Sunday, November 15, 2015

John Cage’s Mesostics through The Sound and the Fury

image from:
The last ModPo assignment for 2015 is now complete and we’re in our final week on Conceptualism and Unoriginality. I’m particularly looking forward to some heady conversations about the morality of appropriation - something that has been concerning me for some time. Before going there, here is my attempt at producing a “Mesostic” using Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. I then had to analyse the output.  If you’d like to try making one of your own - it’s kind of fun, you can do so here:
TPlease do feel free to post yours into the comments if you can, or put them up somewhere and link to them.  I’d love to see them.

After reading through many of John Cage’s mesostics, most notably his writings through Finnegan’s Wake it seemed to me that a large part of what makes these mesostics beautiful rather than random lay with the choice of source text. A good source text seems to create a powerful mesostic because the words it contains combine in ways that work in distillation.  To this effect, I chose a source text that I found to be both rich linguistically and moving, but not already reduced. I thought it might be fun, even though a bit outside the rules, to use a source text that was not poetry, since poetry generally is already condensed. I chose the first paragraph of the second chapter of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury because it seemed dense enough to distill, but I also wanted to remove the work from its plot, character, and the overarching ‘voice’, thereby changing it.  Since the Cagian process involved removing words by intention, I felt comfortable working  through the original mesostic to further simplify it, taking out words I felt hampered the rhythm and overall meaning of the work – in effect, further condensing it.  The end result was as follows:

I found the result of this process to be surprisingly moving and rhythmic, using the progression of the clock to enhance the motif of time and timelessness, with an interesting turn between the first and second stanzas.  The mesostic removes the subject. Instead of the pervasive voice of Quentin Compson, we have only this lower case i.  The narrative i is not only un-named, but un-defined, thereby becoming everyman: a more universal and godlike figure who invite the reader to take on the role of “you”, recipient of the mausoLeum. The appearance of the sash heralds a the arrival of seven o’clock.  The work moves within that hour - which could be a lifetime perhaps, as indicated by “the mausoleum of all hope and desire”: a classic Faulkner phrase that was left unchanged by the Mesostomatic.  This concentration of the essence or “intensity” of the passage focuses on this notion of being and out of time. The alliteration of the L sound slows the progression through the poem as we move from cLock to MasoLeum and then “excruciatingly”. This creates a gentle quiet, and a lolling quality that reminds us, with the mausoleum image, that death is the ultimate argument ad absurdum.

While the Faulkner passage itself ends with death and despair (and the fruitlessness of war), this mecrostic presents a more affirmative outcome in the second stanza as the poem ends with a kind of waking up, perhaps through hearing the continued ticking of the clock (“hearing”) into desire (hearing being "the father of desire").  The repetition of the adverb “then” in the two stanzas gives us a sense of change and connection, also forcing us to focus on the transition between the two passages as important.  In the first stanza time stopped, and we were out of time, and then in the second stanza, we’re reborn into time (“i was time again”), heaRing (perhaps the ticking) re-opening the desire that was lost in the first stanza.  The capitalization of the R in “heaRing” also calls attention to the ring in that word, so it’s almost as if we heard a gong, sounding the bell that woke us into time.  The three single words at the start of the second stanza slow the reading down dramatically. The death or stoppage of time only lasts an hour.  At eight o’clock we come back into time, and by association, life: reborn.

No comments:

Post a Comment