Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wilson: the Diagonal Relationship letters

In the late 1970s, science fiction fan Arthur Hlavaty began to publish a series of fanzines called Diagonal Relationship. The custom for science fiction fanzines was to send a copy to anyone who was willing to write a letter of comment.

Robert Anton Wilson wrote a series of letters of comment to Diagonal Relationship. Beginning today, I will serialize them, with one letter for each blog entry. When I have finished running them, I will then publish the letters as one block of copy and link to it in the Feature Articles and Interviews section.

Here is the first letter:

The Diagonal Relationship 9, 1979

Concerning "Again, Dangerous Fuck": Words have both denotations, which can be found in the dictionary, and connotations, which vary from one nervous system to the next.

Words like fuck, cunt, etc. became "obscene" when Puritanism took over the English-speaking world. They are gradually becoming de-obscenified in various segments of the population, but are still charged with heavily obscene connotations for other large segments. Thus, their use is fraught with psychological ambiguity--which makes them fascinating for writers of a certain cast of mind; namely, those who are convinced that ambiguity is the essence of the human situation.

Joyce broke through two centuries of Taboo to bring these words back into literature. in Ulysses, because they are present in the human psyche (even in Puritanical Ireland in 1904), and the psychological truth he was seeking could not be attained while tacitly submitting to the then-prevalent hypocrisy by pretending the words were not there. As used by Joyce, none of these words are obscene, anymore than a laboratory report is obscene. Joyce eliminated obscenity from his world view, as he eliminated anger, pity, sentimentality, and all other subjectivities; he simply observes, with Zenlike detachment, and reports what he sees.

D. H. Lawrence, on the other hand, attempted by brute force, or the poetic equivalent of brute force, to transform obscenity into tenderness and beauty; to cure Puritanism by artistic "persuasion." He invented a whole new way of writing about sex, which has been so universally imitated that we now assume it is the only way to write about it. In the course of the alchemical transformation of obscenity into loveliness, Lawrence rediscovered a childish innocence in so-called "dirty" words. Just as Mellors lapses into his lower-class dialect as his intimacy with Connie increases, so both lovers lapse into "obscene" language as their passions mount;

Lawrence obviously realized that the semantics of love is a reinfantilization in some ways.

When Mellors rhapsodizes about Connie's cunt in working-class argot, he is deliberately rejecting his educated self and returning to the first language he imprinted as a child, with all its sensory, numismatic, emotive connotations. In short, as Kenneth Burke noted in A Rhetoric of Motives, Lawrence's use of these words is a species of baby talk, which was necessary to get down to the primordial level below and before the point where obscenity and shame are learned.

William S. Burroughs, on the third hand, uses obscenity with full obscene connotations intended. He is exploring those areas of the psyche where obscenity (sex hatred) and murder (life hatred) are bred. When he gives the formula for Nova as "Before I give an inch, the whole fucking shit-house goes up in chunks." he is clinically precise. The place from which nuclear holocaust comes is the place where every bodily function is charged with rage and fear.

Thus, fuck has three markedly different connotations in three of the major stylists of our century--and as many other connotations as there are writers and readers.

Test question: How is Ezra Pound using fuck in the following lines from Canto 39, describing Circe's enchanted island?

Girls talked there of fucking,

beasts talked there of eating,

All heavy with sleep,

fucked girls and fat leopards.

Second test question: In Canto 46, Pound asks, "Hast 'ou found a nest softer than cunnus?" What happens if we replace the Elizabethan and Latin and modernize the line to "Have you found a nest softer than cunt?"

If we ever have a totally post-Puritanical and post-obscene society, calling a man "you prick" or a woman "you cunt" will be the highest form of praise, since it will imply that they are delightful, lovely, exciting, creative, and cute.


michael said...

Glad you're going release all this stuff to the public; you showed it to me a couple weeks ago and I thought it was all worthy of being excavated and shown. (RAW said a few times there were very many pieces he wrote that he hoped would stay lost.)

This particular bit seems like the kind of stuff that Playboy excised from Playboy's Book of Forbidden Words. RAW had always wanted to re-write the book (or add to the text, as the rights had reverted to him sometime before 2000) and call it Robert Anton Wilson's Book of Black Magick and Curses. He never quite got there, but this piece above qualifies as one of many articles he published in little mags and disparate areas that address the "magick" in language.

Bravo on continuing this wonderful blog, Jackson!

LJ said...

Great to read this!

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