Thursday, February 17, 2011


(Part 1)
by Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch

Thoreau, from his essay, "Walking":
I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering; which word is beautifully derived "from idle people who roved about the country, in the middle ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going à la sainte terre—to the holy land, till the children exclaimed, "There goes a sainte-terrer, a saunterer—a holy-lander. They who never go to the holy land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds, but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere.

During the first walk, through Central Park, Bruce Chatwin's work In Patagonia is briefly referred to, and this feels natural, as throughout I was thinking of both the Walks and the Talks as two attempts or versions at a kind of citified rendering of the Indigenous Australian poem-maps that are the central topic of Chatwin's book The Songlines:
Aboriginal Creation myths tell of the legendary totemic beings who had wandered over the continent in the Dreamtime, singing out the name of everything that crossed their path—birds, animals, plants, rocks, waterholes—and so singing the world into existence.

[...] To get to grips with the concept of the Dreamtime, he said, you had to understand it as an Aboriginal equivalent of the first two chapters of Genesis—with one significant difference. In Genesis, God first created the 'living things' and then fashioned Father Adam from clay. Here in Australia, the Ancestors created themselves from clay, hundred and thousands of them, one for each totemic species.

[...] He went on to explain how each totemic ancestor, while travelling through the country, was thought to have scattered a trail of words and musical notes along the line of his footprints, and how these Dreaming-tracks lay over the land as 'ways' of communication between the most far-flung tribes.

'A song,' he said, ' was both map and direction-finder. Providing you knew the song, you could always find your way across country.'

[...] By singing the world into existence, he said, the Ancestors had been poets in the original sense of poesis, meaning 'creation'.

[...] The man who who went on 'Walkabout' was making a ritual journey. He trod in the footsteps of his Ancestor. He sang the Ancestor's stanzas without changing a word or note—and so recreated the Creation.

Tangential to this, but in the tradition of Cotner & Fitch's project, can we read Debord's The Naked City as a cosmopolitan configuration of a Songline, one in which Baudelaire is positioned somewhere in the totemic ancestry?

And within this walking, amidst this talking, there is a mode of improvised response, an immediate filtering, a practice of description—a kind of singing?—that I'm reading laterally towards this passage from Bob Perelman's "Language Writing, Literary History":
"Instead of ant wort I saw brat guts." This line is the epigraph to In the American Tree. In a canonical literary history, one addressed to a judging reader, such a phrase would make quite a limited aesthetic object. But as I am interested in non-canonical or anti-canonical sets of literary narratives where literary history is created by writers, I'll give the circumstances of the birth of this line.

Kit Robinson, Steve Benson and I began a writing project almost as soon as we met in San Francisco in 1976. One of us would read from whatever books were handy and two of us would type. These roles would rotate; occasionally, there would be two readers reading simultaneously to one typist. The reader would switch books whenever he felt like it, and ump around within whatever book was open at the time. [...]

This was not automatic writing, automatic listening would be more like it. There was no question of keeping up with the stream of spoken words; one could attempt to attend to them or not. [...]

I don't want to make claims for this process as representative of language writing; no published work that I know of has been written using this method. But I want the extremity of this process, where reading and writing, hearing and producing words were so jammed together, to emblematize an important collaborative element of the beginnings of the language movement. In the above description, I notice that the conventional positions of (modernist) literary competence are reversed: instead of the writer being powerful and the reader struggling to catch up, having to read Dante's Italian, Ovid's Latin, and the Elizabethans in their entirety to be able to read "The Waste Land," in the brat guts literary regime, the reader—or, to avoid confusion, the pronouncer—is the active one and the writer, the typist, the swamped receiver, is reactive, is second in the chain of command, which becomes a chain of suggestion.

It's with this "swamped receiver," the poet as a kind of black body, or the Spicerian antenna, but variations within this category, I plan to next press forward.

Michael Nardone lives in the Northwest Territories.

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