Recursive Remarks on the Recursive

The interpolated is not the recursive.

Faas: Is there any modern music which you feel moves in directions you follow in your poetry?

Creeley: Well, sure, Cage is fascinating to me, for example. I’ve been fascinated by re-qualifications of senses of “serial order.” I was reading a text called The Psychology of Communication, by George A. Miller. For example, the human situation has difficulty regaining the context if there is something interpolated, like: “That man, whom you saw yesterday, is my father.” “That man is my father” is the basic statement — “whom you saw yesterday,” is the element that’s being inserted. This is also applicable to computer structure. If you keep putting statements into the basic statement, after about three or four such insertions, the hearer or witness gets very, very confused. The human attention apparently is not recursive and tends to be always where it is, so the more there is interpolated in that fashion the more difficult it is for the human to regain locus. And Miller points out that we can usually pick up where we left off in a simply physical context. Painting a fence. for instance, we know where we stopped because there is the new paint, physically it is. Poetry obviously is a way to regain a situation in the recursive that is to remind us where we are constantly by a structure. Now I am fascinated by what happens when we aren’t so reminded, when we break and move into different patterns to locate the experience of being somewhere, and that’s what I find extraordinary with Cage: the attempt to requalify the experience of serial order, which to me is really crucial.

From Ekbert Faas, Towards A New American Poetics: Essays and Interviews

Fine. But the interpolated is not necessarily the recursive. I point to narratology and the term “metalepsis” where it describes a crossing of narrative levels. The interpolated is a mere insertion. A recursive insertion involves levels. A series with curves.

But the trick, for the reader, is to distinguish mere insertion from the recursive. In Creeley’s remarks we have a whole bunch of material interpolated between mentions of Cage and “serial order”. Just how recursive the remarks about regaining locus are remains to be judged.

Presentation order at the surface may not reflect order at the base. The basic may be the perceiving in temporal yesterday (“That man”). It may be the kernel. The fact that the man “is my father” may be an addition. Next element in a series. Grammatical embedding aside.

And so for day 1531

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