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This article is taken from PN Review 6, Volume 5 Number 2, January - March 1979.

A Reading of Prynne's 'Brass' David Trotter

AN 'OBSCURE' poetry troubles because it presents the reader not with too little, but with too much, information. Far from being void of meaning, it contains an unusable surplus, presuming to communicate without, in the eyes of the reader, actually doing so. The reader finds himself trapped between the allure of this presumption and the opacity of its sense, overcome not by the absence of data, but by his inability to contrive uses for a surplus; an admission so damaging to his self-esteem it rapidly spawns any number of defensive manoeuvres. There the matter rests, or at least has rested with readers of Brass (1). It seems to me that such helplessness should be regarded as the beginning, rather than the reluctantly admitted conclusion, of a proper reading of the book; as a first step along the via negativa proposed by much contemporary writing. If one accepts this premise, it should become possible to begin to understand how an apparently private, or destructively closed, language can communicate in reality as well as in presumption. Because I want to consider the language of Brass as a process of communication, rather than to provide a key to its mythologies, I shall approach it from the 'outside'-form the position of Long and Davie, from their helplessness-without drawing on any information that is not available via the text itself where, as I have said, there is more than enough.

The first poem in the book is immediately more than the reader ...


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