Sparing Language

To continue writing poetry, one would have to believe in the universal human value of expressions of singularity. Not in ‘big’ singularities (poets supposedly), but in small ones that coincided with their expression (delimited, circumscribed, contoured in the poem). But expressions too of a generic potentiality for thinking―for speaking the truth―faced with the empty page. Along poetry’s route, this necessitates the sparing of language, which can be described in multiple registers.

Language is spared whenever it is not enchained and constrained to a sharp finality (e.g., the instrumental purposes of capital, but also the brandishing of identities, the definition of objects); whenever language is played with, to open a world, to expose the miracle of one, or in one way or another to exhibit its capacity for conceiving wholeness, totality, the indivisibly singular―the thatness of whatever is such, the it-is-ness that poetry deems refractable through images. Such language does not have a finality, except to refract a universe in its passages.

Language is spared when it is not lost to oblivion. Here the performative and vocative dimension of poetry imposes itself. Words on a page, no matter how poetic, are only potential phenomena (traces, ghostmatter). The poem spares language―and some might say it thereby spares being―from forgetting, yet only to the extent that it is “voiced” again; that the singularity it puts in play is put in play again. Such is why it impresses upon us, with the help of jolting images and caesuras between them―the one uttering something, the other on the verge of the unutterable―, the event of language, language as an instance of genesis.

The poem is an event of a world, a coming-into-being facilitated by the contact of the souls exscribed in its words and images. For we can easily see that, even in this instance of voicing, itself marking an event of language, we have been lifted off the page, suspended between reading and originating. This signifies that we are now in thought’s activity; it includes or fuses a repetition of past expression alongside or inside a new one, one which collapses the interval and allows two times to coincide or rest in each other. The archived text is thus “lifted,” torn or stolen from its context in order to approach its origin―not, of course, an origin in the past, but now, in its present pertinence for thought and expression in their evental singularity. In the poem, a soul’s being unfolds.

Language is then spared from being “merely” propositional, for now it implies something equal parts chemical and spiritual, a transformation of essence from corporeal to literal, the risk this entails and the burden. It is language come alive in a life―and with it history and the idea of language as an eternal utopia.

For the poem’s being-present-again is not explainable as a linguistic phenomena. More than conveying meaning, symbols, ideas, the poem is the transmission of the affections of a soul. It is even the sharing of a common soul, through the hope-orienting structure of the open phrase (transhistorical), of a singular expression of language qua generic thought, an epiphenomenon of the blank expanse which drives the fall-out of the “I” into the real. This is why, without ever becoming the voice of a people, the poem remains hospitable to all and so universally translatable, without ever sacrificing its singularity, the unique configuration that it is. To do justice to it is to be drawn toward our own singularity therefore. The event of langauge is always anarchic, lifted. Its horizon hearkens the transcendence of yours.

The poem calls from its nowhere to draw the here toward it. The here, to “voice” it, welcomes it like the nowhere of utopia: past and present contract or cancel into pivot-point, which poem manifests, diverting life from its formal-historical axis, the concept from its objects, and letting arise a sort of third space, measured and not merely diachronic. An emergent extra-temporal property of souls communes materially, through the poems, in their hopes―among others, the hope that our language (as shape, direction, voice) not be lost to the flattening effect of discourse, the neutral apparatus of chronological time, and the practical arrangement of reified, temporal, merely ‘external’ objects (since in that case, the image would undoubtedly lack totality and singularity).

We are struggling here to articulate a going-together of humans accomplished through their own efforts at “subtraction”―their own attempts to remember the soul in its action. A poem is just such an expression, sparing language from being submerged in facts and explanations about the given world. It spares language from too much understanding, and so gives it back to life. Perhaps this is why poetry could never place judgment and punishment at its center, except perhaps to raise an objection to those uses of language that punish it (and through its misuse abuse humans, animals, objects, the whole universe of being). Poetry’s subtraction from such uses (counting, reckoning, calculating, determining, etc.), preparing it for a future communion, implies a gesture of forgiveness. It opens a space for histories to be rewritten, against the fantasy of closed worlds and the retributive finalities that come with them. The poem makes, instead, for the open field, the light that refracts the invisible.

But the poem’s openness corresponds in turn to its strictures, to the exigencies of its singular expression, which is clearly never a pure free reign. The control of the poet, the art, is exerted on the excess of language in its servility, stupidity, and superfluity. A poet may write many things, but nothing ever minimizes the sparing use of language the poem must make if it is to avoid the insipid bellowing and blaring language is normally used for. Its “infinitely small vocabulary” turns it into a channel for exact expressions and thoughts, inimitable and inexchangeable. It is this restraint exerted upon language that allows the poem to bear a silence in itself, to be the pregnant pause of its own eventality, to sign its singularity and suchness with a seal that can’t be forged – nor forgotten.

And so the poem hovers forever between empty speechlessness and its voicing, bearing witness to a (im)potentiality to speak that is never exhausted in speaking, ever on the threshold of its own becoming-event. The poem knows that the latter requires special conditions, namely, that the parameters of the poem be “scanned.” But scansion is not limited to analyses of the poem’s composition (breaks, feet, rhymes, etc.). Scansion can only be thought as a dwelling-in, or as an exposure-to, the threshold that the poem itself is. The eyes run up and down the lines, revisiting turns endlessly, each time in preparation for the advancement of the encounter, each time listening in for what thought is granted. This act amounts to a gradual absorption of the poem’s unique chemical (vocalization is also an injestion) and spirit (contemplation implies concepts and so participates in the general movement of human thinking). But the complex molecule that is the poem does not only have to search the body for receptors; it also has to turn our soul into one. This becoming-receptor of the soul mirrors the dynamic at play in the poem’s own strictures, the counter-violence it must do to itself to uphold its silence, the strain exerted against its own discourse.

In the poem, then, delimitations are made for the sake of the unlimited, for it to shine or refract through. The conditions it sets for being voiced are to welcome the unconditional. It is thus a desperate conversation, for the imagination must go where no finite imagination can go: to the limit of totality, of singularly undivided and whole. The poem overcomes this gap only where it remains in thought or in action, in the voice that, resurrecting it, gives it breath. Yet to be worthy of being carried thus, the poem must leave something to spare: a reserve of life’s present which has not been spent or disappointed, or of hope’s universality as it inscribes itself in the monuments of souls and unifies its energy in so many total gifts of speech.

Poetry’s sparing language, then, is meant to leave language to spare: the insufficiency of an expression caught in its own glare, sighting itself out to be sought, in thought’s groaning prayer. A lack of finality duly noted: on the one side, the poem which is lifted into voice (genesis), on the other, we who are given and share voice, one whose vocation is only in lifting (force). We who read it are led by it to ascend. And so we respond to the call and assume our vocation in the parade of souls, being who we are, exhibiting our idea.

An escalation of human being into sparing language: this is a gift of presence, understood here as a sort of universal value of openness beyond finalities―like the poem in its cosmic state, or which the cosmos in a poem refracts. But poetry the art form is not the gift’s necessary condition, even if the poem dedicates all its resources to remembering it, for it is in presence that human potentiality in general gets its grip and world-trajectories are altered. This is a presence whose matter is personal―as personal as the reading of a poem. If poem and presence seem here to coincide, perhaps it is not accidental. For isn’t presence itself sparing? Is it not what spares itself, like an origin or an empty page, from the ravages of discourse?

Shall we then say: the poem preserves the presence of a soul? Or of a thought of presence as voiced/speechless, surrendered to the unknown of the universal? Perhaps along such roads, singular as they are absurd, we will continue to discern the value of poetry.

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2 Responses to Sparing Language

  1. N Filbert says:

    Reblogged this on Precipitate Flux and commented:
    To be read attentively, considered… comments, thoughts encouraged

  2. Pingback: Sparing Language II | fragilekeys

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