Saturday, May 26, 2012

OIKOS A Talk Presented by Brian Richards at CLOUDBURST COUNCIL

Oikos→oikeiotēs→oikeios→oikonomos : House→friendship→cognate / familial→steward

Economy (OED):  'The manner in which a house is ordered.'  Maintenance. Sam Johnson: a friend is one joined to another in mutual benevolence and intimacy; oikos:  mutual intimacy constitutes a household. An economics that protects composition is benevolent. Keats: 'friendship, the nurse of mutual good' (Sleep and Poetry) is built on Johnson's definition, as nurse is intimately tied with stewardship and Mama's tit. Dorn: ‘If [poets] are made, it's important to have a good mother.’ Creeley: ‘I hear / mother’s voice say / under my own, I won’t / want any more of that.’

Also, Darwin (OED) 'The economy shown by nature in her resources' where economy means the shortest elapsed time from A to B. Auden said that ‘the shortest distance between two points is a straight line’ and ‘love they neighbor as thyself’ cannot be compared because they are from different realms of discourse, but he’s wrong. Loving thy neighbor as thyself is, in fact, the shortest distance between two points. In poetry, friend is someone with whom you create that reciprocity.

Non-credit economies offer antinomies: gift economies rely on the person who has more than one of anything to offer the spare to one who has none. For all its potential for abuse the potlatch is the great economic leveler. Other economies are appropriative:  the one with none is free to take another's extra. There is a loose accounting, in the sense that reputation is involved, but shame is the issue there, and that person who can continue to take without bowing to the knowledge of what the neighbors think is figured into the model. Both systems fail when outside forces import goods and the concept of credit that goes with the invasion, as the commons of friendship is overcome by desire to relegate the other.

Dorn: 'I actually learned a lot from how Charles worked...the demonstration of's so much like your cast out ahead of yourself all this, like in a fan or a radius, and you go forward in it and the account of that…can be art.’ Economy inherent in that demonstrated use of the self as a tool, like getting a job because you want to buy a car so you have to buy a car so you can get to your new job.

The domestic economy of the Odd Couple. Olson: obsessively slovenly. Creeley: obsessively neat. Dorn: 'my strongest perceptions are ... imaginative and not domestic.’ Cf Duncan 'not by nature Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest, outlawed and at home.’ Outlawed is where friendship among poets thrives, where imagination is honored as inseparable from the real. Home is what Dickinson never left. Niedecker. Wordsworth of Dorothy: 'My sister and my friend / Or something dearer still'. What could be dearer? Byron to Augusta: 'My sweet sister! If a name / dearer and purer were, it should be thine'. Friend mediates sister and lover.

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: 'This angel, who is now become a devil, is my particular friend', as opposition is home to the differentiated particular. Opposition is re-elation, antithesis a vector. 'Opposition is true friendship': Bernadette Mayer: 'O I wish I had a friend who was only my equal.’ Later in Agoraphobia, '...I survive best in a fragile atmosphere. Not that I would be independent there, but that I would support others, and so you can see how the desire to support and to nourish becomes a need and it could, so publicly, become a need only of the least trustworthy, of those who are most bereft themselves.’ The economy of need operates in a market of fear. Ginsberg to Kerouac: 'Will you ever love me?' After 20 years of intense friendship, a quotidian potlatch v. the reality of establishing an economy in which claims for credit and debit are adjudicated on grounds more critical: job, marriage, the need to be needed, or needy, the long-imagined arrival of love.

We treat friendship as though it were a quality capable of postulate definition as well as a quantity that can be measured, but there are at last only specific instances we can judge and measure as emblems of a personal definition. Friendship among poets cannot depend on compromise, only forks in the road: we are companions or not; there are words that follow words, each a fork chosen. It is not economical to waste time at the fork, nor to follow one path regretfully, worse to 'hesitate and turn back' a la' Pound's accusation against the likes of Frost.

In college, we measured friendship in degrees of intimacy: 'I love you' we'd say to the no-longer compelling other, 'but I'm not in love with you,' making ‘the quality / of the affection’--dove sta memoria--an unbridgeable gap between verb and noun that seemed a comprehensive explanation. It is facile and tendentious to declare, 'I am in friend with you ', but there is that sense that poet friends are riding the like tiger, brought together by a force beyond the tedious use of the friend as 'there for me' that makes the condition seem optional when it's not, as Dorn's letter makes clear. "A friend is always there" doesn't stipulate a place but an absolute condition, even if she is in Timbukto while you are having a crisis in Toronto. On the other hand, unconditionality doesn't bear scrutiny well. Are you still a quarterback if you haven't got a team?

Friendship flourishes between a top and a bottom who are either pleased with their relative roles or pass the dominant position back and forth as the occasion demands. The poet cannot work in a world in which the social demands either domination or submission. The natural is a different story: the oak shades out and attenuates the dogwood, twist as it might in search of light sufficient to its needs, without a qualm, conditions native to the poet, cutting down My Friend Tree: this is what is. Reciprocity with a slow, stable sentience. Dorn calls it 'Harsh...throwing... human and non-human in the same bag. ‘It is not’, he says, 'in my hands to do otherwise.'

The economy of friendship among poets cannot be ruled by the necessary at the expense of the good. Plato said that the greatest chasm exists between the good and the necessary—he calls it unbridgeable—but the necessity in art is the solitude of composition, the good that it console and enrich and according to Kant what enriches us is what we can do without.

Friendship between poets is independent of distance, the more one must imagine the other sans encounter of a physical sort. There is no home base for the poet—no place 'for yourself only' (Oh No) where if you go there they have to let you in, let alone entertain notions of what you deserve, only limits—what we are inside of—to be found: how far does the form go? The consolation of friendship filled by post cards, specifically addressed, FB is unable to fill. Social media have not helped most of us who find it vexing to manage exponential expansion.

Creeley's intense, compulsive, idiosyncratic relation to language provided an immediate friendship, as Olson said in a letter early on. 'Because I am always talking...' ties him to the Maya, his boundless appetite for conversation metonymous with their bodies: 'The modern Maya are intimate with each not shrink from touch.' Friendship requires no special other to differentiate the untouched common. This revelation, to the product of the Worcester diocese and the Ivy League, became the central conceit of THE HUMAN UNIVERSE. Not that his nostrums always applied to himself. Rules are for beginners, limits are what we are inside of. Genius is inimical to ordinary friendship, with its demands for specific attention, unlike the assumption of intimacy among the Maya. Form rises out of the occasion; taboos and models are ignored. Art as exchange in the economy of friendship extends the gift in two senses: that Olson lives in art in a place where he can be ignored by what he calls 'the social world of intention '; second, that Olson presents this thing that is art precisely because it is useless as a model, being one of a kind.

Ellis: ‘friendship betrays any overall “political” situation among groups and persons…or real friendship is corrosive of any idea that would usefully accumulate anything more than the Shelleyan “collected lightnings” so that friendship can never get beyond anything but endless charge and discharge, across whatever cultural grid you got.’ Friendship cannot get beyond anything without being reduced to a vehicle. It is born beyond anything and is nowhere in chains, though you can read 'now here' easily enough. For Shelley, friendship is insistently a bridge, allowing passage between humans, between earth and heaven, the known and the unknown. But in his own life, only ferries crossed such gaps, with uncertain schedules susceptible to sudden disruption.  This is not a flaw but an inexorable force, as the East Wind drives that poem, or 'The Rain' does Creeley's, and as friendship cannot drive "In Memoriam" anywhere but to the grave. It was not friendship that drove 'Broadcide', Dorn's wonderful elegy for Richard Brautigan, but disgust at the quizzical judgments of so-called friends. 'De-cide' defines 'death following a decision' and a friend would honor that and demand no further explanation, as Shelley's final sail left friends wondering why he urged piling on canvas in the face of a such a fresh breeze as blew up a gale, or why he laughed in death's face—death that had only stolen his children—as he came as close to flying as Icarus.
The company as Creeley understood it is filtered through Pound yearning for the world of Dante and Cavalcanti and the troubadours--Crane's 'Visionary Company' through Slater Brown into Creeley’s Hart Crane: 'could not / go further / without those friends'. In such a company, the whole must be equal to the individual, thus an obligation to exclude no member of the company no matter how hard to tolerate. This is Dorn's dilemma, expressed in a letter to Olson:

"I can hardly get along with [Creeley], but sense that I can hardly not be a deep friend or whatever the score is that day. Or tomorrow." It takes a double negative, an insistence on the indirect article, and a temporal disclaimer to be clear. Dorn's double negation reflects the relationship between the fool's inattention to collateral damage and the friend's obligation to deal with it. Fools and poets are difficult friends because they are predictably unpredicatable. Friends never say, "If you were my friend you would...."  "Drive, he sd" is not prescriptive but reactive: 'As I sd to my / friend because I am / always talking' where talk causes friendship. Letter 6 from MAXIMUS: 'It is just such folly isn't necessary, yet I have not noticed / that those who are sharp haven't got that way / by pushing their limits.' Again the insistent double negative. Fool stepping off into the abyss, of the drunken farmer, 'leave him lay off it', Creeley said as a young man.

The company is absolutely inclusive but never contains more than a remnant of those who hold a ticket. It is set of protocols sufficient only to those who live within its bounds. What keeps the company small is the understanding that the obligation is finally a privilege that defines the reductive function common to open protocols. For there is no doubt that Dorn was Creeley's friend and Creeley was Dorn's. The alien landscape of 'West of Moab' they travelled together later measured that dumb weariness that most requires a friend, as much an ordeal as the antics in Frisco the letter refers to.

Creeley and Ginsberg both committed to the politics of the hip: vote with your horn, founded in the  economy of language. One line, one vote, drawn in the sand. Dorn: 'It's my way of voting early and often.' His economic model: 'Some kind of cooperative against one in which a small number of people have an upper hand in exploiting others. That's not to say much because everybody more or less feels that way.' Actually not; capitalists don't feel that way; consumers don't feel that way. Many in the arts have entered that world, but few poets, since you can't make an honest living writing poems. But it's the company of poets Dorn means by 'everybody.'

‘Alienation’ Melville ‘suffered’ in CALL ME ISHMAEL, or Sam Houston at San Jacinto, crying 'Have I not a friend in the world?' at his moment of triumph. What comes after the poem? Olson: 'I rupture these friendships with men violently.' A struggle to secure his freedom from those who had made it possible to use that freedom productively by offering him ways and means. Letter 20 #5: It is not the substance of a man's fault / it is the shape of it / is what lives with him, is what shows.' It's not what you did to your friend but that you produced such an abomination of form. Olson in his notebook, to Dahlberg: 'no matter how much you have done, how grateful I am...I will not trade in life, I cannot....'. The extension is clear: even if Olson were willing to give up his own goals, it was not in his power to do so.

Keats on the sin of 'flattering oneself into an idea of being a great poet'. The pain of being impelled by a force that must seem to others grandiose, selfish, and cold; this is the great obstacle to intimacy for poets: waiting for the hammer to drop. Ken Warren, in THE EMPEROR’S NEW CODE, points to Olson’s ‘cold ‘recoil from’ Frances Boldereff’s festering lily, placing the demands of the work beyond her physical need to be full of him. She wants the power to hurt Olson by insisting on her need for his cock, but--at what emotional cost?—he will not rise to her. Keats again: others 'do not know me...even my most intimate acquaintance…I am content to be thought all this because I have in my breast so great a resource.' Later, 'Though the most beautiful Creature were waiting for me at the end of a Happiness would not be so fine, as my Solitude is sublime.' Olson is impaled in solitude by the sublime challenge to—as Bernadette Mayer says—‘work your ass off to change the language’, to get it out of the hands of those who think that economy is about winning and winning is about acquiring a larger share of the commons.

Solitude is the steward of the potlatch from which all gifts spring; protecting it is not something we choose to do, an arrangement between parties, but that necessary economy that makes each one of the company, not by fate arranged but by the fact of what each one of us has accepted, what even so hardheaded a realist as Dorn called our sacred responsibility: 'There are certain Obligations of the Divine...part of the function is to be alert to Spirit....'

Poetry, being without base, provides no leverage; friendship between poets does: How can anyone read Olson without concluding that he was pulled by forces too strong for his personality or his intellect to successfully resist? Olson, Dorn & Creeley pushed off from each other as did Duncan, Spicer and Blazer. The Beats. The Manhattoes. Duncan: 'The rapture of the initiated lies in this: his soul is congregationalized.'

The economy of poetic friendship is based in an extended content that reinforces a shared sense of the way form works. Dorn: 'I believe in the shared mind'. His poem, Chronicle:
            Inside Fred plays his cello
            and the air sings thereby
            Here, all around, is
            the world, out on points, on the horizon are
            friends close and far gone
            with the tautness of
            these corded strings
            bind them together.
Solitude is the poet’s best friend: it is the necessary that opposes the good of ordinary friendships. Other poets share this solitude, do not insist on other presents. The economy of the friend is the exchange of solitude. An economics that protects composition is benevolent. The condition is simplicity: From Gloucester Out: ‘I want him to stay away / from the tables of familiarity / I want him to walk by the seashore alone / in all height.' Here is the deep friendship of poets defined.

A Talk Presented by Brian Richards as part of Panel: Economy and Friendship on May 12, 2012 at CLOUDBURST COUNCIL, Naples, New York, USA

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