since i mentioned the discussion on “To Elsie” in the last post, i wanted to post my responses from Barbara’s blog, so if you are interested in context, please go there also. and if you have any thoughts on this, please comment……………………….
on “ethnographic modernity” i think he (talking about James Clifford’s The Predicament of Culture: 20th c. Ethnography, Literature, and Art) means to explore ethnographic tendencies in the new world order…it is against the anthropology of Mead and Levi-strauss, of a too easy western-centric metanarrative of culture. instead, modernity being rooted in rootlessness, displacement, discontinuity, etc..and the ethnographer (or poet, perhaps) having to find new ways to depict culture that takes modernism/postcolonialism into account (this is also an issue in Renato Rosaldo’s Culture and Truth, and Jose David Saldivar’s Border Matters).
also, “ethnographic modernity” as being able to deal with “a pervasive postcolonial crisis of ethnographic authority.” that “the subjectivities produced in these often unequal exchanges — whether of ‘natives’ or of visiting participant-observers — are constructed domains of truth, serious fictions. Once this is recognized, diverse inventive possibilities for postcolonial ethnographic representations emerge…activities with which it shares modernist procedures of collage, juxtaposition, and estrangement…exploring possibilities of a 20th century ‘poetics of displacement.'”
clearly i too am still trying to wrap my mind around this and how it relates to my own poetic practice…
on elsie: i agree that williams does not share the same fate as Elsie, for he is privileged, but they share the same fate in a general (generic, in my opinion) sense – that they are both part of modernity. i would also throw in that they share the same fate in a different way: they are both “impure products” (in clifford’s conception of pure/impure) – williams being half puerto rican (altho clifford never mentions this) and how does he become a doctor and she a maid – there is no reason.. perhaps a psychoanalytic reading might be generative here… a guilt complex???
I also agree that clifford’s conception of the “pure” is limited: Elsie is impure only if the pure is conceived as uncorrupted by modernity (and def. one can argue that many americans still believe that this is the case). but i like your twist, that the pure is actually the hybrid, that pure america is the borderland “project and process of americanization.” so i think you are both right and both point to consequent violences.
when williams says “…some Elsie– / voluptuous water /expressing with broken // brain the truth about us” — what do think he means? what is the truth? who is the us? do you think he means to say that he and her are both “hybrids” – that they are both “mongrels” (i hate that word) getting by in white society? and she might expose him? or is the “us” modern society, that she might “speak” about how america has gone crazy? or something else entirely?
Also, how do you read “No one / to witness / and adjust…” because it seems like he is the witness…so by saying there is no one to witness, is he including himself as a “degraded prisoner”, does he lose his ethnographic distance here? and the “adjust” has always seemed to me a critical moment…no “agent”, no agency??? curious to hear your thoughts if you have time. thanks!
p.s. the last phrase “no one to drive the car” i can never take serious after hearing the story of the NY dada poet (her name is escaping me) who was in love with williams and one day got into the back seat of his car naked, knowing that he would be going to work. apparently, he kicked her out the car. now i am always disappointed that whenever i get into my car there are no naked dadaists. oh well.
hello again…i guess it’s okay about the naked dadaist, they would probably be into some kinky stuff involving potato salad anyways.
thank you again for taking the time to comment. it does seem true to me also that in their perceived shared rootlessness they do not share the same fate. nice articulation. you say that he is in a privileged position “to lament his own hybridity and rootlessness.” this is quite true also, he is a “privileged subaltern” (as is Spivak, i suppose, or would she say this term is a contradiction?) but I wonder if we can say that he is also lamenting her hybridity and rootlessness, that he doesn’t speak for her, but provides a space for her “plurality of emergent subjectivity” – that there is a certain redemptive empathy.
perhaps that is going too far. i agree with the feminist critique here to some extent, although i could also read “voluptuous water” as a critique of the usual comparisons of women and water (it just seems too un-Williams to not be parodic) and “broken brain” seems more like slang (as in crazy?) than degradation, although i can definitely see how it can be offensive.
i like your reading of “No one / to witness” … and both your reading of the “no one to drive the car” – the loss of domestic help is interesting, but i wonder if williams actually drove his own car… but i think you mean in a symbolic sense.
yeah, the “go crazy” is strange and all the slang like “tricked out” and “devil-may-care men” – really makes it accessible to an audience of common people, the fishermen in Spring and All. I like how this gesture of “non-poetic diction” attempts to create a space for communion (in the imagination) for an immigrant population. It always boggles my mind how Williams’s ethnicity is hardly ever taught, yet i feel that his ethnic hybridity is a major factor in his work. He grew up in a bilingual househeld and looking at pictures of him when he was young, he could never be mistaken for “a pure product” (altho he is a “pure product” in the way you have described it). anyways, i want to make an argument that part of his insistence on a “common” english is that this is the english of immigrants, of hybrids, a kind of “currency english” or “immigrant english.” this feels like a bit much, but what do you think?
one last point: the only thing i disagree with is that he “laments his loss of privilege.” mostly because i don’t think he really ever perceives that he has lost his privilege. even though he kind of loses himself in “ethnographic empathy” he seems to me to be well aware of his subject-position as a privileged subaltern…