Back to The Presentable Art of Reading Absence:
On page 4, Wright offers this passage:
becomes the smallest unit of meaning
in the universe,
that clarifies our contingency.
Almost as quickly as this instant comes into focus, however, sounds of the outside—bird calls, miscellaneous sonorities—call his/our attention away until, on page 7, he/we return:
There must be an inelastic
attention to this moment
or this flagged instant
that has suddenly appeared
Throughout this poem, Wright slips into and out of the instant (see the last two posts for more on this notion of the "slip"). In this stanza on page 7, he gives the ambi-valent term "flagged instant," which might signify an instant that is marked, as though dyed to mark its travels through the universe, or it might signify the slowing of the instant, a flagging that comes from fatigue. Taken all together—the slipping instant, the marked instant, and the fatigued instant—I'm motivated once more to name the temporality that Wright conjures through his art of reading absence. Time itself appears as qualitative viscosity. Not a quantitative measure of friction, but, rather, an event of slipping away: the instant slips. There is no noun for time. It is verb. Time does. Again, it slips. The instant is the location of the slip's root.
When one meditates or attempts to discipline thought's meandering, the possibility of planting the now presents itself. The instant, marking the place of the now's root system, shows us where to plant, but the act of planting requires a virtuosic performance of undoing the self. To understand this a bit more, I turn back to Wright:
Such is peace,
and such the motive and lie,
and we have not yet arrived.
One must learn not to pray
such is peace,
and such is the inexact profession
of a pilgrim proceeding
toward the point of his own
To plant the now means to erase oneself. This erasure will always contain traces of the labor, some detritus caught up in the flow of time, not unlike Rauschenberg's 1953 erasure of de Kooning's drawing.
The Presentable Art of Reading Absence begins with a slip into a meditation and a slip within that same meditation. The slip into the meditation commences the poem and acts as an entrance, one that smoothly but abruptly places the reader into the condition of revelation, specifically a mundane revelation of "secular mourning." The slip within the meditation is a dual movement that sends both reader and poet deeper into the revelation and also out of the pure meditative state. Present within the opening lines of this poem, then, one finds an effortless struggle to be precisely here, here at "the place set aside / for creating the body." Reader and poet alike enact the work of spectator and performer, and, all the while, time materializes as the viscosity that conditions these various slips.
A passage from Polynomials and Pollen offers another point of view onto the understanding of temporality made possible by Wright's poetic work:
fallacy, time breeds a small
notion to propound
an instrumental pulsing,
that courts the wish to install
itself as the thread
and perfect measure of trust. (14)
I revel in the geography of this passage. One needs to fashion a map first before traversing the stanza. The fallacy: time breeds a small notion... time, also understood as that pause that courts the wish to install itself... Once we understand what the fallacy is, we can set to interpreting the consistency of that fallacy (its "meaning"). Time compels beings to forward a practical notion, the probability that we are all progressing steadily via the pulse of time's push. Between the pulse's signals, each pause, a stillness between the beats, pretends to the status of the present. The present, in other words, is the pause between the breaths, neither inhale nor exhale but the hiatuses between the two. This claim, however, is false. The time of the present is not a pure rest, nor is time itself. Time itself does not breed anything, and, as such, beings should not feel compelled to subscribe to progressive movements regulated by steady pulses. Working back to the notion of Wright's slip, I wonder if time act rather as the condition of moving from one breath to the next, from one rhythm to another. Time as limit of possibility for rhythm.
Goaded by the recent work in progress performance of "The Three Matadors" by Every House Has a Door, I have taken up the poetry of Jay Wright. As practice for my Performance Philosophy Poetry class that I'll be teaching in the Fall, I want to work through some of Wright's poetic expressions here in this blog.
In the next few months, I'd like to explore the three short performance texts embedded in The Presentable Art of Reading Absence (one of which is the micro-play that Every House calls "The Three Matadors") as well as a phenomenon that I'm currently calling Wright's slip. This "slip" is an expression of temporality that I find in Wright's poetry, one that is bound to the act of writing poetry itself. The word slip carries several meanings and histories within it, some of which are relevant to my invocation of the term. Here are a few:
The first stanza of Reading Absence, which is also the last stanza, provides me with a moment of Wright's slip (in all of that word's permutations):
Here begins the revelation of a kiosk
beside the road: the white eggs
nestled there in straw
turn blue in the amber light.
Make of that what you will,
say, what you desire,
a secular mourning,
a morning given over to meditation.
This is the place set aside
for creating the body,
a source of fluctuations, unmarked
Call this wandering along this road
Notice, first, how the experience that Wright describes—ambiguous as it is, perhaps a revelation sparked by a specific place (a kiosk), or maybe a hallucination of that same space—entwines with the experience of writing the poem itself. "Here" begins: here at the kiosk, here at this word that marks the beginning of a long poem. And then a few lines later, "This is the place set aside:" this place beside the road, this place here in this poem. The temporality that Wright names for us is dual (more on this later).
Next—and, again, this is a place holder for longer reflections in the coming weeks—Wright references the act of meditation. Indeed, the entirety of this poem may be an opportunity of naming the slip of thought that occurs during meditation. What precisely escapes when one meditates? The present moment simultaneously recedes as the blitz of the mind presses in on one's consciousness and "distracts" the meditator from the primary task while also showing itself negatively through the act of absconding beneath that same blitz of images. To meditate means to lose one's footing in this double movement, to let slip one's certainty of self.
I'll return to these thoughts soon.
Will Daddario is a historiographer, philosopher, and teacher. He currently lives in Asheville, North Carolina.