Friday, July 18, 2014

Dark Wings of Night: Allen Ginsberg's View of Juxtaposition and His Haiku

INTERVIEWER

You once mentioned something you had found in Cézanne—a remark about the reconstitution of the petites sensations of experience, in his own painting—and you compared this with the method of your poetry.

GINSBERG

...The last part of “Howl” was really an homage to art but also in specific terms an homage to Cézanne’s method, in a sense I adapted what I could to writing; but that’s a very complicated matter to explain. Except, putting it very simply, that just as Cézanne doesn’t use perspective lines to create space, but it’s a juxtaposition of one color against another color (that’s one element of his space), so, I had the idea, perhaps overrefined, that by the unexplainable, unexplained nonperspective line, that is, juxtaposition of one word against another, a gap between the two words—like the space gap in the canvas—there’d be a gap between the two words that the mind would fill in with the sensation of existence. In other words when I say, oh ... when Shakespeare says, In the dread vast and middle of the night, something happens between “dread vast” and “middle.” That creates like a whole space of—spaciness of black night. How it gets that is very odd, those words put together. Or in the haiku, you have two distinct images, set side by side without drawing a connection, without drawing a logical connection between them: the mind fills in this ... this space. Like

   O ant
         crawl up Mount Fujiyama,
                but slowly, slowly.

Now you have the small ant and you have Mount Fujiyama and you have the slowly, slowly, and what happens is that you feel almost like ... a cock in your mouth! You feel this enormous space—universe, it’s almost a tactile thing. Well anyway, it’s a phenomenon-sensation, phenomenon hyphen sensation, that’s created by this little haiku of Issa, for instance.

So, I was trying to do similar things with juxtapositions like “hydrogen jukebox.” Or ... [winter midnight streetlight smalltown rain]. Instead of cubes and squares and triangles. Cézanne is reconstituting by means of triangles, cubes, and colors—I have to reconstitute by means of words, rhythms of course, and all that—but say it’s words, phrasings. So. The problem is then to reach the different parts of the mind, that are existing simultaneously, the different associations which are going on simultaneously, choosing elements from both, like jazz, jukebox, and all that, and we have the jukebox from that; politics, hydrogen bomb, and we have the hydrogen of that—you see “hydrogen jukebox.” And that actually compresses in one instant like a whole series of things. Or the end of Sunflower with “cunts of wheelbarrows,” whatever that all meant, or “rubber dollar bills”—“skin of machinery”; see, and actually in the moment of composition I don’t necessarily know what it means, but it comes to mean something later, after a year or two, I realize that it meant something clear, unconsciously. Which takes on meaning in time, like a photograph developing slowly. Because we’re not really always conscious of the entire depth of our minds, in other words we just know a lot more than we’re able to be aware of, normally—though at moments we’re completely aware, I guess...

... the idea that I had was that gaps in space and time through images juxtaposed, just as in the haiku you get two images that the mind connects in a flash, and so that flash is the petite sensation; or the satori, perhaps, that the Zen haikuists would speak of—if they speak of it like that.

-- excerpted from the Allen Ginsberg interview by Thomas Clark ("Allen Ginsberg, The Art of Poetry No. 8," Paris Review, 37, Spring 1966)


Cézanne doesn’t use perspective lines to create space but it’s a juxtaposition of one color against another color [. . .] so, I had the idea[of the] juxtaposition of one word against another, a gap between the two words -- like the space gap in the canvas -- there’d be a gap between the two words which the mind would fill in with the sensation of existence.

Ginsberg recognized that Cézanne’s technique revealed the moment when the eye engaged spatial relationships between objects, discerning form (or finding their “true value,” as Williams would term it), which Cézanne would render as a juxtaposition between colors. Cézanne’s color juxtapositions, as well as the gaps of white canvas between the colors, capture a moment of heightened perception. In other words, the interstices between the forms created by color represent the petites sensations (Ginsberg’s “sensation of existence”) that the eye perceives as a result of looking consecutively and simultaneously. Ginsberg sought to incorporate into his poetry Cézanne’s juxtapositional approach: “So, I was trying to do similar things with juxtapositions  like ‘hydrogen jukebox.’ Or . . . [winter midnight streetlight smalltown rain]. Instead of cubes and squares and triangles. [. . .] I have to reconstitute by means of words [. . . and] phrasings” (Spontaneous Mind30–31). Thus, Ginsberg’s gaps between the nouns (which he terms “ellipses”) are analogous to the white spaces and juxtapositions between colors in Cézanne’s paintings.

For Cézanne as well as Ginsberg, the gaps and juxtapositions represent the moment of perceiving an underlying order and structure of quasi-religious significance. Such a moment originates from closely attending to the process by which the eye and mind make sense of perceptual data.

-- excerpted from Brian Jackson's essay, titled "Modernist Looking: Surreal Impressions in the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg," Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 52:3, Fall 2010, p. 304 


... the idea that I had was that gaps in space and time through images juxtaposed, just as in the haiku you get two images that the mind connects in a flash, and so that flash is the petite sensation; or the satori, perhaps, that the Zen haikuists would speak of—if they speak of it like that.

For more information about the use of juxtaposition in haiku composition, see Chapter 4, titled “The Art of Juxtaposition: Cutting and Joining,” of Traces of Dreams Traces of Dreams Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho by Haruo Shirane, a chapter that “examines the dynamics of textual juxtaposition and the different kinds of links -- homophonic, metonymic, and metaphoric -- that lies at the heart of Basho's haikai” (pp. 23-4), and  my "To the Lighthouse" post, titled  "Cutting through Time and Space ."


Selected Haiku:

The master
emerges from the movies:
the silent street

I don’t know the names
of the flowers – now
my garden is gone

winter midnight streetlight smalltown rain
(found haiku in  "Howl," Part I)

1 comment:

  1. According to Paul Portuges, In "Howl" Ginsberg was hoping to accomplish the effect of haiku in combination with his spontaneous method of composition and its use of unaltered mind. And Paul Portuges concludes that “the result is the gap that stops mindflow, arrests normal consciousness, and creates a temporary void.”


    Reference: Paul Portuges “Allen Ginsberg’s Paul Cezanne and the Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus.” Contemporary Literature 21.3 (Summer 1980): 435 – 449.

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