Poetry, the Waltz & Open Ellipses – 3 June 2016

 

The musical quality of language in verse and prose 

Before I began writing seriously, as in for money, I was more inclined towards music. I enjoyed playing the guitar and my slightly-shit electric piano. I knew what a waltz was, in music at least, but I never imagined that this tempo, this recurring punctuation in threes, could be used to craft a musical connotation to literature. That changed when I read Naked Lunch for the first time.

          An ellipse in literature requires a broad explanation. First, an ellipse in language relies on the assumption of a present transverse or transitional glide, so you can leave them out to keep the waltz type meter in your work, and when this is done, the words are implied and the ellipse is open. An open ellipse in English is equal to leaving out prepositions and relationship establishing words, such as in a third person singular present indicative, such as ‘is’ (n.)

          In British English it is common to say, ‘She was in hospital for days.’ While in American English the ellipse is closed by providing past tense singular indicatives: ‘She was in the hospital.’ The British English sentence contains an open ellipse, while its American counterpart closes the ellipse by supplying definitive article ‘the.’ In this case, the closes the ellipse.

          ‘The’ is an external possessive adjective and is used before singular or plural nouns which denote reference transition. Without the definitive article, without such notation or reference transition, the ellipse remains open. In the closing of an ellipse you fill in what would otherwise be representations of obvious words which can be put to a noun as a modifier. Of course, adjectives can modify nouns and identify nouns as well.

          One of the most famous authors to use open ellipses in the modern era is William S. Burroughs, and Naked Lunch, as I’ve said, is what made me understand the nature of the open ellipse and the closed ellipse. To show how he was able to maintain this pattern, I will denote each sentence from the opening segment with an [x] which will also show words that would close the ellipse. It is a famous opening and it changed the way I viewed the possibilities of literature. In a sense, I learned that expression had no rules [x) and that (x) art was not bound by custom or rules of what art is supposed to be. For Victorian purists, the next line of prose may well drive you crazy. That’s what makes it so wonderful. Like Rothko, to baffle was the point: because when you’re baffled, you’re either forced to think, or walk away–and that’s exactly what the author, and painter, respectively, wish for you to do. Think or walk away.

          The opening of Naked Lunch was originally a “naughty present” from my oldest step brother, Daniel. He thought he had given me the equivalent of a Penthouse. And as I read the book, I saw the profanity, I saw an urban sprawl where people were sold and, to make it worse, wished to be sold. I didn’t think the homosexual parts seemed to be anymore profane than any other descriptions I had read. I mean, when it comes to love making in literature, Burroughs is no Hemingway–but he never tries to be. He can write in any style he’d wish, but he chose to write the opening to his masterpiece in this form. Once again, omitted words that are implied, whose inclusion would close an opened ellipse, are in parentheses. Remember the pattern of three, the Waltz.

3        I can feel (the) heat closing in,
2        (I can) feel them (out) there making their moves – split ellipse, partially closed.

1        [x) setting up their devil doll stoolpigeons,

3        Crooning over my1 spoon and dropper2 – dual ellipse, open.

          [that] I throw away1 {at} Washington Sq. Station2 – dual ellipse, partially closed.

2        Vault a turnstile [two steps down] the iron stairs – tripal ellipse, closed.

1        Catch [an] uptown A-Train. Closed ellipse, suggestive.

 

In case you want to see how it is written in the opening of the book:

          I can feel the heat closing in, feel them out there making their moves, setting up their devil doll stoolpigeons crooming over my spoon and dropper I throw away at Washington Sq. Station, vault a turnstile, two steps down the iron stairs, catch an uptown A-train.

          The purpose of what may seem, thus far, a pointless tirade about nitpicking for a theory’s purpose, but, although that may be true, the point is to illustrate how close literature is intuitively related to song–the waltz in particular due to its patternation being resolved in triplets, based on a repeating or extended phoneme arrangement.

          In another example, Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol, elliptic patterns of extended ellipses are in 3/4th time signature groupings. A definitive ellipse is a three word title. Symmetrical phonemes occur when two ellipses during a sentence divide the subject into three words and the object into three words. An ellipsis is a three-syllable word and is definitive in relationship to meter and should be just before a fullstop. In looking at the Ballad of Reading Gaol, especially when transitions are removed, ellipses in language acquire an apparent, unconscious lilt of resolving threes.

          With slouch [and] swing

          Around the ring

          (we) Trod (the) Fools Parade

          (we) did not care, (we) knew we were

          (The) Devil’s own brigade.

In this instance, slouch and swing–an adjective, descriptive, set-up for the mass noun The Fool’s Parade–itself a symmetrical ellipse–revolves around the same three syllable phoneme that shows action as description. Slouch and swing show the manner of its target, the fool’s parade. Eliminating reference in transition allows not only for intuitive assumption on behalf of the reader, but makes the reference the reader’s choice. Here’s the diagram of the former stanza with notation:

          (With1) slouch and swing

          Around the ring

          [We Trod2)

          The Fool’s Parade

          [We1] did not care

          (We2) knew we were     

          (The) Devil’s own brigade.

A definitive ellipse is most common in American titles, or can be turned into one by blurring the definitive or identifying article, such as ‘the.’ A definitive ellipse, in titles, are most often, in English, begin with a definitive article, or transition to the noun. Russian doesn’t have a definitive article, and in speech words such as ‘am,’ ‘is,’ and always, ‘the,’ and ‘of,’ are left out. Consider Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark’s rendering in Russian: Hamlet: Denmark Prince. The and of are dropped in titles as they are in common Russian speech.

          The definitive article the and of are implied, and the ellipse is open, because it’s closed in English rendering: Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark. The definitive ellipse is the most common mechanism behind book titles. Originally, the title I considered for this book was Language and Literature. Instead, The Living Word seemed more dynamic and apt in its representation of the content extant in this half-thesis half pareidolic exercise. Consider popular book titles that are definitive ellipses, and I’ll start with mine because I firmly believe in nepotism: Songs of Galilee, The Dream Machine, The Make-Believe Ballroom, The Lizard’s Tale, The Echo Chamber, The Chameleon Mirror, and one ellipsis, Nobody. And now for some examples that you may recognize and respect:

          The Color Purple, In Cold Blood, The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, The Great Gatsby, War and Peace, The Penal Colony, Through the Looking-Glass, Unweaving the Rainbow, The Selfish Gene, The Descent of Man, Three Blind Mice, The Dharma Bums, The Western Lands, Homage to Catalonia, Romeo and Juliet, Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Little Princeetc, etc. Please do not take the obvious implication that I’m listing all the books I can see on my bookshelves, as it is not true. A friend has my copy of The Dharma Bums.

          Another aspect of titles that I appreciate requires a tricky explanation. To put it plainly, there are books whose titles are the books. Lets say that a novel comes out called The Empathy Device, and it’s about how books help people understand empathize with others, and in reading it, they understand and empathize with others. This makes the title of the book the book. Another example is one of my own attempts at realizing that concept: Counterpane, and Other Poems, was a collection of poems I released in 2011. The title Counterpane was a nod to Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Land of Counterpane:                             

                   When I was sick and lay a-bed,

          I had two pillows at my head,

          And all my toys beside me lay,

          To keep me happy all the day.

 

          And sometimes for an hour or so

          I watched my leaden soldiers go,

          With different uniforms and drills,

          Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

 

          And sometimes sent my ships in fleets

          All up and down among the sheets;

          Or brought my trees and houses out,

          And planted cities all about.

 

          I was the giant great and still

          That sits upon the pillow-hill,

          And sees before him, dale and plain,

          The pleasant land of counterpane.

I don’t know if Robert Louis Stevenson intended the title to be a homophone with Counter pain, but the poem is about a sick child finding escape through his fantasies and imagination. It’s not much of a stretch to think that Counterpane is Robert Louis Stevenson’s own version of coping with illness through his ingenuity and creativity. In the titular poem of my collection, it’s about an autistic child, a young girl, who builds an entire city, names all of the plastic men and women, and whenever the real world became scary, she retreated to her model city of Counterpane, where she was queen, where everybody loved her. In that situation, the girl was mimicking what I was doing, and doing it at the same time; sometimes coping with reality is hard to do, especially for people with mental illnesses and addicts.

          Another book that is its title, and the book that made me recognize the concept, was my book The Make-Believe Ballroom. The story is about an old music teacher who was once a popular musician, but a car accident left him with brain damage and he didn’t really distinguish from the past and the future, but he was addicted to a type of medication to keep his heart rate down when he became afraid. This old drug addict decided to write a book called The Make-Believe Ballroom; in the book, he begins to lose distinction between the characters and real life and, in a nod to Blade Runner (which is based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), the fictional characters he creates realize they are characters and escape the book and demand a happy ending from their disabled author. It’s another instance of a writer writing about what he’s writing about. Or, better yet, it’s a writer writing about a writer writing about what a writer is writing about.

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