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Thursday, 27 August 2009

The Ghost of a Chance (after Mallarmé)


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File:Bird at Claremont, Surrey.jpg





A fling of the dice even when cast for good or ill into the eternal

contingency of a shipwreck of which the only trace is the bubbles

will never abolish the Abyss bleached to pure white beneath its simulacrum sail

blown back in takeoff by ineffable headwinds ghost bird

swooping wingspan and depth the hull of a vessel rocked from side to side

in gaping sidereal questionspace rolling toward declension

shining and meditating before stopping at some last point it crests

All thought ejects a cast of the dice into the infinite Chance




File:Dice.jpg












Stephane Mallarmé: Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard (1897): freely remixed into English

Bird mid-flight at Claremont, Surrey: photo by Paul Friel, 2005

Dados cubicos (dice): image by Maximaximax, 2005

10 comments:

Lucy in the Sky said...

You are a true magician with words. You always find the correct formula to cast a spell on us readers.

Lucy in the Sky said...

maybe I should have said "wizard" =)

TC said...

Thanks Lucy, you've reminded me I've always wanted to be Prospero!

xileinparadise said...

Reverdy, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and now Mallarme. Nostalgia for the early French modernists? Might need to rattle them around in a dice cup.

Edelman points out that pattern recognition, primarily a right brain function, is the mistress of our thoughts though the left brain in the guise of logic picks up after her. I thought Jill Taylor's book offered an interesting illustration of that.

xileinparadise said...

Reverdy, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and now Mallarme. Nostalgia for the early French modernists? Might need to rattle them around in a dice cup.

Edelman points out that pattern recognition, primarily a right brain function, is the mistress of our thoughts though the left brain in the guise of logic picks up after her. I thought Jill Taylor's book offered an interesting illustration of that.

TC said...

Pat,

Nostalgia went down the drain for me around the time of the Andrea Doria. I'm just fascinated (no doubt unduly, instinctively and for no "reason") by difficult and complex poetic language structures. Modernism and every other historical/conceptual "ism" that has ever been posited are absolutely without interest for me at this point (said L'il Abner).

I think it's interesting in this connection that Mallarmé's intended typographic vision for his poem, never realized until long after his death, was plotted out by him on graph paper.

The issue of syntactic pattern recognition is crucial in grasping his poem. I have never met anyone who who has been able to realistically claim to have grasped the syntactic structures at work in this poetic fling of the dice.

There is no clear structure in the patterns. Differences in classes of syntactical structures as the poem unfolds defy the positing a stable code of grammar unifying the work.

After beating my broken head against it off and on for forty-five years, this time around I attempted to suspend left brain operations altogether. At first I was keying on a Courbet painting, The Beach at Trouville at Low Tide. That line of effort involved an attempt to convey at a "feeling" level some of the maritime imagery of the poem. But finally, overwhelmed by the dominance of wing/sail/bird references, I went with that blown-back seagull. And the poem really began from there.

The ghost bird was my creation. Perhaps a forcing of the theme. So be it. Right hemisphere work. Much of the left having alas been blown out, arterial blockages, faulty wiring, can't trust analysis these days, supposing I ever could in the first place.

But these aren't random grammars, so...

So much for the vanity of construction.

I tried to get at this subject from another angle in Paradiso Terrestre


We have always been here

it was always ours


words not as signs but powers

of suggestion


this is paradise

in the present tense


no seconds no

minutes no hours


no distance between

object and expression


what is seen or heard

felt in the same moment


by the one who sees and the one

who is seen


the one who speaks

and the hearer of the word


In the comments thread thereto I offered this link to the rather gripping 18 minute exposition of the right brain/left brain dichotomy to which you refer:

Jill's stroke of insight

xileinparadise said...

Tom -- first of all, pardon the hiccup. One too many clicks. As for "can't trust analysis these days, supposing I ever could in the first place." You are too modest, sir. What was it Alice Notley called you? The smartest poet in America.

I am a big reader of brain books. Jill's book, in its disarming simplicity, laid it out like it is.

As for Mallarme's radical typography, what it hath wrought.

I'm sure you knew my dice cup alluded to Picasso's room mate.

parallax said...

yes, yes - now this truly works for me. Thank you Beyond The Pale, for your 'The Ghost of a Chance'.


Apropos of nothing - other than australian-ness and chance - have you seen that 26 yr old Amelia Lester is now managing editor of the NYer? I notice - not too far from your own early trajectory - that prior to that she was editor of The Paris Review - holy shit they spot them young :)

TC said...

Pat, Para,

Thanks for rooting for one's brain, which, frankly, can use any votes of confidence that may be floating around the æthernet.

Para, I did not know that the twenty-six-year-olds had taken over the New Yorker, but judging by what I find to be the increasingly callow nature of that publication, I'm not too surprised.

And speaking of dice-cups...The immediate background of this post, by the by, was a desultory study several months back of probability theory. I have always been fascinated by Damon Runyon's line on life: six to five against.

As I remain incorrigibly of a nonconceptual persuasion, this study gradually turned into an image hunt.

I came upon many interesting images of dice from long ago, perhaps the most compelling being this photo of a
bone die found at Cantonment Clinch (1823 - 1834), an American fort used in the Civil War by both Confederate and Union troops at separate times. The fort was also used in 1898 in the Spanish-American War.

Die bone connected to the dead bone

To imagine who may have rolled this die, to what ends and under what circumstances, was an exercise I found almost as intriguing (and as difficult) as sorting out the syntax of Mallarmé. For me, such considerations put that Runyon line in a whole new light.

Anonymous said...

hi everybody


Just saying hello while I read through the posts


hopefully this is just what im looking for, looks like i have a lot to read.