Saturday, December 10, 2005

On Disjunction

A fascinating essay, “Forms of Disjunction,” in The Resistance to Poetry, by James Logenbach, a book recommended by Kevin at The Slant Truth. The gist of the essay (or at least my reading of it) is that disjunction — an unexpected leap of association, image, argument, tone — is crucial, even essential, to poetry. As readers, we want to be astonished, bewitched, confused for a moment, and to have to work a little to fill in what’s missing, to make our own connections. This is one of the great pleasures of poetry. The problem is when a poem is all disjunction. You know the kind of poem I am talking about. Where you can’t make heads or tails of anything in it. Instead of a sense of surprise or wonder or mystery, all you feel reading it is weariness, boredom. Logenbach quotes Auden on this:

“The danger, as Auden admitted more openly in a letter to Frank O’Hara, was that of ‘confusing authentic non-logical relations which arouse wonder with accidental ones which arouse mere surprise and in the end fatigue.’ . . . There is always a risk involved in disjunction; that’s part of its wonder. And we need to feel, in our pleasure, the threat of the accident impinging slightly on the authentic.” pg 36.

He goes on to differentiate between “dry disjunction” and “wet disjunction,” the former being more sensory, dream-like, image-based, and spoken; and the latter being more abstract, philosophical, idea-based, and thought.

I think of the Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense. Sometimes it’s exactly what a poem needs: to stop making so much sense, to have a dash of disjunction added to it: a little wet, a little dry. But a poem that is all disjunction is like fishing without a bicycle.


The Sublibrarian said...

It's interesting that Longenbach's two types of disjunction seem to deal more with the content or the projected sense of the world behind the poem.

Which leads me to wonder if he's missing one form of disjunction: that based on the materiality of language, disjunction that happens right on the surface of the poem.

I'm thinking about pieces like Mullen's Zen Acorn which begins:

a frozen
indian acorn

a frozen
indiana corn

afro zen
indian acorn


I think this sort of disjunction appears regularly in some forms of Oulipian work like Perec's "ulcerations" ("threnodials" being the English equivalent).

A similar (though I think distinct) sort of disjunction shows up, too, in Mac Low's work where "the threat of the accident impinging slightly on the authentic" isn't even in the same universe because its all contingency. Authenticity is beside the point because the writing is designed to thwart it.

Peter said...

Ron: Yes, I agree totally. There's more to disjunction than "wet" and "dry." Perhaps we could call it "airy disjunction?" or "surface disjunction?"

And I love that Mullen poem you quote.

jenni said...

Good post. I agree--I want mystery but I also want some sort of cohesion. If there's no mystery, the poem lacks something, if there's no cohesion, I can't put it together in any meaningful way. meaning is very important to me. I am a meaning type person. I don't understand anything unless I read it first, so i am a meaning-language type of learner. hmm...maybe i will write about this today.


Thin Black Duke said...

I'm glad you're enjoying the book, Peter. I agree with sublibrarian, if only because I tend to resist breaking things down so neatly. "Airy" disjunction is a good term, but it also seems to approach the new critical notion of ambiguity for me. I'm not sure if I think that's good or bad. :)

I think Longenbach makes up for the easy categorization of wet and dry disjunction in the next essay, "Song and Story." The "tension" between play and meaning that he speaks of was the most beneficial for my own reading.

Collin said...

Interesting post, Peter. It makes me want to explore further. I'm always trying to find that middle ground between concrete and abstraction. Cheers!

-K- said...

Auden wrote to O'Hara? Did O'Hara write back? In a way perhaps he did in "Personism" altho I have no idea if the dates of the letter and of the essay would coincide.

I know very little about LANGUAGE poetry. except I guess I don't care for it because of the fatigue factor.

But all this did make me re-read "Personism" just now as it makes some reference to abstraction in poetry requiring "personal removal".

I never really thought about this before but O'Hara turned his thinking inside out to write his "I do this I do that" poems where the abstraction sort of slithers in in spots.