Student: (Isn’t it true that, in certain novels, in certain prose, you can pick out sentences where the author is just so perceptive and so..)
AG: Right, you can, you can, in a lot of good writers. (Jack) Kerouac, particularly, who said details are the life of prose). But you can do it in (Charles) Dickens, you can do it in (Fyodor) Dostoevsky, in any great novelist, yeah, you can find a lot of little things like that. In Desolation Angels, you find not only a lot of little things but a lot of little things formed into three-line haiku, sometimes. In the Kerouac stuff that I’ve assigned for reading he’s very conscious of that. In cruder literature.. actually, in the twentieth-century they became more and more conscious of it, and, if you read (William Carlos) Williams‘ prose, Life Along the Passaic River, or Ford Madox Ford‘s prose that Ezra Pound liked so much, you’ll find a lot of that. In ancient literature, older literature, yes, also. It’s just that here they were isolating this, their poetics was just to isolate it, not to build a larger structure but just to catch these flash perceptions (probably influenced a lot by Oriental literature, by haiku literature, or, if not influenced, sustained, encouraged, by realizing there was a huge ancient tradition of that – like, a whole mind, a whole Oriental mind that had been noticing these things all along and had realized the particular experience essence beauty of just those little flash shots, because – the one thing the Oriental people knew, they knew the mind was discontinuous, that the movie was discontinuous so the perceptions were discontinuous, there were gaps in between thoughts and that thoughts rose, sort of, like out of nowhere and disappeared into nowhere. And so, having that knowledge, as distinct from the Western people who thought “I am that I am” and that it’s continuous (and maybe there was one big conscious universal mind in which everything was continually floating and changing, instead, there was an appreciation of the discontinuity, in haiku, or in Oriental literature, or Buddhist literature, with its background of meditation, appreciation of the discontinuity of thought and appreciation of the “isolate flecks” [Editorial note – Allen is quoting Williams here – “To Elsie” – .”It is only in isolate flecks that something is given off”, appreciation of moments of perception, floating worlds (“Floating World” is the title.. of a..Chinese novel, was it? – who knows that?
AG: And I think there’s a novel, yeah?… “Pictures From..? [Allen is expressing some confusion here – his 1978 remarks pre-date the 1986 publication of Kazuo Ishiguro’s “An Artist of the Floating World”. Perhaps, he is thinking of his friend, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s first book and the first Pocket Poets volume, Pictures of the Gone World (published in 1955)?]
AG: Uh-huh. so that Japanese and Chinese poetry (Japanese in particular) did…just as Japanese painting (Hokusai) influenced Toulouse-Lautrec, Gaugin, the Impressionists, a break down of the senses and the beginning of an analysis of sensory forms, rather tham solid.. desolidification of what was thought to be reality. So in Japanese poetry and Chinese poetry there’s a.. well, its influence on Western poetics was desolidification, use of the ideogrammatic method (ideograms – that is one thing juxtaposed with another without editorial, rather than the Western philosophic generalization with no phalanx of particulars to support it. Just a phalanx of particulars with no generalization would be the ideogrammatic method that (Ezra) Pound uses in The Cantos – or one single tiny ideogram like (Charles Reznikoff’s) “semi-circles of spray, semi-circles of spray”, one single isolated perception, which we all have.
So basically what I was saying was when , during this class, if you have any real perceptions of isolated things, write them down as the homework, so to speak.
[Audio for the above can be heard here, starting at approximately fifteen-and-three-quarter minutes in, and concluding at approximately nineteen-and three-quarter minutes in]