The Transcendental Friend




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.[1]

In William Fuller's byt, one witnesses the purest contemporary inheritance of the metaphysical poets—John Donne, George Herbert, and especially Henry Vaughan—for 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 that cinematic.

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 body—the 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 space—its 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
to ludic

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.[2]

Evening locks
the mouth
its forms
washes it out
Now slump low
for the
tactile key

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 transformed.

Andrew Levy


[1] 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 333.

[2] Wallace Stevens, the last line of the 5th stanza & the entire 6th stanza of part II from "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven," page 332.

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 manifestos.





Issue No. 12 Copyright © 1999 The Transcendental Friend. All rights revert to the authors upon publication.