Lyn Hejinian

Sun and Necessity

Sun, o sun, roaring day and night, is it you who sucks the wind into the trees at dawn as you rise, etc.? The sun is moving time, burning in the sky. With its gravitational pull it drags the past into its flames. But there’s a countervailing force by which the light escapes. The past is cast into the present, which draws it in and then has to figure out what to do with it. Innumerable futures, all uncontained, each capable of reconfiguring the world, none fully imaginable, remain possible. The plum blossoms are out. I’m waiting for a sound, and it comes, almost immediately: a whistle, four notes of some melody. It’s audible through a moment of relative silence between the cranking and crashing of the garbage collectors at work, whistled by one of them. To exist at a micro level, drawing and drawn to the bark of the plum tree and its shadow, thrown by the early morning light, and to metamorphic rocks and anti colonies and salt and a thistle and shingles and complex social life of an urban neighborhood, and to do so freely, uncategorized as a human: this might be a description of an incipient condition—beginning (by synthesizing)—or of a late one. There’s a vague, perhaps tragic, undertow, but its effects are less alarming than amusing—discomfiture, or embarrassment, or the pleasure of a successful joke. “‘What regiment is your son with?’ a lady was asked. She replied: ‘With the 42nd Murderers’ [‘Mörder’—instead of ‘Mörser,’ ‘Mortars’].”1 Freud’s Psychopathology of Everyday Life is a book about bumbling, an unfolding comedy of errors—or a tragicomedy, perhaps: in its anecdotes, confessions, and analyses we can discern bits of a fragmented tragedy, awkwardly encountered by the book’s diverse personnae, or just barely avoided, with further experience of it merely deferred. “I entered a house and offered my right hand to my hostess. In a most curious way I contrived in doing so to undo the bow that held her loose morning-gown together.”2 Standards of respectability are irrelevant to the creative process. Leo X. Lee leans against the right fender of the old Toyota and absent-mindedly begins scratching a face into the worn burgundy paint with the car key. It follows the contours of a pock mark in the fender and the faded color around it. Russell Wright has the hood up and is trying to angle a wrench into place behind the radiator. Leo pockets the key. “You resent having to fix cars when you ought to be practicing?” “Machines. Music. You got to have different centers of gravity.” Russell Wright gives a laugh. “Guess that’s my woman problem, though.” “What’s going on with Rosa-Jane?” “I try to see her regularly. I feel sort of responsible.” Russell Wright likes to play around with words, he likes suffixes. “Profligate, prolific, productive, professional—might be a lot of connections,” he says. “Pro-vincial—that’s what we’re gonna be if we can’t get gigs outside of Oakland,” says Leo. Russell Wright closes the hood and steps back. “Okay then.” Leo drops Russell off at 49th Street and drives downtown to the Oakland MAP. The sun burns to excess. It is not simply causative, it produces (as Elizabeth Grosz says of chance) a “superfluity…of causes, the profusion of causes, which no longer produces singular or even complex effects but generates events, which have a temporal continuity quite separate from that of their ‘causes.’”3 Along with forces of causation come forces of attraction. They pull and complicate. Love and hate, which seem so often products of chance rather than intention, are really only false simplifiers (even as it is false to simplify them). The sun draws life out. It’s the first day of March. The plum trees are in bloom along the edge of the parking lot. The sun is an attractor, as is the shade. Chance adds to the world’s array of attractors, novelty rearranges the social centers of gravity. The dialectical turbulence and flow in which intentionality and the unpredictable, plans of action and the inadvertent and contingent and unprecedented, displace one another are what keep the future open. Statewide protest rallies are planned for March 4: “March Forth on March Fourth” say the posters and flyers that students and union workers have been distributing. Just as quickly as they are pasted or pinned or taped or stapled to telephone poles and walls and bulletin boards and fences on the university campus, the campus police tear them down. Meanwhile, casual acts of passive resistance make use of anti-gravitational forces to make their case and effect their goal. “Not to notice the accoutrements of […] power, not even to glance at the royal robes, not to bother to look at the king—to glance away from these matters of state—is to begin to undo their hold….”4 “I get that,” Flip says. “But the Oakland MAP going to be marching forth, that be right.” “Okay then.” Leo X. Lee plays an A. “Let’s have discord,” he says. Leo X. Lee is nervous. “As usual,” says QJ. Leo plays the A again. “Flip—A flat.” “Where?” “G string.” Flip looks at the guitar neck and then plucks the note. “Okay—Matthew, B flat and Carlotta, you play a B. Flip, another A flat and sustain it this time. On 4.” Leo waves jabs his right forefinger into the air and on the fourth beat the chord resounds. “Shit,” says QJ. “Okay. Now stick to that one tone, but move it around—play the pitch wherever you can find it on your instrument. Make it rock. And after a minute or so, QJ, you come in—high hat only.” “That chord is fuckin’ meta,” says Diego as he walks out of the room. The goal-oriented impulse in humans is destined never to be fulfilled. Or, rather, it is already fulfilled, but humans tend not to know this. As Nietzsche says, “[I]n the end there is no goal; we are always already at it. The fulfilled moment does not lie in the future, but is always there already…. Life does not follow the principle of linear accumulation and progressive enhancement, but instead revolves in a cycle of expiring and expanding. … For this reason, life is always already at its goal or remains equally remote from it, which ultimately amounts to one and the same thing.”5 Yes, but one has to make this into more than vulgar fatalism’s account of the human condition or stoicism’s call to resignation. A pedestrian—a girl in a gray hoodie and short skirt—appears just one event (say a skateboarding boy leaps over a log, robs a bird’s nest of an egg while still afloat over his board, hits the board again on his right foot, and kicks a cop in the balls with his left) prior to her turning into the narrow allow that leads from the parking lot to College Avenue. Everyday life isn’t a gap in the real, it’s not a dead zone in the arena of power. Familiar narratives go largely unnoticed, something that people inhabit for varying lengths of time or that they pass through like circus clowns chasing each other into the tent, under the trapeze, and around the rings until they come on the lions and bolt. The pull of something carnivalesque converges with the pull of commerce. In the process a glitch has arisen in the operating system along the western side of sidewalk. A crowd blocks the way. The amblers, the lunch-hour hospital technicians turning into Café Roma, the neighborhood residents picking up cleaning from C & C, the people hurrying somewhere north or south with their eyes to the ground, the panhandlers (selling copies of the Quaker tabloid Street Spirit for $1 each or selling nothing but their own pathos), all more or less unconsciously aware of each other, all maintaining a modicum of safety and civility so that they can move along and not stumble or collide. But in front of Ici, whose interior is badly laid out and too small for the number of clients its expensive, “hand-crafted” ice cream attracts, a crowd collects, forming a line that clogs the narrow sidewalk. Pedestrians are forced to step into the traffic-congested street, ducking around parked cars, and avoiding passing ones—a white PT Cruiser, a blue Honda civic, several gray cars, a burgundy Prius, a red sports car—and a pick up truck, a brown UPS truck, an alternatingly sighing and grumbling city bus sounding as disgruntled as I (selfishly, or, worse, self-righteously) feel having to make my way through or around the crowd of people waiting for ice cream and completely indifferent to pedestrians’ attempts to get by. Everyday life swirls around absorptive narratives of no great interest whose importance and meaning and even genius are to be found in their for the most part trivial details. Saint Augustine regarded time as a theological perplexity; Shakespeare (and of course myriad other poets, humanists, and artists) considered it a problem for beauty and for the individual in relation to the pull of his or her ultimate mortality.

Editors’ Notes

Notes: 1. Sigmund Freud, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life; edited by James Strachey, translated by Alan Tyson (New York & London: W W Norton & Company, 1960), 71. 2. Ibid., 176. 3. Elizabeth Grosz, “Becoming…An Introduction,” in Elizabeth Grosz, ed., Becomings: Explorations in Time, Memory, and Futures (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999), 4. 4. Edward S. Casey, “The Time of the Glance,” in Elizabeth Grosz, ed., op.cit., 80-81. 5. Rudiger Safranski, Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography, trans. by Shelley Frisch (NY: W.W. Norton & Co, 2002), 115.

Lyn Hejinian

Lyn Hejinian Lyn Hejinian was born in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1941. Poet, essayist, and translator, she is also the author or co-author of several books of poetry, including Saga/Circus (Omnidawn Publishing, 2008), The Fatalist (2003), My Life in the Nineties (Shark, 2003), and A Border Comedy (2001). Other collections include The Beginner (2000), Happily (2000), Sight (with Leslie Scalapino, 1999), The Cold of Poetry (1994), The Cell (1992), My Life (1980), Writing Is an Aid to Memory (1978), and A Thought Is the Bride of What Thinking (1976). She is also the author of The Language of Inquiry (University of California Press, 2000), a collection of essays. From 1976 to 1984, Hejinian was editor of Tuumba Press, and since 1981 she has been the co-editor of Poetics Journal. She is also the co-director of Atelos, a literary project commissioning and publishing cross-genre work by poets.