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Curved nails and aphorisms

The language poet Lyn Hejinian's work The Fatalist invites a fundamental reflection on the political and human consequences of language, abstract thought, unpredictable language games and the poetically obvious.


"... and think of fate as incident and the random event as fate."

Do we not all get a little moved – and perhaps somewhat anxious – when we encounter the word fate and what it means of doubt and denial, and possibly personal responsibility, whether we are now believers in destiny or not? Or do we as the fatalist: abandon everything to fate, for the course of life is something definite concrete that you cannot set up defenses against anyway. It is doing its fatal good and bad, that fate. "A ridiculous diamond falls to the floor."

An unknown size

"A poem is very different from what you consciously presented with ingenuity." Poetry is a way of thinking. Poetry can activate and problematize, define the limitations and impossibilities of reality in languages ​​that can be aphorist philosophically surreal realist Dadaist edifying and degrading, in the low and high style, like haiku and long poems. For a poet, it is first and foremost to use the language as an unknown size, as if the words were basically meaningless or meaningless in itselffor themselves. Very few can handle this approach in the work of written poetry (Majakovsky, Pound, Gertrude Stein did), but we can see it in Dadaism and in Norway performed with superb musicality by actor and singer Harald Heide-Steen jr.

Hejinian writes polyphonic, in a kind of narrow-talk-shaped pro-lyrical style.

Translator Alexander Carnera writes about Lyn Hejinian (born 1941): “In the 1970s, one of the founders of the so-called Language Writing Movement has had a huge influence on experimental lyric, short prose, essayist and poetics. Her books combine a description of everyday events with a sophisticated poetics and essayistics. Like other Language Poems, Hejinian transforms language into a social space, an area of ​​linguistic, sensory and critical exploration. Her work is dedicated to an examination of the political implications of the way language is typically used… »

Abstract expressionism

The language movement was based on modernists such as Gertrude Stein, William Carlos William, Frank O´Hara, and on the fact that a poem could function according to the same principles as an abstract expressionist painting. The enemy was academic poetry, which was perceived as dead and conservative. For my own part, I would like to mention Laura Riding (1901–1991), whom I recited in selected poems in Time for hell (2000, Time). She rejected poetry's ability to express meaning in favor of a scientific study of language. In Riding and Schuyler B. Jackson's monumental, language-critical works Rational Meaning, A new Foundation for the Definition of Words (University press of Virginia), it is the language poet and theorist Charles Bernstein who writes the preface. He describes the book as "one of the most aesthetically and philosophically singular projects of twentieth-century American poetry." The movement's preferred philosopher is, of course, Ludvig Wittgenstein.

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In the fine anthology American catalog, edited by N. Frank, TA Nexø and T. Thurah (2001, Forfatterskolen forlag), language poetry is mentioned as a movement in the romantic tradition. This is clear and absolutely present in fatalist. A romantic like Poe is of course involved in the name-dropping text throughout. Charles Bernstein states in an interview in American catalog that language is part of our animal instinctive character, our tool for navigating the world with. It's our way of being. Whether we believe in fate or not, where the case is also destined, something Hejinan claims. Poetry is reality-creating and can have a real meaning – in addition to just being "poetic" swarming and self-confessing. It becomes clear after reading: This is a piece of prose poetry written by a well-read and rhetorically articulated academic, with abstract leaps of thought and a conceptual world from theoretical considerations and speculations, while the text has a vital spontaneity in it that seems dynamic, simple and inspired. "Now it's noon, we're scattered to infinity, which may be why we do not reach the end of the street in the middle of the sentence about a ship in the distance – the fonts always run off."

Polyphonic language game

Hejinian writes polyphonically, in a kind of smalltalk-shaped prosalyric high style, with outbursts, surprises, random events of an everyday nature or in the form of a sudden aphorism. Diary-like. And academically, with references to poetics, dramaturgy, philosophy of language, politics (she has no interest in plot), HC Andersen and William Blake, among others. There is also a "you" in the text. An "I" and an "you". It is in dialogue with the reader Hejinan writes. Questioning and curious. She observes life around her in her generality and generalizes (and alienates) in an unpredictable language game. Linguistic quantities that are poetic, funny, questioning, surreal, and seem both underlying and clarifying, as poetry should be. She undresses the language to almost wash our eyes with new syntax, and she teaches the reader (confirms something and denies something else) so that we can see the language again and put it in a hitherto unknown context – our own reality that we otherwise have hard to spot unless we look closer. This is how she creates new ideas and combinations between things we have not seen formulated before. It is in a way close to collagen, and as I said polyphonic and non-linear, without any semantic center or core. And a kind of settlement with mainstream poetry where I-one tells about his experiences and feelings about the same thing. In Herjinian's poetry it should be possible to reflect. Over the words' political forms and representation in politics and the exercise of power.

Personal willingness

It is an open anti-authoritarian text, almost anarchist in its heterogeneous growth. As is well known, anarchism is not the "chaos" of the dictionary, but the realization of possibilities and a personal willingness to just open up to other social orders than the hierarchical and the patriarchal domains. She "reveals the relationship between language and perception, identity and memory" (American catalog).

For we often seek the overly complicated for vain and intellectual reasons.

We all too seldom ask questions about which of our ideas, thoughts and ideas are our own. Is there anyone at all? Is there a deep individual subjectivity? I doubt. Maybe only in the dreams, but they are in return subjectless, as Augustin points out.

What is an anchor, what is cooking, what is a battery, what is darts, asks Herjinan, to understand and look again and not just take objects and events for granted, to understand the meaning of the elemental, the poetically obvious and beautiful – which we often forget and ignore. For we often seek the overly complicated for vain and intellectual reasons. This is how we become confused and disoriented, blind to the details and the epiphanies, the breadcrumbs and the toaster, the farmer on the chessboard – who is missing and has been gone for half a year. Under the dresser, where it thinks its.

Terje Dragseth
Terje Dragseth
Author and filmmaker.

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