Doug Bruns

OS v1.0

In Creativity, Literature, Writers, Writing on February 20, 2013 at 6:00 am
Jim Harrison's new book.

Jim Harrison’s new book.

In his new book, The River Swimmer, Jim Harrison says the most succinct and astonishing thing:

“How wonderful it was to love something without the compromise of language.”

This is an observation in direct opposition to something I wrote many years ago (1992) and (re)published here recently in a post called In The Beginning Was the Word:

“It is said that we do not readily store memories until we have language; consequently, we cannot remember a pre-lingual existence with accuracy. If we were a computer we would be functioning without an operating system. The switch is on, but the screen is blank. Words are the difference; the well-written word is altogether different again.”

Harrison is, by his own reckoning, a poet first, and this comparison of quotes supportsĀ Osip Mandelstam‘s observation that “What may be meaningful to the prose writer or essayist, the poet finds absolutely meaningless.” Where Harrison calls language a compromise, I deem it functionally necessary, like an computer operating system–call it OS Version of Being 1.1. Harrison is an example of what SusanĀ Sontag calls the “poet as elevated being.” He runs OS 1.0, the original and unadorned Version of Being.

* * *

OS Version 1.0, the Version of Being the poets run, functions on what Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva (1892 – 1941) called the “insatiability for the genuine.” Perhaps it is captured in an algorithm. Most of us run the “upgraded” version, OS 1.1, which fixed this perceived bug. Who wants to be “insatiable,” regardless of how provocative it sounds? Consequently, we non-poet mortals find ourselves sated 24/7. There is a profundity to a Russian poet that I cannot fathom, but I once watched Harrison drink in a bar in Michigan and he didn’t seem so elevated, though I was assuredly mistaken. He did, now that I reflect on it, prove to exhibit a high degree of the genuine, however. They say the Buddha taught for forty years after enlightenment. Elevated insatiable beings walk–and drink–among us.

* * *

I experienced a phase

Of writing poetry a year or so ago.

It felt good and right, but I stopped.

If someone were to tell you: Do this thing,

You will become an “elevated being,”

You would likely do it,

Wouldn’t you?

One would think.

Most of the time I don’t know

What’s the matter with me.

* * *

Here is a video of Harrison reading. He is asked “What language do you speak when you talk to animals?” “You just squawk,” he says.

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  1. I have been in the library of …the house… for a while, reading all entries, but not engaging in dialogue*. I have found the bounty of recent topics to be unique* and diverse (from Prague to Five Islands to Opium cultures) without turning effete*.

    As I respond, I do not mean to beg* the question of whether language is a compromise or functionally necessary. However, the topic of language overlaps with an essay I am eager to share on language useage (OS 1.11?):

    “Twenty-Four Word Notes” by David Foster Wallace (from the collection “Both Flesh and Not” )focuses* on correct useage of 24 different words, some of which I have used above and noted with annoying little asterisks. One example I liked is:

    “Pulchritude. A paradoxical noun because it refers to a kind of beauty but is itself one of the ugliest words in the language….part of a tiny elite cadre of words that possess the opposite of the qualities they denote. ‘Diminutive, big… and monosyllabic’ are others.”

    Did you know “there’s a hierarchical trio of zeal-type adjectives, all with roots in the Latin verb ‘fervere'”?

    “Fervent is basically synonymous with ardent. Fervid is the next level up…even more passion/devotion/eagerness than fervent. At the top is perfervid, which means extravagantly, rabidly, uncontrollably zealous or impassioned.”

    I do not care to be so highly elevated a being that I would miss the perfervid fun of language, nor its pulchritudinous qualities.

    (PS: Is there a way to access italics on this blog? Apologies for all the “”” above.)

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