17 Jul 2011

Intensity and the Set in Clifford Duffy's "Set theory"

review of Duffy's work, by
Corry Shores
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Intensity and the Set in Clifford Duffy's "Set theory"

What does set theory have to do with poetry? Consider Clifford Duffy's work, "Set theory" at The Fictions of Deleuze and Guattari: A Fictional Poetic Biography: Clifford Duffy.

The body of the entry is completely contracted between the title and closing, as if squashed down to a thin sliver.

But Duffy is a poet of intensity, and that includes intensity in the sense of intension.

A word can have a meaning in the sense of a referent in a set. So 'chair' refers to the set of all chairs. This meaning ranges over the set, extending into it, and the set itself is an extensive list. Here we are understanding meaning in extensional terms. Even if there is only one item in the set, it still can be thought as extending into that item. So the word 'Oedipus' extends into one item in the set, Oedipus himself. And we commit no crime against meaning to say "Oedipus is Oedipus". He was the son of Jocasta, so we are also safe to say "Oedipus is the son of Jocasta." Now recall how Oedipus accidentally married his mother. So we are also right to say, "Oedipus is the husband of Jocasta". In all three cases, 'Oedipus', 'son of Jocasta', and 'husband of Jocasta' extend into the one item in the set. So should we not be able to safely say, "The son of Jocasta is the husband of Jocasta"? Extensionally speaking, this is the same as saying "Oedipus is Oedipus". But doesn't something feel different between "Oedipus is Oedipus" and "The son of Jocasta is the husband of Jocasta"? In both cases, they extend into the same meaning. But they do not seem to intend into the same meaning. They each want to say something different. So there is an essential level of meaning which cannot be explicit in the extensional sense. It remains implicit in the intensional sense. It is an intensity because it is like an implicit force of meaning. It wants to say something, but this is more like a direction of meaning, a little like how a ball spinning on a rope always wants to fly off in a straight line, but instead continually moves circularly. When we compare "
Oedipus is Oedipus" and "The son of Jocasta is the husband of Jocasta", we might not be able to explicate the difference between their possible interpretations, but we can feel that each one wants to head-off in a different direction in how we receive their meanings.

If when reading Duffy we do not decipher an explicit meaning, do we really feel at a loss? Does he not communicate on an implicit and intensive level, for example, through direct affections and implicit bifurcations?

There is no text extending in his 'Set theory' piece. I would not even say it is an 'empty set', because Duffy is perfectly capable of using html script to create blank space in his posts. Intensional meaning is not a matter of an empty set; it is a contraction of the set into something infinitely narrow, extensionally speaking, but infinitely deep intensionally speaking. Perhaps a set theoretical sort of look at Duffy's works would be concerned with the contractions to points of non-extensional intensity, like his double comma innovation. We see

o ,, n
in his 'remand'. What we might ask is, in what way does the double comma place affective action on the rest of the text in such a way as to disrupt the extensions of the words around it, to shake them up and create new diagonal connections and ruptures between the words on the page? And in what manner is it an intensity that rips into the text and tries to make it twist and turn in new directions of development and potential interpretation? How does it act like a 'diagram' in the sense of serving mechanically to point out divergent paths for exploring the text? An intensional diagram does not 'map' onto a set of referenced objects; rather, it maps in the active sense of laying out the territories for meaning-paths. In a way, it is a 'dark precursor' that like branching lightning flashes out all the ways meaning can explode and fly out in lines of escape to new domains of meaning.

To explore this concept of a pre-explicative sign, consider if we feel pain in our back for example. It is perfectly valid to interpret that as a sign that we misused our bodies, perhaps from over or under use. Or, we could also interpret it as a sign that better care is in order. Both are equally valid interpretations. P
ain can be a source of vitality, especially if it motivates our survival responses to take up healthier behavior. The pain is an affective sign that in its immediacy is only intensive in its meaning. It cannot be denied as an affection, and it cannot be denied it is meaningful, but it can be questioned as to what it means, or we might otherwise say, how its intensities may be creatively explicated. Perhaps that's something interesting about this. We might think of the intensional intensity of the back pain to be a sort of pulsation of virtual interpretations. One of the ways I think Duffy's works succeed is with the richness of the virtuality of his meaning, and I think this has a lot to do with how the intensities, we might say the differentials, bounce forces throughout the work and continue shaking up its meanings. His continually differing combinatorics in cărbune [reviewed here] place parts of the text in continuously altering differential relations of co-appearance. Marvel at the mechanics at the original location; but here if I may is just a little piece of the highly innovative and ingenious poetry machine that Duffy built. It is really something from the future of writing.


SmiLe SmILe SmiLE
Bridging lip over sea b air this song





[The above is a gear or two from Clifford Duffy's cărbune. See it there!]
They are the same parts, but never the same relations, and hence never the same intensional implications. What we have are continuous variations of intensive implicit intensionality, a drama of meaning-forces. A good work of literature we can read and reread, and each time get something new from it. This could be because it has nodes of intensity, like highly moving and dramatic scenes, which affect us profoundly, but in ways we are never fully able to grasp, yet each time we are able to say a little more about it. Also, other parts of the story we might not first appreciate, but on further readings find very intense. These scenes are not empty sets. They are set intensities. They are the intensive combustion engines that keep ejecting forces into the extension-sets of meaning to further fill them and shake-up their contents.

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