Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Processes of Attention (1996)

I'm trying to recover a few old essays from my files, and figure a good way to keep a copy, of the ones I want to keep and want other people to read, will be to put some of them on my blog.

Processes of Attention (from 1995 or 1996) originally appeared in Chain 3.

Processes of Attention

Attention is what I can never manage. Despite the bureaucracies of my intentions, there is always too much to register. The relentlessness of what there might be to know, to feel, to see, to understand, lets me break myself beyond any principle of ordering, so that what of me is not bureaucracy comes to recognize its own overflow, its opening. Attention comes to be, in the very marks it makes on my body, the sign of living more intensely than anything that could be brought to control or coherence. There--something has happened, again, and the mere fact that I could not possibly know all that it might be is what tells me I'm real.
 Inside those public, narrowly ideological structures that may crush but do not contain the unknowability of living, attention has been reduced to little more than the truth that almost everything has been ignored. The language of mass media, of institutions, of political parties, of whatever refuses to think about all it doesn’t know, suggests by its emptiness that almost nothing is being attended, that public structures have tried to make the world their own mirror and have been able to make of it nothing worth seeing. Such public structures see only in terms of their own control, which can kill, administer, and even develop, but can never become open to experience and the world, because such becoming is what they had to forget in order to institute control. 
Perhaps it would be useful to think of language as that which has been deemed worthy of receiving attention. Language, that is, is a way of embodying those perceptions considered significant. I use the passive "has been deemed" and "considered" because it's not clear at this time which individuals or contexts, if any, are aware that attention must be understood as active before its ultimate impossibility can help return consciousness not to control but to life. I would like to say that poetry is the most likely place for writing to make attention active. But at best I can say that poetry might be used by writers to make attention active again, to make it not simply the passive acceptance of coercive public definitions of significance. 
Each piece of language reveals what it has given attention to, and what has escaped its notice. In general, what escapes a piece of language reveals the inevitable overflow of life. But in the case of a particular piece of writing, the writing as a process of attention can be understood by looking at what the writing has given attention to, and what it has ignored. 
Attention is not simply an issue of subject matter. The form of a piece of writing gives a particular act of attention its structure. What has been perceived is always a result of the form of the words--how perception emerges and passes in the language is as important as what perceptions emerge and pass. Does a form hierarchize attention, defining some things as structurally more central than others? Does it treat all perceptions as structurally of equal centrality? Does the form let attention flow evenly from perception to perception, does it let attention develop or scatter or crumble? The tension of attention is not a struggle of form vs. formlessness but a complex response by a variety of possible forms which in specifically differing ways always give attention and fail to give attention to the possibilities of experience.
I'm tempted to characterize my own attention, as a human being, as obsessive. I return endlessly to the same scenes. Taken to its absolute limit, such obsession would be insane--who wrote that the mark of the madman is to repeat himself forever? My writing has often been an attempt to disrupt my own tendencies of attention--the language on the page as block against, and dispersal of, the obsessive returns of the language of my mind. My books Complications From Standing In A Circle and Every Day Is Most Of My Time were both attempts to create an active attention through techniques that disrupt what I am otherwise prone to think. In the first I use words extrinsic to my own vocabulary, thus forcing me to use words not already congealed in my consciousness. In the second I used a formal structure demanding frequent shifts in the focus of attention and a conscious undermining of conventional distinctions of attention, such as that between the supposedly trivial and the supposedly serious. 

The processes of attention I am discussing here, and possible disruptions of them, are in no way merely private, personal, individual, or narcissistic activities, although they have elements of all those possibilities. Attention, though primarily located in an individual's mind, is inevitably an external, material, social process. What could my attention possibly attend but impressions of all that exists beyond me? Attention is exactly the language of contact. Which is to say that by definition, attention, when active, opens the boundaries of who I am.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dead Carnival: Interview by Susan Landers

For the sake of ease of access, I'm linking here to an interview that Susan Landers conducted with me, quite some years ago now, about my novel Dead Carnival. I wouldn't necessarily agree now with every comment I made in the interview; still, I think the interview is a worthwhile discussion of my approach to that book.

You can find it here.

People interested in getting a copy of the novel can contact me directly or, for the time being, can still find copies at Small Press Distribution here.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Now available: Notes from the Center on Public Policy

My new book, Notes from the Center on Public Policy, from The Altered Scale press, is now available for purchase online through the Publisher’s Graphics Bookstore.

Of the book, Rob Halpern writes, Recalling Georges Perec’s Things: A Story of the Sixties, Wallace’s devastating Notes from the Center on Public Policy addresses itself to a time in which “there were no things, only claims about things,” a time contemporary with our own but addressed from a strange temporal distance whose past tense assumes the quality of our fossilized present suspended in an arrested dialectic. In Wallace’s stunningly calibrated sentences, subjective interiority has been knocked out by a semblance of its own objectivity, hollowed by soiled calculation, made cavernous by ruin. Were the sun to explode and all go dark, these Notes would remain like a ghostly inventory of all that will have been here, an acutely registered paradigm containing all our fungible particulars, “not like dust but like the memory of dust.”

Thanks to James Meetze for the cover design.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Manor House Quarterly Spring 2013 issue, Post-, now available

My writing has appeared in many literary magazines over the years, but I don’t think I’ve ever had it presented in a more visually striking format than in the latest issue (Spring 2013) of Manor House Quarterly, called Post-, and which features the opening sections of The End of America, Book 8, juxtaposed with the startling, utopian/anti-utopian paintings of Ricky Allman.

Manor House Quarterly is a journal founded by Dane Cardiel and devoted to combining literature with the visual arts. Partly based in San Diego, it’s essential reading for those interested in any of the multiple

Other Featured and Contributing Artists include:

Featured Artists: Sarah Bancroft & Richard Diebenkorn, Anna Schuleit & the Eastman Composers, Destin Daniel Cretton, David Adey.

Contributing Artists: Sophie Sills, Felicia Simion, Julia Bloch, Melissa Difatta, Michael Robins, Dennis Oppenheim, Kate Schapira, Debra Scacco, Sarah Lillenberg, Devon Hirth, Thomas Barrow, Nicholas Gulig, Julian Talamentez Brolaski, Sarah Trahan, Jason Thorpe Buchanan, Stylianos Dimou, and Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez.

For further information about Manor House Quarterly, including a downloadable phone app, go here.

Those who download the app (which is free) can download a sample version of the latest issue (free) and have the opportunity to our purchase any of the last four issues at only $5.99.

Tremendous thanks to the Manor House Quarterly poetry editor, James Meetze, for selecting the poems and putting them in collaboration with such fantastic art work.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

John Cotter reviews my novels in Open Letters Monthly

Before now, my latest novel The Quarry and the Lot has received two occasionally positive, ultimately lukewarm reviews by writers whose take on the book seemed trapped in their own limitations as thinkers, as well as several thoughtful small responses on Amazon. Finally, this month’s issue of Open Letters Monthly features a detailed and perceptive (and whew, positive) review of the book, as well as a review and analysis of my earliernovel, Dead Carnival, that traces the connections and differences between the two books.

All the foibles John Cotter describes are simply the author’s own (that is, mine).

The May issue also features Elisa Gabbert on Kate Zambreno, Rohan Maitzen on Kate Atkinson, John Cotter on Mark Wallace, Greg Waldmann on the new surveillance state, Steve Donoghue on Audubon, Joshua Harmon on who the Talking Heads ripped off, and much else.

I hope you’ll take a look at the review and at the rest of the issue. If you’ve wanted to read my novels and haven’t, I think this review will either encourage you to do that or to run away screaming. Either reaction is fine with me.