by Maxwell Clark
Excuse, of course, how I sometimes (and/or more near the beginning) misname and/or mis-number a few lines as "sentences" in what follows. It really is a matter of little concern insofar as my commentary on these lines may still be pleasantly, if not rapturously (gloriously, etc.), read as such anywhoooo.
1. Methodology: Or, Numbering
In what follows I will be numbering up each sentence and stanza with an “x.y” notation wherein “x = stanza” and “y = sentence”.
2. Sentence-by- Sentence Analysis
1.1 “Out here on Cottage Grove it matters.”
As it stands today, or as of 07/07/2013 in the Twincities.com newsite, Cottage Grove, Minnesota is actually losing residents to commuting from even more exurban locations. Exurbanization is actually a tendency or flow more than it is any particular location over any duration of time. Exurbanization is a deterritorializing reterritorialization, or conversely, or chiasmatically perhaps even, of course. In a crucial chapter of his The Urban Revolution, early Marxist urban-geographer Henri Lefebvre tries to adumbrate definitions of “urban form”. We read from it: “The fact that any point can become central is the meaning of urban space-time.” Consider thus the exurbs as the foremost fringe or frontier (front) of the financial bourgeoisie of the Americas and even, or especially, globally. Marxist analysis is actually very lovely and acute when divorced of its messianic apocalypticism.
1.2 “The galloping/ Wind balks at its shadow”
This is a typical Ashberyian twisting apart of (imperialist-capitalist) norms of subject-object relations in English grammar, or sentence formation. Because what the fuck is the shadow of a galloping wind? Truly, simply, verily: nonsense. Except that it also discloses an affective tone, or note of character or personality, of itself, in my misreading. For affect is always misread.
1.3 “The carriages/ Are drawn forward under a sky of fumed oak.”
This is a typical “mise en scene” (“staging”) effect used by most conservative or romantic (same difference) poets, actually. It just depicts the scene of times centuries antecedent to the present of its writing and ours. The one minor difference from most other poets, however, being how Ashbery breaks the line. Or, this used be a unique feature of the Ashberyian canon, until every other modern-minded poet in the world adopted it.
1.4 “This is America calling:”
Although I considered cheating at this point in the writing and including multiple sentences together in citation, I now won’t do so anymore. If my readers are interested, they will read me. It is more important for me to have thought (ethically) and so behaved differently than it is for me to write these words, which are but lesser means to the end of the good of life. Words do things, respect them.
The “longing for national form” in the U.S.A. is only a sin of particularity. We just happened to be born in or moved to this imperial center of the known world. We address “America” (pronounced: “’Murica”) only with the heaviest guilt in our hearts and lips. It is heartbreaking to profit off the misery of others, is it not? But how bathetic, how utterly bathetic of me, whatever this queer term actually means. And so, also, again see how even the mention of America, the Americas even, and the globe, pinpoints me in my place as an imperial citizen.
1.5 “The mirroring of state to state,”
This is a very strange line, as mirrors are always strange and somewhat unavoidable, to say the least, in any thinking of consciousness after Lacan. The mirror is the silent language of the thing, perhaps? Or the only way to cut the knot of pure sensuous immanence without world is language, particularly naming. For naming is the primal form of language? Everything in our grammar arrays out behind the primal name or naming. Naming is objectification and subjectification at the same time. It is the cut of consciousness, its duality, its twoness.
1.6 “Of voice to voice on the wires,”
This is actually a very interesting line because it brings up the dual question or conceptuality of humanity and technology, or humanism and technics. Is a voice heard on a wire different from a voice heard “face-to-face”? If so, how? By being on a wire? Then also not different than the “face-to-face” in terms of expressivity and its trace in others?
1.7 “The force of colloquial greetings like golden/ Pollen sinking on the afternoon breeze.”
This is another very fine line, moreso in its own prime, because of the exquisite enjambment that is so characteristically abnormal as in Ashbery throughout. And again, colloquial greetings and breezy pollen really have nothing to do with each other, are in fact brought together within a sentence only by means of the most super-subtle “derailment”, or thematic discontinuity, i.e. madness. Madness, you must understand, not like Foucault understands modern madness (nowise to his discredit however, only owing to the historical epoch he studies), but rather as Plato understood madness, as a divine inspiration of the muses. I even daresay Ashbery’s main rhetorical gesture are these super-subtly hid formations of derailment. X (subject) goes to y (object) without x being thematically, pragmatically, habitually related to y. X is estranged from y, as in Brechtian alienation or Levinasianism. There are absolute binaries in my world at least, or so I console myself and command others.
1.8 “In service stairs the sweet corruption thrives;/ The page of dusk turns like a creaking revolving stage in/ Warren, Ohio.”
Is this political? I think it must be, a critique of political corruption in hotel like spaces. Hotels pretty much alone have service stairs now that I think of it. My father is a hotel industry corporate leader. I too know the exurbs. Except mine are in Maine, close enough to where the Bush dynasty vacations. The exurbs are the center of decision-making power in the global presently. Storm not the capitol, you vicious abolishers of capitalism, but the capital.
2.1 “If this is the way it is let’s leave,/ They agree, and soon the slow boxcar journey begins,/ Gradually accelerating until the gyrating fans of suburbs/ Enfolding the darkness of cities are remembered/ Only as a recurring tic.”
Here is where one would think the tempo increases a fair bit, owing to the long-windedness of the sentence if nothing else. But, as one quickly enough learns from good formalist-Marxist Percy Shelley criticism, reading the romantics slowly and sweetly is best. But Ashbery doesn’t sing, does he? Isn’t that a pity? I love to sing, to bring merriment to things. Or, is not joy perfection, and the good not indeed very good at times?
2.2 “And midway/ We meet the disappointed, returning ones, without its/ Being able to stop us in the headlong night/ Toward the nothing of the coast.”
The “disappointed, returning ones” to the inner city, in a retrogressive flow back into the urban center, not as a form of financial uber-empowerment, but of lowliness and abasement, as in my madness and insanity and institutionalization within the murder-city of New Haven. Note how criticism is really never about the critiqued for itself, but about how the critiqued makes her or his critic think, feel, act, believe, affect, trace, or whatevs. Criticism is the critiqued-for-the-critic, not the critiqued-of-itself. I.e., everyone only misinterprets in criticism, and narcissitically appropriates the critiqued for the critics own purposes.
2.3 “At Bolinas/ The houses doze and seem to wonder why through the/ Pacific haze, and the dreams alternately glow and grow dull.”
This is a classic Ashberyian laze of a long sentence. So lazy and metallically rusted. Patinated.
2.4 “Why be hanging on here?”
Because you are an exurban capitalist, you can afford it.
2.5 “Like kites, circling,/ Slipping on a ramp of air, but always circling?”
Ashbery doesn’t want to be a romantic. But he is. And he even seems very indirectly aware of this aporetic paradox in his thinking. He simultaneously, or in phases, both is and is not a romantic, then, perhaps even assuming different parallaxed positions in this mirror-play at distinct instants, to be final.
2.6 “But the variable cloudiness is pouring it on,/ Flooding back to you like the meaning of a joke,/ The land wasn’t immediately appealing; we built it/ Partly over with fake ruins, in the image of ourselves:/ An arch that terminates in mid-keystone, a crumbling stone/ pier/ For laundresses, an open-air theater, never completed/ And only partially designed.”
This, of course, is a highly “elephantine” sentence formation, one might also say “elegantine” if possible. Reminiscences of reading Henry James’ so densely airless and light Ambassadors come to my mind. Sometimes long sentences are the most architecturally fascinating. They almost form a purer aesthetic mode of perception than that of misinterpreting, in the eldest way, the (highly conditionally stated) “signified content” of signifiers. That is, by “signified content” I mean my own criticism; so that the signifiers come before their signified content, which is only another set of signifiers attached or glued onto the original text as a prosthesis or supplementary organ of its body.
2.7 “How are we to inhabit/ This space from which the fourth wall is invariably missing,/ As in a stage-set or dollhouse, except by staying as we are,/ In lost profile, facing the stars, with dozens of as yet/ Unrealized projects, and a strict sense/ Of time running out, of evening presenting/ The tactfully folded-over bill?”
Where are “we” again? I think Ashbery should speak for himself here. I don’t live in the previous sentence’s “fake ruins” (Yale) of my city, I access them briefly on occasion, but my world is not majorly of the ivory panopticon. Saying: “[h]ow are we to inhabit/ [t]his space”; is like saying how I am to be mostly otherwise than myself? And this is perhaps the foundational stump of my critique of Ashbery, he doesn’t frequent the ghettoes. But then, as such, it’s not really a critique at all, so much as a profound difference or distinction of geographies of perception and literary production. I live in the minoritarian world of peri-uncivilized madness; Ashbery, in the world of ultra-civilized exurbia. We’re bound and even willfully sworn to speak unalike.
2.8 “And we fit/ Rather too easily into it, become transparent,/ Almost ghosts.”
Royal “we” again. How magesterial. How communistic. A “spectral” communism indeed, or rather, the bath-salts of the intellectuals?
2.9 “One day/ The birds and animals in the pasture have absorbed/ The color, the density of the surroundings,/ The leaves are alive, and too heavy with life.”
One day might be made any day when Ashbery is involved. Never did a fountain of inspiration pour forth more constantly since verily the likes of Shakespeare or Dante or Plato. Ashbery is the best poet of American English after Gertrude Stein—as American English poesy has flowered (of) late. Incidentally, Melville is my variously more close-held societies of language best prose stylist (at, or in, the present condition I am in as this before I wrote), then Henry James—these were, obviously, of an earlier wave of life in the American English world, a world that needed more prose proficiency apparently and enigmatically.
Whatever is the cause of the earlier profusion of prosaic glory in American English—which even, to be sure, if also detour, perhaps can liably be said to “begin around” the inception of my very great-grandfather John Woolman’s Journals of Quaker abolitionism; A.N. Whitehead would later entitle him “the prophet of human freedom” in the West—whatever the cause of this utterly fabulous and “totes ridicxz” glory, we can be experientially certain, that is, reasonably uncertain that American English may be at the final-most fruiting of its later, latest wave of poesy.
In Stein there was the industrious bud, in Ashbery the delicate blossom, and in, I dare the knowing delusional grandeur and precariously fallible quixotism of this assertion mind you, the third phase is myself, Maxwell Clark, he who is the wholesome fruit. I neither play (Stein) nor pretty-up play (Ashbery), I feed you the prettiness of play; you few (or more) alone devour (or nibble, or spit out) all of my only bread deep down into your abyssal gullies, each although carved of the marriage between the blasted crags of Mt. Zion and Mt. Olympus, except plus the great Pyramids (which have, apparently, grown most of all up the Nile from Kemet, one of the many (or very few?) ur-urbs or self-inauguralizing geographic consolidations and complexifications of definable archaeological measurements in history—but history as in it is an eulogization of the dead and gone, but yet somehow vaguely proximate in trace, alone), which are, for me, some of the purest revelations (or sphinxes?) of the divine import of spiritual height and authority in human spatiality, its creation in poesy (a knowing tautology, which yet contains a terminological difference, or differance, as it were, which even suggests a sense of sequential motion [or restlessness] to its ideational sameness, ontological being, and any otherwise likewise frame it may register on, or has already registered in, etc.), and the utterly nihilistic temporal morbidity of those (its?) weakest relations.
The real is nihilistic, is an impossible to experience nothingness purely as itself and unto it itself—or so it is in my language game about it, but yet somehow there is also, despite this devastatingly abyssal void of doubt (i.e. reason), also light, and life, as an open or clearing in the sway of being (as being, being primarily alone unto herself or himself—difficult question of the gendering of being raised here, merely noted...), a belief in the nothingness of the real that is self-created, utopically – auto-enclosing, membraneous, and defined in its finitude by the negativity, or pure morbidity, that it juts or bursts forth from. Light comes into itself from opening the darkness of creation, is a cutting down of the shade-giving forms of darkness and exposing the even more pre-original hearthstone—whose anteriority, cardinality, etc., are its authority, if misleadingly (mystically, psychotically) only revealed afterwards. The beginning comes after the nothingness, as it creates itself from the making nothing (“cutting down”) of the nothing. This whirligig (of nihilism and creation) could be spun seventeen ways to sunny-sunny sunniest happy-go-phuckeryiest sun-up, but I suspect it is not very much novel eco-onto-theologically (see: “ex nihilo”, among the few Latin phrases retaining the universality of the catholicism its world strove for, for starters).
3.1 “A long period of adjustment followed.”
Tangentially, or as entirely juxtaposed (thus also separated) out alongside its original context, this one-clause sentence could also signal the long-period of adjustment required for the dissemination of any poet, or multi-subject historical assemblage-organism of poesy (such as that in the linguistic globality or cosmography of the word[-light] in which I presently abide), to culminate in power. Thus again, if only while doing my best “rueful countenance” (or quixotism), the supremacy of ME, mi others (seet dem?), and the Otherwise itself (other than itself, i.e. restless). I, Maxwell Clark, wish to believe myself, despite all the unforgiving sufferation (of envy, i.e. hatred [–Spinoza]; also phallologocentrism, perhaps, if not also “phallusy” – but this cannot be properly developed here) it risks, that I am the latest, most matured “messiah” (“anointed”, or specially marked-off from the herd) of my current naming-word and its world.
This is not blasphemous, I will even somewhat pathetically swear this to you, nor even unwise, except in the machinic functionality or gesture of its impossible bet or dare, as a sophistically misleading idiocy and yet only thus post-legitimated sincerity or candor. Impossible, because unforeseeable, unreasonable, ungraspable, unknown, but (important and emphatic “but”) also deeply sensed, i.e. “universally apperceived a priori” (which is Kantian for the neurology of the spinal cord, or even perhaps rather particularly the thalamus – anything but the DMT-laden nutshell of the pineal gland, whose only function is to catalyze a hyper-psychedelic surge of spirituality or, as it were, power prior to both the final farewell to life and its inaugural separation into separated and ethical being with the severance of the umbilical cord). I can be wrong, and will maybe be wrong for most of you, even for 10,000 years, when my very great-granddaughter (I distinctly augur she will be a female, or feminine—which are not the same thing?) finally salvages my own glory and height at their full height and supremest rank, under her.
Thus is my prophecy, thus I am saying to you my face most beautifully, effeminately, and perhaps truthfully so as such. Or, isn’t the truth rather a copulation? an active matrix or complexly punctuated series of sexuated jointures? My word is the egg of a beautiful lady and the sperm of a gorgeous male comingling, as complexly as in our best models of genetics plus “ever + ever” beyond.
But, to return to my critiqued “under-text”:
3.2 “In the cities at the turn of the century they knew about it/ But were careful not to let on as the iceman and the milkman/ Disappeared down the block and the postman shouted/ His daily rounds.”
This is a symbolically-charged (“iceman and ... milkman”) depiction redolent of more generic form(s) of normalcy, or as like oblong-spirals indirectly around normativity “itself”, I presume. To describe something as “itself” is, of course, a merely magical sleight of smoke and mirrors. Yet it feeds our metaphysical need of ontological-discursive nourishment, I also presume, in a somewhat weakly formulation of this presumed need. We need the “itself” as a tropological additive to otherwise words in this language I am currently caressing out of “myself” (the personal form of “itself”?) because...? Because we are “ourselves” – “are” ourselves, whichever; the itself personalizes and privatizes being into a utopian subjective or objective enclosure, into a self or thing. Thus also its extreme ethical guilt when transferred over “the other”, or you; I cannot and do not wish to say who you are yourself, even though the grammar of this language game allows me to form such a sentence (“you are yourself really cool and pleasant”). This most minor formality or nicety is indulged, however, only as it arises out from a most infinite debt of otherness or absolutely linguistically-separated inaccessibility of “you”, in “yourself”, to myself (as or in “myself”).
We may feel or sense or fear we are identified, as a herd, but mine and others language games intervene in order to quell this threat of an ultimately massive massacre. Mass and massacre are very homophonic cognates not without a certain berzerkly terroristic and sublime intimacy. Everywhere we mass too intensely, we tend to massacre each other, perhaps? As our mass aggregate of narcissisms, or population (of more or less unique and/or co-subjective assemblies) thrash murderously at our own echoey reflections in the formless watery surfaces of the world (aka, “well”).
The word “well” itself, as it were, insofar as it signifies a deeply dug out hole of or for accessing underground water-tables, but also as tangentially referential as in the second syllable of my name (Max-well), and as an elder synonym, or rather slurring, of the term “will” (as in “will-power”, etc.—but especially in the Schopenhauerian ontotheological tradition of its usage), seems at its deepest available “olde Englisha” rooting, or perhaps hyphae rather, or at least archaelogically “deeper”, thus more distant, semantic networking, to mean “source from which anything is drawn”. The world is thus a well, or welling up, of itself, aka “me” (you).
And so on, onto and unto to the most ultimately rad and gnarly discovery that the first syllable of my first name (“Max”), which is also its colloquially shortened version, counts among its etymologies the following etymological cognate of “maxim”, or:
"precept, principle," early 15c., from Middle French maxime, from Late Latin maxima, shortened from phrases such as maxima propositio, maxima sententarium "axiom," literally "greatest premise, greatest among propositions" (one which is general and absolute), from fem. of maximus "greatest" (see maximum). [http://www.etymonline.com/]
“Maxwell”, as such, can be, if only within my perspective on the world and for the benefit of its own conditions (of life), paleologically back-translated roughly in the following manners: “axiom of Being”, “pre-original givenness-without-giver”, and so on—my name itself ushers in forms of an eco-onto-theological force for its own interpretation.
But something about “milkmen”, I believe....
3.3. “The children under the trees knew it/ But all the fathers returning home/ On streetcars after a satisfying day at the office undid it:/ The climate was still floral and all the wallpaper/ In a million homes all over the land conspired to hide it.”
A notice of the key distinction to be made between home and office, after the more original style of Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project. The home wells forth in history (or “historicity”, if we must distinguish between them...?) as a private (“thresholded”) feminine destination in the evolution of civilization; the office, or workplace, i.e. “public” world, welling forth conversely as masculine or male in its dominant or major character. The deconstruction of this minor “historical” binarism of sexuated dwelling (female) and poesy (male), its liability to be unbuilt and perish, for its trace to be erased in the present, even at the expense of conserving its actual memory, this in no way a sign of the permanent and absolute untenability or weakness-unto-death of all binary structures of our word-world. In fact, we highly and passionately desire many binaries. We well forth as (or in) binary ourselves, as it were. There is always two—two or more. (??)
3.4 “One day we thought of painted furniture, of how/ It just slightly changes everything in the room/ And in the yard outside, and how, if we were going/ To be able to write the history of our time, starting with/ today,/ It would be necessary to mode all these unimportant details/ So as to be able to include them; otherwise the narrative/ Would have that flat, sandpapered look the sky gets/ Out in the middle west toward the end of summer,/ The look of wanting to back out before the argument/ Has been resolved, and at the same time to save appearances/ So that tomorrow will be pure.”
What a complex sentence, I must idiotically just state that first I guess. So long and containing so many thematic derailments that it might appear to me “to mean nothing”, and so also nothing else to anyone at all. But, as Levinas teaches me, and to paraphrase: the rankest nonsense for me always has a sense for someone else. I could then dissect the different elemental combinations or atomic measurements of this sentence, I suppose, but that is always being done herein, just not as directly or with as forcefully distinct a rigor as is perhaps fully possible. Ah well, suffice in your faith in me, as I am the bearer of good tidings and welling life.
3.5 “Therefore, since we to/ do our business/ In spite of things, why not make it in spite of everything?”
What does “doing business” “in spite of everything” mean to me? It means welling forth from an always-afterwards “retrojected” void without any reasonable cause or even origin, as a being in and of itself, carelessly loved into existence, so that I know never why I am so loved, as a miracle. It also means loving the world in spite of its hatefully nihilistic charade of “selfhood” or “thingdom” as nothingness. The very “–ness” postfixed onto this root of “nothing–” gave away its temporality already, if only more or less, long ago (for me).
Doing business in spite of everything means to me quixotism, or “belief in what is already doubtful”, not as Don Quixote believed himself a knight-errant, but as Sancho Panza did—as an amusing folly, worth risking harm for, even to be defended to the death, or at least near-death, perhaps. Not really anything like “quixotism”, then, but rathermore a Panzism. (This insight alone might easily turn into a very good book of its own, however.)
3.6 “That way, maybe the feeble lakes and swamps/ Of the back country will get plugged into the circuit/ And not just the major events but the whole incredible/ Mass of everything happening simultaneously and pairing/ off,/ Channeling itself into history, will unroll/ As carefully and as casually as a conversation in the next/ room,/ And the purity of today will invest us like a breeze,/ Onlybe hard, spare, ironical: something one can/ Tip one’s hat to and still get some use out of.”
So much to say, so little energetic resources to say it. Note only the then-utopic but now-prophetic technological phrases. Also, the tempo-shift into high gear if and you are one to believe longer passages must be read more quickly (which, indeed, they shouldn’t—but there’s definitely a “turning-up” of the energetics in longer sentences, def.).
4.1 “The parade is turning into our street.”
I have no idea. As if I needed one to write, but anywho....
4.2 “My stars, the burnished uniforms and prismatic/ Features of this instant belong here.”
Another weirdo enjambment of a sentence. Merely an eloquent observation, so far as I can misread it. Ashbery also may have been losing steam by this point in a theoretically, or even probably (?), continuous feat of writing endurance.
4.3 “The land/ Is pulling away from the magic, glittering coastal towns/ To an aforementioned rendezvous with August and/ December.”
This is the most silly nonsense to me; trust, I love it, but will fail to comment much on what barely is perceptible as the “picture of a world” (in Wittgensteinian) to me.
4.4 “The hunch is it will always be this way,/ The look, the way things first scared you/ In the night light, and later turned out to be,/ Yet still capable, all the same, of a narrow fidelity/ To what you and they wanted to become:/ No sighs like Russian music, only a vast unravelling/ Out toward the junctions and to the darkness beyond/ To these bare fields, built at today’s expense.”
There is no known way to regulate the discourse of John Ashbery successfully. Others have perhaps not widely ventured the panzism of sentence-by-sentence analysis of single exemplaries of his poems. This is so funny because someone once vehemently held that Ashbery was not even quotable, and was understandable only the level of purely generic analysis. I think I have already demonstrated how quixotic that series of assertions is or was. Ashbery still will not be regulated, no sir, and I leave you with great guilt in my heart about this. Aloha.
 I’ve forgotten now the name of the title and author of an excellent work considering the formal aspects of Percy Shelley’s writings in general written by a once avowed Marxist and comrade of mine in the International Socialist Organism.