Pierre Joris: Improv-American Nomad
There is something felicitous in Pierre Joris’ writing. At the speed of soliloquy, but before others, for others, he rediscovers what was once called the stance of improvisation–of inspired improvisation.
Once? And recently, too: the musicians (the real musicians, that is–us, we may be musical, musaic, but we are not musicians) improvised, and did it together. Sax, bass, drums…
Inspired? Inspiration has been given a bad name. So let us speak of respiration, transpiration, of spiration: the interrupted whole, the apparatus of interruption, to the degree to which it is constitutive of thought. Thought thinks (with caesuras, enjambments; it runs out of breath, accelerates, slows down; it moves with precipitation, restraint, suspense, glissandos, drops, ostinatos, stoppings) with rhythm. It is axiomatic that rhythm is not exterior to thought. Rhythm doesn’t simply prop thought up, it configures thought.
Thought forges ahead, and the greatest piece of advice is worth less than the smallest imprudence, as Valéry (someone one isn’t supposed to cite) said. Yet he also wrote this famous incipit: “Your steps, children of my silence…” Let’s change “steps” to “feet,” tribrachic or dispondaic, and we have a very concise ars poetica.
Pierre’s work, in steps small or large, descends (or climbs) its spiral stairways. Or it spreads out like a flood tide in paratactic, syncopated prose. It moves on to the explicit poetics that propel it; it relays Pierre from himself to himself in metamorphoses that change him into himself.
And so, describing/seeing, he takes the risk of defining his process, what he calls his work, while mingling casually, even rakishly, with those closest to him. Not so much with Cummings and Oppen (though they are evoked), but with Celan and Sobin, or with Hölderlin in his tower or on his river, in a relationship that is simultaneously daring and easy. Or he mingles with Heidegger, insolently: New York has no Holzwege.
The work takes risks and risks itself; gambles and wins (or loses); proposes and decides; a matter of judgment–of improvisation, I said, of freedom (to proceed). Thought decides, decides itself; its interruption is decisive (as I’ve said).
The influence of the Celanian cut is marked, audible. But as Pierre doesn’t work in German, but in English and French, he cannot agglutinate or disseminate into “particles.” So he cuts, he caesuras in mid-word, disjointing/disjuncting the syllables, disconnecting (disjonctant, as today’s amusing French parlance would have it) to underline the intensity of the current, the spark of the short-circuits. Or he associates, horizontally opposing paratactic segments, playing the rhizome against the tree (he is fond of claiming Deleuzian descent), with the prosey allure of narrative. An alloy made of two components: fluidity and jolt; tormented abruptness and supple transport. Breath and breathlessness. A resistant alloy.
He crosses the Channel, turning his back on Ostende to face London. He leaves England or California (with the liquid flagstones of its swimming pools) for the New York that he loves.
This morning Columbus stepped five
hundred years ago onto his boat
& did what we all do all
go to America
that, you just name it &
you’re there or it. Just say
this is America, or that is
America & it will be. This is
By definition the U.S.A. is, everywhere and at all points, America. Every place–Oklahoma or New York, Seattle or the Baghdad-Café, even little Paris, Texas–is like America. Micro-macro-cosmos; “formule du lieu,” Rimbaud would have said. Homothetic similarity that produces only integrating parts. The all-Americanness, the Americaneity, of America happens and re-happens everywhere in America. The “deeper” America is, the more American it is, and that mise en abyme fascinates, pulls you in like Poe’s vortex. This happens because every place in the U.S.A. is like the America which imitates itself, the replica, that is America everywhere in the world… A ferocious contagion. A panto-mime.
This is a something that the fascinated spectator of the crossing by motorbike, truck, thumb, train or car-chase ascertains, something that is sensed by the spectator of the Road, coast-to-coast, from Kerouac to Jarmusch or to Thelma-and-Louise–or by the reader of Pierre Joris.