Essay: aj carrutherson the outscape

Outscape: Twenty-four propositions

This essay is part of a new Sydney Review of Books essay series devoted to nature writing titled the New Nature. We’ve asked critics, essayists, poets, artists and scholars to reflect on nature in the twenty-first century and to grapple with the literary conventions of writing nature. Read the other essays in the New Nature series here.


Outscape. — Oneself subtracted (poet) from the poem; poem thrown outward from any centre, or, away from the poet.


Inscape. — For G.M. Hopkins:

‘All the world is full of inscape and chance left free to act falls into an order as well as purpose’ (1873).

Inscape a question of chance. No less, outscape. Expansion of worlds as poetic operation; falls, folds outwardways; acts of chance left without purpose…


Pure projected detachment. — Outscape first imagined in parody by Northrop Frye, who in Anatomy of Criticism writes:

Our next cardinal point is difficult to name: we might almost parody Hopkins’s term and call it the poem of ‘outscape.’ It is the lyrical counterpart of what in drama we call the mime, the center of the irony which is common to tragedy and comedy.

Frye then makes the following remark:

It is a convention of pure projected detachment, in which an image, a situation, or a mood is observed with all the imaginative energy thrown outward to it and away from the poet…The lyrical poetry of China and Japan appears to be based very largely on this convention, in striking contrast to Western poetry, where epigram shows much more of a tendency to attach emotions or make out a rhetorical case. Some of Shakespeare’s sonnets, such as ‘The expense of spirit in a waste of shame/’ are exceptions.


Inorganic form. ― Denis Levertov in her 1965 essay ‘Some Notes on Organic Form’ calls upon the ‘intrinsic form’ of Hopkins’s inscape, which as she defines it is ‘the pattern of essential characteristics both in single objects and (what is more interesting) in objects in a state of relation to each other’. Instress is therefore an ‘apperception of inscape’ which Levertov extends to intellectual and emotional experience, thereafter what she calls ‘organic poetry’: ‘I would speak of the inscape of an experience (which might be composed of any and all of these elements, including the sensory) or of the inscape of a sequence or constellation of experiences.’ Exploratory, organic poetry intuits order, ‘a form beyond forms, in which forms partake’.

The shifting poetries of that decade and the emerging poetries of the present to show us the possibility of a constellation of experience as emerging extrinsically, for this the relation between objects and between experiences (or altogether outside experience) is further a condition of outscape. No inspiration without  expiration with regard to a poetics of breath: the ‘open mouth’ that inspires is also a breathing out. Inorganic form: not so much ear and eye ‘checking for accuracy’ as eyear given over to chance; chance left free to act to the disjunction and dissonance of outscaped forms.


Exterior and interior form. — As Jacques Roubaud puts it a poem has ‘two internal and two external aspects,’ the two external aspects being the written form and the oral form: ‘Both are fixed . . . and constitute the score . . . The score is the coupling of these two external forms of a poem’. Internal forms comprise the ‘wRitten’ and ‘aural’ form. External forms are interpersonal, internal forms personal, but reading is not reducible to either. Does outscape preclude internal forms? To this I would say there is no need to eliminate the internal forms, except to say perhaps the internal aspect itself has some outfacing aspects. Still, for Roubaud: ‘A poem cannot be reduced to its external aspect alone. If it has not entered a single mind, a poem does not yet exist’.


The critical exterior. ― Besides the pure projected detachment of a poem, a critical exterior emerges as a likely parallel in the sphere of interpretation. In Allegories of Reading, Paul de Man noted that despite the coincidence of semiology and rhetoric from French contexts, in the American academy the winds were not blowing — and this was the early seventies — ‘in the direction of formalist and intrinsic criticism,’ going on to say that ‘We may no longer be hearing too much about relevance but we keep hearing a great deal about reference, about the nonverbal “outside” to which language refers.’ Such winds clearing out or doing away with the scourge of Formalism would remove the tyrannical muse of form that bled dry the dialectic of internal self-reflection and extrinsic reference:

On the other hand―and this is the real mystery―no literary formalism, no matter how accurate and enriching in its analytic powers, is ever allowed to come into being without seeming reductive. When form is considered to be the external trappings of literary meaning or content, it seems superficial and expendable. The development of intrinsic, formalist criticism in the twentieth century has changed this model: form is now a solipsistic category of self-reflection, and the referential meaning is said to be extrinsic. The polarities of inside and outside have been reversed, but they are still the same polarities that are at play: internal meaning has become outside reference, and the outer form has become the intrinsic structure.

The inside out of outer form and the outer interior reverses the situation and so our fortunes will have changed all our origins: we will have never been Formalist. Neither in literary history nor, in this case, literary theory. But what that divide showed was that Formalism as extrinsic criticism, or a gesture toward a kind of “critical exterior” could not take into account the possibility that the outscaping poem could likewise function outside reference. From shell to kernel and kernel to shell: poetry of this guise is not referential toward or unto an external event because the poem itself is an event. Internal meaning plus intrinsic structure: whether much or nothing ‘happens’ in a poem is of secondary concern. If nothing seems to be happening, critics may pay close attention. How extrinsic reversals occur in rhythm and rhythmic concepts of the poem is how outscape moves to outstress.


Outstress. — External form: outscape. External energy: outstress. Exterior pattern known through interior pattern. The result is spiritless air or unseen interiors. Scape for Hopkins is exterior pattern; outscape is therefore the exterior of an exterior. Through outscape is gained outsight of the Object or objective world; such outsight similarly is gained through sense-observation but such sense-observation is Archimedean.

The problem with outscape as theory is what to make of it as history. In some initial assessment we could therefore search for readings for those with a certain disposition for outscape ― a disposition present primarily in Hopkins, but which we can equally find in the crabbed wailing of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Gertrude Stein’s Yet Dish and other like works, and in the contemporary poetry of Jackson Mac Low and Hannah Weiner. From these instances the poet-outscaper is one who enrhythms things from a point outside themselves and therefore seeks not to stabilise or neutralise the dissonance of outscaped sense-observation, even if that sense-observation occasionally resounds off the personal body onto a page or theatre of performance (city, gallery, living room, panel, discs, bean, mirror, fractal, barricade, reef, undrilled rock . . . ).

Such instances are not the only ones for an outscaping. Which is to say also that outstress, unlike instress, is not a unifying force of patterning. A sudden realisation of external patterning illuminates internal patterning. Inscape leads to Incarnation and Christ, as Hopkins claimed, but outscape leads to a world without divinity, a philosophical world, hall of endless exteriors and ‘excitable’ geometries.


Prosodic dissonance. — In Jackson Mac Low, no outscape without dissonance; presenting the total uniformity or uncertainty of stress or microstress. Uniformity? Conceive of an evenly protracted run of stress or unstress beyond the fall of three: molossics . . . Prosodic dissonance of outscape is discernable in a good many passages in Mac Low’s Forties and Stanzas for Iris Lezak (1971) where he uses graphic marks for stress. How one might hear the conversation in Mac Low’s play Port-au-Prince

C. Roper tapir; tapir-crone.
D. Inept, crone-Croat.
E. Retip, retup―croup.
C. Recap nicer-retín―tapir; caper!
(As CDE say II 10 times, they gradually become less conspicuous,
but always remain clearly audible. At any time up until the end of
CDE’s 5th saying of II, AB become more conspicuous & begin
CONVERSATION III. During their later sayings of II & afterwards,
CDE may begin & continue any quiet occupation markedly different
from that engaged in by AB previously.)

— in which the stress falls on the second syllable of retín? Mac Low adds by way of explanation: ‘It is to be noted that ‘Croat’ is a 2-syllable word & ‘Port-au-Prince’ is pronounced as in French’.  The ‘au’ here is unstressed, yet in the ‘Retip, retup―croup,’ none can one conspicuously hear as unstressed. Microstress in ‘Roper tapir; tapir-crone.’ Outscape may require the eradication, relaxation of the uniformity around, or updating of all systems of the graphic marking for stress.


Rocketing outward, sprung prose. — In Hannah Weiner the page has become an archway to ‘sprung prose’ (Charles Bernstein) and, as Dodie Bellamy puts it on Hannah Weiner’s Open House: ‘Weiner began in overdrive and rocketed outward, inhabiting texts and communities with the same skill with which she herself was inhabited.’ Hence seeing words in the clairvoyant rocketing outward; outstress of inhabitation. Outscape is multiaxial (or ‘objective’ as Weiner thought it). When the poem collides with exteriors its geometries fold out, the poem becomes exterior to itself.


Eliminating rhythm. — Extrinsic criticism, external measure. In Gertrude Stein, as Astrid Lorange notes, objects are not external, and neither is grammar. There is no grammar external to language, hence ‘matter and meaning’ contribute to poetic objecthood: ‘The objects that occupy Stein’s work―cakes, butter, apples, dogs, roses, and so on―do not represent specific objects in an external reality, nor do they speak of a purely linguistic realm of universal “cakesness,” “butterness,” “appleness,” “dogness,” or “roseness” . . . A cake in a poem is not a cake elsewhere, nor is it, mimetically speaking, a representation of cake’. There would seem then to be no outside, nor an inside. Poetic objectality is recognisable ‘even if it has no external reference or internal description’.

We may then turn simply to ‘composition’; and here her avowed practice of writing to a tuning fork and metronome in The Autobiography point toward the possibility of Steinian externals. Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus, Lorange notes, would read meter as an ‘external, expressive manifestation’ and one which is dogmatic ‘because it assumes that there is a determinate (and thereby authentic) rhythm that organizes a composition internally and represents it externally’). For Hopkins, inscape bridged such an impasse, but for Stein ‘eliminating rhythm’ is a way of foregoing the externality of meter. Lorange suggests that eliminating rhythm brings us back to the dynamcis of composition: ‘rhythm and writing are relatedly durational: rather than writing to an external measure, she wrote to the dynamics of her own composition’. Eliminating rhythm to externalise it. Outer core of poetic objecthood: tuning fork, metronome.


Neurasthenic outscape. — Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven’s ‘neurasthenic’ effects. Her body as a site for outscape whose public intimacy manifests in the neurasthenic cries of irrationality, as Amelia Jones puts it, core to dada’s interruptive association with the modern. The Baroness as flamboyant-ethical neuraesthete.


Microstress: motivation for outsress. — Outstress mirrors exterior being. Some possibility of a bridge between microtonal music and poetic microstress. Outscaped stress intricates itself to half-stress, quarter-stress, and thereafter no limit to any further discovery of what can fall between these. Attention paid to consonantal stress, beyond voweling, stray syllables, or extra syllables added on, otherwise ‘outriding feet’ as Hopkins called them. The effect of stress outscapes the body in a manner similar to Jacques Lacan’s ‘patheme’: poetry’s effect on the body is one of passion. The Baroness would seem to have shown this. However if outscaped microstress is the pathemic effect of poetry on a body; its expressions cannot be determined in advanced, microstress patterns the materials of outstress. lluminates the outside of an exterior. Some similarity may be perceived here with Nicolas Abraham’s psychoanalytic theory of rhythm, in which he is able to speak of the various ‘layers’ of the poetic object, excavated by psychoanalysis rather than in the case of Wolfgang Iser, the archaeology of interpretation.

Abraham’s emphasis on expression may find counterpoint in outscaped poetics. We ought to be able to imagine outscape, however, outside the realm of experience altogether. Consider Hanne Darboven’s ‘I use no forms of expression.’ We may say, what are these ‘forms’? What is, precisely, a poetic ‘expression’? Who says ‘I use’? Can we say that any artistic expression unfolds from a centre? How is pure projected detachment comparable to a centring that favours the presentation of expression?

Why is it that I am inexpressive? What have I given up, and what have I gained? You can say ‘I use no forms of expression,’ or, ‘I do no longer because there are alternate thinkingways of composition.’


Geometries of outscape. — Is it possible to provide a spatial character of outscape? It will be enough to say now that I have found, at least, three principle geometries that pattern the poetry of outscape: panels, discs, beans.

Saussure’s panels: successive innovations
Fig. 1: Saussure’s panels: successive innovations.

The panel reveals covering as well as transfer. As Ferdinand de Saussure was in the habit of showing in diagrams like the above, two panels equate to area, and the evolution of linguistic innovation (dialect). Panels, conference halls, ceilings, changes.

The disc of outscape. When one approaches the operation of outscape one experiences the effect of fog, which pressures the disk of the subject. The disk of the subject is the outer edge of a poetic plane: outstress of outscape. Disc, disk, dish. Hopkins: ‘Sk and sc are notoriously often exchanged for sh, as bushy, bosky, rush, ruscus. So δίσκος may be the same word as dish, particularly as the ancient quoit was not a flat ring but a plate, disc.’ Ice forms on Hopkins’s tadpole basin:

Fig 2. Hopkins’s agar-disc (tadpole basin). Fig 3. (right) From EvFL: ‘Orgasmic Toast.’

Thus internal patterning. Forms of disk are repeatable but may fall into categories or ‘axes.’ Compare this with the ‘cristaline’ disc The Baroness writes in the pulsing, vertical stanzas of ‘Orgasmic Toast.’ Galactic orbital disks come in several kinds. D.N. Spergel, in ‘The Shape of the Galaxy,’ writes the following by way of description:

In a non-rotating (or slowly rotating) galaxy, the existence of several orbital families allows the existence of three dynamically distinct components: (a) an elliptical disk of gas and stars whose major axis is perpendicular to the bar; (b) a triaxial stellar component consisting of stars on box orbits (an observer moving on a loop orbit would observe that this component has a large asymmetric drift); and (c) a stellar disk-like component orientated perpendicular to the galactic plane.

Outstress for beans, bean-shaker, bean-capsule. Alison Knowles’s The Bean Rolls (1963) and other beanworks, become ‘a vehicle, a catalyst for a particular kind of attention’ (Robinson, ‘The Sculpture of Indeterminacy’). Beans: outscaped shapes with internal movement (hollowed) sounding beanscaped rhythms (emerging from bean-capsule). In Plah Plah Plu Plah (2009) the rhythm of the ‘Bean Turners’ is cast upon page:

Fig 4. From Knowles, Plah Plah Plu Plah: bean score.


The weather report. — Attention to weather. Few records are broken anymore except those pertaining to weather. One records the weather, but knows little about what it is doing. The weather report is never correct. Its artifice throws us. We may imitate its patterns, speak about those patterns, or use those patterns to produce certain effects. In his Journals, which draw a continuity with his poetry, Hopkins writes the weather: ‘Dull. Dull chiefly. Dull and cold. Fine. Fine and warm. Fair with clouds. Fair with more clouds than sun.’ Hopkins sketches clouds, and the graphic markers for instress lead to a certain cloud ‘like an outlying eyebrow’ which returns the gaze: ‘What you look hard at seems to look hard at you, hence the true and the false instress of nature’.

Fig 5. Hopkins’s cloud-brow (1871)


Outdoors. — The final line in the final poem of Jackson Mac Low, which Anne Tardos has called the ‘Waldoboro Poems,’ written 22 September 2004 at the Creeleys’ house, appears to tell us something similar: ‘I didn’t go inside before, but now I will, but not for long.’ A corollary in performance art: Tehching Hsieh, who stayed ‘outside’ for an entire year for Outdoor Piece (1981-1982). The pure projected detachment of Hsieh’s piece not simply ‘feat’ but rather an outhabitation of outscape, unfixing living thought in time. In art as in poetry; going indoors only as a last resort.


Romantic outscape. — In poetry it cannot be assumed that outscape is a total theory for poetic rhythm or a total explanation for the whole gamut of activities happening at the level of grapho,- or phono-text. Posed as a question, it may be possible to hear certain outscaped ecologies in Charlotte Smith’s Beachy Head and Robert Southey’s ‘The Cataract of Lodore’ (1820). An ecology has entered entered into the poem at its centre; (‘Collecting, projecting,/Receding and speeding,/And shocking and rocking,/And darting and parting…’). Pure projected detachment begins at this turn. Or at the very beginning of Beachy Head. Fogged on level sand, the poems would have had to escape clarity, from a judgmental point-of-view, in order for Smith to hear the stress of ‘eláborate hármony, brought óut [my emphasis] / From fŕetted śtop, or módulated áirs / Of vócal ścience.’


Learning to picture. — Lionel Fogarty in ‘Ecology,’ from 1 July 1982 writes an ‘I./am’ of taipans, brolgas, geckoes: ‘our systems woven from an eco-system / so don’t send us to pollution / we are just trying to picture / this life without frustration.’


Distinction. — Two figures: Stein, writer, and Agnes Martin, painter. The effect of an Agnes Martin painting is such that each is totally different. The effect of Stein’s writing, on the other hand, is that it is all the same because of difference. Is this because one works with paint and canvas, the other with words and stanzas?


Extrinsics. ― Refusal of the intrinsic in interpretation. Proposition sans judgement.


Archimedean fulcrum. — Inscape is Parnassian, outscape is Archimedean. Hopkins’ Parnassus is the ‘flying thither’ of fancy at the level of the poet’s mind (Kumiko Tanabe). Parnassian verse’s Popean origins extend to what Hopkins identifies as a similar artifice in Victorian verse. The less inspired, the more Parnassian (even less inspired: Castalian), no less for its Beauty. Being outside inspiration, the inner breath of the inspired poem, for Hopkins, would be one in which the faculty that attends to the objects of nature is indeed outer, able to harness rhetoric for fancy, to perceive the world from a point outside itself. Yet Archimedean artifice also involves flight, but away from the poet’s mind and away from inspiration, and thereafter away from all centres. In the godless world of outscape one has to imagine a poem emerging from no centre. Another way of putting it: any such avoidance of the presentation of a centre we may call an Archimedean fulcrum, the Archimedean point as a vantage point of a poetic ecology.*

* Joan Retallack’s 2008 poem ‘Archimedes’ New Light: Geometries of Excitable Species’: the shock of alterity convinces you that you are not reading what has flown thither from a poet’s mind; rather travels through the multiaxial geometries of a poem borne elegiacally out of its procedures. They score new vantage points from which one can consider the geometric outscaping of a universe and its planetary ecologies.


Magnetosphere. — We may say a poetic ecology begins with the outscape of the axis breaching the archscape of hemisphere. X of axis marks risk, crossed at the axial point of earth’s nutational wobble. Comparable to whistlers: very low frequency electromagnetic waves generated by lightning that bounce from one hemisphere to another, make a certain music. Douglas Khan:

Whistlers are but one form of natural  radio, but their musical character and quasi-musical and sonic appeal . . . Listening to them can be similar to sitting entranced by tiny flashes of sun and noises in the rush and crackling of a creek, not knowing, perhaps, whether certain flashes are the backs of small silvery fish, that is, as if the creek were ionized and fish swam thousands of kilometers into the magnetosphere and back . . . They bounce between the earth and ionosphere and at times catch a ride into outer space on magneto-ionix flux lines before descending back to earth in the opposite hemisphere. Arching over the equator, whistlers are globe-trotting signals, earth signals in the truest sense.


Learning to deny the promise of meaning. —We may say: the poetry of outscape resists the promise of a univocality of meaning. Embracing risk, expiration of experiment. Notation, nutation, nonrelation, negation, intonation, tonotation. In Pillsbury’s The Reading of Words of 1897, a text learning to deny meaning’s promise, I find the following quotation pertaining to the nutation of words:

In experiments to determine the amount of change in a printed word, used as an ideogram, that might be made without a change in the perceived word, PILLSBURY exposed words containing various misprints. An omitted letter was most often noticed, a wrong letter less and a blurred letter least. The characterless blur of a mutilated letter furnished more suggestive material for the mind to make into the correct one than a wrong letter did; an omitted letter altered the picture of the syllable. Thus, ‘shabbilw’ briefly exposed was read as ‘shabbily’ and associated with the word ‘genteelly,’ the subject declaring that he saw the word spelled ‘shabbily.’ ‘Eaxth’ was read as ‘earth,’ ‘fashxon’ as ‘fashion,’ ‘cotton’ as ‘custard,’ ‘ordnary’ as ‘ordinary,’ etc.’


Outscape: smog-nudisme (effect of fog). — False outscape: beauty of nature. Barer in times of climate catastrophe. Masked, roam streets. Neither anarchic nor spontaneist, such outstress takes us through responder, respondee, spondee, Sponti, to Sponti-Szene. This proposition needs more work.


The Voynich proposition. — Luciferean drives. Cryptopoetic outscape. All out, no in. All out there: extuition of chance, left free to act without purpose.

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Published August 3, 2018
Part of New Nature: What does it mean to write about nature in 21st century Australia? A new wave of Australian nature writers write about Country, landscape, ecology, and biosphere.   All New Nature essays →
aj carruthers

aj carruthers is an experimental poet and literary critic. He is a lecturer and...

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