It has, once again, been an awfully long time since I wrote with my finger in the dust of this blog. But I am spurred, maybe even galvanised, into sluggish response and pedestrian prose by Jeremy Noel-Tod's consistently entertaining blog, The Lyre. In a recent (yes, really quite recent) post he tasks me with explaining the connections between the long poem I published last summer,The Glass Bell, and Derrida's curious 1974 essay, Glas. Rumours of some devilish pact between the two texts seem to have been whizzing around, and I'd better acknowledge the truth of them. So here goes. The poem is divided into three sections,whose titles both reference a set of complications to do with utterance (glossalgia, glossolalia and glossoplegia), and develop the phonic axis between the ambiguities of 'glas' and 'gloss'. This sets up the basic terms of the poem's material operation. This becomes more emphatic in the third section where there is a consistent patterning of 'gl' throughout. The text itself derives from a rough acoustic translation of the top line (only) of the two columns of the Derrida source text, starting at the
beginning and leaving off somewhere round page 100. I used a November 2004 impression of the 1974 Galilée edition, chastely bound in paper wrappers, 24cm square, and printed for the most part in two columns of different font size, with occasional incursions from a third column in a smaller san-serif font. The poem bears no direct trace of the columnar voices, although Derrida's polyvocality is carried through or gestured towards at other levels. The first draft of the poem retained the order in which the lines were composed, but in later workings some of the poems altered their place in the sequence; as a result it is not directly possible to read my text back into Derrida's, although it could be done with a bit of effort and detective work. Occasionally, though, the practice of acoustic—or Rousellian—translation was sometimes varied by the direct translation of a word or phrase; and I sometimes took other liberties.
I'll explain a little of what I mean. The opening line of the first sequence, Glossalgia (which means a pain in the tongue), begins with a word selected because it can be both French and English. 'Chose' (simultaneously 'thing' in French and 'selected' in English) formally inaugurates the poem's procedure. It replaces 'du reste' in the opening of the first French line, which reads 'quoi du reste aujourd'hui, pour nous, ici, maintenant, // "ce qui est resté d'un Rembrandt déchiré en petits". 'Quoi' becomes 'wire'. The first two lines transform the French to read:
Chose wire today for news to see maintained
skies resisted down and more remembered cheer.
That should give some idea of how the first stages of the composition process worked. It got more complicated as the poem proceeded and other kinds of fluency, reference and allusion were required.One other thing. The two epigraphs, both attributed to J.D., come from Jacques Derrida and Jenny Diski, respectively.