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“She is raining” : reading WORD RAIN, par Marie-Dominique Garnier

29 avril 2012

“The ultimate published object”. Such are the terms John Held Jr. once used to describe Word Rain, Madeline Gins’ first book published in New York City in 1969. Years later, the ultimate published object has become a rare book, either “currently unavailable” or sold as a priceless “single used copy” –a phrase habitually followed by the invitation to “be the first to review this item”.
If in many ways Word Rain calls for creative reviewing and requires, to say the least, more than one viewing, on the other hand such a book remains insufficiently approached through mere “viewing”. Word Rain, or, to quote its full title, WORD RAIN or A DISCURSIVE INTRODUCTION TO THE INTIMATE PHILOSOPHICAL INVESTIGATIONS OF G,R,E,T,A, G,A,R,B,O IT SAYS is only partially amenable to reading as a viewing process. It calls for other cognitive procedures than those implicitly subsumed under the blanket (and rather bland) verb : to read. Word Rain, as has already been argued, begs to be touched and sensed differently – tactilely as well as digitally. It is a book “about the reading experience that necessarily includes the reading experience” as MacCaffery and bpNichol have argued in Rational Geomancy. Faced with the fact that some pages in the book incorporate photographed thumbs in the bottom left and right corners, they add : “an ambiguity exists between the page and its photographic reproduction. Some pages are “held” by thumbs ; these thumbs are photographs which your own thumb holds”.

The “theme” of such a text, in other words, would seem to rest, simply, in the semantic area of that efficient, straightforward English adverb “about”, understood or investigated in at least three acceptations : first, it is a text “about” itself, a self-reflexive exploration of the process of its own conception/consumption ; second, one is forever “about” such a text, “about-to” read or reread its hard-to-come-by, transparent yet dense pages ; lastly, it reads as a prose poem on “aboutness”, taken in a spatial rather than temporal sense. Word Rain, like later texts by Madeline Gins, is an “atmospheric” object, one which seeks to include every mobile peripheral zone and perpetrates repeated assaults on solid boundaries. Word Rain, in keeping with its saturated, pouring title, blurs subject and object, theme and subject : dampens subjectivity into an “it” (“it says”, says its strange, drawn-out title), following what one might call a rule of “thumb”.

The sentence on which the book opens defies syntax or, to follow the same conduit, literally soaks it, saturates it with words : “I induce a sly birth with my eyes the lines of creases”. Are we looking at two objects ruled by one verb ? Should one read ‘the lines of creases” as an apposition, appended to “my eyes” ? Or as an object commanded by “I induce” ? A sentence such as this one might interchangeably describe the act of reading and the act of writing – a “crease” being interchangeably a furrow or a ridge. “Crease” is taken up by a near similar term, “fold”, in the next paragraph :
“I am folded into her. I am involved in the curves of her grey folds. I know how to use them. I know better now than at first but I know then too. She moves as I shift. Words rain on a molded juncture which you might mistakenly call my head”. (W., 3)

“Words rain”, noticeably, does not exactly overlap with the book’s title “Word Rain” – words have taken over, displaced the subject – here reduced to a “molded juncture”. What exactly is a “molded juncture”, one might ask, once one realizes that such words are not a mere periphrasis for the “head” (a place of connectivity endowed with a certain shape) ? One of the forces of Gins’ writing is to do away with metaphor : a molded juncture is literally, not metaphorically, a molded juncture : a juncture as well as a strange conjunction (or, possibly, a junk-ture) joining opposite ends : reader and writer (whose head is it ?), subject and object (isn’t a book a juncture of pages ?), as well as reversible meanings –the strength of such a term as “molded” being that it emits, at one and the same juncture, contradictory signals pertaining to shape and sculpture, but also to mould, damp, decay. The book’s title Word Drain stands itself as (at) just such a “juncture”, at a point where paths both meet and diverge : as a rain of words –which would place Gins’ text in the wake of concrete poetry, following Mallarmé and Apollinaire – and on the other hand as a “drain” of words, as a word-drain. The full title gives way to a downpour of terms pointing towards philosophy rather than poetry, (in particular to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s “philosophical investigations”), including what resembles a typographical crux : the name of a movie star, Greta Garbo, reduced to a succession of initials –to which the text will return. The very term “introduction”, belonging to the more placid species of academic terms is immediately given a chance to promise as well as to perform much more than its apparent meaning ; it returns in the third paragraph of the book’s first page, this time in the most literal of uses :
“I fill her up at the typewriter. I move her femininely as befits her body. I take her with me. I introduce the tensile subject into her. I am her introduction to the room, to the word rain, to the waterfall pummeling down over membranous rocks. I find her room” (W., 3).

Is the “tensile subject” the subject of the book ? The subject of reading ? Of writing ? How tensile ? Tensile as in extensible ? Or as tensed ? Syntactically, “I find her room” goes back and forth, at top speed, between two reading options, depending on whether “her” is a possessive adjective, or she to whom room is destined. A lot here depends on “whether”. A lot here depends on (the) weather.

How should one read ? Isn’t each new attempt to read, each new readerly path, a writerly moment or “room” ? Confirmation of interchangeability occurs in the following paragraph, in the echoic acoustics of : “read write read right”.

Equally creative, disjunctive effects are given free play in the chart or layout of the apartment on which the book opens – a book in which (as in the later works by Madeline Gins and Arakawa) poetry rubs elbows with architecture or place, “room” with “a room”. This opening chart leaves a number of differential barriers ajar, such as the difference between inside and outside. The L-shaped room in the top left corner – a library— contains a miniature “house” as well as a “globe”. To those possible points of leakage between inside and outside another one must be added : the fact that the “library” contains books in relation to which this one, the one we are reading, occupies an uncertain threshold. As we read on, we realize that the “speaker” in this text is reading one or several books in the library of her hosts, but how can one be sure the reading process differs so radically from a writing activity ? Reversibility rules from the word go – as well as from the word “host”, a notable semiotic changeling. A possible book title surfaces in the third paragraph : “I pulled Aristotle taught”. Is the title of the book being pulled Aristotle Taught ? Is this a joke on the Greek philosopher’s stuttering-friendly name ? In the absence of typographic indicators, the short sentence yields two subjects and two verbs, equally free to roam in more than one direction. Jumping to the end of the “volume” (to the other end of its atmospheric and geometric “volume”), Word Rain segues into a downpour of famous endings, excerpts imported from Joyce, Melville, Woolf, Edith Wharton among others, including a quotation importing the voice of Minnie Mouse from Mickey Mouse Comics :

“Mickey”, she said, “Did you hear that sound ? I think we have mice in the house” (W., 122).

A self-reflexive and yet self-transparent game occurs here once more, in the reversible, out-and-out comic process of recurrent inclusion of mice-and-more-mice, while the closure of “in the house” is made to operate as a voided container, a fake closure : where do its limits stop or even begin ? How does parasite (mouse) differ from host (mouse) ? As to the full title of the book, with its introduction of a subject-free impersonal “it says”, it, too, is a quotation –a container that is itself contained “within” the book and yet is constantly exported towards its outer limits, which also happen to be its “utter” limits – the limits of possible utterance :

“… And were there one day to be here, where there are no days, which is no place, born of the impossible voice the unmakable being, and a gleam of light, still all would be silent and empty and dark, as now, as soon now, when all will be ended, all said, it says, it murmurs” Stories and Texts for Nothing, Samuel Beckett”. (W., 113 ; my underlining)

Beckett’s imported “impossible voice”, the “it” of “it says”, resonates in the same voided yet voiced chamber as the “it says” of Madeline Gins’ title : those paired “its” do not enter what one might too quickly call an “echoic” pattern, for echoes require walls. What we have here instead is more akin to a “wet”, weather-bound process : a seeping, a leaking condition – as Gins’ impersonal yet recognizable voice creates the perfect meteorology for mistaking (for making mistakes, mistaking one “it” for another”).

If Word Rain reads as a book of mistakes, as a mistake-inducing text, it does so for the straightforward reason that, as a “word”, “mistake” is bound to follow suit and operate according to a “rainy” methodology - to stick to the wet promise of its weather-bound first syllable : “mist”. The pages in Word Rain on which a thumb is Xeroxed over printed matter (so that guesswork is encouraged if reading is to occur) induce, too, a game of mistaking – of taking one for the “other” : not only mistaking the “author’s” for the reader’s thumb, but also bringing those pages to the outer reaches of reversibility. Each “thumb”-page introduces several levels of instability, as fair weather is treated in “rainy” words : “the sun was poured on him (…) the sun poured in through the window” (W., 17-18). The mist was almost dripping down (…) (W., 36).The “event” narrated in the first two pages (the fact of a birthday party of seven-year old Judy, due to take place in the room adjacent to the library, or the fiction, perhaps, of a birthday scene imported from the book the narrator is reading) is brought up in a strangely lethal context :

“The sun was poured on him. It settled into both of us. It crept right through the library window, through intangible crevices, down onto our molded membranes and was absorbed through the acrobatic mush of our living to sink into each of us as a variety of infra-red supportive hands which hugged and pushed in among other places beneath the diaphragm ; and thus, similarly, across this room in two separate cases, the sun once again defined a somehow familiar comfort (of sorts) (W., 17).

Creeping through crevices, such a “sun” adds to as much as it dissipates mold and mush – ending as it does in yet another locus of semantic and anatomical reversibility : in the vicinity of the “dia”-phragm (or “die”-phragm).

The printed thumb of the following paragraph lands over what seems to be a contrary, unwelcoming environment – coming as it does on top of an erased verb which by guesswork can only be reconstructed as having read : [she] “blows out” [the candles], followed by “don’t touch it”. On the following page, the thumb drops onto a locally erased sentence : “As I translated the characters into the myste.—“, as well as on the self-reflexive comment : “I noticed my hand ha— [sic] crumpled the page of the manuscript and smudge— [sic] several words off into oblivion” (W., 18). The “myste” of “mystery” forms an alliance with one of the ruling “themes” in Gins’ porous/poured poetic prose : mist, a key ingredient in the volume, in the atmosphericity of its prose, or poetry (its p-rose rendered “porose”, one might add).

The third occurrence of the printed thumb affects a paragraph beginning with the sentence : “The mist was almost dripping down as it snuggled about close and far” (W., 36). There, “myst” and “mist” are literally invited to change places, just as “close” and “far” do-se-do each other in Gins ‘dance of the “about”.

One of the great forces of Gins’ book is to displace, once and for all, the “subject” – in other words to do with words (with wordrains) what Deleuze and Guattari have achieved through several dense volumes of philosophical prose. What displaces and replaces the “subject” in Word Rain is rephrased as a “platform”, a term which one could show, in another context, to have much in common with Deleuze-and-Guattarian “plateaus”. The term “platform” is first introduced in Word Rain in what seems to be an incidental fashion, before being given the chance to occupy a full page (thus building a literal, typographic platform) :

“Speaking about platforms in the almost physical sense I rested on at least three (…) they are also other things. They will certainly be mentioned here as what they are here as well as what they can or will to be even as they are what they are here. PLATFORMS, RESPITES, BRAIN PARTS, STRINGS, RECEIVERS, BUTTONS, TIPS, LIGHTS, FILTERS, BRANCHES, BOXES, FILTERS, HARD HESITATIONS, SOFTENED FIBRES, A PINCH IN THE CLOTH, FIELDS, A PINWHEEL OF PULSES, SOAKING WET SIGHT, SCRAMBLED EGGS, DIRTY EDGES, A FAUCET, LIGHT COFFEE (don’t get off the track), THIRSTY WATER, WET BRAKES, TALKATIVE PLANTS, PROJECTORS or RUBBERY LENSES or what you will. They are substantially insubstantial. They are tenaciously inclined toward a solid, hard, hollow elastic pulpy quality. Through this inclination they undergo or come across everything indoors or outdoors, in every season, on the patio, in the library, etc., as for a start they pass or come across friction, fluidity, liquefaction, lubrication, gaseity, vaporization, density, hardness, elasticity, texture, pulverulence, softness, water, air, ocean, land, gulf, plain, lake, island, marsh, stream, river, oil, resin, semi-liquidity, pulpy wads real of wafted.
Platforms can also be :
G= grate or gas
R—rostrum or reason
A= attention or action
E—energy T—time B—bush
In this case a set (S) of platforms (p) would be :
Sp – G,R,E,T,A,G,A,R,B,O,—the name of a star. (W 39)

This long quotation brings up, performatively (platformatively) some of the key elements in the entire book : first, one of the ways of entering the letters of its strangely punctuated, punctured, porous title, which link stardom to astronomical starriness. Borrowing from set theory, the page performs a literal, accretive equivalent of matter formation, while maintaining what is “solid” is an unsteady state, always in the process of liquefaction or gasification. What could at first have been taken as the embodiment of a “subject”(a movie star) turns into a chain of letters, a set of platforms blowing up the scale to galactic proportions.

The following page also induces an uncanny change of scale based, this time, on reduction – boiling down as it does to the scale of writing, to the nature of the physical surface on which writing occurs :

“As I picked up the next page, I was aware of the texture of paper interposed between that of my fingers. Their structures were nearly aligned. The nap, tooth, web of the paper surface felt nice to the pulsing tissues of my fingers”. (W., 62)

Nap tooth and web possess, all three, a technical meaning. Nap refers to the downy layer of projecting fibers on a surface, tooth to the burr, the rough grain given to paper to promote adhesion, while the term “web” is used, in papermaking, for the quality of pulp dispersion. Endowing paper with “tooth” amounts to erasing the line that separates object from living subject, —to give paper, in other words, the same pulsing quality the fingers possess. Conversely, as paper takes on a degree of life, the body of the reader/perceiver is pulled towards the inorganic : “I looked down at the page. I saw its story through the brush of my eyelashes” (W., 62). “Brush” endows the reading body with a new, disjunctive quality – pertaining to the brush of a painter, to the brush of vegetation or of external bodily growths.

Just as organic and inorganic are made to change places, grammar is curbed, rendered as pliant as language will allow :

“Words are water soluble. This is clearly and moistly so. After all the reader is a reef in the blue-eyed Red Sea (and all this belongs to an organic question, it says).” (W., 61)

“Moistly”, here, rewrites “mostly” in the language of rainy words, just as “reader” –the word—is made to become soluble : half solid (reef), half liquid (Red Sea), with a tendency to come off in the wash. A poem follows on the next page, in which previous verbal folds are gathered – taken in only to be allowed to rain again :

The honeycomb in the pulp
Pay cavernous attention
On a bone shelf
marble laughter
the teeth of the web
surfaced like paper in the wind
I was granite
then flint
The lowed cackle
of the microphytic agent
perspires the silence (W., 62).

The stoniness (whether of marble, granite or flint, or perhaps the stoniness of a poetic stanza) is challenged by another mould-induced factor in the form of “microphytic agents” (the former name of bacteria). The phrase surfaces here and there in the book, imitating literal parasites eating away at paper and/or reader alike (a reader elsewhere shown, too, in the process of eating while reading) –to the effect of forming an “osmotic bond” (W, 74). Poetic osmosis happens in the next poem, “She is raining” – one which literally challenges and displaces textuality.

She is raining
Moving a sensitive material
Soaking the craggy inner facing
It wasn’t missed
The looseleaf body cloth
Strung on solid limbs
Prints its address
With such a touching sight
Dragging its presence horizontally
Ounces of carbon shadow
Before eyefall
A drying glove between the inside
And the outside hand in mist
Just letters
Headwinds and a light rain. (W., 107)

An ars poetica operates in such a “text” – less text and textile than spongy tissue, “body cloth” or glove – of the same ilk, one might argue, as much of the water-friendly fibres of Francis Ponge’s writing. Words, here again, are caught (or freed) in their wettest status, as “missed” shifts into “mist”, and as the human head (of all organs, the one one should learn to do without) dematerializes into “headwinds”. The next page liberates a verbal mist of words studded with uncapitalized “i’s” – words whose every single “i” belongs to liquid substance :

“i entered the m(is)t. i started (i)odine. i filled f(i)ll. i make h(i)m. i am always (i)n. (So what). (W., 110).

Out of the decapitated I of the subject flows a spate, a rain of “i”s in no need of capitalization – “i” becoming the letter at the heart of riddance, on the next page :

“I have not been able to rid (read this word with an accent) myself of words. But the words, the rain of words, the weather being what it was, with not one day, not one hour willing to stand up alone without its weather, the low warm puddles, the reflective mist ; these combined to achieve the final opalescence of my presence”.(W., 111)

Neither “presence” nor “opalescence” should be read, here, as words of “substance” in the philosophical sense : their echoic pattern creates a sense of volume, an atmospheric depth, to which the color “opal” adds variegation and resistance to identity. Just as the line has been thinned between “ridder” and “reader”, between subject and atmosphere, the limit between poetry and lexicography has been worn threadbare :
“The mist. The size distribution, median and modal size of the drops vary greatly from case to case, according to the method of formation, history of the mist, its age, the wind, temperature and radiation conditions, thickening or thing tendencies, admixture of smoke or other “foreign” microphytic agents, effect of rain or snow falling into it from under or above.
It is noteworthy that the routine observation of mist as a meteorological element has been confined in all weather services and observatories, to recording the observer’s opinion as to whether or not true mist exists at or in sight of his station in life at the time of observation, and 2) the observer’s estimate of the degree to which his vision has been displaced or replaced by that of the mist

— The Encyclopedia Britannica” (W., 111).

Where does knowledge begin, where does poetry stop ? And how should one read the vicinity, in the second paragraph, of “weather”, spelt one, meteorological way (“in all weather services”) and “whether” spelt the other, logical way (“as to whether or not true mist exists”) ? What about an encyclopedia which questions the tenor of its own subject matter ? The above entry reads, in other words, as an elementary investigation in the art of missing mist. Or of envisaging mist as the missing party.

The ending to such a “text” is a literal downpour or superimposition of “every word in the book”, to the effect that one is confronted to a dense, mist-thick layer of letters in which everything has become illegible except for the two final lines :

“The body is composed 98% of water.
This page contains every word in the book” (W., 128).

But how should one account for the “containing” aspect of “this” page ? How can such a book “contain” ? What is a “table” of “contents” ? Hasn’t every word in this text defied the container/contained relationship ? If the final sentence has made its final escape towards a region of readability, it is, therefore, not contained in “this page” – whether body or page, both containers leak –“meaning” never comes – but it pours.
If Paul Celan once defined poetry as a turn in breathing, as a new “breathturn” –“eine Atemwende” – Madeline Gins’ Word Rain takes the art of breathturning a step further – by giving it a further twist or turn –the “Atmospheric” turn.