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Introduction to The New Writing in the USA
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The usual critical vocabulary will not be of much use in trying to locate the character of writing we have now come to. If one depends on the dichotomy of romantic and classical , one is left with,


too simply, an historical description, itself a remnant from an earlier 'period.'

The question becomes, what is real —and what is of that nature? The most severe argument we can offer against the 'value' of some thing or act, is that it is not real, that it has no given place in what our world has either chosen or been forced to admit. So it is the condition of reality which becomes our greatest concern—in which relation the following notes by Charles Olson are most useful:

All things did come in again, in the 19th century. An idea shook loose, and energy and motion became as important a structure of things as that they are plural, and, by matter, mass. It was even shown that in the infinitely small the older concepts of space ceased to be valid at all. Quantity—the measurable and numerable—was suddenly as shafted in, to any thing, as it was also, as had been obvious, the striking character of the external world, that all things do extend out. Nothing was now inert fact, all things were there for feeling, to promote it, and be felt; and man, in the midst of it, knowing well how he was folded in, as well as how suddenly and strikingly he could extend himself, spring or, without even moving, go, to far, the farthest—he was suddenly possessed or repossessed of a character of being, a thing among things, which I shall call his physicality. It made a reentry of or to the universe. Reality was without interruption, and we are still in the business of finding out how all action, and thought, have to be refounded. . . .

("Equal, That Is, to the Real Itself")

This recognition had come primarily from scientific thinking, as it might be called—but its evidence in the way in which the world occurs in Moby-Dick (the object of Olson's discussion) is very striking. What happens to 'plot' or all such instance of 'category'—the assumption of action as contained , for example—when all is continuous, "when the discrete [isn't] any longer a good enough base for discourse. . . ."? The sentence itself—as Fenollosa had proposed in The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry , and Olson reasserts—has become "an exchange of force" in no way a "completed thought," since such "completion" is impossible in the context of that real which Melville had apprehended, Olson notes, as "the absolute condition of present things . . ." Let it be stressed:

[Melville] put it altogether accurately himself, in a single sentence of a letter to Hawthorne, written when he was writing Moby-Dick (1851): "By visible truth we mean the apprehension of the absolute condition of present things."



The context so defined will include such present statement as this one taken from William Burroughs' Naked Lunch:

There is only one thing a writer can write about: what is in front of his senses at the moment of writing . . . . I am a recording instrument. . . . I do not presume to impose "story" "plot" "continuity". . . .

What has been criticized as a loss of coherence in contemporary American prose—specifically that of Burroughs and Kerouac—has been, rather, evidence of this character of the real with which we are involved. In "Kerouac's Sound" Warren Tallman makes a parallel distinction:

In conventional fiction the narrative continuity is always clearly discernible. But it is impossible to create an absorbing narrative without at the same time enriching it with images, asides, themes and variations—impulses from within. It is evident that in much recent fiction—Joyce, Kafka, Virginia Woolf, and Faulkner are obvious examples—the narrative line has tended to weaken, merge with, and be dominated by the sum of variations. Each narrative step in Faulkner's work is likely to provoke many sidewinding pages before a next narrative step is taken. More, a lot of Faulkner's power is to be found in the sidewindings. In brief, what happens in jazz when the melody merges with the improvisations and the improvisations dominate, has been happening in fiction for some time now.

Not only have the earlier senses of 'form' been rejected, but equally 'subject' as a conceptual focus or order has given place to the literal activity of the writing itself.

The objects which occur at every given moment of composition (of recognition, we can call it) are, can be, must be treated exactly as they do occur therein and not by any ideas or preconceptions from outside the poem, must be handled as a series of objects in field in such a way that a series of tensions (which they also are) are made to hold , and to hold exactly inside the content and the context of the poem which has forced itself, through the poet and them, into being.

(Charles Olson, Projective Verse )

But it is in the nature of the writing itself that this thinking finds its most active definition—as here in the final section of John Wieners' "A Poem for Painters":

 . . . At last. I come to the last defense.

                       My poems contain no
                       wilde beestes, no


                       lady of the lake, music
                       of the spheres, or organ chants.
                       Only the score of a man's
                       struggle to stay with
                       what is his own, what
                       lies within him to do.

                       Without which is nothing.
                       And I come to this
                       knowing the waste,
                       leaving the rest up to love
                       and its twisted faces,
                       my hands claw out at
                       only to draw back from the
                       blood already running there.

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