Quarter After Eight is an annual literary journal devoted to the exploration of experimental writing in all its permutations. We celebrate work that directly challenges the conventions of language, style, voice, or idea in literary form. This blog is a place to engage in conversations about the work we publish, as well as the work that inspires us.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Alex Cigale On Found Forms

It's been 14 years since Alex Cigale outlined his poetics of found forms in Quarter After Eight volume 2, 140 years since Lautreamont articulated his; however, the questions they raise remain provocative. What and how much can/should writers borrow not only from each other but from the culture at large?

"...the granddaddy of them all, of all these modernists, was Isidore Ducasse, better known as Lautreamont. It was his phrase—"the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table"—a prescription for wild, undirected beauty, that served as the definition for Surrealism. In 1870, in his Poesies, Lautreamont was already writing, 'Personal poetry has had its day. . . Let us gather up again the thread of impersonal poetry, rudely interrupted since the birth of the manque philosopher of Ferney, since that great abortion Voltaire.' Also, 'Plagiarism is necessary. It is implied in the idea of progress. It clasps an author's sentences tight, uses his expressions, eliminates a false idea, replaces it with the right idea.' ...

I will often clip a newspaper article and carry it around (if not literally then in my head), sometimes for years, until the time that I feel comfortable, confident of having fully assimilated its contents. One of the first 'founds' I composed was 'India Widow's Death at. . . ,' its enigmatic title simply the first seven syllables of The New York Times headline from an article on the Hindu custom of sati, the ritual self-immolation of a widow on her husband's funeral pyre. The organizing principles of this 'poem' were syllabics (and its associated stanza forms) and montage, the French for 'arrangement.' In this instance, during the lengthy period of absorption, I was haunted by a memory likely to be familiar to most members of the generation that came of age in the 1970s: an image of a human form in flames, the photo of a Buddhist priest whose self-immolation in protest of the Vietnamese Invasion of Kampuchea in 1972 caught the world's attention. This photograph, the recorded image, was potent enough to attain the status of icon. In his Stardust Memories, Woody Allen paid homage once again to Ingmar Bergman (who had used it twice in Persona) by blowing the image up to cover an entire wall in the apartment of the main character.
My borrowings are verbatim. Just as there is in our cultural repository a pool of resonant Images (Jung would have said these are fed by the collective unconscious; similar to Yeats's Spiritus Mundi), so the quality of language which makes it memorable seems to me to draw on pre-existent forms that cannot be improved upon by the mere 'author.' Noam Chomsky's ideas about grammar being innate also square nicely with this notion. Syntax following nearly organic laws would seem to confirm the writer's experience of having to whittle language down to its purest-syntactically, aurally, visually-most precise yet economized configurations. In this Aristotelian sense, writing then is a search for and the discovery of these 'ideal forms.'"

You can read the entire essay at http://www.quarteraftereight.org/cigale.htm.

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