In the Name of the Letter, the Spirit, and the Double Helix

Fady Joudah

The Kenyon Review Credos

In the beginning there was translation. Without it there’s no expression, not even gene expression, no life. Even the untranslatable is vital for the process. And to splice one must first excise. Memory, with its trident of recall, imagination, and transformation is translation’s muse and taxonomy. Memory is sometimes unconscious cognition, other times absence. In an integrative age, grid and matrix rename the prongs, erect isomers or chiasms, employ catalog, entropy or the enzymatic for reproduction’s sake. Not all creation is equal. We’re not all butterflies. Meaning burns us as we burn it. Our predilection is replication and mimicry.

“But before that where were you born?” Like an anchor I was born a sleeper. I pulled myself up to a boat, lived on railroad tracks until I was returned to light, awash in a cell. My polygraph included rapid fill-in-the-blanks asking for prepositions, autocorrect my alibi. An essay’s infrared portion droned my antecedental clarity. My semicolon was semicomma. Congruence was entrapped between intransitive terminals as the flight was rendered on time’s time, a hyperlink to a link, a biography in Facebook movements. Before boarding, on You Tube, a man and a woman crossed water on wireless fidelity. Afraid of being left behind like some orphaned refugee siblings in the mayhem of survival. Adrenaline or endorphin is the original music score. They had four children. The youngest was a boy, the eldest a girl, maybe ten years old, and the middle two were twins, zygosity notwithstanding. The eldest got her siblings through the journey then died of a depression that commanded her language back to nature, her immunity not to speak when spoken to.

The most astonishing recurrence in human narrative remains that of the displaced. Between the word body and the world body we are shadows of health and nation, teratology and homelessness, infestation and cohabitation, the sacred as the accursed. How do you say “May you wake up to a country” in one language and make it sound like “sleep tight” in another? Are we still the same since the days of Homer and Mo? Was Brecht right when he said at the House of Un-American Activities that “ideas of how to make use of the new capabilities of production have not been much developed since the days horse had to do what man could not do”? One must believe in evolution, a way out of mind in it.


  • Expression can reach tyrosine kinase overdrive. (T/F)
  • Prose is as impossible as poetry after the Congo. (T/F)
  • By the time of Andrew Jackson, the last of the Conquistadors, there were no microbes left for the natives. (T/F)
  • Sometimes the poem is permitted to go to a field of action. (T/F)
  • What can’t be proven is true only when uncertainty is in agreement with measurement. (T/F)

Through meiosis, a shuffle of genes, a recombinant crossover into diversity, we establish filiation. Meiosis is not a cycle but a reduction in preparation for reproduction, a lessening before the thread. Poetry is not incest. Filiation moves into affiliation, which moves through mitosis to culture and system, a machinery of reliable reproducibility. If culture is in the business of “possessing possession” then system is its dream of “camouflaging jargon.” Autoimmune diatribe, debris of aura’s disintegration, “jargon’s constant invective against reification is itself reified.” Poetry is not empire. Whether meiotic or mitotic the secret ingredient must first be unzipped for the messenger. As Eros occurs, errors occur. Often deleterious, mutations can be advantageous. Between culture and system, in the codons unrepaired, bypassed, or abandoned by the impossible desire for precise control, poetry is resistance, a critical consciousness of “noncoercive knowledge produced in the interests of human freedom.”

False eloquence argues opposite sides of a cause with equal force. Autonomous and committed poetry become autonomic. Time stands invisible while a canon enlists skilled labor to manufacture its inevitability. The center mercurially centers itself into peripheries. It cannot hold, it holds, “a negation of negation,” a reterritorialization of deterritorialization. When one’s conception is not that of a literature of masters, the masters will show up driving their fiats. Meanwhile, in the waiting room, a smooth Kenny G tune is playing a spa footnote in history, what one desires as more than what one becomes. The reactionary, whether restorative or obliterative, is soon a tool for the totalitarian. This is not what Sufis meant by “when all opposites are one.” They were standing outside language in it.

A poet’s hypothesis to needle-graph one’s cranial sutures then translate the results into each of the five senses remains untested. Could an electropoeticogram (EPG) be a poet’s filiative thumbprint into the world, a fossil record of his or her primary emotions? Then what? Arabic poetry “in which the five senses seem to have a more simultaneous and equal share,” a Bacchian Zarathustrian fantasy, becomes an antecedent “supernatural” prescience of the neuroscientific image. Pound the Chinese. Occam’s fighting for his life.

The revolutionary tradition and its lost treasure announce their closure parenthetically. The criterion of equality and the principle of authority in arts are necessarily “conspicuously absent.” “The rank of a poet, for instance is decided neither by a vote of confidence of his fellow poets nor by fiat coming from the recognized master, but by those who only love poetry and are incapable of ever writing a line.” In which age is this true? The jury, those only-incapable-lovers are currently an endangered species. Their preservation aims at their conscription into fields of action, reservations held and built in advance, whose cancellation carries a threat of exile, expatriation, and extradition. A work of art that posits itself outside tradition may not leave a thread behind to lead to it, out of the labyrinth of oblivion. A task for poets is to inventory memory, search for collective enunciation and guard against a freedom from politics.

So far image in neuroscience is the principal “web of relationships” in the mind, a “movie in the brain.” Beyond the visual and “with as many sensory tracks as there are sensory portals” “the self comes to mind in the form of images, relentlessly telling a story of such engagements.” Yet an “explanatory gap” persists. All we see is evidence of interaction. One is unable to watch the mind watch the self in action. Surveillance is not total. If that day ever comes both mind and self would have evolved new secrets.


  • By the next century one will be able to download intuition. (T/F)
  • “So long as you say ‘one’ instead of ‘I’ there’s nothing in it.” (T/F)
  • Evolutionary technology is “breaking the glass ceiling of attention.” (T/F)
  • Normal thought occurs irregularly. (T/F)
  • Poetry outside capital on MRI screens gives off no signals. (T/F)
  • Signs price the known at the expense of the unknowable. (T/F)
  • Ritalin paste is the new shock experience. (T/F)

It’s 9:38 AM. I am juggling a fat cat grant, spinning my metaphase spindles on the category of submission to the fellowship of the ring. My sister says I should be respectful, dignified if I’m applying for money or reputation. It’s a day off, one of many I’ve worked hard to secure for my better writing and non-writing self. Alone I go to the movies, 11:05 AM show, Fruitvale Station in Trayvon Martin American days. The Native American is the first to be forgotten, the last to remember our proliferative loyalty tests. Hierarchy of suffering, you can have your crumbs and eat them too. Reparation is law, law is king, the king is dead, long live the king.

I knew a grandma like that once in American borderlands. She grew too large after some asshole doctor left her on steroid pills for so long, lost to follow-up, a no-show like show business I know. It’s not illegal not to explain the treatment plan, fear to hope and hope to fear. Click here, electronic medical record. After some lost weight and partial regain of function, walker et al., we found out that grandma had breast cancer. By we I mean she, then I, then the biopsy crew. The land of mass is the land of mass displacement is impossible to name. She willed herself to die before chemo began. Where in modern medicine can you say that and be believed measured? Here it is again the “woman as symptom,” “another tragedy in a long line of low-rent tragedies.” Sometimes one gives birth to novels, screenplays, poems, symposia, scholarly “toilsome idleness,” even doctors without borders. Good is never good enough is never enough of it around. Forgery of the true body begins when one forgets how to die. As if dying comes with a manual and living, as a teenager once told me, is the longest thing you’ll ever do. Love is not one of the primary emotions. Testimony is love the way compassion is a temporary visa to forgetfulness.

Each author has several doubles. The difference between the true author and the real one is the latter’s legitimate counterfeit. This has been the rule of market since the days of Jahiz. “Every genre is buoyed by those names that alone can grant admission to a new text.” One must carry at least one diagnosis as “a sort of homage rendered to a past studded with prestigious authors whose examples—whose discourse—must be perpetuated.” A real author is also “the principle of thrift in the proliferation of meaning.” The past is a trans-splicing oncogene. The past becomes apoptosis of apoptosis, controlled death of programmed death, divinity as tumorous benignity.  Poets create analogies, not difference. Between poetry and discursivity is science.

The science of ancient Greece is a science of religion. It has latched itself to carbon and half-life, nouveau decay to extend the imperial aesthetic. “Fascism aims at nothing less than the commandeering of myth.” The song of self is a swan song but the swan is miles high. Descent begins in microgravity, a power of endless endings. Not weightlessness exactly, but the way a body at rest tends to stay in motion within an inertial frame of reference whose speed is imperceptible. The past is not always lost. Its replacement is not always necessary. Reconstitution is sometimes syndrome or revenge.

“I broke myth and I broke.” “I want from love only the beginning,” love at last sight. If speechlessness is “the great sorrow of nature,” then love is a triumphal song of naming. If it is “a metaphysical truth that all nature would begin to lament if it were endowed with language” then “if olive trees knew the hands that had planted them, their oil would turn to tears.” A true poet dreams of the regression of poetry. I don’t mean a “silken boredom” where a mad race for invention would “bear amiss the second burden of a former child.” True regression of poetry is tightly linked to true progress of humanity. Meanwhile, déjà vu falls between overnaming and eternal repetition. In the explanatory gap, love moves as an echo. Evolution is not domination. Who am I, not Aren’t I, that is the question.

More about The Kenyon Review Credos
In the early 1950s John Crowe Ransom, founding editor of The Kenyon Review, invited some of the most celebrated public intellectuals of the day, among them Northrop Frye, William Empson, and Leslie Fielder, to offer their personal credos on their professional philosophies and aspirations. (These essays, still fascinating, will be reprised on the KR website throughout 2014.) In marking The Kenyon Review’s 75th anniversary, sixteen poets, essayists, and fiction writers, authors who have published in our pages on our website from early in their careers, will present their own contemporary credos. Four will appear in the print journal and twelve in KROnline. —D.H.L.

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