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    Review of:
    Clayton Eshleman, Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination and the Construction of the Underworld. Middleton, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2003.

  1. Section five of Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy ends with a curious figure, a "weird image from a fairy tale which can turn its eyes at will and behold itself [...] at once subject and object, at once poet, actor, and spectator" (52). The figure weds Dionysus and Apollo as Nietzsche conceives them. The Dionysian musician surrenders his subjectivity by sinking into identification with the primal unity of the world in all its pain and contradiction. But the Apollonian dream conjures images--symbols, metaphors--from this identification: "Then the Dionysian-musical enchantment of the sleeper seems to emit image sparks, lyrical poems" (50). Nietzsche distinguishes the lyric poet from the epic poet, who is nevertheless related to him, with the fact that while the epic poet loses him or herself in the pure contemplation of images, as in the relentless unfurling of poetic language, the lyric poet loses him or herself in the pain and contradiction of the world; lyric images, charged with meaning, burst with the brevity of sparks. Through the "mirror of illusion" that is poetic language, the epic poet is "protected from becoming one and fused with his figures. In contrast to this, the images of the lyrist are nothing but his very self and, as it were, only different projections of himself, so he, as the moving center of this world, may say 'I'" (50). Unprotected, the lyric poet becomes fused with the world and with his or her images. The hybrid figure of Nietzsche's imagining--at once poet, actor, and spectator--is such a lyrist: a poet in the world, a performer of flesh and blood, and an observer, conscious of himself in his turns.

  2. In Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination and the Construction of the Underworld, Clayton Eshleman cuts just such a figure. Three distinct, but intersecting and overlapping, areas of interest animate the text. The book is at once a book of poetry, a poet's autobiography, a memoir of his life in and life reflected in prehistoric painted caves, and an extended scholarly engagement with the anthropology of prehistory. At its best, and most complex, Eshleman challenges academic anthropology with the test of his own experience and the imagination of a visionary poet. "Instead of solely employing rational documentation (as have the archeologists), it struck me that this 'inseparable mix' might be approached using poetic imagination as well as through fieldwork and research" (xv). Eshleman's method, then, is not one but many. It is a gesture of what he calls disciplinary pluralism (xii). In this way, significantly and occasionally disastrously, among its other pleasures, Juniper Fuse offers a test case for reflections on interdisciplinarity as well as for the limits and uses of each of the disciplines involved. Readers are challenged to follow him, and this is no easy task.
  3. Eshleman's subject is not cave painting per se but rather the imagination that is recorded in cave wall imagery (xi). Because he tracks this "Paleolithic imagination" primarily through the roots of his own experience and sensibility, his subject is also his subjectivity. The underworld of Eshleman's title is first and foremost the human unconscious, an unconscious which he believes can be made conscious through the symbolic consciousness expressed in poetry. (Here Eshleman owes these ideas to James Hillman's essay "The Dream and the Underworld" and Norman O. Brown's argument from "Fulfillment," chapter eight of Love's Body.) The underworld is secondly all that has been repressed or rejected from human psychology, experience, and history: unacceptable acts and urges, animal instincts, the extinction of species and potential extinction of the human race through ecological disaster. The underworld, then, is the Hell of man. It is the bottom rung of consciousness and what lies beneath. It is the back wall of human history. His guiding assumption is succinctly stated: "Consciousness [...] seems to be the upswing of a 'fall' from the seamless animal web, in which a certain amount of sexual energy was transformed into fantasy energy, and the loss partially and hauntingly compensated for by dreaming and imagining--processes not directly related to survival" (30). What Eshleman elsewhere terms the "autonomous imagination," the ability to think and speak in symbolic terms, in metaphors and images, is born of a moment of loss, when early humanity began to conceive of itself as distinct from the world it inhabited. Already in this passage one observes the extent to which Eshleman borrows his terms from William Blake and from psychoanalysis more so than from the staid, responsible, objective terms of prehistoric anthropology. (Significantly, David Lewis-Williams, one of the foremost living prehistorians, argues in his book The Mind in the Cave that symbolic consciousness is in fact essential to the success and survival of our species: it participates in and permits social organization and the division of labor in a more effective, because hierarchical, way than was previously possible.)
  4. Eshleman and his wife Caryl began visiting the caves of the Dordogne in 1974. Resonating with themes and images long established in Eshleman's work, the galvanizing experience occasioned a shift in the tone and topic of the poet's corpus: where his previous major collections of verse (Indiana, Altars) focused with often ferocious, even embarrassing, psychological honesty on the poet's own life, his WASP upbringing, and his education, his writing after the encounter with the caves, while retaining its rootedness in the poet's inner life, turned more resolutely outward. Juniper Fuse took shape across the volumes of poetry and prose Eshleman published since the late 1970s: Hades in Manganese (1981), Fracture (1983), The Name Encanyoned River (1986), Hotel Cro-Magnon (1989), Antiphonal Swing (1989), Under World Arrest (1994), and From Scratch (1998). Juniper Fuse then is an anthology. It gathers perhaps a third of Eshleman's poetry and prose on its topic, undeniably the most significant third. The first two parts of Juniper Fuse represent selections from Hades in Manganese and Fracture. The latter parts more radically commingle materials from the later books.
  5. But to say that much of Juniper Fuse has previously appeared in print is misleading on at least four counts. First, Eshleman's collections of verse are in fact often anthologies of previously published materials. His poems first appear in journals, as broadsides or in chapbooks, before finding their way into larger, more widely distributed collections. "A Cosmogonic Collage" and The Aranea Constellation are two sections of Juniper Fuse that before now have only appeared in minor or small-circulation formats.
  6. Second, each republication occasions a subtle shift in the meaning of a poem or prose piece through its new context. In From Scratch, Eshleman compares and contrasts his process to that of Robert Duncan in Duncan's "Passages" series (From Scratch 182). For Duncan, the "Passages" poems, published in sections within separate volumes, stood apart from the books in which they appeared. For Eshleman, the writings which comprise Juniper Fuse fit into the books where they made their first appearance and the larger project as well. In this way, the earlier collections each include poems specifically concerned with questions of the Paleolithic imagination as well as other poems which may or may not take up these questions. Each of these collections presents a narrative, however loose, of the author's life, among other things, in the years of its composition. Juniper Fuse, however, while still charting such a narrative, presents itself as tightly focused on the Paleolithic imagination. Furthermore, Juniper Fuse presents itself as an anthology of both prose and poetry: here, prose pieces that once served to preface or annotate collections of poetry mingle with the poems they once prefaced in an entirely different constellation.
  7. Third, each republication often includes revisions: changes of words or phrases, of lineation, occasionally massive reordering, additions to or subtractions from the text. Some of these revisions are minor; others, obviously, are not. In "Silence Raving," the first poem in Juniper Fuse, originally published in Hades in Manganese, Eshleman changes, among other things, the phrase "the power/ the Cro-Magnons bequeathed to me, to make an altar of my throat" to "the power/ the Cro-Magnons bequeathed to us: / to make an altar of our throats" (Juniper Fuse 3). In poems concerned with the nature of subjectivity, such shifts from the personal to the universal are enormously significant. (In this particular case, they damage the poem by coming too easily.)
  8. Fourth, Eshleman's previous collections, generally published through Black Sparrow Press, were rarely and sparingly illustrated. Juniper Fuse, however, is illustrated and the book benefits from it. "Indeterminate, Open" constitutes a poem in the form of notes on a set of photographs and drawings by Monique and Claude Archambeau. The poem in From Scratch did not include the drawings and it reads like a series of captions to absent images. By including the images, Juniper Fuse permits the piece to serve as a demonstration of the primary gesture of the text as a whole: the intermingling of word and image, image and word.
  9. Though Eshleman's writing has long incorporated prose prefaces and annotations, he regards "Notes on a Visit to Le Tuc d'Audoubert," originally published in Fracture (1983), as inaugurating a definitive stylistic shift to a pluralistic or hybrid textual "anatomy." Ostensibly notes taken on a visit to the cave, the mosaic includes photographs and sketches, roughly descriptive and allusive notes, and passages of dense poetic meditation. Eshleman borrows the word "anatomy" from Northrop Frye, who used it to describe William Blake's "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell," another collection of poems and prose, of fables, epigrams, and images. For Eshleman, the "term also evokes the writing that Artaud did beginning in 1945: a fusion of genres incorporating letters, poetry, prose, and glossolalia" (254). An anatomy is a text incarnate: a body of many organs and members. Eshleman's anatomy includes poetry, prose poetry, essays, lectures, notes, dreams, and black-and-white and color images. Forty of the book's three hundred pages consist of notes and commentary. Like "The Waste Land," Juniper Fuse is a poem including footnotes, but Eshleman pushes this notion farther, in keeping with Charles Olson's dictum that one should "leave the roots attached" (Olson 106). Juniper Fuse is a collection of poems but it is also a notebook on the composition of those poems.
  10. Juniper Fuse is a self-proclaimed poet's book, written to "reclaim the caves [...] for poets as geo-mythical sites in which early intimations of what we call 'muse' may have been experienced" (xii). The Vézère valley in the Dordogne--where many of these caves are to be found--is a region of France, but it is also a moment in time--the Upper Paleolithic--and a mythic space--Paradise, for Eshleman--all of which can be reclaimed by the poets (see "Cemeteries of Paradise" 101). Eshleman's travels through and observations of the region form part of his autobiography. His appreciation of the period in time reflects his study of and contributions to prehistoric anthropology. His appeal to myth recalls his vocation as a poet. Paradise, for Eshleman, is a designation for the place first offered by Henry Miller, but it is also a religious sphere of primary concern to William Blake. The poetic tradition informs not only the language but the agenda of Juniper Fuse, a book that marshals the resources of poetic language in its investigation of the Paleolithic imagination and the hidden depths of the human mind. Poetic language, literature, according to Ezra Pound, is "language charged with meaning" or "news that STAYS news" (28, 29). The charge of Eshleman's poetic language follows from its dense imbrication with complex meanings and associations.
  11. The "fuse" of the title, for example, is first and foremost historical, factual: it refers to the juniper wicks used in Paleolithic lamps found in the caves. The juniper fuse is the wick that provided the light by which prehistoric man painted the caves. Now, for us, the book casts a similar light on the paintings; not the light of creation, but that of a particularly active and engaged mode of interpretation. Eshleman's primary question is why "such imagery sparked when and where it did" (xi, emphasis added). The spark of the image ignites the fuse. "Image sparks" is Nietzsche's phrase for lyric poetry in section five of The Birth of Tragedy. The fuse is also the fuse of fusion: the fusion of man and cave wall in the process of engraving and image making; the fusion of poet and cave image casting image sparks, lyric poems. The fuse is also the fuse of a bomb (xi). The fuse is the fuse of fission, of atomic disaster, which haunts these pages: the images cast by the atomic blast at Hiroshima. "When such words fuse,/ they thirst in us, thus do not fuse,/ because we are fission incarnate" (112).
  12. Fusion is the fusion of language in puns. Here again Eshleman borrows his terms from Brown's Love's Body. Brown writes: "In puns, 'two words get on top of each other and become sexual'; in metaphor, two become one" (252). Puns are the essence of symbolic consciousness, and symbolic consciousness is Dionysian consciousness; the erotic sense of reality; the fusion of subject and object via symbolism. This is not to say clarity.

    If there must be clarity,
    let it be opaque, let the word be
    convexcavatious, deep
    with distance, a clear
    and dense mosaic, desiring

    (Eshleman 19)

  13. Eshleman's poetry is often a poetics in poetry: a meditation on and demonstration of the workings of the poem as they are at work. His poetic language is often, and often best, a language of puns, of slang, and of neologisms. It is a poetics of force and fracture: a contorted speech of words twisted and turned as Eshleman sifts the "etymological compost" of language (51). In "Winding Windows," the word "convexcavatious" recalls Sandor Ferenzci's exaggerated and visionary psychoanalysis wherein every convex surface is a phallus and every concavity a vagina. But it mingles the convex with its opposite through the notion of excavation, and thereby discovers the great theme of the book as a whole: the figure of the "hole that becomes a pole"; the vulva that seems to produce the phallus which Eshleman posits as the "core gesture" and "generator of image-making" (235):

    The hole that grows [...] may be one of the most fundamental versions of the logos or story. [...] Increasing in height or depth as the gods or shamanic familiars ascend or dive, the soul's end, or purpose is always beyond our own, a tunnel generating its own light--or crown of flame. It is a hole grounded in both absence and appearance, a convexcavatious abyss. (235-36)

    This poetics of force and fracture affiliates Eshleman's poetic practice with that of a formidable if "minor" strain of twentieth-century writing whose exemplars include Raymond Roussel, the Joyce of Finnegans Wake, Antonin Artaud, Paul Celan, John Cage, Pierre Guyotat, Valère Novarina: writers who, in Novarina's phrase, chew their words; they crush language, ruminate on its syntactic building blocks, and reveal its hidden histories and futures.
  14. Crawling through Le Tuc d'Audoubert, Eshleman "is stimulated to desire to enter cavities within [him]self where dead men can be heard talking" (72). "I feel," he writes, "the extent to which I am storied" (92). Juniper Fuse begins, in epigram, with a poem by Paul Celan (in Cid Corman's translation). Thereafter it borrows its terms and agenda from William Blake, Charles Olson, Hart Crane, César Vallejo, Antonin Artaud, and Aimée Césaire, among others. As a poem including history it must be read in the tradition of Pound, Williams, and Olson.
  15. But the poet here is also among prehistorians: the Abbés Breuil and Glory, Annette Laming, André Leroi-Gourhan, Siegfried Giedion, Max Raphael, Paolo Graziosi, Alexander Marshack, Jean Clottes, Margaret W. Conkey, Paul Bahn, David Lewis Williams, and Richard Leakey (xv). Eshleman's dialogue with the discipline of prehistory is conducted more overtly than is his often-implicit continuance of the poetic tradition. This dialogue too is odd for its adherence to Blake's maxim that opposition is the truest form of friendship. Eshleman argues with André Leroi-Gourhan, in particular, over and over again in Juniper Fuse. He writes as a perpetual outsider, even after twenty-five years of research and exploration in the caves; he refuses full participation in the dominant and dominating anthropological discourse on the caves.
  16. Another degree of disciplinary pluralism: the poet among psychologists and cultural theorists. Eshleman supplements the archeologists and anthropologists with reference to C. G. Jung, Sandor Ferenzci, Geza Róheim, Erich Neumann, Mikhail Bakhtin, Weston La Barre, Charles Olson's Call Me Ishmael, Norman O. Brown, Kenneth Grant, James Hillman, Hans Peter Duerr and Maxine Sheets-Johnstone (xv). Here too is a tradition, this time in cultural theory. It is the countercultural tradition in cultural theory.
  17. Finally, though most importantly perhaps, the poet is among people. Jacques Marsal (1925-1988), for example, was among the children who tumbled into Lascaux in 1940: he never really left. He stayed nearby, leading tours and attending to the cave for the rest of his life. Eshleman celebrates him in "Like Violets, He Said," a short text of prose and poetry accompanied by the famous photo which documents, in its way, the cave's discovery. "I'm overwhelmed," Eshleman observes, "by the difference one person can make in the personality of a place, not via declaration or sheer information, but by being folded in, obliquely, wearing Lascaux, allowing its grace to loom, allowing us, hardly aware of his movements, our own reading through his light" (98). The title of the piece comes from Charles Olson's line, quoted in Eshleman's poem: "Men spring up like violets when needed." Paul Blackburn also appears. The piece is elegiac, moving. For Eshleman, the spirit of a place includes the spirits of those who have passed through it. The piece is metatextual, the stories layered in dense mosaic: Olson and Blackburn taught Eshleman to perceive such spirits, and Marsal became one of them just as Eshleman himself has now, for us.
  18. Juniper Fuse, far more so than the writings of the prehistorians, courses with reference, with story. The central contrast of the text is that between Eshleman's subjectivity and the layers of reference--to poets, prehistorians, psychologists, and those others who have peopled his experience--through which he experiences not only the caves but the world. The motion of the text is characterized by Eshleman's attempt to excavate, to get beneath these layers of meaning, reference, or explanation, to sift beneath these presences to what he only experiences as absence, loss, the zero, the hole (26, 235). "Pure loss pours through. I'm home" (100).
  19. Eshleman's subjectivity, often present in rough physical terms, in-the-minute descriptions of the physical experiences of the caves, grounds the book. His response to the writings of the prehistorians is always to test their maps, their drawings, or their descriptions, finally their theories, against his own experience of the caves. If he corrects any given theory or explanation, as he often does, it is based on personal observation. He offers a careful description of crawling through caves, or of standing in a space that lacks sufficient oxygen, or of his eyes adjusting to the light of the dark. Such observations are denied us by the disciplinary responsibility of the anthropologists, the objective necessity of science. Juniper Fuse offers a phenomenology of the painted caves.
  20. The subject of the book, then, is decidedly Clayton Eshleman. But Eshleman both is and is not alone. A self-proclaimed and perennial amateur before the culturally legitimated authorities--the scientists, the anthropologists--Eshleman nevertheless speaks from the ground of a different authority. Awed and annihilated by the cave imagery that is his concern, he rediscovers himself in the animals and hybrid humanoids pictured therein. "If the figure of the interior leper took me backward, it was also a comment on the present: the rediscovery of my own monstrosity while studying the grotesqueness of hybrid cave image" (48).
  21. For Eshleman, "a single smoking road leads from Indianapolis [where he grew up] to Lascaux" (91). It runs via Auschwitz and Hiroshima. The history of man is a history of horrors.

    Faced with so much story, I release my grip
    from Whitman's hand, "agonies are one of my changes of
    garments"--in the face of Auschwitz?


  22. In tracing the roots of symbolic consciousness, Eshleman has written a book of the dead, an incantation for absent beasts and beings. Odysseus stands in Hades as his tutelary figure (67).

    We are thus, in the late twentieth century, witness to the following phantasmagorical and physical spectacle: The animal images in the Ice Age caves are also the ghosts of species wiped out at the beginning of our Holocene epoch; today they "stand in" for the species we are daily eliminating. [...] Such images are primogeneous to the extinction of possibly all animal life. (248)

  23. Eshleman's postmodernism is that of Charles Olson. In response to the totalizing, exclusionary, hierarchical trend in modernity, he speaks for those who cannot. In Juniper Fuse, he gives voice to the animals and humans, prehistoric or present, who haunt the caves. His celebrated corpus in translation--of César Vallejo, of Aimée Césaire, of Antonin Artaud and others--is but another form of this same project.

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    Works Cited

    Brown, Norman O. Love's Body. New York: Vintage, 1966.

    Eshleman, Clayton. Altars. Santa Barbara, CA: Black Sparrow, 1971.

    ---. Antiphonal Swing: Selected Prose 1960-1985. Ed. Caryl Eshleman. Kingston, NY: McPherson, 1989.

    ---. Fracture. Santa Barbara, CA: Black Sparrow, 1983.

    ---. From Scratch. Santa Barbara, CA: Black Sparrow, 1998.

    ---. Hades in Manganese. Santa Barbara, CA: Black Sparrow, 1981.

    ---. Hotel Cro-Magnon. Santa Barbara, CA: Black Sparrow, 1989.

    ---. Indiana. Santa Barbara, CA: Black Sparrow, 1969.

    ---. The Name Encanyoned River: Selected Poems 1960-1985. Santa Barbara, CA: Black Sparrow, 1986.

    ---. Under World Arrest. Santa Barbara, CA: Black Sparrow, 1994.

    Ferenczi, Sandor. Thalassa: A Theory of Genitality. Trans. Henry Alden Bunker, M.D. NewYork: Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 1938.

    Lewis-Williams, David. The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art. London: Thames & Hudson, 2002.

    Hillman, James. "The Dream and the Underworld." The Dream and the Underworld. New York: Harper, 1979.

    Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy and the Case of Wagner . Trans. Walter Kaufman. New York: Vintage, 1967.

    Olson, Charles. "These Days." The Collected Poems of Charles Olson, Excluding the Maximus Poems. Ed. George F. Butterick. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

    Pound, Ezra. ABC of Reading. New York: New Directions, 1960.

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