Saturday, July 12, 2008


In For a New Novel* Alain Robbe-Grillet talks about take the human out of writing. He in a sense aims at the objective—to make objects themselves again rather than the containers for human metaphorical constraints. A table is a table not something “resting in the room like a cooling board” for example.

What Robbe-Grillet says in this book touches on my concerns about how nonhuman animals, plants, etc. are used in literature to the end of further expressing the human while masquerading as work about these others. (To recognize the other, recognized the incontrovertible space between the self and the other). Robbe-Grillet articulates, for me, something I’ve had much trouble articulating. Why much nature writing, nature poetics, (I’m not in the mood to name names) seems simple arrogance because it ends up claiming everything is ME (I am an infant all I see is me—or maybe just a lot of Agent Smith’s).

So for the other to enter the text, according to Robbe-Grillet, we must remove the metaphor.

I’m not very good at this—writing away the metaphor. In my present manuscript I am struggling with my desire to present the other, nonhuman, as a separate entity—this particular crow juvenile I saw in the rose garden. How its feathers lay how it called beak open for food the sound. What, oh what, did it feel. How can I write the crow without writing dark and a murder of them. All of these, the two crows on the branch between billowing plastic this morning, the group of crows flocking, the big crow baby begging (a loaded word if there ever was one), a murder of crows, crows dying crows mourning, all of these cluster in my mind and I cannot seem to escape them into objectivity in my writing unless I am writing N=2 crows at transect 1x3.

And this two fledglings, this crashed on the sidewalk—ring the dead with roses they only lived a short time. A skritch, a sketch—out of time, out of mind.

So…I’m allowing my present manuscript to be what it is. Maybe next time I’ll do nonhuman better. Or not. How’s this for a try—RO WS forced extra pair copulated (FEPC) SE BW in the morning light.

And you know what—perhaps that I in the metaphor—that human in the metaphor, if done right, tells us that in fact, though the I, the human, is not all there is, it is all we can know.

(*A book I have to credit Debra DiBlasi—she mentioned it somewhere, I cannot remember where—I would not have necessarily discovered it otherwise).


VanessaP said...
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VanessaP said...

This is the Cartesean condundrum, yes? Perhaps we can equally interrogate the idea of disinterestedness or the objective view as another form of special egocentricity. More privileged by some members than others. Is there another way, then, to simply describe the describing, putting personae on the table. This is elementary in fiction, but seems to be overlooked in the conceit of poetic transparency. The moderns were a bit better on this, at least to the extent that they believed in the fidelity of style and the flaunting of mimicry.

Teresa Carmody said...

I've been working on an essay (of sorts) for an upcoming conference in Mexico -- and found I kept using non-human metaphors to describe the kind of cultural work I/we're doing. Because humans are so dominant, and I wanted to represent something truly outside of dominant cultural context. The kind of personification/projection you're talking about is that same dominance -- I like the way Pam Ore writes about animals in her work, though the human is also there. I like your quail poem too, the one published in 4th Street.