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Higgins essay: long post



>re charles alexander's post:
>
>The Mallarme essay can be found in _Selected Poetry & Prose_ from New
>Directions, edited by Mary Ann Caws.  The translation is by Bradford Cook.
> It would be interesting to see the visual interpretation & yes, DO post Dick
>Higgins essay if he gives the ok.
>
>all best,
>Charles Smith

Thanks, Charles

I called Dick Higgins this evening, and he gave permission to post this essay.

Dick Higgins
A BOOK

A book. Consider a book.
Before one can consider a book, one must consider what it is to have a text.
A text is an array of words on paper. Or, if not words, other things that
are to be read. One can have a text with no words at all -- music or visual
entities or symbols.

But when we are talking about art -- an art book, the art of language and
not just information that is to be used for something other than the
experience of being oneself -- one must have a self or selves. One need not
dwell upon it. But we are all complexes of past experiences and knowledges,
each unique unto itself. One need not ask oneself, at the outset, "What is
this self? Who is this me that I am being?" One needs no particular ego to
experience art. But one does bring a certain horizon to the experience of a
book which is its own past and complex of tastes and non-tastes, desires and
non-desires, beings and non-beings. Like a ship moving towards a horizon,
that horizon always recedes, no matter in what direction one moves. The
complex of what one knows and what one does not know and what one knows
without consciously considering it, that horizon is always in motion. And
the text that is a work of art brings its horizon to us. The horizons
intersect and interpenetrate.

Authors make texts when they offer us arrays of words which generate
horizons that interpenetrate with ours, when they displace ours in the
course of this interpenetration. The author is supremely unimportant while
we are studying a text. If we want to know about apples, if we want to study
why apples are as they are, *then* we must study about appletrees. But when
we are hungry, we do not study about apples. We eat them. So it is with
texts and authors. When we are hungry to experience our horizons in motion,
the author is beside the point; here it is the text which the author has
made that is important. For us it is our experience of the text which we are
living with, not the  text which the author thought he made. When Samuel
Richardson wrote *Clarissa* he thought that he was making a series of
morally exemplary letters -- prudish, perhaps. Instead he created what we
experience as one of the most erotic novels in our language, erotic in its
curious horizon of dwelling forever upon the sexual innuendo. Lately most
criticism has dwelt upon the linguistics of the text, upon the structure and
*langue* and *parole* and semiotics of the work. But judged as experience,
that is relatively unimportant, since it is the effect of the style which is
so crucial, the phenomenon of the generation of the horizons of Clarissa and
her circle and how they fit and do not fit with ours. Same with Gertrude
Stein, whose focus is upon the language of her horizon and ours: it is
displacement. A structuralist and a semiotician would go mad trying to
explain why Stein works when "it" (her work) works. For us, enjoying the
displacements of our horizons of language by hers, there is no problem. We
each have our own horizons, our own hermeneutic for this (our own
methodology of interpretation). I can document mine, and each human being
who reads a Stein can learn to document hers or his. But the gut feelings
that the work generates, the emotional and connotative and phatic elements,
these do not come from what she says but from the process of matching how
she says it with our own horizons.

A text can be spread over space without becoming a book. We can write it on
a scroll and experience it as never-ending, unbroken. Most texts seem to
have been written for experience upon scrolls -- perhaps their authors think
of life as scrolls. In point of fact, of course, scrolls have their own
interesting qualities, their physicality and their unique continuity.

But a book, in its purest form, is a phenomenon of space and time and
dimensionality that is unique unto itself. Every time we turn the page, the
previous page passes into our past and we are confronted by a new world. In
my *Of Celebration of Morning,* my book qua book which uses these ideas most
purely, I even called each page "world 1," "world 2," and so on through the
eighty pages. The only time a text exists in a solid block of time is when
we are no longer reading it, unlike, for example, a single painting which is
all present before us when we consider its presence physically. In this way
a book is like music, which is only experienced moment by moment until it,
too, is past and remembered as a whole.  But the space of the book, even
when it is not self-consciously shaped and patterned (as in visual novels or
concrete poetry or comic books), is part of the experience. *Alice in
Wonderland* written out by hand is a different work from *Alice in
Wonderland * set in type; set in Baskerville, even, it is a different entity
from what it would become set in some barely-legible but beautiful Old
English blackletter face. It is, as it were, translated when it is set from
one face to another, just as surely as if it had been paraphrased into
another language. All literature exists only in translation for this reason
-- it is displaced from the author's intention, displaced by us conceptually
every time we experience it by reading it, displaced according to our
horizons at the moment. One time we read a text with passion, one time
coolly, one time in a desultory way, one time with great attention to the
characters and gestalts generated by the text, another time with our eye on
the horizons of our language and that of the text.

The book is, then, the container of a provocation. We open it and are
provoked to match our horizons with those implied by the text. We need not
consider ourselves to do this; but the more vivid our horizons and the more
vivid the gestalts and horizons in the text, the more vivid the
displacements and coincidences of these horizons. And herein lies the true
pleasure of the text, the true erotic of literature. Criticism which ignores
this does so at its peril -- it may be fashionable for a moment, but it will
die. Great criticism always keeps its eye on the horizons of work at hand
and so, like Coleridge's lectures on Shakespeare, always exists upon three
horizons of time -- its subject's, the critic's and ours. Perhaps that is
the crucial difference between criticism and poetry, for example -- the
first has three horizons, the latter has two to offer. Not that "the more
the merrier," of course. Two horizons can be plenty.

But the book that is clear upon what horizons it can offer up for our
experience (whatever nonsense its author may have intended it to be), that
book is well upon its way to matching its horizons with ours aand is, thus,
on the track of potential greatness.

There is no need to bother with the rest.

[end of essay by Dick Higgins]
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Many of you may be interested in trying to find the issue containing this
essay, which is tremendous for the book arts precisely because it is not
limited to the book arts, rather takes the book as a central cultural object
and idea which must be related to other ideas (philosophical, social,
environmental, artistic, etc.) in order to be seen clearly and be seen whole.

Published originally in New Wilderness Letter, Number 11, December 1982.

New Wilderness Letter was edited by Jerome Rothenberg & published by the New
Wilderness Foundation, New York.

A couple of years after this issue was published, New Wilderness Letter
ceased to exist. I do not know if the New Wilderness Foundation still exists
or not.

Other articles of interest in this special issue from 1982, titled "The
Book, Spiritual Instrument," are several. I listall of the other articles
here --

Stephane Mallarme, Le Livre, Instrument Spirituel / The Book, Spiritual
Instrument, translated, and visually interpreted by Michael Gibbs

J. Stephen Lansing, The Aesthetics of the Sounding of the Text

Eduardo Calderon, Reading the Mesa: An Interview by David Guss

Karl Young, Bookforms [a key introduction to the visual and performance
books of this important and severely neglected book artist]

Dennis Tedlock, What the Popol Vuh Tells About Itself

Jed Rasula, From *Tabula Rasula*

Alison Knowles, On *The Book of Bean*

George Quasha, Auto-Dialogue on the Transvironmental Book: Reflections on
*The Book of Bean*

Tina Oldknow, Muslim Soup

David Meltzer, From the Rabbi's Dream Book

Karl Young, Notes on *Codex Vienna*

Edmond Jabes, The Book and the Desert/[Wilderness]: An Interview

Paul Eluard, Useful Man

Gershom Scholem, The Oral & the Written: "There is no Written Toran Here on
Earth" (Discourse)

Herbert Blau, Deep Throat: The Grail of the Voice (Discourse)

Jerome Rothenberg, Editor's Note


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