Dear temperamental adjective

ORIGIN late Middle English: from Latin temperamentum ‘correct mixture,’ from temperare ‘mingle.’ In early use the word was synonymous with the noun temper.

What makes writing temperamental – the correct mixture or have the right kind of social or linguistic skills that allow it to effectively mingle and communicate?

I like the ring this question has with this quote that introduces Louis Zukofsky’s Little, ‘Where coincidences intend no harm’.

I have been reading Alan Brunton’s collection fq, which is at times lucidly evocative, ‘imagining brothers and sisters, material worlds inside,’ and is host to a cast of characters and a vague sense of plot, plotting with and against them, through 132 poems.

There is also a range of formal arrangements, with some of my favorite stanzas dripping down the page, offering a kind of unconscious leak to spring up, or a slow thought to be stretched and vanish.

It is ugly but temperamentally so, there is a sense of ‘correct mixture’ passing through a host of minds, jammed into conversations, hunted and distracted.

Richard Powers suggests that ‘what’s seen (through the looker/character) reflects the lookers inner values,’ – this is a good principle. It also needs to extend to how its limitations could easily iron out the way characters, like writers too perhaps, absorb and dismiss their own principles, when they lead themselves by questions of value and perception – not entirely located in their body proper, but tangential, temperamental, seeing by mixing and going missing.

Alan Brunton goes missing a lot, his voice gets mixed up with his characters, his characters get mixed up in the plot, the plot gets mixed up in formal drips and avalanches, the landscape is full of obstacles and light.

I’m trying to write by incorporating ‘mixture’, a sort of atmospheric temperament through the language that persists or insists on sinking piles through thought, opening and closing the latches on life. It is a dance between the general inner value and the particular coincidences perhaps that linger there, and a bit of the reverse:

This is an example of general, well meaning, fumbling of the particular:

“What is an adjective? Nouns name the world. Verbs activate the names. Adjectives come from somewhere else. The word adjective (epitheton in Greek) is itself and adjective meaning ‘places on top,’ ‘added,’ ‘appended,’ ‘imported,’ foreign.’ Adjectives seem fairly innocent additions but look again. These small imported mechanisms are in charge of attaching everything in the world to its place in particularity. They are the latches of being.”

– Anne Carson
Autobiography of Red


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