Tag Archives: Heraclitus


“Lyric Poetry Is Dead”: The Flourishing Obituary of Ezequiel Zaidenwerg

Friday, March 22, 2019

(translated by Robin Myers; drawing by Carmen Amengual)
Cardboard House Press / www.cardboardhousepress.org

THERE ARE GODS HERE TOO: Readings of Heraclitus — Michael Kincaid
The Buffalo Commons Press, 2008
(P.O. Box 525, Dickinson, North Dakota 58602-0525

Kenneth Rexroth’s “Thou Salt Not Kill: A Memorial to Dylan Thomas” is not cited as often as it should be. It certainly does not appear in many anthologies, despite its precedence to Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” as a major, mid-century jeremiad. I have no idea of whether the Argentinian poet Ezequiel Zaidenwerg is familiar with Rexroth’s scathing indictment of American culture, but those who find themselves entranced with Zaidenwerg’s book-length poem should dig up Rexroth’s rant and note the insidious violence attributed to Thomas’s death. If lyric poetry is dead, it is a corpse with the aura of the continuous present tense, at least in the palimpsestual shroud in which Zaidenwerg has wrapped it; its death still seems painfully recent. If such were not the case, the appropriation and adaptation of twentieth century texts (Eva Peron’s autopsy; Che Guevera’s corpse) would not shimmer in these poems as if propelled by some inward, still palpitating vision. Zaidenwerg has descried a dystopia epic, and the bruises, amputations, beheadings, assassinations, and massacres of civilized history are all too visible, however. “Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse” is not the advice to be found on lyric poetry’s tomb.

On the whole, the “death” of lyric poetry, in this fourteen part, book-length poem, reminds of Abel Gance’s cinematic call-to-arms, “Now is the time for the resurrection of all myths in light.” Orpheus, Odysseus, and the Sybil at Cumae, as well as Lot in the Book of Genesis, all contribute to an extended eulogy of narratives, each meant to remind us — the few who find ourselves willing to show up for a public memorial — of how resilient these archetypes remain, even if the form of imaginative conveyance has become a negligible art.

Zaidenwerg’s title, which gets repeated as the opening gambit of many sections, is most certainly not meant to stir up any lingering traces of nostalgia. The irony, of course, is primarily operating in the translator’s domain, for it is translation that operates with a Janus mask. Zaidenwerg’s book, and Myers’s translation deserve to be the focus of the following question: Is a translator a writer inherently committed to a conservative avant-garde?

Given the absence of any significant presence of avant-garde writers at the upcoming AWP convention, I don’t expect to have many conversations in Portland that take on this question by first quoting from Michael Kincaid’s THERE ARE GODS HERE TOO: Readings of Heraclitus (Buffalo Commons Press, 2008). This book should be on the shelf of every poet who wants to produce a body of work worthy someday of being translated. Kincaid, who is a very fine poet himself — perhaps the best “unknown” poet in the United States, exemplifies the positive response to my question in taking on this pre-Socratic poet as an avant-garde visionary of paradoxes’ mutability:

“What is cold warms, warmth cools, moisture dries, the parched moistens.

“Fire lives the death of air; air lives the death of fire. Water lives the death of earth, earth that of water.

“But it is death for spirits to become water, and death for water to become earth. But water is born of earth, and spirit of water.”

(page 37)

Footnote: As is the case all too often with something first read 50 years ago, Gance’s proclamation turned out to be a lengthier statement. It can be found at the start of an essay by Martin M. Winkler: https://books.google.com/books?id=WgpMAQAAQBAJ&pg=PA133&lpg=PA133&dq=Now+is+the+time+for+the+resurrection+of+all+mythis+in+light.+Abel+Gance&source=bl&ots=mZWStcXfdx&sig=ACfU3U1dhhOcVv025z7BTxUp8NxwunrJMA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjyp6H_lI7gAhWW14MKHe0iADwQ6AEwBnoECAMQAQ#v=onepage&q=Now%20is%20the%20time%20for%20the%20resurrection%20of%20all%20mythis%20in%20light.%20Abel%20Gance&f=false

Ground Level Conditions Philosophy Poetry

The Perfume of the Soul

June 28, 2015

The Perfume of the Soul

I have been working on a talk I am scheduled to give in Dijon, France in November and reading with great pleasure and interest Michael Davidson’s On the Outskirts of Form: Practicing Cultural Poetics. In discussing George Oppen’s poetry, he mentions that “a number of recent books in critical theory have chronicled modernism’s ocularcentrism …. At the same time, social theorists have provided a critique of modernity’s ocularcentrism, pointing out how metaphors of seeing and sight dominate the work of philosophers and theorists from Marx’s theory of ideology as a camera obscura, Heidegger’s “Age of the World Picture,” and Bergson’s duree to Foucault’s emphasis on the panoptical gaze, to Sartre’s “regard” and Laura Mulvey’s theory of the gaze” (116-117). To limit ocularcentrism to moderism and modernity, however, is to underplay its role in Western philosophy and culture. Sight was the key sense cited by Plato in The Republic, for instance, so this privileging should hardly be limited to a contemporary rendition of “modernity.” Rather, sight’s dominance is the mark of modernity, whether we are thinking of remote modernity or the prosthetic forms that pass themselves off as the post-modern.1

It is my understanding that this emphasis upon sight has a pragmatic basis, for I read somewhere that well over two-thirds of the information our brain receives and works with is directly accessed through sight. That proportion of appetitive perception will probably not alter much in the centuries ahead, but we might be better off if we take the time to cultivate the other senses, too, in the same way that pianist must learn to play with the “weak” hand as well as the hand that ‘s inclined to take the lead. In fact, would both Plato and Heidegger have been better off emphasizing another sense, that of smell. The latter’s quarrel with the former might well have led him to a different understanding of Being if smell had been the sense to which he entrusted the fate of his soul.2

A recent prose poem of a blog entry that points to the possibilities of an epiphany based on smell can be found at: http://www.juliaharis.com/ Her entry, “Textures of the Unknown,” is a profound meditation on how the aquifers of the olfactory nourish the perfume of the soul. After reading her entry, I trusted more than ever Heraclitus’s proposition that “if all things turned to smoke, the nose would know all things.”3


1 In particular, the discussion in Book VI of The Republic at one point becomes a eulogy for the interwoven nature of the sun, its light, the eye and the soul.

2 Two recent articles in the Los Angeles Review of Books examine the on-going destabilization of Heidegger’s impact on twentieth century philosophy due to his affiliation with the Nazi Party in Germany.

http://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/what-to-make-of-heidegger-in-2015  What to Make of Heidegger in 2015? by Santiago Zabala (June 24th, 2015)

http://lareviewofbooks.org/review/king-dead-heideggers-black-notebooks   “The King Is Dead: Heidegger’s Black Notebooks” by Gregory Fried.

3 Michael Kincaid. There Are Gods Here Too: Readings of Heraclitus. Dickinson, North Dakota: Buffalo Commons Press, 2008, 53.