03 July 2010

)((ECO(LANG)(UAGE: Skinner & Collom

I regrettably missed Jonathan Skinner's run of events in the Bay Area this March, so I took my time reading his "Thoughts on Things: Poetics of the Third Landscape" to make up for it. I appreciate Skinner's approach to ecopoetics in terms of critical environments, especially his emphasis here on "entropology" (after Smithson, after Levi-Strauss) as "attending to objects in their relation to a field of objects." Skinner writes,

"entropology seeks a better balance between production and neglect—in the case of writing, between forcing the right conjunction of sound, image and idea, and somehow letting the words be; in the case of conceptualization, between developing and disintegrating frameworks; and in the case of ethics, between someone's possibility and, as (Ed) Roberson might put it, "someone or something else's possibility."

Finding a balance between "developing and disintegrating frames" is a useful  way to think about the concept of the "third landscape," those unsettled and undecided sites of diversity that often serve as useful foils to the calcified frames we use to understand our present. He writes, "A broken framework is an interpretative framework objectified," and it is often through the "fragmented habitats" of the third landscape that we are able to see the cracks and fissures in the "impenetrable" interpretative frameworks around us. Weeds thriving in the cracks of a sidewalk, the empty lot serving as a temporary plane of possibility for any number of species, the alley, the overpass...these sites enter into a dialectic with the groomed landscape of the legible in ways that help us reinterpret value, use, and the possibility of commons.

Jack Collom's preface to his Second Nature is a great companion piece to Skinner's investigation of entropology. He begins with an epigraph from Darwin: "The greatest amount of life can be supported by great diversification of structure," a critical position in-forming Collom's work as he moves freely between "freeform haiku, anti-'poetic' language, notes, anagrams, concrete & visual notions, journal-style, sestinas, sonnets, acrostic varieties, rants, satires, objet trouve, recipes, songs, 'just plain' observations, arguments, lists, automatic writing, 'I-remembers,' slices (a type-space-based invention), yodels, surrealism, stories, and other shots-in-the-dark seeking a spark." Collom's critical ecology is its own "third landscape" in which a certain level of disbelief helps to loosen our "knowledge" of relations that have changed before we've had time to understand them. For Collom,

"...nature can be thought of as breathtaking variety
     1. of which we are but a tiny portion
          a. (while simultaneously it may be looked at as generalized, small, and even

B. unreal); thus our knowledge might blossom up and down a scale, as our powers have blossomed and continue to blossom, since
     1. it is the power/knowledge imbalance dissolving life."

I love the image of "knowledge" blossoming up and down a scale, loosened by our utter awe at the "unreal" variety and diversity of the myriad relations around us...

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