Kate Fagan“A work of acknowledgment,” a poetics of Happily[1]

by Kate Fagan


(This paper is excerpted from the first chapter of a forthcoming doctoral thesis entitled Encountering Lyn Hejinian.)


We have to decide to — and decide how to — be in common, to allow our existence to exist. This is not only at each moment a political decision; it is a decision about politics, about if and how we allow our otherness to exist, to inscribe itself as community and history.

—Jean-Luc Nancy[2]

We have no other experience of living than encounters. We have no other use for language than to have them.

—Lyn Hejinian[3]

1 A poetics of encounter

Poetics is not personal. A poetics gets formed in and as a relationship with the world. These are the opening sentences of one of Lyn Hejinian’s most recent expository formulations of her poesis, and ways in which one might articulate and test the work of poetry — its ethical and political dimensions, its potential as a zone in which the matter of being might begin to be discovered and addressed. On April 9 1999, during a conference held at Barnard College in New York City, Lyn Hejinian delivered a paper entitled “Some Notes toward a Poetics” to an audience of several hundred people. Hejinian was one of eight poets who engaged in a lengthy round-table discussion of contemporary American poetics and cultural production, under the rubric of meeting and innovation.[4] Folded in beside numerous poetry readings and “critical” papers, this plenary event staged an exemplary moment of community practice.

I want to read Hejinian’s paper as a poethical condensate, and as a departure node from which to set moving a linked series of terms — encounter, communality, happening, acknowledgment, affirmation, strangeness — with the hope of illuminating their significance for Hejinian’s current praxis.[5] Encounter has been a favourite trope of Lyn Hejinian’s thinking during the past decade. And in a more rhizomic sense, it is appropriate to Hejinian’s “entire” (or so-far) assembled and evolving body of work. The word “encounter” will circulate in this chapter as a kind of Deleuzean refrain; an “aggregate of matters of expression,” or a repeating syntactical hyphen performing “the link between truly active moments” in Hejinian’s ongoing ethical poetical inquiry.[6]

In the second section of ‘Some Notes toward a Poetics,’ Hejinian writes:

Aesthetic discovery can be congruent with social discovery. Aesthetic discovery occurs through encounters, at points of contact, and so too does political and ethical discovery.

These points of contact or linkages are the manifestation of our logics — they give evidence of our reasoning and they also serve as the sites for our reasons — our reasons to do what we do. (1)

To encounter is to meet, possibly by chance, and to be literally up against (encontre). Hejinian’s phrase “points of contact” foregrounds spatiality and mutuality. Something occurs or happens to produce a moment of reciprocal contextualization, an event of inter-subjective (and intra-objective) bordering. Imagined differently, this coming-into-context creates, and becomes, what happens; it is a happening.

The term “encounter” inhabits a border to excess. It glances continually between abstract nomination (an encounter) and a process of acting or becoming (to encounter), between noun and verb. In Hejinian’s epistemolexical scheme, it might be understood as a boundary guard.[7] Grammatical inflections perform a specific kind of work here, and suggest thought horizons well beyond a much-tested ground of referential motility. Emphasising flux, they remind us that encounter-discoveries such as those specified by Hejinian — aesthetic, political, ethical — are always mobile, and open to further meetings or happenings. Jean-Luc Nancy, whose words form part of the epigraph above, cogently describes a related concept in an essay called “Finite History.” “[E]verything,” he writes, is “always inscribed by change and becoming, always carrying the many marks of this inscription.”[8]

Bringing Jean-Luc Nancy’s ideas and Lyn Hejinian’s writings into a space of meeting provokes a resonant and extremely productive dialogue. Both Nancy and Hejinian are concerned with the how of being, a core matter of ethical thinking; and with matters of commonality, or to use Nancy’s phrase, with situations and conditions of “being in common.”[9]  Both thinkers situate their ethical inquiries alongside and within appraisals of worldliness — Hejinian examines the “in and as” attributes of our “relationship with the world,” while Nancy advances a thesis about “being-toward-the-world.”[10] I want to consider several questions that appear in a ghostly middle ground, or at a border crossing, between the inquiries of Nancy and Hejinian. What does it mean, following Nancy, to be always in-becoming, and how does Hejinian’s work face or generate that concept? Circumscribed by continual change or moment-to-moment negotiation, what might a poetics of encounter look like, and what might it offer for an encounter with ethics?

By extending these trajectories of thought to include Hejinian’s formal poetic methods, we might discover a different set of related queries. Why are Hejinian’s serialized poetic forms so crucial to her contextually-aware poetical ethic, and to her concepts and experiences of communality? By performing and acknowledging a linked sequence of encounters, in response to continual fluctuations in context, how might serial poems allow a perceiving subject to continually scrutinize and re-assess her own assumptions and placements, with regard to changing certainties about what is happening, or the matter of being in the world?

We have no other experience of living than encounters, suggests Hejinian in “Some Notes toward a Poetics.” “Points of contact or linkages” are the sites of encounter; and in complement, an encounter brings a linkage into being, while existing as a temporary moment of placement on a shifting plane. Imagined further, each encounter is an instance of mutual contextualization, and might thus be interpreted as a literal and reciprocal nexus with an other being. Perhaps, following Nancy’s explorations in a work entitled Being Singular Plural, encounters might be readily observable moments of being with-one-another (etant l’un-avec-l’autre) or being in co-existence.[11] To Lyn Hejinian’s way of thinking, encounters consequently offer the most pleasurably rich and incontrovertible scope for an ethical poetry, and for a poetry that acknowledges and finds its community. Within an ontology of linkages, described by Nancy as a co-ontology, a ground between subjects — interrelationship itself — becomes a preeminent concern. And within our meetings and links, Hejinian writes, we might discover and make manifest “our reasons to do what we do,” our ethical codes and occupations.

I want the term “occupations” here to embrace and suggest both labour practices or ways of working — what is “done,” and our doing — and places of habitation or occupied spaces. Both are integral aspects of our ways of being in the world. Hejinian is concerned likewise with processes, rather than static occurrences or things; for in encounters, we discover not only our reasons, but “evidence of our reasoning.”[12] We discover our methods for choosing how to respond to experience, and to our consciousness of experience.

Poetical work is included implicitly in Hejinian’s sense of reason: “we have no other use for language than to have [encounters].” With this observation, Hejinian maps an ethical terrain that is dependent upon poetic inquiry as a mode of precipitating and acknowledging events of co-incidence. Poetic language, a language of investigation and (at)testing, might potentially uncover the substance of an ethos of commonality. Hejinian is not suggesting that poetry be regarded as the single vehicle for such discoveries. She makes a strong and optimistic case, however, for poetic language as a powerfully useful (and perhaps singular) tract of ethical inquiry, and even as an engagement of moral necessity. One of Hejinian’s most frequently quoted aphorisms, eponymous to a recently published and inaugural book of her essays, gives a clue to the task: “the language of poetry is a language of inquiry.”[13]

Responsivity to encounters — or, put differently, to moments of communality — is integral to Hejinian’s understanding of the “experience of living,” and close to her sense of poetry’s responsibility. For Hejinian, the discovery and acknowledgment of communality, a way of “being-with” a world of things as they happen, is the poethical experiment that must be done.[14] And from this nexus of thought, a more general raison d’etre might be extrapolated: community is Lyn Hejinian’s reason to do what she does.[15]

I have borrowed the neologism “poethical” from Joan Retallack’s excellent essay entitled “The Poethical Wager.” While source-claims and lineation narratives are frequently made subject to intense scrutiny in contemporary critical discourse, and rightly so, I think it is important to attribute this term to Retallack, in context of much contemporary thinking about poetics that has emerged within the critically prolific field of American innovative poetry over the past decade. Retallack questions the relevance and ethical bearing of experimental poetry, understood as a practice of labour. She writes: “It strikes me that since the work of any given generation is adding to the initial conditions of the generations to come, one obviously tries to add positive, even constructive, initial conditions... The poethical wager… is just that we do our utmost on the chance that our work will be as helpful as any other infinitesimal initial condition might be.”[16] Retallack qualifies her open wager with a sentence quoted from experimental musician John Cage: “One does not then just make any experiment, but does what must be done.”(302)

Lyn Hejinian’s long poem Happily can be read as a sustained inquiry into “what must be done,” or what we are bound to encounter, within spheres traced out by poetical thinking. It was written during 1998 and early 1999, contemporaneously with “Some Notes toward a Poetics,” and published by the Post-Apollo Press in 2000.[17] Early in the poem, Hejinian meditates on the purpose of poetry and its relation to occurrences:

Perhaps it is the role of art to provide us with this chance that is
Perhaps it is the role of art to put us in complicity with things
          as they happen  (Happily 13)

Hejinian’s anaphoristic use of the word “perhaps” gently reminds us that her poethics is offered, rather than prescribed. Perhaps it is the role of art to put us in complicity with what might be done, or what may be. The phrase “to put us in complicity” suggests another figure for commonality, for a mode and moment of being — “this chance” — that is both profoundly and self-consciously communal.

During the 2000 Modernist Studies Association conference, held at the University of Pennsylvania, Hejinian participated in a reading series entitled “Nine contemporary poets read themselves through modernism,” orchestrated by Bob Perelman and Al Filreis. On the evening of October 12, at the Kelly Writers’ House, Hejinian presented a paper that performed a brief exegesis of two of her poems — My Life and Happily — gathered in company with various writings by Gertrude Stein.[18] While the event itself hints at Hejinian’s dedication to certain “material” communities, I am most concerned here with Hejinian’s choice to reaffirm her interest in a poetic grounded in encounters, in the acknowledgment of things as they happen, or appear to happen, in the world. Hejinian stated:

Things have presence because they occur in and as motion. They exist by virtue of motion’s “in and as” character. And our role among them is participatory, shared, in and as. This is what is known as the routine, all that is presently in the way and on the way, and even, at the risk of sounding Heideggerean, as the way... The routine is the social motion of worldliness, political in my view because it entails our being with our doing, and our doing with our being.[19]

Participatory, shared, in and as, our role among things. All of these are carefully-chosen terms from a poethical lexicon that cares deeply about purpose and futurity, and for a life lived in context of other people, ideas and things; for a life with, in the fullest sense of that word. Hejinian concerns herself not only with what must be done, but why the doing matters, and how the doing becomes a matter of being.

These issues will be explored a little later. I want to return now to a dialogue between Hejinian’s poetical writings and the ideas of Jean-Luc Nancy. Here again are the lines with which this chapter began: “We have to decide to — and decide how to — be in common, to allow our existence to exist. This is not only at each moment a political decision; it is a decision about politics, about if and how we allow our otherness to exist, to inscribe itself as community and history.”

Nancy’s words imply a condition of ethical agency, within which matters of co-existence might be chosen, articulated and tested. The notion of being-in-common, a phrase used frequently in “Finite History” to designate community, sits extremely well beside Hejinian’s explorations of encounter. Nancy reads community as an event, the occurrence of togetherness:

[Community] is not a substance, nor a subject; it is not a common being, which could be the goal or culmination of a progressive process. It is rather a being-in-common which only happens, or which is happening, an event, more than a “being.” (149)

By rejecting a common being as a figure for community and referring instead to being-in-common, Nancy draws attention toward existential proximity as a process, “a happening as it comes.”(166) Hejinian’s ideas are comparable: community is an event of shared context, of the “active correlations (co-relations)” occasioned by encounters.[20] For Hejinian, as for Nancy, community is on-going, rather than a finishing point or tangible subject. In keeping with Hejinian’s contextually-mindful poetic, I use the phrase “existential proximity” to try and move beyond concepts of proximity that are gauged primarily or wholly in reference to spatial and temporal elements. Existential proximity might include, for example, discursive frameworks and modes of ideation. The phrase “shared context,” which first appears in a 1998 essay by Hejinian entitled “Reason,” invites similarly inclusive speculations.

Lyn Hejinian’s poetical work can be imagined, in one reading, as an augmentative writing-through of Jean-Luc Nancy’s thoughts about community as outlined in “Finite History.” Nancy offers “a way of thinking”(169) about being-in-common (“this is not a theory”). Hejinian makes explicit excursions into the how of commonality, producing and acknowledging in poetry the activity of interrelatedness. Happily performs a linked series of encounters among things, ideas, commonplace events and manners of regard. Each line of the poem brings subject- and object-worlds into shared proximity, by staging interactions among three principal elements: a world that is being perceived, perceptual inventions and processes, and language, which constitutes one boundary (or medium of proliferating connections) between the world as it “happens” and our perceptions within that world, or our sense of the world.[21] The writing is the encounter — the happening — as much as it responds to what has happened, or what might. Constantly I write this happily... the deictic in Hejinian’s equivocal (or perhaps polyvalent) opening words encompasses a field of philosophical inquiry, “things” as they happen, a being-in-writing, and the poem itself. Each is proximate to the others. The poem accumulates its observations and allows them to co-exist, rather than asserting “the goal or culmination” of progressive ontological processes. This is not a theory.

Constantly I write this happily
Hazards that hope may break open my lips
What I feel is taking place, a large context, long yielding, and
        to doubt it would be a crime against it
I sense that in stating “this is happening”  (Happily 1)

In using the term “writing-though,” I am not intending to sketch or reiterate lineations which give prior standing to a piece of writing — Nancy’s — that can be generically over-determined as “philosophical,” or to create (chronological) textual hierarchies that afford originary status to particular concepts. I don’t mean to suggest, either, that Hejinian has read and worked from “Finite History”; for although Hejinian mentions Nancy’s long work The Inoperative Community in her poetical essay entitled “Reason,” and has certainly read from several other philosophical texts referred to in “Finite History,” her use of Nancy’s thinking is never made explicit.[22] I want more, then, to enjoy the suggestive rub between texts, and to enact Lyn Hejinian’s trope of encounter in “critical” terms by helping these writings to face each other, and tracing something of my own meeting with them. This process might be thought of as a moment of becoming-in-common with the texts, an event of co-incidence. Perhaps critical work is best understood in this way; as part of the work of acknowledgment, one porous response to what has been already generated and offered.

I also want this chapter to test the maxim, adapting poet George Oppen’s words, that “one’s community is encountered, not found.”[23] I will link one of Lyn Hejinian’s most contemporary readings of poetical encounter — the guest-host relationship, as presented in “Some Notes toward a Poetics” — with the idea of community as an event that can constitute and enable radical, reciprocal affirmations of “being” involving embodiments of extra-subjective, and strangely-political, otherness. Much of this thinking echoes and moves outward from a declaration made by Hejinian, quoted above and returned to here: a poetics gets formed in and as a relationship with the world.

2 ‘The world changing, unchanging’[24]

Jean-Luc Nancy writes in “Finite History” that each event or occurrence of being-in-common opens up “a world, if ‘world’ does not mean universe or cosmos, but the proper place of existence as such, the place in which one is ‘given to the world’ or where one ‘comes into the world.’ A world is neither space nor time; it is the way we exist together”(168, my emphasis). For Nancy, worlds are not tropes of in-different universality, or non-heterogeneity. Rather, they appear as assemblages of discrete though linked instances of togetherness. They figure a process of coming-into-communality, in a “proper place of existence” exceeding purely spatio-temporal referents and adjacencies. The meaning of being-in-the-world, as Nancy writes in Being Singular Plural, is always already a common meaning; in fact “there is no meaning if meaning is not shared,” since “meaning is itself the sharing of Being.”[25] A world is a set of connections, a way of existing (or more accurately, being-together) that is in process, or in-becoming. It arrives or appears or happens, rather than operating as a monolithic “thing.” In The Differend: Phrases in Dispute, a text dealing specifically with discursive paradigms or “phrase regimens” and the “linkages” that happen between them, Jean-François Lyotard explores a related idea: “the referent world is not an object of cognition, it eludes the test of reality... By world, I understand a network of proper names. No phrase can exhaust this network. [26]

We might understand in a correspondent light Lyn Hejinian’s description of a poetics that happens “as a relationship with the world.” As Hejinian writes in “Some Notes toward a Poetics,” the formulation of a poetics is a profoundly sociable act — an arrival into, and a testing of, the limits and meanings of context and community:

Poetics is where poetry’s engagement with meaning as meaningfulness gets elaborated — poetics is the site of poetry’s reason — where the plurality of its logics and the viability of its contexts are tested and articulated.

A poetics considers how and what a specific poem means within itself and its own terms and how and why it means (and is meaningful) within a community that congregates around it. (1)

For Hejinian, poetics performs the labour of critique and a critique of labour practices, interrogating worlds in which one’s poetical work might operate. A poetics elucidates poetry’s reason — its capacity to mean, to articulate, and to account for its own positioning within what “congregates” or happens around it. Poetics is a mode of mobile vigilance, in which a writer can admit — or perhaps advance toward — fulsome, contextual reflexivity, and a sense of being in the world rather than at an observational or unworldly distance from it. In a different sense, Hejinian’s poetics can be imagined as a testing site for a series of simply complex dilemmas, often navigated by Hejinian on a cusp between political and cultural (or worldly) efficacy, and “personal” compulsion or necessity: Does it matter to write? Does poetry need a reason? What is happening, and how might poetry observe it?

By Hejinian’s measure, poetry has a responsibility toward encountering the world, or to cite Nancy, “the way we exist together.”[27] In doing so, it becomes an affirmative praxis; principally because of its quotidian capacities to respond to the fact that things occur, that “events are unscrolling, they cover [our] eyes”(Happily 19). Imagined further, poetry is a language-ing art of acknowledgment, unparalleled in its ability to state that “this is happening”(Happily 1).

“It is not possible,” writes Nancy in The Sense of the World, “...to give up thinking that something is happening, that something here called ‘world’ is happening to us, and that it is here and now that this is coming to pass and that the here and now takes place in accordance with what it transmits to itself of what it represents as being where it comes from.”[28] When “a world” is noticed in poetry, or when moments of co-incidence between beings and things are recognized and generated, a manifold affirmation takes place. Occurrences, perceived perhaps as objects, are acknowledged and given (epi)phenomenal presence “in accordance with where they come from” (this is happening); while simultaneously, subjects themselves, along with modes of togetherness (Nancy) in a world of commonplace events, are given meaning and form (this is happening and can be perceived, and is our context for perceiving). Poetry’s fluid and transmutable potential for affirmation — for making a record of appearances — is pivotal to why it “matters” for Lyn Hejinian to write. And the development of something called “a poetics” provides Hejinian with an extra, philosophical chance to address seriously the issue of poetry’s reasoning, and its mattering within the world.

It is worth noting a further parallel between Hejinian’s poetic of appearances and encounters, encoded in Happily by meditations upon the phrase “this is happening,” and certain threads of inquiry pursued in Jean-François Lyotard’s The Differend. Hejinian quotes Lyotard in “Reason,” an essay first published in 1998 in the inaugural issue of Shark — a journal of art, poetics and criticism edited by (and eponymous to) Emilie Clark and Lytle Shaw.[29] While advancing a thesis in “Reason” about poetry’s capacities for contextual reflexivity, Hejinian makes a qualified claim in a footnote to sharing “some of the same goals” as The Differend, regarding explorations of links between discursive praxis, ideation and experience.[30] She is not specific about those goals or moments of convergence. In The Differend, Lyotard writes: “Reflection requires that you watch out for occurrences, that you don’t already know what’s happening. It leaves open the question: Is it happening?”(xv) He later observes:

In sum, there are events: something happens which is not tautological with what has happened. Would you call what happens the case? – The case, der Fall, would be that something happens, quod, rather than what happens, quid. – Would you say that “the world is all that [which] is the case,” as Wittgenstein does? – We could if we could distinguished between the case and that which is the case... The case is: There is, It happens. That is to say: Is it happening? (79, interpolation included)

“Watching out for occurrences” and affirming them in language could stand comfortably as a description of Hejinian’s core task in Happily. Hejinian situates her poetry within appreciations of worldliness, and wonders in doing so, as Lyotard does, whether there are considerable distances between material and commonplace realities — actual things or “events,” or “all that is the case” — and our sense of the world, or our perception of what is happening; especially, our sense of relationships and interactions between things. How might the event of acknowledgment itself differ radically from events (or appearances) that are happening, or that we are acknowledging? What differences exist between “things” that occur and our perception that things are occurring, or in Lyotard’s distinction, between that and what? Does the world need notice in order to attain “reality,” and do things matter, and have material substance, without being perceived? What relations between subject and object are obvious and/or newly possible within poetical acknowledging?

These are well-enumerated dilemmas, perhaps; but they are justly relevant to a poetry that is self-conscious about links between appearances, perception, ideation and language. Lyotard’s mediations on that, what and worldliness are audible in the following passage from Happily, in which Hejinian reflects upon the work of acknowledgment performed by poetry, and the difficult “realism” that poetic language might ascribe to occurrences:

I was going to speak of doom eager to resume consecutive
          events ploughing through the space surrounding them to
          something now, no ellipsis, just mouth open in atonish-
          ment or closed to suck quid and quod, that and what
Not proving but pointing not disappointed boldly taking aim
          obliged to acknowledge I admit to being sometimes
          afraid of the effort required for judgment, afraid of the
          judgment required
That can happen only after that it has happened is ascertained,
          if you can keep up, time can’t be banished, being real                                                 (Happily 22)

The phrase “if you can keep up” is reminiscent of Hejinian’s opening words to the preface of Writing Is an Aid to Memory, a long poem published twenty-two years prior to Happily: “I am always conscious of the disquieting runs of life slipping by.”[31]

During her recent reading at the 2000 Modernist Studies Association conference of her own poetry’s Steinian attentiveness to the runs of life slipping by (“consecutive events ploughing through the space surrounding them to something now”), Lyn Hejinian addressed an interface between occurrences — things that appear — and our sense of those occurrences, or our comprehension of “being real.” A poetics of encounter is really a poetics in which appearances are met in language, and in consciousness. “I see appearances,” stated Hejinian. “I am attracted to, and engaged with, what comes into view. Things have presence because they occur in and as motion... And to acknowledge it is to acknowledge that the world exists, things are happening, and it matters. How and why things matter, how they materialize, how they appear, is contingent but intrinsic... What matters appears, and what appears matters.”[32]

Poetry sees appearances, and via the “contingent but intrinsic” medium of language, affirms the presence of things as they happen “into view” or into thought’s terrain. In this, poetry cares about worldliness; about life as it is lived. “It is the task of poetry,” writes Hejinian in “Reason,” “to produce the phrase this is happening and thereby to provoke the sensation that corresponds to it — a sensation of newness, yes, and of renewedness — an experience of the revitalization of things in the world, an acknowledgment of the liveliness of the world... a sense of living our life”(4). I will return to this statement shortly, since it requires (and is given by Hejinian) a substantial qualification, regarding the ethical relevance of context to a poetry about this-ness or experience. As Hejinian writes in Happily, “consecutive events” come to our present notice “ploughing through the space surrounding them.”(22) Our sense of the appearance of “something now” is dependent, in other words, upon context and motion.



So far in this chapter, I have argued that by acknowledging in language a world of occurrences and things, and by allowing them to exist in a “co-ontology,” or as discrete materials that co-incide while retaining their singularities, Lyn Hejinian’s serialized work — exemplified in the long poem Happily — generates a way of thinking about commonality that resonates exactly with Jean-Luc Nancy’s ideas of community as an ever-mobile happening, an event of being-in-common that is in constant arrival. I have suggested that Hejinian is highly concerned with modes of worldly poetic practice, that affirm things in their worldliness, as they appear or are encountered (“Each reality needs to be affirmed”).[33] At this point it is necessary to provide further texture for a concept of community that is grounded in observable, co-inciding actualities and affirmations of matter, as embraced by the disarmingly simple phrase “this is happening.”

The mere existence of a prolific array of “things” in poetry, regardless of their intentions or positionalities within a subjective observational milieu, will not necessarily guarantee Jean-Luc Nancy’s notion of being-in-common. Nor will it inevitably speak — without qualification — of an ethics. “Co-incidence,” as observed by a sentient being, would seem inadequate as a foundation for community; or at least, assertions which make a prima facie connection between the phrase “this is happening” and a mode of worldly commonality require extra evidence, or further scrutiny. They are adequate as starting points, but linkages are required; and in them, argues Hejinian, our strongest ethical and communal traces and reasons will be found.[34] How might we make better sense of “being-with” and “being-toward-the-world”(Nancy) in order to strengthen an appraisal of community as it relates to perceptions of co-inciding matter? Do concepts of community require a dimension of continuity, and where might that be located? Within Lyn Hejinian’s poetical vocabulary, answers to these questions move between two lexical flight-lines, both used to signal similar things: context and active correlation.

3 “Context is the chance that time takes[35]

I focussed earlier on dynamic characteristics of the word “encounter” in order to emphasise inter-action as a crucial aspect of Hejinian’s poetic, writing: “within an ontology about linkages, described by Nancy as a co-ontology, a ground between subjects — the fact of interrelationship itself — becomes a preeminent concern.” Jean-Luc Nancy’s interpretation of community as an event of being-in-common, the “happening as it comes” of a we, suggests that our primary mode of being (or our way of meaning a life)[36] depends upon interactivity. “The happening consists in bringing forth a certain spacing of time, where something takes place,” writes Nancy. “In order to say ‘we,’ we have to be in a certain common space of time...community itself is this space.”[37] Community, commonality, is “not the anonymous chatter of the ‘public domain’” or a concept that originates solely with the ubiquitous city-states of early political philosophy.[38] It is rather a zone or place created by the activity of intersubjective linkages, an occurrence-between — a “spacing of time” — “if one still wants to call this ‘community,’”observes Nancy in a parenthetical aside within Being Singular Plural.(25) Being-in-community finds its continuity in transit, since things are always in changing relation. When Nancy writes of being-toward-the-world, he is referring to the contiguous shifts, reciprocal presencings and transitions that occur among interacting worldly elements; a state, perhaps, of continuous encounter.

Nancy’s philosophy of community corresponds well with Hejinian’s interpretation of context, “the medium of our encounter.”[39] Where Nancy uses being-in-common as a trope for community, he might equally write, within the turning limits of textual transl(iter)ation, being-in-context. Linkages that occur with encounters are a condition of possibility for the task of “presenting or representing ourselves as a community.”[40] They are the event of community, consistent in their provisionality. “Philosophy needs to think in principle about how we are ‘us’ among us, that is, how the consistency of our Being is in being-in-common, and how this consists precisely in the ‘in’ or in the ‘between’ of its spacing,” suggests Nancy.[41] This “spacing of time” is history, finite in the sense of its moment-to-moment character. Or as Hejinian writes in “Reason,” this spacing of time, our being-in-common, is context:

If one sees history as, at the very least, a set of relations — or, to be more precise, of active correlations (co-relations) — then that seems not too far from a workable characterization of the context of something. And it not only allows one to situate that something within history as a descriptive and explanatory account of what has happened, but it also gives something a history with a future. Context is a past with a future. That is the sense of the phrase this is happening. That is what gives us a sense of reason. (5)

Within our observations and experiences of co-relation or active co-incidence (our encounters), we might discover reasons. In Nancy’s terms, we might find community within the plural of our singularities. “Among those things,” writes Hejinian in “O’s Affirmation,” while referring to the “separated and abandoned moments” of living, “all our linkages — our ethics — await us. It’s in experiencing change as an exemplary connection that ethics becomes identified with linkage.”(18) Interrelationship is where an ethics might begin. Or to follow Hejinian’s sense of the word, ethics resides in context.

By giving (poetical) priority to context, Hejinian intends to critique an experientially-based poetic that relies upon sensational immediacy or a kind of “authenticity.”[42] She anchors affirmations of co-inciding materialities within appreciations of the transitions that comprise history, or worldliness: “Context is a past with a future” (above). Things happen and are affirmed, but they happen in context, “always situated.”[43] Or rather, our numerous encounters provide an ever-changing context in which observations are placed.

In part, Happily actualizes this critique by offering readers a poetic of admission rather than a poetry of confession. Hejinian admits the mess of surrounding history, while refusing to privilege the interiorized and transcendent reflections of a single sentient being (-Poet) — a poetic telos that Hejinian refers to in “Reason” as “anti-intellectual and ultimately philistine,” “romantic” and “boringly persistent”:

In assuming a positive value to experience for its own sake, and in advocating thereby an art which heightens perceptibility, one risks appearing to privilege sensation over cogitation, to promote immediacy and disdain critique. There is a danger that one implies that the questioning of experience may serve to distance and thereby diminish at least aspects of it, and that this is antithetical to ‘real’ artistic practice. This is the basis of art’s supposed hostility to criticism, theory (thought), and occasionally hostility even to examination of its own history. Or, to put it another way, on these grounds, the philistine romantic attempts to justify his or her rejection of context. (4)

While it is “the task of poetry to produce the phrase this is happening and thereby to provoke… an experience of the revitalization of things in the world,”(4) or to “make it new”(Ezra Pound’s famed shibboleth), it must do so within the open-ended qualifier of full contextual regard. “Each reality needs to be affirmed” — along with the happenstance or context that accompanies its appearance.

Something comes
The experiences generated by sense perceptions come by the
          happenstance that is with them
Experiences resulting from things impinging on us
There is continuity in moving our understanding of them as
          they appear  (Happily 26)

Along comes something — launched in context. This is Lyn Hejinian’s formulation for a poetic that embraces what she has called a “Heideggerean fascination” with worldliness or materiality — Heidegger calls it Dasein or being-there — while effecting, via formal seriality, a hyper-attentive tracking of shifts in placement.[44] The phrase appears repeatedly in Hejinian’s poetical and critical work of the last four years. It opens the first two sections of “Reason,” and in that essay, Hejinian describes it as “the phrase or sentence with which I’ve become obsessed”(3). Along comes something — launched in context. The phrase re-emerges as a headnote to the fifty-seventh section of the serial poem My Life (Hejinian’s ongoing “autobiographical” work), an increment that corresponds to the year in which Hejinian wrote “Reason.”[45] It appears again in “Some Notes toward a Poetics”(2) and as the eighteenth “sentence” of Happily.(5) Fragments of it surface at various subsequent moments of that poem, as Hejinian returns over and over to poethical contemplations of the phrase this is happening: “Context is the chance that time takes.” “Something launched without endpoint.” “From something launched we extract our sentences.” “Launched? Nothing is not so.” “Something comes.” “It is midday a sentence its context — history with a future.”[46] In “Reason,” Hejinian explains the significance of her maxim:

One cannot meaningfully say “This is happening” out of context. At the very moment of uttering the phrase, “natality” occurs. And from that moment of incipience, which occurs with the recognition of the experience of and presented by the phrase along comes something — launched in context through the phrase this is happening, we are in context, which is to say, in thought (in theory and with critique) and in history. (4)

Context names the fact of interrelation, the spacing “between” that constitutes Nancy’s sense of community or being-in-common. Context is the world understood as an assemblage of links, always re-connecting. And here, we reach a key tenet of this discussion: via appreciations of context, readers can begin to recognise parity between notions of community in-becoming and a poetry that acknowledges and spatializes occurrences, or affirms “the fact things that are happening,”[47] while mapping the transitions and relations between  — as does Happily. Hejinian’s long poetical lines effect a version of Nancy’s “common spacing of time.” They give measure (or time) to “what is taking place,” and in doing so, create and proffer community as it arrives. Happily understands and unrolls time as a discrete series of localized events. Matter is always on-location: “What I feel is taking place, a large context, long yielding, and to doubt it would be a crime against it / I sense that in stating ‘this is happening’”(Happily 3).

To merely recognise a proliferation of things and allow them to co-exist or co-incide is not Hejinian’s purpose in Happily. Such uncritical numerousness could be interpreted as a relatively opportunistic or rhetorical way to effect “community”; a facile and appropriative, or even colonising, gesture. As Hejinian asserts, an unqualified or “directionless pluralism” that is “lacking participation in the forming of relationships” might pave the way for “a dangerous immanentism,” in which no thing is differentiated from another and an ethic of totalizing sameness prevails.[48]

Writing recently about her interest in William James, whose investigations into “radical empiricism” as a descriptive method for tracking cognitive processes were of great significance to Gertrude Stein, Hejinian emphasized the “metaphysical flimsiness of purely conjunctive relations,” and quotes from James: “Merely to be ‘with’ one another in a universe of discourse is the most external relation that terms can have, and seems to involve nothing whatever as to farther consequences.” Hejinian continued:

What interests James (as it interests me) are not so much the things, which simple conjunction leaves undisturbed, but the transitions between them and between them and us.
It is in these transitions that the activity of being is exercised — the work of being in the world, perceptible and, in the case of sentient things, perceiving, or, in the case of nonsentient things, susceptible to the influence, the causative capacities, of other things, sentient or not. These interrelated transitions form a system of perceptible effects. For James, these are the materials of cognition and hence of consciousness.[49]

Happily is about the dynamic character of things, thoughts and appearances — their “interrelated transitions.” It is primarily in this sense, I think, that it can be understood as a poem about commonality or being-in-common, a calibration of “the work of being in the world” beside constitutions of community. Happily investigates thingness-in-co-relation; not necessarily the act of perception itself, but the fact of being-with — “a system of perceptible effects” — the common spacing of time, or “the happening as it comes.”[50] The experiences generated by sense perceptions come by the happenstance that is with them.(Happily 26) “Everything that is happening is happening phenomenologically, as something appearing, that we appear to experience; something that we sense, coming to be sensed,” writes Hejinian. “This by its nature involves motion. Something’s happening, something’s taking place, something’s taking time.”[51]

George Oppen also subscribed to an ethical necessity, or more accurately an ontological one,[52] for marking “the transitions between [things] and between them and us,” or the motion of materials beyond “simple conjunction.” The condition of being numerous — living one’s life in response to what is happening — requires provision and affirmation of context, a site-specific testing that might operate as a mobile ethical limit to (social and political) possibility. We are responsible for choosing the meaning of being numerous; for spacing time, and making links. Context, history or “critique” in Hejinian’s terms, might provide future ballast (or finity) with which to offset “the shipwreck of the singular.”[53] In this light, we can interpret Oppen’s wreck as an historically-specific disregard for being-with that has lent validation, in Oppen’s view, to “atrocities” or by-products of “the casual will.” Oppen declares: “The context is history / Moving toward the light of the conscious.”[54] Devoid of context and adrift from temporality, experience — consciousness — is valorized for its own sake. No critical limits to meaning, no boundaries or ethical dilemmas, are active.

During a discussion with me in August 1998, Hejinian spoke of “the problem of negotiating the mass of information that comes at one, as sense percepts or ideas, and the ethical questions that get raised by the requirement — and I really do feel it to be one — that one in some way evaluate and respond to what happens, even if it’s only to acknowledge that something’s come along.” Along comes something — launched in context. Hejinian continued:

That seems a kind of ethics. One has to also foreground the fact that one is making choices, and at the same time one is making them in contexts. So that this ethics can’t be a prescriptive one, because a prescriptive one couldn’t possibly take account of all possible contexts. So it actually has to be almost like a pragmatic one, that one is operating in a field of possibilities and choosing among them, and validating some, signing on to some, invalidating others. [55]

Although “the mass of information that comes at one” in a life may appear to be prolific and indistinguishable, Hejinian is suggesting that a responsible (or responsive) person will acknowledge details as they happen, and make contextually-grounded differential choices, “validating some, signing on to some, and invalidating others.” It follows that an ethical poetics will take moment-to-moment account of context, as an historicizing and limiting condition upon the possibilities of poetry’s knowing, or its reasoning.

Hejinian’s poem “Preservation” from The Green expresses the same idea differently, accentuating poetic language as one medium where such ethical encounters might occur:

I wanted the moment to contain itself with detail. More often places empty out, punctured by various distractions. From the rubble downpour we make a monument to propitiate the shake in life... I come up against the concrete surface of the words, staring hard, and then skim back, to remark on shorelines not merely flat. Emerging mindfulness, moving socially alongside.[56]

Containing itself with detail, a paradoxical figure, signals a desire to preserve from effacement the historical conditions in which things happen, moving socially, each to their moment. Contextualizing a rummage of particulars — placing the details — partly explains Hejinian’s career-long choice of lengthy, serialized poetic forms, in which context is literally admitted and measured as it changes. Hejinian’s poems never float as unanchored, one-off meditations or observations. They allow maximal time to take place, a full occurrence of everyday space. “Whatever I see in thought as life I come to coming to me in history”(Happily 19).

“The shake in life” identified by Hejinian (above) might be the uncertainty of limitless possibility, a concept echoed in Jacques Derrida’s text Aporias: “From the very first moment... [a statement] trembles in an unstable multiplicity as long as there is no context to stop us.”[57] George Oppen faced this dilemma in a different language:

Obsessed, bewildered

By the shipwreck
Of the singular

We have chosen the meaning
Of being numerous.[58]

Hejinian is explicit in “Reason” about ethical affinities between her work and Oppen’s correspondently-serial poetry. She interprets “Of Being Numerous” as “a testing of the same context, the same reason”(5) that dominates her own recent poetical inquiries. Activating co-relations, or choosing certain meetings and boundaries, is the stopping work of context, in which an ethics becomes visible; hovering, perhaps, beside the bright light of shipwreck.

Hejinian’s emphasis on each moment as it “contains itself with detail” finds obvious precedent in Gertrude Stein’s sparkling matrices of everyday happenings, that brim with connectivity as they literally take time, or let place occur. “It is a way of letting it be partly hers and theirs and it is also a way of their leaving it one at a time as often as it is of any use to anyone. It is moreover as much as they care to allow them to arrange it…Coming with and an arrangement of their being more than half placed in an allowance of the most elaborate and very careful interchange.”[59] Stein’s words — “one at a time,” “coming with” in “an arrangement of their being” — echo both Jean-Luc Nancy’s concept of perpetual arrival in being-with, and Lyn Hejinian’s concept of an “emerging mindfulness” that “mov[es] socially alongside” each instant. Moving socially suggests both being-toward-the-world, and a condition of being always already in language.[60]

Nancy writes that history or context “spaces time itself, spacing it from its continuous present…  A happening happens between present and present, between the flow and itself.”[my emphasis][61] Here we find a thread connecting opposite ends of a century, running between Nancy’s idea of re-arriving community and Stein’s most famed compositional strategy. “Beginning again and again” in order to create “a composition of a prolonged present,” a technique regarded by Stein during the 1920s “more and more complicatedly” as “a continuous present,”[62] remains one of Stein’s most lasting gifts to twentieth-century poetic technique. Happily also maps a continuous present, albeit with a late 1990s piquancy — perhaps, as it does, bearing witness to another of Stein’s (more oxymoronic) observations: “Nothing changes from generation to generation except the thing seen and that makes a composition.”[63] Happily sees and composes what happens between this and this and this; between present and present, or everything seen to be changing. In concert (or community) with Jean-Luc Nancy, Gertrude Stein and William James, Hejinian records “the transitions between [things] and between them and us” that are the materials — the matter — of consciousness, and therefore, of worldly living. Things have motion in context, and are each other’s context. The world is a composition that materializes, presently, in-between:

The manner in which we are present at this time to and fro
          appears, we come to point of view before us
The matter is here
Can we share its kind of existence?  (Happily 13)

Perhaps where William James once said of Gertrude Stein’s work “this is a fine new kind of realism,” we might say of Lyn Hejinian’s work, “this is a fine new kind of materialism.”[64] To acknowledge appearances as they space the time is to acknowledge that a world exists, writes Hejinian. Things are happening, and it matters.[65]

In The Sense of the World, Jean-Luc Nancy meditates upon Martin Heidegger’s notion of Dasein, “the taking-place or the existing… in this world here,”(56)  another kind of presencing:

But — these things: there are things. All these things, all these bodies, their areas, their arealities… In accordance with this existential condition [Dasein], the primary theme of all existence… is, first of all, the spacing/spaced taking-place-there. This existential condition is the worldly. (157-158)

Community — worldliness — is the spacing of what takes place. Nancy’s spatialized (or arealized) “things and bodies” are Hejinian’s contextualized “occurrences and appearances.” There is an uncanny resonance, too, between Nancy’s musings on worldliness and Oppen’s song to ontological materials in the first lines of the poem “Of Being Numerous”: There are things we live among.[66] The link is Heidegger, whose work Oppen read closely for its considerations of the substance or matter of worldliness. “[A poem] is an instance of ‘being in the world,’” wrote Oppen, at “the limits of judgement, the limits of pure reason —  I said, remember: ‘All this is reportage’  An account of being in the world, to stick to H[eidegger].”[67]

As evinced by Oppen’s phrase “the limits of judgement,” a poetry grounded in worldly affirmations is not a poetry without uncertainty. The twenty-sixth and longest section of “Of Being Numerous” includes this reflection of quiet undecidedness:

We want to defend
And do not know how.[68]

Dilemma is also essential to Lyn Hejinian’s worldly and contextually-grounded poetic, and to her sense of non-prescriptive ethical possibilities. “I espouse a poetics of affirmation,” states Hejinian in “Some Notes toward a Poetics.” “I also espouse a poetics of uncertainty, of doubt, difficulty and strangeness”(1). When Hejinian writes in Happily of “being sometimes afraid of the effort required for judgment, afraid of the judgment required,” she signals poetical hazard — a condition of taking one’s chances.(22) Or rather she acknowledges that ethics itself, which requires judgment among the materials of living, is an engagement of on-going dilemma. “What I have learnt from [Oppen’s work],” wrote Hejinian in June 2001, “is the value of uncertainty, the commitment to doubt (and even to ambivalence).”[69]

Ethics is a quandary — a word that is listed appropriately in the Oxford Dictionary as being of uncertain etymology. Indeed, as Giorgio Agamben infers, there can be no ethics without contradiction, since a declared or prescribed resolution to inquiry — a finishing point or “destiny” of questioning, the point at which everything is known or attained — would obviate the purpose of an ethics, which (in part) is to stage encounters with always-changing matter, and to appreciate and contextualize potentiality.[70] The moment at which something is “known” is the moment at which one asks and links onto the next question. “Of each actuality I’m uncertain and always was uncertain and such uncertainty is certain”(Happily 36).

In “Reason,” Hejinian suggests that the phrase Along comes something — launched in context characterizes and generates dilemmatos. It embodies both a boundary and a perceptual relation to that boundary. Dilemma, explains Hejinian, “comes from the Greek, dilemmatos, and means ‘involving two assumptions.’” The boundary inferred by Hejinian’s phrase is “not an edge but a conjunction,” and it consequently “bears the meaning of conjunction: encounter, possible confusion, alteration exerted through reciprocal influence”(1). Hejinian develops this flight-line of reason by advocating a poetics “that has dilemma (as a border under pressure of doubt, as a border in question) as one of its central features.” Such a poetics will “vigorously question assumptions, including, or especially its own”(1). In other words, it will situate itself along or within boundaries — and so we return to a poetics of encounter. Hejinian’s poetry performs a continuing series, or a serialized continuum, of meetings along borders. It affirms a condition of worldliness or Dasien — “this is happening” — while admitting and advancing interactivity and reciprocal alteration among co-inciding elements.  In doing so, it offers us inquiring languages for a mode of being-toward-the-world, the core (descriptive) principal of Nancy’s community or world in-becoming.



[1]  Lyn Hejinian Happily (Sausalito: Post-Apollo Press, 2000). All subsequent references are to this edition, except where stated. The phrase “a work of acknowledgment” is from Hejinian’s prefatory remarks to Sight, a long collaborative work by Lyn Hejinian and Leslie Scalapino begun in 1991 and published as Sight (Washington: Edge Books, 1999).

[2]   Jean-Luc Nancy “Finite History” in The States of “Theory”: History, Art and Critical Discourse ed. David Carroll (New York: Columbia UP, 1990) 149-172 at 168.

[3]    Lyn Hejinian, “Some Notes toward a Poetics,” 1. Hejinian sent me this text in an e-mail dated 22 February 2000. Parts of it were first published in “Barbarism,” an essay written for a 1995 reading tour of Australia, and in “Reason,” an essay posted to me in draft form in August 1998. Both essays appear in Hejinian’s recent book of critical essays, A Language of Inquiry (Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California P, 2000). “Reason” was posted online at Lyn Hejinian’s author page at the Electronic Poetry Center in 1999. All subsequent references to “Reason” are to Hejinian’s original draft transcript; there are slight editorial differences between versions.

[4]    “Where Lyric Tradition Meets Language Poetry: Innovation in Contemporary American Poetry by Women,” April 8-10 at Barnard College, NYC. Other participants in the forum were Rae Armantrout, Lucie Brock-Broido, Jorie Graham, Barbara Guest, Brenda Hillman, Ann Lauterbach and Harryette Mullen. The terms of “meeting” were much disputed at the conference. Transcripts of seven of the poets’ statements appear in Fence 3.1 (Spring/Summer 2000).

[5]    The neologism “poethical” is borrowed from Joan Retallack’s essay “The Poethical Wager.” A discussion of the term appears later in this chapter. See Joan Retallack, “The Poethical Wager” in Onward: Contemporary Poetry and Poetics ed. Peter Baker (New York: Peter Lang, 1996) 293-306.

[6]    Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari A Thousand Plateaus: Vol.2 of Capitalism and Schizophrenia trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis and London: U of Minnesota P, 1987) at 313 and 323.

[7]    See Hejinian’s preface to Sight (Hejinian and Scalapino). A Border Comedy, a long poem due for publication by Granary in September 2001, deals especially with this figure. My reading of encounter corresponds in some way to Hejinian’s reading, in an essay entitled “O’s Affirmation,” of border as both a site and an activity of linkage: “the border I mean...is not an edge, not marginal, but an articulation and provocateur of palpability, the medium (middle) of proliferating connections, where one thing feels the next”(1, draft text sent to me by Hejinian in August 1998). “O’s Affirmation” reads George Oppen’s poem “Of Being Numerous” and deals explicitly with encountering “an actual world” and “being in the world.” A series of Hejinian’s poems and essays beginning with Sight in 1991 and ending in 1999 with “Some Notes toward a Poetics” and Happily, provides my frame of temporal reference for this chapter; hence “Hejinian’s thinking during the past decade.”

[8]   Nancy, “Finite History” 152.

[9]   Nancy, “Finite History” 156.

[10]    Hejinian, “Some Notes Toward a Poetics” 1; Jean-Luc Nancy The Sense of the World trans. Jeffrey S. Librett (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1997) 28, 33 and also “The World” 154-160.

[11]    Jean-Luc Nancy, Being Singular Plural (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2000) 32 and 41.

[12]    Hejinian, “Some Notes toward a Poetics” 1.

[13]    This phrase first appears in Hejinian’s teaching notes for a course called “The language of inquiry,” which she developed and taught for the first time during the Autumn of 1987 (see archival letter from Lyn Hejinian to Rae Armantrout dated 8 January 1987, Mandeville Collection [74, U1A, folder “Rae Armantrout 1985-1994”]).  It also appears in the essay “Reason,”(4) and in a 1991 interview with Charles Bernstein for LINE/Break, a sound programme linked to the Electronic Poetry Centre. The Language of Inquiry, Hejinian’s first book of essays, was published in December 2000 by University of California Press.

[14]    John Cage, quoted in Joan Retallack’s essay “The Poethical Wager”; see discussion to follow.

[15]    I feel that community can almost be read as a signature kaleidoscope through which to view Hejinian’s relationship to writing. My aim here is to understand community not as a term of in-difference, but as a term of intricate, contradictory and generative potentials; poetical, conceptual and social. In this, I am possibly more optimistic (though perhaps less aware) than critic Charles Altieri, who has referred recently to “the strident... replacing of slogans about history (the buzzword of the eighties) by slogans about community (our new toy).” See “Lyn Hejinian and the Possibilities of Postmodernism in Poetry” in Women Poets of the Americas: Toward a Pan-American Gathering eds. Cordelia Candelaria and Jacqueline Brogan (Indiana: U of Notre Dame P, 1999) 146-155 at 148.

[16]    Retallack, The Poethical Wager 297 and 306.

[17]    Excerpts of Happily were published in various journals prior to the Post-Apollo edition, including an issue of boundary 2 edited by Charles Bernstein and entitled “99 Poets” 26.1 (Spring 1999):137-139.

[18]    Hejinian shared the floor with Joan Retallack and Ron Silliman. A sound recording of the event is available online at www.english.upenn.edu/~wh/9poets; my transcript subsequently referred to as “9 Writers.” In a sense, My Life (1979) and Happily (2000) “bookend” the early and later stages of Hejinian’s writing career, a fact alluded to by Hejinian during her presentation. Hejinian’s writings on Gertrude Stein also include “Two Stein Talks,” Temblor 3 (Spring 1986):128-139 and two 1998 papers entitled “Three Lives” and “A Common Sense,” all of which are included in The Language of Inquiry. The text of “A Common Sense,” written by Hejinian in 1998 for a conference on Stein, overlaps in part with the text for “9 Writers.”

[19]    Hejinian, “9 Writers” 1.

[20]    The terms “active correlations” and “shared context” both appear in “Reason” at 5.

[21]    Hejinian’s phrase “the medium of proliferating connections” occurs in “O’s Affirmation”(draft text sent to me by Hejinian) 1.

[22]    Hejinian, “Reason” at 6, where Nancy’s The Inoperative Community is mentioned but not explicitly worked through; it is actually referenced from a journal article by Peter Nicholls, along with Giorgio Agamben’s The Coming Community and Jean-François Lyotard’s The Differend. Clearly though, textual cross-pollination has occurred, and zones of thinking converge. See Peter Nicholls, “Of Being Ethical: Reflections on George Oppen” in Journal of American Studies 31.2 (1997):153-170. Elsewhere in her work, Hejinian uses a number of texts that Nancy notes in “Finite History,” including works by Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger. See later in this chapter for discussions of all these texts.

[23]    While speaking about the image as “encountered not found” during a 1975 interview with Reinhold Schiffer, George Oppen commented: “one’s subjectivity is also encountered, not found.” “Interview with George Oppen,” Sagetrieb 3.3 (Winter 1984):9-23 at 19.

[24]    Hejinian, Happily 12-13.

[25]    Nancy, Being Singular Plural 2.

[26]    Lyotard, The Differend 79. “Phrase regimen” and “linkage” both occur at page xii of The Differend; Hejinian has borrowed these terms.

[27]    Nancy, “Finite History” 168.

[28]    Nancy, The Sense of the World 147.

[29]    Shark, “Prepoetics” Issue (1998): 1.

[30]    Hejinian, “Reason” 8.

[31]    Lyn Hejinian, Writing Is an Aid to Memory (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1996) n.pag.

[32]    Hejinian, “9 Writers” 1.

[33]    Hejinian, Happily 4.

[34]    Hejinian, “O’s Affirmation” 18.

[35]    Hejinian, Happily 5.

[36] I quote here from the title of Mary Oppen’s (auto)biographical account of the life that she and George Oppen shared together, Meaning a Life.

[37]    Nancy, “Finite History” 156-7.

[38]    Nancy, Being Singular Plural 7. See especially Nancy’s discussion of “first philosophy” at 21-28.

[39]    Hejinian, “Some Notes toward a Poetics” 2.

[40]    Nancy, “Finite History” 157.

[41]    Nancy, Being Singular Plural 25-26.

[42]    Hejinian, “Reason” 4.

[43]    Lyn Hejinian, “The Quest for Knowledge in the Western Poem” in Disembodied Poetics: Annals of the Jack Kerouac School eds. Anne Waldman and Andrew Schelling (Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1994) 171-189 at 189.

[44]    The phrase “Heideggerean fascination” is from a lengthy interview that I conducted with Hejinian on 3 August 1998, during which we discussed (among other things) the significance to Hejinian’s work of appraisals of context. Jean-Luc Nancy’s account of Heidegger’s Dasein occurs in The Sense of the World at 54-63 and 154-160.

[45]    Hejinian read this section of My Life during her “9 Writers” presentation at the 2000 MSA conference.

[46]    Quotes appear (in order) at 5,7,13, 29, 26 and 7 of Happily.

[47]    Hejinian, “9 Writers” 1.

[48]    Hejinian, “Reason” 6.

[49]    Hejinian, The Language of Inquiry 136. Gertrude Stein studied psychology with William James at Radcliffe College during the early 20th century. Hejinian outlines the relationship between James and Stein in “Two Stein Talks,” 3 Temblor (1986): 128-39. Hejinian was also a student of Radcliffe college, during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

[50]    Nancy, “Finite History” 166.

[51]    Hejinian, “9 Writers” 2.

[52]    Rachel Blau DuPlessis, ed. The Selected Letters of George Oppen (Durham: Duke UP, 1990) 118-119.

[53]    George Oppen, “Of Being Numerous” in Collected Poems (New York: New Directions, 1975) 151-179.

[54]    Oppen, “Route,” Collected Poems 191. “An air of atrocity” and “the casual will / Is atrocious” appear at 160. Hejinian interprets sections 18 and 19 of the poem as a direct response to Oppen’s experiences during WWII (including observation of two very different holocausts), and to US involvement in both the bombing of Cambodia and the Vietnam War, which Oppen actively opposed (Hejinian, “O’s Affirmation” 29).

[55]    Transcript of an interview conducted with Hejinian, 3 August 1998.

[56]    Hejinian, “Preservation” from “The Green” in The Cold of Poetry (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon, 1994) 136-7.

[57]    Jacques Derrida, Aporias trans. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1993) 9.

[58]    Oppen, Collected Poems 151.

[59]    Gertrude Stein, “A Vocabulary of Thinking” in How to Write (New York: Dover, 1975) at 299.

[60]    Writing in Gender Trouble about cultural constructions of gender, Judith Butler proposes an idea of being “always already” in language, or in a context where signifying practices and  the meaning of “worldliness” are always reciprocally linked. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble (London and New York: Routledge, 1990) 143. At a later point in the thesis, I deal with Wittgenstein’s famous proposition in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus that “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” See, for example, Marjorie Perloff, Wittgenstein’s Ladder: Poetic Language and the Strangeness of the Ordinary (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1996) 206-7.

[61]    Nancy, “Finite History” 156.

[62]    Gertrude Stein, “Composition as Explanation” in What are Masterpieces ed. Robert Haas (New York: Pitman, 1970) 25-38 at 29 and 31. While “Composition and Explanation” dates from 1926, Stein identifies Three Lives (1905) as the text in which she began to explore this technical principal.

[63]    Stein, “Composition as Explanation” 26.

[64]    For James’s observation see Lyn Hejinian, “Two Stein Talks,” 3 Temblor (Spring 1986):128-139 at 128. At a later point in the thesis I take up Hejinian’s 20-year investigation of what she has termed “American literary realism.”

[65]    Hejinian, “9 Writers” 1.

[66]    Oppen, Collected Poems 147.

[67]    DuPlessis, Selected Letters of George Oppen 177. Hejinian quotes from this same letter in “O’s Affirmation” at 18. Oppen was reading Heidegger’s Essays on Metaphysics: Identity and Difference in 1966. In a note to himself dated 1 June 1966, Oppen compares his own use of the word “matter” with Heidegger’s less “clumsy” use of the word “substance”(Selected Letters 135). “All this is reportage” appears twice in the poem “Route”(Oppen, Collected Poems 192 and 193).

[68]    Oppen, Collected Poems 165.

[69]    Letter to me dated 23 June 2001.

[70]    Giorgio Agamben The Coming Community trans. Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1993) 43-44.

Bio: Kate Fagan is a Sydney-based writer and musician who is currently completing a PhD thesis at the University of Sydney on Lyn Hejinian’s writings. Kate is the managing editor of How2 magazine. Her first full-length book of poetry, The Long Moment, is due out from Salt in 2002. 

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