I discover an unconquerable urge to convey this text to you, and a bewildering chance in hell to accurately do so. This book, My Life by Lyn Hejinian, classified as…huh, what would it be classified as? There is no designation on the title or copyright pages, I have no idea where a big-box bookstore might shelve the thing…reading through one’s hunch is fiction, no, memoir, no, poetry, no, philosophy, no, literary theory, no…WRITING. It is one of those texts where words moving through hands like moving water (ever so hard to look away from) seem to form patterns on their own, but one knows there are so many ingredients and influences, substances and material going into the way a wave, a runnel, a current forms….that it cannot be chalked up to chance. And so you immerse. You join the river, jump into the water to get a feel. Swim through it, splash. Thunk your cupped hands to make thunder. Float on your back like a dream. Enjoy. Explore. Become with the flow.
Lyn Hejinian has been writing a long time. I felt stupored by her recent book of a thousand eyes, thinking she just gets better with time, but that’s not so either. Nothing is true, everything might be. Hejinian fills her pages with words that seem so unobstructed, so flooded with their possibilities and yet ever so economical, spare, necessary. They leap like the slap of stream plashing sizable rocks, and then swoon in loop toward a bank. There is a “miracle” quality, by which I mean to designate that happening of the mind and body when encountering something not-it (unselfsame) and experiencing all sorts of “i am’s” and ‘that’s me’s” – resonances, foreknowledge, understanding, sympatico – nothing we can point to as real – but stuff we really experience all the same.
It’s a wandering flood. Yes, we do not doubt it’s “her life,” filled with details and colors, textures and senses that only come through first-hand, subjected/ive experience…and yet, nothing secret or private, nothing that hasn’t become language by now – through the book – through its writing – so we know it belongs to all of us. It is words. It is water. It is my life, however one brings themselves to it, to this, to her writing, to what’s written.
A brief example will give you the best idea. Picking a random five pages (each section is 1.5-2 pp long) I will copy the sentences that strike me (remembering that they only strike me via how they’re arranged with the sentences I’m NOT copying all around them), to give you a sense of how dense the bursts of profundity are, meshed and woven like the songs of birds. Just that distinct. Here goes:
“We never wanted more than something beginning worth continuing which remained unended.”
“In order to understand the nature of the collision, one must know something of the nature of the motions involved – that is, a history.”
“After crossing the boundary which distinguishes the work from the rest of the universe, the reader is expected to recross the boundary with something in mind.”
“I came to depend on my children socially, was never at a loss without them.”
“It is hard to turn away from moving water. And my memory of him is a poor likeness – like jealousy, which cannot get what love has secured. The fear of ‘losing’ ideas objectifies knowledge.”
‘I want to be free of you, in order to do things, things of importance which will impress you, attract you, so that you can be mine and I can be yours forever.”
“The general form tends to grow quite naturally under the hand that writes it, but until a thing is completed, it needs to be explained.”
“The difference between empathy and responsibility.”
and so on… Now sentences are easily plucked from the text, because it feels like a collection of phrases. Unrelated. Ever relating. And so it builds and twists and floods. But it is not random. There are identifiable phrases and reverberations of phrases that keep you from feeling surrealism or some stream-of-individual-consciousness befuddlement. You don’t have to “go with it” and hope it will come clean…you pursue it and let it push you, this give-and-take and rest-and-urge that weaves you into the text and the text deep into you (often bypassing awareness), much as you imagine the text came to be (in relation to author). So those sentence/segments/phrases above are pulled from three or four contiguous sections two-thirds of the way through the book, I could’ve started anywhere and found just as many, and with re-readings would choose the sentences sitting between them (I’ve no doubt).
And that is worth reading. And being read with. By.