"transcription-(or lineage) as visual"

Leslie Scalapino

Written on commission for Atelos Press, R-hu was begun in Oakland, California, as an ‘experiment’ for traveling in—and thus was continued in—China and Mongolia, and completed in Oakland.

“transcription—(or lineage) as visual” is reprinted from Leslie Scalapino’s R-hu, published by Atelos in 2000.

         Bernadette Mayer’s choice is writing as “experiments” in the scientific sense of a set of perimeters or structure designed to enable discovery (“an operation carried out under controlled conditions in order to discover an unknown effect or law”). Examples of this mode are her books Studying Hunger and Midwinter Day, the first being a month-long period-of-time as structure of the book, the second being a single day as the structure/process of the experiment. The pressure or the looseness of time in (or as being) a designated time-period has itself an effect on what occurs then.
        In Studying Hunger, she indicates wanting “to find a structure for MEMORY & you” associated with (or differentiated from) “language border which seems to separate, just barely, observation & analysis.”(1) Memory is not language-border?
         Is language-border present-time per se, as its function?

         The relation of memory (which can only be one person’s) and “you,” someone else, an object neither created by memory nor ‘dwelling’ in it—is placed beside language-border (always present-time) that which only barely separates observation and analysis. The discrepancy (language-border not being the same as memory) is the code that transcribes an event?
          Mayer says:”I had an idea before this that if a human, a writer, could come up with a workable code, or shorthand, for the transcription of every event, every motion, every transition of his or her own mind, & could perform this process of translation on himself, using the code, for a 24-hour period, he or we or someone could come up with a great piece of language/information.”(2)
         In these two writing experiments that are ‘on’ experience, Mayer has to be separated from the experience by the structure/design of the experiment.
She may mean transcription of every event, every motion, every transition of one’s mind—is looking intensely at the mind’s present, which dissolves memory and language border. In this dissolution the two, always separate from each other but as if ‘solely’ able to transcribe each other, are simultaneous.
         There should be no lineage in order to see what the mind is. That’s just a construct, also. As lineage is an order, an ordering.
Transcription (as writing) of mind or transcription of one’s/the person’s characteristics is different from the “social.” This is related to lineage.
         What is the relation of one’s mind to people’s behavior (including one’s own). Writing is itself separation of these and could see relation—by showing they aren’t ‘as’ each other, aren’t manifestations of each other.
         “Behavior” implies “long-term” and also “transient”—people’s patterns, but which are events. Behavior is fact/action/events, and also characteristics and repetition.
         If writing is viewed as a given or prior form, then it is not the relation between a mind and (that person’s or people’s) behavior.

         If writing’s form is mind-formations it is a relation to people’s behavior, outside one. In parks say. We’d see our relation to our own mind. “One formulation of emptiness characterizes it as absence of true or inherent existence within phenomena. In the alternative linguistic formulation, however, emptiness is characterized as the fact that the referent labeled by a term is not found when searched for by an analysis that examines the ultimate nature of the object. As a corollary...nothing exists except as a linguistic label, that things are ‘mere names,’ ‘mere labels’.”(3)

        As if linguistic (conceptual) predication is causal—as if the word brings into existence [that which has no basis] and the word [itself] has no basis.


Lineage as Visual:

       Unlike Mayer's free-floating model, a hierarchical model of allusion-based writing is streams of quotations from, or allusions to, luminous ‘figures’ who become figures only (by being simply ‘referred to,’ a hidden support in, and of, a fabric of such)—or they are ‘figures’ by being quoted briefly in a stream (in a series of epiphanies, as if anthologizing or it has the same effect as anthologizing). The form of the fabric of allusions seems thus to transcribe ‘them,’ the people. And the substance and connections of the actual thought and works (that which is referenced) are absent.
        The ‘meaning’ or ‘ideology’ of the fabric is the revered ‘being’ (not the thought or writing) of the referenced person. Thus while apparently submissive, the fabric of allusions is a hidden narrative.
        Also, academic format assigns lineage and describes a poet’s body of work in relation to that prior manifestation or example. It is as if history or thought is hierarchical and a poet’s work is only seen in that hierarchy. What occurs as the shape/motion or sound that is the language is not in the description or seen to be there, only the writing’s relation to other things—that is, the background and its connections to the present are not assessed, rather the background is simply reified. In that way, background and present are both inert.

        Dante makes a journey (in which rather than making allusions, he references real people, such as when he assigns them spots in hell) that transforms his mind and eye (the hierarchical stages of which are shown to him by Virgil and Beatrice). The form is the site/process.
         In the Divine Comedy, each book or section is prefaced by a synopsis of the content that follows (prose glosses of the poem that follows)—yet the poem’s content may not reflect the synopsis, or may be some interior aspect of it not seen in the synopsis.


        I was lying curled up in a landscape, as if in the side of a hill or knoll, and a huge gray elephant was charging me to beat me with its trunk—I thought if I lie very still curled it will not be made angry, not continue and attack me. Then behind me, another huge gray elephant reached out and patted me with her trunk, the trunk stroking the length of my side soothing, to indicate Don’t be upset. The other elephant rushing at me whacking with its trunk roiling. I met T. and told him about the two elephants and he said he didn’t believe me. Then I got mad because he didn’t believe me.


        [Using the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the re-make with Donald Sutherland]

The image is the pod transforming the person, so that they are a duplicate which appears to be the body. So the pod-germinating flower is later (after the body) and does not create.
         “Tradition” as the pod (in Invasion of the Body Snatchers) is a virus which duplicates only the appearance of a ‘person.’ As if that were characteristics.
         The cultural ideology is duplication (that is, only). And it is not them.
         A person conveying sense ‘that natures should be the same,’ he blames my mind for causing my body’s ‘reaction’ or episode of injury. As if that means one is inferior as expression or response to the outside causing the inside:
         Because the pod-germinating is outside both the outside and interiority. Social, conceptual interiority or any. It has no subjectivity, it is mechanical reproduction.
         Looking inside one's body without one’s eyes (but there is a sense of using the eyes) is not there (as the pod collection)


        The conception in the film (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) is of a social X-ray of one’s flesh that is not a dream, and superimposed at this instant on the place is not a dream. It’s to be cultural ideology, that makes the enslavers and the slaves (ejected) visible but as if they were not themselves, a premonition. The X-ray will be the cultural ideology. It is inside, that is its nature.
         The person there blames thought or emotion in any one as causing the change that’s occurring in any case. Whereas the pod duplicates, it ‘appears’ only to be one as if tradition as a virus only.


         ‘seeing’ the man starving lying in garbage—yet to conceptually place the site only in relation in space (to foreground and background, or future, simply)—to buildings—is not to iterate those as conditions, present his dying is to be not in relation to space, or to conjecture  ‘as’ ‘blossoming trees’ are one’s subjectivity/language ‘there’— (4)


        Conceptual thought being only ‘labeling’ of/as phenomena, in Madhyamika thought. In the latter, labeling is predication of the sensory experience.
         The mind making visual sites. To compare Bernadette Mayer's differentiating of language-border and memory to the notion of viewing the figure in space: the process of Mayer’s writing is ‘being the same as its vehicle’—which is the writing itself as one’s mind (either in one reading the text or in one writing it).
         Sometimes she chooses to write a form that’s a ‘given’ (such as sonnets), using these in play, as ‘procedures’ or vehicles, as one chooses guides, such as Dante—to do the interior motivation (which is transformation of one’s mind and outlook). The ‘appropriated’ form is the exterior process or structure.
         The men’s notion of excising eroticism (that is, removing the “self” from writing—which was discussed at a talk on autobiography in 1980) was to free the writing of that as a base. To free it of having to be rooted in an ego-social base. The effect of this (even there) was actually erasing critique of ego-social base.


        In Robert Grenier's color Xerox series, Owl on Bough (5), the text is hand-drawn words as shape whose ‘meaning’ is ‘their shape/and their conceptual shape’—as reproduced by Xerox exactly as if that is the inside of one’s mind as visual.
         He doesn’t ‘put behavior in.’
         The terrain is large pages sometimes split by a dividing line as if one is seeing physical separation of language from conceptual space by that being drawn (that is, shape cannot be translated as printed font).
         Word-shape overlaps in different colors on the line-split page as if this as only text mirrored the natural world as or by that world being overtly separate from its own manifestation, and as if no aspect of human behavior or characteristic impinges as the visual-physical page—as if that which is human has been by-passed (while, or because, the page still retains the effect of a person's hand and mind). It is ‘as if’ the viewer sees something else (rather than layers that are of human production) by there being no depth and it being only production (Xerox).
         While retaining or reflecting no vestige of HIGHLY-PROCESSED SUBJECTVITIES, Grenier's pages seem to be mirror images of these as only the nature world itself.
          His being a way of looking at society, in eschewing it. He thinks behavior isn't criteria? As if people had no actions? Writes a reflection of both outside and inside that.
         As change of space:
         That is, to take it out of seeing it even (as to be “seeing it” would be having seen it/seeing it before).


        Midwinter Day is a 119 page book written in twenty-four hours, Mayer describing (in a talk at Naropa) having ‘practiced’ or ‘trained’ for the particular twenty-four hour period, even practicing dreaming to then “have good dreams” during the night of the designated time. The writing is the ‘events’ of that day filling it, and it is also ‘on’ the events occurring in that day. Mind’s events as being the time itself—transcription of all events (mind’s, time itself, action of events occurring outside in the time period)—there is no ‘place’ for the events. Writing subsumes these. Actions ‘outside’ always are opaque and the writing is separate from these continually, at the same time as being these only. Similar to Grenier’s hand-drawn text being apparently word “owl” or “bough” as natural world itself, an impossibility which is rendered both by the illusion of its occurring and the viewer’s apprehension not being based in seeing (that what is apprehended is outside of the visual, as world or reading), Mayer’s “experiments” are ‘on’ (and are) the separation (from the subject). Her writing enables one’s perceiving something about ‘outside’ and ‘mind’ at once.


        If one views mind-phenomena as actions occurring at the same time as the ‘outside’—and as both ‘not the same thing as the outside or producing it’ and as premonition—that could be a view of the mind having an unknown relation to society. The relation (as writing) is outside of procedural.


         Mayer’s experiments are to be “looking intensely at the mind’s present” (my words) which have an effect of dissolving memory and language-border—hers as being a fascinating approach to the mind as allusion itself.


        Grenier’s work is an example of seeing and reading at the same time. And the meaning not being based either in seeing or subject-as-text.
         The comparisons I use are of course ‘unlike’ their origin—unlike that to which they are compared.
         The mind grappling with itself (trying to dismantle itself even) is a use of the self as continual allusion. That is, grappling also becomes a form of lineage. Mayer doesn’t ‘grapple;’ rather, she is playful.
         This is suggesting an anti-rationalist bombardment of one’s own mind by/and writing being always (only, that is essentially) literary allusion. As language it is separate from phenomena:


The Inability of Objects to Withstand Logical Analysis:

        "In the Madhyamaka...nothing can withstand the weight of—nothing can bear—logical analysis. However one formulates it, the starting point of the analysis is language, and language is the culmination as well. The purpose of the dialectic is to make clear that there is nothing substantial behind language...”(6)
To write as continually undercutting the writing’s own basis, unsustained by the continual constructing in it of its structure or sound even. Not to create sound even on which to rely. To risk even inertia ‘to see what’s there.’ “Whalen’s doing something very difficult” (Charles Bernstein observed, noting the sound as the different readers’ rendering of Philip Whalen’s poems in a two-hour group reading from Whalen’s Overtime at St. Mark’s in New York, May 6 1999).(7)
Some of Whalen’s writing is as if landscapes of sound plateaus. Whalen was not even having a basis in sound, Bernstein pointed out, even risking inertia in the writing so as not to hold onto any particular element (such as continued sound pattern or there being resonance)—the writing to be simply phenomena.
       A thing is not the cognitive basis, nor the cognitive object, of conceptual thought - so conceptual thought doesn't have an inherent existence within phenomena or in itself.(8)


      They were elegant. Each seen maneuvering inside a fabric (poems written by Whalen)—each trying to see what that’s sound structure is specifically. Rungs or plateaus—not even plateaus—seems that momentarily. Where a fabric is pushed to no resonance or to inertia and no conclusion or no structure. “[W]ords do have referents, but these referents have no substance to them, being themselves merely labeled entities that depend on other labeled entities in a giant web where the only reality is the interrelatedness of the entities. There is no real substratum to this...and the only existence that things can be said to have is a very weak, conventional one that is reflected in the patterns of interconnection, that is, in the usage of language. What emerges is a picture of a world of elements in free fall. Because they all fall at the same rate, however, there is the appearance of solidity; but in fact there is no stable substratum on which they all rest.”(9) By being heard (the sound emerging at the group reading in which many poems were read by different people). Whalen was writing that no-structure.


     Around that time, the magnolia trees began to bloom, and taking a nap one day I struggled out of sleep to drive up the highway ramp with the magnolia blossoms roiling without movement ahead. They were in the center of that sleep, which was in the past but still there. Left over itself, and my out ahead in the car with the roiling magnolia blossoms everywhere on the earth.



1.    Bernadette Mayer, Studying Hunger (Bolinas: Big Sky 1975) 7; Midwinter Day (Berkeley, CA: Turtle Island Foundation, 1982; rpt. New York: New Directions, 1999). [back to text]

2.    Studying Hunger 7. [back to text]

3.    José Ignacio Cabezó, Buddhism and Language, A Study of Indo-Tibetan Scholasticism (Albany: SUNY, 1994) 162. [back to text]

4.  Leslie Scalapino, “What’s place—war in ‘night,’” in manuscript. [back to text]

5.  Robert Grenier, Owl on Bough (Sausalito: Post-Apollo Press, 1998). [back to text]

6.    Cabezó, op.cit. 154-55. [back to text]

7.    Philip Whalen. Overtime (New York: Penguin, 1999). [back to text]

8.    Cabezó, op. cit. 158. [back to text]

9.    Ibid. 163-164. [back to text]





BIO: Leslie Scalapino's recent publications include R-hu (inter-genre work from Atelos, 2000), The public world/syntactically impermanence (inter-genre, Wesleyan University Press, 1999), and New Time (poetry from Wesleyan, 1999). The Tango is forthcoming from Granary Books. Other works include The return of painting, The pearl and orion/a trilogy (reprinted by Talisman). She teaches at Bard College MFA Program.


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