Masterful Hejinian on Language

“Language discovers what one might know, which in turn is always less than what language might say.  

We encounter some limitations of this relationship early, as children.  Anything with limits can be imagined (correctly or incorrectly) as an object, by analogy with other objects – balls and rivers.  Children objectify language when they render it their plaything, in jokes, puns, and riddles, or in glossolaliac chants and rhymes.  

They discover the words are not equal to the world, that a blur of displacement, a type of parallax, exists in the relation between things (events, ideas, objects) and the words for them – a displacement producing a gap.

Because we have language we find ourselves in a special and peculiar relationship to the objects, events, and situations which constitute what we imagine of the world.

Language generates its own characteristics in the human psychological and spiritual conditions.

Indeed, it nearly is our psychological condition.

This psychology is generated by the struggle between language and that which it claims to depict or express, by our overwhelming experience of the vastness and uncertainty of the world, and by what often seems to be the inadequacy of the imagination that longs to know it – 

Language is one of the principal forms our curiosity takes.

It makes us restless.

As Francis Ponge puts it, ‘Man is a curious body whose center of gravity is not in himself.’

Instead that center of gravity seems to be located in language, by virtue of which we negotiate our mentalities and the world; off-balance, heavy at the mouth, we are pulled forward.

Language itself is never in a state of rest.

Its syntax can be as complex as thought.  And the experience of using it, which includes the experience of understanding it, either as speech or as writing, is inevitably active – both intellectually and emotionally.

The ‘rage to know’ is one expression of the restlessness engendered by language.  ‘As long as man keeps hearing words / He’s sure that there’s a meaning somewhere,’ as Mephistopheles points out in Goethe’s Faust…”

Lyn HejinianThe Language of Inquiry



We, in our world, have a theory, a process really, that we call “communication.”  In various states of profundity it might also be referred to by “love.”

“Communication” is the process of signaling/decoding; saying/listening; writing/translating; touching/feeling by which we become aware of one another, about one another, of one another.

All things considered, “communication” is pretty important for us, though not necessarily to us.  While appearing more complex and refined than single cells or parts of cells vibrating under a microscope; more elaborate and extensive than a swarm of birds or school of fish, it hardly works as well.  As if certain sharp things and certain dull things cancel one another out.

Pitch, tone, palate and respiration.  Vocabulary, grammar, syntax.  Associations occurring in the brain, the glands, the organs, the body.  I’ve always thought of our existence as “fraught” and it never ceases to amaze me!

Amaze and astound, in no particular order.  As if “stound” were past-tense for “stand.”  Stopped-in-tracks-reeling-backwards.

There’s nothing to it really, we all do it, all of the time, innately, it would seem, given we could not survive without it.  And yet.  “Innate” wouldn’t be the right word.  Maybe “potential” as if capacities and possibilities surround every cell toward response.  And then.  What becomes.  Responsibility.  Of that interstellar stuff moving and extra-anatomical stuff too.  Kind of equals.

So we’re not necessarily “good” at it, and hardly possess a measure, everyone on equal footing at some point, depending on the context, depending on construction (of the possibles) and so forth.  It’s often accurately called “fuzzy” or “messy” – an entanglement of sorts in no sense negative.

I always liked William James – the jumble-up of him.  “Rich thicket of reality” he called it, a passage to get caught up in, sometimes snared, sometimes struggling, but ever in its midst, I suppose.

Lyn Hejinian once pronounced it “inexhaustible.”

I just wanted to mention…

“The argument would go something like this: reality exists; it is independent of what we think though it is the only thing we can think; we are a part of reality but at the same time consciousness of this fact makes us separate from it; we have a point of reentry (a ‘centrique happinesse’), which is language, but our reentry is hesitant, provisional, and awkward”

-Lyn Hejinian-

So excited I forgot to title….! what good reading does…

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.

the Book of a Thousand Eyes

I have just entered in to another remarkable whorl and world of Lyn Hejinian‘s language.  From the blurbs…”For Lyn Hejinian the concept of ‘everything’ or ‘everything living’ is the greatest seduction.  In this book of tales, poems, polemics, lullabies, treatises, asides…’everything’ is captive to life and continuation is queen…Lyn Hejinian knows that ‘familiarity breeds the predictable’ but she knows as well that – and how – ‘contact produces uncertainty.’  This is a brilliantly uncertain book, a book of fantastic connection, connection as multiple and as hopeless as love might be, connection as big and leggy as the night is long”

And I quote:

“Who can be trusted? / One tells / but cannot recognize.”

“the yearning inherent in the use of any sentence makes it mean far more / than ‘we are here’…

shows with utter clarity how sentences in saying something make something”

“My sentence is garbling grammar to the inside as phenomena change / concentration”

“since the future, like fortune, is to be found not in events but in their / meanings /

The future is fortune’s form /

But it lacks familiarity, the criterion for belief /

But it is real by definition, being unaffected by what we think of it /

The future is an accuracy requiring patience, presence /

We can’t predict if we don’t watch /

Watching makes what comes to be watched”

“It’s not the length of a life but the tension of its parts that lets / resound all that it feels”

“There is nothing unconditional – there is always room – “

and so on…333 pages of dreams and wisdom, language and possible meanings…I recommend

Another Pause, Another Someday

“Words give clothing to hide our nakedness”

Susan Howe

“But a word is a bottomless pit”

Lyn Hejinian

And then it arrives, unexpectedly, another gap.  She sees a magician in bright jester’s garb, seated on a branch in a tree.  Amid the traffic.  Amid a swarm of bees, of thrumming crows and starlings.  A bat lies in labored breathing on the sidewalk.

Lightning- and Lady- bugs.

Like that, like both.

There is no goal to it in the beginning.  At first.  The seconds’ glow catches you off guard.  “What was that?” neon spot moving in the night.  Imperceptible polka-dotted red creeping carefully over your toe.  Structures pause.  Structures moment.  When realized, when you bring your own accident: awareness.

What pressures turns out to be necessity.  Of deadline, of assignment, of transactional fulfillment – relationship or vocation, even health.  Without apparent choice.  Or ever so long ago.  Why markings called parentheses are shields.  What gives pause.  And stays the pressuring.  For the moment.

An extended kiss.

A lapse in volume.

An ignored alarm.

You find yourself there : (YOU).

The rest of the world lining up, encroaching, exerting itself, themselves, your other selves, against the slender boundaries, the slick curving walls – they can’t be climbed, nor be toppled, only inverted )if you accept the pressures(, or erased as if they’d never happened.  Become brackets.  Prison versus asylum (in its native safety-seeking sense).

(YOU)?  )YOU(?  [YOU]?  ]YOU[?

            Now and then.  Another pause.  Another Sabbath.  A so-called rest.  Time is not the issue (as duration).  Time is at issue in its momentary absence.  Glancing the lightning-bug, bird-call, ladybug feeling out the stem.

“Another pause” with pressures all around.  Expectations or chores.  But no one calling, not this nowLast week too, unexpected, unprepared, cage door left awry, or finding key in hand.  Parentheses.  And then you sleep that active way we call “rest.”  For a moment.  You make, for the joy of making, or not.  Either way is pleasure.  Or pleasant at the most.

Such as now, another pause, this day, another Someday that arrived.