N18 (complete) reflects a sustained interval of Hank Lazer’s enduring The Notebooks (of Being & Time)—a patient, dedicated study of presence that attends to being as a process of becoming. (Indeed, even the fact that Lazer has dedicated N18 to his mother marks the Notebooks’ concerns as a birthing forward: “thanks for giving me a push.”) Written by hand, the poems in the Notebooks are immediate graphic artifacts recorded at the edge of their circumstances. They are also transparencies of limits and great fragility that startle as they cleave to “the temporal mechanism” of Lazer’s project (“Preface”). Namely, they were written in accompaniment to his reading of Heidieger’s Being & Time; though, his continued interest in the project has extended its duration into further readings: Levinas’ Otherwise Than Being and God, Death, and Time (“Preface”). Accounting for the composition process of N18 in his “Preface,” Lazer marks the Notebooks as a project of great integrity designed to strip away what is not essential: “absolutely crucial to the composition (and ethics) of the Notebooks is a complete commitment to the page as a one-time improvisation—a highly focused composition in real time, without drafts or rewrites.” This commitment to the purity of single takes levels Lazer to the resource of his attention(s) and improvisational chops. The poems of N18 are, thus, also exposures that show us who the poet was and, maybe, where he was headed while he was writing in his eighteenth notebook to reflect a vision that is both intensely personal and deeply mysterious (“Preface”).
As N18 circles Emmanuel Lévinas’ assertion that “spirituality is no longer to be understood on the basis of knowing” (“8/14/10”), it must also acknowledge the fact that agency and self-knowledge are fundamentally unstable because “we identify ourselves across the multiplicity of temporal planes” (“8/15/2010”). (Read also, of course, planes as pages, the central unit of the Notebooks.) “Not/ so much/ undertaken with a/ destination in mind,” the Notebooks embrace exposure, indeterminacy, and, inevitably, change (“8/14/10”). They become a practice that grounds writer(s) and reader(s) alike in a realization that the signifiers we identify with [as] are increasingly unsettled by time and experience. As the reality of chronological time and limits, thoroughly occupied, give way to an expansive awareness of “now” (“10/18/10”), we see that the serial form of the Notebooks acknowledges the difficulty of location by initiating a practice of being “at home here” in time that erodes to eternity (“10/18/10,” “8/29/10”).
Attempts to understand presence are complicated by difficult suspensions that accumulate at the outskirts of the occasions N18 scores as “each place/ each time” we identify with is “in exile/ from an other” (“8/22/10”). Acknowledging this alienation as central to experience, N18 expresses a desire to bridge the distance between seeming oppositions like here and there: “I have always wanted/ to be in two places at once” (“8/22/10”). Given to the delight and terror of contact at edges, the Notebooks evidence curiosity and an increasingly desperate yearning to better understand “us/ that fact what were” because it has changed despite the impossibility of doing so (“8/19/10—8/20/10”). They face a sharpened, bittersweet awareness that the poverty of limits exposes us to a much wider range of activity where the “darkness” seen at “horizon of the end” abandons forms we love for unprecedented visions: “what we are to get a glimpse of what we might become” (“8/28/10”).
Variously returning to a realization that “Being [is] but a moment a flash of infinite light,” N18 often acknowledge that the truth(s) we encounter are always momentary and destabilizing (“8/28/10”). Lines intersect each other, dead end into themselves, buckle against and fold into new thoughts. Laid bare, the nature of being is secreted away. The poems in N18 simultaneously “expose” and “shelter” (as Heidegger says elsewhere in Poetry, Language, Thought): “shapewriting hides plenty in its seeming openness. As if the shape were the poem…In fact, these poems constantly explore—and without any consistency of method or conclusion—the relationship of shape to sense or meaning” (“Preface”). At times, this relationship between language and shape manifests in a way that is sophisticated, clear and immediate. “10/3/10” squares an empty (“blank”) frame and overtly addresses meditational practice: “if you stare at a blank wall every morning and practice your breathing, you will come to see how interesting and varied the wall is.” (There are further complexities accumulating within the shape of the frame as well. If you follow the turns of the lines inward, “wall” slowly folds into “wailing” after “g-d.”) Lazer’s “shapewriting” is also layered and subtle. In the second entry done on “12/5/10,” the phrase “in every attentive look” is set like an arrow as the rest of the lines are drawn and torqued like a bow as if to conjure The Bhagavad Gita. The brilliance of each discreet temporal revelation of being (that is to say, the “inflection” of each new page at the outer edge of the Notebooks) shatters the context of the totality to mark a project underway as it calls to the persistent fact of continued experience. New entries unsettle the phenomenological whole even as they are taken into the accretion of momentum. Exposure reveals the complex resonances of poems written by another.
The enduring mystery of Lazer’s Notebooks reflects the overwhelming activity of nature and a patient spiritual practice founded in negative capability that relegates the poet to good conduct. Beyond knowing, N18 concerns itself with the cultivation of presence “the shape doesn’t/ matter half as much/ as you think it would really it’s/ more like/ the way you go about seeing” (“8/4/10”). Uncertainty becomes a criterion of clear vision associated with a motion toward the “you” as N18 reveals the humble desire “to/ see/ out/ of” the enclosure of mean egotism to be a vessel to the being it gratefully experiences (“12/10/10”). Moving toward the “ventriloquy/ [of] any voice but his own,” Lazer mines the intimate edge between isolations and ecstasies to be alone with vital company (“8/4/2010”). As polyphonic variations of the phrase “the downpour of holiness” cascade and pool above “the nullification of oneself” in Lazer’s meditation on Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s description of the Sabbath in the Likutei Moharan, N18 evidences real grace and conviction that is grounded in the understanding that addiction to agency and intentionality breeds suffering because it hampers presence (“8/16/10”).
In moments that belong to no one, concerns rest in the clarity of dictation. Dedicated to the precision of “every/ word/ +/ its/ exact/ placement,” N18 consummately gestures toward a calibration that comes from the outside to locate the poet in the “cacophony of/ all that is/ beyond us” (“8/13/10”). There is “not knowing but as proximity” to these facts (“8/19/10—8/20/10”). “Seeking in language context and sensibility” rather than in the poet, the Notebooks posit writing as a matter of sanity that marks a return to our senses (“8/19/10—8/20/10”). Lazer commits himself to words simply “to see what they might say” (“7/29/10”) because “the glory of the Infinite shuts itself up in a word and becomes a being” (“11/21/10”). The Notebooks, in turn, echo Lévinas’ realization that “This play in being is consciousness itself” (“8/16/10”). *Note the way this annotation secrets the second half of this passage away: presence to self through a difference, which is both loss of self and recovery in truth.