Markovian Parallax Generate: On digital writing and poetics

Discontinuity, Metonymy, and the “real”: Hejinian’s essay “Strangness” (Part 2)

Posted in Uncategorized by Eric Goddard-Scovel on April 10, 2008

Hejinian takes the essay into deeper territory about halfway through.  She is one of the few people that I have read or known that examines dreams and sees not just a randomness or complex interpretable metaphors for our problems, but takes seriously what the implications of dream-life and experience have on our understanding of the nature of waking reality.

Exploring the distinction between the reality of objects in the world and the unreality of objects in dreams (including the unstable sense of self in dreams), she moves into philosophical territory by stating that

This is true only until our examination of the “real” is such that its components too are dispossessed of their obviousness and necessity. [Objects of sense] are, at least in my experience, not so much decontextualized as arrested, until the entire universe of context seems to implode into them, abandoning the observer. (147)

As a Buddhist, I can’t help but see the similarity of this to the goals of insight meditation, which seeks to reach a state beyond this object/subject imposition upon reality.

The compositional method (“trope”) that she hopes can best describe (or arrive at) this state in writing is metonymy. [The Wikipedia entry will give you some sense of what this method is.]  What she says of the metonym and its application returns again to selection in the writing process:

Metonymy moves attention from thing to thing; its principle is combination rather than selection. (148) [emphasis added]

Metonymy moves restlessly, through an associative network, in which associations are compressed rather than elaborated. (149)

A metonym is a condensation of its context. (149)

Hejinian is proposing that the strangeness that metonymy brings to the context of objects in a poem adds to a poem’s realness: reality is not “real” unless it has this certain strangeness.

[I]t is exactly the strangeness that results from a description of the world given in the terms “there it is,” “there it is,” “there it is” that restores realness to things inthe world and separates things from ideology.

She concludes with this proposal:

An evolving poetics of description is simultaneously and synonymously a poetics of scrutiny.  It is description that reaises scrutiny to consciousness.  And in arguing for this I am proposing a poetry of consciousness, which is by its very nature a medium of strangeness. (159)

There is of course a great deal of vagueness to what a “poetry of consciousness” might be, but what is important here is consciousness and strangeness are essentially inseparable, and that description and scrutiny should not seek to avoid the it for the sake of clarity, but to embrace it.

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