Marginalia, no.108

…an attempt to build longish units of language that more or less replicate sizable chunks of Being…

~ Paul West, ‘In Defense of Purple Prose’

West elsewhere describes the writer “ably transposing words into things, things into words” like some kind of household demiurge.  I’m not usually so optimistic.  We want to believe that our inward and outward experiences are easily convertible one to the other by a special alchemy of language.  But they are two opposed poles, each whispering its own magnetic insistence.  And our words are just as often the migratory terns that never reach the breeding grounds but fall dead of exhaustion into the sea.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Marginalia, no.108

  1. Ian Wolcott

    Cheers to Dave Lull for sending me the link to West’s essay. Life is better with a Lull in the action.

  2. elberry

    Good old Dave Lull, the daimon of the internet.

    Language is a mystery indeed. Not merely in the sense of something we don’t fully understand, but in the sense of the Orphic mysteries, or runa. On and off i’ve spent the last few months trying to understand why good poetry works. It’s hard because i keep coming up with glib, easy answers which are okay but leave me feeling unsatisfied. The problem is partly that i’m using language to think about language, so as in the well-tempered clavier everything is a little “off”. Vexing.

  3. The one and only Dave Lull, is it? The OWL? Who else? I have so much already to thank him for, and now for this.

    Ian, you’ve got some purple into your own prose here. 3 metaphors in as many sentences: from alchemy, to magnetism and polarity, to things avian and migratory. But then maybe there’s crossfire in the last two. Is it, or is it not, by relation to the earth’s magnetic poles that some species of migratory birds ply their way somewhere under the Heavens and above the golf courses of southern Michigan, where I once lived and saw them do it? (Canada geese in this case.) I’m too lazy even to Google it at this hour to see if that’s a wives’ tale, or a husbands’.

    So I leave you, if not with the cake of knowledge in these regards, at least with the Frosting:

    Far as we aim our signs to reach,
    Far as we often make them reach,
    Across the soul from soul abyss,
    There is an aeon limit set
    Beyond which they are doomed to miss.
    Two souls may be too widely met.
    That sad-with-distance river beach
    With mortal longing may beseech;
    It cannot speak as far as this.

    –from “A Missive Missile,” which with I end this epistle.

  4. Ian Wolcott

    Daimon, Owl, etc… Dave Lull is everywhere.

    As for birds, my understanding is that long-distance migratory species like the arctic tern somehow make use of the earth’s magnetic field to help them navigate. I’m not sure if this is hypothesis or fact, however.

    I heistate to admit it, Mark, but I’ve never been a big Frost reader. I believe you’ll turn me into one.

  5. Another erratum in that bit from RF: The first line should read “Far as *we* aim our signs to reach…” Gomen nasai, as we say in Japan. It was late. I am a bad late-night scribe.

    (Thanks for confirming the bird bit. I have an ornithologist friend, come to think of it, & can ask him, too. Meanwhile, I will endeavor to turn your compass toward RF. Starting here: http://wp.me/pEoNE-BK)

  6. Ian Wolcott

    Corrected. That link gets me to your site but to a blank-ish page, by the way.

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