04 May 2008

During my break from this blog the world lost one of its great poets, Aimé Césaire. I surmise that the incantation style of "Footnote to Howl" (repetition of "I'm with you in Rockland..") comes from Césaire's "Notebook of a Return to a Native Land" (repetition of "Au bout du petit matin.."). Although I'm not aware of a direct reference to Ginsberg reading Césaire then, it is likely that the translation of Notebook was purchased and absorbed by Carl Solomon between its release in the US in 1947 and his meetings with Ginsberg in 1950, because one can't imagine Solomon seeing and not buying it given his tastes, and it was as obtainable in New York as the French language works that Solomon is documented to have shared with Ginsberg. Breton called Notebook “nothing less than the great lyrical monument of our times.”

The conditions of Césaire’s upbringing have been a matter of continuous debate, but his father was clearly of an upwardly mobile mindset which led to Aime being assiduously taught French rather than Creole. I have noted on this blog in the past the relation between the two languages in the Caribbean - the phrase “He spoke French” being synonymous in Creole to “he is trying to deceive you,” and these suspicions being vindicated repeatedly by the histories of Martinique and the other Creole nations. Yet for Césaire, French led him directly to the caste of Rimbaud and Lautreamont and to a fateful meeting with André Breton in 1941, after Breton had discovered his work in Tropiques. Césaire called the meeting “a great shortcut towards finding myself.” Césaire forcefully and famously but without analysis addressed the tension of using the colonial language by mythologizing his lineage: “Because we hate you, you and your reason, we call upon the early dementia, the flaming madness of the early dementia, the flaming madness of an tenacious cannibalism...Take me as I am, I don’t adapt to you!”

As his election to public office coincided with the post-Vichy reclassification of Martinique as a department, Césaire’s belief in the “transitional” nature of culture and politics was both in the active, Surrealist spirit of transmutation and the more passive deference to nature, especially later in his years as a poet and politician. 1960's Ferraments is both a political and historical text and a demarcation of limits of the present within infinity, as in the “when/ when is tomorrow my people” of Out of Alien Days and “a child will half-open the door..” (In Truth). Amongst the Surrealists, his poetry utilized the rhetorical and polemic perhaps most frequently as these impulses intermixed with the connotive alchemy throughout his life. I see him as a poet of infinite transitions: through a magic he lets us partake of Truth and Justice, translating truth from the Creole and justice, as he reiterates repeatedly, from nature itself.


Steven Fama said...

Cesaire's poems are great, his plays too.

However, the claim that "Au bout du petit matin..." is the ur-repetition for "I'm with you in Rockland" seems laughably fantastic. I know you admit there is no direct evidence of influence, but still the assertion seems plausible only if it is assumed there were no other poems prior to 1955 that repeated a key phrase.

There are of course many such poems. As for one that is kown to have influenced Ginsberg, take a look at Thou Shall Not Kill, by Kenneth Rexroth.

Also, "I'm with you in Rockland" is in Part III of Howl, not the Footnote.

Ian Keenan said...

Stephen, I'm talking about a poem where a common phrase begins a longer phrase subject to variations. That does not occur in the same structure in Thou Shalt Not Kill, which has repetitions in short lines in a few parts of the poem.

Based on Solomon's taste for new French translations, it is likely they had a fresh copy of Notebook.

"but still the assertion seems plausible only if it is assumed there were no other poems prior to 1955 that repeated a key phrase..." is a completely irrelevant criterium.. I was saying that one poem possibly inspired another poem..

Steven Fama said...

I still think your theory is but a wild and off-base guess. What have AG's biographers written? What say Bill Morgan? What say the primary documents (letters)? Maybe your adventurous intuition is correct, but you gotta base it more than a supposition on a supposition.

In this regard, see the annotated Howl at page 154, with AG explaining how the repetition in section 3 compare and contrasts with his repetition of a fixed bases ("Who" and "Moloch," respectively, in the first two parts, and without mentioning Cesaire but Apollinaire, Whitman, and Lorca).

AG wrote and spoke thousands of words about "Howl." I'd think you'd be able find some mention somewhere of that sheds some direct
light on your theory.

And don't downplay the repetition in the Rexroth. As you recognize, there are certain phrases that are heavily repeated in certain sections. But repeats of words and partial phrases, with variations, abound, including "You" and "You are" in the opening section.

The most exact precursor to "I am with you in Rockland" in Rexroth probably is the repetition and variation of "You killed him . . . " in section IV. We get Oppenheimer, Einstein, General and the Benign Lady, all nicely and concisely filled out.

There's also in that section the fixed base of "I want to . . . " with variations.

It's obvious that the Rexorth was a key precursor.

History is complicated enough without us coming along and mounting speculation upon speculation.

Ian Keenan said...

Since you brought it up, Steven, the ‘he is dead’ section of Thou Shalt Not Kill probably came from Vallejo’s Violence of the Hours. It is also quite likely that Rexroth read Notebook since he was in France around the time of its publication, several years before he penned Thou Shalt Not Kill.

There is a pause between Au bout de petit matin and the long phrases that follow them, which occurs nowhere in the incantation style of Rexroth and is reproduced in Howl.

As I've written before, the long lines in the opening of Howl probably came from Artaud and Genet, who both Ginsberg and Rexroth were reading at the time. Ginsberg's comments are of interest, but I don't expect everyone to come clean on matters of this sort.