Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Genoa (Generative Art in Book Form)

If you can find Paul Metcalf's uncategorizable book, Genoa, get it (it was republished by University of New Mexico Press in 1991, and included in Metcalf's "Collected Works" published by Coffeehouse -- of course, the original 1965 publication from Jargon is best). It's one of the great works of 20th century American writing (I emphasize the "American" aspect if for no other reason than Metcalf was the great-grandson of Melville).

In an interview at Dalkey Archive, with John O'Brien, we get this exchange:
JOB: What have been the influences of modern poetic techniques on your conception of prose? I should point out two things: first, the poets I have in mind are Pound, Williams, and Olson; second, I am purposely avoiding the word "fiction," though you are usually thought of as a novelist.

PM: The poets, it seem to me, have offered us an opportunity to "particularize" — i.e., to break a narrative into its particular parts, and rearrange them according to an original pattern. There is a significant connection between the images from the world of electromagnetics, images used in one case by Pound, and the other by Olson. Pound speaks of the poem as the "rose in the steel dust," and Olson describes the poem as a thing among things, that must "stand on its own feet as, a force, in, the fields of force which surround everyone of us..." Both these images suggest particles in a state of chaos, drawn into shape through an act of imagination, but retaining their character as particles, distinct from one another.

The American dynamic (in their example, the historical dynamic) is the separation and exposure of the particles, spread out and shaping, all in one difficult process, seemingly contradictory but not so, and not to be easily congealed in the European manner—particularly in Olson’s and Williams’ view — not brought together, but spreading and shaping in one gesture, as in the "big bang" theory of the origin of the universe, spreading and shaping.
One can sense the influence of the Whiteheadian Olson in these conversational remarks and for my money, Genoa embodies Olson's COMPOSITION BY FIELD more than anything I have ever read by Olson himself.

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