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J H Prnne's Truth: an initial recce.

The small Al-Dente collation was published in 2014 and comprises the last part of the third edition of the Bloodaxe Collected which was published last year. I provided a brief survey of possible connections across the eight poems but now, some 12 months later, I don't think that this is going to get me very far. So, this is going to concentrate on the first four lines of Truth:

In the previous ruminations, I fixed on the 'sky' aspects of the above with not much success, now I'd like to start with the title before moving on to the first line. Truth is the ongoing subject of warfare between positivists and relativists. My reading of Prynne is that he's in the first camp and therefore is convinced that the are some objective, non-negotiable facts that indicate how Things Really Are. Of course, my reading might be entirely wrong and he may be one of those who are much more sceptical about the notion of such a truth. This may or may not need to be kept in mind with regard to what follows.


In general known by a quartz vein predicted
as synapse of permission cause to find. Yours
in readiness ever parlance run swiftly forward,
to this address the bright margin view. How
not yet did you clasp our sheer furrow, flex
joined instinct tendon advisor, more careful
joy turned even now in new stitch. Be still
furnish as to rove through, through it is
the first cause, this now into continuance
Saying your proverb by mouth open previous.
Who can say give over, the night arriving as
it will by cloud cover as often so needed
for a visage. Expression held in for in half
promise flooded over, no sun so alone more
to fill, find out more for staff simple to see.

As usual what follows is both tentative and provisional, I have no special knowledge and have made Prynne-related errors in the past. What I can say is that it is an honest account of the exercise of attention.

I'm delighted to report that the first two lines are, on the surface at least, fairly straightforward. Quartz veins carry small particles of gold and in the 19th century quartz reef mining was a popular of getting gold out of the ground. So, prospectors would be looking for these veins as an indication of the presence of gold. In terms of the title, 'ground truthing' is a term used in archaeology and geology whereby the ground is dug/penetrated to discover the accuracy of what's been indicated by various forms of geophysics. I'm reading the second line to be 'about' the corporate mining practice of identifying sites that might bear gold and then apply for a licence from the landowners in order to undertake more detailed prospection (truthing).

A synapse is most commonly used to indicate the gap between any two brain cells although initially a synapse was any king of junction. This is where things might get a little complicated- this junction of permission might simply refer to the meeting or relationship between landowner and prospector or something more complex about a number of competing spheres of interest. Briefly, these would appear to be the legal and commercial being involved in a conversation and consequent deal over property rights.

We know next to nothing about how the brain works but current guesses indicate that the synaptic gaps enable brain communication and function by carrying electro-chemical 'messages' from one cell to another. Its use here may therefore designate something that is both fundamental and essential.

The third line has 'parlance' which provides a number of intricate possibilities. The OED provides these definitions:

To 'parley' caught my eye as the sort of oblique word game that Prynne is prone to playing so I've delved around a bit more. The Oed provides:

This would all seem to fit nicely with the ideas of negotiation and protest in the tawdry business of mineral extraction. All over the world people who live on the land, those that own the land and those corporations that want what's beneath the land all get into battles with each other and with the state. Obama's recent rejection of the further development of the Keystone pipeline and the reaction that this has caused is a recent example of the kind of kerfuffle that environmental disputes can instigate.

We now come to the dangers of over-reading especially with regard to 'difficult' work. Ambiguity, the art of saying many things at once, can lead to all kinds of Enthusiastic Error. This is usually because the attentive reader (me) awards him or herself the freedom to follow personal interests and predilections. Prynne is second only to the radically ambiguous Paul Celan in encouraging this kind of readerly folly. This next supposition is presented mainly because it fits with my view of Prynne's main political concerns and his delight in language.

Whilst casting around for other variations, I came across 'parlay';

A cumulative series of bets, usually on a series of horse races, in which winnings accruing from each transaction are used as a stake for a further bet.

At the time of writing this, the global mining corporations have all had to radically reduce their workforce and to close down mines. This, pundits will tell you, is because China is no longer booming and has a much reduced need for commodities. The armchair anarchist (me) will also point out that the above kind of series always leads to this kind of crash because that's how capital 'works'. Being an old-fashioned leftie in matters economic, Prynne's work has always condemned what he may see as the most pernicious and absurd elements of the financial world. Some of the poms in The Oval Window sequence are particularly vituperative on this whilst A Note on Metal has:

The Sumerian settlement was founded on the innovations of metallurgy, and these abstractions of substance were in turn the basis for a politics of wealth: the concentration of theoretic power by iconic displacement of substance.

I think it's reasonable to suggest that Prynne still considers 'the politics of wealth' to be a Bad Thing, which brings us, almost too neatly, back to truth. Here there are a number of possibilities:

  1. if "In general" runs on from the title then we might have "The truth, in general is like the quartz vein which....";
  2. truth is akin to the pieces of gold that may be concealed by the vein;
  3. the truth as to the workings of capital and / or the wealth economy is contained within and hidden by the solidity of the vein;
  4. truth can be brought to light if certain procedures and negotiations are performed.

I said at the beginning that all of the above are tentative and provisional and I hold on to the right to change my mind at any time. There is, however, something intellectually satisfying about paying close attention to this material. I've observed in the past that the work requires an entirely different mode of thought rather than a tweak of readerly perspective. We have in these first few lines a wide range of statements and consideration of quite fundamental stuff, from objective truth to the workings of the world-wide money-go-round with aspects of geology and archaeology thrown in for good measure.

I'm cautious the increasing avid dig into Prynne, at least initially but the brain won't let me leave either 'cause to find' or 'run softly forward' alone. Cause has many many different meanings and considerations. The most obvious use of the verb is to make something happen, the discovery of a mineral beneath the ground is caused by the various forms of prospection. However, the OED also has these:

The first of these rightly endows this particular cause with a degree of violence or, at least, the suggestion of violence involved in both prospection and the extraction of minerals whether this is by environmental degradation or the damage done to those unfortunate enough to live abovethe mineral bearing ground. For many years that the death toll in the DRC conflict(s) that the death toll has always increased in step with the price of copper. The body politic of any state is often corrupted and perverted by the finding of minerals and other commodities within its territories.

The second definition has a number of connotations and implications that I'm not clever enough to work out but 'first cause' did spring to mind on my first read-through. We may here be talking about first cause as the above mentioned "innovations of metallurgy' with the final cause being the sorry mess we are in today, still stuck in the vagaries of a wealth economy.

the third may have something to do with parlance, then again it may not.

Cast is an altogether different matter. As a noun its most common usage refers to something into which something liquid, e.g. hot metal, is poured in order to form an object. Another definition is "a contrivance, device, artifice, trick" which neatly sums up capital's ability to deceive us into believing that the free market is the only way by which the human race can function.

Cast as a verb has "to throw up with a spade or shovel" and "To dig or clear out (a ditch or the like), throwing the soil up on the edges", both of which appear to fit with prospection and/or mining.

Moving along, there appears to be some letter writing going on which needs some consideration, "Yours in readiness" could be the line at the end of a letter and letters need to be sent to an address. Without wishing to get things too tidy, The birth of the wealth economy was the subject of correspondence between Prynne and Peter Riley which was published in the English Intelligencer.

"In readiness" is an unusual way to end a letter but there is, perhaps, some indication as to what the writer may be ready to do. If we're ready then we are prepared to do something or react in response to a given event. The phrase "in readiness ever parlance" might be ready as being always ready to parley, in the sense of being ready to discuss an armistice or make peace with the enemy.

As a brief digression, there is a bit of Wordsworth in this, isn't there? I'll freely confess that I have not read anything by WW except for The Solitary Reaper and what Prynne has to say about it, with great eloquence and at length, in his Field Notes but it does strike my virgin ear that terms like 'in readiness ever', 'run softly forward' and 'did you clasp' might be the sorts of phrase deployed in Lyrical Ballads. Now this may be a tendency, feature, facet that I hadn't noticed before and I may be completely wrong, as I often am, but it strikes me now.

I'm inclined to take 'run softly forward' at face value and to apply it to a stream or river rather than a person or something abstract (time, progress, life etc) but I'll probably need to return to this in a big way on my second or third meaning. It 'feels' like a quote and an inspired guess leads me to the big novel And Quiet Flows the Don by Sholokhov. As I recall there is some kerfuffle about provenance so I'll return to it once get to line 15 or thereabouts. If this alludes to a river or stream then my geography lessons at school told me something like such bodies of water caused both erosion and sometimes modified the landscape. I have no idea as to the effects of a slow moving river as compared with those of a quick one but it is worth bearing in mind.

On an equally unobscure level, an address can also be a speech, to address is to speak to one or many individuals and to indicate the destination of an item - to address a letter or parcel. There's also the subject being dealt with either verbally or in writing- addressing the race problem for example. A little more out of the way gives us address as guidance aid and to give guidance and aid which casts a different light on the bright margin view.

With regards to those last three words, I'm taking them as an optimistic or hopeful prospect of the profit margin to be achieved by a particular mining venture. During the noughties commodity prices were more than buoyant and the discovery of ores beneath the ground automatically raised the value of any company, large or small, further optimistic reports following some ground truthing would boost the price even further thus contributing to Prynne's 'wealth economy'.

Looking at the rest of the poem, the above guesswork may be difficult to maintain and may need to be cast aside but I am looking forward to see where this might go.