more clear than that of a l l things nothing i s so unclear, between man and his w r i t i n g , as to which i s the man and which i s the thing and of them both which i s the more to be valued. (P, 140) I t i s often that hard, i f not impossible, to separate out the l i f e of the man from the l i f e of the writ e r without l o s i n g the connection that makes the separation a perhaps i r r e l e v a n t d i s t o r t i o n . The two, i n Williams' w r i t i n g , are entwined i n a knotted r e l a t i o n s h i p : Five minutes, ten minutes, can always be found. I had my typewriter i n my o f f i c e desk. A l l I needed to do was to p u l l up the l e a f to which i t was fastened and I was ready to go. I worked at top speed. ("Foreword," A, n.p.) To be, i n f a c t , "Man the speaking animal" i s to l i v e the intensest of l i v e s . Williams came to value speech i t s e l f f o r t h i s reason. And as a wri t e r , he never stopped being conscious of the power of words, how they not only demand, but also open the deepest l e v e l s of f e e l i n g . This a f f a i r , t h i s l o v e - a f f a i r with words began e a r l y f or him, and continued unwaveringly through a long and complicated, involvement with the r i c h density of "the language . . . the language!" (P, 21). In 1919, a statement i n "Notes from a Talk on Poetry" published i n Poetry, a s t i l l embryonic but unhesi-tant a s s e r t i o n of a possible assumption behind the discovery of a new kind of w r i t i n g , a kind which would permit the widest range to experience: I must write, I must s t r i v e to express myself. I must study my technique, as a Puritan did his B i b l e , because .36 I cannot get at my emotions i n any other way. There i s nothing save the emotions: I -must write, I must t a l k when I can. It i s my defiance; my love song: a l l of i t . This essay or series of "notes" i s tent a t i v e , overly self-conscious and even somewhat f r a n t i c , written as i t was during a period when Williams f e l t unusually i s o l a t e d and unjustly neglected as a poet. Yet the base tone of i t p e r s i s t s . In 1921, from a l e t t e r to Marianne Moore, i n response to her welcome comments on the recently published Kora i n H e l l (1920): Surely there i s no greater excitement than that of composition. I am dead when I cannot write and when I am at i t I burn with a fever t i l l one would think me mad. (SL, 5 3 ) 2 And f i n a l l y , one more of many s i m i l a r examples, t h i s time on the other side of a l i f e t i m e , i n a print-out accompanying the broadside p u b l i c a t i o n of "Sappho: A Translation by William Carlos Williams" i n 1957: "I think a l l 3 w r i t i n g i s a disease. You can't stop i t . " This sense of w r i t i n g as a f e v e r i s h necessity, a disease even, explains Williams' constant desire to maintain the excitement of composition f o r i t s own sake. Even when he f e l t c o n s t r i c t e d by his own present l i m i t a t i o n s , he would bring his doubts and reluctances into the e f f o r t of the text he was at the moment composing. The push was always forward: "Write going. Look to steer" (AN, 278). And often, as i n the "improvisations" that f i n a l l y became Kora i n H e l l , h i s desire to explore and "write" out, and i n t h i s way work through the blockages, became the important substance of the text. There i s also t h i s s p e c i f i c i t y i n these l i n e s from Paterson I I : "Blocked. / (Make a song out of that: concretely)" (P, 78). In Williams' terms, w r i t i n g i s a l i v e only when i t engages the s i t u a t i o n prompting i t . • The blocked w r i t e r should then meet head on whatever i s preventing him from authentic speech, i n the w r i t i n g i t s e l f . There i s a .37 possible "song" i n confronting the blockage ("concretely"), j u s t as there i s i n confronting any thing. And despite the obvious r i s k s inherent i n such an open-ended proposition, Williams continued to t r u s t the process, the movement within words, to help him f i n d a way out of both emotional and i n t e l l e c t u a l impasses. "The blankness of the w r i t i n g surface," he says i n "How to Write," may cause the mind to shy, i t may be impossible to release the f a c u l t i e s . Write, write anything: i t i s a l l i n a l l p r o b a b i l i t y worthless anyhow, i t i s never hard to destroy written characters. But i t i s absolutely e s s e n t i a l to the w r i t i n g of anything worth while that the mind be f l u i d and release i t s e l f to the t a s k . 4 Writing was, from the beginning, a hunt — The thing, the thing, of which I am i n chase (A, 288) — on the empty space of the page i n a s i l e n c e that the "unruly Master" (PB, 83), the heart, wants to f i l l with words. The desire i s for the animate, for whatever has l i f e and movement, and to carry that into the very words unfolding i n the heat of composition. In a revealing passage from the poem "Tapiola," Williams addresses the i n t e r i o r of the composer S i b e l i u s , p r o j e c t i n g himself through i t . There i s that curious resemblance between the f i g u r e of the composer wrapped i n the "power of music," submerged i n a composing of sounds coming together "edge against edge," and Williams himself, whose "improvisations" for,Kora i n H e l l could e a s i l y have arisen out of a s i m i l a r a ttention to words — t h e i r s i g h t s , sounds, and configurations: You stayed up h a l f the night i n your a t t i c room under the eaves, composing s e c r e t l y , s e t t i n g i t down, period a f t e r period, as the wind whistled. Lightning flashed! The roof creaked about your ears threatening to give way! But you had a composition to f i n i s h that could not wait. The storm entered your mind where a l l good things are secured, written down, for love's sake and to defy the d e v i l of emptiness. (PB, 67) 38 The desire i s to write down the storm of words r i n g i n g i n h i s mind —• i n Williams' work, desire i s t i e d to language.. Is language then wild because desire i s "unruly?" Or i s desire wild because language i s ' u n r u l y ? " It goes e i t h e r way, the i n s e p a r a b i l i t y of the two i s i t s e l f the a c t u a l i t y behind the questions. This i s why Williams took nothing for granted i n himself, and why he mistrusted so adamantly any theory of composition he thought betrayed the e s s e n t i a l l y mysterious, often confusing, but ever-present language of language. He was always swept up i n the heat of words as they appeared out of the deep recesses of the heart, declaring them-selves, sometimes, but more often than not simply breaking into the mind i n haphazardly crazy ways. And Williams was continually struck with wonder that they could so suddenly be there, and thus here i n the act of w r i t i n g : UimrmmmmTrammm — Turned i n t o the wrong s t r e e t at three A.M. l o s t i n the fog, l i s t e n i n g , searching — Waaaa! said the baby. I'm new. A boy! A what? Boy. Shit, said the father of two other sons. L i s t e n here. This i s no place to t a l k that way. What a word to use. I'm new, said the sudden word. (GAN, 162) The words themselves twisted and turned i n Williams' mind. F i r s t and foremost, he considered himself a "word man," l i k e Pound and Zukofsky, his companions who shared that most d i f f i c u l t and exacting art of w r i t i n g i n the words, "The best of a l l to my way of thinking" (SE, 282).^ And always, f i r s t and foremost, i n the w r i t i n g , the words were understood as primary — "for the words come f i r s t and the ideas are caught, perhaps among them . . . . I t does not go the other way." Out of t h i s recognition, Williams could often make what at f i r s t glance seem to be straightforward, even common-place ass e r t i o n s : Writing i s made of words, of nothing e l s e , (SE, 132) 39 Words are the keys that unlock the mind. (SE, 282) But not so s i m p l i s t i c a l l y , such statements hold weight only to the extent that a writer experiences words as hard-edged p a r t i c l e s with an "object-i v i t y " of t h e i r own. The basic assumption i s that language, the whole range of words i n t h e i r multiple i n t e r a c t i o n s with each other, exhibits a largeness within which the l i f e of the world comes into the reach of the human. Even what we c a l l the "meaning" of the words issues from the a c t u a l i t y of language. As Maurice Merleau-Pority.reminds us i n Signs, language "does not presuppose i t s table of. correspondence; i t unveils i t s secrets i t s e l f . " ^ Williams' a f f i r m a t i o n of the p a r t i c u l a r i t y of words rests upon a s i m i l a r sense of language. He implies as much i n a response to a question he must have encountered, both p u b l i c l y and p r i v a t e l y , many times before. This occasion i s an interview ("Is Poetry a Dead Duck"?) conducted by Mike Wallace i n 1957, which Williams c h a r a c t e r i s t i c a l l y g l i f t e d up into Paterson V: Q. But shouldn't a word mean something when you see i t ? A. In prose, an English word means what i t says. - In poetry, you're l i s t e n i n g to two things . . . you're l i s t e n i n g to the sense, the common sense of what i t says. But i t says more. That i s the d i f f i c u l t y . (P, 262) Is t h i s a p o l i t e dismissal? Possibly. Williams' answer does, almost teasingly, leave a great deal unsaid. But the i n s i s t e n c y of it.remains of a piece: the nature of language, and the fact of i t . These are s t a r t i n g points f o r understanding the basis of Williams' w r i t i n g . Here we can also see why he was so quick to acknowledge the kind of wr i t e r s , Joyce and Stein f o r instance, who deeply engaged, i n w r i t i n g , the appearance of language as an a c t u a l i t y . "I'm new, said the sudden word." 40 Perpetually amazed that, words thus contain the actual i n t h e i r o b j e c t i v i t y , Williams was led by them to hunt down a methodology — The thing, the thing, of which I am i n chase — to handle the r i n g i n g i n h i s ears, what he heard i n those moments "the language" flowed i n . This "chase" winds l i k e one continuous thread through a l l his work. And so when he sat down to write h i s Autobiography, he structures h i s l i f e — and the l i v e s of c e r t a i n of h i s contemporaries — i n a way wholly determined by the search f o r a poetic, one which would answer to the density of language. In th i s same book, he points emphat-i c a l l y , and not s u r p r i s i n g l y , to i t s o r i g i n a t i o n i n the emergence of language as a l i v e thing i n the early years of the century. Appropriately enough, : he does so i n "The College L i f e . " I t i s here that Williams talks about his stay at Reed College i n the l a t e 40's, where he read and conducted discussions on the nature of "modernist" w r i t i n g , the kind of w r i t i n g part and p a r c e l of h i s own l i f e — and of which he, as i t developed, was part and p a r c e l . " I t i s the making of that step," he writes, to come over into the t a c t i l e q u a l i t i e s , the words them-selves beyond the mere thought expressed that d i s t i n -guishes the modern, or distinguished the modern of that time from the period before the turn of the century. (A, 380) And then a b i t l a t e r i n the same chapter: The key, the master-key to the age was that jump from the f e e l i n g to the word i t s e l f : that which had been got down, the thing to be judged and valued accordingly. Everything else followed that. Without that step having been taken nothing was understandable. (A, 381) Williams a l i g n s that step over into "the words themselves" with the 9 discoveries of the painters i n those same early years. Just as Cezanne, 41 say, opened up the p o s s i b i l i t y f o r an experience of paint, f o r w r i t e r s the s h i f t opened tip the very p o s s i b i l i t y f o r an experience of language. Experience had to be r e - t i e d to words and the value of experience re-found, i n the configuration of words through which the actual i n a l l i t s indeterminacy, a l l i t s f l u i d i t y , appears. I t may sound simple, commonplace, to say "Writing i s made of words, nothing e l s e . " Words are ordinary, and common. They surround us. But- the phrase "nothing e l s e " makes that s i m p l i -c i t y hard for us to see: " j u s t words." Words are so much the a i r we breathe that we r a r e l y experience them o b j e c t i v e l y , as "themselves beyond the mere thought expressed." Without them, however, and j u s t then, we f i n d our-selves l o s t — for words, as we seem to have no choice but to say. And t h i s i s one reason why Williams so often mentions the work of Gertrude Stein when he t a l k s about the beginnings of "modern" w r i t i n g . "During the period of her work, i n f l u e n t i a l and f r u i t f u l as i t grew to be," he writes i n "An Approach to the Poem" (1948), "Miss Stein's emphasis on the word as an object was one of her most important contributions to contem-porary art.""*"^ Just as the o b j e c t i v i t y of a u r i n a l needed a Marcel Duchamp to bring i t f o r t h as "object," so the o b j e c t i v i t y of language demanded at that time the l i k e s of a Gertrude Stein to bring i t f o r t h as "object." Otherwise, language would simply have continued to be taken for granted, and the "mere thought" be thought of as p r i o r to the words themselves which make the "thought" possible i n the f i r s t place. This d i s t i n c t i o n had to be made, Williams suggests, or else "nothing was understandable." As Williams knew we l l , the s h i f t into words can cause intense r e s i s t -ances, since i t makes for an openness that runs contrary to the strong tendency of the mind to maintain i t s ha b i t u a l forms when opposed by change. The mind can be t r i c k y — t h i s Williams was to discover for himself i n Kora 42 i n H e l l — but most e s p e c i a l l y when i t i s l e f t s o l e l y to r e l y on nothing other than i t s own constructs. I t can abstract from m u l t i p l i c i t y any number of systems of thought. These i n turn can predetermine and reduce to t h e i r "orders" an otherwise endlessly dynamic world of things. The way i t c l i n g s to s t a t i c states. To consistency. To coherence. To unity. To a kind of order that overlays things with comparisons rather than accounts for "those inimitable p a r t i c l e s of d i s s i m i l a r i t y to a l l other things which are the p e c u l i a r perfections of the thing i n question" (K, 18). And i t s obstinate, sometimes obsessive determination to inhabit t h i s same order without questioning the l i m i t s of i t . Williams found t h i s habit of mind v i c i o u s because i t survives only through i t s power to negate. "I was early i n l i f e , " he writes i n "The Basis of F a i t h i n A r t , " s i c k to my very p i t with order that cuts o f f the crab's f e e l e r s to make i t f i t i n t o the box. You remember how Taine l e f t Keats out of h i s c r i t i c i s m of English l i t e r a t u r e because to include him would s p o i l the con-t i n u i t y of h i s argument? (SE, 188) The crab's f e e l e r s are as actual as Keats i s , as any thing i s , as f o r instance, language i s . But the assumption of t h i s type of power over things removes the mind from that which i t presumes to explain. The w r i t e r who places himself at the disposal of a s i m i l a r habit of mind s i t s behind closed doors and thereby loses what should be closest to his a t t e n t i o n : the "secret" of language, the words inseparably t i e d to an animacy always i n t r a n s i t . The enclosure within the confines of which he f i x e s himself i s nothing more than a symptom of a r e f u s a l to acknowledge a mode of conciousness — w r i t i n g as one such mode — active to the movement of words. The r e f u s a l i s r e a l l y the e f f e c t of denying what would.permit the destruction of such mental b a r r i e r s . I t i s only when language i s heard, i s allowed to "flow i n , " so Williams discovered, that the mind can be drawn 43 outside i t s own l i m i t s , into the j m i l t i p l i c i t y , the play as well as the i n t e r -play of words. The act of l i s t e n i n g , i n t h i s s p e c i f i c context, becomes an outwardness that releases the inwardness of words, but equally and simul-taneously, releases the write r to the drama of a contr a r i e t y within experience that i s p r e c i s e l y at odds with the mind's habitual precon-ceptions: of the dis-order behind and before order, as one instance. Or the i r r a t i o n a l , more accurately non-rational, behind and before the rational."'"''" Or the indeterminate behind and before the determinate. Or the dis-ease behind or before the ease. Or the change behind and before the form. Or the desire behind and before the mind. Or the language behind and before the man. Only one answer: write c a r e l e s s l y so that nothing that i s not green w i l l survive. There i s a drumming of submerged engines, a beat of p r o p e l l e r s . The ears are water. The feet l i s t e n . (P, 155) The continual tension of such.subtleties that never ceased to demand Williams' attention i s d i f f i c u l t , demanding indeed: i t c a l l s f o r concen-t r a t i o n , a concentration paradoxically enough focussed on keeping the mind and the senses wide open to the actual that words contain, rather than to the o v e r s i m p l i f i c a t i o n c a l l e d 'meaning' or 'sense.' Williams' work throughout abounds i n w r i t i n g of t h i s kind, so when he s t r i k e s out impatiently against those he takes to be the enemies, of language, as he does i n s i s t e n t l y during the 20's, i t i s not without some cause. At that time, few readers were prepared, or perhaps able, to see what he was doing i n h i s w r i t i n g . Frequently, i n f a c t , he was unable to f i n d publishers for his work. 44 This i s e s p e c i a l l y the case with. A Novelette and Other Prose (1932). In a l e t t e r to Pound dated March 13, 1930 --I've been up since 5.30 c e r t i f y i n g the death of a man's wife (he cried) and now f i n i s h i n g the c o r r e c t i o n of the Novelette (SL, 112) — Williams says that t h i s text " i s very close to my heart — and no one w i l l handle i t here" (SL, 112). Maybe Pound can help him get i t published somewhere e l s e . Floss and the ubiquitous Zuke ELouis ZukofskyJ are the only ones i n t h i s section of understanding who have f a l l e n f o r i t . And no two people could approach the thing from a more divergent angle. (SL, 112-113) No one w i l l handle i t here. There was no readership, other than a private one, a v a i l a b l e f or the sort of experimental w r i t i n g holding Williams' i n t e r e s t then. Why? The i n t e l l i g e n c e of possible readers, he argues i n part through the text, i s hampered by two of the most predominant forms of thought i n hisj. contemporary world: "science" and "philosophy," which together stand behind the narrow b e l i e f that the actual i s disclosed only by forms of r a t i o n a l discourse. Williams singles them out as s p e c i a l "categories" — to be treated as such — i n order the more accurately to delineate the l i m i t s of a l l such forms that overlay experience with pre-12 determination. They may be harmless i n themselves, but when they are applied wholesale to regions of a c t i v i t y beyond t h e i r boundaries, they permit the mind to s l i d e o f f into the comfort of a closure that prevents i t from dealing ("concretely") with p a r t i c u l a r i t i e s outside. . The assumption then grows that language i s transparent, nothing more than a v e h i c l e for "ideas" or "things," a mere sign, or a b i l l - b o a r d even, that points to something other than i t s e l f , u s eful perhaps, yet not to be taken as a c t u a l . Williams' anger, i n the face of what seemed to him an i n c r e d i b l y stupid transposition of terms could become scathing, almost b i t t e r at times: 45 when language i s subservient to the sale of old clothes and ideas and the formulas for the synthetic manufacture of rubber (AN, 280-281) Or e l s e , i f a more c r i t i c a l urgency came on, he could assume the function of "reader" and seek to c l a r i f y himself through other w r i t e r s ' work companion to his own. Through the w r i t i n g of Gertrude Stein, f or instance, where the experience of language i s dramatized i n a s t r u c t u r i n g of language, her work, for that very reason, confusingly mis-read. So, i n the 20's, when Williams was s t i l l reading her f r e s h l y , he writes an essay ("The Work of Gertrude Stein") that i s a part of the "other prose" i n A Novelette and Other Prose: I f the attention could envision the whole of w r i t i n g , l e t us say, at one time, moving over i t i n swift and accurate pursuit of the modern imperative at the instant when i t i s most to the fore, something of what a c t u a l l y takes place under an optimum of i n t e l l i g e n c e could be observed. I t i s an alertness not to l e t go of a p o s s i b i l i t y of movement i n our f e a r f u l bedazzlement with some concrete and f i x e d present. The goal i s to keep a beleaguered l i n e of understanding which has movement from breaking down and becoming a hole i n t o which we sink decoratively to r e s t . The goal has nothing to do with the s i l l y function which l o g i c , n a t u r a l or otherwise, enforces. Yet i t i s a goal. I t moves as the sense wearies, remains fresh, l i v i n g . One i s concerned with i t as with anything pursued and not with the rush of a i r or the guts of the horse one i s r i d i n g — save to a very minor degree. Writing, l i k e everything e l s e , i s much a question of refreshed i n t e r e s t . I t i s directed, not i d l y , but as most often happens (though not neces s a r i l y so) toward that point not to be predetermined where movement i s blocked (by the end of l o g i c perhaps). I t i s about these parts, i f I am not mistaken, that Gertrude Stein w i l l be found. (AN, 350-351) 1 3 We are struck i n t h i s passage by Williams' own desire to s t i c k c l o s e l y on the heels of another a t t e n t i o n that does not s a c r i f i c e language to predetermination. The "goal" he seeks i s nothing less than the complexity of a movement i n words such as Gertrude Stein e f f e c t s . Or at l e a s t , i n 46 the way Williams hears her work, the w r i t i n g processes she explores and enacts document an experience of language, the 'grammar' of that a c t u a l i t y , always ahead of the i n t e r p r e t i v e i n t e l l i g e n c e , but toward which the i n t e l l i g e n c e i s drawn out into the energy of a chase: the animacy of the present i n the a c t i v i t y of words. Here the i n t e l l i g e n c e i s a l i v e , Williams argues, and remains so p r e c i s e l y because i t refuses to l e t go of the i n d e f i n i t e . "The processes of a r t , to keep a l i v e , " we are t o l d i n the "Preface" to Selected Essays, must always challenge the unknown and go where the most uncertainty l i e s . So that beauty when i t i s found, as i t r a r e l y i s , s h a l l have a touch of the marvelous about i t , the unknown. (SE, x v i i ) As a state of indeterminacy i n which the attention i s t i e d to what cannot be predetermined, "uncertainty" maintains the pursuit i n words, the f l e x i b i l i t y of i t i n a context open to change. I t i s t h i s q u a l i t y of the i n t e l l i g e n c e that prevents i t from becoming, to use Williams' words, "a hole into which we sink decoratively to r e s t . " That i s to say, when the i n t e l l i g e n c e f a l l s o f f i n t o the s e l f - r e f e r e n t i a l i t y of preconception, language turns transparent and loses i t s a c t u a l i t y . " I t i s about these pa r t s " that Williams locates Gertrude Stein, but what he discovers also discloses what he wants i n his own w r i t i n g . I t i s movement then. Animacy — Satyrs dance! a l l the deformities take wing Centaurs leading to the rout of the vocables i n the writings of Gertrude Stein — but you cannot be an a r t i s t by mere ineptitude The dream i s i n pur s u i t ! (P, 258-259) 47 And w r i t i n g that i s actual keeps the mind a l i v e ("in pursuit") to the move-ment of consciousness i n language: A drumming i n my head and pain under my arm and i n my groins. Speak of the lack of general ideas — Jesu! i n the w r i t i n g . I t i s the w r i t i n g . This i s the theme of a l l I do. I t i s the w r i t i n g . Speak of a f l i g h t by plane to Europe, of the two hundred inch telescopic r e f l e c t o r that discovers the nebula on the obscure o u t s k i r t s of the milky way t r a v e l l i n g at the i n c r e d i b l e speed — away from the earth — of 2500 miles a second: i t i s the actual w r i t i n g that embodies i t , as the king i n a chair — or a f l e a on a cat. The general ideas — are over the w r i t i n g . No. They are the w r i t i n g . The w r i t i n g i s not carrying — t h e i r jackass. I t i s e s s e n t i a l to a l l exposition that the w r i t i n g be as discreet as the f l i g h t , the nebula, the telescope. I t i s and embodies them a l l . Actual. (AN, 291) A Novelette and Other Prose was f i n a l l y published i n 1932 — two years a f t e r Williams t o l d Pound that "no one w i l l handle i t here" — l a r g e l y through the support of a growing number of f r i e n d s . TO Publishers, made up of a group of o b j e c t i v i s t poets — Louis Zukofsky, Charles Reznikoff, and others — got together and decided to publish some books. A Novelette  and Other Prose was one of the f i r s t to appear. (IW, 48) Williams had reason to be j u s t i f i e d i n h i s s a t i s f a c t i o n with t h i s piece he l a t e r looked back on as "a tremendous leap ahead of conventional prose" (IW, 49). He reveals himself i n i t as a "word man" drawn out into the f l u r r y of words, enacting, through the excitement of w r i t i n g , what turns into an intimate c r i t i c i s m of contemporary assumptions concerning language. There i s , running beneath the domestic n a r r a t i v e of the text, the unstated but repeated i n s i s t e n c y of a haunting question: How, by what 48 means, can the mind dis-lodge i t s e l f from f i x i t y and so be released to a kind of w r i t i n g i n which language i s v i s i b l e as a l i v e thing? Williams' answer i s only apparently i n d i r e c t . "A Novelette"(subtitled "January") was written under the pressure of a s p e c i f i c occasion, "the recent epidemic," 14 as we learn i n a l e t t e r to Zukofsky dated January 25, 1929. And yet, what i s f a r more important, t h i s incident i s l i f t e d into the occasion of a s p e c i f i c image. Nothing short of a large-scale epidemic can bring about th i s r e v e r s a l , t h i s upheaval necessary before the writ e r as "word man" can experience himself as a vortex for the animacy of words: Influenza: from 'influence' — "to flow i n " In the breakage i m p l i c i t i n t h i s attack, whatever i s preconceived, no matter how i n t r i c a t e the l o g i c a l connections and consistencies of r e l a t i o n -ships that constitute i t s order, gives way to what Williams i n section II c a l l s "The S i m p l i c i t y of Disorder": Ring, r i n g , r i n g , ringI There's no end to the r i n g i n g of the damned — The b e l l rings to announce the i l l n e s s of someone e l s e . I t rings today intimately i n the warm house. That's your bread and butter. Is the doctor in? (It used to ring.) What i s i t ? (Out of the bedroom window.) My c h i l d has swallowed a mouse. — T e l l him to swallow a cat then. Bam! This i s the second paragraph of the second chapter of some wr i t i n g on the influenza epidemic i n the region of New York Cit y , January 11, 1929. In the distance the b u i l d -ings f a i l . The blue-white s e a r c h l i g h t - f l a r e wheels over to the west every three minutes. Count. One. (AN, 275-276) The invasion — Ring, r i n g , r i n g , r i n g ! — of a system, any system, mental or p h y s i c a l , from the outside by par-t i c l e s a l i e n to i t , which subvert by penetrating the s h e l l , the skin of i t . Influenza i s one such i n f l u x of an -unknown and so mysterious quantity from somewhere el s e , flowing i n from a di s t a n t out — i n t h i s case, 49 The invasion i s sudden; the patients can generally t e l l the time when they developed the disease; e.g., acute pains i n the back and l o i n s came on quite suddenly while they were at work or walking i n the s t r e e t , or i n the case of a -medical student, while playing cards, render-ing him unable to continue the game. A workman wheeling a barrow had to put i t down and leave i t ; and an omnibus dr i v e r was unable to p u l l up his horses . . . . There are pains i n the limbs and general sense of aching a l l over; f r o n t a l headache of s p e c i a l s e v e r i t y ; pains i n the eyeballs, increased by the s l i g h t e s t movement of the eyes; shivering; general f e e l i n g of misery and weakness, and great depression of s p i r i t s , many pati e n t s , both men and women, giving way to weeping; nervous r e s t l e s s -ness; i n a b i l i t y to sleep, and occasionally delirium.15 In the i n f i l t r a t i o n of t h i s disturbance, the organism, possessed by a force beyond i t s c o n t r o l , finds i t s e l f reduced to the immediacy of i t s simplest element: i t s p h y s i c a l i t y . An e n t i r e community, threatened by an epidemic, such as the one k i l l -16 ing around 20 m i l l i o n people during 1918-1919, i s forced back to a recognition of what i s alone fundamental to i t s s u r v i v a l . Everyone i s open to attack, every one i s vulnerable. Through the primacy of need, i n other words, an epidemic l e v e l s o f f a l l values which are not, as Webster's Dictionary defines the actu a l , " e x i s t i n g at the present moment." Thus the epidemic had become a c r i t i c i s m — to begin with. In the seriousness of the moment— not even the-serious-ness but the si n g l e n e c e s s i t y — t h e extraneous dropped of i t s own weight. One worked r a p i d l y . Meanwhile values stood out i n a l l fineness. (AN, 273) And by extension, the epidemic of language allows for the rush of words, the m u l t i p l i c i t y of them i n a flowing i n from an outside at once larger than the mind and the condition of i t s i n t e r i o r i t y . Language i s both that f a r and near at hand. That's your bread and butter. Another voice enters, a l l u r i n g the mind away from the temptation to define 50 privacy s o l e l y by the l i m i t s of s o c i a l r e s p o n s i b i l i t y . The w r i t e r as doctor i n a s o c i a l c r i s i s : There's no end to the r i n g i n g of the damned — The b e l l rings to announce the i l l n e s s of someone e l s e . In the s o c i a l i t i s always someone else's i l l n e s s that needs attending. There was, understandably for Dr. Williams, the continual pressure of being on c a l l , i n t e n s i f i e d many times over during an epidemic, and he gave i n to 16 what seemed l i k e an endless drain of energy. In w r i t i n g , however, i f we take A Novelette as representative, Williams i s not intent upon a d e s c r i p t i o n of things ( i . e . "the recent epidemic"), although other writers may have done so for the sake of " r e a l i s m . " ^ His w r i t i n g attends to p a r t i c i p a t i o n s rather than descriptions of, engagements with language i n the near and f a r of i t s a c t u a l i t y . There i s the r i n g i n g need to be on c a l l to the c r i s i s of language: It rings today intimately i n the warm house. This d i s t i n c t i o n , the other voice intimates, has to be drawn, even c l a r i f i e d , to keep the mind clear of secondary concerns. Writing can be, i f the attention g l i d e s with the surface of words, an e l u s i v e and s l i p p e r y thing. This i s the second paragraph of the second chapter of some wr i t i n g on the influenza epidemic i n the region of New York Cit y , January 11, 1929. — i f only as a reminder that words come before descriptions using them as a f r o n t , j u s t as presentation comes before re-presentation. " I t does not go the other way." When t h i s p r i o r i t y i s l o s t , the w r i t e r fools himself i n t o the enclosure of a personal cause, from which perspective language i s subordinate to a manipulation of words to h i s own advantage alone. This can often be a t h i n l i n e , but i t i s one that Williams, to i s o l a t e the most common and so the most i n v i s i b l e trap f o r the writer, makes v i s i b l e for himself: 51 Is the doctor in? (It.used to ring.) What i s i t ? (Out of the bedroom window.) My c h i l d has swallowed a mouse. — T e l l him to swallow a cat then. Bam! There i s , as t h i s c r y p t i c a l l y f r a n t i c sequence suggests, that c r u c i a l instance of turning away ("Bam"!) from the motivation behind the kind of "cause" inherent i n diagnoses. This r e j e c t i o n , as a wri t e r , of the method of l o g i c a l analysis includes the r e j e c t i o n of w r i t i n g shaped by precon-ceived intentions, that i s , by^a personal "cause" imposed on the words. Neither of these "causes" allows f o r that inwardness, that moving with words i n a l i s t e n i n g out of which they emerge, l i k e so many figures appearing and disappearing. In the distance the buildings f a i l . The blue-white s e a r c h l i g h t - f l a r e wheels over to the west every three minutes. In the l i g h t of search, i n the movement of w r i t i n g , f i x i t i e s l i k e buildings l i k e "causes" f a i l : t h i s i s another beginning, one that proposes a l i s t e n i n g a ttentive to the rhythmic gaps between "the words themselves." Count. One. 52 CHAPTER TWO RIEN3 KEEN, KEEN Dada: or Dada-ism: or the push behind i t to dis-lodge the mind from i t s f i x i t i e s and to subvert the pretension of systematized forms of thought. I t r i e d to put a b i r d i n a cage. 0 f o o l that I am!1 The actual i s too quick and subtle to be contained and l a i d to re s t so e a s i l y . I t has i t s own resources. There i s always an i r r a t i o n a l i t y waiting to break out of the r a t i o n a l . Forms that cut o f f the crab's f e e l e r s to make i t f i t into a box are by that negation vulnerable to attack by those very forces they attempt to overpower. The actual moves according to i t s own n e c e s s i t i e s . And when I had the b i r d i n the cage. 0 f o o l that I am! Why, i t broke my pretty cage. Dada: Knowledge i s a thing you know and how can you know more than you do know. This i s Gertrude Stein quoted by Zukofsky i n an essay on Williams: "one of 53 2 Williams' i n t e r e s t s . " There i s t h i s monotonous c i r c u l a r i t y within the closure of systems of thought. They can be quite harmless i n themselves when understood as l i m i t e d constructs with i s o l a t e d duties to perform. They become pernicious once the "known" of them i s oppressively asserted as end, the end. Imprisoned by t h i s dogmatism, the l i v i n g , the actual has no way but to break out and f l y o f f , or the reverse, to break i n l i k e an epidemic to declare i t s e l f absent. Dada: e i t h e r way the absurdity and the i m p l i c i t cost of s e l f - r e f e r e n t i a l i t y i s s e l f - e v i d e n t . And when the b i r d was flown from the cage, 0 f o o l that I ami Why, I had nor b i r d nor cage. Sing merrily, Truth: I t r i e d to put Truth i n a cage! Heigh-ho! Truth i n a cage. In 1921, a year a f t e r The Four Seas Company brought out Kora i n H e l l 3 at Williams' expense, Marsden Hartley, painter and writer, a close f r i e n d of Williams at the time, published Adventures i n the A r t s , a series of essays on various American subjects and a r t i s t s i n which Hartley attempts to define the subject as well as the p o s s i b i l i t y of American, art forms. The concern i s one that Williams shared and supported. Har.tley i s mentioned 4 i n Spring and A l l (1923). Near the end of t h i s same book Hartley speaks of "The Importance of Being 'Dada'" i n a short essay, almost an appendix, and there he describes a Dadaist as "one who finds no one thing more important than any other one t h i n g , H e says furt h e r that Dadaism should not be mis-understood as another cause, as nothing more than another closed system of thought. I f i t were that, and only that, i t would be of no importance. Why substitute one tyranny for another? 54 Instead, Dadaism i s e s s e n t i a l l y a force that acts as a.sweeping gesture, or a turn of the hand s i g n a l l i n g a r e f u s a l to p a r t i c i p a t e any further i n the a r t i f i c i a l i t y — s o c i a l , p o l i t i c a l , c u l t u r a l , i n t e l l e c t u a l , and a r t i s t i c — of those forms of thought that depend for t h e i r power on t h e i r allegiance to "the Past." And here the past can he anything and everything up to the very moment i t s e l f . This negation'is not a f i n a l end, but when the mind finds i t s e l f i n such a dead-end, denial — "Men, r i e n , r i e n ! " (GAN, 174) — remains the one way to e x t r i c a t e i t s e l f without compromising i t s own i n t e g r i t y . With a thunderous No! to a l l imposed forms of s i g n i f i c a n c e — God over Man, Soul over Matter, Art over L i f e , Reason over Sense, Thought over Language, a l l such hierarchies which f i x the present i n s t a t i c forms — and an equally thunderous Yes! to the state of non-significance, the Dadaist with h i s da da da clears the way for what i s l e f t . And what i s l e f t i n t h i s destruction i s nothing other than the l i v i n g actual, the same actual that cannot be caged by thought, engaged, but never caged. One of the issues, " Art" ( c a p i t a l i z e d ) , the Dadaists single out for s p e c i a l attack. Not the art which i s an extension: of l i f e forces, as say i n the p r e h i s t o r i c cave paintings, but the c o n s t r i c t i n g concept of "Art" as a p r i v i l e g e d form, as then a category of thought separable from the a c t u a l , i n a s p e c i a l realm a l l to i t s e l f — and valued for that reason alone. Williams mentions the "handcuffs of ' a r t ' " i n Spring and A l l (SA, 97), and more than l i k e l y he has t h i s i n mind. In the f a l s e but stubbornly held assumption that "Art" stands above, or over l i f e , a r t i s t s and writers handcuff themselves with a f i x i t y that denies the authentic function of a r t : to free the mind from a l l imposed hierarc h i e s of "thought" and to re-open the immediacy of the present. As a gesture of negative force, Dadaism with i t s " r i e n " thus broke the s p e l l of "Art" ( c a p i t a l i z e d ) . 55 In t h i s l a r g e r sense, as seen by Williams at l e a s t , the Dadaists are symptomatic of a force within the mind that refuses, l i k e the b i r d i n Williams' early poem "The Fool's Song," to be caged by i t s own obsolete forms. I t i s the l i v i n g imagination they embody, an energy i n the mind comparable to " e l e c t r i c i t y " as Williams .says i n Spring and A l l (SA, 150) — which returns with a vengeance when constricted by an order that survives by denying the act u a l . The present constantly demands the destruction of the o l d , the known world, i n favor of the pressing desires-of the new, which by d e f i n i t i o n i s always the condition of an un-known world. "The imagination, freed from the handcuffs of 'art , ' takes the lead!" (SA, 97). A few pages before t h i s d e c l aration i n Spring and A l l Williams him-s e l f proposes nothing l e s s than a large-scale holocaust, a d a d a i s t i c destruction of a world that i s past (The past) simply because i t no longer accounts f o r the present. Against t h i s construct, the holocaust, l i k e an epidemic, or l i k e Dadaism, would break i n to destroy a past that prevents a present from breaking through. I t i s the renewal of the mind's force, we should emphasize, that c a r r i e s Williams: outside of any dead form the mind cl i n g s to f o r comfort l i v e s that "bizarre fowl" (SA, 92) — "Oh l i f e " (SA, 92) — ready to take wing i n order to re-assert i t s primacy, i t s immediacy. In t h i s transformation, the actual once again returns to the spring of i t s forwardness. Over against the "Art" (c a p i t a l i z e d ) that stands over l i f e , Williams wants that " a r t " which extends l i f e processes by taking i t s lead from the force of the imagination. "Yes, the imagination," he writes, drunk with p r o h i b i t i o n s , has destroyed and recreated everything afresh, i n the likeness of that which i t was. Now indeed men look about i n amazement at each other with a f u l l r e a l i z a t i o n of the meaning of 'art.' (SA, 93) 56 We w i l l return l a t e r to a more s p e c i f i c understanding of t h i s "meaning of 'art,™ but f o r the moment we-might remind ourselves that i n the destruction of obsolete forms of thought, i n the instant of that destruction, when the oppressive buildings of thought crumble, the world i s once again brought back to a state of newness — "everything afresh," or to re-state Hartley's statement, now no one thing i s any more or le s s than any other one thing. Since a l l things as things are p a r t i c u l a r s , a l l things, to that extent, are equal, no longer disposable through the overlay of secondary values assigned to them by v i r t u e of t h e i r " p o s i t i o n " i n a h i e r a r c h i c frame of reference, parts of a whole that i s greater and through which, because of which, they are merely a part, a sign say, that does nothing more than point somewhere e l s e , empty i n i t s e l f . Now each thing i s s u b s t a n t i a l , e x i s t s i n i t s own r i g h t : signs that before were transparent now become actual i n them-selves. Words, for instance: but, as w e l l , i n "A Novelette" e s p e c i a l l y , the mind comes into a new f e e l i n g f or things as themselves the context of the mind's acts ("No ideas but i n things"). This i s only another way of saying that the mind i s i t s e l f one of the a c t u a l i t i e s of the world, both of and i n a f i e l d of e x i s t i n g ( i . e . moving) things. Value i s no longer make-s h i f t , no longer dependent upon abstracted forms of reference (such as "Art," or "Science," or "Philosophy"). Instead, t h i s new sense of the p a r t i c u l a r functions as an extension of what Hartley i n the same essay c a l l s "the b r i l l i a n t e x c i t a t i o n of the moment," the same l i v i n g present Williams wants the hold of. In t h i s " s ingle necessity" which then a r i s e s to stay i n "the moment" (AN, 273), the epidemic, l i k e Dadaism, turns out to be a destructive force, but one that allows the mind to release i t s e l f , to move with the complex surfaces of things, as things: Where the drop of r a i n had been, there remained a d e l i c a t e 57 black s t a i n , the o u t l i n e of the drop marked c l e a r l y on the white paint, i n black, within which a shadow, a smoothest tone faded upward between the l i n e s and burst them, thinning out upon the woodwork down which the r a i n had come. In the tops of the screws the p o l i s h i n g powder could be seen white. And Williams' "thus?" Thus the epidemic had become a c r i t i c i s m — to begin with. In the seriousness of the moment — not even the seriousness but the single necessity — the extraneous dropped of i t s own weight. One worked ra p i d l y . Meanwhile values stood out i n a l l fineness. (AN, 273) And l a t e r on i n the same section, "A Paradox:" January. January. (AN, 275) A.Novelette i s s u b t i t l e d "January:" the epidemic and•Dadaism, neither of them as f i n a l ends, but as c r i t i c i s m s which w i l l not permit the mind to retreat from the " s i n g l e necessity" of the present moment. Both of them are gestures ("to begin with") that re-open the experience of the ac t u a l , make possible the mind's return to beginnings, to the condition of "January." "To begin with" — one way of viewing the dadaist elements i n The  Great American Novel, Spring and A l l , and A Novelette and Other Prose, a l l of which were written during the 20's, without i n s i s t i n g that Williams was a Dadaist i n too s t r i c t a sense. The European Dadaism born i n the dark nightmare of the war grew out of conditions quite distant from American shores. As Maurice Nadeau says i n The History of Surrealism, t h i s p a r t i -cular form of Dadaism, the explosive dissent of T r i s t a n Tzara, for instance, made "enthusiastic converts i n a conquered Germany at grips with famine, 58 poverty," and revolutionary rio.ts."? In his work, as far as we can t e l l , Williams neither furthered the s p e c i f i c issues of European Dadaism, nor did he p u b l i c l y a l i g n himself with, that -movement. And yet, understandably enough, he could e a s i l y i d e n t i f y with- the l i n g u i s t i c ground of the Dadaist's attack on reason: the word "dada" i t s e l f , about which Georges Ribement-Dessaignes i n h i s History of Dada has the following to o f f e r : " I t means nothing, aims to mean nothing, and was adopted p r e c i s e l y because of i t s g absence of meaning." I f dada means "nothing," then the "absence of meaning" signals a r e l i e f from the s u f f o c a t i n g obsession with the meaning of words at the expense of t h e i r o b j e c t i v i t y . The word dada, i n t h i s way, re-opens the experience of language, and t h i s sense of playing with words Williams understood only too w e l l . He heard i t very much i n h i s own ear. In the few years p r i o r to 1917, the year America .joined the war, .; Williams did, however, come into contact i n New York with a c e r t a i n form of Dadaism, though Dadaism as such had not yet existed, through the presence and work of Marcel Duchamp. Williams admits i n h i s Autobiography the puzzlement of, and h i s uneasiness with, t h i s enigmatic French a r t i s t and 9 double-talker, the maker of "ready-mades" and The Nude Descending the  Staircase, the one painting that thoroughly scandalized the New York art world at the 1913 Armory Show. As we s h a l l see, h i s references to Duchamp's work, scattered and few as they are, suggest that t h i s work, the experience of i t s e f f e c t on conventional notions of art form, did point to p o s s i b i l i t i e s i n w r i t i n g for Williams. The s o - c a l l e d influence of Dadaism, l i k e the influence of so many writers and movements i n Williams' l i f e , i s one more manifestation, i n h i s mind, of the struggle for the NEW, In t h i s a s s e r t i o n , Williams envisioned 59 a NEW world, that v i t a nuova he f e l t pushing for'embodiment i n his own experience of language. We might c a l l i t "modernism." The question of influence i n Williams' work, i n other words, i s more often than not questionable i n i t s e l f because i t remains so double-edged. On the one hand, we can almost go so:far as - to argue that anything and everything, p o s i t i v e - o r negative, i n some way "influenced" Williams. He was an intensely public writer, as anyone who has read him s e r i o u s l y knows. The whole of h i s Selected Essays, which begins with h i s "Prologue" to Kora i n H e l l , a l l the pieces he wrote on art and,artists c o l l e c t e d i n A Recognizable Image, not to mention h i s Selected Letters and h i s Autobiography, not even to mention a l l the essays and reviews that have not as yet been c o l l e c t e d , a t t e s t to t h i s side of h i s nature. "Granted my i n t e r e s t i n w r i t i n g , " he says simply i n h i s "Preface" to the Selected Essays, "to make the poets p a r t i c u l a r l y more accepted i n what they say, I wanted to r e i n t e r p r e t them and r e l a t e them to the world" (SE, x v i ) . The aim, of course, applies to writers and a r t i s t s as w e l l . On the other hand, when i t became a question of his own w r i t i n g , r i g h t from the beginning, i f we exclude Poems (1909), he could, and mostly did, stubbornly maintain his own p a r t i c u l a r sense of what he wanted from w r i t i n g . I t i s for t h i s very reason, the obvious foot-stomping aside, that his a s s e r tion i n the "Prologue," — " I ' l l write whatever I damn please, when-ever I damn please and as I damn please" (K, 13) — equally rings true to his nature. Could anyone but Williams have written Kora i n Hell? I t i s not exactly a question of influence. This i s another way of saying that i t i s possible to t a l k about the dadaist elements i n Williams' work without l a b e l l i n g him a D a d a i s t . ^ Williams was too r e s t l e s s a writer ever to be caught under the guise of a l a b e l . Brought into a piece of w r i t i n g wholesale, Dadaism ( c a p i t a l i z e d ) 60 could only lead to another closure, and Williams, of a l l w r i t e r s , c o n t i n u a l l y guarded against the predetermination of h i s w r i t i n g by any given f i x e d point of view, which Dadaism taken as an end.would be. But as a force, as an i n i t i a l negation that says No! to reason as end, i t could bring r e l i e f , even to Williams i n Rutherford, New Jersey. And e s p e c i a l l y to Williams, since the Dadaists brought into p u b l i c view a s i m i l a r c r i s i s of mind and language that he had undergone when he wrote Kora i n H e l l . Dadaism, then, by the time Hartley wrote "The Importance of Being 'Dada'" i n 1921, must have been l e s s "news" to Williams than a c l a r i f i c a t i o n that confirmed his own desire for new beginnings. He might have supported the basis of Breton's own farewell to Dada — It s h a l l not be said that Dadaism served any other purpose than to keep us i n that state of perfect a v a i l -a b i l i t y i n which we are and from which we s h a l l now set out with l u c i d i t y toward what claims us for i t s own.H Breton i s t a l k i n g about the o r i g i n s of Surrealism as an advancement, a re b u i l d i n g necessary a f t e r the destruction brought on by Dadaism. Whether 12 Breton i s r i g h t or not, his phrase — "that state of perfect a v a i l a b i l i t y " — s u i t s Williams very w e l l : Dadaism understood as a means through which the actual breaks through, because of which something else could now happen, the a v a i l a b i l i t y of new forms, for instance, or the a v a i l a b i l i t y of a new sense of experience interwoven with a new sense of language. The two times Williams mentions Dadaism i n I Wanted to Write a_ Poem are notable f o r t h e i r absence of d e t a i l . Talking about hi s 1924 t r i p to P a r i s , . for - instance, he comments, 61 I had met Soupault i n P a r i s , He was a very amusing person, r e a l l y amusing, a l l wound up i n Dadaism. I didn't understand what Dadaism was hut I l i k e d Soupault, (IW, 47) What Williams says here i s so sparse that i t sounds almost c r y p t i c , although i n that c h a r a c t e r i s t i c uneasiness he had with "movements" as ends, he does s h i f t a t t e n t i o n immediately from Soupault the Dadaist to Soupault the man. And yet i t i s so u n l i k e l y , given Williams' sharp 13 i n t e l l i g e n c e , that he "didn't understand" Dadaism. Against t h i s remark, another one i n r e l a t i o n to "A Novelette:" The pieces i n t h i s book show the influence of Dadaism. I didn't o r i g i n a t e Dadaism but I had i t i n my soul to write i t . Spring and A l l shows that. Paris had i n f l u -enced me; there i s a French f e e l i n g i n t h i s work. (IW, 48-49) Williams' statement that he didn't " o r i g i n a t e Dadaism" sounds curious because there are no i n d i c a t i o n s i n h i s work that he, or anyone e l s e , ever thought he did. But again, h i s attention quickly s h i f t s from the l a b e l to the man, t h i s time, to himself. "I had i t i n my soul to write i t , " he says, thus suggesting that Dadaism was less a movement with which he i d e n t i f i e d and more the instance of a way — an i n i t i a l breakage — that releases the mind to the play of language. In t h i s sense, i t i s possible that Williams viewed Dadaism (to use 14 Ribemont-Dessaigne's phrase) as "a movement of the mind" that prepared the ground for the S u r r e a l i s t exploration into the nature of language. He hints as much i n a l e t t e r to Norman Macleod written i n 1945 (July 25) where he t a l k s about a desire "to write something on the S u r r e a l i s t s , as French a r t i s t s " — and the weight, we notice, f a l l s heavily on the word French. He goes on to explain that he sees Surrealism as a science of misnomers (a purely l o c a l and temporal phase) evading correct nomenclature, e n t i r e l y a product of 62 contemporary France. The Immediate sequel of Dadaism and the F i r s t World War with the actual but diverted defeat of France, (SL, 240) Names t i e the world together i n language, so much so that most speakers of any given language are r a r e l y aware that language conditions experience. The word-men Williams admires — and the S u r r e a l i s t s are more instances — have experienced language as both here and there, a possession on the one hand, but some-thing that l i v e s i t s own l i f e as w e l l . Begin c a l l i n g things by t h e i r wrong names, as c h i l d r e n love to do, and suddenly confusion breaks i n . Nothing i s any longer s e t t l e d , the words become wiry and r e s t l e s s . Mis-naming something throws',language i n t o r e l i e f as something. "Thus, 'The Nude Descending a S t a i r c a s e , ' " Williams writes to Macleod, i s a c t u a l l y the F a l l of France — which could not be stated — formally i n any other way. The Surrealism that followed t h i s early, and i s o l a t e d example, a continued misnaming of external events, an appearance had to be invented to f i t the misapplication. I t s general character i s thus s e l f - e v i d e n t , both the subject and i t s treatment. (SL, 240) And so i n "A Novelette" Williams praises the S u r r e a l i s t s — "Take the s u r r e a l i s t s , take Soupault's Les. Dernieres Nuits de Paris"'*' 5 — for t h e i r e f f o r t i n bringing language back to " i t s January" by making "the words into sentences that w i l l have a f a n t a s t i c r e a l i t y which i s f a l s e " (AN, 280), that i s , by "misnaming." By so doing, they reveal that other falseness, when language i s subservient to the sale of old clothes and ideas and the formulas f o r the synthetic manufacture of rubber (AN, 280-281) The S u r r e a l i s t s are thus exemplary f o r the way i n which they undermine, the -constructive i n t e l l e c t (reason as end) in: favor of the a c t u a l i t y of language: the words as p a r t i c l e s by and i n which human desire seeks to explore, manifest and discover i t s e l f . We might add, by w r i t i n g i n the words. Those who make language subservient to "ideas" betray the very 63 thing ("No ideas but i n things") which i s most human i n man. Hence they subvert that which i s c l o s e s t to desire, "House for s a l e . " (AN, 281) Words become so much r e a l estate, and not the estate of the r e a l which they are. According to Williams, French Surrealism clears out t h i s f a l s e premise: Surrealism does not l i e . It i s the s i n g l e truth. I t i s an epidemic. I t i s . I t i s j u s t words. (AN, 281) And yet, and s i g n i f i c a n t l y enough, since p a r t i c u l a r i s m i s the e f f e c t of an epidemic that brings things back to t h e i r "January," Williams points to the s p e c i f i c a l l y French nature of Surrealism. He and other American writers can learn from i t , but to copy i t wholesale would be disastrous, because Surrealism i s i t s e l f a p a r t i c u l a r — a new thing: . . . i t i s French. It i s t h e i r invention: one. That language i s i n constant revolution, constantly being covered, merded, stolen, slimed. Theirs. It i s i n the kind that we should see i t . In that d i v e r s i t y of the mind which i s excellence, l i k e a tree — one single tree — French — i t i s surrealism. I t i s of that kind which i s the a c t u a l . (AN, 281) Language i s constantly changing to meet new conditions, or stated negatively, words are constantly "being covered" over with meanings that c l i n g to a past world. As a symbol of love, the "rose i s obsolete," Williams says i n Spring and A l l , but love can be re-discovered "at the edge of the / p e t a l " (SA, 107-108) of a rose, as words can as w e l l . " I t i s i n the kind," Williams argues, and r i g h t here he r e t r i e v e s a more primary, a more act i v e sense of the word "kind," one of the words "covered over," but uncovered momen-t a r i l y to get at the p a r t i c u l a r i t y of Surrealism. In Webster's Dictionary, we note one d e f i n i t i o n of "kind:" Rare or Archaic, a. o r i g i n , b. nature, c. manner; way. A very dense word indeed has been degraded and thus 64 emptied of i t s s u b s t a n t i a l i t y . And Williams implies that a world i n which "kind" had substance must have paid attention to the a c t u a l i t y of language, not covered over, can we say l o s t , i n such g e n e r a l i t i e s as (Webster's)  sort; v a r i e t y ; c l a s s . I t i s i n kind, then, that such a p a r t i c u l a r form as Surrealism has come in t o "appearance" (to quote the term Williams uses i n his l e t t e r to Macleod): a return to o r i g i n s as a concern f o r what i s primary i n human nature made possible through the way of language. Through Williams' eyes, the emergence of Surrealism i s no d i f f e r e n t from that of the Indian i n America, indigenous but neglected, "a natural expression of the place, the Indian himself as 'r i g h t , ' the flower of h i s world" (TAG, 138). In Surrealism, France i s embodied i n a rooted thing, " l i k e a tree — one sing l e tree — French — i t i s surrealism" (AN, 281). And t h i s kind of thing, rooted, so Williams ( c i r c a 1929) believes, does not e x i s t i n America. I f , however, the S u r r e a l i s t s can break through the deadness of language forms i n France, then American writers must be able to do the same thing i n t h e i r world. Or as Williams had spoken of t h i s same necessity i n . 1923 i n The Great American Novel: "We must imitate the.motivation and shun the r e s u l t " (GAN, 175). I t i s from t h i s p o s i t i o n that he had then argued the need f or American writers to break away from European models.(the " f o r e i g n " i s not of the nature of "kind") i n order "to begin to f i n d a shape — to begin to begin again" (P, 167), to quote the way he puts i t in. Paterson, h i s own "reply;to Greek and L a t i n with the bare hands" (P, 10);.' He i s t a l k i n g about European music, but a l l forms of a r t share the consequences: Tear i t a l l apart. Start with one note. One word. Chant i t over and over f o r t y d i f f e r e n t ways. But i t would be stupid — It would, i f "-it were what I mean — i t would be 65 accurate. I t would a r t i c u l a t e with something. I t would s i g n i f y r e l i e f . Release I mean. I t would be the beginning. (GAN, 174-175) R e l i e f and release: the " r i e n , r i e n , r i e n " of Dadaism as an "apotheosis of r e l i e f " (GAN, 173) and the S u r r e a l i s t release into language, both of which restore to the mind the primacy of experience. What Williams wants i n the 20's i s a c r i t i c a l reading of modernist w r i t i n g — the kind of w r i t i n g actual to the conditions of i t s time. "Reading w i l l become an a r t " (AN, 364), so he hopes i n a "Statement" at the end of A Novelette. I t i s thus not s u r p r i s i n g that the writer-Williams might at times become the reader-Williams and that he might, i n t h i s capacity, turn to the l i k e s of a Shakespeare or a Joyce i n h i s e f f o r t to further modernist w r i t i n g i n America. No doubt, as a wri t e r , he i s simply looking f o r news from other writers which can be of use i n his own w r i t i n g , but as a reader — and Williams did take t h i s task s e r i o u s l y — he i s seeking c r i t i c a l terms to make a readership for such w r i t i n g a v a i l a b l e i n America. 66 CHAPTER THREE THE LANGUAGE . . . THE LANGUAGE Williams' deep attachment to Shakespeare began as f a r back as i n h i s childhood, when h i s father, so we learn i n h i s Autobiography, f i r s t i n t r o -duced him to the work of the Elizabethan, "whom I read a v i d l y , p r a c t i c a l l y from beginning to end" (A, 15). Further on i n t h i s same book, Shakespeare i s mentioned again, t h i s time i n terms of Williams' decision to become a writer. "Words offered themselves," he says, "and I jumped at them. To write, l i k e Shakespeare!" (A, 48). Quite an ambition, to be sure, but the excitement of the p o s s i b i l i t y - took root — and Shakespeare remained a constant companion i n Williams' mind."'' In The Embodiment of Knowledge, he even goes so f a r as to c a l l Shakespeare "My Grandfather" (EK, 110). A f e e l i n g of kinship as well. I t i s here that we are also offered, however incomplete, a more i n s i g h t f u l understanding of Shakespeare's s i g n i f i c a n c e , for Williams, as a write r who continues to be a source for modernist wri t e r s . But not simply because Shakespeare was a "great" dramatist, and as such, necessary reading, say i n the c u l t u r a l eyes of Williams' English father. 67 More than that, Shakespeare's plays prefigure the e f f o r t behind modernism to make language ac t u a l . Here Williams could locate a working model f o r the kind of American w r i t i n g he thought possible once the tyranny of d i s c u r s i v e forms of thought were overcome — the work of the Dadaists and the S u r r e a l -i s t s i n France — and w r i t i n g could once again become an extension of experience, not -merely a container i n t o which writers pour t h e i r precon-ceived ideas. In the plays themselves (as p l a y s ) , Williams could see the exemplifi-cation of that f i g u r e of the writer, the "word man" who l i v e s so much i n his words that the biographic impulse i s r e s i s t e d completely. Shakespeare l i t e r a l l y disappears into h i s words; they are not assumed to be transparent vehicles burdened with the "thoughts" of the w r i t e r , what he believes, his theory of l i f e , or whatever he thinks p r i o r to the act of w r i t i n g . Words are deeds through which Shakespeare composed an actual world. As Williams says, He i s not a dealer i n abstractions using a play as a subterfuge, words, w r i t i n g as a means. But the w r i t i n g i s a l l and only. (EK, 14) Shakespeare did not use words, as do the "idea-vendors" Williams attacks i n "A Novelette," to transmit abstract ideas. They were a switchboard for things and people's growth and movements, i n reverse. The actions pressed the keys and recorded them on the page. (EK, 15) Shakespeare was himself an instrument of action i n words, "he i s a l l play, a l l the play" (EK, .15) . Even more importantly perhaps, i n Shakespeare's plays, Williams also sees the emergence of new forces, new concerns, a new view of the world that undermines Shakespeare's hold on language, a change that could be 68 read as an h i s t o r i c s h i f t i n a t t i t u d e s toward language — over from language as a r e v e l a t i o n of human acts to the d i s c u r s i v e use of language as a t o o l , an instrument of control over things. This s h i f t marks the beginning of a "cleavage" (SA, 111), to use Williams' word i n Spring and A l l , between words and things that has continued into the early part, of the 20th century. To Williams, the e f f e c t of t h i s change i s most evident i n the "science" and "philosophy" he c r i t i c i z e s i n A Novelette and The Embodiment of Knowledge, but equally i n any form of thought ( " l i t e r a r y " or otherwise) that attempts to cage the actual by making i t conform to a preconceived frame of r e f e r -ence. Bacon enters the stage at the beginning of t h i s new methodology, one that works to sever the bond between words and things, i n f a c t constitutes i t s e l f through that severance. A new kind of " o b j e c t i v i t y " i s born. Language becomes secondary. Words are taken as signs for things, a f t e r things, for i t i s i n those same "things" that men can discover the s o - c a l l e d "laws" of nature which enable them to control forces that once appeared so mysterious and awesome. In t h i s separation, the substances of the world (men included) disappeared into abstract forms of thought: "science" into "materialism" and "philosophy" into "idealism," both of them taken as means to a new end: "knowledge" as a completed state of understanding. In i t s simplest form, so Williams argues, t h i s concept of "knowledge" was an i l l u s i o n r i g h t from the beginning. "Bacon and h i s confreres of the period," he writes, had a great work to do. Science had to be b u i l t up. The lure of a s o l u t i o n of l i f e c a r r i e d them forward giving them the b e l i e f that to know everything was the end of knowledge, the same f a l s i t y that debauches the mind of a college boy to t h i s day. I t had a perfect j u s t i c e as an incentive to work and has worked so wonderfully. (EK, 68) If the f i r s t quarter of the 20th century i s any i n d i c a t i o n , i t becomes 69 apparent to Williams that the habit of mind giving b i r t h to science has triumphed. But l i k e a l l other "truths" which eventually reveal t h e i r l i m i t s , the f i c t i o n of science i s now so worn, so v i o l e n t l y wrong that i t s viciousness has become surely the most d i s t o r t i n g , obsessive ghost of the world. I t i s the most v i o l e n t l i e i n existence to the extent that i t has been the most powerful force i n c i t i n g men to labor for hundreds of years. Now i t must be k i l l e d . It must be k i l l e d by showing i t f a l s e . This i s why Science — for that i s what "science" has come to mean, the f i c t i o n i t s e l f , and Philosophy — f o r i t i s the same there — must be branded as l i e . (EK, 68-69) A l i e , because somewhere i n t h i s triumph, Shakespeare's sense of man as a "speaking animal" got l o s t , and the s o l i d i t y of h i s use of words as w e l l . As a w r i t e r , Shakespeare r e s i s t e d the lure of abstractions and held to the density of l i v e experience: . . . never a philosopher i n any of Shakespeare's pieces — only men and women of action — bent by what you w i l l — something more s o l i d which was there before, some-thing he could not escape, opaque, u n s c i e n t i f i c , i n an awakening s c i e n t i f i c era, which Bacon was f i r s t i n awakening. Shakespeare had nothing but people to oppose to that, a s o l i d rock he could not break — j u s t arrange, rearrange. He could not get by them. There he stuck and spun. (EK, 111-112) Some of Williams' comments on Shakespeare found t h e i r way i n t o "The Descent of Winter" ( f i r s t published i n Pound's E x i l e , Autumn, 1928), but his reading of t h i s genius of the English language nevertheless remains i n a state of "notes and fragments," quick takes. What i s important for t h i s study, however, i s the manner i n which he reads Shakespeare i n t o the modernist movement i n w r i t i n g . Not that "the modern" should, or i s " t r y i n g or wishing or dreaming to bring back Shakespeare" (EK, 112) , not that kind of n o s t a l g i c lament for things past. "But h i s s o l i d i t y , " Williams says, "his opacity i s growing f a m i l i a r " (EK, 112). 70 In the section of The Embodiment of Knowledge immediately following the f i r s t discussion of Shakespeare as a writer — "Shakespeare's work i s a l l words" (EK, 11) — Williams affirms the experimental w r i t i n g of Stein and Joyce, two modernist w r i t e r s who have made the s h i f t back i n t o a sense of language as actual, the matter of w r i t i n g . By breaking through the " f a l s e r e l i a n c e on emotion and idea" (EK, 18) and returning to the o b j e c t i v i t y of words, they are attempting to overcome the same cleavage between words and things that enters Shakespeare's work. A f t e r s t a t i n g that "Language i s the key to the mind's escape from bondage to the past" (EK, 19), Williams outlines his own sense of the "province" (EK, 19) and "function" (EK, 20) of w r i t i n g i n his contemporary world. In w r i t i n g that engages language, "words and t h e i r configurations are r e a l and a l l ideas and facts with which they deal are secondary" (EK, 19-20). And because of t h i s , such w r i t i n g i s the complement of a l l other realms of the i n t e l l i g e n c e which use language as secondary to the r e a l i t y of t h e i r own materials — such as science, philosophy, h i s t o r y , r e l i g i o n , the l e g i s l a t i v e f i e l d . (EK, 20) Williams, i n other words, does not oppose w r i t i n g to other f i e l d s of i n t e l l i g e n c e , but separates i t out as that "realm of the i n t e l l i g e n c e " i n which language i s explored on i t s own terms. And since experience i s i n e x t r i c a b l y bound to the play of words, the modernist w r i t i n g Williams has i n mind functions to "re-enkindle language, to break i t away from i t s enforcements, i t s p r o s t i t u t i o n s under a l l other categories" (EK, 20). In very c r u c i a l ways, what we know of the past i s a language construct, a completed state of understanding frozen into the grammar and syntax of a world that no longer e x i s t s . By breaking up the language of that construct, 71 modernist writers thus free "the words themselves" to a present where they can be re-discovered i n t h e i r newness. So Williams concludes, "By taking language as r e a l and employing i t with a f u l l breadth and sweep, l e t t e r s frees i t from encroachments and makes i t operative again" (EK, 20). The key word i s "operative." I t i s imperative that now, i n the 20th century, writers be drawn into the hunt for a form of w r i t i n g that reveals the immediacy of t h e i r time, the one they l i v e . This l o y a l t y toward the present, however, can cause intense resistances i n those writers and readers who would prefer to r e l y on past forms because they are more predictable, l e s s threatening, more comforting. A great deal of what concerns Williams deeply s t r i k e s to the core of t h i s c e n t r a l drama, the modernist b a t t l e f or the New as against the dominance of the Old. Taken together, a l l the essays c o l l e c t e d i n Selected Essays are exemplary i n t h i s sense, and no doubt Williams had some such i n t e n t i o n i n mind i n the early 50's when he gathered them together for r e - p u b l i c a t i o n . Selected Essays begins with the "Prologue" to Kora i n H e l l , his f i r s t major defense of modernism, and ends with "On measure — Statement for Cid Corman," a re - a f f i r m a t i o n of the modernist poet's desire to discover "a new measure by which may be ordered our poems as well as our l i v e s " (SE, 340). "A Point for American C r i t i c i s m " appears mid-stream, f i r s t published i n t r a n s i t i o n i n 1929, around the same time as The Embodiment of Knowledge 2 was written and A Novelette and Other Prose compiled. By the end of the 20's, over ten years a f t e r w r i t i n g Kora i n H e l l , modernism was s t i l l , at l e a s t i n Williams' eyes, not accepted as an a c t u a l i t y . Rebecca West's 3 essay "The Strange Case of James Joyce," the focus of>his* attention i n "A Point-for-. American Criticism,." confIrmed-his-growing. sense that no 72 authentic American form of w r i t i n g had yet become p u b l i c . "No one w i l l handle i t here," he had written to Pound i n March, 1930, admitting his own f a i l u r e to f i n d a publisher f or A Novelette and Other Prose. He i s equally angered because West's c r i t i c i s m of Joyce was published i n America, further i n d i c a t i o n that Americans are s t i l l dependent upon foreign authority to t e l l them how to judge what i s , and what i s not, relevant i n contemporary l i t e r a t u r e . Williams thus writes "a point" f or American c r i t i c i s m and argues the need for readers i n America to become more conscious of the fa c t that modern w r i t i n g issues from the condition of t h e i r experience; and that Americans, for t h i s reason, have the opportun-i t y , i f they w i l l act on i t , to i n t e r p r e t the work of such a writer as Joyce from t h e i r own perspective. Possibly "A Point f or American C r i t i c i s m " does not deserve to be singled out for s p e c i a l attention — i t i s , a f t e r a l l , only a review of a review — except that i t dramatizes so c l e a r l y and so w e l l the nature of the constant struggle, i n Williams' work, out of which such a thing as "modernism" takes shape. Just as the Dadaists and S u r r e a l i s t s i n France — "We must imitate the motivation and shun the r e s u l t " — American writers must discover a form of w r i t i n g p a r t i c u l a r to t h e i r own needs. And c r i t i c i s m can act as a p o s i t i v e force i n t h i s endeavor. Modernist w r i t i n g demands the e f f o r t of modernist readers. So i t i s that i n the case of "Joyce vs West" an American form of c r i t i c i s m could have offered a more accurate evaluation of the larger context of Joyce's work. What then might t h i s form be f o r the "American" reader that Williams becomes on the occasion of t h i s b r i e f essay? We notice, f i r s t of a l l , that he does not choose to answer West i n the most obvious way, through a 7 3 point by point r e b u t t a l of her reading of Joyce. Instead, he constructs his argument negatively, moves behind the content of West's remarks back to the basic assumptions she holds as a " c r i t i c . " By so de-constructing the terms of her argument, he can l i f t her readerly misgivings — Joyce as a "strange case" — into the context of the h i s t o r i c condition of modernist w r i t i n g — again, the b a t t l e between the past ("West" defends what i s "old") and the present ("Joyce" manifests the b i r t h of the "new"). We are t o l d that Rebecca West, on the one hand, acknowledges Joyce's "genius," only then to expose h i s s o - c a l l e d defects, one of them his lack of " t a s t e . " What gets Williams i s the smugness behind the judgment, the apparent security of i t , which he translates as the other side of a f a i l u r e to deal with an object of attention — i . e . Joyce's w r i t i n g — that does not conform to pre-established l i t e r a r y standards. What i s outwardly a c r i t i c i s m i s thus r e a l l y a defense. Joyce.offends West's s e n s i b i l i t i e s , and she uses the whole weighted authority of her aesthetic perspective to demonstrate that Joyce's work, as " b e a u t i f u l " (SE, 81) as h i s prose may be, i s f i n a l l y unsuccessful because he f a i l s to l i f t h i s '"compulsions'" beyond "'the threshold that divides l i f e from a r t ' " (SE, 81). In Williams' deconstruction, such a statement betrays the fundamental bankruptcy of an aesthetic frame of reference that constitutes i t s e l f on the h i e r a r c h i c separation of " a r t " from l i f e . This i s the same "A r t " ( c a p i t a l i z e d ) that the Dadaists singled out for attack years before. Joyce, on the other hand, refuses to pander to t h i s separation, and h i s work i s s i g n i f i c a n t for that very f a c t . Words to him are not used as some kind of ladder to transport the reader out of the world to some transcendent "somewhere e l s e " (SE, 87). Like Shakespeare, he i s , f i r s t and foremost, a w r i t e r : " W i l l t h i s never be understood?" (SE, 86). 74 Williams would have enjoyed Marcel Duchamp's answer, i n an interview, to the question, "What i s taste f or you?" "A habit. The r e p e t i t i o n of 4 something already accepted." In t h i s sense, " t a s t e " i s a f i x e d response, an aesthetic measuring rod determined by an already given standard, a set of s o c i a l or c u l t u r a l norms against which, and only against which, a thing i s judged as " b e a u t i f u l " or not. This i s both i t s l i m i t and i t s danger. As a " r e p e t i t i o n of something already accepted," i t becomes one more example of a form that cuts o f f the crab's f e e l e r s to make those f e e l e r s f i t i nto a box. The r e s u l t i n g c o n s t r i c t i o n prevents the mind (Rebecca West's, according to Williams) from experiencing something altogether new. Of course, the issue of " t a s t e " i n i t s e l f i s not the sole point of Williams' attack. Rather, the dogmatic r e l i a n c e upon i t as a c r i t i c a l t o o l disguises what stands behind i t , " B r i t i s h c r i t i c a l orthodoxy (R.W. i t s spokesman)" (SE, 84), a frame of reference that asserts i t s power by refusing to accept what does not conform to i t s f i x e d standards. This i s the r e a l reason why i t cannot (or w i l l not) understand Joyce's so - c a l l e d defects — Joyce does offend i n taste. Joyce i s sentimental i n his handling of his material. He does deform h i s drawing and allow defective characterizations to creep i n (SE, 84) — as inconsequential i n the face of the much more pressing (and obvious, to Williams) fa c t that he i s breaking away from aesthetic forms that have become obsolete. " B r i t i s h c r i t i c a l orthodoxy" i s one such form. This, then, i s the immediate thing: "Joyce has broken through and drags h i s defects with him, a thing English c r i t i c i s m cannot t o l e r a t e " (SE, 85). Williams says that West cannot acknowledge t h i s complexity without s a c r i f i c i n g her pre-determined expectations: She cannot say that on the basis of Joyce's e f f o r t , the 75 defect i s a consequence of the genius which, to gain way, has superseded the r e s t r i c t i o n s of the orthodox f i e l d . She cannot say that i t i s the break that has released the genius — and that the defects are stigmata of the break. She cannot l i n k the two as an i n d i s s o l u b l e whole •— but she must put defect to the r i g h t , genius to the l e f t , B r i t i s h c r i t i c i s m i n the center, where i t i s wholly forced; a thorough imposition. (SE, 84) Meanwhile, Joyce — "the leap of a new force" (SE, 85) — s l i p s through her f i n g e r s : Forward i s the new. I t w i l l not be blamed. I t w i l l not force i t s e l f into what amounts to paralyzing r e s t r i c t i o n s . It cannot be correct. I t hasn't time. I t has that which i s beyond measurement, which renders -measurement a f a l s i -f i c a t i o n , since .the energy i s showing i t s e l f as recrudes-cent, the measurement being the aftermath of each new outburst. (SE, 85) "And t h i s , " so Williams asserts a l i t t l e further on, " i s the opportunity of America! to see large, l a r g e r than England can" (SE, 86). Severed from the need to r e l y on B r i t i s h t r a d i t i o n (which i s i t s e l f , would the " B r i t i s h c r i t i c a l orthodoxy" question i t s own past, a form of localism) American c r i t i c i s m can accept Joyce as a new force "beyond measurement." They both share the same c o n s t i t u t i n g break from orthodoxy and the state of newness that issues from t h i s break. There i s an American c r i t i c i s m that applies to American l i t e r a t u r e — a l l too unformed to speak of p o s i t i v e l y . This American thing i t i s that would better f i t the I r i s h of Joyce. (SE, 87) This "unformed" but "American thing" has not yet blossomed, but t h i s state of r e s t l e s s p o s s i b i l i t y i s i t s precise advantage. With no f i x e d standards to defend, i t does not have to deny what does not conform. I m p l i c i t i n Williams' argument i s thus a push toward a more authentic c r i t i c a l a ppraisal on the part of American readers of modernist w r i t i n g such as Joyce's. Its apparent absence of "order" i s the sign of a new kind of 76 readership. Williams i s perhaps h i n t i n g that behind the idea of l i t e r a r y '.'taste," which constitutes i t s e l f on the d i v i s i o n between a "high" and a "low" culture, there i s that more common, more democratic sense of " t a s t e " — o r i g i n a l l y , to test by touching; to test the flavour of by.putting a l i t t l e i n one's mouth; to receive the sensation of, as for the f i r s t time. In America, " t a s t e " can then become an act of f e e l i n g out something new, something other that i s other because as yet unknown. American readers can " t e s t " such w r i t i n g as Joyce's, not by judging i t according to ext e r n a l l y imposed standards of measurement, but by making contact with i t , "as for the f i r s t time." I t i s from t h i s perspective that Williams comes to conclude that the reader-West hides behind a c r i t i c a l framework conditioned by B r i t i s h norms. And by refusing to enter the dynamics of "the words themselves" i n Joyce's w r i t i n g , not s u r p r i s i n g l y , she transposes the w r i t i n g over into categories of thought which i t s very texture undermines. As Williams writes, She speaks of transcendental tosh, of Freud, of Beethoven's F i f t h Symphony, of anything that comes into her head, but she has not yet learned — though she professes to know the difference between art and l i f e — the sentimental and the non-sentimental — that w r i t i n g i s made of words. And that i n j u s t t h i s e s s e n t i a l Joyce i s making a tech-n i c a l advance which she i s a f r a i d to acknowledge — that i s a c t u a l l y c u t t i n g away a l l England from under her. (SE, 88) What West refuses to recognize i s the "t e c h n i c a l advance" part and p a r c e l of Joyce's w r i t i n g : Joyce maims words. Why? Because meanings have been dulled, then l o s t , then perverted by t h e i r connotations (which have grown over them) u n t i l t h e i r e f f e c t on the mind i s no longer what i t was when they were fresh, but grows rotten as poi — though we may get to l i k e poi., (SE, 89-90) That i s , i f we get used to i t s taste. And how else to get used to poi but 77 by eating i t ? This i s , of course, a f o o l ' s language, but i t i s the same kind of language Williams thinks Rebecca West judges without hearing. From a p o s i t i o n outside t h i s maiming of words, and predictably, to West's ears, Joyce f i n a l l y does become himself a f o o l , the Shakespearean f o o l returning i n I r i s h garb. But r i g h t here, once again, Williams moves i n s w i f t l y from the p o s i t i o n of the f o o l and turns her perception upside down: Truly her conception of the Shakespearean f o o l , to whom she l i k e n s Joyce's mental processes, i s c l o a c a l i f any-thing could be so, with h i s japes and antics which so d i s t r e s s her thought, i n that transcendental dream i n which the s p i r i t i s triumphant — somewhere e l s e . Where-as here i s the only place where we know the s p i r i t to e x i s t at a l l , befouled as i t i s by l i e s . Joyce she sees as a ' f o o l ' dragging down the great and the good to h i s own f o u l l e v e l , making the high s p i r i t 'prove' i t s earthy baseness by lowering i t s e l f to laugh at low truth. (SE, 87) In Williams' own r e - i n t e r p r e t a t i o n , . . . the true s i g n i f i c a n c e of the f o o l i s to consolidate l i f e , to i n s i s t on i t s lowness, to k n i t i t up, to correct a c e r t a i n fatuousness i n the round-table c i r c l e . L i f e i s not to run o f f into dream but to remain one, from low to high. If you care to go so f a r , the f o o l i s the premonition of the Russian Revolution, to modern revolutions i n thought. (SE, 88) And he c l a r i f i e s further: Lear's f o o l . . . i s far from what R.W. paints h i s genus to be, but i s f u l l of compassion. Joyce, where he stoops low, has i n him a l l the signs of a beginning. I t i s a new l i t e r a t u r e , a new world, that he i s undertaking. (SE, 88) For Williams, Joyce, l i k e Shakespeare before him, or l i k e the Dadaists and S u r r e a l i s t s i n France, i s the " f o o l " who turns a closed system of thought back on i t s e l f i n order to destroy i t , and so begins again, anew. It i s t h i s i nsistence that s t r i k e s the bass note of "A Point for American C r i t i c i s m , " but as well of so many of the essays Williams wrote during h i s 78 l i f e t i m e . Like the epidemic i n the rush of which whatever was secondary f e l l away, leaving only the a c t u a l , the moving present has no patience, or "hasn't time," to worry over some such item as " t a s t e . " Joyce l i v e s the condition of h i s time, as a w r i t e r , a "word man." In h i s work, Williams says, "The words are freed to be understood again i n an o r i g i n a l , a fresh, d e l i g h t f u l sense" (SE, 90). So i t a l l comes back home for Williams. "We must imitate the motivation and shun the r e s u l t . " And as f i n a l c l a r i f i c a t i o n of Williams' c r i t i c a l understanding of modernist w r i t i n g , we are reminded of a passage from l!The Basis of F a i t h i n A r t " written i n 1934. The essay i s structured as a conversation-discussion-argument, that i s to say, a dialogue, between an a r c h i t e c t (we cannot help but think of Williams' brother) and a poet (we cannot help but think of Williams), who t a l k themselves back to the necessity for a r t i s t s to recognize the primacy of need behind any given form, a r c h i t e c t u r a l or otherwise. There you are I Just what I s a i d . I mean you b u i l d a house for people, don't you? Then the needs of . . . I mean, the minute you l e t yourself be c a r r i e d away by purely " a r c h i t e c t u r a l " or " l i t e r a r y " reasoning with-out consulting the thing from which i t grew, you've cut the l i f e - g i v i n g artery and nothing ensues but r o t . What we seem to be getting to i s that a l l the arts have to come back to something. And that that thing i s human need. When our manner of action becomes i m b e c i l i c we breed dada, Gertrude • • Stein, surrealism., : These - things .seem unrelated to any sort of sense UNTIL we look f o r the NEED of human beings. Examining that we f i n d that these apparently i r r e l e v a n t movements of art represent mind saving, even at moments of genius, soul saving, continents of s e c u r i t y f o r the pestered and bedeviled s p i r i t of man, bedeviled by the deadly, l y i n g repetitiousness of d o c t r i n a i r e formula 79 worship which i s the standard work of the day. In my young days i t was "English." (SE, 178-179) In j u s t such an i n d i r e c t but persistent way, Williams moves from the actual as primary, to Dada, Gertrude Stein and Surrealism, and by negation ri g h t back to the one thing that grounds his own need — "the language . . . the language." I t i s t h i s language which undermines "English," a term taken here to be the front of minds dominated and so caged by the same "Doctrinaire formula worship" that Williams c a l l s "our r e a l enemy" (AN, 279) i n A Novelette. "English" i n h i s "young days" was thus another empty form cut o f f from that "which i t grew," the product of a methodology based on the denial of need, i n that way another predetermination that boxes i n an actual language to which desire i s t i e d . In i t s l a r g e r context, therefore, Williams' sneer i s a c r i t i c i s m of mind, more e s p e c i a l l y that power within i t to r e l y on forms of discourse that would make both experience and language transparent to preconceived systems of thought, the superimposed authority of the so - c a l l e d " r u l e s " of grammar on the same plane as any other narrow categorization that cuts o f f the crab's f e e l e r s , an actual speech that moves on i t s own terms, to make i t f i t into a box. And so i n Paterson I_ we meet those automatons who aimlessly walk the s t r e e t s , emptied of a l l passion because "need" has no path through t h e i r minds: Who because they neither know t h e i r sources nor the s i l l s of t h e i r disappointments walk outside t h e i r bodies aimlessly ^ for the most part, locked and forgot i n t h e i r desires — unroused. (P, 14) And what does Williams say a few pages further on? — the language i s divorced from t h e i r minds, the language . . . the language! (P, 21) 80 How then to "begin to begin again?" There i s s t i l l one necessary d i s t i n c t i o n to be made. "That's a l l very f i n e about l e mot j u s t e , " Williams says i n The Great American Novel, making sure that h i s sense of language i s not mis-understood as mere poetic technique, but f i r s t the word must be free. — But i s there not some other way? I t must come about gradually. Why go down into h e l l when -- Because words are not men, they have no adjustments that need to be made. They are words. They can not be anything but free or bound. Go about i t any way you choose. The word i s the thing. I f i t i s smeared with colors from r i g h t and l e f t what can i t amount to? I'd hate to have to l i v e up there, she s a i d with a frown. I t was the soul that spoke. In her words could be read the whole of democracy, the en t i r e l i f e of the planet. I t f e l l by chance on h i s ear but he was ready, he was a l e r t . (GAN, 171) No amount of e f f o r t to i s o l a t e " l e mot j u s t e " can guarantee that a writ e r w i l l experience the l i f e of language, although Williams, we should emphasize, does not undervalue the e f f o r t . I t i s , more exactly, a question of p r i o r -i t i e s : an exclusive concern (maybe obsession i s a better term) for exact wording divorced from the context of an experience i n language makes the w r i t i n g "mere;" more often than not i t indicates that the writ e r i s shaping words, making them conform to intentions brought to, rather than discovered i n the act of w r i t i n g . As we have seen i n the passage discussed from "A Novelette,"this use of words prevents the w r i t e r from hearing what s h i f t s and turns i n the words themselves. The "processes of a r t , " to be a l i v e , are much larger, are much more indeterminate, because language, to be free, must be allowed to flow i n . And i t i s t h i s flowing i n that a writ e r must somehow record as accurately as he can, what he hears i n those moments the words come r i n g i n g into h i s ears. Words cannot be expected to adjust themselves to preconceptions, except at the cost of l o s i n g t h e i r o b j e c t i v i t y . They are e i t h e r "free or bound" ( i t a l i c s added). A f t e r a l l , they are " j u s t 81 words." Or as Williams says, "The word i s the thing" demanding the attention of the w r i t e r . I f he remains f i x e d on the point of his own predetermined intentions alone, he stands, to that extent, above words. From t h i s removal, any word he chooses to express a p r i v a t e "meaning" w i l l amount to nothing more than a dominance that imprisons the very thing that can free him from his own self-imposed tyranny. The choice for Williams i s c l e a r : e i t h e r the writer comes down to the "democracy" of words, or he forever remains abstracted from those very elements that carry "the l i f e of the planet." Methodology i s the .cr u c i a l issue here at stake. The mind must learn how to adjust i t s e l f to the l i f e of language — and not vice-versa. Behind Williams' apparently c r y p t i c advice that writers should "write c a r e l e s s l y so that nothing that i s not green w i l l survive" (P, 155) thus l i e s an intimate sense of the mind's con t r a r i e t y . I t at once seeks to structure into form the m u l t i p l i c i t y of the world and forever desires release from i t s own f i x i t i e s . This i s the basis for the endless b a t t l e between the " o l d " and the "new," between the "past" and the "present" i n Williams' w r i t i n g . True to h i s own nature, however, he does not advocate a r e c o n c i l i a t i o n , since he was aware that the c o n t r a r i e t y i t s e l f i s p r e c i s e l y what makes the actual what i t i s . History too mirrors the mind's processes — and i n h i s t o r y , as w e l l , the present has no other choice but to assert i t s immediacy. L i f e presses forward, not backward. For " l i f e , " Williams says i n an early l e t t e r to Harriet Monroe (March 5, 1913), " i s above a l l things else at any moment subversive of l i f e as i t was the moment before — always new, i r r e g u l a r " (SL, 23-24). And much l a t e r , t h i s time i n a l e t t e r to John C. T h i r l w a l l (January 13, 1955), he applies t h i s sense of l i f e to the process of human h i s t o r y : 82 The tendency of the race i s to r e s i s t change v i o l e n t l y . At the same time the new presses to be recognized. Which i s the most conservative? That which, drives us to keep the old or that which seeks a place f o r us i n some slowly, or at times, as i n the present, some r a p i d l y evolving new? Certain i t i s that we have no voice i n the matter; we cannot refuse to go forward when the opportunity o f f e r s i t s e l f . Not to do so i s the end of us. (SL, 330) In order to go forward, the mind must f i r s t come face to face with that side of i t s e l f that works against change, against the flowing i n of the new, the present. And language c a r r i e s the front of t h i s necessity. Williams says so to T h i r l w a l l i n a l e t t e r (November 30, 1954) i n which he explains h i s own beginnings as a w r i t e r : The mind's a queer f i s h . I t wants to l i v e ; when the a i r i s denied i t , i t comes to the surface gasping f o r a i r , and when i t i s denied that, i t turns on i t s side on the sand and soon expires. I did not intend to die but thought very often during my youth that my time was short; I was often depressed, for I was ea r l y convinced that I had i n the compass of my head a great discovery that i f I could only get i t out would not only s e t t l e my own i n t e r n a l c o n f l i c t s but be of transcendent use to the men and women around me. That i t concerned something as evanescent as language I did not for a moment guess. (SL, 329) "That i t should concern something as evanescent as language:" again Williams reveals what i s fundamental for him as a wri t e r , the experience of language that c a l l s for the act of w r i t i n g i n words, an act that allows the mind to explore i t s contrary nature. I t i s t h i s tension Williams has i n mind i n a piece from The Embodiment of Knowledge e n t i t l e d (simply) "July 7," a kind of note that answers so c l e a r l y an unspoken question: Of what use i s wri t i n g as an act i n i t s e l f ? What he writes takes us d i r e c t l y into the heart of a drama — the mark, we might add, of the "texture" of Williams' w r i t i n g — that runs through a great deal, i f not a l l , of h i s work. For th i s reason, we quote at length: 83 A f r a i d l e s t he be caught i n a net of words, tripped up, bewildered and so defeated — thrown aside — a man hesitates to write down his innermost convictions. E s p e c i a l l y i s t h i s true a f t e r f o r t y when a l l h i s l i f e has formed, perhaps into a si n g l e strand which allows him to say to himself that l i f e i s to him a reasonable thing, of r e l a t e d parts coordinated and workable — n o matter what the end. I f t h i s be l o s t , t h i s c e r t a i n t y which must pass for hope, t h i s comforting inward sense of h i s own personal i n t e g r i t y l o s t i n a crashing together of words which w i l l not be resolved into l u c i d i t y — the l u c i d i t y he f e e l s i n h i s whole being somewhere — i t i s the end. He fears. It cannot be that t h i s c e r t a i n t y which alone c a r r i e s him forward i s f a l s e . Rarely does he think of that. Yet might i t not be that to be too e x p l i c i t — i n words — might b l a s t h i s comfort, t h i s s o l i d i t y of h i s mind? To write i t down might prove hi s f e e l i n g s just that, f e e l -ings alone, i n themselves nothing, a fo o l ' s paradise of self-deception i n which he manages to hide himself some-how i n order to l i v e at a l l . Better to leave i t so. Where ignorance i s b l i s s ' t i s f o l l y to be wise. But i t i s j u s t t h i s which drives a man on. For how can he be c e r t a i n that his conviciton, which i f i t be worth anything at a l l (must be able to bear examination) i s so., unless he test i t e x p l i c i t l y by statement? I t must be written down, b i t by b i t , as he may, i n fear for h i s lack of s k i l l at words, watching them, d i s t r u s t -ing them — yet counting on them to help him, to bring what he knows he must believe into a searchlight of scrutiny. And who knows, i t may be that he w i l l succeed. I f so h i s l i f e w i l l be strengthened, placed on a higher l e v e l of p u r i t y , made int o the thing he admires more than anything e l s e : the understanding of himself which he imagines many men possess i n the world. Therefore he writes, attempting to s t r i k e s t r a i g h t to the core of h i s inner s e l f , by words. By words which have been used time without end by other men for the same purpose, words worn smooth, greasy with the thunb-ing and f i n g e r i n g of others. For him they must be fresh too, fresh as anything he knows — as fresh as morning l i g h t , repeated every day the year around. (EK, 104-105) Although Williams does not, i n h i s l e t t e r to T h i r l w a l l , specify the exact period of h i s l i f e he c a l l s "my youth," the experience of language, so central to any understanding of the o r i g i n of h i s poetics, erupts i n Kora i n H e l l as a drama: a former state of mind, f i x e d i n what could be 84 described as a "c e r t a i n t y which, must pass f or hope," gives way to w r i t i n g that d i s l o c a t e s and disrupts a "personal i n t e g r i t y " that before seemed "reasonable." In th i s c r i s i s , t h i s "crashing together of words," Williams finds himself being drawn i n t o , out into a present that breaks through l i k e an epidemic. He r e c a l l s i n hi s Autobiography,the e f f e c t of t h i s h i s t o r i c moment: "my s e l f was being slaughtered." I t was a break up of the words. "Language," he wrote i n "The Modern Primer," considering the value of Gertrude Stein's w r i t i n g , Language being made up of words, the spaces between words and t h e i r configurations, Gertrude Stein's work means that these materials are r e a l and must be understood, i n l e t t e r s , to supercede i n themselves a l l ideas, f a c t s , movements which they may under other circumstances be asked to s i g n i f y . (EK, 17) 5 Kora i n H e l l begins on Williams' own i n i t i a l leap i n t o "the words themselves" where he discovers, by w r i t i n g , those spaces — or gaps — between words that make for "configurations fresh to our senses" (EK, 17). And the text does l i t e r a l l y enact t h i s s h i f t into the "objective" nature of language. In the opening l i n e of "Improvisation XVII.3," as one instance among many i n Kora, the spaces between the words on the page e f f e c t an experience of a " r e a l " language: Once again the moon i n a glassy t w i l i g h t . (K, 63) Without the spaces — "Once again the moon i n a glassy t w i l i g h t " — the l i n e , a sentence fragment, would most l i k e l y be read as a de s c r i p t i v e statement, nothing more. Although i t lacks-a predicate, the grammatical connections between the words are nonetheless conventional. The reader's mind i s drawn more or l e s s e f f o r t l e s s l y through the words to some external " r e a l i t y " that the l i n e apparently r e f e r s to. The t w i l i g h t i s "glassy" and the "moon" appears i n i t "once again," as i t has done many times before. 85 With the gaps between the phrases, however, the reader i s forced to bear witness to a.loosening of grammatical " r e l a t i o n s . " Disconnected from that predetermined system of ordering words, the words themselves come a l i v e as words — words tense with an apprehension, born as they are i n t o a present f i l l e d with desire. Now a voice comes into play, a speaking voice ("Once again"), one that constitutes i t s e l f i n an actual world ("the moon") which simply appears (".in a glassy t w i l i g h t " ) indeterminately within the gaps between the words. Now as w e l l the voice of the writ e r follows the lead of the words themselves, wherever they may go i n the time of the w r i t i n g that subsequently occurs. In t h i s one b r i e f example, we have i n miniature the kind of experience i n language that Kora announces i n the opening l i n e of i t s i n i t i a l improvisation. " I t i s the making of that step," we r e c a l l Williams saying i n h i s Autobiography, to come over into the t a c t i l e q u a l i t i e s , the words themselves beyond the mere thought expressed that d i s -tinguishes the modern, or distinguished the modern of that time from the period before the turn of the century. (A, 380) Perhaps, then, he did have Kora i n mind. 86 SECTION TWO PERSPECTIVE AS CLOSURE 87 What then would you say of the usual Inter p r e t a t i o n of the word " l i t e r a t u r e ? " — Permanence. A great army with i t s t a i l i n an t i q u i t y . Cliche of the soul: beauty. But can you have l i t e r a t u r e without beauty? I t a l l depends on what you mean by beauty. There i s beauty i n the bellow of the BLAST, etc. from a l l previous s i g n i f i c a n c e . — To me beauty i s p u r i t y . To me i t i s discovery, a race on the ground. And for t h i s you are w i l l i n g to smash — Yes, everything. — To go down into h e l l . — Well l e t ' s look. (GAN, 170-171) 88 CHAPTER FOUR FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH Fools have big wombs. (K, 31) The f i r s t l i n e of Kora i n H e l l : apparently straightforward and asser-t i v e , a statement of f a c t , no equivocation, no h e s i t a t i o n , no attempt even to be complex. In these four words we have the most fundamental form of the sentence, the simple sentence, and i f we are not completely mistaken, an instance of simple speech. There i s a swiftness of thought i n "Fools have big wombs" that seems to present the a r t i c u l a t i o n of a primary i l l u m i n a t i o n . But what does i t mean? Unfortunately, we have only t h i s one statement as beginning. No other statements i n the text lead up to i t , and there i s nothing within i t to t e l l us how the w r i t e r reached t h i s conclusion. There i s , i n other words, no past for us to draw on, no p r i o r matter or thought toward which, or because of which, t h i s statement can be read as the end of a thought process. I t i s simply there on the page, a bald statement. The reader i s thus forced back on h i s own resources. 89 Maybe the statement would be clearer had the writ e r l e f t out " b i g " and simply s a i d , "Fools have wombs," and yes, we can ei t h e r agree or disagree with t h i s statement. Why not, why cannot " f o o l s " have "wombs?" I t i s the word " b i g " that makes the statement so oblique. I f " f o o l s " have "big wombs," then that must mean that non-fools have "small" ones; at l e a s t the adjective appears to carry the weight of t h i s kind of s i g n i f i c a n t d i s t i n c -t i o n . But why go through a l l t h i s bother t r y i n g to account f o r the supposed meaning of t h i s statement? Perhaps the w r i t e r has simply not made his intended meaning c l e a r enough; "]_e mot j u s t e " i s missing. Perhaps he should have provided h i s reader with more l i n g u i s t i c clues, more signs. But then i t i s j u s t as possible that he i s himself being f o o l i s h and not to be taken s e r i o u s l y . Or i f not that, maybe he should re-think (that i s , re-vise) h i s proposition to make i t more accessible to i n t e r p r e t a t i o n . Had he done the l a t t e r , of course, he would not have wr i t t e n what he has written. We would not have the same text, the text he has given us. And i s i t not the text of Kora that should concern us, "the words themselves," we r e c a l l Williams saying, "beyond the mere thought expressed?" Behind a l l th i s i n t e r p r e t i v e v a c i l l a t i o n on our part, i n other words, we can never be quite c e r t a i n , given the disembodied e f f e c t of the statement, how we should read i t . In some such way, nevertheless, the reader i s brought toward an uneasy impasse. His understanding cannot break "the back" (K, 33) of the statement. In 1920, j u s t a f t e r Kora i n H e l l was published, one reader did react to the apparent meaninglessness of the opening l i n e . Williams' reply 90 (dated October 27) to Alva Turner's l e t t e r begins: Dear Turner: I am always glad to receive your l e t t e r s . Your c r i t i c i s m s of my book are j u s t and re f r e s h i n g . I l i k e e s p e c i a l l y your revised rendering of the f i r s t improvisation. I see your point about f o o l s having no wombs, i t i s well taken. Yet I am r i g h t . (SL, 46) It i s quite l i k e l y that Williams was not altogether surprised that readers would puzzle over the opening l i n e of Kora, but he would not rev i s e i t . His comment i s b r i e f , but h i s answer rings with a f i n a l i t y : "Yet I am r i g h t . " And he gives no further explanation. Instead, Williams talks about the discrepancies of experience and the sense of f e e l i n g "out of alignment with your environment" (SL, 46). And he sees t h i s environment as the narrow l i m i t s of the s o c i a l world which maintains a s t r i c t order h o s t i l e to any forces that may disrupt i t s smug s e c u r i t i e s . The writer who finds h i s own energies sapped by t h i s environ-ment suf f e r s a d i s l o c a t i o n which gives way, i n turn, to a f e e l i n g of the i n s i g n i f i c a n c e of any serious work. Williams i n d i r e c t l y hints that Turner ought to understand that what a writer says has nothing to do with what he ought to say, since t h i s ought i s nothing more than a cage whereby l i v e speech i s s t i f l e d . I t i s d i f f i c u l t to l i v e according to "sheer i n s t i n c t " i n a society that "would be destroyed by your mere presence d i d i t not make an example of you, keep you subdued. These are the f o o l s and t h e i r breed i s unnumbered" (SL, 46). "Fools have big wombs." There i s an anger i n these words. But i n the midst of i t , of what he c a l l s "my own heaviness" (SL, 46), Williams i s s t i l l "thinking of fathering a magazine. A p l a i n damned, r e s t l e s s f o o l " (SL, 47), he says of himself.^ And the l e t t e r ends with a reference to the kind of f o o l who, moving against the grain of "ought," i s suppressed by a world which c a l l s him " f o o l " and makes him think that perhaps he i s : 91 I have a f r i e n d who i s t r y i n g to get out of an insane asylum. His hearing i s on Friday. What chance has he? Yet you say fo o l s have no wombs. Mister Preacher, do not forget that you are a poet too. Look down. I am always, unhappily, knee deep i n blue mud. (SL, 47) Williams unleashes a great deal of anxiety i n t h i s l e t t e r , and h i s sense of a l i e n a t i o n comes through sharply, almost b i t t e r l y , stimulated by Turner's reading of the opening l i n e of Kora. Turner, he seems to be saying, should understand that poets often work within and against structures of thought that cannot accommodate t h e i r desires. No amount of preaching about the need to be more l o g i c a l with words w i l l change that f a c t . What i s insane i n a closed world can be very sane from a p o s i t i o n outside. There are, then, two types of f o o l s : one ins i d e a sanctioned frame of reference ("their breed i s unnumbered") and the other outside, i t s c r i t i c . The f o o l i n s i d e an enclosed frame cannot recognize the l i m i t s of that frame, thus h i s so- c a l l e d " f o o l i s h n e s s " i n denying the existence of any force that threatens h i s l i m i t s . This f o o l i s the one we f i n d i n any d i c t i o n a r y , "a person with l i t t l e or no judgment, common sense, wisdom," p l a i n l y the man who acts out of h i s own s t u p i d i t y . And he can, because of h i s narrow view of things, turn h i s s t u p i d i t y back on the world, e s p e c i a l l y on that other kind of f o o l , the one who does not f i t into r i g i d categories. John Coffee say, the " f r i e n d " Williams mentions in h i s l e t t e r , who was l a b e l l e d insane by a court system that could not tolerate a man who would s t e a l i n order to be arrested i n order thus to reveal the existence of poverty. He t r i e d to turn the system back on i t s e l f through t h i s gesture, but that same system subdued him by locking him up i n the one i n s t i t u t i o n i t has f o r such " f o o l s " : the insane asylum. The prototype of t h i s kind of f o o l can be found i n Shakespeare's King 92 Lear, and i t i s no wonder that t h i s play momentarily passes through Williams' mind as he writes to Turner: I have j u s t thrashed my youngest son for s p i t t i n g i n h i s nurse's lap. What i n God's name i s one to do? Better run out into the r a i n as Lear did. I wish I had the i n s p i r a -t i o n for i t . (SL, 46-47) The round of domestic t r i v i a l i t i e s — again the pressure of a closure, of an i s o l a t i o n , of a f u t i l i t y . And Williams hints that he can think of no way to escape t h i s impending sense of senselessness. I t i s here that the image of Lear comes to mind. We can hardly use Williams' words against him as an accurate measure of what he i s r e a l l y thinking about King Lear. The reference i s off-hand and s l i g h t , almost i n s i g n i f i c a n t . Perhaps i t i s no more than simply co i n c i d e n t a l that the image of Lear i n "the r a i n " should break into a l e t t e r about fools and Kora i n H e l l • But the image does come to mind, and i n i t s e l f , t h i s f a c t i s nonetheless suggestive. In the play, Lear does get trapped i n a domestic d i s o r d e r l i n e s s and becomes himself an old f o o l , one who i s i n s i d e , and thus prey, to a system of toppling values. And juxtaposed against him, there i s another f o o l , h i s Fool, the one who stands outside the system and whose wild speech, for t h i s reason, mirrors the breakdown of order. And Lear does form a close r e l a t i o n s h i p with h i s Fool i n the storm, h i s own " f o o l i s h n e s s " by then r e f l e c t e d i n the d i s o r d e r l y elements, the same elements that s p i l l out of the Fool's mouth, i n h i s words. In a way, then, the two of them do become the two types of fools who, between them, dramatize the collapse of an e n t i r e world of meaning i n the play. I t i s , of course, r i d i c u l o u s to jump immediately to the conclusion that a s o - c a l l e d "hidden" meaning i n the opening l i n e of Kora i n H e l l can be tracked down to King Lear, simply because the l i n e as statement c a l l s 9 3 attention to the density of Its, own language. Nevertheless, the d i s -i n t e g r a t i o n of p o l i t i c a l order i n the play i s related to the disappearance of language as a s u b s t a n t i a l i t y . And i n t h i s respect, the topsy-turvy world — "When p r i e s t s are more i n word than matter" ( I I I . i i . 8 1 ) , the Fool says of overturned values illuminates by correspondence the range of the reader's experience of Williams' text. In the famous opening scene of King Lear, Lear divides up the wholeness of h i s kingdom into three parts, one for each of h i s three daughters. I t i s t h i s act which breaks the unity of a former order and unleashes a pu b l i c language transparently the use of, at the disposal of the w i l l of, those whose speech i s nothing more than a front for purely personal ends, and silences those for whom language i s not merely a t o o l . Lear thus establishes the environment within which he i s made to play the kind of f o o l with " l i t t l e or no judgment," who i s w i l l i n g to s e l l out h i s kingdom — and f o r what? To hear only what he thinks he ought to hear, p r o s t r a t i n g himself to the most predatory use of words, "to f l a t t e r y " (I.i.150), as Kent says. With the question "Which of you s h a l l we say doth love us most?" (I.i.52) as the basis of h i s judgment, we already sense that he i s judging deafly, l i k e a sentimental f o o l who w i l l be duped by his own foo l i s h n e s s . His question asks for a speech, not speech. And th i s i s exactly what he gets i n Goneril's answer: " S i r , I love you more than words can wield the matter" (I.i.56) ( i t a l i c s added). And Regan's speech i s a copy cast from the self-same mould: S i r , I am made Of the self-same metal that my s i s t e r i s , And prize me at her worth. In my true heart I f i n d she names my very deed of love; Only she comes too short: (I.i.70-74) Mere words. In an environment where this kind of language i s the norm, Lear 94 hears only what he wants to hear, or thinks he ought, and so h i s one honest daughter Cordelia — i t i s the heart speaking — has no choice but to speak through the absence of speech, through the gap of s i l e n c e , what i s between words. Lear turns to Cordelia: . . . what can you say to draw A t h i r d more opulent than your s i s t e r s ? Speak. Cordelia: Nothing, my Lord. Lear: Nothing.' Cordelia: Nothing. Lear: Nothing w i l l come of nothing: speak again. (I.i.86-92) Lear, however, i s so much the f o o l that i n h i s hunger f o r f l a t t e r y he can only advise her to use words to get ahead i n the world: "How, how Cor d e l i a ! mend your speech a l i t t l e , / Lest i t may mar your fortunes" (I.i.96-97). And t h i s j u s t immediately a f t e r Cordelia had h i t the n a i l d i r e c t l y on the head, saying that she cannot use words i n the way her s i s t e r s have done: "Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave / My heart into my mouth" (I.i.93-94). The speeches of Goneril and Regan are less professions of love than con-fessions of t h e i r own w i l l to power. But Lear i s deaf; h i s ears cannot attune to the substance of Cordelia's s i l e n c e . Aside from Cordelia, only Kent hears and speaks, but he i s sent into e x i l e — for h i s words. I t i s from a p o s i t i o n outside t h i s world, one that i s f a l l i n g prey to a transparent language, that Lear's Fool comes to act as a word-mirror to Lear's eventual madness. In t h i s sense, he manifests the a c t u a l i t y of the dis-order at the edge of "Reason's" order, the same order that Lear broke when he divided up h i s kingdom, wrongly assuming that a whole i s equal to the sum of i t s parts. The Fool — i n words — r e f l e c t s the e f f e c t of Lear's error of judgment. He speaks a negative, or a "backward," language that emerges within the gaps between words, the s i l e n c e s , the speech that i s 95 not spoken i n the play but against which the action i s measured. On the other hand, Lear, the counterpart of h i s Fool, severs h i s blood t i e s with a l i v e speech and thus finds himself emptied of content, h i s authority become "nothing." The Fool, because he i s outside Lear's system, sees through t h i s reduction and c a l l s Lear an "0 without a f i g u r e " (I.iv.212): the mere s h e l l of authority with no f l e s h attached to i t . A Zero. But Lear cannot think i n negatives — "Nothing w i l l come of nothing" — and t h i s i n a b i l i t y to hear "nothing" locks him up within h i s own l i m i t s , defines him as that kind of f o o l who i s duped by the f i x i t y of h i s narrow perceptions. His Fool, on the contrary, stands outside the use of language c o n t r o l l e d s o l e l y by the i n t e n t i o n of the w i l l , and by being estranged i n t h i s way, i n h i s own speech c o n t i n u a l l y c a l l s language back on i t s e l f as the substance that has disappeared from the "order" of Lear's kingdom. After another of the Fool's dense statements — t h i s time how to make 10 and 10 equal more than a score — Kent l i s t e n s and says that the Fool i s saying "nothing" (I.iv.141). And the Fool answers, "Then ' t i s l i k e the breath of an un- / fee'd lawyer; you gave me nothing f o r ' t " (I.iv.142-143). This kind of c r y p t i c doubletalk i s a sign that the Fool values speech for i t s e l f alone — words for t h e i r own sake, not words used — as lawyers who are paid to use them — for the sake of other motives. The Fool l i v e s i n the words " p r i o r to the thought expressed," not unlike the Duchamp that Octavio Paz describes i n The Castle of P u r i t y , who i s fascinated by the power of language to mirror i t s e l f , "the most perfect instrument f o r producing meanings and at the same time f o r destroying them." The Fool then turns from Kent to Lear: "Can you make no use of nothing, nuncle?" (I.iv.144). Lear's answer i s predictable since i t echoes h i s response to Cordelia: "Why, no, boy; nothing can be made out of nothing" (I.iv.145). 96 Again, we hear the deafness of Lear, the voice of reason r e l y i n g on an aphorism, the use of words frozen into a dogmatism. There i s no place f or "nothing" i n reason's systems, which by nature constructs those orders that survive by denying what they cannot contain -— that i s , t h e i r negatives. But i t i s , by sharp contrast, i n the knotted speech of the Fool where meaning i s both produced and destroyed at the same time that we i n t u i t the pressure of a s u b s t a n t i a l world. This i s the content of the "storm" — to use the c e n t r a l image of the play, an image that operates i n Williams' work as well — that w i l l not be caged by the grammar and syntax of a l a n -guage that not only devalues the actual, but also f a l s i f i e s i t by disen-gaging the mind from the absence of meaning, what we might c a l l the "nothing" of i t s own l i m i t s . The kind of complex speech that s p i l l s out of the Fool's mouth, l i k e , for example, "Winter's not gone yet, i f the wildgeese f l y that way" ( I I . i i i . 46), sounds f a m i l i a r enough to readers of Kora: the same swiftness i n the words, the play of meanings (the pun on "way"), and the undermining of habitual perceptions that have been frozen into f i x e d grammatical forms. This much should become clearer when we examine the text of Kora at more length, but here we can single out t h i s one l i n e from King Lear for s p e c i a l emphasis; i t exemplifies s t r u c t u r a l l y the e f f e c t of reading the opening l i n e of Kora where a s i m i l a r c r i s i s " i n the words themselves" occurs: the very c r i s i s that, i n f a c t , establishes the texture of a l l the improvisations that follow. Taken i n themselves, the Fool's words, which read very much l i k e a 97 truism, stubbornly r e s i s t a discursive overlay, and instead constitute themselves as words that e x i s t before the imposition of a patterned order predetermined by grammatical conventions — very much l i k e , i n other words, the opening l i n e of Kora. And l i k e the opening l i n e , they create t h i s e f f e c t quite simply because t h e i r apparent r e f e r e n t i a l frame f a i l s to confirm the expectations i m p l i c i t i n t y p i c a l p r o p o s i t i o n a l statements, i n this case one held together by the conditional " i f , " the language-hinge upon which the two separate elements of the sentence swing. In i t s apparent form, the p r o p o s i t i o n a l sentence pos i t s a causal r e l a t i o n between seasonal change and the migration pattern of wildgeese. Not i n i t s e l f unusual, i n fa c t , the asso c i a t i o n i s so commonplace that we can, i f our att e n t i o n f l a g s , gloss the thought without becoming conscious of any d i s r u p t i o n of meaning. We bring to the sentence a r e f e r e n t i a l connection between the f l i g h t of the wildgeese out of a region at the end of summer or into a region at the beginning of spring, or at the end of winter. That i s to say, we apply a r e f e r e n t i a l frame — i n t h i s case, an already established association — because we automatically assume that the words are trans-parent to a meaning external to t h e i r o b j e c t i v i t y : they have a past. The a c t u a l opaque surface of the statement, however, displaces our expectations. And i t creates t h i s e f f e c t once we begin to notice the ambiguous r e l a t i o n s h i p between cause and e f f e c t i n the two parts of the proposition. I t i s not even clear what causes what. The statement, we soon discover, i s quite deceptive. I f , f o r instance, we rephrase i t to read, "Winter's gone i f the wildgeese f l y this way," then i t i s clear that a change i n the season i s responsible for a change i n the f l i g h t pattern of the geese; or, rather, that the change i n the geese's d i r e c t i o n of f l i g h t signals a seasonal change. Ei t h e r way, the conventional pattern of 98 association between the f l i g h t of geese into a region at the end of winter i s maintained. However, the Pool asks us to think that no change i n the season ("Winter's not gone yet") has effected a change i n the f l i g h t pattern of the geese ("if the wildgeese f l y that way"): the geese have changed t h e i r f l i g h t pattern for no reason. He therefore concludes from the change of t h e i r f l i g h t that nothing has changed. "Nothing" has changed. To put i t simply, the Fool's statement, as a statement, disrupts a conventional pattern of meaning and thought. What i n i t i a l l y sounds l i k e a conditional statement constructed on the premise that a l o g i c a l t i e binds two disparate things — the end of winter and the f l i g h t of wildgeese that way — now assumes the tension of an i l l o g i c a l i t y that runs counter to the discu r s i v e meaning we expected. How do we l o g i c a l l y think t h i s statement? We do not. Instead, we f i n d ourselves drawn into the p u l l created by t h i s disjuncture of meaning, A s s o c i a t i o n a l comparisons that make things subservient to a fixed perception are, i n t h i s way, revealed to be a r b i t r a r y . Comparisons deny the p a r t i c u l a r i t y of the things being compared. Similes are further examples of such a form of thought, as Williams says i n his "Prologue" to Kora: . . . the coining of similes i s a pastime of very low order, depending as i t does upon a nearly vegetable coincidence. Much more keen i s that power which discovers i n things those inimitable p a r t i c l e s of d i s s i m i l a r i t y to a l l other things which are the p e c u l i a r perfections of the thing i n question. But t h i s loose l i n k i n g of one thing with another has e f f e c t s of a destructuve power l i t t l e to be guessed at: a l l manner of things are thrown out of key so that i t approaches the impossible to a r r i v e at an understanding of anything. A l l i s confusion . . . . (K, 18) Here Williams seems to have i n mind a l i t e r a l sense of confusion as a "mix-ing together" that loosens the f i x i t y of habitual associations through which a 99 predetermined form i s imposed onto things: that i s , confusion subverts, i n a destructive manner, the dominance over things so evident i n the "coining of s i m i l e s , " or any s i m i l a r mode of perception that r e l i e s upon comparisons. The condition of confusion (the world of Kora i s born out of t h i s condition) i s thus a release, the mind thereby "thrown out of key," hence brought to the edge of i t s own l i m i t s where i t once again experiences a moving world of p a r t i c u l a r s . And we notice that i t i s the pressure of a fundamental confusion of t h i s sort that s p l i t s the Fool's conditional statement apart. The phrase "that way," for instance. I n i t i a l l y , we cannot help but read i t as a d e s c r i p t i o n of a d i r e c t i o n of f l i g h t . But where? A l l d i r e c t i o n s are possible, at l e a s t they are within the context of the i l l o g i c a l i t y the statement manifests. In an even more immediate way, the phrase, e s p e c i a l l y when dis-engaged from i t s apparent frame of reference, f l o a t s i n the a i r of the statement without being pinned down to a grammatical place. And since i t no longer need point to a geographical l o c a t i o n , we can read i t much more r a d i c a l l y — say, to i n d i c a t e , not the d i r e c t i o n of f l i g h t , but the nature of i t . The wildgeese now enter a r e a l i t y made within the play of words. I t may even be possible to envision them caught i n the act of f l y i n g e r r a t i c a l l y i n space with no where to go: because, as we are t o l d , "Winter's not gone yet." A world of fixed perceptions — the c l i c h e d r e l a t i o n between wildgeese and seasonal change — through the d i s l o c a t i n g drama of the s t a t e -ment, turns "topsy-turvy," and as i t does, we glimpse a disharmony under-l y i n g the s h e l l of an order emptied of substance. This i s the same order which, i n i t s emptiness, l i k e the Shade of "puritanism" that haunts In the  American Grain, imprisons the actual to make i t l e s s threatening, l e s s what i t i s : the world of p a r t i c u l a r s that subsumes reason and "makes l o g i c 100 a b u t t e r f l y " (K, 81). And yet, we notice that reason s t i l l holds a grip (however te n t a t i v e l y ) on the actual i n the Fool's statement. The wildgeese cannot obey t h e i r i n s t i n c t s , so they f l y e r r a t i c a l l y i n space looking f o r somewhere to go — an exact mirror of the crumbling world of Lear, aptly described by Edgar, "Reason i n madness" (IV.vi.179). Almost i n e v i t a b l y , at some point, an echo of the Fool who spins a web of doubletalk must break e x p l i c i t l y into the text of Kora — Ah w e l l , c h a s t i t y i s a l i l y of the v a l l e y that only a f o o l would mock. There i s no whiter nor no sweeter flower — but once past, the rankest stink comes from the soothest pe t a l s . Heigh-ya! A c r i b from our mediaeval f r i e n d Shakespeare. (K, 59) The same r i d d l e r of a f o o l of a writer i n Kora teases thought to i t s break-ing point, i n words that twist and turn without coming to r e s t i n anything resembling a d i s c u r s i v e completion, i n fact mocking the pretension of any such end to thought: What i s i t i n the s t i l l e d face of an old menderman and winter not far o f f and a darky parts h i s wool, and wenches wear of a Sunday? I t ' s a sparrow with a crumb i n h i s beak dodging wheels and clouds crossing two ways. CK, 50) The s p i r i t of Dadaism —• two ways: the language moving i n two d i r e c t i o n s , "two ways," at the same time, c a l l i n g for meaning and destroying meaning, but i n between, a world (the world) i n movement that cannot be caught up i n reason's cage. This i s the same world with a l i v e sparrow i n i t , "crumb in h i s beak dodging wheels and clouds," a l i v e creature who must keep adjusting to h i s environment by constantly s h i f t i n g perspectives and positions, i n order simply to survive. The sparrow pays attention to the 101 f i e l d of p a r t i c u l a r s that constitute h i s world. Were he a w r i t e r , t h i s p a r t i c u l a r i t y may very well reside in. words.as w e l l , One of Williams 1 most intimate readers, Louis Zukofsky says that "at 4 best the w r i t i n g i n the Improvisations a t t a i n s a Shakespearean verbalism," and he quotes "Improvisation XI.2," the one improvisation i n Kora where the words are l i k e heavy blocks of matter, placed one beside.the other, the f o o l tongue absorbed by the sight and sound of them, "knee deep i n blue mud," while meaning flounders around looking f o r a place to come to r e s t — something of a s i m i l a r pattern we noted i n "Winter's not gone yet, i f the wildgeese f l y that way:" When beldams dig clams t h e i r f a t hams ( i t ' s always beldams) balanced near T e l l u s ' s hide, t h i s rhinoceros p e l t , these lumped stones — buffoonery of midges on a b u l l ' s thigh. -— invoke, — what you w i l l : b i r t h ' s g l u t , awe at God's c r a f t , youth's poverty, evolution of a c h i l d ' s caper, man's poor inconsequence. E c l i p s e of a l l things; sun's s e l f turned hen's rump. (K, 51) Within the s u b s t a n t i a l i t y of the language i n t h i s passage, and the verbal play, we can hear the energy of a writer who f e e l s the texture of words, the dense phy s i c a l words that "carry the l i f e of the planet." There i s the fig u r e projected of the earth as a surface that grows the m u l t i p l i c i t y of concrete things — beldams with, f a t hams who are digging clams, etc. — a l l of them crowding together on T e l l u s ' skin, l i k e "midges on a b u l l ' s thigh." We r e c a l l , i n t h i s context, Williams' comment on Gertrude Stein's hold on the m u l t i p l i c i t y of words: "They are l i k e a crowd at Coney Island, l e t us say, seen from an airplane." (AN,349) . Or "midges on a b u l l ' s thigh." What does i t a l l mean? Since the drama of earth, gives b i r t h to the very p o s s i b i l i t y of meaning, i j t can mean almost anything, "what you w i l l . " In a world where contradictions t h r i v e , where>''All Is confusioh, , r-even the "sun s e l f " can turn "hen's rump," the. face (as Octavio Paz i n Conjunctions and 102 Disj unctions s a y s ) 5 become, an ass, or the man become a. f o o l . At the l e v e l of earth,, down on the ground, a l l things are subject to the. p r i n c i p l e of transformation. Equalized, they are common: one to another to another. Against t h i s condition, the s t a t i c and h i e r a r c h i c forms of r a t i o n a l d i s -course are. an impertinence, an instance of control over process that i s a removal, a "divorce," which Williams much, l a t e r , i n Paterson, w i l l c a l l a "sign of knowledge i n our time" (P, 28). Like the b i r d i n "The Fool's Song" from The Tempers, the actual i s s l i p p e r y — i n t r a n s i t i o n , i n f l i g h t — like, the earth, which also constantly reverses stable orders: "laughs at the names / by which, they think to trap i t . Escapes."' (P, 33). And escapes, as w e l l , through the f o o l ' s tongue that mis-names, as Williams says the S u r r e a l i s t s do, i n order to s t i r up the mind to make i t , once again, a c t i v e to the opacity of words, the assumption being that language i s a surface that demands to be met as a surface, impenetrable to that extent. I t i s p r e c i s e l y at t h i s point that Pound's i n i t i a l response to the texture of Williams' w r i t i n g i n Kora holds weight. In a l e t t e r to Williams (dated November 10, 1917) — the f i r s t set of improvisations i n Kora were printed i n The L i t t l e Review (October, 1917) only a month before — he provides a quick take, parts of which Williams l a t e r incorporated into h i s "Prologue." "I was very glad to see your wholly incoherent unAmerican poems i n the L.R.," Pound writes, and then explains h i s sense of the q u a l i t y of Williams' language: (You thank your bloomin gawd you've got enough. Spanish blood to muddy up your mind, and prevent the current American i d e a t i o n from going through i t l i k e a b l i g h t e d collander.) The thing that saves your work i s opacity, and don't you forget i t . Opacity i s NOT an American q u a l i t y . F i z z , swish, gabble of verbiage,' these are echt Amerikariisch.7 For Pound, the "incoherent" q u a l i t y of Williams' w r i t i n g i s a p o s i t i v e 103 achievement. At l e a s t , as a writer, he has not f a l l e n prey to the "American" re l i a n c e on "i d e a t i o n , " which s i f t s i t s way through the density of language •— and by implication the density of the world — " l i k e a blig h t e d collander." Had Williams been more American, h i s language would be more transparent, much l e s s "opaque," much more the v e h i c l e of ideas. Apart from the truthfulness or not of Pound's argument that the opacity of Williams' language i s an "unAmerican" q u a l i t y (Williams w i l l r a i s e the issue i n h i s "Prologue"), the term — opacity — i s i n i t s e l f revealing. And s t r i k i n g i n i t s accuracy. Opacity, as we have t r i e d to show, i s exactly what the reader experiences when he f i r s t comes up against the opening l i n e of Kora. And i t i s , i n the end as we l l , t h i s opacity that he comes back to as he becomes conscious of the way i n which any " e x p l i c a t i o n " of "Pools have, b i g wombs" i s i n s u f f i c i e n t , given i t s a c t u a l i t y as a statement. He cannot get through, i t , except by ignoring the very words themselves i n the order they appear. "Fools have b i g wombs" thus r e s i s t s any attempt to i n t e r p r e t out of i t a r e f e r e n t i a l meaning outside, or as i t were, beneath, i t s surface. The surface of the statement, "the words themselves," declares i t s e l f as a surface -— an opaque surface, that breaks the si l e n c e of a blank space on the. page. Four words, taken separately, " j u s t words:" foo l s have. b i g wombs — b r o u g h t together i n the. context of a sequence, they formthe simplest p o s s i b i l i t y of a sentence, and with four words that do not, one plus one, and therefore as a whole, y i e l d a completed, hence transparent meaning. The 104 words precede, as Williams says. And so the " b i g " ( s t i l l ) s t i c k s out. Not bigger or biggest, e i t h e r of which, would have set up a r e l a t i o n between two or more things, possibly the f o o l and the r e s t of "us." But "big" i s f i n a l . I t does not permit comparisons, nor does i t allow for the assumption of a frame of reference external to the statement i t s e l f , i n a way, say, the 8 words " A p r i l i s the c r u e l l e s t month"' depend for t h e i r e f f e c t i v e content upon the a s s o c i a t i o n of A p r i l with the seasonal time of new growth, of beginnings, of change, of the resurgence of desire. The l a t t e r statement takes on meaning only when the reader brings t h i s perception to i t , and instead of c a l l i n g attention to i t s e l f , as the opening l i n e of Kora does, i t pos i t s an "understanding" or knowledge of human experience that ( i r o n i c a l l y ) contra-d i c t s the seasonal associations. Williams might have argued that the words i n the statement are being used, that i s , shaped by the s u b j e c t i v i t y of the write r whose point of view governs the thought he intends to express. On the other hand, "Fools have b i g wombs," as a statement, does not necessi-tate a r e l i a n c e on such intentions. On the contrary, i t undermines t h i s p r i o r i t y , and i n i t s e f f e c t , provokes an experience of language that brings thought to the edge of a c r i s i s . " A p r i l i s the c r u e l l e s t month," i n t h i s sense, ref e r s the reader back to some "thought" outside and p r i o r to the statement. "Fools have big wombs," though resonant with possible associar t i o n s , does not f i n a l l y give way to a r e f e r e n t i a l frame external to i t s a c t u a l i t y . I t i s for t h i s reason that the opening l i n e of Kora stands out as a w r i t i n g act, an event i n language. In h i s essay on Gertrude Stein, Williams says that Stein's theme i s w r i t i n g . But i n such a way as to be w r i t i n g envisioned as the f i r s t concern of the moment, dragging behind i t a dead weight of l o g i c a l burdens, among them a dead c r i t i c i s m which broken through might be a gap by which endless other enterprises of the under-105 standing should issue — f o r refreshment. (AN, .348) The w r i t i n g i n Kora dramatizes the o r i g i n a l consequences of t h i s c r u c i a l discovery, which erupts i n the text as a language c r i s i s : a confusion. "My s e l f was being slaughtered," we hear Williams saying. What then about the usefulness of our discussion of the f o o l and h i s r e l a t i o n to a dense language? The sense Williams has of the f o o l has pro-vided a context f o r the l i n e "Fools have b i g wombs." Without some such search — and the one offered here i s only one of many p o s s i b i l i t i e s — how else could.we have arri v e d back at the statement i n the way we have done? The statement i t s e l f c a l l e d f o r some such reading. Otherwise, i t would have remained dumb, maybe so outside a readership that i t could have been assigned to an i r r e t r i e v a b l e obscurity. I t would thus have turned i n v i s i b l e . The context we have provided, however, could not explain i t away. Somehow the statement springs back to i t s former state. I t i s t h i s very toughness that harbours a tension we now begin to understand as a tension, s i m i l a r to the one we noticed i n the Fool's statement from King  Lear. Two contrary forces appear to be at work i n the statement p u l l i n g i t i n two d i r e c t i o n s : toward the desire for the ground of s i g n i f i c a n c e , but as well toward the desire f o r i n - s i g n i f i c a n c e , though perhaps we should say "unsignificance," to adopt the term Williams drops into h i s poem "Landscape with the F a l l of Icarus" (PB, 4), not simply meaninglessness, but the p o s i t i v e absence of obsolete meaning which does not eliminate, i n fact necessitates the c a l l f o r (new) meaning. And r i g h t here, caught between these two forces, these two ways, the statement holds within i t a 106 c r i s i s through, which langauge flows i n as an a c t u a l i t y t i e d to a world i n constant movement. And as i n any c r i s i s , there i s a breakage involved, over from some state more or less f i x e d to an unknown condition which i s undermining that f i x i t y . This c r i s i s , f o r Williams, may very well concern that s h i f t over from an "older" world wherein words are used as transparent v e h i c l e s to the "newer" world wherein words become themselves the o b j e c t i v i t y , the opacity the w r i t e r engages whenever he s i t s down to write. Not signs but un-signs. "Foolish words." There i s i n the opening l i n e of Kora some such severance, some breaking away, negative i n e f f e c t , but p o s i t i v e i n the sense that any breaking away from an "older" form i s a leap forward, a "plunge" (K, 51) into something new. And whatever i s new i s a beginning. "Yet I am r i g h t , " we r e c a l l Williams saying to Turner, who suggested that Williams re-write the opening l i n e to make i t more comprehensible, i n other words, more reasonable. But how does a writer say the experience of."Fools have b i g wombs" except by doing, by w r i t i n g i n the words.themselves — and more e s p e c i a l l y when the mind finds i t s e l f i n a blockage. Chance i s .there as wel l . With nothing but the blank page to begin with, "Fools have b i g wombs" i s one p o s s i b i l i t y among many. I t came to mind, f or Williams, a s t a r t without the intentions of thought. This i s what gives the statement the same kind of s o l i d i t y Williams recognizes i n Shakespeare's language, a writer f o r whom, as he says, "Words are deeds" (EK, 11), the very matter of h i s thought, "something he could not escape, opaque" (EK, 111). The actual beats at the edge of the Fool's statement i n King Lear, but 107 i n the opening seri e s of three improvisations i n Kora i t breaks v i o l e n t l y free. This d i s t i n c t i o n illuminates the. forward push of Williams' w r i t i n g . As a mirror, Shakespeare's Fool i s a kind of force within Lear's mind that wants to, but cannot, escape the confinements of reason. Lear i s the fi g u r e of "Reason i n madness," that i s to say, the fi g u r e of Reason trapped within i t s own l i m i t s . In Kora, on the other hand, the actual releases i t s e l f i n the laughter of a fo o l ' s voice that re-connects the body i n the mind to the s u b s t a n t i a l i t y of an actual world. "Fools have big wombs." Caught i n t h i s complexity, the writ e r inside the text of the w r i t i n g enters a drama that enacts a movement of mind that subverts•closed structures of thought wherein the actual i s denied. Gaps begin to appear, both i n the i n t e r s t i c e s between words and the space at the edge of words. The w r i t i n g i n Kora, so to speak, i n i t i a t e s through the act of negating, and i n t h i s sense i s a pre-text — or i n other terms s t i l l , a "dadaism" that re-opens the drama of the world through i t s r i e n , r i e n , r i e n . "Count. One." A b i r t h then, into w r i t i n g as a movement within words, but as w e l l — and for an under-standing of Kora t h i s s h i f t i s fundamental — into a b i r t h i n g world: This i s a s l i g h t s t i f f dance to a waking baby whose arms have been l y i n g curled back above, his head upon the p i l l o w , making a flower — the eyes closed. Dead to the world! Waking i s a l i t t l e hand brushing away dreams. Eyes open. Here's a new world. (K, 73) i i "Eyes open" — and a world rushes i n , a simple enough gesture, but as Williams came to know we l l , experience i s so evanescent that i t i s almost impossible to catch up i t s immediacy, so quickly does i t evaporate l i k e 108 mist into habituated frames of perception-and thought. The,gaps between things that appear i n the moment of perception are covered over, as words are also when they lose t h e i r o r i g i n a l freshness. And t h i s i s a l l the more evident i n the d i s c u r s i v e use of language wherein experience i s f i x e d i n predetermined forms. The drama of the opening improvisation undermines t h i s closure of meaning, and thus extends the tension between s i g n i f i c a n c e and unsignificance i n the statement "Fools have big wombs." Fools have big wombs. For the rest? — here i s penny-ro y a l i f one knows to use i t . But time i s only another l i a r , so go along the wall a l i t t l e f u r t h e r : i f black-be r r i e s prove b i t t e r t h e r e ' l l be mushrooms, f a i r y - r i n g mushrooms, i n the grass, sweetest of a l l fungi. (K, 31) The defiance of the voice situates i t s e l f within a tension. Out of i t , and because of i t , the w r i t e r inside the w r i t i n g begins to speak "'Out of 9 deep need.'" And subversively, e s p e c i a l l y i n r e l a t i o n to the demands of r a t i o n a l order. On t h i s account, along the surface of the w r i t i n g , there i s to be discovered the remains, the mere s h e l l of a d i s c u r s i v e form. The s h e l l reveals i t s e l f as a mode of abstraction, one instance of the way a predetermined systematization of experience imposes i t s e l f : f i r s t an assertion, then a question, then an answer to the question, then a q u a l i f i -cation, then, f i n a l l y , and almost i n e v i t a b l y , a proposition. This i s the very cage out of which the f o o l ' s voice f l i e s , and h i s gesture creates gaps that assert themselves as blanks, empty spaces appearing as "nothings" between the statements. A former coherence of thought (so we t e n t a t i v e l y s t a r t to reconstruct the drama) has given way to the unsignificance of statements that are equalized once released from the dominance, of the h i e r a r c h i c structure of argumentation. I t i s out of t h i s s o - c a l l e d "incoherence" (Pound's response) that we can hear i n the w r i t i n g i t s e l f the 109 b i r t h of a new kind of value, one discovered i n the r e f u s a l to l e t the mind become s e l f - r e f e r e n t i a l to i t s own constructs. To the f o o l outside, orders fabricated by the mind and o v e r l a i d onto things are distancings based upon a c o n t r o l l i n g order which i s an imprisonment rather than a r e v e l a t i o n of things. " A l l things brought under the hand of the possessor crumble to nothing-ness" (K, 20), so Williams warns us i n his "Prologue" to Kora, warns because t h i s assumption of power over things has i t s cost: at i t s worst, the mind's closed orders can become v i c i o u s obstacles to the release of desire, more than obstacles, the instrument of a repressive -mechanism which survives wholly through d e n i a l . We think of the "puritan" i n Williams' In the American Grain, the "puritan" habit of mind that sustains i t s e l f through i t s divorce from the body of the world. I t i s t h i s separation, i n turn, that stands behind i t s methodical obsession to conquer what i t cannot, or w i l l not, experience i n i t s e l f . The f o o l , on the other hand, estranges himself from that divorce,.and i n t h i s severance, projects himself outward, into the o b j e c t i v i t y of an otherness that now rushes i n to invade h i s awakened mind. And the eyes open once the b a r r i e r s are down. And the voice speaks — It seems r e a l l y the body i t s e l f speaking, a very old, very c e r t a i n , d i s t i n c t l y Rabelaisian and absolutely unflustered body, looking out through two eyes, a quick brain back of them, at some of the shows of the world. (AN, 359) This statement from Williams' review of The Human Body (by Logan Clendening), a piece included i n the "other prose" of A Novelette and Other Prose, a r t i c u l a t e s the emotional range of the body that s p i l l s out through the fool's voice: the defiance of a question ("For the r e s t ? " ) , f or instance, released through an answer that tempts us i n t o meaning only to destroy i t 110 at the same time. A d i f f i c u l t process to explain i n s t a t i c c r i t i c a l terms, and understandably so, but the multiple image of penny-royal that enters the improvisation i n the answer reveals, however ambiguously, something of the way t h i s complexity functions i n the w r i t i n g i t s e l f . At f i r s t , we may automatically assume that i t must have some connection with "the r e s t " — perhaps those non-fools who need the assistance of some secret remedy which would l i b e r a t e them to become the f o o l s with "big wombs" they s e c r e t l y desire to be, i f only they had not retreated into predetermined forms that deny the p a r t i c u l a r i t y of the world, i t s s u b s t a n t i a l i t y . And i t i s t h i s denial they turn back on the world through t h e i r oppression of the f o o l . Williams had explained to Turner the d i f f i c u l t y of l i v i n g by " i n s t i n c t " i n a community that "would be destroyed by your mere presence did i t not make an example of you, keep you subdued. These are the I r e a l J f o o l s and t h e i r breed i s unnumbered." So "here i s penny-royal," says the f o o l of a doctor. But who should use i t , f o o l s or non-fools? At t h i s point, furthermore, we can't even be c e r t a i n to whom the voice i s speaking — himself? other f o o l s non-fools? The speech s p l i n t e r s i n many di r e c t i o n s at the same time. And the image of penny-royal, instead of c l a r i f y i n g , only confuses the matter more. Being himself a doctor, Williams could quite e a s i l y have known the somewhat crazy h i s t o r y connected to t h i s herb. According to Maud Grieve i n A Modern Herbal penny-royal was sometimes known as "run-by-the-ground" because of the way i t ".'crepe th: much, upon the ground.'"''^ The herb has (had?) for the longest time been considered the cure for any number of diverse i l l n e s s e s . Grieve l i s t s many: a blood p u r i f i e r ; a cure for "spas-modic, nervous and h y s t e r i c a l a f f e c t i o n s " ; f or colds; taken with wine i t I l l heals bltes; : 'applied to the n o s t r i l s with vinegar" i t "revives those who f a i n t and swoon"; and i n other forms s t i l l , i t can be used against gout, f a c i a l marks, sple n e t i c conditions, u l c e r s , even leprosy and whooping cough; and more, i t can be used to promote menstruation, p e r s p i r a t i o n , as a stimulant, as a way of eliminating gases from the i n t e s t i n e s and the stomach.^ In other words, penny-royal ( l i k e a s p i r i n today i n our chemical world) has been understood as a kind of wonder herb. A c u r e - a l l . How s e r i o u s l y are we to take t h i s advice offered by a f o o l who sets himself up against "the tunspecif i e d 3 r e s t ? " The reference to penny-royal could be nothing more than a pun that teases us into a meaning i t simultaneously destroys, something only a f o o l would (or could) think. " I t was deemed," Grieve says further, by our ancestors valuable i n headaches and giddiness. We are t o l d : 'A garland of Penny-royale made and worn about the head i s of great force against the swimming i n the head and the pains and giddiness thereof.' A cure against the e f f e c t s of influenza? Possibly. Or i f we have i n mind not i n f l u e n z a i t s e l f , but the image of i t as an upheaval against which the mind encounters non-rational forces that cannot be c o n t r o l l e d through systematization, then penny-royal could also be used i n one of two quite contradictory ways, depending, of course, on whether we are f o o l s or not, and according to any d e f i n i t i o n we give to the term " f o o l : " e i t h e r to cure the confused condition (the "swimming i n the head") which f o o l s are subject to i n the collapse of reason, or i f we think negatively, to ease the c l o t -t i n g of the mind which prevents non-fools from being the f o o l s they would l i k e to be, could they but break the s p e l l of reason. The i n t e r p r e t i v e a c t i v i t y can go i n e i t h e r d i r e c t i o n . The w r i t i n g c a l l s f o r t h i s play of meaning. And besides, i f the gesture ("here i s penny-royal") i s read as 112 a defiance of s t e r e o t y p i c a l assumptions concerning disease, and i t s tone c e r t a i n l y suggests as much, then i t -may be considered a mockery of a s o c i a l world bound to the i l l u s i o n that a l l p h y s i c a l disorders can be "cured" through the l o g i c a l wizardry of medicine, whereas, i n f a c t , as any f o o l knows, disease i s a natural condition, of the body. Those fools need to be "cured" of that assumption, so the f o o l implies, at l e a s t from t h i s one perspective. Yet i n another very r e a l sense, we cannot be sure which of a l l the cures, i f any, the voice i n the text has i n mind. And who, i n any case, i s to use penny-royal? What, f i n a l l y , i s the disease? None of these questions have determinable answers, and i t would be c r i t i c a l l y absurd (and presumptious) to propose that they do. However — and possibly t h i s i s more to the point — a l l the supposed cures attached to penny-royal over the years are symptomatic of the under-l y i n g obsession men have with t h e i r bodies, another face of the t e r r o r before the fact of t h e i r own p h y s i c a l i t y . There i s also the further i m p l i c a t i o n that the disappearance of herbal knowledge, a r e s u l t of the separation of medicine from botany, i s yet another i n d i c a t i o n of the 20th century divorce of the mind from i t s ground i n earth processes. The so-c a l l e d argument would then follow that the technique of herbal use belongs to a former.time when.men;were more intimately aware of-the subtle i n t e r s connections between the plants of the earth and themselves as organisms wrought of s i m i l a r s t u f f . Who now "knows to use" penny-royal? We notice that the voice does not say "how," even though we almost expect to hear i t . The knowledge has apparently disappeared so completely from contemporary consciousness•that very few even know to use i t . The image of penny-royal thus creates a whole complex of associations 113 and contexts that are l e f t unresolved, l e f t to play on the mind of the reader, f i r s t shooting one way toward one possible set of meanings, then shooting i n what could be understood as an opposite d i r e c t i o n , i n t h i s r e v e r s a l d i s c l o s i n g a completely d i f f e r e n t set of possible meanings. And i n between, there remains the opacity of an image that refuses to come to r e s t , as i t might have, had i t become e i t h e r a s i m i l e , or symbol of some completed conceptualization or r e f e r e n t i a l frame outside the text. The image, i n short, i s a w a l l . "But time i s only another l i a r " — so the reader i s thrust forward again, across another gap i n the w r i t i n g . A wall i s one such gap, at le a s t the one we cannot go over or through. In language, "But" i s a w a l l : i n t h i s improvisation, a q u a l i f i c a t i o n , an end to what was supposed to be an answer to a question with no ascertainable context. -Another stoppage, and t h i s despite the fa c t that the form of the statement apparently moves the argument forward. Perhaps now the h i s t o r y of penny-royal has been negated as another dead end, the herb.nothing more than another f a l s i t y , a l i e . There i s no "ancient" wisdom retrievable, from a remote past to cure the i l l s of the present. The present i s exactly what we are i n , and here are no l o g i c a l t r a n s i t i o n s , no neat connections between the past and the present, no cures somewhere else i n secret medicines. There i s , i n experience, only and always process, a one a f t e r an other a f t e r an other, not unlike the way the statements i n the improvisation move, one a f t e r another with gaps between, of the same nature as experience. No way through, then, except by going s t r a i g h t ahead, i n time, along the surface of an otherness that w i l l not conform to r a t i o n a l orders. So "go along the w a l l , " l i k e a f o o l who i s a f o o l because he stands outside the mind's closures, 114 but inside an o b j e c t i v i t y that constitutes the opacity of an active world. In some such way, we f i n d ourselves pulled through, or more accurately, across the f l a t surface of the improvisation, dragging our understanding behind us l i k e baggage, nevertheless drawn by the w r i t i n g forward, and so down to the ground i n the f i n a l proposition that c a l l s into appearance those " f a i r y - r i n g mushrooms, i n the.grass, sweetest.of a l l f u n g i . " Gaps are thus not only walls. They are also edges, sharp d i v i d i n g l i n e s . Or "clouds," as the voice i n the-improvisation following t h i s one says, on the "world's edge," the image a figure of that instant of perception when the eyes open and "the great pink mallow" appears " s i n g l y i n the wet, topping reeds" (K, 3.1). Here the mind of the f o o l enters — despite, no, because of the disjunctures along the way — the same actual that was before apparently "subdued." This movement, a crossing over, i s swift, l i k e an arrow f i n d i n g i t s own end, the voice coming to land at a moment of beginning. The dawn breaks, the eyes open, and there are the mushrooms " i n the grass, sweetest of a l l f u n g i . " The w r i t i n g i t s e l f enacts the s h i f t of attention that gives r i s e to a b i r t h i n g world. Fungi, that i s to say, are manifestations, l i v i n g manifestations, of an actual i n which transformation i s primary. From the perspective of earth, nothing remains s t a t i c , no p a r t i c u l a r forms of l i f e exempt from the end-less push forward as new forms replace o l d . This i s e s s e n t i a l l y what Williams says to Harriet Monroe i n 1913: "Now l i f e is'above a l l things else at any moment subversive of l i f e as i t was the moment before — always new, i r r e g u l a r " (SL, 23-24). Or to quote Charles Olson's well-known and precise 13 formulation: "What does not change / i s the w i l l to change." Change, the fa c t of i t , and time, the condition of things. Fungi are the very image of 115 t h i s " w i l l to change" that constantly re-news i t s e l f through a destructive process. We a l l know how amazed we are to discover mushrooms i n the grass, they may be " f a i r y - r i n g mushrooms," a f t e r a r a i n f a l l i n the close dampness of an early autumn morning — the season, i n c i d e n t a l l y , that Kora opens out into — where the day before we saw nothing. Mushrooms appear that suddenly and mysteriously, l i k e flowers opening f o r the f i r s t time, s p l i t t i n g the earth and r i s i n g i n night's s i l e n c e s . And yet, from childhood, we also remember how many times we were warned against j u s t any mushrooms. Many of them, though b e a u t i f u l i n appearance, k i l l the organism that consumes them. This p a r a s i t i c form of fungi survives by breaking up, and thus destroying the c e l l s of the invaded body, i n e f f e c t , not unlike the action of influenza b a c t e r i a . In e i t h e r case, the human organism i s v i c t i m i z e d p r e c i s e l y because i t i s material. Fungi are unique i n terms of the way they contradict the more con-ventional categories we use to d i s t i n g u i s h plant from animal l i f e . No doubt the doctor-Williams would have been intrigued by t h i s , the w r i t e r -Williams possibly even more so. I t i s t h e i r p e c u l i a r i t y through which they become very p a r t i c u l a r . They are plants, for instance, but they do not grow l i k e plants. As Grieve informs us i n A Modern Herbal, Fungi are those plants which are colourless; they have no green chlorophyll within them, and i t i s t h i s green substance which enables the higher plants to b u i l d up, under the influence of sunlight, the starches and sugars which ultimately form our food. They have adjusted to t h i s condition by l i v i n g "as parasites on other l i v i n g plants or animals" or by l i v i n g on "decaying matter." And further, unlike other plants, they are s i m i l a r to animals " i n chemical composition." They 1.16 too "absorb oxygen and exhale carbonic a c i d . " And while some are "very agreeable to the smell," others, i n decaying smell "more l i k e putrescent 14 animal than vegetable matter." A l l of these contradictory q u a l i t i e s point to the p o s s i b i l i t y that fungi can be considered s o - c a l l e d "lower" plants, l i k e the f o o l i n the human kingdom, i n f a c t , the prototype of the f o o l i n the plant kingdom. Berries, l i k e blackberries, belong to the "higher" plants, those that grow upward toward the sun and that use the energy of the sun to transform t h e i r chlorophyll into food. In d i r e c t contrast, fungi "derive t h e i r energy by breaking up highly complex substances and, when these are broken up i n the l i v i n g plant, the l i v i n g plant suffers."'' 5 In t h i s sense, they almost seem un-natural, but what i s more natural than b a c t e r i a , moulds, mildews, toad-stools and mushrooms — and what, we might add, i s more natural than the f o o l , whose anger and doubletalk .subvert the pretension of "higher" thought by making men aware of t h e i r "lower" and more common nature, t h e i r p h y s i c a l i t y which subjects them to change? "Decay" i s a term we apply to the breakup of l i v i n g substances. We don't mind using the word r e f e r e n t i a l l y : we t a l k quite e a s i l y about the "decay" of a system of b e l i e f s , or the "decay" of words, as Williams does i n a piece published i n The L i t t l e Review i n December, 1918, a s p e c i a l "American Number." Anger s p i t t i n g through a mush, of lumpy s t u f f — mouldy words, l i e - c l o t s — transforms i t into that which l e t s a world beyond come through, before that, blocked out.16 Here anger becomes an epidemic force that cuts through "mouldy words," and by so breaking up a f a l l e n ("decay," l i t e r a l l y , as a " f a l l i n g away or down") language, allows a world to appear that before remained "blocked out." Is :ii7 the anger that Williams talks about and the way fungi survive at a l l similar? There i s some connection, we f e e l , but the voice i n the text does not provide a discourse on the "subject." There i s , nevertheless, an anger being released and a defiance as w e l l , and though neither are explained as such, the e f f e c t i s evident enough i n the w r i t i n g i t s e l f of the opening improvi-sation of Kora, which ends with a descent to the ground through a proposition that turns perception npsidedown: " i f blackberries prove b i t t e r , " the voice says, " t h e r e ' l l be mushrooms,:fairy-ring mushrooms, i n the grass, sweetest of a l l f u n g i . " Perhaps we are being i n d i r e c t l y reminded that "decay" as i t applies to l i v i n g organisms makes most of us uneasy, disturbs us, forced as we are into a recognition that a l l l i v i n g things, ourselves included, are subject to transformation. Mouldy bread. Mildew' on our shoes. The common cold. We l i v e i n the midst of fungi, our bodies prey to them. S t i l l , we have no d i f f i c u l t y eating them i n the form of mushrooms, the "sweetest of a l l f u n g i . " There i s a great deal of verbal and i n t e l l e c t u a l play i n the improvisation, but the play i s altogether serious. Change i s inherent i n any given form, and fungi are the very image of t h i s constancy. They survive through the decay of l i v i n g substances, breaking up complex forms (the human included) i n order to keep re-appearing i n form. This i s the same l i f e force that cuts loose i n - t h e : f o o l 1 s tongue, a, flood of words-that come flowing into the mind of the w r i t e r . And the act of w r i t i n g i n words i s a "wedge," to use the t i t l e of one of Williams' books of poems, that opens up gaps, l i k e the 17 saxifrage through rock, another key image i n Williams' work," or l i k e the " f a i r y - r i n g mushrooms" through, the earth., thus giving r i s e to the c r i s i s without which w r i t i n g could not become act u a l . Does w r i t i n g as a s h i f t into the play of language then give access to the s u b s t a n t i a l i t y of the world? 118 Or does the world, i t s otherness, force on the mind the equally r a d i c a l nature of language, i t s s u b s t a n t i a l i t y ? The questions spin on t h e i r own axes. Williams.discovers a back and f o r t h crossing over between language and the world as a context that necessitates the act of w r i t i n g . That, in, i t s e l f , i s the breakthrough. What else to do on t h i s bridge but write i n order thus to f i n d out what, i f anything, may come of i t . "For what i t ' s worth," the next improvisation begins, and the voice begins again, t h i s time landing on the transformed body of one Jacob Louslinger, a type of f o o l , a dead bum who has been invaded by the earth: For what i t ' s worth: Jacob Louslinger, white haired, s t i n k i n g , d i r t y bearded, cross eyed, stammer tongued, broken voiced, bent backed, b a l l kneed, cave b e l l i e d , mucous faced — deathling, — found l y i n g i n the weeds "up there by the cemetery." "Looks to me as i f he'd been bumming around the meadows for a couple'of weeks." Shoes twisted into i n c r e d i b l e l i l i e s : out at the toes, heels, tops, sides, soles. Meadow flower! ha, mallow! at l a s t I have you. (Rot dead marigolds — an acre at a time! Gold, are you?) Ha, clouds w i l l touch world's edge and the great pink mallow stand s i n g l y i n the wet, topping reeds and — a closet f u l l of clothes and good shoes and my-thirty-year's-master's-daughter's two cows for me to care for and a winter room with a f i r e i n i t — . I would rather feed pigs i n Moonachie and chew calamus root and break crab's claws at an open f i r e : age's l u s t loose! (K, 31) The language of the improvisation beats time to the composition of t h i s f i g u r e , p ossibly a deflected mirror of one of the f o o l s with "big wombs": "broken voiced, bent backed, b a l l kneed, cave b e l l i e d , mucous faced — " the opaque words i n the l i s t g i v i ng way to the l o v e l y moment of r e v e l a t i o n . A "deathling." The exact word for a man whose decaying body shows him to be, i n death, absolutely and u t t e r l y a creature of nature — s h a l l we say, an " e a r t h l i n g " as well? The body of Louslinger becomes the ground out of which flowers grow, earth substance. Juxtaposed against the p a r t i c u l a r i t y 119 of h i s corpse, a voice out of the s o c i a l realm that estranged him: '"Looks to me as i f he'd been bumming around- the -meadows f o r a couple of weeks.'" The empty response gestures a collapsed language - that numbs perception and shields the speaker by distancing him from the a c t u a l i t y of Louslinger's transformation. Subverting t h i s narrow, self-enclosed (and smug) voice of c l i c h e , the r e s t l e s s voice of the f o o l of a writer ("Shoes twisted into i n c r e d i b l e l i l i e s : out at the toes, heels, tops, sides, soles") enters the image of Louslinger's decay i n death. He thereby a l i g n s himself with Louslinger's fate, the instance of a man estranged from the "Neatness and f i n i s h " (K, 71) of s o c i a l forms of speech that gloss h i s death and simply sweep i t under the rug with a handful of empty words. The rug of clean minds, Minds l i k e beds always made up, (more stony than a shore) unwilling or unable. (P, 13) The i n a b i l i t y or the unwillingness to say "deathling" i s a denial of the the body's desire to escape the r i g i d i t y of perceptions predetermined by narrow s o c i a l norms. "Minds l i k e beds always made up" are, i n t h i s sense, caught i n the divorce from the physical that Williams attacks i n "science" and "philosophy." They have retreated from the s u b s t a n t i a l i t y of the world into c a t e g o r i c a l frames of reference, s o c i a l norms another face of those forms that cut o f f the crab's f e e l e r s to make i t f i t into a box. I f change i s the one constant i n a l i v e world, then man i s an organism i n nature, continuous with i t s processes, his body made of the same s t u f f as other l i v i n g things, a mushroom say, or one Jacob Louslinger. As Whitehead — one of the t r i b e of 20th century thinkers Williams held i n the highest respect, "0 Whitehead! / teach well"! (CLP, 161) he says i n "Choral: the 120 Pink Church," a hymn, i n part, to those whose work bridges the divorce between body and mind — so e f f e c t i v e l y reminds us i n Modes of Thought, the body of man i s part of the external world, continuous with i t . In f a c t , i t i s j u s t as much part of nature as anything else there — a r i v e r , or a mountain, or a cloud. Also, i f we are f u s s i l y exact, we cannot define where a body begins and where external nature ends. Consider one d e f i n i t e molecule. I t i s part of nature. I t has moved about for m i l l i o n s of years. Perhaps i t started from a d i s t a n t nebula. It enters the body; i t may be as a factor i n some edible vegetable; or i t passes into the lungs as part of the a i r . At what exact point as i t enters the mouth, or as i t i s absorbed through the skin, i s i t part of the body? At what exact moment, l a t e r on, does i t cease to be part of the body? Exact-ness i s out of the question. I t can only be obtained by some t r i v i a l convention. And Whitehead's further conclusion the doctor-writer Williams could only have assented to, and not without a c e r t a i n amount of l i b e r a t i n g laughter: Thus we a r r i v e at t h i s d e f i n i t i o n of our bodies: The Human Body i s that region of the world which i s the primary f i e l d of human e x p r e s s i o n . ^ & A wild and t e r r i f y i n g conclusion f o r the r a t i o n a l mind to entertain. What, for instance, would Williams' townspeople i n Rutherford ( i n 1917) have said about Whitehead's statement? I f not i n Rutherford, then i n Williams' contemporary America, the same America that refused to accept Marcel Duchamp's u r i n a l ( i n 1917) as a work of a r t , and despite the fa c t 19 that i t was named "Fountain" and signed by "R. Mutt?" The separation of the human body from the body of the world to Whitehead (and to Duchamp as well) i s only a " t r i v i a l convention," necessary perhaps, and understandable perhaps, but simply not true to man's creaturely nature. The consciousness of p h y s i c a l i t y i s written a l l over KOra i n H e l l , an intimate medical sense of the human as an organism i n nature. Three examples come to mind, a l l of them providing a context for the drama of divorce i n the second of the 121 three opening improvisations, Filth and vermin though they shock the over-nice are imperfections of the flesh closely related in the gust imagination of the poet to excessive cleanliness. After some years of varied experience with the bodies of the rich and the poor a man finds little to distinguish between them, bulks them as one and bases his working judgments on other matters. (K, 46) A man's carcass has no more distinction than the carcass of an ox. (K, 62) Pathology literally speaking is a flower garden. Syphilis covers the body with salmon-red petals. The study of medicine is an inverted sort of horticulture. Over and above all this floats the philosophy of disease which is a stem dance. One of its most delightful gestures is bringing flowers to the sick. (K3 77-78) "A flower garden" — j u s t what Jacob Louslinger's body has become i n death, a "deathling" re-integrated back into the common ground where s o c i a l d i s t i n c t i o n s carry no weight whatsoever. At t h i s l e v e l of reduction, a l l men are creatures of nature. So the f o o l ' s voice i n the improvisation s l i d e s past the voice of the s o c i a l as the w r i t i n g i t s e l f moves toward an af f i r m a t i o n of a world i n change. The image of herb-flowers surfaces: "Meadow flower! ha, mallow! at l a s t I have you. (Rot dead marigolds — an acre at a time! Gold, are you?)." Here i s a more authentic basis of value, the fool's gold to set against a repressive s o c i a l order that s i f t s the actual through i t s predetermined orders l i k e a collander. By shutting out the very thing that i s nearest to human desire, i t becomes the front of a "puritanism" that closes " a l l the world out" (TAG, 112) and retreats "into one safe mold" (IAG, 112), " b l i n d to every contingency" (TAG, 112) that would release the mind to the body of the world. The voice i n the improvisation r e j e c t s t h i s escape, p r e f e r r i n g instead the energy and passion of the ground revealed i n Louslinger's transformed body: "I would rather feed pigs i n Moonachie and chew calamus root and break crab's claws at an 122 open f i r e : age's l u s t loose.'" The t h i r d improvisation more s p e c i f i c a l l y and d i r e c t l y plays t h i s release i n t o desire against a p u r i t a n i c society: Talk as you w i l l , say: "No woman wants to bother with chi l d r e n i n t h i s country;" — speak of your Amsterdam and the whitest aprons and brightest doorknobs i n Christendom. And I ' l l answer you: Gleaming doorknobs and scrubbed e n t r i e s have heard the songs of the housemaids at sun-up and — housemaids are wishes. Whose? Ha.' the dark canals are w h i s t l i n g , w h i s t l i n g f or who w i l l cross to the other side. I f I remain with hands i n pocket leaning upon my lamppost — why — I bring curses to a hag's l i p s and her daughter on her arm knows better than I can t e l l you — best to blush and out with i t than back beaten a f t e r . In: Holland at daybreak, of -a fine spring morning, one-sees the housemaids beating rugs before the small houses of such a city as Amsterdam, sweeping, scrubbing the low entry steps and polishing doorbells and doorknobs. By night perhaps there will be an old woman with a girl on her arm, his ting and whistling across a deserted canal to some late loiterer trudging aimlessly on beneath the gas lamps. (R, 31-32) In the s o c i a l world surrounding the f o o l of a writ e r , s e x u a l i t y i s so covered over that the women i n . i t come to deny c h i l d b i r t h . But he at l e a s t knows that human nature cannot be caged so e a s i l y . E i t h e r i n Amsterdam or Rutherford, the same impulse to release desire ("age's l u s t loose!") presses through the obsessive concern of minds locked into "excessive cleanliness." Underneath the gleaming doorknobs and scrubbed doorways l i e the dormant but re s t l e s s "songs of the housemaids at sun-up — and housemaids are wishes." In t h i s synapse, the voice i n the wr i t i n g jumps a gap and i s drawn outside the norms of his community, toward the "dark canals" that c a l l him, w h i s t l i n g t h e i r s i r e n music, tempting him to stray, to become a vagrant i n thought, and so embrace what he r e a l l y desires, the "daughter" of the old lady. He 123 e i t h e r allows himself to undertake the i n i t i a t o r y night journey across the canal, or he curses himself to a l i f e with "a c l o s e t f u l l of clothes and good shoes and my-thirty-year's-master's-daughter's two cows f o r m e to care fo r and a winter room with a f i r e i n i t — . " The i t a l i c i z e d " i n t e r p r e t a t i o n " to t h i s t h i r d improvisation, written i n a very matter-of-fact tone, almost l i k e a t o u r i s t brochure, or a set of stage d i r e c t i o n s , i n t e n s i f i e s the experience of distance set up: the p o r t r a i t of a man who i s j u s t beginning to become a f o o l , j u s t beginning to awaken to those desires h i s community outlaws, j u s t beginning to s p l i t away from the s o c i a l forms that shape his l i m i t e d ego. And the distancing works both ways, one a l i e n a t i o n spawning another. The community (supposedly i n America, possibly Rutherford, or any small American town i n the early years of t h i s century) c l i n g s to the form of a past world, an Amsterdam say, that lodges i n t h e i r minds as a " p e r f e c t i o n " they superimpose onto another place. They thus deny a present that should be met on wholly other terms. I t i s t h i s removal, the trap of i t , that the voice i n the improvi-sation a c t i v e l y estranges himself from, possessed as he i s by an unknown, but more immediate world that comes to him across a.gap. This other world contains a darker realm of f e e l i n g that the daytime world of "Chris-tendom" cannot accomodate within i t s narrow perspectives. Better i n t h i s impasse to become "some late- loiterer, trudging aimlessly on beneath the gas lamps," to become a vagrant wanderer, l i k e Jacob Louslinger, a bum who went contrary to the habituated norms of h i s societ y and roamed the meadows of desire. This loosening of the mind the " i n t e r p r e t a t i o n " poses as a destructive force that both estranges and r e l i e v e s at the same time. A closed world breaks up and scatters into the open spaces of the night, i n .124 Holland,so i n America, where the dis-placed voice of the w r i t e r sets out, however stumblingly, to discover, as f a r as possible, the r e a l value of a present immediate to his desire. The s i t u a t i o n presented i n d i r e c t l y i n the t h i r d improvisation and i t s " i n t e r p r e t a t i o n " i s s i m i l a r to that of an immigrant i n a new world: he can e i t h e r overlay i t with some "Amsterdam" he c a r r i e s i n h i s memory, or take the r i s k , which i s quite possibly the news about Jacob Louslinger that no one i n town, except the writer — "best to blush and out with i t than back beaten a f t e r " — wishes to acknowledge. In the collapsed world of King Lear, the Fool and h i s doubletalk r e f l e c t the corruption of language into the transparency of f l a t t e r y . In Kora i n H e l l , the f o o l of a word-man of a w r i t e r also f o o l s i n a f o o l ' s tongue, but more importantly, through t h i s disturbance, undergoes the confusion of a mind turning a mirror on i t s e l f , f i r s t to reach the edge of i t s l i m i t s , only then to come into the influence of a more primary ground of i t s energies — and we can add, outside the "dead weight of l o g i c a l burdens." "The simple expedient of a mirror," we are t o l d i n Kora, has practical use for arranging the hair, for observation of the set of a coat, etc. But as an exercise for the mind the use of a mirror cannot be too highly recommended. Nothing of a mechanical nature could be more conducive to • that e l a s t i c i t y of the attention which frees the mind for the enjoyment of i t s special prerogatives. (K, 78) Writing that makes the attention e l a s t i c by c a l l i n g a t t e n t i o n to i t s e l f as a w r i t i n g also acts as a mirror that frees the mind to the "special prerogatives" of i t s own inherent nature. "Fools have big wombs" reveals i n i t s opacity a sudden rupture of d i s c u r s i v e meaning that i s an opening, a gap that i s a reduction to zero. A s p l i n t e r e d voice breaks onto the empty space of the .125 page and does nothing more than begin to speak out i t s n e c e s s i t i e s , the same ne c e s s i t i e s that have driven i t to speech i n the f i r s t place. I'd write nothing planned but take up a p e n c i l , put the paper before me, and write anything that came into my mind. (A, 158) Williams wrote the Improvisations, as he says, "For r e l i e f , to keep myself from planning and thinking at a l l " (A, 158). No plan and no "thought" but the w r i t i n g i t s e l f , and the scattered and opaque e f f e c t of the f i r s t series of improvisations make evident t h i s absence of a subjective order. The words come f i r s t , what flows i n t o the mind i s heard and written down. " I t f e l l by chance on h i s ear but he was ready, he was a l e r t " (GAN, 171) , we read i n The Great American Novel, another text of improvisations written not long a f t e r Kora i n H e l l was f i n a l l y published. "Talk as you w i l l , " says the voice i n "Improvisation 1.3" — but such " t a l k , " governed as i t i s by the intentions of the w i l l , i s subservient to an already determined frame, the words shaped by the speaker to j u s t i f y an end p r i o r to the words. No r i s k involved, no chance. This i s the very sort of mis-use of language the writer i n Kora wants to r i d himself of, and s p e c i f i c a l l y by keeping hi s mind i n s i d e the w r i t i n g that gets written by w r i t i n g , i n t h i s manner allowing the w r i t i n g to determine the movement of his mind. Kora i n H e l l thus maintains a hard surface and the language of i t does not pander to the burden of a r e f e r e n t i a l frame external to the text — rather, undermines that habit of mind. The insistence throughout, what-ever the p a r t i c u l a r nature of the subject-matter that finds i t s way i n t o the text, i s that w r i t i n g not become a v e h i c l e for something else but be i t s e l f the "matter" the writer engages. The s h i f t s and leaps, the gaps between words and statements, the absence of neat t r a n s i t i o n s between improvisations, the mockery o f d i s c u r s i v e thought, the v e r b a l puns, the ambiguity of image, 126 the reversals, the necessity for speech, the disjuncture of meaning made possible through chance ju x t a p o s i t i o n s : a l l of t h i s unruly but a n t i c i p a t o r y and open a c t i v i t y encourages the reader to understand Kora as the text of a drama. The normative assumption, that a w r i t e r simply expresses ( i . e . "presses out" of himself) what he preconceives, words the front for his s u b j e c t i v i t y , h i s s o - c a l l e d view of the world, or h i s b e l i e f s , or his wisdom, or h i s "ideas," whatever, i s challenged and thrown back on i t s e l f . In t h i s r e v e r s a l , w r i t i n g ceases to be a means of furthering a personal cause and becomes a method, the end of which i s contained i n i t s own processes. In other words, w r i t i n g i s the very medium that draws the mind outside the b a r r i e r s of d i s c u r s i v e modes of thought, those modes that distance i t from i t s more authentic place i n a l i v e world. As Williams says i n a l a t e r essay, i n t e r e s t i n g l y enough c a l l e d "Revelation" (1947), "The objective i n w r i t i n g i s , to r e v e a l " (SE, 268). What el s e , but the mind's processes. In t h i s same essay, he thus goes on to t a l k about a " l i g h t n i n g c a l c u l a t o r " i n the mind, which w r i t i n g releases — you know, the thing that made Shakespeare seem an i n t e l -l e c t u a l . I t worked. Watch i t work, that's a l l there i s to w r i t i n g ( i f i t works). Turn i t loose. Let i t turn i t s e l f into a codex on the page. That's w r i t i n g , r e v e l a t i o n . . . . (SE, 268) Against which, a statement from Kora: Bla! Bla! Bla! Heavy t a l k i s t a l k that waits upon a deed. Talk i s s e r v i l e that i s set to inform. (K, 17) The f o o l ' s voice — and t h i s was the advantage f o r Williams when he f i r s t sat down to write the Improvisations — becomes a necessity, i s constituted i n that moment the mind escapes i t s closed orders and enters the open space of w r i t i n g . Now a l l forms of thought and preception that are divorced from the actual lose t h e i r authority, driven as they are up 127 against the wall of an immediate present. Now form i s no longer even conceivable as a f i x e d e n t i t y , a separable whole. Now form i s attached to the movement of experience. Or to quote Robert Creeley's more precise 20 wording: "No forms l e s s / than a c t i v i t y . " Or more, i f we are on the other side of the canal, with the w r i t e r i n the opening s e r i e s of improvisations, only now beginning to journey, only now crossing over. Here the act of crossing over i s the issue of an i n i t i a t i o n into an experience of the world previously hidden beneath the layering abstractions of the mind. The w r i t e r i n s i d e the w r i t i n g finds himself estranged from a former closure, but f o o l that he i s , he also finds himself drawn in t o an openness made possible by w r i t i n g , outside where the mind can be re-attached to an actual world. The drama of the opening improvisations, to t h i s extent, reveals the f i r s t ascending shape, the f i r s t c o n f i g u r a t i o n a l appearance, i n Kora, of another world that i s j u s t coming into the present of the writer who i s j u s t crossing over into i t . The s h i f t that constitutes the f a b r i c of t h i s dynamic operates i n the w r i t i n g . The w r i t i n g , then, works — and i n reading Kora, we glimpse the awakening mind of the writer composing a w r i t i n g con-sonant with the texture of an actual world, the one p r e c i s e l y that he l i v e s . 128 CHAPTER FIVE TO LOOSEN THE ATTENTION " F l e x i b i l i t y of thought," Williams says i n The Embodiment of Knowledge, " i s so precious that sometimes i t seems the only v i r t u e of the mind — the > only v i r t u e the mind needs" (EK, 126). I f the whole of Kora i n H e l l has one underlying drive, i t i s t h i s i nsistence upon " f l e x i b i l i t y " as against the kind of thought that r e s i s t s experience by attempting to f i x into r i g i d categories i t s e s s e n t i a l l y open nature. This drive, we might add, i s so basic to an understanding of Williams that i t can be taken as one of the root assumptions of a l l his work as a writer. And as a reader as w e l l . Here, for instance, i s the ground theme of Pound's Cantos: "a closed mind which c l i n g s to i t s power — about which the i n t e l l i g e n c e beats seeking entrance" (SE, 106). Or take the following statement of Whitman's s i g n i f i c a n c e f or 20th century w r i t i n g , again a r e f l e c t i o n of Williams' desire for the same dynamic i n h i s own work: For God's sake! He broke through, the deadness of copied forms which keep shouting above everything that wants to get said today drowning out one man with the accumu-129 l a t e d weight of a thousand voices i n the p a s t — r e -e s t a b l i s h i n g the tyrannies of the past, the very tyrannies that we are seeking to diminish. The structure of the old i s a c t i v e , i t says no! to everything i n propaganda and poetry that wants to say yes. Whitman broke through, that. That was basic and good. (SE, 218) And then reverse the same process, and we have, i n Williams' reading of American h i s t o r y , a whole group of f i r s t immigrants (they are s t i l l a r r i v i n g from places l i k e Amsterdam i n the early years of the 20th century), who came to America, .a "new" place for them, and forced i t to conform to a c u l t u r a l form that had become " o l d " the moment they l e f t i t behind. Some-thing wholly o r i g i n a l was thus l o s t to them r i g h t from the s t a r t . They lacked the " f l e x i b i l i t y " of mind to recognize what they did not know — how could they? — but which they might have experienced. The new place demanded a "complete reconstruction of t h e i r most intimate c u l t u r a l make-up, to accord with the new conditions" (SE, 134), but the e a r l y s e t t l e r s , most of them, turned t h e i r backs on t h i s newness and retreated into the f i x e d perspective of a "past" they c a r r i e d i n t h e i r minds. The b a t t l e between the " o l d " and the "new" — r e a l l y a b a t t l e between an i n f l e x i b l e and a f l e x i b l e mind — finds i t s counterpart i n the i n t e r n a l -ized drama of Kora where Williams, as a w r i t e r , turns a mirror on himself. In the d i s l o c a t i o n that ensues, the voice that s t r i k e s out, i n the opening set of improvisations, f o r the open t e r r i t o r y of the night-time world of desire becomes un-settled, becomes i n fa c t a wanderer who strays from the "deadness of copied forms," his own former "closed mind" i n back of them. He thus sets out uncertainly to discover what "new conditions" l i e outside the imposed l i m i t s of any given completion of thought or perception. " I t i s to loosen the a t t e n t i o n , " we hear Williams saying over and over as we read Kora, "my a t t e n t i o n since I occupy part of the f i e l d , 130 that I write these improvisations" (K, 14). Inside a f i e l d , of course, the mind i s part of a complex of i n t e r a c t i n g forces, . So the term " a t t e n t i o n " here plays i n two d i r e c t i o n s at the same time: against the m i l i t a r y sense of attention as a motionless posturing or a frozen state of perception, and toward the kind of f l e x i b l e a ttention that enacts a l i v e consciousness of otherness. To i l l u s t r a t e , Williams turns to a s p e c i f i c instance, one that provides a context for h i s sharp antipathy toward p e r s p e c t i v a l forms of perception. "Here I clash with Wallace Stevens" (K, 14). Leaving aside the more obviously personal basis of Williams' response to Stevens' l e t t e r — Wallace Stevens is a fine gentleman whom Qannell likened to a Pennsylvania Dutchman who has suddenly become aware of his habits and taken to "society" in self-defense (K, 15) — what i s the nature of t h i s "clash?" "Given a f i x e d point of view, r e a l i s t i c , i m a g istic or what you w i l l " ( i t a l i c s added), Stevens says, everything adjusts i t s e l f to that point of view; and the process of adjustment i s a world i n f l u x , as i t should be f o r a poet. But to f i d g e t with points of view leads always to new beginnings and incessant new beginnings lead to s t e r i l i t y . (K, 15) Stevens advocates the necessity for poets to maintain the s t a b i l i t y of a given perspective on the world so that they not be stuck with "incessant new beginnings." And while Williams could have agreed with h i s assumption that "the process of adjustment" i s t i e d to "a world i n f l u x , " he takes issue with Stevens' conclusion that a poet survives only by r e l y i n g upon a " f i x e d point of view." Nothing could be further removed from Williams' own desire i n Kora to go, as he says the imagination does, "from one thing to another" (K, 14) and from his subsequent desire to remain i n a present that demands ,a continual re-adjustment of perspectives: the r e l a t i v i t y , not the 131 c e n t r a l i t y of the s e l f i m p l i c i t i n Stevens' admitted " d i s t a s t e f o r miscellany" (K, 15) and his desire f o r a 'poetic' point of view wit h which a poet can order the disparate nature of experience. What Stevens sees as a l i a b i l i t y to be overcome, Williams thus sees as a condition to be met. Granted, experience i s e s s e n t i a l l y an open-ended process — no disagreement there — but according to Williams, i t i s t h i s very fact that undercuts the v i a b i l i t y , at l e a s t f o r the writer, of any given perspective or "mode" (K, 14) the mind may use to make the world adjust to i t . The n a t u r a l i s t or the " s c i e n t i f i c " (K, 14) perspective, or the " r e a l -i s t i c , i magistic or what you w i l l " perspective are a l l f i n a l l y r i g i d categories of thought, s t a t i c frames of reference divorced from the l i v e drama of experience, merely examples of a " f i x e d point of view" around which "everything adjusts i t s e l f . " Such perspectives — to Williams, "the walking d e v i l of modern l i f e " (K, 14) — impose a form of predetermination onto things and thus subordinate them to an order into which they are made to disappear, as things. They may be, i n t h i s way, subdued by the mind, but rig h t here, so Williams discovered by w r i t i n g Kora, the mind n e c e s s a r i l y forgoes the f l e x i b i l i t y i t both needs and wants i f i t i s to survive as a l i v e force i n the world. The present can never be f i x e d into place. I t moves i n time, always forward, always i r r e g u l a r l y , always new. "Time presses" (AN, 278). And so Williams answers Stevens by c a l l i n g f o r the kind of w r i t i n g that works contrary to p e r s p e c t i v a l r e l i a n c e s . Such w r i t i n g , by provoking a c r i s i s — i n e f f e c t l i k e the epidemic i n A Novelette through which the writer was suddenly thrown into a world cleansed of his own s u b j e c t i v i t y — would overcome.the.tendency of the mind to adopt a "f i x e d point of view." In other words, "incessant new beginnings" do not neces-s a r i l y lead to " s t e r i l i t y , " but can become the way the mind can constantly 132 renew i t s own resources. A few pages further on i n the "Prologue," against Stevens' advice, Williams goes on to o f f e r h i s own p r e s c r i p t i o n : " I t i s , " he says, " i n the continual and v i o l e n t r e f r e s h i n g of the idea that love and good w r i t i n g have t h e i r s e c u r i t y " (K, 22). Change keeps the mind a l i v e , both i n love and "good w r i t i n g . " Many i n d i v i d u a l improvisations o b j e c t i f y Williams' statement, but one i n p a r t i c u l a r i s f a s c i n a t i n g both f o r i t s texture and subtlety. The domestic drama i n "Improvisation XVIII.1" (K, 64) reveals the cost of denying the " v i o l e n t r e f r e s h i n g " of love; and i t involves, curiously enough, a writer who uses the medium of w r i t i n g to voice h i s misgivings to his wife, And he begins: How d e f t l y we keep love from each other. I t i s no t r i c k at a l l : the movement of a cat that leaps a low b a r r i e r . Once again, as i n the opening improvisation, we hear a voice i n s i d e the words, but insi d e as w e l l the immediacy of the gap between his wife and himself, separated as they are by the mediacy of a " b a r r i e r " based upon a sentimental idealism. The "you," so the voice intimates, denies her present condition by f i t t i n g , to use some words from the i n t e r p r e t a t i o n to "Impro-v i s a t i o n V . l , " "the emotions of a certain state to a preceding state to which they are in no. way related" (K, 38-39). The i r r i t a t i o n i n the voice i s transformed into a smooth-talk through which he engages i n a play of words with the "you." "How d e f t l y " — s k i l l f u l l y , neatly, orderly, predictably, almost according to plan, to a reasoned order — they prevent themselves from re l e a s i n g themselves to what they desire. The mind i s swift, surmounts b a r r i e r s , not by meeting them head-on, but by constructing another b a r r i e r — that i s , by leaping over the present, or by f a l l i n g back on the mental construct of a "past," an abstrac t i o n that closes the world out. What i s 133 more natural than t h i s r e t r e a t into s u b j e c t i v i t y ? There i s no " t r i c k " to i t at a l l . The voice continues to taunt the "you" with t h i s kind of word-play as the drama of the improvisation continues. Words both conceal and r e v e a l : You have — i f the truth be known — loved only one man and that was before -my time. Past him you have never thought nor desired to think. The "you" has locked h e r s e l f i n t o a perspective around which a former lover has "adjusted" himself, and the "past" she c a r r i e s around i n her head i s a "thought" that conceals her r e a l desire to be i n a present. The voice admits his own f a i l i n g s as w e l l . Both of them, he says, have retreated from the immediacy of t h e i r needs, what they would more openly desire, could they simply destroy the b a r r i e r separating them from t h e i r own time, the one they are i n , now. Two no's on t h e i r part can lead to a yes that would negate the tyranny of the past — But — i t i s not that we have not f e l t a c e r t a i n rumbling, a c e r t a i n s t i r r i n g of the earth, but what has i t amounted to? Nothing so f a r , because they are caught i n a frozen state — at attention — the empty perspective of t h e i r " p e r f e c t i o n " a view of a completed past now superimposed onto a present that c a l l s f o r wholly new f e e l i n g s . In t h e i r s o c i a l r o l e as husband and wife, i n that narrowness, t h e i r two "apparently healthy" c h i l d r e n make them appear to "have proved f e r t i l e . " But they have never met i n the present as l o v e r s . "There i s only one way out," says the voice, at f i r s t thinking that he must f i n d some way (pos-s i b l y through hi s "basket of words") to supplant " i n your memory the b r i l l i a n c e of the old firmhold." But t h i s , he quickly admits, " i s impossible," And how can i t be otherwise, given the doubleness of h i s 134 address? The perspective i n t o which the f i r s t love has disappeared i s f i n a l l y tough and unyielding: "Ergo: I am a blackguard." Through the i r r e s o l u t e but tense i n t e r p l a y of the w r i t i n g i n the improvisation, the voice a r r i v e s outside the perspective of h i s wife — apparently where he began, but with one c r u c i a l d i f f e r e n c e : now the divorce between them has been brought into the immediacy of experience through the same words that, i n th i s instance at l e a s t , have not been able to break the perspectives they are caught i n . The voice thus becomes the enemy of what the "you" protects: "Ergo: I am a blackguard." By so " d e f t l y " keeping "love from each other," they both s u f f e r the abuse of t h e i r imaginations, the one force that could break the s p e l l of t h e i r s t a t i c r e l a t i o n s h i p and draw them into the moment of the actual that now only rumbles beneath the surface of t h e i r l i v e s . The act is disclosed by the imagination of it. But of first importance is to realize that the imagination leads and the deed comes behind. So we are t o l d by the di s t a n t but c l e a r voice i n the i n t e r p r e t a t i o n , and t h i s statement e s s e n t i a l i z e s , i n one swift thread of thought, the experience presented i n the improvisation: to d i s - c l o s e i s an act of negating a closure, which i s , i n that r e v e r s a l , an opening. As a l i v e force, the imagination acts by revealing i t s e l f through the destruction of those perspectives that attempt to prevent i t from acting. How then to get the imagination to lead? Having once taken the plunge the situation that preceded it-zbecomes obsolete which a moment before was alive with • malignant - rigidities. (K, 5.1) This i s the r i s k that neither the voice nor the "you" i n the improvisation i s . w i l l i n g to take, though the voice suggests that he would take i t were 135 a l l the b a r r i e r s down. A "plunge" i s a v i o l e n t thrust forward (or down-ward) into an indeterminate s i t u a t i o n , we say a stab i n the dark, that harbours something altogether new. I t i s , at the same time, a rupture with a s i t u a t i o n that turns into a "past" once the t i e s with i t are severed. In t h i s way a "plunge" i s a movement away from the "malignant . r i g i d i t i e s " of any given perspective, the "known" world of i t giving way to an experi-ence of r e v e r s a l . The break with any structured "past" — and the "perfect" memory of a former love i s one such s t r u c t u r e — i s a change that i s r e a l l y an "adjustment," a s h i f t into a present caged by a perspective that does not admit of change. The order of any given " f i x e d point of view" maintains i t s e l f through a removal from time and i t s exigencies, which i s exactly the nature of a " p e r f e c t i o n " that even a "basket of words" cannot feed, so stubbornly does i t r e s i s t the a c t u a l i t y of time. "Ergo: I am a blackguard." F u l l - s t o p . If the concern i s w r i t i n g instead of love, and i f further, the writer too must stay on the track of the immediate to keep h i s mind f l e x i b l e , then what i s he to do i n the absence of precedents? This i s , i n large measure, the f i e l d of exploration that the w r i t i n g i n the second set of improvisations i n Kora jumps into — the w r i t i n g process i t s e l f . , i t s possible despair as well as i t s p o s s i b i l i t i e s : 1 Why go further? One might conceivably r e c t i f y the rhythm, study a l l out and a r r i v e at the pe r f e c t i o n of a t i g e r l i l y or a china doorknob. One might l i f t a l l out of the ruck, be a worthy successor to — the man i n the moon. Instead of breaking the back of a w i l l i n g phrase why not t r y to follow the wheel through — approach death at a walk, take i n a l l the scenery, There's as much reason one way as the other and then — one never k n o w s — perhaps we'll bring back Eurydice — th i s time,' Between two contending forces there may at a l l times arrive that moment when the stress is equal on both sides so that with a great pushing a great stability results giving a picture of perfect rest. And so it may be that once upon the way the end drives back upon the beginning and a stoppage w i l l occur. At such a time the poet shrinks from the doom that is calling him forgetting the delicate rhythms of perfect beauty, p r e f e r r i n g in his mind the gross buffetings of good and e v i l fortune. 2 Ay diol I would say so much were i t not for the tunes changing, changing, darting so many ways. One step and the cart's l e f t you sprawling. Here's the way! and — you're hip bogged. And there's blame of the l i g h t too: when eyes are humming birds who'11 t i e them with a lead string? But i t ' s the tunes they want most, — send them skipping out at the tree tops. Whistle then! who'd stop the leaves swarming; curving down the east i n t h e i r braided jackets? Well enough — but there's small comfort i n naked branches when the heart's not set that way. •A man'.s desire is to-winhis way to some hilltop. But against him seem to - swarm a hundred jumping devils. These are his constant companions, these are the friendly images which he has invented out of his mind and which are inviting him to rest and to disport himself according to hidden reasons. The man being half a poet is cast down and longs to r i d himself of his torment and his tormentors 3 When you hang your clothes on the l i n e you do not expect to see the l i n e broken and them t r a i l i n g i n the mud. Nor would you expect to keep your hands clean by putting them i n a d i r t y pocket. However and of course i f you are a market man, f i s h , cheeses and the l i k e going under your fingers every minute i n the hour you would not leave o f f the business and expect to handle a 137 basket of f i n e laces without at l e a s t mopping yourself on a towel, s o i l e d as i t may be. Then how w i l l you expect a f i n e t r i c k l e of words to follow you through the intimacies of t h i s dance without — oh, come l e t us walk together into the a i r awhile f i r s t . One must be watch-man to much secret arrogance before his ways are tuned to these measures. You see there i s a dip of the ground between us. You think you can leap up from your gross caresses of these creatures and at a gesture f l i n g i t a l l o f f and step out i n s i l v e r to my fin g e r t i p s . Ah, i t i s not that I do not wait f o r you, always! But my sweet fellow — you have broken yourself without pur-pose, you are — Hark! i t i s the music! Whence does i t come? What! Out of the ground? Is i t t h i s that you have been preparing f o r me? Ha, goodbye, I have a rendezvous i n the t i p s of three b i r c h s i s t e r s . Encourages vos musiciens! Ask them to play f a s t e r . I w i l l return — l a t e r . Ah you are kind. — and I? must dance with the wind, make my own snow f l a k e s , whistle a contrapuntal melody to my own fugue! Huzza then, t h i s i s the dance of the blue moss bank! Huzza then, t h i s i s the mazurka of the hollow log! Huzza then, t h i s i s the dance of r a i n i n the cold trees. (K, 32-34) "That which is past is past forever and no power of the imagination can bring i t back again" (K, 36): i n w r i t i n g , t h i s past could be the sub-j e c t i v i t y of the writer, the imposition of a preconceived perspective onto words used to "express" i t , and the r e s u l t i n g aesthetic form that s t r i v e s for the symmetrical neatness of balance and coherence, but at the expense of the experience of language, the actual words themselves i n the ear of the wr i t e r , i f he i s l i s t e n i n g , which do not conform to the regular (or regulated) patterns of aesthetic completion. The b i r d of the actual i s sl i p p e r y — i n t r a n s i t i o n , i n f l i g h t — l i k e the earth which i s constantly reversing stable orders: "laughs at the names / by which they think to trap i t . Escapes!" (P, 33). The caged b i r d i s no longer a b i r d but the ghost of one; the actual b i r d has escaped, or for the possessor, crumbled to nothing. I f i t i s so wily, though, how then, i f at a l l , can a writer match up to i t s movement i n time? "Why go fu r t h e r ? " Maybe there i s no s o l u t i o n , 2 3 8 no method, no way through.. D e s c r i p t i o n i s of no use, since i t o f f e r s a mere "copy" of that world, nor can the writer escape into an aesthetic transcendence by shaping the words, f o r c i n g them to comply with a w i l l e d pattern. Both methods simply r e f l e c t the p r i o r i t y of an int e n t i o n on the part of the writer that precedes the act of wr i t i n g . Neither way thus works — i n both the actual i s l o s t to a predetermined and hypothetical "past." "Instead of breaking the back of a w i l l i n g phrase," on the other hand, "why not t r y to follow the wheel through — approach death at a walk, take i n a l l the scenery." Who knows, "perhaps we'll bring back Eurydice — t h i s time!" Orpheus, we r e c a l l , was given a chance by Hades to r e t r i e v e Eurydice from the world of the dead, but with one condition: that he not look back before they both reach the surface of the earth. Orpheus, of course, could not r e s i s t the temptation to look back upon the beauty of Eurydice, and besides, he was a f r a i d that she might disappear. He thus got caught i n a double-bind — and he made the f a t a l gesture, looked back and l o s t Eurydice again. The gesture of 'looking back' — i n t h i s context, at le a s t — i s a retre a t from the d i f f i c u l t y of the present, f i g u r a t i v e l y a r e l i a n c e on the past, any past, even the moment before. As the image of Beauty, Eurydice must be revealed i n the present where nothing i s c e r t a i n , where "There's as much reason one way as the other." And here we r e c a l l Williams' words from The Great American Novel: There i s beauty i n the bellow of the BLAST, etc. from a l l previous s i g n i f i c a n c e . — To me beauty i s p u r i t y . To me i t i s discovery, a race on the ground. (GAN, 171) Eurydice cannot be dragged up from the dead. She must be discovered i n the immediacy of experience, anew. 139 A personal i n t e n t i o n p r i o r to the act of writing i s another such past, as i s any f i x e d perspective that imposes a form onto language. The words, a f t e r a l l , are " j u s t words." They cannot be expected to adjust to the mind. Or i f they are forced into a patterned conformity, they thereby lose t h e i r s u b s t a n t i a l i t y and become ghosts of themselves — and the world they embody disappears with them. In t h i s impasse, why not then simply l i s t e n to them i n a l l t h e i r indeterminacy? What i s to be l o s t anyway, any-thing i s better than a transcendence that i s nothing more, than a dependence on another time, that time, not " t h i s time." In any case, what i s the whole obsession for the completion of a decorous order — the rhythm r e c t i f i e d , an apparent " p e r f e c t i o n " achieved, the w r i t i n g l i f t e d out of the ruck — but a s t i f l i n g s t a s i s , the possession of a world.gone.dead.. Any such balance (a "perfection") must perforce be a r t i f i c i a l , out of time.''' Any such "picture of perfect rest" must be a "stoppage," a separation from the actual which never ceases to move i n time. At t h i s end of thought, so the voice says, the poet, for the s u r v i v a l of his mind, forgets "the delicate rhythms of perfect beauty, p r e f e r r i n g in his mind the gross buffetings of good and e v i l fortune." The "buffetings" — and "the tunes changing, changing., darting so "many ways," nothing secure and at attention, the actual constantly f o r c i n g the mind to s h i f t perspectives. "Here's the way! and — you're hip bogged." The actual i s that kind of dense wall, simply there, but i f i t i s that, i t s surface i s p r e c i s e l y what the mind desires, the "scene s h i f t i n g " i n "Improvisation XX.1," which transforms the same wall into the drama of experience: "Climb now? The wall's clipped o f f too, only i t s roots are l e f t " (K, 69). The eyes by nature wander, here there and everywhere; they are "humming b i r d s " that cannot be t i e d down by a "lead s t r i n g , " moving as they JL40 do from thing to thing as desire moves i n i t s search to a c t u a l i z e i t s e l f i n the world. No aesthetic forms can "stop the leaves swarming; curving down the east i n t h e i r braided jackets." I f w r i t i n g i s to work, i t must become an extension of t h i s movement. For the w r i t e r i n the second improvisation of "Improvisation I I , " however, t h i s kind of w r i t i n g remains at the l e v e l of p o s s i b i l i t y . As yet he has not figured h i s way through to a method that would enable him to step onto a moving cart. I t i s one thing to acknowledge the storm of the actual, but much more d i f f i c u l t f o r the "heart" to become i t i n . words, or as the voice says, "there's small comfort i n naked branches when the heart's not set that way." The greatest enemy to the f u l l release of desire i n writing — and this i s the tune the eyes "want most" — i s the mind i t s e l f , "the demon" that "drives us" (P_, 272) and an uncertain power that "can t r i c k us" (PB, 75) into s e t t l i n g f or much l e s s than what we desire. The i n t e r p r e t a t i o n to the second improvisation o f f e r s an exact diagnosis of the mind's l i m i t , the manner e s p e c i a l l y i n which i t constructs those subjective "images," r e f e r e n t i a l fronts for "hidden reasons" outside the work i t s e l f , to that extent, wholly s o l i p s i s t i c and determined by the w i l l of the w r i t e r , "invented out of his mind" alone. These are the same "friendly images" that i n v i t e him "to rest" i n an a r t i f i c i a l l y manufactured aesthetic order. I t i s t h i s t e m p t a t i o n — we noted i t i n our discussion of A Novelette — that the writer i n Kora at a l l cost, i f he i s to "win his way to some h i l l -top," knows he must r e s i s t . And not s u r p r i s i n g l y , out of the pressure of t h i s necessity, the t h i r d 141 improvisation — and t h i s i s a basic s t r u c t u r a l pattern underlying a l l the improvisations i n Kora — attempts to provide some means of escaping that temptation through the act of w r i t i n g . The whole e f f o r t here i s a play on language i n which w r i t i n g continually c a l l s attention to i t s own processes. And the writ e r maintains t h i s play without foregoing i t s tension i n favour of an a u t h o r i a l stance wherein language i s used to further a given f i x e d perspective. In f a c t , the w r i t i n g s p e c i f i c a l l y undermines that stance. It i s i n t h i s context that the r i d d l i n g voice i n the improvisation begins to speak: When you hang your clothes on the l i n e you do not expect to see the l i n e broken and them t r a i l i n g i n the mud. Nor would you expect to keep your hands clean by putting them i n a d i r t y pocket. However and of course i f you are a market man, f i s h , cheeses and the l i k e going under your fingers every minute i n the hour you would not leave o f f the business and expect to handle a basket of f i n e laces without at l e a s t mopping yourself on a towel, s o i l e d as i t may be. Talk for tal k ' s sake? Or language for language's sake? In any case, c e r t a i n l y not the grammar of predictable expectations. The w r i t i n g here mocks the assumption that language can be used as a transparent v e h i c l e through which the mind constructs a discu r s i v e order, but not without l o s i n g a contrary assumption: that the play of language can disrupt the mind's f i x i t i e s by disturbing the language forms i n which that order i s fabricated. In the opening l i n e s of t h i s improvisation, as i n the opening set of improvisations to Kora, we have the s h e l l of a r h e t o r i c a l structure, simply the s h e l l alone. Inside, there i s a vo i c e . A b i r d i n a cage. And t h i s voice i n i t s . r i d d l i n g manner p l a y f u l l y mimics the a r t i f i c i a l i t y of language forms used for l o g i c a l ends. Of course, we do not expect to see our clothes " t r a i l i n g i n the-mud," Nor do we expect , , . etc. The f o o l ' s 142 voice mocks a discursiveness that i s i t s own l i m i t : "However and of course," a q u a l i f i c a t i o n immediately -undermined by an as s e r t i o n , these two forms of making statements clashing one against the other. In other words, the voice blasts the pretentiousness of any attempt to impose the s t a t i c form of l o g i c onto a world whose a c t u a l i t y r e s i s t s that kind of p u r i t y . Clothes do break a l i n e . Hands do get " d i r t y . " And " f i n e l a c e s " do get " s o i l e d " by use. As do words. They turn up unexpectedly, or up unexpected roads; they d i s c l o s e i r r e g u l a r i t i e s that no recourse to l o g i c can tame. Better then, i n t h i s impasse, to clear the mind of i t s "secret arrogance," as i f i t could r e a l l y f a b r i c a t e (out of a " t r i c k l e of words") an order invulnerable to change. Any order so constructed would be nothing more than a f i x e d per-spective, an i l l u s i o n constituted s o l e l y on i t s divorce from the actual. The d i f f i c u l t y , then, i s not to transcend p a r t i c u l a r s , but to move with them, which demands that a writer release himself to what i s outside h i s own c o n t r o l . The "dip of the ground," for instance. So i t i s that the voice addresses a "you," but even here the r e l a t i o n -ship between the speaking " I " and the addressed "you" i s confused, the one becoming the other as the w r i t i n g plays back on i t s e l f and begins to expose i t s own emptiness. The w r i t i n g , i n t h i s sense, turns back on the w r i t e r : Ah, i t i s not that I do not wait for you, always! But my sweet fellow — you have broken yourself without purpose, you are — The gap at the end of "you are — " i s l e f t as a gap. The w r i t i n g has come to an end, perhaps even a dead-end. That i s , t a l k f o r t a l k ' s sake can i n i t i a t e the drama of speech, yet there i s s t i l l a l i m i t to what words can be expected to do, even f o r the f o o l who loves to play with them. The in t e n t i o n to escape the use of words f o r l o g i c a l purposes i s well enough, .143 but to what end does t h i s i n t e n t i o n operate? The dialogue (pr -monologue of a writer who i s s p l i t i nto two by his own doubletalk) here i s broken by the i n t r u s i o n of music, the sound of something that comes from outside the word-play which momentarily exhausts i t s e l f . And as t h i s occurs, the voice finds i t s e l f being acted upon by the "you" that i t i n i t i a l l y addressed. The r e l a t i o n s h i p has reversed i t s e l f . The music that enters the w r i t i n g comes from a "you" that i s other than the " I . " In other words, the w r i t e r i s now being drawn out of himself by the w r i t i n g , and his attention s h i f t s accordingly. The improvisation thus moves by s h i f t s and leaps toward the p o s s i b i l i t y of a more authentic dance i n words, not word-play i n and for i t s e l f , which i s r e a l l y only another form of closure, but word-play that allows for the i n t r u s i o n of an actual world. " — and I?" says the w r i t e r — as i f to intimate that the " I " of the writer i s both a one and an other, and that i t i s t h i s tension that w r i t i n g must somehow maintain. In the f i n a l l i n e s of the improvisation, we notice that the doubleness of the " I " leaving and the " I " returning, and the doubleness of the "You" desired and the "You" l e f t behind, i s maintained. The w r i t i n g i t s e l f has brought the w r i t e r to t h i s c r i s i s , f o r i t i s here that the mind i s thrown back into a world that reveals a ground more primary to i t s desires. And thus the p o s s i b i l i t y of the dance begins: — and I? must dance with the wind, make my own snow fla k e s , whistle a contrapuntal melody to my own fugue! Huzza then, t h i s i s the dance of the blue moss bank! Huzza then, t h i s i s the mazurka of the hollow l o g ! Huzza then, t h i s i s the dance of r a i n i n the cold trees. In a way, t h i s one improvisation acts as a kind of prototype for a l l 144 the improvisations i n Kora, p a r t i c u l a r l y i n ..its e f f e c t . The .writing: consis-t e n t l y c a l l s a ttention to i t s own processes i n the time of the composition. The writer (and the reader!) within the w r i t i n g finds himself caught up i n the o b j e c t i v i t y of language, i t s a c t u a l i t y . And i n each case, he begins to discover that w r i t i n g , to be actual, must work toward a loosening of attention, a loosening experienced as a c r i s i s within which a substantial world breaks i n to declare i t s otherness. The event of t h i s c r i s i s — we have c a l l e d i t a confusion (a mixing together) — conditions the e f f e c t of the w r i t i n g that comes of i t . In h i s "Prologue" .to Kora, i t i s s i g n i f i c a n t that Williams comes to t a l k about the "broken" nature of h i s w r i t i n g i n order thus to r e t r i e v e i t s value as such. What he sets down c l a r i f i e s our experience of reading Kora so f a r . "By the brokenness of h i s composition," Williams says, the poet makes himself master of a c e r t a i n weapon which he could possess himself of i n no other way. The speed of the emotions i s sometimes such that thrashing about i n a thi n e x a l t a t i o n or despair many matters are touched but not held, more often broken by the contact. I I . No. 3. The i n s t a b i l i t y of these improvisations would seem such that they must i n e v i t a b l y crumble under the attention and become p a r t i c l e s of a wind that f a l t e r s . I t would appear to the unready that the f i b e r of the thing i s a t h i n j e l l y . I t would be these same foo l s who would deny tough cords to the wind because they cannot s p l i t a storm endwise and wrap i t upon spools. The v i r t u e of strength l i e s not i n the grossness of the f i b e r but i n the f i b e r i t s e l f . Thus a poem i s tough by no q u a l i t y i t borrows from a l o g i c a l r e c i t a l of events nor from the events themselves but s o l e l y from that attenuated power which draws perhaps many broken things into a dance giving them thus a f u l l being. (K, 16-17) Williams t a l k s about the speed of the emotions i n t h i s passage, and then himself attempts to enact the kind of thinking process which matches that speed. The w r i t i n g here states, to be sure, but i t does so by holding to a complexity of experience, the attention r i d i n g the syntax without 145 allowing the thought to resolve i t s e l f i n t o a s i m p l i s t i c completion. The mind within the w r i t i n g i s a l i v e to those d i s t i n c t i o n s without which com-p l e x i t y would be impossible. The language i n s i s t s upon remaining on the heel of i t s own resources. Not the closed syntax of l o g i c , but the move-ment Williams recognizes i n Gertrude Stein. The syntax unfolds as the mind thinks i t s way through. How else to describe a l i n e such as the open-ing i n which the spaces of t h i s pacing can be heard, however subtly: "By the brokenness of h i s composition the poet makes himself master of a c e r t a i n weapon which he could possess himself of" — perhaps somewhat awkward sounding, but a d i s t i n c t i o n i s held — " i n no other way." The unnamed " c e r t a i n weapon" i s l e f t unnamed, but the sentence makes clear that i t comes to the poet through the "brokenness of h i s composition" where incompletion i s an operation, not a dead-end, as i t very well might be had the "goal" been that df l o g i c a l thought. The writ e r of t h i s piece values d i s t i n c t i o n s — Marianne Moore points to t h i s q u a l i t y of Williams' mind i n 2 her review of Kora — at the same time that he knows how i n c r e d i b l y d i f f i -c u l t i t i s to catch the evanescence of experience. To the "unready," however, those who refuse, or cannot step into the condition of indeterminacy, the kind of w r i t i n g that composes i t s e l f as i t goes must i n e v i t a b l y escape them. They may assume that the absence of l o g i c a l i t y , or the presence of co n t r a d i c t i o n , i s a weakness absolving them from the further r e s p o n s i b i l i t y of the w r i t i n g , possibly concluding that i t i s nothing more than a " t h i n j e l l y . " They miss the point altogether, since such w r i t i n g does not depend f o r i t s l i v e l i h o o d upon the sort of r e f e r e n t i a l order they expect of i t , Williams says that the strength of "a poem" ( i . e . any piece of writing) i s not derived from i t s l o g i c a l i t y or by i t s d e s c r i p t i o n of some event, both of which are preconceived ends outside the 146 text, but i n the composing process i t s e l f where, he w i l l say much l a t e r , the "mind / l i v e s " (PB, 75) ( i t a l i c s added), Readers who r e j e c t the improvisations for t h e i r " i n s t a b i l i t y " are the "same f o o l s who would deny tough cords to the wind because they cannot s p l i t a storm endwise and wrap i t upon spools." Anything with texture — a piece of w r i t i n g , a storm, a painting, a tapestry, a flower, a drawing, what you w i l l — should be valued for i t s o b j e c t i v i t y , and not f o r the d i s c u r s i v e s i g n i f i c a n c e of i t s s o - c a l l e d "content": to Williams, a term that d i s t o r t s and so misplaces the more immediate function of w r i t i n g as an act. The "virtue of strength" i n w r i t i n g does not l i e i n the "grossness of the f i b e r " — what the w r i t i n g says — "but i n the f i b e r i t s e l f " — the w r i t i n g i t s e l f . Here the mind i s released to a movement "which draws perhaps many broken things into a dance giving them a f u l l being," the things i n t h e i r p a r t i c u l a r i t y thus revealed to be a l i v e , j u s t t h i s . Closed perceptions, on the other hand, freeze those same things into f i x e d perspectives. This i s the point of stoppage, so Williams says elsewhere i n his "Prologue," which the w r i t e r , " i n desperation" (K, 17) sometimes, must work against. Loosening the attention makes i t active once again. "Out! and the s t i n g of the t h i c k e t ! " (K, 60). Here the drawing by Stuart Davis, which Williams used as a f r o n t i s -piece for Kora, takes on a much larger s i g n i f i c a n c e than i s at f i r s t apparent. The c r i s i s of l i n e a r perspective i n the drawing mirrors exactly the c r i s i s of language i n Williams' w r i t i n g . The opacity of w r i t i n g comes from the opacity of language, i t s medium. The words escape a use which, r e f e r e n t i a l , would point to a perspective outside t h e i r own a c t u a l i t y as words. In the same way, Davis' drawing c a l l s a t tention to i t s own texture, and by so doing, disrupts the closure of l i n e a r perspective. The p r i n t , i n short, 147 enacts the texture of Kora, and thus confirms and enlarges the t h e o r e t i c a l basis of Williams' attack on a given " f i x e d point of view" i n his "Prologue." 148 CHAPTER SIX THE FRONTISPIECE? Perspective ("to see through") hinges on the determination of a number of parts (these parts were once things) which form a whole (an order) when organized around a f i x e d point of view. And "view" i s the key term. In art — the a r t of p i c t u r i n g objects or a scene i n such a way as to show them as they appear to the eye with reference to r e l a t i v e distance or depth (OED), or i n thought — the r e l a t i o n s h i p or proportion of the parts of a whole, regarded from a p a r t i c u l a r standpoint or point i n time. (OED) Perspective thus r e l i e s on a given view around which "the parts of a whole" adjust themselves into a h i e r a r c h i c s t a s i s . In t h i s arrangement, things lose t h e i r p a r t i c u l a r i t y and are made transparent to a subsuming order. What we are dealing with, then, i s a method or a way of apparently seeing through things. Stated even more simply, perspective as such i s nothing more than a " t r i c k " (K, 53) of the mind, f o r the f o o l of a w r i t e r i n Kora, a form which i s the very model of a mental construct based upon a denial of 149 process. Maurice Merleau-Ponty i n Signs o f f e r s as precise an account as any of the way p e r s p e c t i v a l form achieves t h i s a r t i f i c i a l , hence i l l u s o r y closure. Since experience i s an open-ended process i n which no assumed perspective i s n e c e s s a r i l y more important than another, the -view of the world given through " c l a s s i c a l perspective" i s merely "one of the ways that man has invented for p r o j e c t i n g the perceived world before him." Linear perspective i s a construct with definable l i m i t s — an optional i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of spontaneous v i s i o n , not because the perceived world contradicts the laws of c l a s s i c a l perspective and imposes others, but rather because i t does not i n s i s t upon any one and i s not of the order of laws.l 2 In what Merleau-Ponty c a l l s "free perception" (simply what happens i n experience), we are f i e l d e d by many things a c t i n g on us simultaneously. At one time we may focus on one thing, but we c a n — as we do — quite e a s i l y s h i f t our a t t e n t i o n to another thing, not over there, but here, or to the side, or behind us. And so on and so f o r t h . As we move i n t h i s f i e l d — and we cannot help but move because we are a l i v e — then a l l these d i r e c t i o n s change accordingly. Any number of objects can come into per-spective momentarily and then disappear as another and s t i l l another and s t i l l another draws our attention. In the f i e l d of experience a l l objects are p o t e n t i a l l y equal. Or p o t e n t i a l equally, since everything i s contingent. But i f we reverse the process and allow our minds to r e t r e a t from t h i s f i e l d and assume the f i x i t y of a perspective — here i s what Merleau-Ponty has to say about the nature of t h i s withdrawal: Then I " i n free perception " J I had the experience of a world of teeming, exclusive things which could be taken i n only by means of a temporal c y c l e i n which each gain was at the same time a l o s s . Now the inexhaustible being 150 c r y s t a l l i z e s into an ordered perspective within which backgrounds resign themselves to being only backgrounds (inaccessible and vague as i s proper), and objects i n the foreground abandon something of their aggressiveness, order the i r i n t e r i o r l i n e s according to the common law of the spectacle, and already prepare themselves to become backgrounds as soon as i t i s necessary, A perspective, i n short, within which nothing holds my glance and takes the shape of a present. The whole scene i s i n the mode of the completed or of eternity. Everything takes on an a i r of propriety and discretion. Things no • longer v e a l l upon me to answer, and I am no longer compromised by them. And i f I add the a r t i f i c e of a e r i a l perspective to t h i s one, the extent to which I who paint and they who look at my land-scape dominate the situ a t i o n i s readily f e l t . Perspec-tiv e i s much more than a secret technique for imitating a r e a l i t y given as such to a l l men. I t i s the invention of a world which i s dominated and possessed through and through i n an instantaneous synthesis which i s at best roughed out by our glance when i t vainly t r i e s to hold together a l l these things seeking i n d i v i d u a l l y to mono-polize i t . The faces of the c l a s s i c a l p o r t r a i t , always i n the service of a character, a passion, or a love — always si g n i f y i n g — or the babies and animals of the c l a s s i c a l painting, so desirous to enter the human world and so l i t t l e anxious to reject i t , manifest the same "adult" r e l a t i o n of man to the world, except when, giving in:to his fortunate daemon, the great painter adds a new dimension to th i s world too sure of i t s e l f by making contingency vibrate within i t . ^ Merleau-Ponty's statement provides a basis for Williams' attachment to those a r t i s t s , Cezanne and Braque for instance (A, 240), who showed the way through to the destruction of a "world too sure of i t s e l f , " a world "dominated and possessed through and through" by the conventional habit of judging the value of art according to the extent that i t f a i t h f u l l y "copied" a so-called ".reality" outside the frame of a painting. The Hartpence story which he "t o l d many times" (A, 240) signals the end of representational form and the beginning of a modernist movement i n art comparable to the modernist movement i n w r i t i n g . The story i s well-known, but i t deserves to be re-told i n this context. I t stuck i n Williams' mind as a turning point 151 for him, as he writes i n h i s Autobiography: Alanson Hartpence was employed at the Daniel Gallery, One day, the proprietor being out, Hartpence was i n charge. In walked one of t h e i r most important customers, a woman i n her f i f t i e s who was much int e r e s t e d i n some picture whose i d e n t i t y I may at one time have known. She l i k e d i t , and-seemed about to make the purchase, walked away from i t , approached i t and said, f i n a l l y , "But Hr. Hartpence, what i s a l l that down i n t h i s l e f t hand lower corner?" Hartpence came up close and c a r e f u l l y inspected the area mentioned. Then, a f t e r further consideration, "That, Madam," said he, " i s p a i n t . " (A, 240) Williams then goes on to t a l k about the s i g n i f i c a n c e of t h i s humourous event: This story marks the exact point i n the t r a n s i t i o n that took place, i n the world of that time, from the appreci-ation of a work of art as a copying of nature to the thought of i t as the i m i t a t i o n of nature, spoken of by A r i s t o t l e i n h i s Poetics, which has since governed our conceptions. It i s s t i l l the f a i l u r e to take this step that blocks us i n seeking to gain a f u l l conception of the modern i n a r t . In painting Cezanne i s the f i r s t consciously to have taken that step. From him i t went on, often by nothing more than the v i s a_ tergo, rushing through the gap where the dyke has been broken. But with such a man as Braque i t had basic s i g n i f i c a n c e . Braque i s said to have taken his pictures outdoors, on occasion, to see i f t h e i r invention ranked beside that of nature worthily enough f o r him to approve of i t . (A, 240-241) Of the writers who made t h i s "step" i n w r i t i n g , Gertrude Stein comes r e a d i l y to Williams' mind: "Gertrude Stein found the key with her conception of the objective use of words" (A, 241). In both a r t and w r i t i n g , the medium of the work i s experienced as an a c t u a l i t y : how we perceive alongside what we perceive. Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending the Staircase, No. 2 (1912), exhibited at the Armory Show i n 1913, i s exemplary i n t h i s sense, Duchamp simply does what Merleau-Ponty c a l l s f o r ; he makes "contingency v i b r a t e within" his 152 painting. The s t a t i c "nude" of representational art suddenly begins to move. She walks down a s t a i r c a s e , and i n t h i s turnabout, the conventional order of three-dimensional perspective Is set upside-down, to be sure, a f o o l ' s gesture i n an art world that had, f o r Duchamp, gone dead. Further, the s o - c a l l e d "nude" that comes down into another world has shed a l l her "propriety" to become a s o l i d mass of blurred l i n e s , a wall of confusion. The once frozen object possessed through perspective now asserts i t s own a c t u a l i t y i n time. Like Williams' w r i t i n g i n Kora, Duchamp's painting illuminates i n i t s very structure a c r i s i s , an older world giving way to the i n s i s t e n t force of movement. This i s e s s e n t i a l l y what Duchamp i n retrospect says about the e f f e c t of h i s Nude. In an interview with P i e r r e Cabanne, he answers the question: "How did that painting o r i g i n a t e ? " In the nude i t s e l f . To do a nude d i f f e r e n t from the c l a s s i c r e c l i n i n g or standing nude, and to put i t i n motion. There was something funny there, but i t wasn't at a l l funny when I d i d i t . Movement appeared l i k e an argument to make me decide to do i t . In the "Nude Descending a St a i r c a s e , " I wanted to create a s t a t i c image of movement: movement i s an abstac-t i o n , a deduction a r t i c u l a t e d within the painting, without our knowing i f a r e a l person i s or i s n ' t descend-ing an equally r e a l s t a i r c a s e . Fundamentally, movement i s i n the eye of the spectator, who incorporates i t into the painting.4 Perspective allows the viewer to maintain the r o l e of observer, un-attached to the painting i t s e l f as painting-being-perceived. And more p e c u l i a r l y , i n a p o r t r a i t of the t r a d i t i o n a l r e c l i n i n g or standing nude, the viewer becomes a kind of 'peeping-tom' who looks over the a r t i s t ' s shoulder but without himself being seen. The spectator, i n t h i s r e l a t i o n to the painting, takes pleasure i n what he sees, but without taking any r i s k s . P e r s pectival art thus encourages the viewer to remove himself from time, to remain f i x e d i n 15.3 a moment out of time i n the "etexnity" of closure where everything i s s e l f -r e f e r e n t i a l , removed from, what i s contingent, In t h i s way, i t does what Merleau-Ponty says i t does: "invents a world" divorced from the immediacy of experience•in time. By simply having h i s "nude" assume movement, Duchamp throws a wrench into that world and so provokes a c r i s i s . His painting becomes opaque — the Cubist concern with surfaces — and as i t does, the once " s t i l l l i f e " of representational form i s s p l i t apart from the i n s i d e . The viewer, formerly an observer i s i n turn made suddenly aware of the i l l u s i o n of pe r s p e c t i v a l forms, but more importantly, he experiences i t s de-composition. Duchamp, however, as Arturo Schwartz says i n Marcel Duchamp, did not revert to the " F u t u r i s t ' s attempts to create the i l l u s i o n of movement."5 His mind worked d i f f e r e n t l y , and l i k e Williams i n Kora, he was much more intent upon f i g u r i n g h i s way out of the closure i n the very medium of h i s painting. In other words, he l e t h i s mind play against perspective from within, and so dissected i t s l i m i t , allowing movement to "appear l i k e an argument" to have i t s own way i n the pai