Zukofsky, Objects, and Duration

by devinking

The story must exist in each word or it cannot go on. The words written down–or even inferred as written over, crossed out–must live, not seem merely to glance at a watch.

-Louis Zukofsky, Foreward to “A” 1-12

I’ve always been suspicious of these types of pronouncements–the historical-philosophic reading of the poem that seems to slow down perception towards each minute movement. But they appear and they appear and they appear. Zukofsky’s reading of his own poetry, here, is Pound’s fault–Zukofsky picks up on Pound’s vorticist ideas so that each word counts on its own and within the larger framework of the poem. This creates movement for the poem out of forward tension; a word defines its connection to the next word which instantly doubles back its own meaning on that prior word while whipping the movement of the poem forward. I am interested in this quote because of Zukofsky’s idea of the word that “must live, not seem merely to glance at a watch.” How does the word engage with time and how does the reader engage with the word?

Mark Scroggins, in his bio of Zukofsky, describes Zukofsky’s larger idea of time as coming from Zukofsky’s reading of Spinoza’s ethics, specifically Spinoza’s use of duration. Scroggins explains:

We, as time-bound, recognize the objects and persons of the world as similarly existing in time. Duration (sic), their existence over time, is the aspect under which our intellects grasp them.

Objects exist in time just as we do and as our senses do. But our intellect learns the objects, grasps them, when objects endure duration; a “perseverance.” Scroggins, however, argues that Zukofsky misinterprets (or misrepresents) Spinoza’s duration as a “synecdoche for the moment when the consciousness of the reader and that of the poet come together as one.” Scroggins quotes Zukofsky:

It is an instant certainty of the words of a poem bringing at least two persons and then maybe many persons, even peoples together…[I]t does not matter whether the reader is the book or the book is the reader or if the grandfather is the forebear of the grandson or the grandson the forebear of his grandfather. The instant certainty of the words is all that exists for one become two.

Scroggins argues that, for Zukofsky, duration, held within the moment of the poem, is a moment outside of time. The poem reiterates objects through the hand of the author and the eyes of the reader, all of which meet in the action of the poem. This idea, for Scroggins, is best exemplified in Zukofsky’s repetitive use of the liveforever flower that pops up throughout Zukofsky’s work; the poem is the place where histories meet, outside of time, and learn, through duration, about one another.

I spoke in my last post about Graham Harman’s delineation between real, and intentional or sensual objects. Harman tweaks these terms, so it is important first to note what the terminology has meant before: real objects are closet to the eidos, or being, of the object, that whole which we cannot see but holds the object together. This is something like a definition of an object; not the tree you look at but the tree you realize within when asked to think on “tree.” Intentional or sensual objects are those aspects that we can see. His terminology comes from Husserl, but he has some important additions to the definitions. Quickly:

1. Real objects “belong to a pre-relational dimension in which they cannot make direct contact of any sort…[and] exist whether we like it or not.” As well, real objects are not “bundles of essential qualities” for (and here it is Harman quoting Zubiri) “the essence is in itself something completely made factive. There are no essences which are real and physically immutable and absolute.

2. Intentional or sensual objects “are always already present…[and] are merely encrusted with inessential accidents…[and] can be vaporized a simple act of shifting our mind elsewhere. However, sensual objects are “not bundles of accidental qualities…we experience objects, not masses of sense data.” Finally, what one experiences when seeing the intentional object “is always one object undergoing accidental, transient changes that do not alter the thing itself.”

I bring up these definitions as the first step in graphing Harman’s ideas of objects over Zukofsky’s. This is a bit silly; Harman is interested in objects explicitly as a reaction against theories of language, and he is also careful when describing the way objects exist over time–Harman isn’t convinced that something like “duration” is necessarily possible. But I wonder what happens if we were to collapse Harman’s separation between real and intentional objects onto Zukofsky’s use of language. What happens when we begin treating his words through a new vision of what objects hold? How can this shift us away from Zukofsky’s primary ideas about objects and lead us towards a new way to think about the objects he’s given us?