The Remnants of Days You
Will Have Existed In
A review of byt, by William Fuller
The plainness of plain things is savagery,
as: the last plainness of a man who has fought against illusion
and was, in a great grinding of growling teeth, and falls at night,
snuffed out by the obese opiates of sleep. Plain men in plain
towns are not precise about the appeasement they need. They only
know a savage assuagement cries with a savage voice; and in that
cry they hear themselves transposed, muted and comforted in a
savage and subtle and simple harmony, a matching and mating of
surprised accords, a responding to a diviner opposite.
In William Fuller's byt,
one witnesses the purest contemporary inheritance of the metaphysical
poetsJohn Donne, George Herbert, and especially Henry Vaughanfor
whom art, in Fuller's words, of "What I write /when I mean
it is why I write my meaning... which is lyrical but can never
/ assume." A sense of meaning that can never assume something
our aging industrial society is in dire need of: an ethics of
respect. To see such an ethics writ large requires an attention
to the details within the "distorted garden" of our
American "heart-space" (Fuller's terms). A geography
many Americans, I believe, haven't had a clear glimpse of, and
are unable to find without "the arrow pointing down to the
parking lot on the roof / of the stars." Life has become
Weather the view the sonorous say,
then labor expels them. The splice of the saw marks rows to
occupy the toil flexed for the hours. It marks your name on
a bottle of air. It crafts an equal joint flush to the letter.
Assume its grain in this cloudless scheme of dogs springing
up to bright sky. Lines drill off the excess. Time screens the
sun. Smoke flickers above purchase, in the pine [....]
"Byt," a Russian term defined in
the prefatory quote to Fuller's text, taken from Roman Jakobson,
is the element "opposed to [the] creative urge toward a transformed
future.... [It is] a stagnating slime, which stifles life in its
tight, hard mold." What happens throughout byt,
is the delineation and emersion in an impacted geography mapping
our (postmodern?) collisions of soul, city, and bodythe
city implanted inbetween, rupturing what was in Vaughn's time,
or as metaphysically imagined to be, made inseparable. One enters
byt by way of "The Loudspeaker,"
the first section of three that comprise the book. In this first
part, there occurs a sustained tension between, if not actual
memories, then virtual paths, images of self and city propelled
by a cubist-like abstraction of those same quantities. Thoughts
measured as quantities and qualities of things (and so words)
questioned in the mind's eye of this metaphysical Chicagoan, "to
exemplify," as stated in the very first prose stanza, "the
dialectical alliance of writing and life."
Set this wall against that saxophone.
Street in relation to bridge in relation to briefcase, beside
the other's traced hand, which reaches out of the interval into
thought. The street falls away from itself, blocking the text
"The Loudspeaker" was the technology
used to such disastrous and evil purpose by the fascists of World
War II. In byt, it serves as introduction
to the difficulty with which a subject, "I, as appetite of
the image / (existent divided by rote), loan it my vowels."
"It," being the possible configuration of writing and
life. But one sentence later, "an / excess I crosses it out...
Imagine appealing to that one possible emptiness." An emptiness
the loudspeaker so strongly echoes within.
Fuller's prose effects distance, as if holding
its existence at some preserved spaceits completion in ellipsis,
apposition, alterity. The experience of reading byt
is something akin to having lines or words, once read, shift themselves
back onto an imaginary shelf. A "shelf-life" of the
mind, "fuller's earth," releasing the reader to continue
on with a "rainy rhythm" that "qualifies or / does
not qualify a need." Which raises the question of need. For
a permanency of meaning? For a stabilization of more than "virtual
air," to hold relationships between things and things and
signs together? Instead, the reader is offered "visionary
handles" and "meat encasing minds," so that "Jargon
split by the pressure of a shoe" happens in a use of surrealist
imagery fashioned by Fuller's treatise of appositive rhythm. A
world so broken within state-of-the-art circuitry as to appear
seamless. Until, that is, the artifice of the whole notes "the
indiscernible lie / sags: / be quiet, cold year." Non-stop
semantic readjustment keeps byt
off the shelf and in one's hands.
"Pires," the second movement of
the book, is the "Divisional liaison" that shows "I'm
struggling too," and exercises that struggle in the form
of short lyric stanzas of eight lines each. The intelligence that
shines forth frightens in its intense self-absorption and reflexivity,
both in the thematic body of the text (as in Barthes), and its
body/soul conjunction; its mystical reach to an alchemical tradition
in which the "(non-seeing / mote itself /must see),"
and thereby, become speech:
mind to space
The point of vision
and desire are the same. The spirit's speeches, the indefinite,
confused illuminations and sonorities, so much ourselves, we cannot
tell apart the idea and the bearing-being of the idea.
washes it out
Now slump low
The preface to "Days," the final
section of byt, states that observation
grasps only the relation between what it wants to produce and
what resists it. The city, the neighborhood, the block, "arrows,
bridges, busses," and the smallest sentence resist that process
of relatedness. In writing, then, semantic unity plays on compensatory
equilibria in which syntactical or lexical analysis imposes a
superficial framework "for whose sake its agenda persists,
mat- / ters less than the sheets drawn up for the speculation."
Social space as an occluded palimpsest, where observation = speculation:
"it primes you inside the nostalgically raving I." And
within "that feral / grove, this hurry home. From its territorial
egg the One steps / out":
the ash I, the one cocked to the
watch. It admits that a further shift in the same sentence substitutes
another form. Its necktie flutters.
In a textual community such as Fuller proposes,
"words flicker against" the legitimization of "elite"
models offering in their aggression a hegemony of speech, writing,
thought and experience. Community must be reestablished on a recognition
of each other's essential aloneness, not bankrupt sentimentality.
"Shaped like a cry," byt
asks that the reader, the citizen, object of the perpetual mediation
to "hear the wavering of a touch shadowed by form,"
and then "take a match to the field underneath / its shapes."
byt, in its
drowses of bodily rhyme, a metaphysics problematized in "its
spandrelled insane thickenings, its membrane of silence and one's
own breath," fosters an ethical praxis that places it among
the most beautiful, disturbing, admonitory, soothing, and musically
cadenced writing I know. A transformative consciousness launches
this book. The reader's thoughts and feelings will be irreversibly
Wallace Stevens, the first 12 lines of part IV from "An Ordinary
Evening in New Haven," The Palm
at the End of the MindSelected
Poems and a Play, ed. Holly Stevens, Vintage 1972, page
Wallace Stevens, the last line of the 5th stanza & the entire
6th stanza of part II from "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven,"
I've reformed Stevens' verse into sentences. To those readers
who find that maneuver objectionable, I apologize. Read as prose,
his words remain illuminating, his thought far exceeding most
of our present-day literary theory, culture study, and poetry