The Argotist Online
Afterword and Addendum to Nico Vassilakis’s
Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino
works have something "shroud of Turin" about them. Something
photographic. In camera (obscura).
Something hidden or if not hidden, not meant to be seen (or else not casually).
Something "X"—read: "X ray." (A genealogist I know
has "rubbings" framed and hanging in her study. These remind me
of them. I must tell her, there
is something "shroud of Turin" about them.)
a slide-show, of course. Chiaro-scuro.
These, enigmatic lathes (ainissesthai—"to
speak darkly," "to speak in riddles").
this a form of writing? Is this art? Is this craft? This is
writing that is not writing words. This is writing that is
showing words, but not words qua
words, that is to say not words as signs (parole),
but rather words as symbols.
photograph, but eidograph. Not photographic, but eidographic. Not a
showing made with light, but a showing
of the . . . making conscious the
unconscious. The made-visible e-merges (from obscurity—clair-obscur) depicting (a "looking-through," the trans-parens)
what takes place below our
(superficial) verbal consciousness.
is eidos? It is language. Langue.
The sea of language. The sea of relationality. The great postulated
transcendent totality of system. It is mystici corporis. It is
antiquus mysticusque. It is prisca sapientia. It is Logos. It
is logical space. It is plastic.
course this is a depiction. It is a work of art, a form of writing.
It is not the real thing. (What is the difference between "art"
and "craft"? A craft is the thing itself. Art is always a
the close of my afterword, I included a statement as to the
"difference" between art and
craft. I wrote, "A craft is
the thing itself. Art is always a depiction." My afterword was
written from the perspective of eidetic poetry. My afterword was an
impressionistic appreciation (through the lens, if you will, of eidetic poetry).
I want to say now that I can also see, and appreciate, the STAMPOLOGUE as a work of
"concrete poetry." And from this perspective, I would say that
it is not necessarily "a depiction" ("eidographic"), that it
may be, and just as well, "nonrepresentational," and maybe even
"anti-mimetic." I would refer to Gomringer
speaking about his "constellations," and say of
STAMPOLOGUE that each is "a reality in itself," and not an image, or
what does it mean to say of one thing, this is a "depiction," and of
another, this is a "reality in itself"? Is this to deny of the
depiction a "reality in itself"? Is this to deny of the
"reality in itself" a significance that transcends that
"reality"? For instance, let's speak of value (if not of
ontology). There is value in the depiction, and there is value in the
thing that is a "reality in itself"—there is value in its being a
"reality in itself," there is value in that "reality," that
"in-itself-ness." There is value in the depiction
in that it is a depiction, and
in how it is a depiction, and in why
it is (said/seen to be) a depiction. When we say there is value in the
"reality in itself," we are saying that "reality in itself,"
as such, is a value, and "as such" is given to mean that it is not
about anything other than itself, it does not stand for anything other than
itself, it is self-referential, it does not point away from itself but means
only in so far as it is (in so far as
it is what it is, if not that it is). It has value as an independent object. The
object has a certain "objectivity" about it (a certain whereness,
though we do not wish to restrict this ubiety to the prison house of the page).
(One might say it is "anti-mimetic," although to use the term
"anti" would seem to attribute to the object intention,
and it does not seem possible to me that a "reality in itself" can
have intention, and so to say
something is "anti-mimetic" is not to say something about the object
but about the purpose of the object, at which point we have gone outside that
"reality in itself." And yet, such an object has been, and still
is, held to stand for, to speak to or to otherwise illuminate certain artistic
and/or social concerns—indeed, we might say it is programmatic, or even theory
laden. In which case the "reality in itself" is positioned
as an object hypothesis, something
given in advance, and accepted without judgment. Given A, is not B analogous to C? This does seem to give the
"reality in itself" a significance that transcends that
"reality." It does seem to stand for and to point to something outside
itself, even if that something outside is just
an object hypothesis.) 1 And herein lies its
to speak of "concrete poetry" in terms of this understanding of the
term "concreteness" is, or so it seems to me, to speak of only a
particluar kind of concrete poetry, and a kind of concrete poetry that is
possibly more a form of art than of poetry. Why, then, call it poetry?
Because it employs words? Why not, "concrete writing," or, as
Mr. Vassilakis suggests, "visual writing," or even "language
art"? It seems to me, if a form of writing is to partake of the title
"poetry," we should be able to discern in it some or other poetic
elements. And besides, poetry doesn't have exhibitions, "concrete
poetry" has exhibitions. . . .
Waldrop, in her short essay, "A Basis of Concrete Poetry," 2
states a fair proposition: "We do not usually see words, we read them,
which is to say we look through them at their significance, their contents.
Concrete poetry is first of all a revolt against this transparency of the word.
. . ." She says, "While poetry in general uses the material
aspects of the word as functional in the 'poetic information' process in poems
about whatever subject . . .
concrete poetry makes the sound and shape of words its explicit field of
investigation. Concrete poetry is about
words. . . . This does not mean that concrete poets want to divorce the
physical aspects of the word from its meaning. . . . Words are not colors
or lines: their semantic dimension is an integral part of them. In order
to destroy meaning you would also have to destroy the word as a physical object:
you would have to atomize it into letters, fragments. . . ." She
cites the Noigandres group (whose name is taken from Pound's "Canto XX")
saying, ". . . they seemed to intend exactly that. . . . But the name
is more polemical than the Noigandres manifesto, which makes clear that these
poets intend to work consciously with all three dimensions of the word, with its
'verbivocovisual' nature. What they are against is not meaning but
representation." That is to say, they (the Noigandres group, founded by
Augusto and Haroldo de Campos) are not against meaning, but naming,
because to name would be to point away, to a reality outside.
"Their intention," says Waldrop, "is anti-mimetic." It
is important to note, that it is the intention of the poets that their work should be anti-mimetic, but as for the
work itself, as for that "reality in itself," how, if it is to have meaning,
can it not be in some sense mimetic? To mean, to signify, must correspond
to something other, even if that something other were a mirror image of itself.
"It is a structure which explores elements of language itself rather than
one which uses language to explore something else. The parallel to the
non-representational painters . . . is explicit." Explicit, maybe,
but not complete. "It is the clear opposite of the Romantic notion of
organic form where content is structure, i.e., where content determines the
structure, the form. With the concrete poets it is the structure which
determines the content. The emphasis is formalist rather than
expressive." And yet, in certain instances, ". . . a spatial
arrangement couples with, or even generates, equivalences on the level of sound
and meaning." It is these "equivalences," or what I would
call complementarities, 3
that seem to me to constitute the basis, the
basis, of "concrete poetry" (that is to say, concrete poetry in a
generic sense). 4
writes, "If the real concrete text only represents itself and is identical
with what it shows, we can immediately rule out shaped poems which illustrate a
content, e.g., George Herbert's 'Easter Wings' or Apollinaire's 'calligrammes.'
Let us also, for the moment, rule out those works which go below the word unit,
which become visual works using language elements." Here, I believe,
we have the outlines of three distinct types of concrete poetry: Let's call the
first type "concrete" and here find that text that is
identical with what it shows, this is the
anti-mimetic text, the reality
in itself, the text that means but
does not name. Let's call the next type, "shape," and here
find, in addition to the aforementioned, John Hollander's "Swan and
Shadow." And let us, but provisionally, call the third type
"abstract" and say that here "language elements" are not
employed as signals-to-meaning but as symbols
suggestive of a system of meaning, a thought
think we can safely say of all three types that each is, in a sense, a
"reality in itself." Moreover, to the degree that each type
presents, or is, a spatial arrangement
(and to the extent that such presents, or is, or is perceived to be, a shape, a figure, an outline, a pattern, or
to be meaningful or significant visually),
I think we can safely say of all three types that each is, or presents, an eidos.
And on that basis, each type—"concrete," "shape,"
"abstract"—is, I maintain, a type of "eidetic poetry."
But this is not to restrict "eidos" to a
form that is perceived only
visually, for while we may speak of an eidetic element that is given to
instantaneous apprehension, as per to look
upon, we can also speak of an eidetic element that is given to conscious
intellection, for indeed while it is one thing to see a spatial arrangement, it
is another thing to know it as meaningful (and indeed, as significant). 5
consider for a moment the "real concrete text," that instance of
concrete poetry that Ms. Waldrop describes. I think we can find a useful
clarification in drawing a distinction between this and "poetry in
general." Consider, if you will, the case of "poetry in
general," I offer here a simple proposition: "The poem" exists on
the page, in concrete language, in the form of a deposition ("a putting down"), but the poetry exists, or rather comes
into being or is realized, in the
mind (via the conscious intellection) of the reader. While "the
poem" exists in deposition, the
poetry resides with the reader (the "interpretant," let us say).
Now where concerns concrete poetry, but specifically the concrete poetry that is
that "real concrete text," we can say that the
whereness of the poetry of concrete poetry is at the level of that deposition.
Now bear in mind, this is not to say of that "real concrete text" that
it does not have or show an eidos (a form, an eidetic form), as in fact this eidos is
this "text's" entire raison d'etre. 6
skip over the second type of concrete poetry (the "shaped poem")
except to mention that in Herbert's "Easter-wings" and in Hollander's
"Swan and Shadow" we find instances of the consummate working out
(working together) of both the eidetic and poetic elements (both serve to
complete each other, as complementarities,
and both are generative the one of the other), and we'll move on to the third
type, the "abstract" concrete poem. It may seem a contradiction
in terms to speak of an abstract
concrete poem, that is unless we bear in mind a keen distinction: Quite simply,
concrete is to the senses as abstract
is to the mind. Consider: A picture drawn in words, however detailed or
explicit, will always be an abstraction (literally a drawing-away, a separation)
from nature requiring conscious intellection on the part of the reader, whereas
to see a picture is a matter of instantaneous apprehension—it is there (it has
whereness), it appears to the senses,
it has a material, perceptible existence, it is a "reality in itself."
7 We must bear in mind, that the "concrete" in
"concrete poetry" has always, above all, been rooted in this
distinction, in this sense of instantaneous apprehension—as distinct from the
conscious intellection of words. 8
There is no contradiction, then, to considering a "concrete
poetry" that is both at basis "concrete" and formally abstract (that is at
basis flat and particular while formally loft
and gerneral). 9
has concrete poetry become abstract? Suffice it to say here that we must
consider our answer in regard to both the "shaped" and
the "concrete" poem, that poets have simply given up on depicting
shapes and figures from nature. I don't see this as a matter of talent or
ability, but rather, and what is more crucial, as a further outgrowth of the
"dissociation of sensibility" which while having its origin elsewhere
(and in another time) has never ceased to hold sway (and today, especially among
the avant-garde). 10 Today we might call this a fragmentation
of sensibility, in which the individual exists in "exploded view"
(a consequence, perhaps, of being "analyzed" to pieces, pieces which
relate but find their relation to be problematical). Interest has turned
inward, has become intra-subjective, in the knowledge of and in search of and in
the exploration of a transcendent system of meaning. If not the collective
unconscious, the occupation is with relationality as such (the very nature of
interrelation, of interdependence, of mutual aver). If it is not to know,
and to subdue, Langue—the current, great preoccupation—it is to know and to
subdue the self, or perhaps to know and to subdue the world writ large.
While willing, and able, to turn from naming, there remains an unwillingness, or
are unableness, to turn from meaning. Even the signs turn inward and
become symbols, unable to say with certainty but only to suggest (to show, and
to tell, indirectly).
wrote of STAMPOLOGUE, "this is a writing that is not writing words but showing
words, words not as signs but as symbols." Looking upon a
"slide" from STAMPOLOGUE, the eye, seeking the distal, seeking a
midst, seeking information, tends to focus on what appears to be—what is
recognized to be—letters, and words, disregarding or paying little attention
to the luminescent outskirts (for this is a work of light and shadow).
Is it the light, or is it the shadow, that makes these "letters,"
these "fragments of words," perceptible? It is in the union,
this union of light and shadow—the two great and sine qua non principles of
visibility and of appearance—that these forms emerge (from obscurity, from
eclipse). And what do these forms have to tell us—nothing, they are
mute. Though visible, they do not represent any thing in the visible world. And though of language, they do
not signal (or speak to or of) any thing
in the dialectal, particular world. These forms are a showing—they show language in conceptus, language in situ,
language in general, language in ideal form. I wrote of STAMPOLOGUE, these
images, these "slides" project an "eidograph." An
"eidograph" is a telling by way of showing, it is a
"concrete" telling, it is the special poésie of the eidetic poet.
The eidograph is a picture of language-in-eidos. St. Thomasino
© Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino
Vincent St. Thomasino has a degree in philosophy from Fordham
Rosmarie Waldrop, "A Basis of Concrete Poetry," in The
Avant-Garde Tradition in Literature, ed. Richard Kostelanetz (Buffalo, NY:
Prometheus Books, 1982), p. 315 ff. All quotes are from this essay.
Cf. Waldrop, op. cit. Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino
NB: There is a subtle and important distinction between a complementarity and an
equivalence. While an equivalence is an equality of value (say, for
instance, the illustration of a content), a complementarity is held to supply a
complement, to complete or to make complete. The complementarity is in no
wise tangential, but is of, or toward, the constitutive essence of the
composition (of the object). I maintain, the complementarities of eidetic
poetry (if not of all "concrete poetry") are equally (though not
necessarily in extent or to degree) and essentially generative one of the other.
Cf. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary
Terms and Literary Theory, ed. J. A. Cuddon (3rd ed., 1992). The entry
for "concrete poetry/verse" (p. 184) reads in part, "The object
is to present each poem as a different shape. It is thus a matter of
pictorial typography which produces 'visual poetry.' " The entry for
"pattern poetry" (p. 693) reads in part, "Probably Oriental in
origin, this kind of poem has its lines arranged to represent a physical object,
or to suggest action/motion, mood/feeling; but usually shape and motion."
Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, ed. A. Preminger, F. J. Warnke and O. B. Hardison (enlarged ed., 1974).
The entry for "pattern poetry" (p. 607) reads in part, "Verse in
which the disposition of the lines is such as to represent some physical object
or to suggest motion, place, or feeling in accord with the idea expressed in the
words. The pattern poem, or 'shaped' poem, first appears in Western-world
literature in the works of certain Gr. bucolic poets, notably in a few poems of
Simias of Rhodes (ca. 300 B.C.), later much imitated." NB: Where
concerns complementarities, the
operative words here are in accord with
the idea expressed in the words. Thus the pattern, or shape, and the
idea expressed in the words, must complement
or complete each other, and
must be generative the one of the other!
this sense, "concrete poetry" (and "pattern" and
"shaped") would be synonymous with "visual poetry."
considering the history of "concrete poetry" (which is to say, of its
forerunners, all which are by degrees approximations) it is most fruitful to
take into account all the various names by which it has been called.
"Concrete poetry" is a development of carmen figuratum ("shaped poem"). At this point in
time, it would seem that "visual poetry" (or, "vis-po") is a
recent development of concrete poetry.
Each term seems to denote both a generality (a genus) and a specificity (a
species). It would seem that of all the terms in current usage,
"visual poetry" is the most general, while being also the least
As for this eidos (as we speak of it here as the visual component or
complementarity), I think it is this aspect of the concrete-poetry composition
that Mary Ellen Solt is referring to when she says of concrete poetry (in her
footnote to "Moonshot Sonnet") that it is "supranational,
supralingual." And this can be so because there is no language
barrier interfering with the instantaneous apprehension of the object (its shape
or pattern, its spatial arrangement). Here we find the truly
supranational nature of eidetic poetry.
this is not to reduce eidetic poetry to its eidetic (i.e., "visual")
complementarity only, as then we would be acknowledging only one half of the
equation. We must also acknowledge its poetic elements, its
"lingual" or language complementarity, as here we find an eidos, a
form, of a different nature, the eidos, or form, of the noun.
Bear in mind the difference between the "concrete" eidos and that
eidos that accompanies the text of "poetry in general." In the
case of "poetry in general," here we find an eidos that is properly
understood to be a margin and indentation
pattern, this pattern or scheme, or, template
(I call this the "poetic template") signals to the reader a number of
things, least of which is "I am a poem." Compare the outward
eidetic form of a sonnet to, say, Solt's "Moonshot Sonnet" or to
Christian Morgenstern's "Fisches Nachtgesang."
NB: The forms found in the first type of concrete poetry are rarely found in
nature, unlike those found in the second type, which usually are. This is
important if the "forms" found in the first type are to be considered
"nonrepresentational," and a "reality in itself," and
not a depiction (not mimetic) from nature! We may ask, then, just what
kind of forms are to be found in the first type of concrete poetry, in the
"real concrete text"? I don't think it will be an imposition on
these works (to the contrary, it may increase them) to say of these forms that
they are Platonic. (Cf. Plato, Philebus,
51 c-d. "I mean not the figures of creatures in real life. I
mean a straight line, a curve and the plane and solid figures. These are
not realtively beautiful, but are beautiful in their very nature.")
And we should not be surprised to find in the third type, in the
"abstract" type, that the same kind of forms apply.
is to the senses as abstract is to the
mind" can also be conceived of as "concrete is to what
shows as abstract is to what tells."
In the preamble to my e-book Go
(xPress(ed), 2003) I present this analogy: "We might say, then, that the
'visual' component of the concrete poem is to the analogue clock what the
semantic component is to the digital clock, in that the one shows what the other tells."
Compare/contrast this idea of "instantaneous apprehension" with
Pound's authoritative assertion on the Image in the "Imagist" poem
("An 'Image' is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex
in an instant of time. . . . It is the presentation of such a 'complex'
instantaneously. . . .") and with Richard Kostelanetz's notion of the
The word basis has the Greek root bainein,
"to go." To be at basis
is to be at "the get go," to be "from the word go" (or,
"from the very beginning").
Cf. T. S. Eliot, "The Metaphysical Poets" (1921).
voluminous and authoritative literature exists seeking to explain and to
explore, to locate and to situate the "dissociation of sensibility."
I think this condition is real and is a predisposition (a gene-determined
characteristic?) of the human condition (and so it does not apply to poets
only). I think to say of someone that he can "compartmentalize"
is to say that he can "dissociate" (and for better or worse, although
I wonder just what good this has beyond an immediate situation, albeit it is
spoken of as a "talent" or as some sort of "superior
ability"). I think for the poet (and for poetry) the results can be
unfortunate, if not disastrous. Instinct dictates that an associative
principle be sought, but if this cannot be found in the sensibilities, it can be
found in some or other ideology. (Both require work, but for the one the
work is inward, for the other it is outward.) And while the one makes for
a keen individuality, the other makes for a collectivistic mentality—and while
this wears the coat of arms of "the other," its strength is that it is
one among many (or, a sort of legitimacy by association). The
"dissociation of sensibility" is reinforced time and again, I think
this the scholars will agree upon. But there is also an "association
of sensibility," an "associative" sensibility, an
"associative" type. What of this associative type? This
associative person? The associative poet? Is he given to suffer his
times? The associative poet sees the complementarities that exist in the
world, and in his poetry he recreates them, he dipicts them, he celebrates them,
he exalts them with joy, pride and confidence. This is his special
mimesis, his special ekphrasis. When I speak of The Postmodern Romantic, I
speak of the associative poet whose time is a time of dissociation. I
speak of the associative poet whose associative sensibility stands against the
dissociation of sensibility. (It pays to consider the term
"dissociation of sensibility" beside the earlier term