Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Emily Dickinson, the Infinite Unfinished Possibilitarian

My friend Kenneth Harrison sent me a fascinating article about Dickinson's working methods, which is strikingly reminiscent of Musil, the unfinished and unfinishable.  Brenda Wineapple, in her essay, "On Emily Dickinson" in Salmagundi: Spring 2011. 170-171, writes:

"To her, literature was improvisation, much like her concoctions on the piano, remembered by all who heard them, and her poems were always in progress, meant to be revised, reevaluated, and reconceived, especially when dispatched to different readers, as her first editors would discover.(Poet Richard Howard points out that completing poems may not have interested her: 'Her true Flaubert was Penelope, to invert a famous allusion, forever unraveling what she figured on the loom the day before') She saved all variants and appears to have not chosen among them, sometimes toying with as many as eight possibilities for words, line arrangement, rhyme, enjambment; nor did she choose among alternative endings. Frequently she composed on scraps of paper--newspaper clippings, envelopes, brown paper sacks--or around the edges of thin sheets, the writing almost illegible...From an editorial point of view, the situation was a mess. It is a mess. Recently, Max Rudin, the publisher of the Library of America, spoke with  me about the deep difficulty of placing Dickinson between those hard, shiny black covers, not just because Harvard owns the copyright, which it does, but because myriad versions of her poems make it tough to choose among them. Selecting one manuscript version of a poem over another seems to preclude the rest and deny the mercurial fluidity of  her work. ('It is finished can never be said of us,' she said with typical finish.)".

It strikes me that it is no accident that these two seemingly distant writers shared a resistance to final versions and completion. Both were of the school of possibility and of telling the truth but telling it slant, the school of continual striving, the school of timeless momentariness and its awareness of mortality; both were transcendentalists who yet knew well about gravity and the sluggish persistence of matter; both were really unprepared to share their work with the world outside, while they both craved resonance, response, an admiring public--if only that public would not pry too much or ask them to hurry, to pander, to lie ( a practically impossible thing to expect of a public); both were bound to the beautiful treacherous practice of the sort of perfection which first manifests itself as messiness (like when one's room is initially much messier when one first begins to clean it up); and this devotion to the infinite facets, the myriad words and arrangements, could only be indulged by those who were somehow not quite bound to any one  finite world, but rather by those who had to create infinite, unfinished portals into multiple universes of words. Dickinson might have been referring, with her royal We, to herself and Musil then, when she said, "It is finished can never be said of us". Or perhaps she meant that none of us, not one of us mortal humans, is ever really finished. . . .

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Invitation to a Reading & Book Party

Greetings Readers,
 There will be a party and reading to celebrate the release of my book The World as Metaphor in Robert Musil's 'The Man without Qualities': Possibility as Reality,  in New York City, if any of you are in the area. The event will be held at the Zinc Bar at 82 W. 3rd Street on Sunday the 20th of January from 5:30 to 8:30 and will feature a reading by me from my book and a reading by Burton Pike from his brilliant epoch-making 1995 translation of some of the Nachlass portions of The Man without Qualities, followed by rejoicing. This reading is part of the Lungfull! Sunday Reading Series and will be free and open to the interested public. I would love to meet you!