David Antin

what am i doing here?

since ive heard jerry before        i was prepared to ask myself        a somewhat similar question        to the question cokboy seems to have asked        which is        “what am i doing here?”        the question has some funny aspects to it        one of them is        i have no intention whatever        of reading        and        that would seem to put me        outside the general        scope of the genre        but maybe not             if im characterized by an odd futureness        science fiction like        which is a sort of funny pathetic position        the future        comes relatively unequipped and bare        a dream of technology so to speak        so i came with a small tape recorder        and this is appropriate        a tape recorder is probably more of a dream than anything else because they never work very well        but the point was        that i was going to ask myself what i was doing here in several senses        one of these senses is “what am i doing here?” in this kind of ambience?        but what is “this kind of ambience”        i havent really wanted to be considered a poet        but i think that takes refining to make clear what i mean        i dont want to be considered a poet        if a poet is someone        who adds art to talking        now i know there are several ways that people look at poetry        but there is a passage in bacon        where bacon says “if you talk about the manner of speaking that poetry is        its just a mode of speech        and if you talk about its content        its merely history at pleasure” .    which was merely a polite way of saying that poetry was a lie        history at pleasure        is history the way you happen to want to remember it        now the way i want to remember something        may very well be        the issue of why im here        to ask myself “why am i here?” in a context of poetry        which is like asking why        when i do put a book out in the world        it winds up getting classified        by the library of congress        under the section called poetry        and        i find that        puzzling        but logical        because what else would they call it?        i looked through the library of congress classificational system and        was unable to find any classification called talking        it seemed to me they didnt have that classification        they had belles lettres        and they had literature and        they had essays and        they had geography and they didnt have talking        and i thought        that something had been left out        but maybe it was because talking was not        as it were        imagined to fit into a book between        say telling jokes        and doing something else        now        i kept looking around for a place        into which        i could put what i do        and i asked myself        why do i do it in such a place anyway        why do i persist in doing it in a place next to old friends        who call upon the word poet to some degree        and to some degree        call upon something that one might call        the past        though i get very dubious about        its past        and        i say to myself why did we edit a magazine together        jerome rothenberg and i        i was the future and he was        the past and there was nothing in the present        we might have published an empty book consistently        if i had seen how we came out        irregularly as these things do        and we        seem to have come together again        and again        at various times though weve not always been together        weve probably known each other longer than we havent known each other        at this point        and we obviously split the world rather peculiarly        maybe we split ourselves rather peculiarly        but i notice that        in        the kind of work        that he’s interested in        theres a lot of talking        because there isnt a lot of writing        the past had a lot more talking than it had writing        i’ll make a bold hypothesis before there was talking        before there was writing        before there was talking there wasnt talking        before there was writing there was talking        this may not be an immense hypothesis        but its certainly true        and        it has consequences        there are certainly consequences i can draw from this        that before there was writing down        and looking up        there was remembering        when you talked about something that wasnt there you had to remember it        and you couldnt write it down        and when you talked about something that wasnt there        the only way that it was there was        somehow        it manifested itself        in your mouth        and before it manifested itself in your mouth        it didnt always do that        before it manifested itself in your mouth it may have manifested itself in your head        thats not always true        because sometimes or maybe even most of the time a new thing manifests itself in talking before it ’manifests itself anywhere else at all        but when we try to remember what was the past        the past is all remembering        and        if the past is remembering its talking too        now i dont want to say that it is always talking        or at least talking is not always spoken        but its a good word to stick with        and its a word that had a grand history        theres a word close to talking        a word that may finally mean talking but used to have a very grand meaning        a word myth        which has a very grand meaning for most people        and        i know that robert duncan has given a lot of attention to the word “myth”        the one definition he did leave out when he rehearsed the definitions for the middle voice greek verb mytheomai        is to talk        which it was        it was a verb “to talk” and “to tell”        and it was a verb meaning “to put a rap in the air”        when odysseus the great con-man        the trickster gets up to talk in council        he “myths” and he “myths” regardless of whether he “myths” the way nobody else remembers        and i think the word may not be very prejudicial at that point        differently now        lets say        if i were to say of the president        “he’s been mything for a long time”        “he’s been mythifying us”        you know        the word seems to have come down        and to have been coming down for a very long time        and if i said that he was talking for a long time        you might think i was tired of his talking        but you wouldnt think that he was lying        or that i was accusing him of lying        id like to offer a suggestion        about the word “myth”        for a moment        let me make a negative suggestion about the word “myth” the word “myth” is the name given to the lies told by little brown men        to men in white suits with binocular cases        because nobody knows of the myth that the man in the white suit believes        there is one important thing about a story        told you        by a little brown man        if the story sounds as if you could have observed it yourself        you being the man in the white suit        you wouldnt call it a “myth”        youd say “he told me what happened”        youd say “he told me a fact”        or        “he told me a story”        now        the story might be a true story        but whats a true story        well        a true story        is a story        something like the one that was told me the other day        theres a woman        a very hopeful woman        works in our office        name is candy        and she always has bad luck        and shes always trying again        it doesnt matter what happens        she always gets up off the floor and has another try at it        candy came into the office the other day        she had had many disasters recently        one of her most recent disasters was that her children        her kids are always getting picked up on dope charges        or for burglarizing or for petty theft or        for knocking up somebodys child or for letting the goat loose and it bites someone or eats his flowers        and shes getting citations        or driving the car off the road        or talking back to a cop        and she has troubles with her children        but she has troubles with other people besides her kids        she has troubles with men        she mislaid her last husband        and she then        had a succession        of        couplings        that were temporary and transitional        and each one        always looked like it was going to be very important and meaningful        or had the prospect of being meaningful        and each time        she would come in with the story that there was a new man in her life        and she would say to everybody in the office        because she was an irrepressible talker        teller of truths        that        what had happened to her        she had met this groovy guy and he was a very distinguished person        but he had a mother and two wives        whatever it was        it never was working out but it appeared at last that she had found someone        who she really got on very well with        though he was a little old        that is        she is perhaps in her middle thirties        and he was slightly white haired but a very distinguished and elegant guy and        they seem to have gotten along together        because in spite of the fact that he lived in san diego he hated nixon and        they talked about the same things together        whatever it was it was very romantic        only he hadnt taken her out yet        and then he asked her out        and he took her to one of those steak houses where its very dark and you cant tell what youre eating        and they had        dinner together and they had lobster and drank one of those cold duck wines or whatever that she really liked        and they went off to his house        they went off to his place        and she was telling me the story        and she told me the story with a kind of irrepressible and fierce energy and i wasnt able to tell what was coming but i knew something was up        and she said “then we got to the house and he put a record on        and he put on the record and we danced for a while        and necked and then we took off our clothes and we started to go to bed        and he had three red cherries tattooed on his prick”        and i said        “candy”        “candy        what did you do?”        she said “i couldnt stop laughing and i went home”        i had heard a story        and the office people were saying “did you hear what happened to candy?”        “did you hear what happened to candy again?”        and candy was very cheerful        shed managed to shake it off i guess        and i said to myself        “if i have to deal with that story        what do i have to deal with in that story?”        “what kind of talking is that story to me?        what is that story?”        do i have to suppose        think of the horrible issue at stake        candy        i contemplate the scene        the debacle        which i didnt invent i hate inventing and i hate imagination        this story was told me        yesterday        i assure you and        candy told me this story and i said “candy how did it come to pass that he had these damn things tattooed on his prick?”        she said it was in the marines and it was on a dare        i said “on a dare”        i said “oh yeah”        and i keep thinking about it        if i keep thinking about it that way        i keep thinking about the way that tattooes are applied        and i dont like that image        i really dont like that image        and there is a kind of probability distribution for events        that i normally inspect when someone says something to me        but yet there are times when i dont inspect it        this is one of the times where i inspected it and i thought “tattooed?” “decald?”        no        she said tattooed        these were tattooed        i dont know what to say        that is        is this a story told by a little brown man to a man in a white suit?        i was rapidly acquiring a white suit        its fairly evident that my binoculars were beginning to feel heavy        and i thought “well maybe this is not the right way to think about it        maybe im not considering this thing seriously        in an appropriate manner        what could this mean that someone        who is really        an adult 35 years old        what could she have onher mind with such a story?”        what could it have meant that it happened to her?        and i realized that        this was the major structure of her life        she had in fact described the existence that she lived        now        either she had found a man by great and amazing magical skill who had done this exorbitant thing        or she had found a memory of a man who had done this amazing and exorbitant thing        this was the way candy        represented her entire life        yesterday        and then i said “well then thats a true story”        because thats really very much like candy        thats very much like the kind of people candy goes out with        its very much like everything about her entire life        her whole career is based upon        coming together with men with 3 cherries tattooed on their prick        there is something about candy        that will always find such a case it is the essence of candy        now i dont know if thats history at pleasure        or whether its somewhat more aristotelian        that is        when you think of aristotle’s idea of poetry        his idea was that poetry        was essential history        it was the kind of history that had to happen        or the kind of history that might have happened or the kind of history that should have happened        because it was appropriate that it happen        and i thought        candy has told me an aristotelian truth        she told me essential history        now thats a clearcut        and you may say poeticized image        now you may feel        and i also i also draw back somewhat        i draw back from poetry and poetic justice        i really do draw back from it        even though im amused by        the truthfulness of candy        who told me this story        now if i was to take the science myth        if i were to imagine        that the only way        that i could deal with this story was to corroborate it        on a spatio-temporal grid in a number of ways that are approved        for inspections of this sort        i would go about        saying        well        what is the possibility that a man did this?        would someone who ran a tattoo parlor        do such a thing?        how much would you have to pay him?        i’d go through the whole number        but forget that story        forget that story        because its the kind of story that science        with all its expensive instrumentation and its totalitarian use of language        that is        science is        in a certain sense        a kind of poetry of terror        it is a very well organized poetry of terror        what you do is you bring in a student        and i was educated in science        you bring in a student at a very early age        and you teach him to speak the way you want him to speak        and when he doesnt you flunk him        and then        after a while        after years        after 4 years of undergraduate school        and two years of a masters and        4 years of a doctorate        and then you have him practice talking on paper        and you call that his thesis        by that time he’s learned to use the words exactly as all the other people in the same community        use the words        and this is the hieratic art we call science        now science        with its sacred art of terror        if we were to take this kind of enforced consciousness        which is still        consciousness        and apply it        to do the best it could to inspect        these events        or these supposed events        the evidence        would in the end be        inconclusive        we would probably judge this event        to fall        somewhere        outside the line of the probable        but to fall somewhere within the domain of the possible        and then        to pass no judgment except to say        we think its got this probability its possible        but its very unlikely        the confidence limits are perhaps exceeded        now thats a rare case        forget it        how can you forget it? i cant forget it        but        take another situation        suppose i try to exercise        upon a past        my past        not my whimsical past        but a past that i try to decode        because the only way that i can imagine myself        to be my self        co-editor of a magazine with a friend        or someone who went to some particular place the only way i can imagine my self        as being the same        person             going by that name        besides the fact that i answer by reflex        when        people call me by that name        and even in that instance        the only way        that        i can conceive of myself        as a personality        is by an act        of memory        by an act of interrogation of my memory        which is        also talking        the self        itself        is emergent in discourse        in some kind of discourse        it is probably available        but it comes up under dialogue        and the dialogue        is conducted with it        and then the self emerges        even though the self        may not have been there until you called upon it        you were always under        something        of an assumption that it was available for discourse        and that it would answer you        and if it doesnt        answer you they call that        forgetting        and if you forget very gravely        they give that other kinds of names        a person who cant interrogate himself        and has no impulse to interrogate himself        is someone        one normally calls a psychopath        that is        a psychopath might be imagined to be a consciousness distributed always        upon some imaginary point of the present        one could imagine        that the two        major historical forms of self        interrogation of self        discovery and investigation        the two polar forms        the dark historian and the white historian        might be called schizophrenia and paranoia in their old fashioned senses        the terms themselves are not terribly meaningful        but using the older terminology        paranoia inspects history in the form of anxiety        and the schizophrenic would        inspect history in        the form essentially        of wish        or dream        or imagination        or desire        and naming desire as history for the schizophrenic        whatever he wanted happened        and naming anxiety as history for the paranoid        whatever he feared was history        and closing in        the paranoid would convert the present in the light of anxiety        the schizophrenic would convert it in the light        of desire        and the psychopath has no history to convert at all        he always has projects        perhaps somewhere into the future        but let us imagine that these polar positions        are not the ones i intend to undertake        im going to ask myself        seriously        about how i can find my past        because if i invoke history every time        in a conversation that cannot be held in a particular place        then        after all        the self is a nonliterate society        if you think about it        the self is a preliterate society        because it doesnt proceed by writing        and it has no absolute repository of any past event        it has no place to which it can come        to find its past        it has only the memory        which is a way of proceding and not a treasure trove        and memory        for all we know may be    inconstant and changing        so let me try to remember a situation and inspect it        for a past        my past        if i think of it i was thinking of a situation        that occurred        when i was        i dont know how many years ago        so my memory is already defective        an old friend of mine        someone i went to college with        his name was dick berlinger        he was a jazz musician        he wasnt a jazz musician        professionally        he could have been a jazz musician professionally        he was a saxophonist        he played baritone sax        he’d played with very good people        he sat in with parker and other good people        at various points        but dick berlinger was a kind        of person        whose life always had a future        and never had a present        im not sure about his past        because he always had projects        he seemed to be planning always to be doing something        that he wasnt doing yet and wasnt ready to do yet        without ever doing it        except very intermittently        and planning always to be doing something without ever doing it is somehow like planning on swimming        my little boy plans to learn swimming        he’s been planning on swimming for several years        and each year he goes down to the water and feels        the water and then        he goes away        he hasnt become much of a swimmer yet        well        dick        though capable        as a saxophonist        was not a jazz musician        and dick did that with all of his life        and years passed        and we lost sight of him        and then a friend of mine who had become a painter        and was in new haven        and had been a close friend of dicks        told me that dick had been in an asylum        a sanatorium        or whatever        and had been there for some time and had come out        and that was kind of surprising        friends of mine had been falling by the wayside for a long time        that is there were other friends who had fallen        in various places        somewhat similarly        mainly because their lives only had futures        and nothing ever happened to them        that ever changed        except they got older        which meant that the present        really was something like an escalator        or one of those paths in the los angeles airport that are motorized        and youre moving forward        though youre not moving        and youre being carried forward toward something without your moving at all at        any event        at this time i was married and iwas living in new york        as a matter of fact i was living in court street not very far from george oppen        who was living over closer to the river        in brooklyn        the bay        and i got a call on the phone        and i heard a voice        that i vaguely recognized        but i didnt quite recognize        because it was darker and lower        and older        and i said “hello”        and he said “hello this is dick”        and it was        that i remember        he said it was dick he didnt say who he was and by this time i must have known hundreds of other dicks and forgotten hundreds of dicks i mean it was not very easy and i said “dick who?” and i realized this might be insulting and he said “dick berlinger ive got to see you”        and i said “you have to see me?        about what?”         he said “its very important”        i said “what do you want?”        again        the urgency        was really what was puzzling me and putting me off        i remember        now i think i remember it        i said “well what do you want?”        he said “i cant tell you i gotta come down”        i said “well im busy right now        im going to be going into the city”        ely kept saying to me        “don! let him come here        he’ll kill you” i said “shut up what are you talking about?”        she has something        of an anxiety history        “what are you talking about he’s an old friend”        and im holding my hand over the phone saying “let me find out what he wants”        i said “dick what is it that you need?” I        and he said “i cant tell you        i cant tell you now        i’ll        i’ll tell you when i see you”        i said “all right        i’ll tell you what        im going into the city i have to go to a few galleries        why dont i meet you        in manhattan”        and we named a place        which was down near n.y.u.        and we got into the car and we drove to the city        where we were going anyway        and the car we had was a peculiar car it was the only time i ever had a car that turned out to be an incredible bargain        it was like i got it for $200 from somebody who kept it on blocks for fourteen years        it was a 1953 chrysler imperial with electrical windows and i bought it for $200        and it was a very lovable elderly car        that was like driving an armored car         it was very high and        you looked down on the road        it was a very strange car to drive and i loved it it was a big black car        and we drove there and suddenly i saw dick        he was there        and he hailed us and we parked the car and we got out to talk to him and i said “well dick what did you want?”