Scenes from Comus

Language of occasion has here fallen
into occurrence of outcry, reactive
outcry, like a treatable depression

that happens not to respond. If fate,
then fated like autism.

Geoffrey Hill, “Scenes from Comus”

Tracing in Hill a fissure between the “you” of ordinary sociality and the “you” of limerance (see all of the Arrurruz poems for evidence of the latter, but also “a girl I once needed to be in love with” as a late self-criticism on that score). There is a recurring theme of fixation, fixatedness, uncircumventable attachment to a love-object that might always turn out to be arbitrary — as it is in Highsmith’s “This Sweet Sickness”, for example. “There you go, there you go, narrow it down to obsession”…

Hill’s actual diagnoses were reportedly chronic depression and a particularly disabling form of OCD, but “fated like autism” suggests at least a positioning with respect to ASD (although he may have seen it as a condition of complete linguistic disablement — “non-verbal”, incapable of response — such that “like autism” here does not mean “actually autistic” but somewhere along the way to autism, subject to the same congenital fatedness but stopping short of the final destination). “I was wired weird”, he tells us. Well, yes.

I need to read, as soon as I can, Melanie Yergeau’s forthcoming book on the autist as rhetorician, because her notion that autism might represent “a queer way of being that simultaneously embraces and rejects the rhetorical” tallies so remarkably with the way Hill’s “double lyric” both flexes and tries to contain or redress its own rhetorical powers. Badiou’s remarks on Celan and “the termination of eloquence” are somewhere in the vicinity of this too. “Absolutely not hermetic”, Celan said of his own poetry: but what breaks through its seclusion and opens it out is precisely the relation to a “thou”, a “Du”, who is both a projection and an active introject (almost all of the agency in Celan’s poems comes from this “Du”).

And then there’s Anne Carson’s The Glass Essay, which has its own very different read on all of this…