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Charles Legere 7/11/13 ::: What is a Form-of-Life?

? + The Gibberish of the Vulgate ::: The poem goes from the poets gibberish to The gibberish of the vulgate and back again. Does it move to and fro or is it of both At once? from Stevens Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction, (Section IX of It Must Change) Only in that tooting of a horn Down there, for a moment, I thought The great, formal affair was beginning, orchestrated, Its colors concentrated in a glance, a ballade That takes in the whole world, now, but lightly, Still lightly, but with wide authority and tact. from Ashberys As One Put Drunk into the Packet-Boat I went to the Harvard Bookstore (a favorite) and picked up the recent translation of Giorgio Agambens The Highest Poverty: Monastic Rules and Form-of-Life (Stanford UP, 2013), partly with the notion that Agamben might help me forge a vocabulary for talking about what 21st-century poets mean when they talk about life. Im thinking of poems like, for an obvious example, Dana Wards 2012 This Cant Be LifeIve got a talk Ive given on the first poem from that book and precarity via both Sylvia Federici and Judith Butler, or via interrelated crises in both labor and existence. So, Im trying, here, to trace this conversation in some way back to mid-century, to Ashberys listening to Stevens, to Ashberys self-conscious incorporation of accidents into his poetry. Anyhow, I havent read the source material hes drawing on, nor will I ever, but its hard not to second-guess the thesis he draws from it in The Highest Povertythat in medieval Christian monastic life, we can, for the first time, see a self-regulation that is more than just the internalization of rule or law, but is actually a fusing of rule with life in a communal form, so as to become what Agamben calls (and Id like to see the original Italian of this) a form-of-life. Agamben has a memorable phrase in the introduction, saying hes looking back to these monks and to the later Franciscans so we can think life as that which is never given as property but only as a common use (xiii).

I mean, I think of the Stoics on escetism and wealth and eudaimonia, and I think of what little I know about Zen Buddhist monasteries, and I wonder why self-denial and self-regulation seem to speak to Agamben so much. Anyhow, Ill keep reading. Related, but different. I listened to a record of Stevens today, reading from the It Must Change section of Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction, and I particularly perked up for section IX, when Stevens spoke (ponderously) of the poets gibberish and the gibberish of the vulgate. I have a photo of myself with the record cued up on the Tumblr, and I used a few lines from Stevens poem as one of the epigraphs to todays writing. Okay, first, just to say, about those lines: that wonderful word, onomatopoeic, like barbarian or abracadabragibberish. Then, vulgate connects us loosely to Agamben, in that its the word for Jeromes 4th-century Latin translation of the Bible, the versio vulgate. Vulgate is also a word for common, and for common speech. I thought of that as I listened to Stevens intoning his Notes as compared to Ashberys self-consciously colloquial tone in poems like As One Put Drunk into the Packet Boat. Itd be interesting to do a track where Stevens and Ashbery traded lines in a poem, or something, so as to dramatize a tone shift that Ashbery effected. I turned to the Library of Americas Collected Ashbery, and then pulled the WPRs entire shelf of Ashberys poetry, to try to find his first use of the phatic, his first uh, but I couldnt quite spot it as I flipped through. I did think, as I was flipping through, that Ashberys colloquial tone is a manifestation of style thats akin to Henry James syntax: when you sit there and actually parse James sentences, theyre correct, if very difficult, and its the same with Ashberythat when you try to find examples of everyday speech, you see that his poems are very well wrought, and the interjections, such as they are, very deliberate. From that deliberate casualness of tone, I might say that Ashbery begins to open up a new relationship between poetry and life. Maybe, its a way of integrating something about life into poetry thats new and subtle, but very important for poetry going forward; its just a tone shift, but I suspect that I might be able to call it a form-of-life.