Paranoid  Histories:  Essays  in  the  “Paranoid  Style”  

Michelle  Detorie  –  “Feral  Poetics  &  Paranoid  Histories”  
Julia  Drescher  –  from  “Imaginary  Essays”  
Kurt  Newman  –  “For  a  Paranoid  History,  or,  Bakersfield:  Capital  of  the  Twentieth  
C.J.  Martin  –  from  “No  Relation”  

Michelle  Detorie
Some  notes  for  Bay  Area  Public  School  Talk

1.  Feral  Poetics  &  Paranoid  Histories
For  several  years  I  have  been  experimenting  and  theorizing  a  “feral  poetics.”  A  feral  poetics  
imagines  theories  of  language  and  artistic  praxis  that  cannot  be  summoned  through  more  
traditional  means.  This  is  partly  because  the  phenomenon  of  ferality,    a  state  of  becoming  that  exists  
among  species  who  have  been    domesticated  and  now  live  outside  the  conditions  of  human  care  
and  captivity,  offers  multiple  and  diverse  allegorical  models  for  thinking  about  poetics  and  
community.    It  is  also  of  critical  importance  that  a  feral  poetics  depends  on  affiliation  with  
nonhuman  animals.      A  feral  poetics  articulates  the  poetics  and  politics  of  interspecies  alliances,  
frequently  recovering  subjects  otherwise  occluded  or  erased  by  highly-­‐gendered  nationalist,  
colonialist,  and  racist  fantasies.
Since  reading  Kurt’s  essay,  I  have  been  wondering  about  whether  a  “feral  poetics”  is  also  a  little  bit  
(or  a  lot)  paranoid.    There  are  several  features  of  the  paranoid  that  seems  to  speak  to  feral  poetics,  
politics,  and  practices:  One  -­‐-­‐  the  notion  of  making  connections  (&  never  knowing  when  to  stop);  
Two  -­‐-­‐  the  process  of  deterritorialization;  &  Three  -­‐-­‐  the  potency  of  the  dialectial  image.    

2.    Mapping  a  Feral  Poetics  (excerpt  from  my  essay  “Notes  Toward  A  Feral  Poetics”  )
About  300  feral  ponies  inhabit  Assateague,  a  small  and  narrow  barrier  island  off  the  coasts  of  
Maryland  and  Virginia.    Although  the  precise  nature  of  how  the  ponies  came  to  live  on  Assateague  
remains  a  mystery,  a  popular  legend  claims  that  the  ponies  are  descended  from  horses  that  
survived  a  Spanish  galleon  that  shipwrecked  sometime  during  the  16th  century.    

Despite  the  fact  that  explorers  and  researchers  have  been  unable  to  find  any  material  evidence  to  
support  this  story  of  feral  marronage  (now,  it  seems  more  likely  that  17th  century  mainland  
farmers  brought  them  to  island  in  order  to  avoid  taxes  and  fencing  laws),  its  persistence  in  local  
folklore  has––like  the  ponies  themselves––taken  on  a  life  of  its  own.      However  they  arrived,  the  
horses  adapted  to  the  harsh  island  conditions,  developed  distinct  characteristics,  and  thrived.    
Today,  the  Assateague  ponies  constitute  a  socially  complex  and  unique  community  of  feral  
Halfway  across  the  globe  from  Assateague  and  several  hundred  years  later,  a  Merino  sheep  named  
Shrek  became  famous  after  escaping  his  enclosure  and  evading  the  shearers.  Hiding  in  caves  on  
New  Zealand’s  South  Island,  Shrek  enjoyed  a  feral  freedom  for  six  years,  until  finally  caught  in  2004,  
by  which  time  he  had  grown  a  mammoth  60-­‐pound  fleece.


Generations  of  selective  breeding  had  contributed  to  genetic  mutations  favoring  the  growth  of  an  
abundant  amount  of  wool.  Living  beyond  the  reach  of  human  care  and  capture  meant  that  Shrek’s  
fleece  could  grow  and  grow  and  grow.  Even  in  the  landscape  of  the  modern  shepherds’  google-­‐
earth-­‐mapped  and  cultivated  pastures,  there  was  room  to  move,  sidestep,  hide;  such  a  story  
brought  all  sorts  of  people  together  and  energized  interspecies  affinities.
Thinking  poetically  with  the  Assateague  ponies  and  Shrek  the  sheep  provokes  a  different  kind  of  
theory  of  language,  aesthetics,  and  community.  It  points  towards  a  radical  poetics  inaccessible  via  
more  traditional  routes.    In  light  of  a  feral  poetics/politics,  writers,  thinkers,  and  creatures  such  as  

the  feral  ponies  of  Assateague  Island  and  Shrek  the  sheep  can  be  seen  as  co-­‐conspirators  in  a  
common  endeavor.    
Ferality  is  a  state  of  becoming  that  exists  among  animals  once  but  no  longer  domesticated.  A  feral  
poetics  derives  from  the  affiliations  and  non-­‐affiliations  of  human  and  nonhuman  animals.    Since,  as  
Anat  Pick  observes,  “the  human-­‐animals  distinction  constitutes  an  arena  in  which  relationships  of  
power  operate  in  their  exemplary  purity,”  the  ferality  of  feral  creatures  is,  above  all,  a  political  
force—which  is  another  way  to  say  that  all  feral  creatures  share  a  common  history  and  destiny  with  
Embedded  in  every  story  of  ferality  is  a  story  about  power.  By  definition,  all  feral  creatures  become  
feral  as  a  consequence  of  human  activities.  Feral  creatures  become  feral  for  many  reasons,  
including  abandonment,  escape,  accidental  loss,  natural  disaster,  or  political  or  economic  collapse.    
Many  forms  of  human  oppression  have  contributed  to  the  conditions  that  precede  ferality:  
colonialism,  imperialism,  classism,  racism,  war,  and  agricultural  mismanagement.  A  creature’s  
becoming-­‐feral  may  or  may  not  be  voluntary.  Which  is  to  say:  a  creature  may  becoming  feral  
because  it  wants  to  or  because  it  has  to.          
Let  us  not  get  caught  up  with  questions  of  the  “wild’  and  the  “domestic.”  Ferality  destabilizes  these  
categories:  ferality  investigates  the  slackening  and  unslackening  of  tensions  in  the  domestication  
relationship.  And  to  be  more  precise,  in  discourses  of  ferality  “wildness”  is  not  so  much  at  issue  as  
“corruption”  or  “conquest”:  feral  creatures  are  often  labeled  as  “pests”  or  “invasive  species.”    Much  
of  this  language  is  informed  by  pastoral  notions  of  nature:  feral  creatures  and  feral  poetics  trouble  
pastoralism’s  duplicitous  and  highly  gendered  fantasies  of  nature  as  “wild,”  “pure,”  “unpopulated,”  
and  outside  of  historical  and  political  time.    An  attention  to  the  feral  thus  becomes  a  strategy  of  
resisting  pastoralism,  recalling  that  pastoralism  has  often  served  as  the  warrant  for  settler  
colonialism,  racism,  and  imperialism.
A  feral  poetics  unfolds  both  at  the  level  of  language  and  at  the  level  of  the  social,  troubling  any  
attempt  to  delink  ferality  as  a  linguistic  practice  from  ferality  as  social  practice.  Susan  Howe’s  My  
Emily  Dickinson  provides  a  model  of  how  we  might  think  of  this  coextension.  Speaking  to  what  
could  might  be  called  Emily  Dickinson’s  “ferality,”  Howe  writes:  “she  explored  the  implication  of  
breaking  the  law  just  short  of  breaking  off  communicating  with  the  reader”  and  asks,  “Whose  order  
is  shut  inside  the  sentence?”  (11).  
Whose  order  indeed.  Since  poetry  is  already  a  field  predicated  on  radical  uses  of  language,  it  might  
seem  as  though  all  poetry  could  be  considered  feral.  If  we  continue  along  these  lines,  we  might  
conclude  that  experimental  and  avant-­‐garde  poetry  and  communities  are  the  most  feral.    Yet  this  
not  necessarily  the  case.  A  feral  poetics  interrogates  the  politics  of  communities  founded  upon  
hierarchy,  taste  distinctions,  and  the  possession  of  cultural  capital  (communities  that  always  seem  
to  be  dominated  by  the  heroic  male,  hetero  and  white):  experimental  writing  communities  that  are  
nevertheless  thoroughly  domesticated  and  domesticating.    

This  is  perhaps  what  inspires  Audre  Lorde  to  observe  “Each  of  us  is  here  now  because  in  one  way  
or  another  we  share  a  commitment  to  language  and  the  power  of  language,  and  to  the  reclaiming  of  
that  language  which  has  been  made  to  work  against  us.”  (43)
A  feral  poetics  allows  us  to  wonder  about  different  potentials  and  possibilities,  to  envision  alternate  
routes  and  image  different  futures.  A  feral  poetics  not  simply  a  poetics  of  deconstruction.  It  is  not  so  
much  a  conceptual  framework  as  it  a  conceptual  Klein  bottle.  It’s  a  poetics  of  multiplicity  and  
simultaneity,  of  wondering  and  wandering,  and  of  un-­‐mapping  and  re-­‐mapping.  Most  immediately,  
perhaps,  a  feral  poetics  is  a  practice  of  initiating  or  noticing  various  literary  and  collective  
dismantlings  of  language,  nation,  border,  and  species  in  the  service  of  noticing  and  creating  new  

3.    Paranoid  Maps,  Paranoid  Clocks:  Feral  Space  &  Feral  Time
Some  recent  books  that  have  me  thinking  about  ferality  and  paranoia:
Bhanu  Kapil's  Schizophrene.  
Fred  Moten’s  The  Feel  Trio
CA  Conrad’s  Ecodeviance  
Claudia  Rankine's  Citizen  
How  to  expose/uncover  an  occluded  or  camouflaged  political  ecology  of  bodies  along  the  narratives  
of  nationalist  and  racist  pastoral  fantasies?
What  are  the  politics  of  enclosure  on  subjectivity  and  expression?
What  is  feral  time?  What  is  paranoid  time?  



4.  A  Feral/Dragon/Swamp  poem  for  the  New  Year

This  year  our  swamp  will  grow  green  glitter,  our  guts
will  clutter  the  gutters  with  the  syntax  of  irregular  lusts  
for  grotesque  transparencies,  debrided  texts,  unfettered
letters  releasing  teeth.  Our  claws  
will  howl  through  the  marrow  of  those  who  dare
to  call  us  crooks.  We’ll  know  who’s  lying.  They’re  the  ones
hiding  in  the  oiled  clocks.  
We’ll  burn  the  clocks.

Julia Drescher


The loss of innocence, Andy,
The morpheme – cence is regular as to Rule IIc, IIa and IIb
[cents] and [sense] being more regular. The [inn-]
With its germinated consonant
Is not the inn in which the Christ Child was born. The root is
nocere and innocence, I guess, means not hurtful. Innocents
The beasts would talk to them (Alice in the woods with the
faun). While to Orpheus
They would only listen. Innocuous
Comes from the same root. The trees
Of some dark forest where we wander amazed at the selves of
ourselves. Stumbling. Roots
Stay. You cannot lose your innocence, Andy
Nor could Alice. Nor could anyone
Given the right woods. – Jack Spicer, “Morphemics”

“Let us fake out a frontier – a poem somebody could hide in with a
sheriff’s posse after him – ”
a frontier – a poem1
attempts an erasure to artificially re-construct what was already artificial to begin with,
where an authentic person might hide.2
Demanding permission to do so in the act of asking. (Demanding permission from whom?)3
But, from the get-go, the poem is about losing somebody, something, in the process.
“¿Quien es? ¿Quien es?”
Ever-widening holes in the ground of the poem as if for a coffin – on either side a land so
full of false clues it appears there are nothing but false clues to grasp.
From here on out a veil. Clouded weather what the foot will do. Lifting it at the line – as
if it were possible to transform an Historical inheritance in the asking to re(-)fuse it – &
this lifting motion the last thing you really see. For even it does not know where it’s
(Once you pass into an after or under world, a line crossed marks a ghost becoming. Another story, a whole
different animal – the poet & readers of the poem. A correspondence like almost touching. Through the left
eye the words dancing as bullets.)

In an unfamiliar territory trying. To get a lay of the land is what names are for.
Say “Billy The Kid” over & over as means of grasping for a location, remembering that
where where you are.
“hope not being hope
1  Where there is a personal liking we go.  
2  They say “he need (present) enemy (plural)”
I am not them.
This is the first transformation. He wanted
it to be all mixed up, himself almost indistinguishable from the ground and trees and stones, peering out
from the brush like a jackrabbit or skunk cabbage, or like the sixteenth of a Blackfoot Indian he always
claimed to be.
3  are great, and rapidly – I was about to say fearfully – growing!
the death-plant in the skull
Grows wings and grows enormous.
The herb of the whole system.
Systematically blotting out the anise weed
and the trap-door spider of the vacant lot.
Worse than static or crabgrass.
Thanatos, bone at the bottom, Saint
Francis, that botanist in Santa Rosa
(Bless me now, for I am a plant and an animal)
Called him Brother Death.
In the census reports
[the frontier] is treated as the margin of that settlement which has a density of two or more to the square
mile. The term is an elastic one, and for our purposes does not need sharp definition.

until all ground for hope has
can kill anybody.”4
“Let us fake out a frontier – ”5
The poem shows another path to follow – a frontier as an opponent to fake out. A
sheriff’s posse deliberately misled in order to fool, make a fool (of). To plunder, wound,
kill – to disfigure as a means of concealment.
Re-fusing a story as a means of creating a space for recuperation, where this “Billy The
Kid can hide when he shoots people…”
Defined. A frontier as a part of [a] country that faces and forms a line to another. i.e.
(Folds. In a later poem:
The time changes
As you cross each border.
Daffodils, ceremonies of spring, sprang, sprung
And it is August
Another century.b
In a recording of Spicer reading this poem, I hear him say instead: “And it is August / Another country.”

4  Stay there on the edge of no cliff. With no
conceivable future but progress – long,
flat mesa-country.
A flat piece of wrapping paper, already wrinkled, but wrinkled
again by hand, smoothed into shape by an electric iron
A painting
Which told me about the death of Billy The Kid.
In the back by an arrow, President Kennedy
seemed to stiffen for a moment before
he assumed his place in history.
5  We do not like some things and the hero
doesn’t; deviating head-stones
and uncertainty;
going where one does not wish
to go; suffering and not
saying so; standing and listening where something
is hiding. The hero shrinks
as what it is flies out on muffled wings, with twin yellow
eyes – to and fro –  

What thought hides in another word – ghost dragging on the line)

takes time trying to find an under in an overworld. Finding means you know where to
look means knowing where THEY begin & I or YOU ends. “Let us…”
as performances that erase or cover over what’s too hard to face, recognize the face of –
applied so that the business of “(the) living” can continue unimpeded & satisfied.
(Literally, business.)6

“Torture gardens and scenic railways. The radio
That told me about the death of Billy The Kid…”
“Let us fake out – ”
For now we see through a glass, darkly…
The terrifying face of History, its grin turns & turned toward.
A hand-me-down romanticized frontier. Maps a location to go toward in attempts to
escape something or someone, only to face what you became. A wound. Forming a
country & Billy the Kid an apparition resurrected to perform as an apparatus of its
6  You do know Graham how I love you and you love me
but nothing can stop the roar of the tide. The grail, not there,
becomes a light which is not able to be there like a
lighthouse or spendrift
No, Graham, neither of us can stop the pulse and beat of it
The roar.
Then went
Samson down…and behold, a young lion roared against him…and [Samson] rent him as he would have
rent a kid, and he had nothing in his hand …And after a time he returned…and he turned aside to see the
carcase of the lion: and, behold, there was a swarm of bees and honey in the carcase of the lion. And he
took thereof in his hands, and went on eating
eat soup like anyone else.
Of the evening
Beautifull soup
And the sky stays there not an image
But the heros
Like the image of an image
(What is made of soup from)

No manifesting of destiny if violence is accepted as fated fact.
Blurring the line between prophecy & memory, History’s face a curtain whose lifting is a
promise of revelation in the performance of images passed down – its pretensions toward
reflection as revelation. It rarely really lifts.
(It was a five-act play, without head or tail, and it made no difference at which act we commenced the
They have made
maps of every square inch of the world and imprisoned us inside those maps. Let’s escape.)c

If the performance is the curtain, & the intent is to make a place for escape, then how
could real & fake be mapped for some body who wanted to avoid the traps? “Let us – ”7
Maybe what I mean to say is
(Having been given no
Right woods to begin from)8

Let us fake out an essay –d
____ … ____

Do that.
I gave you my imaginary hand and you give
me your imaginary hand and we walk
together (in imagination) over the earthly ground.
8  When leaving he always told Jay “I’m going to Texas” –


a  Marianne Moore,  “The Hero”  
b  Jack Spicer,  from “Thing Language”, Language (1965)  
c  Buffalo Bill / Letter from  Jack Spicer to Graham Mackintosh (1954)
d  Bleeding together in the footnotes:  
– Marianne Moore, “The Hero”
– Jack Spicer, “Transformations”
– James Herndon on Jack Spicer in Everything As Expected
– John C. Calhoun, 1817
– Jack Spicer, “Thing Language”
– Fredrick Jackson Turner
– Jack Spicer, “Intermission III”
– Jack Spicer, Billy The Kid
– Jack Spicer, “Love Poems, #9”
– Marianne Moore, “The Hero”
– Jack Spicer, from “The Book of Lancelot”, The Holy Grail
– Judges 14.5-9
– Jack Spicer, “Thing Language”
– Jack Spicer, “Love Poems, #9”
– James Herndon on Jack Spicer in the “Poems and Documents” section of The Collected Books of Jack Spicer, Robin
Blaser, ed.  


To mess around. To totally destroy the pieces. To build around them.
– Jack Spicer, “A Textbook of Poetry”, #16

Human being is at a loss
As location
Dislocation e.g. without
Distance from the static the future (a prior path) exudes.
Where are you am I
Other words one substitution for another one after another multiplying with time (history) –
Billy The Kid
A substitute
“…as Christ was a / substitute.”1
The cover of the poem a headstone.
“Love / for God or man transformed to distance.”2
Decomposition as a primary composing position grasping
“No love deserves the death it has…”3
If “[l]ove…transformed to distance” were read as a sentence, this ‘distance’ could be heard as noun & verb.
“What I mean is
Will tell you about the pain
It was a long pain…”
One pain after an|other, similar to each other.

In the many reconstitutions of Billy the Kid (who drags up all that history from hell that dragged him down), what is really desired?
A resurrection or a funeral?
“…I can no more remember
What brought me here
Than bone answers bone in the arm
Or shadow sees shadow –
Deathward we ride in the boat
Like someone canoeing
In a small lake
Where at either end
There are nothing but pine-branches –
Deathward we ride in the boat
Broken-hearted or broken-bodied
The choice is real. The diamond. I
Ask it.”
If read as alternatives, the last “or” is a blatant lie – It is only a real choice for one who has & is such distance. 4
The under-currents of mourning in the poem (here from a desire for this false choice to be real) break the borders of a circle a zero a
period or a lake makes into a parenthesis – creating, while pretending to contain, distances that, turning in on themselves, refuse to be
measured or mapped.
“Billy The Kid
I love you
Billy The Kid

I back anything you say
And there was the desert
And the mouth of the river
(In spite of your death notices)
There is honey in the groin
A spell of
Reading as
What is in what is not?
Billy the Kid (whose real birthday is unknown, who was known by multiple names in his lifetime), “is what he is because he is never
where he is.”5
Escaping the confinement of maps by hiding from them, sliding line to line, section to section – Spicer’s pronouns are merely one
active non-site in the poem. Using this form of scatter the poem reads as a homily on content that refuses to be trapped, refuses the
terror of a particular salvation. The ‘I’ in the poem becomes a personification of absence as both a running from, & a failing to escape
the trap of, a performance of the Historical.
The desire to close such inherited distance.
It is only in the last section (X) that the ‘I’ arrives as close to particularity as it ever can – perhaps only able to be located (& locate
itself) because of the absence of a response that the repeated call of Billy’s name suggests. Escaping even the I’s love (& perhaps, the
ability to escape being the germ of this love in the first place), in such absence as remains, what is there to do but holler “I love you”
from whatever goddamned hole you find yourself in.

Failed homily
I both eater & eaten by. 6
“It was a long pain
About as wide as a curtain
But long
As the great outdoors.
Three bullet holes in the groin
One in the head
Right below the left eyebrow
What I mean is I
Will tell you about his
Another trick in/of time in Spicer’s poem – in this section (IV), the pain comes before what might be said to cause it. Stigmata is the
name given a mark made by an instrument. Or, taking it apart & reading in reverse, made | to prick. The word holding its wound as
what caused it.
A troubling hole, a settled relation reopens.
Moultrie: (to Billy) What is it? What’s wrong? You all right?
…You’re not like the books! You don’t wear silver studs! You don’t stand up to glory! You’re not him!
You’re not him! You’re not him!

In the movie The Left-Handed Gun, Moultrie is a writer – an apostle, a Mary Magdalene, & a Judas in one.
In the dark mouth of the tomb where she weeps, Mary Magdalene hears somebody ask the question: Whom seekest thou?8
Her recognition of his voice & reaching out for it is one answer. His do not touch me is another.
Unlike the apostles she takes this to mean that ghosts possess speech only through their inability to be possessed.
Turning from the tomb, drifting through the desert searching for a different question to consume her,
Mary Magdalene
(Playing the Fool –
She might as well have tried to touch
The moon)
Died trying to find it.
____ … ____
1  Jack Spicer, from The Holy Grail, “Book of Gwenivere”, #3  
2  Jack Spicer,  from Book of Magazine Verse, “Four Poems For Ramparts”
3  Jack Spicer, from Language, “Phonemics”  
4  The poem prior to this reads:
“So the heart breaks
Into small shadows
Almost so random
They are meaningless
Like a diamond
Has at the center of it a diamond

Or a rock
Being afraid
Love asks its bare question – ”
If the meaning of the first & second “Or”s read certainly as equivalence (i.e. same/same), then the third (buried between “broken-hearted” & “broken-bodied”)
sneaks in – dressed as an answer – an excess of questions. The definitions of the word or would be the basis for these questions concerning the relationship (&
the meaning of it) between “broken-hearted” & “broken-bodied” – too, if applied reflectively on “bone/shadow”: 1. Introducing an alternative 2. Offering a
choice of a series 3. Introducing an equivalent 4. Expressing uncertainty. Middle English, alteration of other, alteration of Old English oththe. (Also, the possible
5  Jack Spicer,  from The Heads of the Town Up to the Aether,  “A Textbook of Poetry”, #7  
6  Jack Spicer, Vancouver Lecture 1. “Q: And you would say that there isn’t much hope in chasing [the sources of dictation] because you might find them or
people in there just might run away harder. Is that it? JS: You have to keep a kind of lookout for them. You can’t catch them like canaries by putting salt on their
tails, but you sort of give them an even chance. I mean, show them there’s a good dinner of blood like in the Odyssey where they dug the trench and slit the
throats of the sacrificial animals. And all of that is likely to summon them.” The House That Jack Built: The Collected Lectures of Jack Spicer, Peter Gizzi,
7  In addition to the shifting possibilities of content concerning the pronouns/possessive, the articles are used like a mirage – they seem quite stable & are
involved in specifically describing injuries. And yet, in addition to the switch from ‘the/a pain’ to ‘his pain’, to say ‘the groin’ rather than (for example) ‘his’ or
‘our’ or ‘your’ creates a dizzying proliferation of meanings.
8  Who do you seek? Who seeks you? “¿Quien es? ¿Quien es?”  

C.J.  Martin  
for  Tommy  Joe  Martin  
“And  by  the  time  my  eyes  were  in  my  head  they  were  in  the  houses  that  they  would  
be  in  forever,  in  succession.”  –  Bobbie  Louise  Hawkins,  Back  to  Texas  (97)  
Robert  Creeley  died  in  Odessa,  TX  in  2005,  but  it  wasn’t  until  recently  that  I  began  to  
think  it  significant  that  I  also  grew  up  there.  Something  about  the  way  his  place  of  
death  so  often  gets  collapsed  into  the  description  “desert  town,”  elided  in  that  way  
with  so  much  desert  elsewhere,  lately  makes  me  want  to  intercede  on  behalf  of  the  
unromantic  desert.    
Written  from  Marfa,  TX,  the  last  entry  in  Creeley’s  Selected  Letters  has  him  riding  off  
into  the  sunset,  cowboyish—its  inclusion  as  ‘the  end’  positions  it  so,  as  more  
significant  than  it  likely  is,  in  the  end,  as  a  last  dispatch  (if  it  is  one).  Back  turned  to  
the  politics  of  the  artist  colony,  one  can  ride  off  into  so  many  Marfa  sunsets,  but  the  
drive  north  to  Odessa  sheds  the  romance  from  the  thing.    
In  this  selection,  Creeley  signs  off  wishing  that  all  places  could  have  the  specificity  of  
the  border,  which  he’d  just  visited  from  his  stay  in  Marfa.  But  the  notion  runs  
aground  in  his  actual  place  of  exit,  where  the  curvature  of  the  earth  seems  visible  
despite  it  being  a  basin,  topographically.  One  looks  out  from  Odessa  to  nothing  but  
horizon  on  the  horizon,  but  the  place  proposes  an  unobstructed  view  it  can’t  deliver.    
My  father  kept  a  daily  gas  log  for  pretty  much  his  entire  adult  life,  and  though  the  
pocket  calendars  where  he  recorded  mileage  aren’t  really  forthcoming  as  diaries,  
sometimes  he  notes  what  seems  major.  In  1994,  the  year  Creeley  published  Echoes,  
dad  marked  only  two  such  events:  once  when  he  quit  a  job  as  a  driller  for  RodRic,  
and  once,  on  January  5,  when  the  “Derrick  blew  over  on  Eve.  Towr  w/all  d.c.  and  D.P.  
in  it.  Bad  Wreck.”    
He’d  been  in  his  off  hours.  Something  had  caught  fire  underground,  and  the  
explosion  laid  the  rig  flat.  I  think  of  him  rushing  out  there  when  he  heard  there  was  
a  fire,  all  frantic  when  he  talked  to  the  daylight  crew  (d.c.)  and  told  them  to  get  
everyone  out  because  nothing  could  be  done—all  the  concern  of  that  appeal  and  his  

attempt  to  get  to  the  rig  as  fast  as  possible.  Wrongly,  I  haven’t  often  associated  
concern  with  his  work  life—it’s  kind  of  feely  for  a  man  whose  reputation  was  for  
expressing  work  feelings  with  his  fists—but  he  was  really  worried  for  the  men  out  
At  the  back  of  his  gas  logs,  he  kept  phone  numbers  of  hands  he  might  call  to  
assemble  a  crew.  Next  to  some  names,  he’d  note  lasting  impressions:  Johnny  Boss  
(no  shit)  was  a  “no-­‐show,  lazy.”  Kenneth  McDonald  “quit,  too  old.”  Among  these  men  
were  the  “slow  witted,”  the  “drunk  no  show”  and  the  occasional  “good  hand.”  Many  
have  no  note  at  all,  which  I  take  to  be  generally  fortunate.    
In  some  of  the  logs,  a  Robert  Duncan  even  shows  up:  no  note,  just  a  phone  number  
(381-­‐9423).  Odessa’s  a  ways  from  Black  Mountain,  but  I  can’t  help  thinking  how  that  
other  Duncan  grew  up  in  an  oil  town,  too.  
The  coincident  as  “companionable  form”  (Coleridge,  from  the  epigraph  to  Creeley’s  
It’s  the  occasion  that  needs  to  be  located.  To  trouble  why  it  occurs  to  me  in  the  first  
place  to  tell  the  two  stories  at  once  (Creeley’s  and  my  father’s).  Or  to  write  it  as  a  
way  of  finding  the  occasion  of  following  it.  So  that  tracing  the  coincident  is  as  useful  
as  articulating  experience  as  part  of  some  narrative  or  set  of  narratives.    
Not  argument  that  justifies  the  form  of  this  writing,  but  the  coincident.  
Tale  of  some  acts  of  some  people,  then,  crossing  or  not,  even  missing  a  conjunction  
entirely.  But  co-­‐incident  in  time,  in  memory  (in  my  memory).  Coincident  in  me.  
Robert  Duncan  first  appears  in  my  dad’s  gas  logs  in  1991.  Other  notable  events  that  
1/15—“Deadline  f/Hussein  to  Pull  out  of  Kuwait  or  go  to  War  w/U.S.A.”  
7/8—“Won  our  1st  13  yr  old  All  Star  game  9-­‐5  against  Big  Spring  Internat’l.”  
8/17—“Hurt  my  back”  
8/29—“Air  cond.  Clutch  blew  up  &  Auto  Cool  wouldn’t  stand  behind  their  warranty”  
8/31—“Replaced  Windshield  $110.00.  hit  a  buzzard”  
9/3—“Auto  Cool  Replaced  bad  air  comp.  f/nothing”  
10/30—“1st  Cold  Spell”  
In  the  summer  he  notes  a  week  “off—on  vacation.”  This  would  have  been  a  family  
trip  to  a  timeshare  in  Granbury,  TX,  where  my  parents  would  move  in  2001,  and  

where  my  father  and  grandmother  would  die  of  injuries  sustained  in  a  tornado  in  
Creeley  recalls  in  an  interview  an  early  conversation  with  Duncan,  where  the  latter  
prods,  “You’re  not  interested  in  history,  are  you?”  Creeley’s  response  is  difficult,  
really  huge  to  me:  “You  know,  and  I  kept  saying,  ‘Well,  gee,  I  ought  to  be.  And  I  want  
to  be.  But  I  guess  I’m  not.  You  know,  I’d  like  to  be,  but,  no,  that’s  probably  not  true.’  
That  history,  as  this  form  of  experience,  is  truly  not  something  I’ve  been  able  to  
articulate  with,  nor  finally  engaged  by”  (88).  
It’s  a  thorny  claim  for  a  poet.  Thorny  claim  for  a  person,  really.  Can’t  get  down  with  
history,  eh?  You  know  what  they  say  about  those  types,  don’t  you?  
But  somehow  Creeley’s  response  to  Duncan’s  pointed  (but  over  simple)  question  
has  a  proximity  to  my  own  sense  of  things  growing  up—that  history  happened  
elsewhere,  as  it  were,  and  that  the  people  in  it  weren’t  the  people  in  sight.  It’s  a  class  
politics,  that  lie  about  significance,  and  it  takes  some  effort  to  slough  off.  
Reading  my  dad’s  gas  logs  alongside  Creeley’s  work  might  put  a  finer  point  on  it:  
dad  never  talked  much  about  himself.  For  all  that  Creeley  seems  to  have  wanted  the  
same  to  be  true  for  him,  and  for  all  the  difficulty  he  traces,  in  his  1973  essay  “Inside  
Out,”  regarding  autobiographical  writing,  and  even  though  he  claimed  to  write  for  
an  audience  of  one  (himself),  at  some  point  there’s  something  inescapably  social  
about  putting  it  down  so  as  to  put  it  out  there,  for  better  or  worse.  Up  next  to  what  
amount  to  mostly  mileage  and  maintenance  records,  Creeley’s  writerly  sense  of  the  
problems  of  autobiography  stands  out  as  markedly  public,  avowedly  historical.    
The  irony  of  his  essay  of  course  is  that  it  engages  a  community  for  which  going  on  
record  about  the  scene,  or  at  least  about  one  or  two  folks  in  it,  is  constitutive  of  its  
life  and  livelihood.  It’s  an  interesting  problem  for  a  real  person  to  feel  compelled  to  
promote  one’s  efforts  or  one’s  peers’  efforts,  especially  in  an  “autobiographical  
mode”  (problematized  or  not),  and  especially  given  some  of  Creeley’s  more  
complicated  formulations  in  this  essay:    
Autobiography  might  be  thought  of,  then,  as  some  sense  of  a  life  responsive  to  
its  own  experience  of  itself.  This  is  the  ‘inside  out,’  so  to  speak—somehow  
reminiscent  of,  It  ain’t  no  sin/  to  take  off  your  skin/  and  dance  around  in  
your  boh-­‐hones...  Trying  to  take  a  look,  see  what  it  was  all  about,  why  Mary  
never  came  home  and  Joe  was,  after  all,  your  best  friend.  Not  to  explain—that  
is,  not  to  lay  a  trip  on  them—rather  an  evidence  seems  what  one  is  trying  to  
get  hold  of,  to  have  use  of  oneself  specifically  as  something  that  does  
something,  and  in  so  doing  leaves  a  record,  a  consequence,  intentionally  or  
not.  (CE  561)  
Or,  earlier,  “Place  is  a  real  event—where  you  are  is  a  law  equal  to  what  you  are”  (CE  
559).  The  conjunction  of  person  and  place,  understood  as  history  (and  invariably  

intersected  with  universe),  is  something  Creeley  might  have  learned  from  Olson  and  
Williams  (he  could  of  course  have  learned  it  elsewhere).  Maximus  and  Paterson  can  
be  read  as  in  that  way  person-­‐al  poems.  Meaning,  it’s  not  really  true  he’s  not  
interested  in  history,  but  that,  at  least  according  to  him,  experience  as  abstracted  
into  historical  narrative  isn’t  really  his  bag.  The  real  event  versus  its  timeline—the  
latter  presumes  a  kind  of  distance,  a  more  exhaustive  understanding,  but  the  real  
event  would  be  something  like  relation—a  local,  intimate,  coming  to  terms.    
In  “Away,”  (the  title  poem  from  his  1976  Black  Sparrow  book,  a  poem  written  
during  roughly  the  same  period  as  the  essay),  even  this  real  event  of  place  gets  told  
to  shove  it:  
This  place  could  be  rolled  up  
and  put  away.  Somebody  
could  warn  the  so-­‐called  people.  
I  wish  I  could  talk  to  the  people    
without  going  away.  Home,  
wherever,  is  where  the  heart  is.  
I  don’t  want  to  talk  to  the  people,  
where  the  heart  is.  It’s  home  
you  and  me  talk  for  hours.  (CP  585)  
Putting  away  place  might  be  antisocial,  but  it  isn’t  necessarily  anti-­‐historical.  It’s  on  
a  par  with  keeping  a  secret,  maybe  even  announcing  in  the  place  of  address  so-­‐
called  (i.e.  in  a  poem  made  public—the  place  of  whatever  shapes  that  relation)  this  
thing  that  won’t  be  shared.  And  it’s  to  report  an  anxiety  about  the  social,  I  think—
about  ‘the  so-­‐called  people’  and  what  goes  on  ‘where  the  heart  is’—that  seems  to  
motivate  much  of  Creeley’s  writing  during  this  time:  “But  who  are  you,  and  why  
does  your  life  propose  itself  as  a  collective”  (CE  560).    
These  things  are  really  personal,  but  it’s  a  life  among  people  that  they  sound  against  
(so  a  social,  a  historical  life).  “Inside  Out”  begins  with  an  untitled  poem  for  Jane  
Brakhage  (also  included  in  Away):  
I’m  telling  you  a  
story  to  let  myself  
think  about  it.  All  
day  I’ve  been  
here,  and  yesterday.  
The  months,  years,  
enclose  me  as  
this  thing  with  arms  

and  legs.  And  if  
it  is  time  
to  talk  about  it  
who  knows  better  
than  I?  

I’m  telling  you  to  let  myself  think,  but  not  to  be  heard,  really.  The  attitude  makes  for  
difficult  relationships,  for  one.  Makes  relation  difficult.  These  poems  rail  against,  and  
yet  also  succumb  to,  the  compulsion  to  recount  a  grief  publicly—it’s  trying  that  one  
would  have  recourse  to  writing  in  this  situation  (someone’s  always  listening  in).  The  
poems  proceed  by  indicting  whatever  audience  they  might  find  for  being  there  in  
the  first  place,  taking  whatever  pleasure  in  listening.  
In  relation  to  much  of  what  he  might  have  wanted  to  tell  me,  I  was  never  a  great  
listener,  and  now  I  find  myself  straining  to  eavesdrop  on  my  father’s  daily  life  
through  these  fragments,  and  wondering  what  he’d  think  of  having  me  as  an  
Julia  and  I  have  guessed  at  why  he  might  have  made  these  notes  in  the  first  place.  I  
can’t  know  if  he  ever  reread  them,  though  he  appears  to  have  kept  every  log.  
Implicit  in  his  more  forthcoming  entries  seems  often  simply  the  feeling  that  
someone—himself—should  mark  this,  that  it’s  a  remarkable  fact.  
If  it’s  simply  that  it  was  time  to  talk  about  it,  then  his  notes  share  with  Creeley’s  
poem  for  Jane  Brakhage  the  sense  that  audience  isn’t  the  motivating  factor,  that  this  
instance  of  writing  draws  a  relation,  not  between  a  writer  and  a  reader,  but  between  
a  person  and  some  facts  and  questions,  between  a  person  and  language.  So,  writing  
as  relation,  but  not  communication  and  not  expression.  
Relation  but  not  address,  in  the  end.  
I  think  maybe  he’d  appreciate  the  irony  that,  when  he  intends  no  audience,  he  finally  
has  my  attention.  
The  poem  for  Jane  Brakhage  argues  that  the  addressee  is  ancillary  to  the  occasion.  
Though  I  don’t  know  what  precisely  elicited  the  dedication,  I  struggle  to  read  it  as  
devoid  of  personal  invective—he’s  the  one  who  “knows  better”  etc.  I  think  of  those  
home  movies  released  recently  by  Bobbie  Louise  Hawkins:  the  Creeleys  and  the  
Brakhages  in  the  house  in  Placitas,  getting  stoned,  showing  off,  and  (presumably,  
though  the  footage  is  silent)  talking  shop.  

Uttered  in  that  context  (but  that  isn’t  the  poem’s  context),  the  intention  would  seem  
to  be  to  silence  the  audience,  to  scold  her  into  attention.  But  read  aloud  at  a  public  
event,  say,  I  don’t  imagine  the  sentiment  would  lose  its  teeth.  So  too,  at  least  in  part,  
the  published  poem.    
But  it’s  tenuous  to  presume  a  link  between  the  poem’s  inception  and  its  reception,  
where  the  reader’s  relation  to  the  text  is  somehow  presaged  in  the  moment  of  
writing.  In  Creeley’s  poems,  these  are  more  often  fundamentally  discrete  events.  I  
might  recognize  an  anxiety  about  the  social  in  Creeley’s  poems,  but  I  can’t  presume  
to  read  myself  into  that  crowd  (even  if  here  I  am  reading).  It’s  as  useful  to  take  him  
at  his  word,  as  it  were,  re  himself  as  his  only  audience,  and  thus  to  attempt  a  
reckoning  with  those  relations  that  are  prior  to  or  in  excess  of  that  posited  between  
‘writer’  and  ‘audience.’  
All  the  more  difficult  when  the  writer  is  dearly  departed.  
“There  isn’t  a  hippie  in  the  world  that  doesn’t  want  to  be  a  cowboy.”  –Bobbie  Louise  
Hawkins,  Back  to  Texas  (111)  
Creeley’s  thoughts  on  the  Western  are  shot  through  with  romance,  so  it  isn’t  a  
surprise  that  the  editors  of  this  recent  volume  of  letters  would  follow  suit.  In  the  
1982  essay  “My  New  Mexico,”  for  example,  he  writes  that,  “If  this  is  the  Wild  West  of  
Geronimo  and  Billy  the  Kid,  it’s  also  that  of  White  Sands  and  the  first  atomic  tests—
equally  brutal  and  ahuman.  Because  there  is  so  much  outside,  such  a  vast,  
extraneous  skin,  such  a  plethora  of  virtually  useless  space,  one  hands  it  over  to  
whatever  can  inhabit  it,  missile  ranges,  uranium  mines,  anything  to  take  it  away”  
(CE  444).  (What  would  New  Mexico  have  looked  like  if  “one”  really  had  handed  it  
Or,  per  riding  off  into  the  sunset,  see  the  1983  “Cowboys  and  Indians”  essay,  where  
Creeley  tells  a  story  of  riding  horseback  with  Bill  Eastlake—near  Cuba,  NM  in  the  
summer  of  1960—and  “threading  through  the  oak  brush,  meeting  with  Indians  
trailing  horses,  spotting  the  occasional  old-­‐time  homesteader  who  might  well  have  
got  there  before  the  territory  had  become  the  present  New  Mexico  (1912?)”  (CE  
321-­‐22).  (Cuba  is  located  at  the  southern  tip  of  the  Jicarilla  Apache  Reservation,  
formed  in  1887  and  expanded  to  its  current  extent  in  1907.)  
And  Creeley’s  dependence  on  the  figure  of  the  horse  in  his  own  poetics  is  often  
really  hilarious:  

I  know  that  attention  to  what  has  been  written,  what  is  being  written,  is  a  
dearly  rewarding  experience.  Nonetheless,  it  is  not  the  primary  fact.  Far  
closer  would  be  having  a  horse,  say,  however  nebulous  or  lumpy,  and,  seeing  
other  people  with  horses,  using  their  occasion  with  said  horses  as  some  
instance  of  the  possibility  involved.  In  short,  I  would  never  buy  a  horse  or  
write  a  poem  simply  that  others  had  done  so—although  I  would  go  
swimming  on  those  terms  or  eat  snails.  Stuck  with  the  horse,  or  blessed  with  
it,  I  have  to  work  out  that  relation  as  best  I  can.    
(“Was  That  a  Real  Poem  or  Did  You  Just  Make  It  Up  Yourself?”  CE  574)  

It  strikes  me  as  funny  because  in  one  way  the  horse  is  part  of  Creeley’s  machismo.  
He’s  not  horse  people—bird  people,  sure,  at  least  early  on,  but  mostly  he’s  poetry  
people.  Cowboy  must  be  some  of  the  most  ubiquitous  American  drag  (for  ‘real’  
cowboys,  too).  Black  Mountain  men  share  with  roughnecks  (and  Kid  Rock)  this  will  
to  offer  a  heroic  western  narrative  in  response  to  the  question,  “How’s  work?”    
My  mother  tells  a  story,  from  when  she  first  met  my  father,  of  going  to  pick  him  up  
and  him  sliding  down  a  guy  wire  from  the  top  of  a  rig  to  greet  her  at  her  car  on  the  
ground  below.  At  my  grandmother’s  80th  birthday,  my  dad  and  my  uncles  
reminisced  about  the  oil  field  in  the  ’70’s,  and  in  their  telling,  the  rig  itself  did  
everything  but  neigh—they  rode  it  high  (some  literally  high),  they  rode  it  low,  
gunslingers  and  rattlesnakes  made  frequent  cameos,  and  so  on.  
And  yet  there  are  real  horses  and  sometimes  poets  and  roughnecks  really  do  meet  
them.  The  problem  of  that  encounter  is  maybe  the  most  apt  illustration  of  what  I  
mean  by  relation,  as  a  dilemma.    
My  father  had  a  conversation  with  animals  he  may  never  have  had  with  any  human  
When  my  brother  and  I  were  still  kids,  dad  would  sometimes  bring  home  a  
rattlesnake  from  the  rig  in  an  empty  oil  drum  and  keep  it  in  the  garage.  In  his  truck  
he  kept  a  long  pole  with  a  wire  noose  through  it  in  case  he  came  across  a  snake,  but  
instead  of  killing  them,  they  became  object  lessons  to  impress  upon  my  brother  and  
me  the  sound  they  made  and  how  they  would  respond  to  being  confronted  by  
Once,  just  before  I  graduated  high  school,  he  asked  if  I’d  keep  him  company  on  a  
drive  out  to  a  drill  site  a  couple  of  hours  away,  in  the  direction  of  Marfa.  Our  talk  
turned  at  one  point  to  his  reasons  for  staying  in  the  oil  field,  and  in  romantic  but  
economical  terms  he  offered  only  two:  the  landscape,  the  mountain  lions.    

After  the  tornado,  I’d  learn  from  my  mother  of  the  time,  midday  on  some  oil  field  
road,  when  he  came  upon  an  enormous  hog  loose  from  a  nearby  farm.  The  hog  
stepped  right  in  front  of  his  truck  and  wouldn’t  budge,  so  dad  got  out  and  waited  
who  knows  how  long,  transfixed,  until  someone  came  to  claim  it.  According  to  him,  
it  stood  chest-­‐high  (he  was  six  feet  tall).        
Engaging  the  animal  might  work  as  a  metaphor  for  relation  in  the  ‘place’  of  address:  
the  audience  might  as  well  be  mute,  for  one,  but  is  also  somehow  indecipherable,  
requires  some  kind  of  nonlinguistic  care-­‐as-­‐communication,  forcing  one  to  isolate  
relation  itself,  to  tune  out  the  fuzz  and  get  right  down  to  it,  in  all  its  inscrutability.  
Creeley  published  “The  Creative”  in  ’73  (as  Sparrow  6),  which  includes  an  essay  and  
a  poem  for  his  mother,  who’d  passed  in  October  of  the  previous  year.  The  essay  is  
mostly  really  wild,  eventually  less  so—it’s  his  working-­‐through  of  the  
phenomenological  problem  of  creativity.  Lots  of  veering,  even  through  gnosis:  at  one  
point  he  offers  the  notion  of  the  himma,  whereby  “the  gnostic  creates  something  
which  exists  outside  the  seat  of  his  faculty,”  as  a  recuperable  understanding  of  what  
he  means  by  the  creative.  He  cites  the  following  as  an  instance  of  this  kind  of  act:  
I  knew  a  man  once  who  had  a  lovely  team  of  horses,  this  was  in  West  Acton,  
Mass.,  and  one  of  them  kneeled  on  a  nail  was  in  the  planking  of  the  stall,  and  
the  knee  got  infected—Mr.  Green  was  his  name—and  Mr.  Green,  who  lived  
alone  with  his  wife,  both  about  in  their  seventies,  he  used  to,  literally,  take  
the  blankets  off  their  bed,  this  was  in  winter,  and  go  out  into  the  stall  and  
wrap  up  that  horse  and  put  poultices  on  her  knee,  to  draw  out  the  poison,  
and  he’d  sit  there  with  her,  all  the  night,  and  finally  the  old  horse,  old  in  its  
own  way  as  him,  got  well.  
(CE  546-­‐547)    
The  story  illustrates  relation,  maybe  more  than  himma,  as  far  as  I  understand  it,  
though  I  like  the  idea  that  care  is  something  that  can  live  externally,  something  with  
its  own  vital  force.  I  like  the  suggestion  that  care  is  a  creative  act.  
After  the  tornado,  I  asked  my  dad’s  older  sister  to  tell  me  about  their  life  growing  up  
in  a  children’s  home  in  Lubbock.  He  never  talked  about  it  much,  and  the  only  stories  
he’d  told  when  he  was  alive  had  been  bleak,  about  abuse  and  abandonment,  
teachers  who  used  1x2’s  on  the  backs  of  the  heads  of  mouthy  students,  ditches  dug  
for  no  reason  and  refilled  as  punishment.  My  aunt  described  the  time,  not  long  after  
they’d  been  placed  in  the  home,  when  my  dad,  his  older  brother  and  two  friends  
plotted  to  run  away.  They  had  farm  duties,  though,  and  it  was  decided  between  
them  that  someone  would  have  to  stay  behind  to  care  for  a  pig  who’d  taken  sick.  
They  drew  straws,  and  my  father  stayed.  The  police  caught  everyone  else  not  far  
from  the  home,  and  they  were  brought  back  and  punished.    

That  someone  was  tasked  with  this  care,  despite  the  at-­‐that-­‐point-­‐dire  need  for  
escape,  and  that  it  precluded  escape.  The  givenness  of  that  relation,  in  the  face  of  the  
utter  failure  of  the  familial  one.  It’s  Creeley’s  phrase,  but  my  father  seems  from  a  
young  age  to  have  had  more  in  common  with  any  animal  than  with  those  animals,  
“the  so-­‐called  people.”  

Kurt Newman
For a Paranoid History, or, Bakersfield: Capital of the Twentieth Century
In an essay on Walter Benjamin, Samuel Weber notes that a certain word favored by
Benjamin––“Beziehungswahn,” a German synonym of “paranoia”—has some interesting
connotations that the English nosological vocabulary lacks. “Beziehungswahn” is made
up of two component words: “Beziehung,” meaning “relation,” and “Wahn,” meaning
So “paranoia” might be rendered a “madness of relation” wherein the paranoiac “gets
completely carried away in making links and connections.”
Presumably, Weber suggests, the madness lies in “never knowing where to stop.”
Manuel De Landa takes up the question of “delirium” in his fascinating and puzzling
book Deleuze: History and Science.
(W)e can give a more detailed treatment of the different levels of scale at which
social entities operate. We can assume that the smallest scale is that of persons,
but only as long as the subjectivity of each person is itself conceived as emerging
from the interactions between sub-personal components… More specifically, a
subject crystallizes in the mind through the habitual grouping of ideas via
relations of contiguity; their habitual comparison through relations of
resemblance; and the habitual perception of constant conjunction of cause and
effect that allows one idea (that of the cause) to always evoke another (the effect).
Perceived contiguity, causality, and resemblance, as relations of exteriority,
constitute the three principles of association that transform a mind into a subject.
Material components would include the routine mental labor performed to
assemble ideas into a whole, as well as the biological machinery of sensory
organs needed for the production of impressions. Habit itself would constitute the
main process of territorialization, that is, the process that gives a subject its
defining boundaries and maintains those boundaries through time. Habit performs
a synthesis of the present and the past in view of a possible future. This yields a
determinate duration for the lived present of the subject, a fusion of immediately
past and present moments, and generates a sense of anticipation, so that habitual
repetition of an action can be counted on to yield similar results in the future. A
process of deterritorialization, on the other hand, would be any process that takes
the subject back to the state it had prior to the creation of fixed associations
between ideas, that is, the state in which ideas are connected as in a delirium.1



Manuel De Landa, Deleuze: History and Science. New York: Atropos, 2010, 14-15.


To deterritorialize, then, would be to seek out a “madness of relations,” to induce a
delirium of “never knowing where to stop.” Might this not be a productive operation for
historians to pursue?
We who work on the history of the Left often find ourselves confronted with strange
failures of this “madness of relations.” The Left’s “madness” seems to lie in never
knowing where to start.
Consider one of the twentieth century’s most famous cases of failed recognition—
American leftists systematically “missing” the proletarian character of “film noir.”
As Robert Pippin writes:
The story of this designation is well known. After a long wartime period during
which no American movies could be shown in Paris, French critics were
astonished at what they saw when the films returned. They especially expressed
amazement at what had happened to the American gangster film or crime
melodrama or private-eye thriller, and some argued that the movies being
produced were qualitatively different, as if a new genre altogether, much darker
and stranger than those previously made. In 1946, the journalist Nino Frank
compared the films to the série noire novels and coined the name “film noir.”
Eventually Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton published a very influential
book in 1955, and the convention was firmly established: the Americans had been
making film noir, even though all during the classic period of the 1940s no one
had any idea that they were making such film noir.2
Why did it take the French to discover this exemplary form of the “proletarian
grotesque?” Why couldn’t most American radicals discern the political potency of these
movies, even though many of the producers of film noir had been card-carrying leftists
(some even went to jail over their political commitments)?
Those are questions for a different essay, although they guide us to the happily paranoid
reading we are pursuing here: a reading that insists that the music of Buck Owens and the
Buckaroos, of Bakersfield, California, was a pivotal achievement in the history of
American proletarian aesthetics. The event of “Bakersfield” conjured in Buck Owens and
the Buckaroos’ ritournelles reshaped the psycho-geography of American working class
culture—a miraculous series of coincidences of time and space that brought a large
cohort of the last generation of southern sharecroppers to Kern County at precisely the
moment that working class culture was both literally and figuratively electrified.

Robert B. Pippin, Fatalism in American Film Noir: Some Cinematic Philosophy. Charlottesville:
University of Virginia Press, 2012.



From a very negative review of a forgotten popular melodrama in Boston Weekly
Magazine in 1818:
Our modish writers… appear to be extravagantly fond of Aristotle’s maxim, that
“the marvelous is always delightful.” Accordingly a plot is made up in their hands
of a very ingenious snarl of perplexities, the unravelling of which constitutes the
great interest of the piece. These dramatic storytellers lead their readers into paths
well “puzzled with mazes,” and the argument consists in extricating their heroes
and heroines from what, in real life, would be unpoetically considered as
inextricable difficulties. Their fable is a labyrinth of delightful perplexities: and if
they succeed, by the imminent dangers of their situations, and the dexterity of
their “nick of time” escapes––to raising the reader’s curiosity to such a pitch of
intensity as to prevent any scrutinizing attention to the utter barrenness of the road
over which they hurry him––the design is answered.3
We wish to single out here the music of Buck Owens and the Buckaroos produced
between the late 1950s, when a shift from Western Swing-tinged honky-tonk music to the
distinctively baroque textures of the “Bakersfield Sound” becomes audible, to 1969,
when Owens assumed hosting duties on CBS’s Hee Haw.
Unlike the pastoral landscapes of the republican homesteader “heartland” so often
associated with country music, Owens’s Bakersfield is the site of buzzing, crowded,
sweaty ambiences. Owens’s music is a lyricism of “rented spaces” (to borrow Amy
Kaplan’s description of early twentieth century literary realism). Owens’s Bakersfield is
organized not around the factory’s clock, but rather around the aleatory time of wildcat
trucking and seasonal work.
Owens’s Bakersfield is a space that emerges after the momentous event described by
Jonathan Crary in his book 24/7—when capitalism decided that the world should be
awake twenty four hours a day. And thus gave birth to a whole new series of desires and
pleasures to be chased in neon rooms and in the sonic folds of Don Rich’s guitar and
Tom Brumley’s pedal steel.
To my ears this is straightforward, almost mundane. But the music of Buck Owens and
the Buckaroos in the 1960s is not heard this way. In fact, it is heard as just the opposite—
and will remain unheard as long as we refuse the “delirium of relations” that is required if
we are to know how to retrieve our repressed, collective memories of radical desire.

David Grimsted, Melodrama Unveiled: American Theater and Culture, 1800-1850. Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1968.



Just as the 1940s and 1950s intellectuals did not see “film noir” for what it was, so, too,
when the New Left looked around in the 1960s, they did not see that Bakersfield country
was in fact a fount of radical affect.
Left political observers in the Johnson Era wrote articles like “To the Nashville Station,”
as if the New Right’s ascent as vanguard party would naturally launch from the Grand
Ole Opry.
In different ways, historians have seen commercial country music as part of an insidious
“southernization” of American conservative politics. The last hopes for the Woody
Guthrie-ite southern songster as cultural leader, in this reading, was extinguished with
Merle Haggard’s turn to Nixonian politics with “Okie From Muskogee.”
This reading is, in almost every particular, imaginatively impoverished and politically
illogical. To put it another way—it is not nearly paranoid enough.
Alain Badiou calls such readings symptomatic of a deadly “didactic schema” for
interpreting art.4 Art, in this schema is supposed to teach: if one does not leave a concert
hall slightly less stupid than when one entered, the performance must register as a
political failure.
Art, as “semblance of truth” must be a “phenomenon either to be condemned or to be
strictly supervised.” Art, properly, “serves to verify a truth imposed from outside its own
practices.” “Acceptable art,” in this view, “must be subjected to the philosophical
surveillance of truths.”
More appealing, I think, is a properly “paranoid” schema.
I propose that we take advantage of a certain mystical coincidence.
Let us consider the overlap of two “Crystal Palaces,” separated by an ocean and more
than one hundred years. The first Crystal Palace is, of course, the Crystal Palace built in
London for the Great Exhibition of 1851, the glass phantasmagoria that announced the
arrival of full-fledged commodity culture and the society of the spectacle.
The second Crystal Palace is, of course, the Crystal Palace concert venue/tourist
attraction that Buck Owens opened in Bakersfield in 1996.
As Bruce Fink writes, building on Freud’s 1909 “Notes Upon A Case of Obsessional

Alain Badiou, and Alberto Toscano. Handbook of inaesthetics. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press,



Neurosis”: “Symptoms often disguise their meaning and origin by taking advantage of …
homonyms to form ‘verbal bridges’ between one idea and another that is seemingly
In the history of critical theory, the Great Exhibition’s Crystal Palace is perhaps most
famous as the central figure in Walter Benjamin’s analysis of the new public culture of
capitalism in “Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century.” What Benjamin is looking for,
always, are the “conditions of emergence” of a particular phenomenon: a Baudelaire
poem, the Paris arcades, the German Trauerspiel.
We will use, then, the convergence of these two Crystal Palaces to authorize an
application of Benjamin’s interpretive strategy vis-à-vis the cultural consequences of
French capitalism to a close reading of the “conditions of emergence” of Buck Owens
and the Buckaroos in Bakersfield, California in the 1960s.
To understand the “conditions of emergence” of Buck Owens’s Bakersfield, we need to
do some deep background work— we need to wager, that is, that there might be some
deep link between a preference for singing a ballad a certain way, the joy of plucking a
low string of an electric guitar so that it vibrates in such a way as to go slightly sharp
before returning to pitch (and thus conjuring “twang”), or the pleasures of certain kinds
of machinic co-relations among members of a country band, on the one hand; and what
we would usually call “politics,” on the other.
As historians, what we are listening for is the aural equivalent of the “dialectical image,”
described by Benjamin as “the appearance of dialectic at a standstill.”
Via the dialectical image, Benjamin writes, every epoch “not only dreams the one to
follow but, in dreaming, precipitates its awakening.”
Benjamin emphasizes that novelty “spurs the creation of dialectical images.”
“For the first time in the history of architecture,” Benjamin writes of the Paris arcades
(using the formula—“for the first time”––that recurs, over and over, in the essay) “an
artificial building material appears: iron.”
Benjamin’s meditation on “newness” is particularly apposite given the centrality of
newness (new kinds of instruments, new forms of recording and distributing music, the
transition, however incomplete, from black and white to full color printing, film, and
television) in the music of Buck Owens.


Bruce Fink, Fundamentals of Psychoanalytic Technique: A Lacanian Approach for Practitioners. New
York: W.W. Norton, 2007, 98. 1909 was the year of Freud’s visit to the United States.



It is via “dialectical images” that we discern the arrival of the event. “Dialectical images”
also call attention to the constructedness of naturalized social formations, and thereby
open up space for imagining new kinds of relations.
We might think of Buck Owens’s “My Heart Skips A Beat”—structured around a literal
“skipped beat” drum figure– as providing a particularly elegant example of a “dialectical
image.” The image of the heart skipping a beat calls to mind these observations of Fredric
Jameson on the dialectic:
[Dialectical thinking is] an intensification of the normal thought process… There
is a breathlessness about this shift from the normal object-oriented activity of the
mind to such dialectical self-consciousness—something of the sickening shudder
we feel in an elevator’s fall or in a sudden dip in an airliner… The shock indeed is
basic, and constitutive of the dialectic as such: without this transformational
moment, without this initial conscious transcendence of an older, more naïve
position, there can be no question of any genuine dialectical coming to
Benjamin emphasizes ephemerality: it is no surprise that the most important initiatives
are often those that burn out the fastest.
This leads us to Benjamin’s recovery of failed and transitional forms in Paris––feuilletons
that would be replaced by novels and newspapers, and panoramas that would not survive
the birth of cinema––as a model for a radical kind of historical hermeneutics.
Benjamin’s notes on these ephemeral forms help us to conceive of how we might listen
for the radical strains of Bakersfield country music in the 1960s, even as the braying
donkeys and wooden clog dancing of Hee Haw threaten to retroactively drown out
Owens’s urgent yelps, the magnificent twanging of Don Rich’s telecaster, or the snaking
melodies that streamed out of Tom Brumley’s pedal steel guitar.
Bakersfield is an agriculture and oil town. Beginning with the World War II era, federal
highway construction was to become especially significant in the formation of
Bakersfield’s identity. The town assumed a central place on an automotive circuit
populated by various nomads: truckers both legal and wildcat, bachelors and families
moving frequently from job to job (an indicator of increasing working-class power in a
full-employment economy), and entertainers making a living via an endless string of onenighters.
For Buck Owens’ particular poetics of space, this nomadic movement and automobility is
foundational. Owens sings frequently of driving, often from the perspective of the
professional motorist; love, desire, and infidelity are often staged within the liminal world

Fredric Jameson, Marxism and Form; Twentieth-Century Dialectical Theories of Literature. Princeton,
N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1972, 307-08.



of temporary attachments and fleeting passions of the road. Cars and trucks of the time
were loud, humming with unmuted motors and suffused with the smell of smoke and
gasoline; speed limits were high or nonexistent and were honored more in the breach, in
any case (according to legend, Buck Owens drove as fast as possible at all times, leading
his musicians to attach a gizmo to their van’s motor that would disallow travel at speeds
faster than 82 mph).
Driving for a living, staying awake on a steady diet of coffee and uppers (this was
certainly the case with most of the Buckaroos, although Buck Owens himself apparently
disliked stimulants): musical artists who spend their days and nights this way might be
expected to channel the sensations of the road into sound, and this must explain at least
some of the stimulus to the Bakersfield musicians’ pursuit of speed and volume.
Finally, the state’s sponsorship of car culture facilitated the traffic between Bakersfield
and the West Coast’s culture industry hub, Los Angeles. In the early 1950s, Capitol
Records began to treat Bakersfield as a farm team for its country division. Gene Autry’s
TV show Melody Ranch and the Compton-based Town Hall Party often featured
Bakersfield talent like Roy Maphis, Ferlin Husky, Billy Mize, and Tommy Collins.
The LA-Bakersfield circuit also explains how LA-based country musician Wynn Stewart
and his pedal steel guitarist Ralph Mooney could “invent” the “Bakersfield sound” while
living in southern California. To a significant degree, cheap gas and highways meant that
LA and Bakersfield were, for a time (however paradoxically), the same place.
The ecological disaster of the Dust Bowl drove hundreds of thousands of displaced Okies
and southerners, like the Owens family, to the Bakersfield area (between 1935 and 1940,
upwards of 70,000 migrants made their way to the San Joaquin Valley).
But without the federal relief infrastructure, the Farm Security Administration camps, and
the massive highway construction initiatives coincident with the arrival of the defense
industry in California, the musical culture of Bakersfield would never have consolidated
in the first place.
Visitors to the federally funded work camps of Kern County noticed that music was an
especially vital part of the ad hoc migrant communities––despised by locals and exploited
by anti-union employers––that formed in the San Joaquin Valley. Library of Congress
Archive of American Folk Song researchers Charles Todd and Robert Sonkin reported
from the Bakersfield area in the late 1930s: the camps, they noted, were filled with “oldtime country music.”7
With the arrival of World War II, this traditionalist culture morphed into a commercial
honky-tonk one: as communities like Little Okie and Oildale began to gain permanence,

Scott Bomar, “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and Loud, Loud Music: The Story of the Bakersfield Sound,”



clubs like Bateman’s, Ma Scott’s, and the Chicken Coop sprung up, complementing
longer-established Western Swing-oriented dance venues like the Barn on Stine Road.
Texas musician laureate Bob Wills began a weekly stint at Beardsley Ballroom in 1946.
New clubs were built along Edison Highway: The Clover Club, the Lucky Spot, and the
Sad Sack. During the 1950s, the most important venue was the Blackboard Café, hosted
by Bill Woods (with Buck Owens on guitar): “the loudest, liveliest, smokiest, and, some
say, the most dangerous club” with frequent fights, shooting and stabbing, and several
Country music is a mestizo form that nevertheless often serves as a metonym for “white
music.” Without question, the culture of Bakersfield country was articulated to a certain
normative whiteness. But there was always, as always with American popular music,
promiscuous cross-cultural syncretism and borrowing. Bill Woods, a popular Bakersfield
musician with whom Owens served an apprenticeship, learned music in Texas migrant
labor camps from Mexican sharecroppers. Buckaroos guitarist Don Rich often seemed to
be channeling blues guitarists like Muddy Waters and Earl King. In the 1950s, young
Buck Owens often went shopping for R&B records at “a kind of black record store on
California Avenue,” according to Bakersfield veteran Don Markham, while trying to
formulate his aesthetic agenda. At one point, in fact, Owens described his style as a
“mixture of Bob Wills and Little Richard.”
Walter Benjamin writes endlessly about iron. Why is Benjamin so interested in iron? The
most profound motivation, it seems, is that iron is the first artificial construction material.
Iron is “untimely”—in Paris of the 1850s, it is a material from the future: too futuristic, in
fact, to be properly understood by its earliest adopter. Iron’s essence is functionality and
engineerability. The destiny of iron is the bridge and skyscraper, not the faux-Hellenic
structures of midcentury Europe. This living contradiction–– the Grecian column cast in
iron, for example––serves, then, as a particularly potent “dialectical image.”
It is not difficult to see the parallels with Bakersfield country music, which hinges not
just on the arrival of new instruments and new recording technologies, but also on the
dissonance between those materials and the purposes to which they are put.
Importantly, the introduction of electricity and drums to country music was not just a
question of playing traditional music on more technologically evolved instruments. In
this sense, the ban on drums at the Grand Ole Opry until well into the 1960s, and the
strict control of volume and timbre of electric instruments at the Ryman Auditorium was
not just aesthetic backwardness. The arbiters of traditionalism in Nashville understood
that the preservation of “country music” required such control at the level of
This perhaps also explains why Owens always maintained an arms-length, if not hostile
relation to the Grand Ole Opry and Nashville, attempting to create a rival organization in
Bakersfield in the 1960s, and crafting a pledge of allegiance to country music published
in 1966 in Nashville’s Music City News:



I Shall Sing No Song That Is Not A Country Song. I Shall Make No Record That
Is Not A Country Record. I Refuse To Be Known As Anything But A Country
Singer. I am Proud To Be Associated With Country Music. Country Music And
Country Music Fans Made Me What I Am Today. And I Shall Not Forget It.
This, despite the fact that it was Owens and the Buckaroos who––at least to the untrained
ear––were creating powerfully un-traditional country music. I think Owens was sincere
when he drafted the pledge. He was correct–his music was more faithful to the values of
“country music” than the records being released at the time by the Nashville
What this means, however, is that we must grapple with the question of Bakersfield
country’s characteristic gesture of maintaining fidelity to tradition by demonstrating
marked infidelity to tradition.
The invention of these new instruments was provoked by the new social circumstances of
the postwar honky-tonk (loud, smoky, riddled with aggression and sometimes violence)
and the imperative to craft a kind of music sympathetic with this affective environment.
The use of these instruments required innovation and experimentation, discovery in the
direction of their fundamental nature and capacities. What the music of Buck Owens and
the Buckaroos of the 1960s represents is exactly the sort of transitional aesthetic
movement that Benjamin is seeking to capture with the idea of the “dialectical image.”
A photograph: Buck Owens and the Buckaroos perform on television in the mid-1960s.
The set is made to look like Owens’s Bakersfield ranch, although it is a reconstruction in
a New Mexico studio. It is a color image, from a color broadcast. Recall that it was only
in 1965 that television underwent a “color transition” (with networks switching to
majority color programming). The popular GE Porta-Color was introduced in 1966. This
is a photograph suffused with newness.
The mise en scène, the instruments, the uniforms, and the Buckaroos’ particular approach
to orchestration and arrangement: all of this speaks to what Zora Neale Hurston called the
“will-to-adorn,” the almost compulsive drive to ornamentation so common across
proletarian art forms.
The Buckaroos’ instruments are all comparatively recent inventions: the drum kit dates
back to the 1930s, the Fender bass, Telecaster, and amplifiers are products of the 1950s
(with the silver-sparkle grilles and instrument finishes telegraphing a space-age futurism).
Tom Brumley’s modern, Nashville E9 pedal steel guitar is an innovation of the early
Even the comparatively small size of the band spoke to historical exigencies. The
musicians who began to move to Bakersfield in the 1940s were primarily Western Swing



aficionados from Texas and Arkansas (like Owens himself). The Western Swing band is
a huge, sprawling orchestra, with “twinned” fiddles and horns to ensure a sound loud
enough to project in large dancehalls. Bakersfield musicians thus welcomed the invention
of electrical instruments as a means to the end of performing in smaller ensembles. This
was at once an aesthetic and an economic lure (the smaller the group, the more money for
each group member). It meant that smaller dives, which could not accommodate nor
afford a full Western Swing orchestra, could be turned into live-music venues. As a
consequence, Bakersfield country came to embody a series of unique aesthetic values: a
certain sonic individuality and differentiation, a sparser sound with more “air,” and a
greater audibility of the gestural figuration that in classical rhetoric is called “deixis”
(pointing functions, as in a guitar passage that leads to a new section of a song, or a drum
fill that tilts towards the end of a solo).
Though the image is static, the video that recorded the performance is extant: it reveals
that the performance is not in fact live. The Buckaroos mime a performance of a
prerecorded track (which takes advantage of the crisp sonic separation allowed by other
comparatively recent innovations, stereo multitrack recording and the introduction of the
Westrex single-groove stereophonic record cutterhead).
The Buckaroos wear matching, tailored, outfits, crafted either by Nudie Cohn or Nathan
Turk, the visionary Jewish “rodeo tailors” who came to California from the Pale of
Settlement and created the visual language of country music couture out of extravagant
needlework, rhinestones, and loud, colored fabrics and memories of Buffalo Bill Cody
and the traje de luces worn by traditional bullfighters. Cohn and Turk called the sequins
that they sewed onto the suits of performers like the Buckaroos “schmaltz” (Yiddish for
Along with Cohn and Turk, California in the early 1960s was home to a variety of other
innovators in the field of visual bling, particularly in the world of hot rods and “kustom
kars”: new experiments with resins, lacquers, and the incorporation of metal flakes into
industrial paint. In the corridors of high art this initiative would provide the inspiration
for a group of artists known as the “Finish Fetish” school.
The shimmering suits and sparkling finishes of the instruments crackle synaesthetically
with the treble-y, sharp, highly focused sound produced by the group. It is hard to
understand how this extraordinary synthesis was not apprehended then—and that it is not
apprehended now—as the dialectical “flash” for which Benjamin would have us ever be
on alert.
In Nixonland, Rick Perlstein writes:
A memo by Kevin Phillips was making the rounds: “Middle America and the
Emerging Republican Majority”… the language was new, but the theory was as
old as the crusade against Alger Hiss: elections were won by focusing people’s
resentments. The New Deal coalition rose by directing people’s resentments of



economic elites, Phillips argued. But the new hated elite… was cultural—the
“toryhood of change,” condescending and self-serving liberals “who make their
money out of plans, ideas, communication, social upheaval, happenings,
excitement” at the psychic expense of “the great, ordinary, Lawrence Welkish
mass of Americans from Maine to Hawaii.”8
The “silent majority,” then—for Phillips at least––was not composed of the public that
Buck Owens and the Buckaroos were calling into being in the mid-1960s. It was instead a
“great, ordinary, Lawrence Welkish mass.”
The response of musicians like Buck Owens—who was quickly losing his connection to
Bakersfield’s proletarian culture—was to become Lawrence Welk. Hee Haw, launched in
1969 by CBS, forcefully defanged what remained radical in the musical initiative of the
last generation of sharecroppers in the 1960s.
Ironically, Owens’s turn to Hee Haw came at precisely the moment that the work of the
Bakersfield country faithful to erect an alternative to the increasingly toothless country
being produced in Nashville (an accelerating trend of producers removing pedal steels,
twangy guitars, and fiddles, ostensibly in response to the complaints of the new FM
“format” radio station DJs) seemed to be on the verge of paying off.
California country rock was deeply Bakersfield-influenced, leading to renewed interest
among countercultural music fans in the roots of the sounds that were being channeled by
The Byrds, the Grateful Dead, and New Riders of the Purple Sage. Media reports
suggested that Bakersfield was mounting a serious challenge to Music City: in the 1970s,
the San Joaquin Valley played host to the Country Music Awards; Bakersfield boosters
promised that within ten years, Chester Avenue would be “Music Row West.”
Declension narratives are no fun: I have no interest in charting why this or that didn’t
happen. The point remains the one with which we began: that we should experiment with
a certain paranoia, a “Beziehungswahn”—a madness of making connections. This, it
seems to me, is also what Buck Owens and the Buckaroos were doing in that moment in
the 1960s, in their articulation of aural “wish images.”
In which, as Benjamin observes “the collective seeks both to overcome and to transform
the immaturity of the social product and the inadequacies in the social organization of
production… what emerges in these wish images is the resolute effort to distance oneself
from all that is antiquated,” which includes also, somehow, “the recent past.”9  

Rick Perlstein, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. New York: Scribner,
2008, 277.

Walter Benjamin, and Michael William Jennings. The writer of modern life: essays on Charles
Baudelaire. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2006, 97-98.