CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
Deceiving the Great Ear of Poetry:
Notes toward a Formal Lecture on Hound Dog Poetics
“At some time before words, these words upon which any hungry brain will feed its circuits, avid for swelling excitements, there were all the sounds that the mouth, the lips, the tongue, the glottis, the tooth delited in, which were later hidden in all the alphabets.”
—Robert Duncan, “Poetry Before Language”
“for thirty years mere mist mere haze
mist haze sixty years eat Buddha shit die”
—Ikkyu, Crazy Cloud
“Poetry is foreign to us, we do not let it enter our daily lives.”
—Muriel Rukeyser, The Life of Poetry
“You mean, can we take credit for our poems? Well, is a radio set a creator of the radio program?”
—Jack Spicer, Vancouver Lecture 1: Dictation and “A Textbook of Poetry”
“Shoju sat all night in the graveyard
among wolves who sniffed his Adam’s apple.
First light moving in the air
he arose, peed, and ate breakfast.”
—Jim Harrison, from After Ikkyu
“Vallejo knew that with every automatic word and gesture man contributes to his own damnation and imprisonment. His great achievement as a poet is to have interrupted that easy-flowing current of words which is both a solace and the mark of our despair, to have made each poem an act of consciousness which involves the recognition of difficulty and pain.”
—Jean Franco, César Vallejo: The Dialectics of Poetry and Silence
“Never use the word soul in a poem.”
—Common Poetry Advice
“Never use the color blue in a poem.”
—Common Poetry Advice
“don’t worry about it dear dear friend I love you
fool sinner condemned saved like me”
—Ikkyu, Crazy Cloud
“I was born January 7, 1919, in the hour before dawn, in the depth of winter at the end of the war … Sleeping and waking fuse, things seen in an inner light mingle with things searched out by eyes that are still dim. Day ‘breaks,’ we say, and the light floods out over the land. The shining planets and the great stars, the galaxies beyond us, grow invisible in light of our sun … In the very beginnings of life, in the source of our cadences, with the first pulse of the blood in the egg then, the changes of night and day must have been there.”
—Robert Duncan, “Towards an Open Universe”
“I never acknowledge myself to be either man or woman.”
—Paramahansa Yogananda, Man’s Eternal Quest
“majesty for whoever falls from the clay to the universe”
—César Vallejo, “Let the Millionaire Go Naked”
“: Speak to me. Take my hand. What are you now?”
—Muriel Rukeyser, “Effort at Speech between Two People”
“[As a poet I] hold the most archaic values on earth … the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth, the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe.”
—Gary Snyder, The Real Work: Interviews & Talks 1964–1979
“Sex is an ache of mouth … / And love is emptiness of ear.”
—Jack Spicer, “We find the body difficult to speak …”
“the ordinary of his commonplace”
—Wallace Stevens, “Prologues to What Is Possible”
a place through which I
can wake myself towards you”
From Echolalia to Eudemonia: Georges Bataille’s Dictionary of E
The following entries were found among the papers of Georges Bataille at the time of his death in July 1962, tucked into an unfinished prototype of a heretofore unreleased issue of his magazine, Documents. Like his Dictionary of C, these entries appear to be the beginnings of a dictionary, but one covering the letter “E” on which Bataille was at work, apparently at the time of his death. However, we cannot say, with any certainty, whether this is the case. For one thing, he had not published Documents for some years prior to his passing, so why he would have placed these entries in an unfinished issue remains unclear. In addition—and somewhat mysteriously—not all of the entries focus solely on the letter “E.” Furthermore, Bataille’s authorship is difficult to determine, at least with any certainty. For one thing, the following entries were all written in English, unlike the Dictionary of C, and it is well known that Bataille never favored (to put it mildly) English, writing primarily in French, at least for any public purpose. It was also believed by some of those few of his remaining contemporaries at the time of his death that Bataille’s thinking had moved well past some of the below “definitions.” How and in what way remains unclear. In any event, we cannot be certain that Bataille actually composed the following entries, but we present them with that caveat, believing the material still pertinent to those interested in the origins of Documents and the subversive role it played as a kind of “counter” Surrealism to André Breton and his group. Finally—on a metadiscursive level—the placing of these “documents” (i.e., this unfinished beginning of a seemingly unending Dictionary of E) within an unfinished issue of Documents magazine might be read as a layering of fragmentation and Bataille’s valuing of a “lack of closure.” That is, this act might shed light on the ongoing, “never complete” exploration of the unconscious that Bataille championed.
***echolalia: n. involuntary repetition of words, sometimes phrases, immediately following those spoken by others. In some cultures, echolalia is considered a “divine gift,” given to the echolaliac to confer spiritual achievement of absorption in the divinity. West African echolaliacs are often buried in the ground, waist deep, after the third or fourth instance of word or phrase repetition. The bites of fire ants, “repeated” upon the immobilized body, are said to replicate the “biting” nuisance of echolalia. Sumatran echolaliacs are often imprisoned, placed in solitary confinement in cells with five walls, the odd number present, it is believed, to absorb the repeated phrases and have no “pair partner” wall to “echo” back to. North Vietnam is one of the few locales where echolalia is seen as a virtue beyond the realm of spiritual pursuit. In a practical sense, placing echolaliacs in the dark underground tunnels during decades of war with the French helped facilitate communication between, and grant a sense of locale to, nonecholaliacs through the constant chatter of the echolaliacs—not unlike the effect of sonar in certain species of dolphins who can find their pods in the darkest waters merely through repeated sound. Echolalia has no known verb form, and it is believed by some not to have one in order not to encourage the action. Its roots can be traced to Phoenician sailors who would repeat certain nautical phrases immediately after the commanding officer delivered them. Its usage has grown in recent years, in part due to recent investigations into the left side of the body’s right side (and vice versa), as well as the body’s response to healing (through sound rituals) when certain words or phrases are repeated in sequence, as one might repeat a prayer or mantra, or in a secular sense, the letters of the alphabet, the days of the week, or months of the year.
ectoplasm: n. the alleged emanation from a spiritualistic medium. In addition to the biological meaning (see “cytoplasm” in the forthcoming Dictionary of C),1 ectoplasm is any kind of cellular, almost spiritual, emanation. People are said to exude spiritual ectoplasm in thought and deed. Named after Gustave Ectoplasm (Germany, 1695–1736), who first identified the term beyond its purely biological meaning, the term “ectoplasm” lay long dormant in the German vocabulary. Early settlers (of German extraction) in Kentucky first used the term in America when they planned their journeys west of Louisville and ultimately west of St. Louis. They were said to “send out ectoplasm” into the new country in which they imagined their lives to be (literally their “seeds to be planted”). Thus, Abraham Lincoln, a resident of Kentucky, was a great proponent of the power of ectoplasm. It is said that once he believed he could be president of the United States, he was almost assured by virtue of sending out ectoplasm into the ether “to become that which of the people, the people needeth most” (see Lincoln: A Life Well Deathed, 879). Ectoplasm can emanate from any cell, whether human or not; thus, stones and plants are believed to also exude ectoplasm. More than mere thought, ectoplasm is a spiritual power. The wandering bands of Ishmaelites in central Indiana in the 1800s—perhaps having traveled at one time as far south as Kentucky—made a spiritual practice of the virtues of ectoplasm. One obscure account suggests that when a splinter group of Ishmaelites began to soundly believe the end of their tribe was at hand, all kinds of plights began to visit this group as well as the larger tribe—from forced-sterilization laws to persecution over their lifestyle of itinerant labor—due to the ectoplasmic fear the splinter group exuded (see Scott, Once an Ishmaelite Always an Ishmaelite, 59). Ectoplasm regained popularity among the American counterculture of the 1960s2 as a term to describe the largeness of being one feels through kinship with that which he or she is, in essence, not, but later returned to its meaning of a spiritual emanation from thought or deed, widely used among Western practitioners of Eastern spiritual disciplines. Curiously, the only other culture to use the term profusely (and to investigate its spiritual rather than biological meaning) is the Inuit of northern Canada and the Arctic Circle. Said to have been brought north by a Baptist missionary from Kentucky, the term “ectoplasm” soon entered the Inuit vocabulary both in its original meaning and as one of many meanings for the word “snow.” Ectoplasm, in its Inuit meaning as snow, refers to the ice crystals found in the walrus’s mouth after the kill, and after all the blood has drained from the head. The Inuit believe that the crystals can be read to foretell the future of the hunt and—inexplicably—the possibility of men and women finding true love. How ectoplasm acquired these meanings is obscure and perhaps lost to antiquity.
ephah, also epha: n. unit of dry measure equal to slightly more than a bushel, though slightly less than a cup, used by the ancient Babylonians, Hebrews, and Persians. While this measurement equation seemingly makes no logical sense, it is believed that some ancient Babylonians of the cult of grain worship, the Ephahesians, journeyed through Asia Minor into the Far East where they encountered the teachings of Buddhism. Not unlike a koan, ephah may have arisen, according to at least one account, in order to confuse buyers and sellers in ways that might make commerce less hierarchical and more reciprocal, mitigating and transforming the relationship status of buyers and sellers. Furthermore, the open breath of the word’s ending “pushes beyond the tongue” into the “vibratory space of the other” (Book of Ephahesia, book 7, line 17). Long out of use, ephah appears to have made a necessary—albeit temporary—contribution to a more equitable distribution of foodstuffs, and trade in general, during the reign of Prince Afahsha of Babylonia (144–159 CE) but with the rise of capitalism has nearly disappeared from common use.
epact: n. excess of time of the solar year over the lunar year by eleven days. Some tribes in the Congo, Oubangi-Shari, and Senegal3 believe the inverse exists, namely, that the lunar calendar exceeds the solar, and adjust their growing and hunting seasons accordingly. Although there is no scientific explanation for this, menstrual cycles of women in these regions mysteriously correspond to this belief and vary considerably from Oubangi-Shari to, say, Kenya, where the Kenyans (as do most Westerners) hold the epact to exact a longer solar than lunar year. Today, it is said that some African doctors actually “prescribe” geographical migration “medicinally” for women who exhibit irregular menstrual cycles (i.e. they encourage such women to migrate, temporarily, to a region of different epact). However, no documented cases of a “cure” exist, at least in a scientific sense. The griots of this region sing songs of animals with magical powers who rely upon the differing zones of epact to outsmart hunters and remain “in continuous moonlight” by moving in and out of the liminal space of “neither solar nor lunar time,” but such stories appear to belong to the realm of folklore and legend, with no evidence of this animal prowess.
homologize: v. to classify or configure into distinct types through algebraic structure or geometric familial configurations. The flying monkeys of Borneo are considered the first mathematically sound example of flawless homology. The causes of gastric disturbance are related to improper homologizing of food enzymes when one is traveling in any jungle or primitive area. The phrase, to “homologize your children,” developed among the wealthy in Australia in the 1940s to mean both “to scream at your children like a monkey” and “to correct by means of classifying and prioritizing the misdeeds of youth.” The phrase lost favor among the liberal movements of the 1960s and today has largely dropped out of use in both its formal and informal sense. [Editors’ note: For some reason, Bataille included this word in his Dictionary of E. We are uncertain why.]
epaulet, also epaulette: n. a shoulder ornament, especially one of two fringed straps on military dress uniforms. The epaulet is said to have originated in France during the time of Louis XVI. Common among men of higher rank, it became a symbol of masculinity. Histories of perversion record both men and women using epaulets in sexual encounters, eroticizing them by wearing only the strap on bare shoulders, held in place by a choker. Court jokes of the period exist as further testament to this erotic dimension. One joke, for instance, asks, “Did you kiss her rank?” Another says, “Was she wearing straps or just fringe?” (Here, a nearly untranslatable pun is embedded in the word “fringe” to suggest the deviant or “fringe” quality of the sexual partner’s preferences. That the joke is normally delivered at the expense of women, as purveyors of deviant [rather than the then-common notion of virtuous] behavior, is testimony to males’ discomfort with women’s exertion of power in the sexual encounter and perhaps suggests the male need to flaunt epaulets on their uniforms in public and during special social gatherings.) One radical example of epaulets and their relation to power comes from the training and dress manual of the Garde Royale des Épaulettes, which goes so far as to suggest that becoming a guard and wearing epaulets “will make Mademoiselle drop to her knees directly before you in astonishment.” While it is theoretically possible that this refers to the act of fainting in awe at the power of the man’s position, it is likely (given the context of court humor and the epaulet’s relation to the world of court politics) that it refers to awe over his prowess and to a common position of oral stimulation. Epaulets, while still suggesting military (and normally male) prestige, are today also evident on informal garments among the masses, affixed to shirt or blouse shoulders with buttons. One rather unsubstantiated theory of the epaulet suggests that the introduction of shoulder buttons will make the epaulets “permanently locked” in the viewer’s mind, the power of the wearer fixed, stable, and unshakable in the consciousness of the viewer. Epaulets are equally common on garments of both women and men, but the psychology of their status on the garments of certain circus animals remains largely unexplored.
levigate: tr.v. 1. To make into a smooth, fine powder, as by grinding when moist. 2. To suspend in a liquid. 3. To make smooth; to polish. Levigate derives from the term “levigator,” the clerk of mid-1800s Greece who was called upon to settle disputes. He would place a coin in a container of water (often a recycled coffee can) and rub the coin against a small stone, thus “levigating” the two objects, or making them smooth by virtue of “contact with the other.” Those in dispute were gagged, with hands bound, and forced to watch how smooth both objects became through friction and direct contact with “the other.” After fifteen to twenty minutes with the levigator, those in dispute were forced to listen to the village priest, who would attempt to get them to see that it was the power of the dispute that made them “both shine like silver in water.” Thus, dispute became a means toward deeper connection. Some theorists trace this connection to Aristotelian dialectics. In the early 1900s, levigate acquired a new meaning, by virtue of its sound connection (in English, due to British rule in Greece) to the word “levitate.” To dispute with another was a means of “rising above” the masses and of one’s own base nature. To this day, levigators are revered throughout the small villages of Greece as those who can “read the stones” and through that power “wipe the insides of the people smooth.” [See note at the end of homologize.]
eudemonia, also eu-dae-mo-ni-a: n. happiness, well-being, as described in Aristotelian philosophy. Happiness as a result of an active, rational life. Happiness as a result, in an archaic sense, of breathing with the mouth open (from eu- “of wide openings” + daimon, “spirit”). Some etymologists believe that eudemonia predates Aristotle, witnessed by cave drawings in the mountainous region at the north border of Greece, where well-being had at one time been associated with killing members of rival clans, an action not derived from rational thought. When Alexander the Great vastly expanded his territory into India, eudemonia acquired yet another meaning, one associated closely with his death from pneumonia (eude-“monia”). To seek happiness elsewhere, it is said, causes well-being to “well up” in one’s chest, and without sufficient release leads to discomfort and later infection. The University of Thessaloniki, founded by Anastasios Eudemoniapolous (1864–1936), famed chemist, mathematician, and humanitarian, houses correspondence relevant to a further analysis of eudemonia. Eudemoniapolous encountered the Russian Futurist Velimer Khlebnikov (1885–1922) on one of Khlebnikov’s many wanderings, and became a convert to Khlebnikov’s idea that the world could mathematically be described and understood, with the future accurately predicted through certain formulae. Both men contracted syphilis during their wanderings, Khlebnikov dying from it, and Eudemoniapolous’s condition going undescribed (and undisclosed) until his death from kidney disease at the age of seventy-two. In Greece, eudemonia thus contains a secondary, opposite meaning. To “eudemonize” is to have contracted “well-being” not through the rational mind but through carnal satisfaction. A near homophone to “sodomize,” eudemonize (in an archaic, sexual sense) may suggest consensual oral stimulation, as if “what we speak enters the other through that which does not speak” (see Eudemoniapolous and Khlebnikov, Correspondences 73). Aristotle is said to have practiced eudemonia in its purest sense—to move “above” base, sensual cravings into the pure well-being of the mind. Pleasure, thus, is considered pleasurable only as perceived through the highest rationality of the mind. Today, Greeks often refer to eudemonia in the past tense, as a holdover from the Fascist rule of the military junta of “the Colonels” of the 1960s4 in which happiness and well-being were regarded as merely remnants of a glorious, seemingly irrecoverable past.
1. To the best of our knowledge, this volume was not only never scheduled for publication but also never written. Eds.
2. We find this a curious phrase, given Bataille’s death in 1962. This sentence, at least, suggests the possibility of multiple authorships of this text, perhaps completed by a younger member of Bataille’s circle shortly after the author’s passing.
3. Bataille’s interest in indigenous cultures of Africa and Asia, and his criticism of French colonization of that territory, seem to emerge not only here, but also in his earlier entry “echolalia,” in which Vietnam becomes a concern and a site of linguistic investigation. See Bataille and the Death of My Overseas Bleed, Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes (Éditions de Seuil, 1971).
4. See footnote 9.
George Kalamaras, Poet Laureate of Indiana, is the author of fourteen books of poetry, seven of which are full-length, including Kingdom of Throat-Stuck Luck, winner of the 2011 Elixir Press Poetry Prize. His video series, “A Gray Barn Rising,” in which he reads and comments on the work of various poets, can be found at his laureate web site, The Wabash Watershed. He is a professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he has taught since 1990.