Work from Memory
Dan Beachy-Quick and Matthew Goulish
“Interrogating the nature of memory, of the book, and of authorship in pages one hesitates to label as merely criticism, memoir, or lyric, Goulish and Beachy-Quick have stepped out of the house of genre and into an altogether more shimmering place.” —Robert Archambeau
“Work from Memory attempts to touch the fount of all effusions. Similar to the first testament, story and lyric are swept along together by an epic tendency toward no definitive (disingenuous) conclusions. I will recall passages from this book like the stanzas of songs I heard on the radio during my childhood, word for word at the most unexpected times. Or, I will forget the words of this book entirely only to experience what the book describes—all of my faculties working together simultaneously unaware that they are each part of a cosmos. Let us navigate this multi-verse by appending the names of favorite authors to newly discovered constellations. Let us imagine that each book we’ve read is the same book, one read to us long ago by a beloved caretaker who satisfied our every need before we could recite the alphabet. This book.” —Gregg Bordowitz, author of Imagevirus: General Idea (Afterall, 2010) and Volition (Printed Matter, 2009).
from The Long Sentence
It creates a wound underneath itself it cannot heal.
All that limits us it seems to penetrate; it seems to find within us
a wound that does not heal. It gives us certain signs
so we remember to breathe, but it lives without breath.
When it breathes it borrows from us a quality
it otherwise cannot possess. An open mouth
expresses anger or desire, sorrow or surprise, shortness of breath.
A kind of wound in our face that exposes us to others—
a nakedness one cannot hide, but tries to mask
with words, as if my mouth were open to speak about the flowers
in this late season just now in bloom, or about the clouds,
or in denying I feel pain that I am hearing the piano being tuned
in the other room: “No, I’m fine, I’m fine. Do you hear the music?
Do you know the tune?” But I wanted to kiss you. A kind of pain.
I was possessed of wanting to kiss you. My mouth was open
when the long sentence ended. Needing breath; it inflicted desire.
Kairos, the Greek concept of the perishable duration of the opportunity—it is the time, it is the moment—connotes the time of circumstance, heterogeneous, different from other times. Recognizing the Kairos demands the neutral attention to the singular character of the now. Skilled speakers among the Sophists claimed to possess total knowledge and the ability to address any subject, their orations seizing the words called for by the moment. They founded extemporaneous speaking, the art of the opportune instant, described as kairou chronou techne—the creative technique of weaving the time of the clock with the time of the event. The discipline practiced a quality of attention, intuitive and perhaps systematic. We might consider kairou chronou techne the practice of unfixing the fixed action pattern, attuned to the moment of the pattern’s disturbance, that demands a revision and redirection, the capture of the force of the rupture.
Copyright © 2012 by Dan Beachy-Quick and Matthew Goulish
“Beachy-Quick’s opening line, “a life describes a book describes a life,” declares how much this is a book about “the book” itself. The remembered act of writing merges with the remembered act of reading, combining to form the innocuous target both authors direct their writing toward. Early on, Goulish announces that “books bookend the project of the book.” Work from Memory has no ending and no beginning. This is an endless reverie often found dwelling upon Proust but also frequently touching upon other texts and areas of interest ranging from the scientific to the philosophical and back to the literary as well as the musical. A book which in itself pays tribute to the act of reading, urging its audience to consider their own stories of interaction with texts. The haunting edges of desire, design, and memory possess an inescapable, fascinating allure: exploration of where identifications between author and reader blur.”
In terms of pertinent writing history, Work from Memory continues a certain kind of literary investigation, poetry as its own method of creative research—though perhaps “research” isn’t the right word, not exactly. I suppose I mean conducting a labor, the labor of poetry, in order to enter into the work of another, a sort of cost or sacrifice of initiation into the world another writer I love has created. I think I just want to write so as to be within the conversation of another book, not merely a reader of it, always somehow on the outside. Ahsahta in particular has been the home for these projects—Spell (Melville), Apology for the Book of Creatures (Montaigne), and now Work from Memory (Proust). I think of the three, in some odd way, as a kind of triptych, bringing to completion a thinking begun over a decade ago.
For this book it also feels important to how it came about. Matthew Goulish and I had hoped to teach a year long course at the School of the Art Institute on Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. When I took the job at CSU, we decided to write together instead—a way of keeping our conversation going. It has been a collaboration different from any other I’ve done, for we worked very independently from one another. We charted out an area of concern, and then each wrote as we wrote, making we sure we maintained a similar page count, as we wanted to the work to maintain an agonized relationship to each other (in the classical sense), in which each page interrupted the other, held it in its gaze.
As for the rest of my writing life, it has widened, I suppose. I write many more essays than I used to, seeking still to think about other literature in honest, participatory ways. I am by no means a scholar, but only a writer who desperately want to think about other writing. Ideas of wonder, magic, and symbol, have become increasingly important to me, and guided my recent book of prose, Wonderful Investigations.
I was born in Flint, Michigan, in January 1960. I began writing and performing in plays at an early age, and I have never managed to separate the two. I received an undergraduate degree in Theater, with a concentration in creative writing, from Kalamazoo College. I studied writing with Stuart Dybek and Conrad Hilberry. I was also introduced to the study of philosophy. In 1987, I founded the performance group Goat Island with Lin Hixson, the director, who introduced me to the disciplines of collaboration. I performed in all of the nine performance works that Goat Island made, touring nationally and internationally, until 2009, when we ended the group. The lectures written during many of those years were collected in my first book 39 microlectures—in proximity of performance. In 2008, Lin and I began a new performance venture Every house has a door. Now I am the dramaturg and writer. Together we have taught at Stanford University and Das Arts in Amsterdam, among other places. Since 1994 I have taught interdisciplinary writing practices at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The creativity of writing an essay for me now lies in the work of the drawing together, in a form of performance on the page, of reading and speaking, for example, or practices of medicine and art, to the extent that I can as an amateur draw those modes together. This means writing at the edge of one’s knowledge and understanding, into a particular unknown territory.
The first section, Combray I & II, deals with Swann’s Way. The first poems are the most purely lyrical in the book, where each line stands for itself as a poetic unit not necessarily corralled into the poem’s larger meaning. This lyric fragment—fragment larger than the whole—is meant to reflect something of the nature of childhood, where context hasn’t yet so fully established itself as to be merely a linear motion, and wonder still makes possible fractures in how reality is represented that allow wonder to excuse confusion. The second section is at childhood’s end, adolescence and early adulthood, in which I imagined the sentence as a unit speaking of our own adherence to certain forms of order—forms nonetheless undermined by certain kind of parallels, certain kinds of thoughts, that always speak an alternate version of what fact seems to take precedence. I felt especially concerned with the ways in which Swann’s life seems to impress itself upon the shape of the narrator’s life.
The next section investigates the idea of the “long sentence” as a form of life of its own, and secondarily, examines in Proust what occurs within that famous sentence, and what occurs on either side of it, informed by, but excluded by, the long sentence itself. I began to feel—and still feel—that such a sentence has a life of its own, and the characters within it live accidentally, unknowing of their performance within the words that give them their life. This feels to me an aspect of fate, and so a reflection, potentially, of our own relation to whatever text might be writing our own lives for us, though we think we act freely, only because we have no access to the grammar that is our grammar, of which, like a character, we are but a demonstration. The second section of this part of the book is a “gleaning” from the long sentence itself. The poems are made by pulling out words reading forward, and then reading backward, a motion cyclical, and repeating this process a number of times. I wanted to limit the world of the poems to only that which the long sentence made possible.
The last section is simply composed of sentences, and tells the story of what it is to be involved in one’s own life with a work that removes one from one’s life. It thinks about art by making art, and that is no solid ground—it is a ground of rumors. The second section of this is a counted verse, simply seeking restriction, limit, in contrast to the long lines and sentences preceding it.
Marcel Proust offered a meeting place for my colleague Dan Beachy-Quick and me. I had long admired Dan’s discursive and analytical poetry, with its resounding loops of revelation and echo. Together we set up a room in Proust’s house of memory, in which poetry and prose could enact a dialogue, structured as a parallel weave, on the subject, as a way of extending our experience of reading. We selected three aspects or elements from Proust’s work and wrote in response to them, on alternating pages that also responded to what the other had written. Dan brought his virtuosic array of poetic techniques, aligning each to its task of reading, and I attempted an approach by way of neurology, to imitate experiment as narrative form. One could say we discovered the project as it unfolded out of these processes, of opening, or reopening, a book.