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This article is taken from PN Review 263, Volume 48 Number 3, January - February 2022.

Pearl of Great Price Nicolas Tredell
Marjorie Perloff, Infrathin: A Study in Micropoetics (University of Chicago Press) £20

The same is never the same is never the same. In Gertrude Stein’s famous reiterative sentence, ‘A rose is a rose is a rose,’ the second ‘rose’ differs slightly from the first and the third ‘rose’ differs slightly from its two predecessors, visually, phonically, temporally and semantically. It is to this poetry (or poetry-in-prose) of minute differences that Marjorie Perloff’s method of ‘super-close reading’ attends in this book: to the verbal, visual and sonic elements of a text, to ‘the individual phoneme or letter as well as the larger semantic import’. Especially important here is the idea of the ‘infrathin’, the ‘inframince’, a term that Perloff takes from Marcel Duchamp to indicate those slender, sometimes barely perceptible, nuances that differentiate near-identical experiences and subtly alter their meanings. Duchamp’s examples include ‘The warmth of a seat (which has just been left) is infrathin’; ‘When the tobacco smoke smells also of the mouth which exhales it, the 2 orders marry by infrathin’; ‘In time, the same object is not the same after a one-second interval’; ‘The difference (dimensional) between two objects in a series (made from the same mold) is an infrathin one when the maximum (?) of precision is obtained’. Perloff contends that for Duchamp, and, by implication, for micropoetical reading, ‘however minuscule the difference between one word or phrase or statement or another, the “difference”, as Gertrude Stein puts it in Tender Buttons, “is spreading”’. Perloff contends that Stein’s ‘endlessly complex iterative prose’ demonstrates this: ...

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