Welish: Kenneth Baker Article


The Annotated “Here” and Selected Poems

“Mind: The Gap” by Kenneth Baker

Not merely spatial or physical discontinuities, not merely gaps in time, observation or memory, but the uncharted first between things and events and the language with which we try to corral them, befriend them, bring them close. (One philosopher has argued recently that the mark of the mind is what quantum physics calls non-locality: i.e., that the mind does not inhabit space. On purely intuitive grounds, I couldn’t agree more.)

Words themselves, as Welish deploys them in poetic structures, display the fact that the mesh they form is really a tangle, and almost all holes. Functioning as a critic, Welish is forced to pretend otherwise, as are we all, if we wish to get through the day without collapsing into Wittgensteinian solipsism. But secretly we know that ordinary life in society is a vast conspiracy to pretend that the common world is more solids than voids and that we can magically re-pattern the way things strand existentially, even metaphysically, by the incantatory powers of word and syntax. “Exterior dimensions invariable/ interior dimensions unthinkable./ Exterior dimensions invariable/ interiors variably thinkable,” as Welish puts it, with admirable avoidance of reference.

We are forever checking the world against our versions of it, meanwhile checking one version against another, until inevitably we lose ourselves in the shuffle. Helplessly finding ourselves in the shuffle—finding ourselves finally to be nowhere else—is a recurrent theme of Welish’s work as I read it.

That is one reason she favors diptychs, I believe, because even if completed, or abandoned, as artifacts, they can never be exhausted as objects of interpretive consumption. Not because they are inherently involving as a format, but because they enforce a process of cross-checking. Looking from side to side of a diptych such as Small Higher Valley 6, we expect one side somehow to account for the other—perhaps by a quote, and excerpt, and expanded detail, a retraction, redaction, a contradiction. But as her poetry postpones conclusive readings, even of its component fragments, most of her diptych paintings postpone or preclude discovery of an equation that might resolve the two sides’ relationship. Once begun, the search for explanatory reciprocity in principle (setting aside practice) never ends.

–Kenneth Baker, Of the Diagram: The work of Marjorie Welish, Slought Foundation


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