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You Speak the Jive So I Don't Have To

G. Stein, Author of How To See the World Anew in Less Than 200 Pages

I love poetry and think synesthesia is tops, but when I read The Observer's delicate veuyerism on blogspeak as linked by Sasha Frere-Jones, I can't say a lot of concerns I've been having lately about writing didn't get all fizzy-bubbly in my spirit. Okay, so you have Oxen in the Sun from Ulysses; the entire history of the English language capitulated in one breathtaking chapter. If you haven't read it, read it, but point is that it ends in a hailstorm of indecipherables. Joyce's prediction that the climax of speech would come in a diarrhetic flush of gnarled slang is frightening and also exciting; I remember the chapter not as pessemistic, but inspiringly primal, emotive, thunderous, and thrilling. I slip into my own trips of rainbowic language, but I think there's a crucial difference that The Observer is overlooking that frankly, upsets me. I'm not into not making sense. I'm into making sense, even if it's non-traditional sense. Sense is sometimes found in little corners. I do love Ulysses, I probably love Tender Buttons even more. And what's between Gertrude Stein and Lester Bangs if not an effort to RESONATE rather than EXCLUDE, which is to say:

Tom Breihan using phrases like "Pillowy drama-nerd indie-rock" and "Crampsian swamp-gurgle" are attempts ot be inclusive (the only pretense being cursory knowledge of the Cramps); but still, in getting abstract, he attempts to let words loose, to fire them off in hopes that they'll ricochet off our hearts, pierce Wernicke's soft spot, and get our little C-fibers a-tremblin'. Just sayin'. I'm not a huge Lester Bangs fan; I should say that I liked him a lot when I was about 17, but the verbal machine gun in crowded room of crystal thing wore thin, especially after getting bogged down in the non-truth of SPEED-TRUTH - ostensibly Bangs's trade.

So right. There's a line between poetry, which often "makes sense" by building new models of sense, by locating sense within feeling or blurring the boundaries between the two, and the dreaded JARGON, which thwarts our understanding. Still, it all comes down to this awful struggle (for me), the whole "do your vibrant and incindiery words really belong in your 'journalism' or should they stay in your lil' octavo notebooks?" Optimus Crank Sick Nick Southy of Stylus recently tossed out the dreaded bait of the critic as failed novelist on the Stylus staff message board, which I don't think is entirely true, but I think seems more true to me after reading this Observer thing, which basically ENCOURAGES the flashy wailings of critics over, hmm, tricky, sense. All's I'm saying is that you sometimes understand me when I'm being opaque; I like the rearranging of terms and obviously love the vividness of language. I have no problem with Flowery Criticism. I have no problem with Poetry. I have no problem with your notebooks. I do have a problem with getting cast as Slang Jockeys; it's not what I want to be. Part of it relies on the open-mindedness of the reader, of course. But even the most open of minds can slip beneath the heavy shadow of jargon. Congrats turbochoads, your efforts have carried you into the cuddly elite. Fight the good fight for sense however you make it, but don't forget: we have loves and we need to make them known. Right?


Blogger Ian said...

Please stop posting things where my only reaction is near-incoherent agreement, okay? It's making me look bad.

Seriously, this is great, and very timely as well. Is anyone else catching a whiff of the reactionary from Hanley? Us young'uns have to pick our way through the prose sometimes too, but we have more context and (more importantly) more enthusiasm (see also that linguistics prof interviewed in the article). Just because she(?) is unwilling to try and figure out what "market pre-cum" means doesn't mean the writer was being obtuse or jargonriffic.

4:18 PM  
Blogger Alfred said...

"Oxen in the Sun" is rubbish. And I love Ulysses.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Mike Powell said...

Out of curiousity Alfred, why do you say that?

12:47 PM  
Blogger Alfred said...

Like much of the novel's final third, Oxen in the Sun brings to mind Virginia's Woolf otherwise too-reductive dismissal of the entire book: "A greasy undergraduate, scratching his pimples." The display of virtuosity is impressive but never moving or even compelling. And compared to the virtuosity of "Hades," "Aeolus," and "Penelope," unnecessary. If ever there was a book meant to be flipped through casually, it's Ulysses (after, of course, you've read it thru once).

4:30 PM  
Blogger Mike Powell said...

Can't say I really agree on the whole; while Circe is a bit excessive and Eumeus self-consciously boring, Ithaca is probably my favorite chapter, though not necessarily unto itself. In light of the rest of the novel, I find it to be the richest stretch of all, where everything becomes clearer. Still, I want to spar about this, maybe I'll book a plane to the panhandle with the specific intention of drunkenly berating you with all of my half-baked opinions on the book, hah.

5:00 PM  
Blogger Alfred said...

Ithaca's the one that's like a parody of Henry James, right? Extended sentences, lethargically paced, etc. I like that too.

As for the alcohol: you bring the bottle, I got the glasses.

5:57 PM  
Blogger Mike Powell said...

Ithaca's the second to last chapter, the one about science and space, the REALLY BEAUTIFUL one. Hah.

10:04 PM  

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