[Wgcp-whc] Session this Fri--Silliman's Alphabet

richard.deming at yale.edu richard.deming at yale.edu
Mon Oct 20 21:22:58 EDT 2008

Dear Team Poetics,

last week's terrific, stimulating visit from Michael Palmer was dense with
insights and thoughts about the stakes of poetry.  I'll try to work up a report
as soon as I can.  However, we have another meeting this Friday from 3-5 at our
usual spot, Rm 116 of the WHC.  This will be our first session on the work of
Ron Silliman and his tome The Alphabet. Silliman will be joining us on Nov 7th
for a discussion of his work. Just a reminder, this is what Silliman we read of
the Alphabet:

"Let's say A thru F, K&L, N, P, Q, R, S, U, V, W & X. As Huth points out, A thru
M equals only 28 percent of the book, so that this should still come in below 50
percent."  That's still a great deal, but we can discuss this on Friday.

Huth is Geof Huth, who is blogging his reading of Silliman's book.

That's still a lot to cover.  What if we concentrated on A-F, K and L.  That
will get us into the book.  One thing we'll consider is the way this is and is
not a sequence.

Silliman is a true force in the blogosphere and anyone who hasn't taken a look
at that should look into it: http://ronsilliman.blogspot.com/

An essay by Silliman on poetic form is here:

A very useful site offers brief statements about Silliman's

This includes a useful note by Charles Bernstein, which I'll paste below.

These sites should give context for the leviathan that is The Alphabet.

Until Friday,
Richard Deming

Charles Bernstein on Silliman

Which brings us to Ron Silliman (this is an article about Ron Silliman), whose
work accounts for narration by showing how the sequencing of sentences
engenders meaning and how the world accomodates--is made particular by--the
ingenuity of narrative shapes.

Or again: Silliman writes tales, a word whose Anglo-Saxon derivations include
both the word for narrative (talu) and number (tael). By adding number
(numerical structural programs) to narrative, Silliman tells the tale of
ourselves; or, better, has awakened such tales from the deep slumber of
chronology, causality, and false unity (totalization).

Hypnotized by false unity, that is a theme Silliman's work returns to again and
again: the desire to read-in a unity even where none exists. And so, in his own
texts, detail is cast upon detail, minute particular upon minute particular,
adding up to an impossibility of commensurable narrative. With every new
sentence a new embarkation: not only is the angle changed, and it's become a
close-up, but the subject is switched. Yet maybe the sound's the same, carries
it through. Or like an inter-locking chain: A has a relation to B and B to C,
but A and C have nothing in common (series not essence).

Breaking the hold of rationalized narrative is not new with Ron Silliman. One
only needs to look at the opening of Blake's The Four Zoas: "Four Mighty ones
are in every Man; / a Perfect Unity Cannot Exist." And if the indulgence of the
juxtaposition is not incomensurable enough, let me compound the problem by
substituting Silliman's

        "toward the suppression of multiplicity into unity, a drive which we
have seen is overwhelmingly strong in Newton . . . . Thus what Blake's Four
Zoas narrative constructs is, from the point of view of Newtonian narrative, an
impossibility: a series of eccentric, mutually incommensurable universes which
intersect precisely at their lacunae." (Ault, "Incommensurability", p.299)

Rationalized narrative, in its presuppositions, is "A specific ontology hushed,
search(ing) for the world", as Silliman points out in "The Four Protozoas". In
contrast, Silliman has produced a writing in which that search is replaced by a
material engagement.

    From "Narrating Narration: The Shapes of Ron Silliman's Work." In The
Difficulties (1985).

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