Date: Thu, 22 Apr 1999
Subject: D=E=E=N


Well, all the votes seem to be in (what syllable completes the Hejinian semi-word deen or what does it mean?), and the tally is: 3 for Aberdeen, 1 for muhajideen, 1 for deem, and 1 for its being the beginning of a word, such as deenrolled [sic]. Some speculate that it might be a typo (!), and others make a point of relating it back to the over-all instability that results in reading, where all sorts of innocent words like fuse or sect begin to look like con-fuse, in-sect, etc., and the very nature of what a word is goes ungrounded.

[Sherry Brennan writes: >>I feel compelled to say that I think there are a lot of "half" words with just the beginning of the word in her poem, but that (of course) they look like, and are, whole words, precisely because of the kind of word formation we have in English, where we make new words primarily by adding suffixes. In other words, I think that the particular ways the poem cuts words and lines makes you (or makes me, anyway) question whether any of the words are "whole." So any word to which you could conceivably add a suffix or adverbial ending becomes only a "half" word, as well, and then you start to hear the possibilities with prepositions, which is how we make other words, by adding prepositions in front of them .... and so on. The more you look at it that way, the fewer whole words there seem to be ... and the grammatical disjunctions within the lines help to reinforce that feeling, that you're just getting snippets that got cut and pasted together.<<

[And Grant Jenkins adds: >>Perhaps you have stubbed your toe on the "deen" because there is no single, logical explanation for it. As Sherry suggested that many of the words are not and cannot be made "whole," perhaps the opposite is true. That these words ARE whole and cannot be, to use McCaffery's terms, either enciphered (something added for completion) or deciphered (a key found to unlock meaning). Consider that perhaps these "words" could be: 1) fortunate "mistakes" or "errors" (spelling, typos) that, in their mutation, show how language changes 2) zaum-type syllables or sounds that have no meaning other than their sound, like music 3) indeterminate, potentially never to be figured out]

Here's something some Hejinian-lover might enjoy. I count 84 semi-words in Writing Is an Aid to Memory which cannot be explained as obscure entries in the dictionary (hence, excluding such false starts as quire, gan, lection, bating, which are words, though uncommon, and despite their semblance to in-quire, be-gan, se-lection, etc.). Those 84 are (bracketed numbers indicate the section where they appear, and any pair of words without a comma or other punctuation in between indicates two semi-words appearing in a single verse):

[1] ness; [2] scription, porated, brating, pand, covery, pensated; [4] gence ble; [5] plete, guage, straction, ception, tory, ysis, cerns; [8] mand, mands, mand, ting-mill, neral quently, zontal, penters; [9] clusion, yond, crete, sopher, pel; [10] ceptible, ignated finement; [11] ness posites, victed, viction, lished; [13] dergo, cination, lic, cury, tice, velous; [16] ment, cribed, sented, thod, mit, fection semble; [17] pera; [18] spondent; [23] vived ternal, trious, ducer, persion; [24] ducer; [25] quence, civious, pelled; [26] jectures; [27] mendous prising, sume dom, duce, pery; [28] ficing; [29] vidual; [31] mand; [32] cate, tached; [34] nishment, ceived ket-weaving, tinuous, sert, tute; [36] deen, proach; [37] herent; [38] mena; [40] glish

Now, this evidence/influence is why I would exclude the chance of its being the beginning of a word: this pattern sets up a consistent perceptual expectation of discovering a missing prefix, or initial letters; but there are no such terminal examples as conjec, perpetu, or suscept, e.g. Moreso, I find in the absent beginnings a thematic correlative to the whole notion of memory. It is, of course, in the retrieval or re-creation of missing beginnings that memory consists! Thus, the gaps have a larger significance. Hejinian's decision to exclude visibly truncated endings comes from the same principle: that that choice would reflect back on anticipation or futurity, which is less her theme here. Yes?

Most of these cases can be "solved" with a handful of standard Latinate prefixes: de-, ex-, dis-, com-/con-, ab-, sur-, in-, etc. (perhaps why the poem attests to Latin twice: "Latin is a very genteel business" [23], and "points in Latin bridge a gap but unsaluted" [32]). Others require polysyllabic solutions: such as cele-/cali- brated or hori- zontal; for some, comical answers, such as anal- ysis, or witty self-references about the effect of the work itself, like ran- dom. Sometimes a missing syllable is immediately supplied within the next few lines or elsewhere in the poem (context): two lines after straction we read "drops of water to light off of abstraction in the other"; and victed and viction are shortly followed by "convicted of the inconsequences it touches are full / convictions". Sometimes consonances can echo out of the void: mer- cury and mar- velous (both within earshot range of each other, both part of the same section, [13]).

This latter similarity reflects, I think, on other choices that might be made. Should strious be completed with indu- or illu-? Well, two other semi-words are vidual and dicate: doesn't the likelihood of finishing both these latter with indi- vidual and indi- cate weight the earlier choice in favor of the similar-sounding indu-? That's where the sound-poetry can extend below the surface. Likewise, I find that the -sc- compound that emerges from las- civious should bias another maneuver like cination toward another -sc- choice, fascination. (And what about ceptible? Hence, more justifiably sus- ceptible?) The las- of las- civious in turns "rhymes" with the missing bas- of bas- ket-weaving.

In other words, the possibilities are combinatorial, and meaning increasingly becomes probabilistic here, and by generalization for asyntactical poetry in general, perhaps. (To complete glish as Spanglish, for example, would seem to be capricious, erroneous, in comparison with the more determined English.) Indeterminacy does not mean that any meaning goes: it means that meanings have to be filtered through a sort of triage and negotiated on the strength of internal evidence. (Technically speaking, in The Poetics of Indeterminacy, Marjorie Perloff defines indeterminacy as the inability to distinguish between which associations are irrelevant and which are grounded in the text.)

So: Dudeen is too out of keeping with the overall rather normal vocabulary. And Aberdeen? Why would a proper name and a place name fit into a book which does not mention any other? (True, Pacific is a geographical name, but out of the capitalized nouns in the book ["Pacific," "Bach," "French," "Friday," "May," "Monday," "Thursday," "Latin," "Wednesday," "Man O' War," and "German,* in that order] the stronger common bond would seem to be a certain insubstantiality or non-solidity shared among units of time, language, music,--- a jellyfish? a frigate bird?-- and the oceanic. ) Aberdeen would particularize in an unprecedented way.

The reader may be entrusted with the production of meaning, in Language Poetry, but there are productions that are fabrications, and there are productions that are deductions/inductions. I would say, for example, that silicate is an extraneous interpellation for cate. I am taking it that the book's vocabulary is governed by homogeneity, certainly in comparison to, say, Kenward Elmslie's diction, e.g. For a reader to produce random is more likely than kingdom, due to the congruence between the form and the impression of randomness the poetry risks giving (Is it plausible that someone might advance a feminist reading of kingdom as preferable, as a foil to patriarchy?).

Then, why am I reluctant to produce the meaning that it might be a typo? For one, because of the presence of apple and nod in the same section, reprising the book's first line. They lend an added importance to that section, so I can imagine a third, important gesture in the same space. (The William Tell Overture of the first line, "apple is shot nod", is glancingly signaled at "doubt shot bit sort done" [20], to reach full recapitulation in the final section [42]: "apple the proportion", "the test apple bank as material think is", until the closing {1812 Overture} jolt of "think is shot".) The belief-system, or ideology I seem to be carrying, in remaining lukewarm to the solution of typo, is a belief in the infallibility of the author that is stronger than my temptation to impute the fallibility of oversight to Sun & Moon, especially given that my copy is a re-print. The general field of meaning I want to produce holds out the hope that between 1978 and a 1996 re-print, someone would have caught a simple error, and that the care Hejinian devoted to indenting each line 1 to 26 spaces over depending on A to Z, which letter of the alphabet it begins with, would extend to deen and every other grapheme.

Deen, then, is a genuine case of not knowing which meaning to assign a word. I'll take it as The Exception To The Rule, par excellence. In all other cases, a denotation is determined, or variably weighted by likelihood. The range is narrower than "anything goes." There are many meanings that can only be assigned "whimsically." The opening "apple is shot nod" should not mean anything about oranges.