. . . Basil Bunting

. . .

Mamas, Don't Make Your Babies Executors

It's corporations that have forced the vicious new copyright laws upon us and it's mostly corporations that reap the scattered profits and work the universal havoc. After all, corporations have the rights of an individual, are richer than an individual, but can't be institutionalized for criminal insanity like an individual. But because corporations do define themselves as individuals, the monstrous growth of their "rights" has to some extent trickled down to those individuals who have done individually absolutely nothing to merit control of an absent individual's work: to wit, relatives.

The Astaire widow's vacuum-cleaner-financed defense of posthumous dignity may be the most visible outcome. But, as with corporations, the true cultural danger of these suit-threatening and suit-hiring relatives is loss of the marginal rather than exploitation of the famous. Corporations and corporation-like individuals both prefer the risk of eradication to the risk of losing control.

Thus, word on the rue was that a major delay in bringing Jean Eustache's The Mama and the Whore back into distribution was the heir's hope for a windfall, and that a continued obstacle to bringing Mes Petites Amoreuses to videotape is the same. Since Mes Petites Amoreuses was an international flop as well as my favorite coming-of-age movie, if rue-word is true a windfall is unlikely and the stalemate will continue.

Moving past cinematic rumors to literary documentation, "difficult" poet Louis Zukofsky has gotten still more difficult as incarnated in his son, Paul. Possibly understandably teed off by the tongue-clucking directed towards his father by Lorine Niedecker scholars (after all, Niedecker never complained about her treatment), Zukofsky fils refused to allow the teensiest scrap of père's letters to enter into the otherwise excellent Niedecker and the Correspondence With Zukofsky. But gagging the accused isn't such a hot idea: a writer's best defense is usually their own testimony. Witness how the fuller disclosure of Pound/Zukofsky: Selected Letters of Ezra Pound and Louis Zukofsky easily snuffs the calumny that Zukofsky sucked up to Pound's anti-Semitism.

(Could be worse, I suppose, and it is in the case of Zukofsky's lifelong comrade, Basil Bunting, whose life and letters remain in darkness due to the mortar-and-brick combination of his estate's reticence and England's Official Secrets Act.)

The granddaddy of such repressers has got to be professional grandson Stephen Joyce, who's redirected the kind of smug never-forgive never-forget selfishness that usually gets expended on family feuds towards all scholars everywhere. In A Collideorscape of Joyce, a festschrift for angelic if plain-spoken Joycean Fritz Senn, Stephen Joyce plays the villain again, preventing inclusion of a new German translation of the last chapter of Ulysses and of a study of the manuscripts of the "Nausicaa" chapter, and, most unforgivably, blocking publication of exactly the sort of calumny-snuff referred to above:

"I'll never forget the moment when Lili Ruff produced a copy of the German translation of Ulysses, inscribed to her father by Joyce, with letters stuffed inside.... I was flabbergasted, honoured (never mind that I would later be thwarted by Stephen Joyce from publishing them). Because among those letters... were Joyce's sentiments regarding the treatment of Jews before the outbreak of World War II, and more evidence of his active participation in helping Jews to escape from Nazi Europe." -- Marilyn Reizbaum, "Sennschrift"

. . .

Happy New Year!

A thrush in the syringa sings.

"Hunger ruffles my wings, fear,
lust, familiar things.

Death thrusts hard. My sons
by hawk's beak, by stones,
trusting weak wings
by cat and weasel, die.

Thunder smothers the sky.
From a shaken bush I
list familiar things,
fear, hunger, lust."

O gay thrush!

-- Basil Bunting, 1964

. . .

"dh" (possibly Dan Hartung, possibly Doctor Howard (Doctor Fine Doctor Howard), or Demian Himself, but almost certainly dirk hine) chimes in:

A syringe against my tush brings
fear, disgust, cold metal things

. . .

Daylight Squandering Time, or, Did July When You Said Juluvd Me

"As for God's graces, what can we see except in the dark? Daylight is opaque, like water we've washed our hands in."
-- Basil Bunting to Victoria Forde, 1973

(Possibly related: "I never drink before sunset. After that, the deluge." As quoted by Tony Millionaire.)

The Elater Noctiluccus

. . .

Homage to Basil Bunting


(personally into rumors of a lawsuit being brought against Machiavelli but instead had other people look around) according to Serristori:

What I promised to tell you above is this fine business that you will hear:
I was planning to tell it to you more or less in brief,
but I have changed my mind and shall tell you the entire story,
in order that,
following my example,
you may better confirm how very foolish it is
        to deal with asinine men
        and to talk with them,
        because anyone who is asinine is,
        after all,
an ass in every way and turns everyone who stoops to look at him,
        much less anything else,
        into asses.

Around three months ago,
Piero del Bene and I were talking,
        seated on his bench,
        that is, outside,
        where people sit.
Antonio Segni came walking by there:
we invited him to sit down,
        I moved over,
        he accepted,
we put him in the middle.

So Piero del Bene takes out a coin struck by the new minters,
        for you must know that the Fuggers have the mint
        and no longer Antonio Segni,
and he praises it.

Then, after Antonio has talked to both of us
and we have asked him several things concerning the money profession,
he makes a digression,
        saying that the popes,
        because of either too much saintliness
        or greater concerns,
        do not think of the welfare
        or the hardship
        of the people.
And I said,
"Maybe they do not want to think about their welfare,
but they do think about the opposite,"

and he said that it was not the pope's doing,

and I spoke in the third person, saying,
        are of the
        opposite opinion,"
so he incites me to listen to the reasons by which
I would see that such people were in error.

I answered that I would listen willingly.
He made his argument quite properly,
and I praised him
and gave him my reply.

He answered,
I again replied to his answer.

He re-answers, I reply again,
still speaking in the third person,
        that is,
"They say, &c."

Then he said, smiling,
"The fact is that,
if the reflection of most people is good,
those are not things for lawbooks and judgments."

I replied that lawbooks and judgments are a trade like the others,
and that I was not speaking according to them
but according to what I gathered from men
        who make a calling of such things
        and who know about them,
and that I also had spoken on my part,
and that I did not think that lawbooks took away men's brains.
I said these things, too, with a smile,

and he, also smiling, said,
"As for what I said about talking on my part,
the primary thing is whether you can get yourself to understand it."

On the subject of lawbooks and brains,
I said that I have known a dozen
        judges, lawyers, and attorneys
        who were fools.
I said that I did not think that they were all like that,
        because I had known just as many
        merchants who had become brokers
and yet that had not happened to all merchants.

Then he said,
        but softly,
        "So you see,
brokers know more than your kind do."

        I said,
let us not become enemies over this:
you know a lot about your trade,
        which you make your calling.
Whatever I know about mine
        or I feel I know about it
does not take away from you
        nor does it add.
It suffices
        that what I tell you
        I am not basing on my trade."
He answered me
that he knew more about his trade
        and mine
than I do.

To cut the discussion short and not to seem to be leaving in anger,
I said that I was speaking to him neither with his trade nor with mine
        but with my brains,
and that everyone considers he has brains to spare,
and that I felt that I had been born with as much of them as he had.
So I acted as if I was thinking about something else,
        although I remained seated next to him.

Staying that way for a while and looking toward the bridge,
so that my back was turned toward him,
I felt someone give me a punch in the cheek.
        I turned around,
and saw that it had been Antonio,
because he was still standing,
and he wanted to show me that at least,
since I had gotten together with an asinine man,
I should give his asinine words their due with a slap,
because he would have been satisfied and not want to consider:
        what will people say?
Whereupon I got off the wall to send him to Kingdom Come.

So I reached for a bread knife of mine,
        a fairly big one.
        Seeing that,
he ran into a shop next to Beni's,
        where a beltmaker works,
        and he picked up a marble
to defend himself.

I knocked it out of his hand,
        and finally,
        after he had run around
        into a corner of the shop,
I took him by the chest to kill him,
and just as I unleashed the blow and the blade was already at his coat,
I was grabbed from behind on the arms by someone and pulled back,
and someone else grabbed my knife hand,
so that there was no way that I could make use of that.

        And so,
fearing that Antonio might reach for his weapons,
        which I felt that he had
(and at first he acted as if he wanted to draw it and could not
because of the speed and force I used),
or he might grab some other blade from the shop,
I pulled Antonio along by the chest,
        so that,
        hanging on to him,
        I pressed him against the wall,
and he flung his hands down on the knife out of fear,
and they say he cut himself a little
because the knife was not very sharp.

Then, after we had remained hanging on tight to each other for a while,
seeing that I was held too strongly by those two,
I decided to make an effort to get loose,
so that, between pushing and being pulled,
held so tightly a prisoner as I was,
I got out of the shop with my knife in my hand and he remained there.

And so, out of fear that the court may hold me to more than I would want,
I am not leaving sanctuary
        until certain little matters are cleared up
        and I get back to Florence,
        where I want to stay for a while;
if it were not for this business, I would have arrived two months ago.

I send my regards to you, to Messer Niccolò, to the prior,
        and to our cronies,
        although the term is faulty
because with men of honor words change their significance
or their manner of signifying.

. . .

The Diddly Bow of Ulysses

While following three different strands of research, I've recently tripped over three different frustrated academics grappling with the use of "fugue" (meaning, roughly, some contrapuntal form which we don't fully follow) to describe texts by Joyce, Pound, Zukofsky, &c., none of them noting the most fruitful interpretation: Written language, like a violin but more so, is not a polyphonic instrument, and therefore it can only imply complex harmonies and simultaneous lines through anticipatory or reflective aberrations which the mind weaves across paragraphs and pages, as when weaving the implied melodies of Bach's works for solo strings. The term "fugue" appeals by emphasizing the mental effort without which intended polyphony remains apparent disorder.

(Kenner or Senn or someone must've sounded off about this sometime, but I can't find the reference. Can you?)


I agree, Ray, some academics should learn to play a few fugues before they play around with the term.

A serious issue, and not confined to the campus: for example, I myself can barely fake a power chord and yet listen to me chatter. However, these particular three academics are likely expert fuguers, capable of fuguing round the clock. Their fugues of choice, though, were keyboard works which (as they pointed out) were not closely imitated by the solo vocals of the poet or novelist. I don't dispute that; I merely wanted to counterpoint that word-sorters and bow-scrapers must rely on more skeletal or subliminal or fragmented approaches.

Fugue and counterpoint in Ulysses have of necessity to be in linear form as we are trapped in a narrative - so Joyce uses various methods to build in the semblance of parallel occurrences. But then he moved on: Thelonious Monk used to play two adjacent piano notes to imply the quarter-tone between; could it be that in Finnegan's Wake, Joyce was hoping to spark the mind to run all possible meanings of his portmanteau words simultaneously?

Yes, I agree, although again he couldn't quite sustain the feel of simultaneous voices we tend to search for a "base" meaning to provide the rhythm of the prose, with the other meanings connecting in a more staccato and less linear way, forming (as we remain immersed) sequences of characteristic mists or fogs whose effect may not be so far removed from the free-indirect-discourse with which Joyce began. Cage's "Roaratorio" does a splendid job of conveying this musically, but it couldn't be described as fugal.

Fiction-writer and songwriter Paul Kerschen writes:

Auguste Bailly registered this as a complaint back in 1928:

"The necessity of recording the flow of consciousness by means of words and phrases compels the writer to depict it as a continuous horizontal line, like a line of melody. But even a casual examination of our inner consciousness shows us that this presentation is essentially false. We do not think on one plane, but on many planes at once... At every instant of conscious life we are aware of such simultaneity and multiplicity of thought-streams.

The life of the mind is a symphony. It is a mistake or, at best, an arbitrary method, to dissect the chords and set out their components on a single line, on one plane only. Such a method gives an entirely false idea of the complexity of our mental make-up."

That's quoted in Stuart Gilbert, who made the very sensible response that perhaps giving a verisimilar picture of "the life of the mind" wasn't actually Joyce's first priority... and then everyone forgot that point for fifty years. My own view is that Henry James has sympathies much closer to Bailly's, and that his various experiments with time-loops and periphrasis are an attempt to get at something like Bailly's symphonic mind (though then again, this has nothing to do with polyphony in Bakhtin's reigning sense). This is all done to death in chapters one and four of "The Modernist Novel Speaks Its Mind" (PhD dissertation, UC-Berkeley, 2010), which I think might be up on ProQuest now.

Fiction-writer and composer Carter Scholz writes:

Though I revere them and their works, I have faint respect for Joyce's, Pound's, or Zukofsky's practical knowledge of fugue, or of musical composition in general. All had matchless ears for sonority and rhythm. But what they knew about "fugue" as a practice could be put on a postcard. It got waved around as an impressive magic word; hence the confusion and frustration.

You can legitimately try to get something remotely like that effect in prose or poetry, but it looks as much like antiphony as "fugue" or "counterpoint". It's like trying to dance architecture; only annoys the pigeons. Maybe I'm one.

It seems to me that the Bach solo string works imply harmony rather than melody, but that's a more interesting discussion. Do the voices dictate or follow? Cage's Roaratorio doesn't care -- it's heterophony.

Update: I picked it up from Basil Bunting! (Not a bad T-shirt slogan, that.) Bunting mentioned the analogy in interviews, letters, and lectures; viz., from Basil Bunting on Poetry, lecture 12:

Pound, however, and Zukofsky after him, was fascinated by the close texture of the fugue and by its somewhat spurious air of logicality. They wanted to know whether the design of the fugue could be transferred to poetry. A short but incomplete answer is that it can't. A fugue is essentially contrapuntal, several voices imitating each other, yet free of each other, all talking simultaneously, whereas poetry is written for one voice at a time or, at most, for voices in unison. But Bach had set an example. He wrote at least two fugues for unaccompanied violin. Of course they are not really fugues. No amount of double stopping can get three or more voices to sing simultaneously on the violin. The entries in Bach's unaccompanied violin fugues wait till the last entiry is done or nearly done before they start. Yet he manages to convey a rather teasing sensation of a fugue, never really satisfied. Similar sequences of notes are thrown up time and again, but they never mesh together as those of a true fugue do. Zukofsky wrote a fugue of this sort for unaccompanied voice. It's Part 7 of his long poem "A". It is not a fugue, but it does suggest one, suggests it very strongly.

Jeet Heer adds:

You might want to listen to the Bob Perelman lecture here -- he stars with a critique of the modernist poetics that draws facile parallels between poetry and music.


Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.