Sunday, January 29, 2017

READING ROCK STARS



Late last year I got into reading rock star memoirs. It started with Pete Townshend’s Who I Am, back around Thanksgiving, which I’d had on my shelf awhile, and then continued through Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run, in early December, and Neil Young’s Waging Heavy Peace, which I got for Christmas.

The main thing this trio of personal stories did (besides giving me some insight into the character of each of these songwriters—songwriters that each made a big impression on me before we all got out of the 1970s) was point up how privileged the rock star lifestyle is and how, to a certain telling extent, success doesn’t change anything. Granted, if any of the three had not been a success I wouldn’t be reading their books, and if any had been a mere flash in the pan—like, if their influence stopped with the 1970s, say—than it’s not so sure I’d be reading them either, unless I just wanted to go back to that heyday for purposes of jogging my own memory. (Which, by the way, was probably the biggest effect of reading these three worthies.) But, to further expound on the point about success: it made them “who they are,” so that I care, but they each maintained some quality they already had even before they made it. Which was a way of noticing that one reason all three mattered to me is that I believed in them, when I first encountered their music, and, though in each case there were later periods when I cared about their releases not much at all, I still feel tied to, even rooted by, the music of theirs that got through to me first.

And the other thing all three books have in common, on that score: None of the three talk very much about their songs or songwriting. I don’t mean the technical side of what went into the song—the guitar tuning or the chord sequence, and so on—but rather its intention as a song. Springsteen is the best of the three at that, but that’s true mostly of the more autobiographical songs that help him to talk about himself, which is the point of the memoir, mostly. In each case, it’s interesting to see how a musical artist’s career looks through his own eyes. But these books aren’t going to give you much insight into how writing certain songs at certain times clarified anything for these writers.

It’s not a complaint so much as an observation. What matters to me, as I’ve tried to show with the Song of the Day posts, is how songs become part of the listener’s psychic life. My assumption that songs, for the songwriter, were already a necessary part of the songwriter’s psychic life might be naïve, but I don’t think that’s the problem. It’s not that the songs aren’t a part of the songwriter’s psychic life, it’s that they are to such an extent that any of the three would have to be a much better writer of prose to get at that. It’s much easier to write about the surface phenomena—how you get along with band mates, the influence of collaborators on the final product, the memorable experiences with family and friends and lovers, the bad judgments, the mea culpa moments, the struggles with the career valleys, the effect of the commercial side of all this—than with the “so, you’re alone with a notebook and a guitar” moments.

As a person, Townshend is the least likeable, no surprise. He knows he’s kind of an arrogant prick, but, so what, he’s Peter Townshend, and in the big book of rock, The Who matter—then, now, and for all time. I guess the thing I learned that interested me most was how much the group was Roger Daltrey’s. It was Daltrey’s first—he’s the front man after all—and Pete was invited to join. So, much of what The Who were had to be agreed upon by Roger and John Entwhistle, the bass player, who was also in the band before Pete was. Because Pete wrote mostly all the material and was lead guitar, I always looked upon him as the leader, and because I’m biased toward writers. And I blamed him when The Who’s product became sub par, especially when he did such a great solo album, Empty Glass, while the concurrent Who album was middling. But that’s not entirely his fault. Roger’s an ass too, y’see. And Pete has had to do a lot of coping with what The Who fan base expects of the band and what the band is comfortable with doing. But then again I don't care that much about what he has done since The Who’s heyday and the Broadway version of Tommy was kind of a sell-out of what the album required, so that, of all its various incarnations, seeing The Who perform it was still closest to what it was—Ken "Excess" Russell's kitschy film version notwithstanding.

Neil is the most likeable, and that’s mainly because his prose style is so disarming. It’s like hanging out with him and getting to know him. It’s almost off-hand at times, and yet he does, in non-chronological fashion, cover most of the albums and events you expect to hear about. It’s a long, varied career and, for me, his comments kept bringing back to mind how much his music has mattered to me over the years and for many years. More than the others, he revived himself in the 1990s to an almost unprecedented extent. Of the three, only Springsteen experienced a great career upsurge in the 1980s, but he still didn’t keep my interest to quite the same degree thereafter. The other two really lost ground with me in that decade, though Young less than Townshend/The Who. But then Neil came on strong in the 90s and made it his decade. No one of a similar degree of longevity was even remotely comparable. And that matters. And Neil has gone on with some really good albums and some just so-so ones and some pretty off-hand ones into the current dearth of rock relevance. He’s a maverick, and his approach seems to be much like his personality, doing what interests him at the moment.

Springsteen’s memoir is probably the most lucid. It’s a great performance by a guy who has worked hard to develop his persona—what they like to call now “his brand.” Bruce Springsteen, as an entity, has a lot of associative affect. And that’s why I was so pleased by the amount of time he spent with his early days, before there was any “Brucers”—or Bruce fans—in the world. His long struggle to make a decent living from playing music may be familiar ground—having known, here and there, people from the same basic geographical area trying their hand at it—but I didn’t know much about it in his particular case. What his experience creates is a certain enduring humility—even after Born to Run he had to work hard just to stay financially solvent to say nothing of having to “top” it or at least not fail it too badly—and, with the huge success in the mid-Eighties, a certain wry sense of how fortuitous such success can be. It made him, yes, but he was already who he was. And he’s the kind of guy who, once he’s got the attention, can handle it but who also tries to make it useful.

All three, in that regard, have conscience about how their success brings responsibility. Maybe it’s because his greatest success came by being a band member that Townshend seems the one least concerned with giving credit to others. Springsteen and Young are both very interesting, and completely sincere, when they give credit and when they sometimes take to task the ways things didn’t go the way they could’ve. Young, not surprisingly, given his many great songs, seems to have the deepest self-knowledge, even if he’s quite willing to concede that he doesn’t really understand himself fully, at least at this point when he’s becoming an old fart. Townshend seems to have the least self-knowledge, but I think that’s more a case of not delving into much for the purposes of his narrative. There’s a rather passive sense in a lot of it, as though things happening to Pete Townshend, the rocker, are just the kind of things you’d expect and Pete Townshend, the author, has no duty other than to note them. Only Springsteen seems to be driving for the clarity that a personal account can bring. He’s trying to get how it looked to him—more than “how I did it”—on paper, and the main thing he keeps in mind is the learning curve. Like his perceptive fans, he expects each album to tell him something about who he is as an artist at that moment. While the big interpretations of that can be left to others, he does let us see how his own creativity keeps him moving—and his love of music-making, and his love of his fans and his band, and his burning desire to make better records, not lesser records.

Young has a similar conviction that the music he is a part of matters. He respects his forebears and tries not to let the franchise down. Rock made him and he tries to make it, to the best of his ability. But he’s also quite candid about the ways in which the music business and, specifically, the technology that came in with mp3s, is a disservice to the music, in evolving ways. The problem early in his career was just getting a good deal; the problem now is with the product itself and the ways in which the internet has morphed music in ways radio didn’t. He doesn’t have that much to say about what TV did to it, because, in the era of real stereos, the box didn’t matter much and now, in the era of computers and smartphones, it again doesn’t matter.

Granted, there’s a certain post mortem aspect to the whole notion: rock writers writing memoirs, if only because “the greatest is behind.” That’s true with these three because they were each a major part of the pop culture furnishings of the 1970s and, whatever one makes of the decades that have followed, that particular point in time is back there somewhere in personal and cultural history. All three have to take stock of deaths that altered, for each personally, the world they live in and who they can count on being in it with them. That aspect of the books is actually a bit moving at times. Survivors speaking of those who did not make it to this point. Danny Whitten, Clarence Clemons, Keith Moon, John Entwhistle, Danny Federici, Ben Keith ....

The odd thing about our celebrity heroes is how much we live in their world too, even if we’re just abstractions—fans, listeners, followers—in their view. But, in the memoir sense of autobiographical criticism, getting down when and how these artists make their mark is of the essence in how they shape our world, for periods of time.

On the one hand, it would be easy to make autobiography as criticism simply a record of one’s likes and dislikes, to determine how one shaped a taste and varied it, adapting it to the changing times. Or, with an eye on the latter, one could look at how the market made certain things available and how one’s identifications with certain products, certain careers furnish the dimensions of one’s own life within a cultural matrix, in this case rock—“capitalismus’s favorite boy-child” as the Mekons say. But my stress on songs a moment ago—and by extension albums as a specific collection of songs (and Young is very adamant about his records being arranged, so that he doesn’t like the easy sharing out of context on playlists)—aims, of course, at something more lyrical than historical. Because that level of identification detaches—to the extent that anything in our times can—from strict market forces with, yes, a sense of what charisma means in the old religious sense. All the bad or good advertising copy in the world doesn’t make you experience or live the song with its singer, not really. Or at least that’s a starting point for accounting for that kind of “life.” A life lived in other people’s music? A life spent choosing the soundtrack? Perhaps, but in the end you either believe that poetry and music are recognizable, knowable events—within the vast configuration of events that make a life—or else you are left only with prose. And yeah, in our lifetimes, that prose will be either ad copy or press releases or the merger of advertising and reporting into something called “media.” Or else it will be criticism. Or, maybe, the hero’s “own story in his own words!”

Friday, January 6, 2017

NEW YEARING



“Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone.”—Rebecca Solnit

Writing should be that, at least. The idea I find in Solnit’s statement is the one that has been the driving force behind all the journal writing I have ever done. It’s saying to no one and, I would say, “anyone” things not meant for any particular someone. Not that I’m writing suppressed secrets or anything like that. For me, at the start, it was a case of needing writing to say anything at all. Most conversations aren’t aimed for much purpose apart from exercising the vocal chords or simply making time with some particular person. Argument is generally an airing of griefs rather than of views. Conversation has its place, but rare are its occasions, in my experience. Chat is much more prevalent and, in my youth, I had a knack for that only in very limited contexts. And I wasn’t particularly skilled at introducing a topic and developing it. That came much later, with teaching. In the days when I first began keeping a journal—19—I wrote because no one was listening and, even if they were, I didn’t have much to say, aloud.

It’s that “not possible” that we might spend some time discussing. What makes saying something “possible” or “not possible”? Some might think: censors, internal or external. But censors insist that something is forbidden to be said or maybe, in a sense, unthinkable and thus unsayable. But “not possible to say to someone” is the full phrase. The key idea it seems to me is that there is no “someone” poised to receive these intelligences. It’s “not possible” to think of a single individual. No valued listener or friend. More, perhaps: what one wants to write, needs to write, doesn’t necessarily need to be heard. It must be read, or forget it. This is what I took Solnit to mean because it addresses my own quandary about writing to be read. I have no problem with writing something I’m expected to write—the terms are, as it were, provided by the occasion. But writing what no one asked one to write, writing that isn’t simply—as in a notebook—for one’s eyes only or primarily, such writing demands a reader who is not oneself, and yet who could that person be? All “someones” in one’s life are foreclosed by that phrase “not possible to say to someone.” If there were someone one could address, one would write a personal letter, pick up the phone, send an email or text.

Perhaps tweets function in the way Solnit means. They certainly have a gang’s-all-here quality that means they’re for everyone, whoever, wherever. And they seem to be, rhetorically, a gesture more than anything, something that, if addressed to only one someone, would have personal meaning, but when flung into the internet become bits of observable phenomena, to be made of as who so will. But I don’t have much to say about that. Though, arguably, a blog post, and I’ve written a few of those, is just an overly long tweet. If so, then, yes, let’s just say that in this online format one is speaking to no one and anyone all the time. But is that what one is always doing in writing anyway? Perhaps, but to me the difference between online writing and a journal is that “anyone” factor. In time, should a notebook survive, anyone might come across it and read it, true, but it wasn’t written for that eventuality. A post already presumes an environment in which, potentially, anyone’s eyes might fall upon something, for reasons which remain obscure. So, while I feel that journal writing is for “no one” (except me), blog posts are for “anyone,” deliberately.

Then again, I think of Nietzsche’s subtitle for Thus Spoke Zarathustra: “a book for everyone and no one.” If Solnit is correct, every book could bear that subtitle, as any act of writing could. But Nietzsche meant it in a particular way, as though the contents of the book, while there for everyone to glean, had no immediate audience. No one was quite ready to receive it or read it. And yet it was written for them, for us, all.

That aspect of Nietzsche’s writing appealed to me greatly in my teens. That sense that “no one,” perhaps, had ever quite gotten it, so that “everyone” was missing the point. I have that sensation a lot. Most things I read, however perspicacious they may be, usually suggest to me some aspect of the question that the writer is not addressing, is missing. It was Nietzsche who first exposed me, repeatedly, to how prevalent is the fact that, in making a point, one misses a point. It’s not simply that there are two sides to the point and one is stressing one and ignoring the other, no, it’s more dialectical than that. It’s the fact that, in saying something, one creates a shadowy negative of what one is saying in the reader’s mind. A reader well-informed on the topic will have other facts and points already raised, mentally. But even someone just reading along will see the gaps in the logic and, sometimes fatally, the rhetorical sleights that create a sense of authority where there is only opinion or, worse, received opinion. We all drop the ball in writing and even more so in speaking. In fact, a lot of writing seems to exist for no other purpose than to sound the horn, saying “look out, I’m speaking here.” Some people have so much to say.

In our Trumped-up times, speech, as any kind of measured rhetoric, has taken a big hit. Public discourse may not survive the blow. Already it was weak in the knees. Obama, who speaks with a judicious weighing easy to parody, was a true anomaly in U.S. politics. It’s all banter, bluster and balderdash now, and one tweets to everyone and anyone what may not be reasonable to say to “someone.”

Which, I suppose, might be a way of saying—to anyone!—that one reason to keep writing, much as I hate to say it, is to stop one’s ears to all the worthless verbiage. If I’m writing I can’t be listening, or reading. And there’s only so much of the latter two acts I feel willing to engage in, at this time. Sure, it’s always possible to read writing from some other time, to engage the mind with more knowledge that, while not strictly useful, helps to offset the sense of wallowing in the worst excesses of the American public so far endured. To the extent that we Americans are all some portion of the body politic, we are all now numbered among the Unfortunate Stooges of America, played for patsies by a Clown Prince of Crime, à la The Joker.

During the election, I happened to see episodes of the old TV series Batman, starring Adam West, in which The Penguin runs for mayor and he’s kicking the incumbent’s ass, so they ask Batman to run, and he does, much in the measured tones of our outgoing Prez, which gets him nowhere in the climate of the Penguin’s sideshow razzle-dazzle. The Penguin’s rhetoric’s resemblance to Trump’s empty promises is uncanny, or would be except that the blueprint for how to say nothing and mean it has long been engraved into the national psyche, so much so that Trump on the stump was always the bad Reality TV version of what a scripted bullshit-slinger would sound like, trumpeting the message that the only people stupider than his listeners are the people who have been elected or hired to do the jobs they do. I’ve heard this “everyone’s an idiot but me” line my entire life, and it usually comes from someone who hates the higher-ups but who doesn’t want their tasks. Wants to snipe, not lead. Trumpy, however, sniped his way into a job. It’s a job he doesn’t really want—in the sense of its job description—unless he can do it his way. He was elected president, but he ran for monarch. So I guess we’ll see how that plays out. What else is there to watch?

Meanwhile, it’s a new year. I’d like to say it’s time, for me, for a return to writing, the kind of writing I don’t engage in often enough, to go back to whatever it was that got me interested in doing it and to find out if it’s possible to say what I wanted to say. I never had enough faith in big abstract things like “the American people” or “God” or “my fellow man” to be bitterly disappointed by the crap that comes down. In the Batman episode, ultimately, the people don’t elect The Penguin, showing that there was still an electorate capable of distinguishing between a snake-oil salesman and a person with at least a few commitments to something other than himself and his own will to power. But that was in 1968, which is when everything got broken and pretty much stayed that way. When I was in high school, in the mid-Seventies, I read this passage by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. It seemed to say it all then.

I remembered The Fourteenth Book of Bokonon, which I had read in its entirety the night before. The Fourteenth Book is entitled, "What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years?"
It doesn't take long to read
The Fourteenth Book. It consists of one word and a period.
This is it:
"Nothing."

At the time, that suited my view, as a teen without much connection to my times or my contemporaries. Later, when I was much better educated, I would try to qualify that passage. The “past million years” is too sweeping a generality. I still think so, but I would apply the formula to “the past 50 years,” easily. So it goes.


Monday, July 4, 2016

TOWARD CRITICISM, 3



A Curated Self (7/2/16)
It’s finally the effort to articulate the self that matters to me, but that would be a self in formation, through the experiences that, from the vantage viewed, seem most prevalent. It’s a curated self, then. As such, the experiences form a sort of syllabus or gallery, a selection that suits as objective correlative of something to which they can only attest. The writing then is the attestation, the signifying of what is otherwise mute experience. Finding the voice for this correlation, then, is the task, shaped by all one needs it to mean, to stand for (and against). Because finally what is at stake is the selection of—militia-wise—one’s “colors.” So all the list-making is only an effort to nudge one’s current self—drowsing in its indifference—back to the moments when it mattered, this self-formation, this education by one’s best lights. And in the scope of those lights everything else—what one does and becomes or fails to do or become—shines or, at least, becomes visible, vocable.

The position as “growth of the critic’s mind”—rather than poet’s or artist’s—structures the tendencies. This is not a discussion of how one becomes a writer, but how one becomes a consciousness that discerns values, that argues worth and meaning. Resisting this in the name of the worth of my own imagination—as to be shown in invented characters, situations, or verse forms/voices—has set me on and off. The point of criticism becomes simply the clarity of seeing and saying. The philosophical benefit is simply enhancement of being, which is to say consciousness, for what else is there? The chosen objects express and establish the speaking subject.


Professing and poeticizing (7/3/16)
To qualify an earlier statement, re: “professor.” One is a professor in the sense of professing certain values, in the experience and in its presentation. What one makes more of—than one might in a lecture or in a position paper—is the fact of the representation. The performance bears remarking on as it is by no means certain what its orientation should be. It’s certainly not only determined by the effort to pass on knowledge or to clarify or instruct. The intention behind those activities is more selfless, whatever their requirements and varieties may be. Who stands before an audience to articulate the self? The poet, perhaps we think, and in that sense I suspect my position to be lyrical, as in based on that intangible state of self-communing that promotes the composition of verse, or may, but the intention is again different. The composition is not a rendering at that level—or at least not at the level I pretend to when writing in verse. The critical element necessitates a different status. I suppose one could write a verse essay and achieve something like, but in such instances I would be more likely struck by artfulness or its lack, though that’s only suppositious. I could only know for certain by doing.

In any case, the purpose is not to assert by means of lyrical intensity primarily but by some element more discursive and arrived at via a process of reflection that, for me anyway, is much more mysterious in verse. The emphasis here requires fidelity to some quality other than lyricism, or music, or the value of putting into speech for the sake of speech. The quality has to be a testimonial, a statement or argument worth entertaining about what the given object means or has meant. The rendering is of the “figure”; the means is the “fiction,” and I’m only able to approximate, in advance, what such fictions might be comprised of. Certainly, as in lyric, a definite element may be the autobiographical, that sense that the speaker must let his own ideas play upon his pulses—to use Keats’ phrase—and certainly the autobiographical impulse—in me—will mean an allusiveness to whatever has left the deepest impressions in that part of life lived, as one once said without irony, inwardly. The irony is all on the side, here, of making clear what might be best left obscure. Why should it be necessary to maintain in language, outwardly, what is best apprehended inwardly? No other reason than death. Speak now, or forever hold your peace, indeed.

It’s not simply a matter of “strange things I have in head which will to hand,” but it is that, if by “strange” we accept “particular” or as one says in an older idiom, “peculiar” to the mind in which they originate. But it is also a matter of—and this is a key distinction from what I would expect from myself in either lecture or verse—following one’s thought where it leads, regardless of whether or not it prove original, poetic, or instructive. It should at least be illuminating because it illumines what otherwise is dark: the relations between distinct occasions and experiences and readings and rememberings. It is the making of the net to catch the sleek fish of one’s imaginary. Those shapes that signify by their motions and colors and rhythms.



A personal geometry (7/4/16)
“Really, universally, relations end nowhere, and the exquisite problem of the artist is eternally but to draw, by a geometry of his own, the circle within which they shall happily appear to do so.”—Henry James

So, to drop my “net” image and accept James’ figure of a personal geometry, the question is how to plot out “the relations” so as to end somewhere for, as he says, the relations don’t really end. And that—knowing that all too well—I could say has stymied me more than once when I felt “prepared” to embark on such criticism as I have in mind. One knows at the outset that much of the geometry is so personal and individual as to be a matter of indifference or unintelligibility to other minds. The eternal question I came back to again and again in writing about Finnegans Wake is: “What is the principle of selection and what is the principle of combination?” These could not be empirically determined and so analysis must ever fall short of a full account. Thus all readings are to a purpose, and that purpose shall be whatever—given “the scene”—the critic deems viable to an audience.

But in these efforts that seem more in the manner of a confession—the revealing of the “I” or the “self”—one’s audience is, as it were, the ages or the god of the ages. One’s accounting becomes a rhetorical performance, maybe even a ritual performance (as prayer and perhaps poetry are both). But also, if one allows it, playful. For the making of a personal geometry is—as I titled an early effort at a long poem—a matter of “trials and errors.” One is on trial for not trying harder and must acquit oneself as one may, mea culpa.  And one must own one’s errors or never learn from them. And how often does such become the matter of “the lecture”? Still, all that rhetoric that derives from one’s “position” must be at the service of whatever one is able to draw with one’s peculiar geometry: that circle—or as I said constellation—that holds the relations together in some kind of composition, as even an abstract painting is composed.

What excites me about this prospect is the sense that I shall discover many relations as I go and that my “schema”—which I have been at pains to develop for about two decades (since grad school)—will alter as I go on. The schema, based on that tripartite division pulled from Mallarmé by way of Rancière, arrived in the winter of this year, but the elements to be impressed, to be related, have been swimming about gaily my entire lifetime with no schematic, geometrical net to ensnare them. Perhaps they’re better so. Why force these relations as reified things, as objects? We know well enough the incentive to “stand back and let it all be.” But, whether as artist or philosopher or critic or poet, one must impose this practiced geometry and make such shapes as one can. So far, in conception, I’ve been working toward an autobiographical ground, the “growth of the critic’s mind” idea, because it helps me distinguish experience from the historical chronology that comes to me not only from the form most biographies assume, but my way of ordering my books and my LPs. Remember the moment in the film Hi-Fidelity when Rob blows Dick’s mind by telling him he’s arranging his LPs not alphabetically, not chronologically, but autobiographically. The autobiographical arrangement blows my professorial mind as well. The key tension in my “take” has been between the fidelity to history that my education expects of me—the history of art and literature and ideas—and the fidelity to my personal experience. The incentive now is to admit the degree to which one’s own lights and the happenstances of one’s own experiences inflect not only the reception of art and ideas but their very meaning. The peculiar logic—or is it dream?—by which we get “from here to there, eventually.”

One thing, I think, that makes this project arrive now is something I referred to in Towards Criticism, 1, when speaking of The Ambassadors: that sense of renouncement and preemption so clear in Strether’s ultimate position. Since I’ve never been the age I am now before, I’ve never had this particular vantage—but having it now means renouncing some claims, at least privately, for the sake of what one would make of the past. From a very young age, I was provoked by Dickens’ indelible opening to David Copperfield: “If I am to emerge as the hero of my own life or if that position is to be attained by someone else, these pages must show” (or words to that effect). To be “the hero of one’s own life” is at once presumptuous but is also essential, if one finds one’s life worth recounting. But what heroism is there in simply choosing to look and read and reflect? James at least understands that our hero might be a hero because of the pains taken in developing a peculiar geometry. Thus any biography of an artist is always a rather flat affair since we never get an account of those two elements I isolated in my question about FW. We never know why and how the artist did what s/he did. We, at best, get a sense of “the scene” in which what was done was achieved, and get maybe some elements of personality to add to “the figure” that we could not get from “the fiction,” or the work. But the defining choices and the decisions made in the act of creation forever elude such scrutiny. And yet, I suppose, the hero has made those choices, from dictates of consciousness.

Since I’ve never written a—to me—convincing poem that wasn’t primarily concerned with delineating, by some peculiar geometry, the relations of the contents of my state of being at that precise instant (all my poems being very much a here and now affair), I’m reticent at trying to understand the process. Reading myself—what has been written in that manner—lets me have glimpses of how my mind works, but I find that some part of me—the lyrical “Ich,” why not?—is leading some other part of me—the critic, the reader—on a merry chase. “Hide, fox, and all after!” has been a slogan of mine for quite some time on that front. And certainly one does not spend years reading the Wake if one is not easily intrigued by all a fox might hide. Along that line of thought, I think, one easily sees the strength of my distinction between verse and essay, as I would practice each. I want to keep to the decisions made when fixed—one’s attention anyway—on an object at hand. The object shall not be, as in poems, the puzzle of my own state of mind, or emotional state, or what have you. Which is not to say that the prose won’t “blow hot and cold.” It’s still a matter of breath, after all.