01 09 21

My youthful commitment to the identity of beauty with freedom had been experimental, in the sense that usefully recognizing oneself as a girl was an experiment. I had absorbed the commitment from the literature, trying it on like a rhetoric that I called passion, loving the interior thrill of difference I felt as the tiny identifications operated within me, interpreting the thrill as my own emotion, not recognizing that what this thrill covered over was a worried questioning, not yet linguistic, about the scorn that bordered beauty’s literary description. The man-poets scorned what they desired ; their sadistic money was such that the object scorned was endowed with the shimmer of sex. How radiant we were in our gorgeous outfits and our bad moods ! Oh, and this ignited poetry. Baudelaire scorned Jeanne Duval and every female he dallied with, or at least did so on paper, Ted Hughes scorned Sylvia Plath, Ezra Pound scorned Djuna Barnes, George Baker scorned Elizabeth Smart, everybody scorned Jean Rhys. Proust did not scorn Albertine because Albertine was a man. The she-poets perished beneath the burden of beauty and scorn. This is what I observed. This was the formal sexuality of lyric. Who was I then, what was I, when I, a girl, was their reader, the reader of the beautiful representations ? Who was I if I became the describer, and how could I become this thing before perishing ? Would I then even recognize myself ? Because I saw the perishing everywhere. Daily I read it. The freedom of desiring and its potent transformations seemed not to belong to beauty, just to beauty’s describer. Anyone without a language for desire perishes. Any girl-thing. My questions emerged then as a mute, troubled resistance to the ancient operation that I also craved. Certainly the poem must become something other than this contract. I seemed to have been wrong about most things, except for my will to write and to read. That and the stain. Even so, I did not want to give up on beauty altogether, so gently I set it to the side, and with it the philosophical potency and freedom of the bad mood. Certainly I would return to beauty, I would return to the bad mood. I would arrive at anger.

For now I would continue to test the hypothesis of lust. I would test it in bookshops, in museums, and at fountains. I would test it, as I have described, in attic rooms, maid’s rooms as they were called. As unfixed lust, in fact a maid, I would write, I would perambulate and peruse. I would forget not to stare. I would move towards what I desired. I would make myself understood. What I wrote about in my heavy hard-bound diary : about a girl living in a room, getting dressed, buying food, fucking, the goddamned tulips ugly in the dark. These were historical records about things that might never have before existed, if I were to judge by the literature. Before I began to write what I needed to write, an event that, to my considerable dissatisfaction, would not begin for some years (lines such as ‘even the musking tulips’ would assert themselves, unwelcome even at the moment of transcription), I had to set the record straight, establish an archive. This would be my foundation. I had to describe everything, from the perspective of the lust of a maid. I did it altruistically, for the future. It would not be attractive. It would show my unkindness, the banality of my appetites, the small lies I told, the wilful omissions. My descriptions would not be about being seen, nor about the striving for that position within the lyric contract. Being seen by money was a form of incarceration within an enforced aesthetic constraint. Within this contract, aesthetic judgments are the same judgments that assess financial risk. Is the girl productive ? Lucrative ? Accessible ? Against this odious assessment, I began the slow accumulation of the documents of the incommensurable procedures, procedures for which I was not a sign, but an untrained actor, a bad actor, a hack of a sentence writer, an anonymous fuck. If the result seems merely decorative, ornamental, it’s because now realism has become another name for capital.

The Baudelaire Fractal
Coach House 2020
p. 82–84