Saturday, March 23, 2013

Robert Grenier. Attention/ Seven Narratives.

Back in the 80s, when I did my studies of linguistics at Odessa University, the ideas of Noam Chomsky were rather strong. He believed that language was something we were born with, its structures or grammar already there, inside any child's mind. I have to admit that my own experiences provided numerous examples justifying his approach. I had no difficulties learning a foreign language as long as I thought I knew it already, it was just a new costume I could borrow , a new palette of sounds and rhythms, allowed to co-exist with the ones I was accustomed to. Later on, while working as an interpreter, I met some kids speaking what their parents called bird language. One boy ( usually it is children with hyperactivity, attention deficit disorder, autistic traits, they are all very late talkers) had a word "tölkö" for cow (ko in Swedish, korova in Russian). No guidance from the outside world passing through, he created his own words and word patterns, having no resemblance whatsoever to anything existent in real languages. Tibetan it was, I thought, but only the sound of course, it was no xenolinguistic case. He had a need to represent the world as any other kid of his age by means accessible to him. For communication he used different methods- he could drag his mother by the hand towards objects and people, point at things, etc.

I noticed that in my work situations language was used more to describe what happened in the past moments- a refugee telling his story, a sick woman describing the fit she had yesterday, while at the moment of their speech it was the pain in the sound of their voices, the "ouches" that communicated what they experienced. More often than not miscommunication occurred on the meta- linguistic level. When you don't understand things you don't want to understand, by asking "what do you mean?" you reject the way some idea is shaped as muddled, unclear, false, inappropriate. Something is wrong with the use of convention, social codes and rules of the game, the language remaining both as general and specific as it is, verbs as vital ingredients and nouns as gaps to be filled in the process of making a record.

Antropocentrists see language as an exclusive and superior ability of humans, often referring to a fact that you can teach a parrot babbling some words or a chimp using a keyboard to respond to simple phrases, which doesn't count, they cannot learn our language because they are incapable of structured thinking. However, our necessity to use language is primarily to describe the world, something animals don't need as they are not separated from it by the awareness of the self. They need to communicate and interact with the environment and for that some of them have a very advanced set of signals, like bees dancing to show to other members of the community where food is , etc. I think poets function a bit like this, they don't describe, they sound the world, by no means piling up metaphors we could decode as some fixed sets of signs, but rather being in a process of sensitive and joyful seeing- expressions I found in Attention/ Seven Narratives by Robert Grenier.

He writes that narrative is what attention does , it kind of shows what can possibly happen next, "a sort of command...toward further shape of what shall occur..."

He likes seeing many different things as a big one thing, so his mind is often stressed, something I can totally identify with : I like to look at things singly, and think about them multiply. I don’t like to pile too much stuff up on top of each other, because I get dizzy and actually I can’t think anymore.
It's many narratives taking place regardless of the time of each of them: "...narrative became what I was at the time following--the Central African Pygmy music, one Ocora Dahomey record, for example, streered me to hear the separate sounds making all big one sound--also different rhythms being tolerated and encouraged inside the same one-big-time that everybody was cognizant of..."

"These various stories are taking place here, in the forest, whether we presently live in the little blue cottage with Debra, or ever did so, or died, or want to or don't or what, because they do happen in a sequence of language particles so hereditary/ arranged ('by whom?') that that becomes an order in which autumn boughs & the like are experienced..."

Reading his poetry is sometimes like walking in a forest, demanding a unique reading practice (CAMBRIDGE M'ASS), a book-length poetry broadside, 49 by 40 3/4 inches, with about 275 poems. The order of reading is not imposed on you. It looks like a map and whatever attracts your attention determines the direction of your glance, an improvisational practice according to Lyn Hejinian, calling it a "field work". ( CAMBRIDGE M'ASS was published by her Tuumba Press).

Attention/ Seven Narratives can be read online and even downloaded here:

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