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BRITISH-IRISH-POETS  1998

BRITISH-IRISH-POETS 1998

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Subject:

Re Prynne Revival

From:

Dougolly <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Dougolly <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 25 Apr 1998 11:53:28 EDT

Content-Type:

text/plain

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I'll try to reply honestly to Robin's proper request that I explain what I
mean about Prynne and Derrida "as to a child".  Lessee: it means a very long
e-mail and some basic semiology, so forgive me, not least because I am not a
true-believer.

a) In earlyish Derrida, language has two axes of difference, as in standard
semiology stemming from Saussure. Call them vertical and horizontal.  Along
the horizontal, or syntagmatic, or metynomic, axis time runs forward, as it
does when we speak, creating an  enchaining - running onwards - of syntax,
sounds, etc. in the speech chain or writing chain.  Evidently, successive
elements can't be pronounced at the same time - to say 't-i-m-e' takes time -
and each item derives its meaning from opposition to what precedes and follows
it in what linguists think of as an irreversible way.  Up the vertical or
associative or metaphorical axis language holds quasi-still as an entire
system in which association and memory link terms but also differentiate them
- ship is differentiated from sheep by meaning but is closely linked by sound,
whereas ship is linked with sailor by meaning but differentiated by sound: and
so on.
b) Derrida's position was that in linear time (the 'horizontal') our minds are
always too late to trap the instant of change that creates difference - the
't' in 'time' has already passed by the time we see it is different from 'i'
and that it is beginning to create the word 'time'.  Along the vertical axis
there is also a spacing out between all the associative distinctions possible
in the language system, from which also we build the meaning.  Our minds are
already flooded by the system of language.  The actual moment when vertical
and horizontal axes cross so as to create a present moment in which meaning
suddenly occurs is never accessible to our minds; it is the ineffable present,
a category only of metaphysical significance (that doesn't mean it doesn't
'exist', a mistake many early Derrideans made).  Instead of becoming aware of
that cross-point (presence) we experience the beginning of meaning as a
'trace' cast into time by the passage of presence.  Because of this delaying
process (called différance), there is a sense in which writing is logically
prior to speech.
c) Again in early Derrida, even the unconscious is ushered towards
consciousness by this same essentially linguistic dynamic -- metaphor and
metonymy in Lacan from Jakobson.  For this reason, Derrida claimed that there
was no hors texte - that unconscious and conscious mental experience was
always trapped in linguistic processes.  Nothing we can talk about or describe
is not already linguistic and we are always too late to trap presence - the
moment when the two axes cross.
d) The paradoxical deconstruction of both presence and unified consciousness
was expressed by Derrideans in rhetorical tropes centred on the co-terminous
existence of absence/presence and often written down as an item stated but
also erased.  The thing is/is erased.  We are supposedly bound into these
apories and oceans of poetry have now been written about them.  No single text
can contain the presence of truth (this ties with modern hermeneutical
doctrines, which are fit for a multi-cultural universe since if there is an
advance in truthfulness it arises from a dialogue of texts: no wonder inter-
textuality is so popular among poets).
e) Almost persuasively, Derridean assertion/erasure might be considered a
reform of Husserl's version of time consciousness [may I duck out of that
discussion for the moment]  On the plane of physics we might think, for
example, of Schroedinger.  You recall that out of chance quantum-level events
probabilities (via Schroedinger's wave equations) can be established, though
at this level they result in simultaneous but different quantum states of the
same particle (assertion/erasure, you might say).  There's the famous cat
thought experiment: the cat is either killed or not by a gun triggered by
random nuclear decay: if the cat's hidden under a box at the very moment that
quantum event is hidden from us, its fate is double-valenced - we can only say
it's both alive and dead - until the moment the box lid is lifted, at which
the quantum probabilities are resolved and a single fate - it's alive or dead
- takes their place.
f) The problem is that, whatever the ultimate meaning of Schroedinger's
equations, they can't be accommodated except crudely by the tricksy on/off
mechanisms of Derridean erasure. Such an axial system cannot sufficiently
express the space-time bending of physical process at micro- and macro-
levels, not even via dragging or delay or spacing out along the two axes or by
hiking in the physicist's word, singularity.  The pre-relativistic modelling
of the axes isn't sophisticated enough for any Derridean equivalent via
différance to a Lorentzian re-modelling - Lorentz, you remember, taken up by
Einstein as the first step towards relativising the standard co-ordinate axes
of graphical representations of position in time. 
g) Prynne and Ed Dorn, taking Olson further, were perhaps the first poets to
realise this and earlier Prynne looked at such processes as the biological to
find out how a poet might look at such things.  Take the progress of random
events from which in large enough 'populations' or numbers you can derive
probability functions, and this will give actual results (cf; book of that
period by French Nobellist Jacques Monod).  Out of chance evolutionary
mutations, biologists assemble statistical probabilities in order to form
hypotheses and descriptions. Prynne in 'Of Movement Towards a Natural Place'
(Wound Response) puzzles about this:
                                                         Not will
but chance the plants claim but tremble, "a
detecting mechanism must integrate across that:population", etc.
h) Or take the mind in the action of becoming aware: that too is accompanied
by a miniscule biological process, and is therefore open to quantum level
phenomena.  The Black Hole mathematician, Penrose, has latterly been claiming
that the fact of consciousness, of mind, can't be explained without examining
the quantum level - and he is convinced that there's a new mathematics to be
invented which will resolve the Schroedinger equation and bridge across from
the probability wave, the cat alive and dead, to the single resolution of it
in real life, alive or dead.  To my knowledge, since at least the late 1960s,
Prynne has been convinced that the phenomenon of mind must be related to sub-
quantum phenomena of space-time bending.  (See for example his highly bizarre
plant-time manifold contributions to Ed Dorn and Jenny Dunbar's one-off Bean
News.)  Where Prynne has been scorned as pretentious, Penrose - because he is
a scientist - has written an intellectual best-seller.  
i) Prynne and Penrose show that the two axes of linguistics, and therefore
Derrida, even with his very clever refinements, won't get to a sufficient
subtlety to describe consciousness and its associations with linguistic
dynamics because the quantum level doesn't so easily give up its secrets into
paradox.  (Nor, in fact, will the radicalisation of possibility - linked with
chance - in Deleuze.  Er ... no, I'll duck that one too, thanks.)
j) My own analysis of poetic 'stress' in Poetry and Narrative and Performance,
so far from being pre-deconstructionist, as cris was claiming a week or two
back, is actually  post-deconstructionist. A poetic stress presents the full
Schroedingerian puzzle.  The reason I chose such traditional poetic models was
purely to simplify an already complicated discussion.



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