May 24th, 2011 / 6:37 pm

“A Mercedes Benz is class because it represents money. However, chili dogs have absolutely no class but a great deal of style.” – David Lee Roth

from The Magnetic Fields (1920)

Philippe Soupault & Andre Breton

$240 from Atlas Anti-Classics

The corridors of the big hotels are empty and the cigar smoke is hiding. A man comes down the stairway and notices that it’s raining; the windows are white. We sense the presence of a dog lying near him. All possible obstacles are present. There is a pink cup; an order is given and without haste the servants respond. The great curtains of the sky draw open. A buzzing protests this hasty departure. Who can run so softly? The names lose their faces. The street becomes a deserted track.

About four o’clock that same day a very tall man was crossing the bridge that joins the separate islands. The bells, or perhaps it was the trees, struck the hour. He thought he heard the voices of his friends speaking: “The office of lazy trips is to the right,” they called to him, “and on Saturday the painter will write to you. ” The neighbors of solitude leaned forward and through the night was heard the whistling of streetlamps. The capricious house loses blood. Everybody loves a fire; when the color of the sky changes it’s somebody dying. What can we hope for that would be better? Another man standing in front of a perfume shop was listening to the rolling of a distant drum. The night that was gliding over his head came to rest on his shoulders. Ordinary fans were for sale; the y bore no more fruit. People were running without knowing why in the direction of the estuaries of the sea. Clocks, in despair, were fingering their rosaries. The cliques of the virtuous were being formed. No one went near the great avenues that are the strength of the city. A single storm was enough. From a distance or close at hand, the damp beauty of prisons was not recognized. The best refuges are stations because the travelers never know which way to go. You could read in the lines of the palm that the most fragrant vows of fidelity have no future. What can we do with muscle-bound children? The warm blood of bees is preserved in bottles of mineral water. We have never seen sincerities exposed. Famous men lose their lives in the carelessness of those beautiful houses that make the heart flutter. How small they seem, these rescued tides! Earthly happinesses run in floods. Each object is Paradise.

A great bronze boulevard is the shortest road. Magical squares do not make good stopping places. Walk slowly and carefully; after a few hours you can see the pretty nose-bleed bush. The panorama of consumptives lights up. You can hear every footfall of the underground travelers. And yet the most ordinary silence reigns in these narrow places. A traveler stops, changing expression. Wondering, he approaches the colored bush. Without doubt he wants to pick it but all he can do is shake hands with another traveler who is covered with stolen jewels. Their eyes exchange sulphurous sounds like the murmuring of a dry moon, but a glance disperses the most wonderful meetings. No one could recognize the pale- faced travelers.

from Spring and All (1923)

William Carlos Williams

$12.95 from New Directions (forthcoming facsimile w/ french flaps)


The Easter stars are shining
above lights that are flashing —
coronal of the black —

to say it —
                         Nobody to say : pinholes

Thither I would carry her
among the lights —
Burst it asunder

break through to the fifty words
necessary —

                      a crown for her head with
castles upon it, skyscrapers
filled with nut-chocolates —

                                      dovetame winds —

stars of tinsel
from the great end of a cornucopia
of glass

So long as the sky is recognised as an association

   is recognised in its function of accessory to vague words whose meaning it is impossible to rediscover
   its value can be nothing but mathematical certain limits of gravity and density of air

   The farmer and fisherman who read their own lives there have a practical corrective for —

   they rediscover or replace demoded meanings to the religious terms

Among them, without expansion of imagination, there is the residual contact between life and the imagination which is essential to freedom

   The man of imagination who turns to art for release and fulfilment of his baby promises contends with the sky through layers of demoded words and shapes. Demoded, not because the essential vitality which begot them is laid waste — this cannot be so, a young man feels, since he feels it in himself — but because meanings have been lost through laziness or changes in the form of existance which have let words empty.

   Bare handed the man contends with the sky, without experience of existence seeking to invent and design.

   Crude symbolism is to associate emotions with natural phenomena such as anger with lightning, flowers with love it goes further and associates certain textures with

   Such work is empty. It is very typical of almost all that is done by the writers who fill the pages every month of such a paper as. Everything that I have done in the past — except those parts which may be called excellent — by chance, have that quality about them.

   It is typified by use of the word «« like »» or that «« evocation »» of the «« image »» which served us for a time. Its abuse is apparent. The insignificant «« image »» may be «« evoked »» never so ably and still mean nothing.

    With all his faults Alfred Kreymborg never did this. That is why his work — escaping a common fault — still have value and will tomorrow have more.

   Sandburg, when uninspired by intimacies of the eye and ear, runs into this empty symbolism. Such poets of promise as ruin themselves with it, though many have major sentimental faults besides.

   Marianne Moore escapes. The incomprehensibility of her poems is witness to at what cost (she cleaves herself away) as it is also to the distance which the most are from a comprehension of the purpose of composition.

   The better work men do is always done under stress and at great personal cost.

   It is no different from the aristocratic compositions of the earlier times, The Homeric inventions
these occurred in different times, to this extent, that life had not yet sieved through its own multiformity. That aside, the work the two-thousand-year-old poet did and that we do are one piece. That is the vitality of the classics.

   So then — Nothing is put down in the present book — except through weakness of the imagination — which is not intended as of a piece with the «« nature »» which Shakespeare mentions and which Hartley speaks of so completely in his «« Adventures »» : it is the common thing which is annonymously about us.

   Composition is in no essential an escape from life. In fact if it is so it is negligeable to the point of insignificance. Whatever «« life »» the artist may be forced to lead has no relation to the vitality of his compositions. Such names as Homer, the blind ; Scheherazade, who lived under threat — Their compositions have as their excellence an identity with life since they are as actual, as sappy as the leaf of the tree which never moves from one spot.

   What I put down of value will have this value : an escape from crude symbolism, the annihilation of strained associations, complicated ritualistic forms designed to seperate the work from «« reality »» — such as rhyme, meter as meter and not as the essential of the work, one of its words.

   But all this smacks too much of the nature of — This is all negative and appears to be boastful. It is not intended to be so. Rather the opposite.

   The work will be in the realm of the imagination as plain as the sky is to the fisherman — A very clouded sentence. The word must be put down for itself, not as a symbol of nature but a part, cognisant of the whole — aware — civilized.


so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

   The fixed categories into which life is divided must always hold. These things are normal — essential to every activity. But they exist — but not as dead dissections.

   The curriculum of knowledge cannot but be divided into the sciences, the thousand and one groups of data, scientific, philosophic or whatnot — as many as there exist in Shakespeare — things that make him appear the university of all ages.

   But this is not the thing. In the galvanic category of — The same things exist, but in a different condition when energized by the imagination.

   The whole field of education is affected — There is no end of detail that is without significance.

   Education would begin by placing in the mind of the student the nature of knowledge — in the dead state and the nature of the force which may energize it.

   This would clarify his field at once — He would then see the use of data

   But at present knowledge is placed before a man as if it were a stair at the top of which a DEGREE is obtained which is superlative.

   nothing could be more ridiculous. To data there is no end. There is proficiency in dissection and a knowledge of parts but in the use of knowledge—

   It is the imagination that —

   That is: life is absolutely simple. In any civilized society everyone should know EVERYTHING there is to know about life at once and always. There should never be permitted, confusion —

   There are difficulties to life, under conditions there are impasses, life may prove impossible — But it must never be lost — as it is today —

   I remember so distinctly the young Pole in Leipzig going with hushed breath to hear Wundt lecture — In this mass of intricate philosophic data what one of the listeners was able to maintain himself to the winking of an eyelash. Not one. The inundation of the intelligence by masses of complicated fact is not knowledge. There is no end —

   And what is the fourth dimension ? It is the endlessness of knowledge —

   It is the imagination on which reality rides — It is the imagination — It is a cleavage through everything by a force that does not exist in the mass and therefore can never be discovered by its anatomitization.

   It is for this reason that I have always places art first and esteemed it over science — in spite of everything.

   Art is the pure effect of the force upon which science depends for its reality — Poetry

   The effect of this realization upon life will be the emplacement of knowledge into a living current — which it has always sought —

   In other times — men counted it a tragedy to be dislocated from sense — Today boys are sent with dullest faith to technical schools of all sorts — broken, bruised

   few escape whole —slaughter. This is not civilization but stupidity — Before entering knowledge the integrity of the imagination —

   The effect will be to give importance to the subdivisions of experience — which today are absolutely lost — There exists simply nothing.

   Prose — When values are important, such — For example there is no use denying that prose and poetry are not by any means the same IN INTENTION. But then what is prose ? There is no need for it to approach poetry except to be weakened.

   With decent knowledge to hand we can tell what things are for

   I except to see values blossom. I expect to see prose be prose. Prose, relieved of extraneous, unrelated values must return to its only purpose : to clarity to enlighten the understanding. There is no form to prose but that which depends on clarity. If prose is not acurately adjusted to the exposition of facts it does not exist — Its form is that alone. To penetrate everywhere with enlightenment —

   Poetry is something quite different. Poetry has to do with the crystalization of the imagination — the perfection of new forms as additions to nature — Prose may follow to enlighten but poetry —

   Is what I have written prose ? The only answer is that form in prose ends with the end of that which is being communicated — If the power to go on falters in the middle of a sentence — that is the end of the sentence — Or if a new phrase enters at that point it is only stupidity to go on.

   There is no confusion — only difficulties.

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  1. Anonymous

  2. deadgod

      There is a difference between “class” and “style”, but “money” is not the only differentia that signifies or defines “class”; “class” is at least as rigorously enforced in capitalistic political economy by ‘manners’, and manners delineate “class” in every coherent social group or context.  (A ‘classy’ basketball player or bartender is not necessarily a materially rich one.)  I don’t think this association of “class” with ‘manners’ is merely equivocation; I think “class” in the sense of ‘political-economic status’ is also a constitutive distinction defining and, in dialectical turn, enforced by ‘manners’.

      “Style” surely can cut against the grain of “class” – that is, of “money” or ‘manners’ – but what is stylin’ about a chili dog, per se or even from Roth’s point of view??  Or, if one has to ask, . . . ?

      All possible obstacles are present.

      That’s sly, the actual being prior to the potential.  Obstacles are the path, because without them, here and everywhere is already the destination.

  3. deadgod

      In the Williams excerpts, “Composition is in no essential an escape from life.” and “I expect to see values blossom.”  I noticed these nits and pick them because the meanings of the sentences is changed significantly by them.

  4. reynard

      i already corrected the ‘an’ but actually ‘except’ appears that way in the facsimile reproduction of the original, it is printed ‘expect’ in my copy of imaginations so it could have been a typo from the printer, it was the same printer that typeset ulysses and though they were accustomed to the kinds of weird formatting williams wanted, they also made mistakes in ulysses; however, williams died before imaginations came out so i wonder if he didn’t do it intentionally, anyway i just tried to stick to all his misspellings and such because who knows but him

  5. Anonymous  

  6. deadgod

      In the Collected Poems: 1909-1939 (Vol. 1), p. 226 (which page is on the google books “preview”), the word is “expect”.  But I’m in no position not to except a typo, I accpect.

  7. deadgod

      In the Collected Poems: 1909-1939 (Vol. 1), p. 226 (which page is on the google books “preview”), the word is “expect”.  But I’m in no position not to except a typo, I accpect.

  8. Anonymous

  9. reynard

      again, that was printed in 86, imaginations in 70, he died in 63 and his wife holds the copyrights; i still think it’s possible because of all the wordplay he was doing, it’s all very wink wink

  10. deadgod

      exceptable acception

  11. Anonymous 

  12. reynard

      as for the style/class dialectic, i think roth’s pov is in line with the mods of europe, who appropriated the style of the upper class in order to disempower them, removing ‘manners’ from ‘money’ leaves one with only ‘style’ and so mocks the order of ‘class’

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  15. deadgod

      That’s neatly said – though ‘disempowerment’ that leaves “money” (= accumulation + say-so) in “the upper class” doesn’t redistribute power so much as it teaches that “class” how to express its power in a ‘lower’ idiom to lower “classes”.

      Style that is consciously ‘manners without money’ would be revolutionary, or would indicate revolutionary practice, because political-economic “class” is formed by the removal of “money” from labor, from ‘world-making’.

  16. reynard

      hmmm, that may well be true, after all that is essentially where we got our great african-american writers from isn’t it; although, within the black community, they were not always seen in a favorable light (a la ‘house negro’ ‘uncle tom’, etc; granted, these terms were more accurately applied to subservience rather than simple ‘manners’ as in, but these mannered people without money certainly proved to be revolutionary simply by becoming educated and eventually getting some money, some power, and thus, ‘class’ so long as they didn’t speak out too much of course – what i’m trying to say is, yes and no

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  21. Guestagain

      Economic dimensions aside, class is more behavior related (manners/respect) and sourced from a practiced tradition, class is taught, where style is almost always a contemporary response and set of individuated presentation choices, I have a friend with a new MB who has no class at all, but a mile of style. I’m not sure about taking style winks from D L Roth in any case… Also, they might consider putting plastic sheep on that sod conveyor belt.

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  27. reynard

      that’s an interesting distinction but that is taking the word at its most informal sense, which i guess is okay but i personally find it hard to put economic dimensions aside, they are very real dimensions – i think that, in the u.s. anyway, we have like a very warped idea of class, because everyone in this country seems to think they are in the middle class or at least were raised in the middle class – statistically of course, this simply cannot be true and it isn’t, almost everyone in this country grew up in and remains in varying degrees of the working class, and then there is what i would call the ruling class, which is also broken up into varying degrees, you have for instance the new ruling class who own small businesses and those businesses either fail, succeed, or get sold, and then you have the old ruling class, who have a lot of capital and move it around; for instance, an engineer could make $200k and still be in the working class, maybe that’s upper working class or whatever, but s/he still works for someone and this is very different from working for oneself – to me, class is not so much taught as it is learned, or more appropriately, appropriated – we are all actors in society and when we want to fit in to a certain ‘class’ we either act the part or are ostracized by that class – but i would agree that style is self-made and also extremely relative – one man’s mile of style is another man’s douchebag

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