Section 10 - January: A Novelette
In a letter of 10 January 1930, Pound wrote Zukofsky that Nancy Cunard’s Hours Press would publish XXX Cantos, and suggested that she might also publish the Zukofsky manuscripts which he had sent her, and possibly also Williams’ short works edited by Zukofsky.1 A few days later, Pound wrote Williams:
Dear WillYam: Zuk tells me that Reznikof has a printin press. In any kuntry but Murka this wd. solve a lot of problems.
. . .
Nancy has agreed to print Zuk’s “The.” Also wants something of yours, as I indicated when writing to Z. so’z to save a week’s time.2
Williams then wrote Zukofsky that Cunard’s press was a better scheme for Pound “than the-hand-press-in-New York route,” and suggested the publication of his novelette and a “Collect Definitive” of his own poetry.3 His next letter further instructed Zukofsky: “Let’s get both the poem” [“the Primavera thing”] “and the novelette ready and send them both to Pound.”4 “The Primavera thing” is a sequence of new poems which he and Zukofsky were editing.5
Cunard published XXX Cantos but not “Primavera” nor “Poem beginning ’The,’” nor Williams’ collected poems, and not his novelette. The efforts of Williams and Zukofsky, however, were not entirely wasted: Williams’ short works were published with his novelette by the Oppens To Publishers in 1931 and “Primavera” with his collected poems by the Objectivist Press in 1934.
On 9 February 1930 Pound asked Zukofsky to send him E. E. Cummings’ books to help Van Hecke (as he wrote Cummings on 17 February) with “an American number of Varietes.” He also enclosed a check, told Zukofsky to take a friend out to dinner, and noted that Rene Taupin’s book just published in Paris had a good chapter on Williams.6 Zukofsky responded on 6 March 1930, enclosing for Pound two stories by Reznikoff with many miscellaneous publications and photos of the Lower East Side. He wrote that Reznikoff appreciated their efforts but was not eager to be published.7 Van Hecke, unfortunately, did not fulfill Pound’s hopes; none of this material was published.8
Pound also wanted something by Williams, who responded on 13 March:
I’ve been up since 5.30 certifying the death of a man’s wife (he cried) and now finishing the correction of the Novelette.
The latter will go forward to you by the next mail. It is the prime provocation for this letter.
Naturally Nancy will not want to print two books by me this year. And the poems should come first if she prints either. But the Novelette is very close to my heart—and no one will handle it here. You see what I mean.
The Novelette contains something I have been trying for half my life, yet—well, that’s about enough of that. I hope you like the thing and that you will be able to find something in it suitable for Variétés.
What can I do? The answer is: Write.
Oh, Jolas will be using the first four chapters of the Novelette in transition. I’d suggest that you take the chapter called “Conversation as Design”—if I remember it correctly—it’s in a drawer behind my back and I can’t bother to turn around.
Hope Dorothy has some fun out of the thing. Floss and the ubiquitous Zuke are the only ones in this section of understanding who have fallen for it. And no two people could approach the things from a more divergent angle.9
In “Conversation as Design,” Williams complained, as to his wife, Flossy:
Conversation of which there is none in novels and the news.
Oh, yes, there is.
Oh, no, there is not. It is something else. To be conversation, it must have only the effect of itself, not on him to whom it has a special meaning but as a dog or a store window.
For this we must be alone.10
“Conversation as design” must have only the effect of itself. On 25 July 1928 Williams had described Zukofsky’s work as having “the effect of a ‘thing.’” In both phrases we see the value of realizing the work as—Williams wrote—a “pure design”:
But conversation in a novel can be pure design.
Yes, if it doesn’t have to tell a story. That would be difficult; a novel that is pure design—like the paintings of Juan Gris.11
The term equivalent to “design” for writing is “form.” William emphasized, as did the other “Objectivists” the form which a work can stand by itself, a “thing” capable of surviving being read without subjective investment, meaning no more than the meaning its form gives it.
Williams disclosed to his readers in Chapter “VII. Fierce Singleness” the revelation that came to him only when pressed by several immediate concerns: “In a flash it comes and is gone. Words on a par with trees.” This “humane matter,” a marriage of word and thing, was the key to Williams’ marriage with Flossy and the key to his writing: “Imagine then why I have—why it has been impossible for me to think of not being married. Because in that is the key. The old terminology intervenes. In every poem that I have written is one thing. So in you. In you is everything, in you is a piece of paper.”12 Whether Williams’ writings were about “a train passing” or “the dark trees against the night sky and the row of the city’s lights beyond and under them,” it would always be “a love statement.”13
The realization that words are on a par with “a dog or a store window,” that “trees” are on a par with trees, is the key to the faith of the “Objectivists.” With this key, they could realize a “light” or “fierce singleness” to “sweep through the confusions of the world as the thought of the new world swept Europe,” and create writing which by being actually itself would cure the need for “trips to the poles, trips of discovery, suicides and the inability to see c1early.”14 The marriage of word and thing would create writing which would have both “the effect of itself” and the meaning of its object, since these would be in a sense identical. “It is simple. There is no symbolism, no evocation of an image.”15
This key, the basis of a metaphysical association of sensibility, gives the freedom and creativity that breed clarity. It frees things from the “categories . . . reinforced by tradition,” by which “every common thing has been nailed down, stripped of freedom of action and taken away from use.”16 To counter the fear that this revelation would mean an end to “general ideas and the content of literature,” Williams affirmed the concept that includes all conceptions, the reality that can be presented but not represented, the things that can be known by acquaintance but not discussion: “Hello Sweetness. These are the inexpressible gestures of love. Secretive. Undiscovered. Here lies the difficulty of talk. Everything has a tail of difficulties that swamps the mind before the expression.”17 To refute the claim of philosophers to the absolute, Williams answered
that philosophy has no more to do with the absolute, that it is no more inclusive of other categories of the intelligence than the concept of a tree or a stone—which includes truly a conception of the whole, by necessity, as does any thing or category by virtue of its nature as a part, but without any pretense towards absoluteness.18
Williams and the other “Objectivists” rely on our natural mental ability to regard a thing for what it means in context. Whereas a generality has no context or is at least relatively divorced from the specific contexts of the things it comprises, the concrete is always a conceptual part of a whole. The universal—in a word, meaning is not in the general but in the particular. Moreover, in the particular, unlike in the absolute, meaning is not restricted by pretending that things and ideas are not inextricably married.
In January 1929, when writing the novelette, Williams published an article in which he wrote: “One has to learn what the meaning of the local is, for universal purposes. The local is the only thing that is universal.”19 One need only attend to the universal in the local. In the novelette he wrote:
. . . the harm is not in the study of plants, it is in the forgetfulness of large relations to which minute observation of Nature has occasionally led those who are addicted to it.
As in this so every detail of the day—the lights of the city—in the distance that seem to close in together at the end of the dark street as the car swiftly advances: in themselves equal in detail the existence of affection—the fact of love and so, deciphered, intensely seen become in themselves praise and a song.20
It is not insignificant that “the ubiquitous Zuke” fell for the novelette. Zukofsky’s poetics seem like elaborations of ideas conceived in this work. Corresponding to Williams’ concept of “the effect of a thing” is Zukofsky’s “poem as object”; corresponding to Williams’ “local” are Zukofsky’s “particulars”; and corresponding to Williams’ marriage of word and thing is Zukofsky’s sincerity—both writers link the world to the poem in an absolute relation which achieves form.