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This paper examines some of the intriguing parallels between Bernadette Mayer's 1970s writing experiments, with a focus on the book Studying Hunger, and Thoreau's writing projects in Walden and The Journals.   I wager that we might locate an ecopoetics in the pragmatic experimentalism of Mayer's time-bounded projects, as frames thrown open to a certain wildness of unbounded attention and extravagant language; in her deliberate choice of the journal form, as "emotional science" directing the methods of scientific writing to observation of the mental and emotional self; and in her approach to such writing projects as a practice of isolation dedicated to confronting the unstable "private person," entailing forms of disobedience.  This fearless confrontation of so-called private meanings, conducted in a public manner largely outside the confessional, could be instrumental to signifying other-than-human experiences.  Before investigating the potential subjectivity of other-than-humans, I suggest, humans might first come to terms with the wildly multiple and elusive objectivity of the human (including the world of dreams).  The paper concludes with some consideration of the darker side of wildness, of the meanings of the hunger and cannibalism thematized in Studying Hunger, and invoked through the image of the hunger artist.  I call for further investigation of Thoreauvian connections in the work of Mayer, Hannah Weiner, Susan Howe, and other antinomian women writers emerging from the New American poetics, as a possible contribution to the renewal of strong pragmatist currents in innovative American poetry and poetics.

Bernadette Mayer has rarely striven to create precious works of literature, but written, as she always says, to know or find something out.1   One of her aims has been to "win the Nobel Prize in Science by finding out how thought becomes language, or does not" (Writing Experiments).  Thus, in the introduction to her book Studying Hunger, Mayer explains:
I had an idea before this that if a human, a writer, could come up with a workable code, or shorthand, for the transcription of every event, every motion, every transition of his or her own mind, & could perform this process of translation on himself, using the code, for a 24-hour period, he or we or someone could come up with a great piece of language/ information. (Studying Hunger 7, hereafter cited as SH)
    Mayer herself says that she would read such a compilation of everything happening in one human's mind over a certain period of time—perhaps she has read a couple of Kenneth Goldsmith's works in their entirety—and why should we disbelieve her?  "I always like the idea . . . that you could get to the point with the computer . . . where everything you think would be recorded. . . .  But who would read it? . . . I would!" (Conversation with Charles Bernstein; see also Mayer's interview with Lisa Jarnot, in The Poetry Project Newsletter 168, Feb.-March 1998).
    If Mayer has been capable of the sustained attention involved in the writing of Memory, Studying Hunger, Midwinter Day, The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters, amongst many other experimental works—"I am the whole tree in motion," she writes (SH 12), attending to that phenomenon—might we not demand the same attention of ourselves as her readers?  Of "Reading," Thoreau wrote, "It requires a training such as the athletes underwent, the steady intention of almost the whole life to this object.  Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written" (Walden, "Reading" 99). To discover what this work (still) is discovering for us, we need to read it both as closely and as broadly as possible.
    Rather than labor to situate Mayer in narrow relation to the literary-aesthetic, theoretical and political debates of her time, then—which I suppose is one of the premises of this conference—why not take Mayer's own wide and heterodox reading as permission to examine some of the broadest possible implications of her work for human beings on planet earth, at this crucial point in time both geological, biological and human?  (Recognizing within this human the various, and variously irreducible, cultural times.)  This I would argue is not to de-historicize Mayer's work, but to take at face value its grand ("Nobel Prize") ambitions, and measure them against the issues we as a species now face collectively.  (The recent attention to Mayer's conceptual art connections, with the Ugly Duckling Presse reprint of the journal 0 to 9, which she edited with Vito Acconci from 1967-1969, and essays addressing this connection by Lytle Shaw, amongst others, is welcome.  See Shaw's "Faulting Description: Clark Coolidge, Bernadette Mayer and the Site of Scientific Authority.") 
    My own work (as writer, editor, critic) has tended to focus rather obsessively on the issue of the ecological crisis our species has brought to planet earth, as well as to our own societies and cultures.  Through the journal ecopoetics and elsewhere I have proposed that acts of experimental poetics may have as much to contribute to a possible resolution, or at least next phase, of this crisis, as more traditional acts of aesthetic appreciation, and that both of these together are as important as utilitarian, political and scientific solutions (ecopoetics).  My use of the term "experimental" here more or less aligns with Joan Retallack's useful discussion of "Experimental Poetry" in a recent issue of Jacket magazine, as a kind of radical epistemology, a method for indirect detection of things we can imagine but do not experience ("What is Experimental Poetry").  In my own development as an experimental writer, I was profoundly liberated by the discovery of the early works of Bernadette Mayer.  I think in some quantum-threshold way, after many years of practice, that I finally learned to write, as a human being near the end of the twentieth-century, while reading those books.  And I continue to learn about writing anytime I open a book by Bernadette Mayer, including the recent ones.
    I also had an intuition that a discussion of Mayer's early work would be critical to any development of a sufficiently theorized ecopoetics.

1 "At the very least, always set aside a four-hour period once a month in which to write. This is always possible and will result in one book of poems or prose writing for each year. Then we begin to know something" (Writing Experiments).

Bernadette Mayer is a terrific nature writer, with all the authority of knowledge about the natural world that comes with that denomination, and she certainly is a great writer of the walk, but it is not as the work of a poet observing, describing, walking through the so-called natural world that I want to discuss her writing here.  Nor do I want to address Mayer's work as a poetry of the language "environment" (in the tropological sense in which, say, critic Angus Fletcher has discussed what he calls John Ashbery's "environment poem"), even though this clearly is a big part of what she does: "I want to alter the environment./ The environment is language" (SH 20; for Fletcher, see A New Theory for American Poetry).  Rather, I'd like to make an even more obvious, heavy-handed move and suggest that Bernadette Mayer (not Annie Dillard) may be the writer who most strongly carries the Thoreauvian tradition into the American 1970s.  (Dillard's canonically Thoreauvian Pilgrim at Tinker Creek was published just a year before the 1975 Studying Hunger.)  
    Actually, there are other writers who probably need to be examined with Bernadette Mayer in this context—Hannah Weiner, Philip Whalen, to some extent Joanne Kyger—but I'll stick with Mayer for now.
    What do I mean by "Thoreauvian"?  First, the pragmatic experiment.  Even if it only appears deliberate, as a writing experiment, in retrospect, Walden's two years, two months and two days strongly foreshadows John Cage's four minutes, thirty-three seconds—as, of course, Mayer's one-day, one-month, and nine-month writing experiments.  Certainly, the differences between a retrospectively constructed intention—as one suspects, in the case of Thoreau—and a generative, even procedural, intention—to take a "month drug," which then wears off or is transformed, in Mayer's case—are not irrelevant to the markedly different vectors of authority in the differently configured fields of gender relations within which the writers operate (SH 7).  (In her discussion of Mayer's Midwinter Day, in Women, the New York School, and Other True Abstractions, Maggie Nelson also notes the differences in the "triumph of living over writing" as depicted in Walden and as feminized in stereotypical domestic duty, and explores how Mayer's work directly challenges these stereotypes [110-111].)
    In addition to the "deliberate living" part, Thoreauvian implies an extroverted and objectified act of self-observation, fruit of a certain isolation, which itself entails disobedience and even rudeness, overstepping boundaries and a loss of form.  This fearless confrontation of the "private person" could be characterized as a particularly self-conscious kind of "wildness," one way of approaching another sort of (other-than-human) "YOU" (SH 9, 24) 2   More generally, it may just be what Nelson characterizes as a "relentless ability to remain interested where others' attention drops off, and a refusal to be sated by the demarcations of 'reality' as defined by others . . . an aversion to any humanist pabulum that mandates that one 'feel the way others feel,' as opposed to exploring less culturally endorsed realms of perception and sensation" (102).  At the same time, in its procedural framing the experiment has more in common with the strictures of a (no doubt loosely-interpreted) scientific method, than with some notion of "getting back to nature." 3

2 Mayer notes in her protean meditations that "I am the leopard. I am the bear" and that "she is call of all that wild" (10-11).  This is no simple identification, for "the bear came & ate my parents up" (13).  Throughout Studying Hunger "bears & lions are at the door," including one "shakes bear" (50-51). 

3 In this paper, I wish to emphasize Mayer's scientistic claims; for an excellent discussion of the performative dimension of Mayer's experiments, especially in Midwinter Day, see Nelson's study.

With my proposed title I over-hastily locked myself into a discussion of Walden, when the truly Thoreauvian analogue for what Mayer does, of course, lies in the Journals.  Especially the journal entries Thoreau wrote after Walden, that focus more intensely on observations of the surrounding environment, and less on rhetorical expostulation.  Had I the time, I would quote from the marvelous passages, extending to many pages, where Thoreau loses himself in exploration of the otherworldly summit of Mount Monadnock: "The area is literally a chaos, an example of what the earth was before it was finished" (The Journals 1677).  See especially the entries for June 2-4, 1858 and August 4-9, 1860.
    In her book Gender and the Journal: Diaries and Academic Discourse, Cinthia Gannett explores the gendering of women's journals as "diaries," as well as the extent to which the journal, or diary, or notebook, may have offered a form—an experiment—attractive to the marginalized, feminized subject.  Rebecca Hogan discusses the parataxis at work in the fragmentary, non-linear form of diary-keeping as a kind of "feminized" proto-modernist form.  Certainly, Thoreau's own "prying with microscopic eye into the crevices of the bark or the leaves or the fungi at my feet" seems to depart from the "manly contemplation of the whole" Emerson counsels in Nature (see "Thursday" of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers [Henry David Thoreau 245]; and "Prospects" in the 1836 Nature [Emerson 50]).  Robert Louis Stevenson critiques what he considers to be "womanish solicitude" in Thoreau's "content and ecstasy in living" ("Henry David Thoreau: His Character and Opinions").  Generally, however, Thoreau is assured of the address of his "gleanings from the field in which action I reap. I must not live for it, but in it for the Gods—They are my correspondent to whom I daily send off this sheet post paid" (Journal entry of 8 February 1841, cited in Gannett 130).  The "YOU" of the Studying Hunger journals is far less assured, perhaps indistinguishable from the "I" of the author herself.
    In either case, the journal can be read as a deliberate, and particularly modern, formal choice for a poet: "Is not a poet," writes Thoreau," "bound to write his own biography? Is there any other work for him but a good journal? We do not wish to know how his imaginary hero, but how he, the actual hero, lived from day to day" (Journal entry of 21 October 1857, cited in Cramer's Introduction to Walden: A Fully Annotated Edition xviii).  The deliberate difference, here, between "imaginary hero" and "actual hero" translates, in the 1970s, into a difference between the confessional approach, not to speak of New York School "I do this I do that" exhibitionism, and the something else I see Mayer involved with.  Mayer's eventual turn to a poetics of the everyday also is not irrelevant here.  But more than in Mayer's other works, Studying Hunger most likely draws on the long tradition of scientific journals—not only in the natural history vein of Charles Darwin's famous Voyage of the Beagle, but in the "psychonaut" tradition of Arthur Rimbaud (who called for a "systematic derangement of the senses"), which might include various surrealist projects but also, say, Henri Michaux's carefully documented psychotropic experiments of the mid-1950s.

Peter Baker has argued that this urge to document the "day to day" life of the "actual hero" is not an extension of the romantic "poem of a mind" so much as a new ethical (re)turn to the epic, an act of exteriority that—combined with modernity's destruction of anything we might call an "actual hero"—lies behind the twentieth century's proliferation of long poems, whether viewed as shattered epics shored about their lonely authors, or decentered writing projects inviting a community of engaged readers (1-2).  (That said, I'm not sure exactly what form of ethics lies behind Mayer's headlong exploration of "violation" in Studying Hunger, of which more below.)  Juliana Spahr's and Jena Osman's magazine Chain might be considered a development of poetic exteriority on the community model, one pioneered by Mayer's Writing Experiments.
    But there's also the "readability" question.  I'm consistently amazed at the popularity of Walden as a text for introductory literature courses and for literary survey courses.  It's an exceedingly difficult text, downright unreadable in places, without the appropriate, highly and eccentrically-geared level of attention that must have gone into its writing.  You can't skim Walden, anymore than you'd skim one of Bernadette Mayer's long works.  Central to Mayer's difficulty is her determination to track the workings of entropy in language (and elsewhere), or what she calls "COLLAPSING STRUCTURES" (SH 11-12): "& energy never leaks out it runs around loose & the tree is formless" (37).  I suspect that a close study of Thoreau could be made tracking a similar attention.
    Perhaps self-consciously, in this regard, in his Conclusion to Walden Thoreau complains of the "ridiculous demand which England and America make, that you shall speak so that they can understand you."  I will quote the passage in full:
Neither men nor women nor toadstools grow so. As if that were important, and there were not enough to understand you without them. As if Nature could support but one order of understandings, could not sustain birds as well as quadrupeds, flying as well as creeping things, and hush and who, which Bright can understand, were the best English. As if there were safety in stupidity alone. I fear chiefly lest my expression may not be extra-vagrant enough, may not wander far enough beyond the narrow limits of my daily experience, so as to be adequate to the truth of which I have been convinced.... I desire to speak somewhere without bounds; like a man in a waking moment, to men in their waking moments, for I am convinced that I cannot exaggerate enough even to lay the foundation of a true expression.... The volatile truth of our words should continually betray the inadequacy of the residual statement.  ("Conclusion" 315)
    I would locate Mayer's experimentalism not in an ideological program of disruption and resistance (though certainly this is part of what she does—more on that in a second) so much as in a self-imposed mandate to overstep boundaries, a will to extravagance that is part of Mayer's quest for a writing adequate to . . . not a singular "truth," I suspect, but what she believes must be a world of volatile truths, an existence broader than the "residual statement," or text, if you will: "any derangement of the syntax, any extravagance of the word-in-order, to reveal the subject" (SH 27).  Or again, "I make the language fly" (19).  
    Such flight seeks the "text" of thought or consciousness, in a quest for the Lacanian "magic words" (25-26) that locate the subject where she does not think: "write what cannot be thought" (13).  (See also Mayer's description of the experience of writing Midwinter Day, which she claims "was so easy to do . . . do you ever have that experience as a writer, as if the words are already there, like you're using tracing paper" [Conversation with Charles Bernstein]).  Ultimately, in Studying Hunger, this quest leads the writer to a focus on transitions, communicating lapses and gaps, what Mayer calls the "eyelids" of prose (SH 27).
    Of course, I do not need to point out here how Mayer doesn't settle for romantic ineffability, but rather goes for a kind of textual operation more closely resembling the "deconstructive" works being elaborated in French critical theory, at about the same time.  I'd argue that Thoreau's writing, if read closely, also can be seen going for the kind of extravagant polysemy postmodern critics and poets narrowly ascribe to their own time and tendency (when in fact such copia has a long, rhetorical lineage, one developed by many of the writers Thoreau admired, writers I imagine Mayer also admires).  The critical difference being that Thoreau may be less focused on the gaps.
    Nor need I point out the importance of "disobedience," or even "rudeness," common to the two writers: "people began to describe my work as rude.  Worse than that, they were saying that I was acting rude and mean.  Also, I couldn't eat.  I decided to try telling stories again" (21).  Disruption and disobedience . . . civil or not!  

Walden, of course, is less about the outward world, more like Studying Hunger in its intentions—"there's nothing to look for outside" (22)—than the various Sierra Club editions would have us think.  In another journal entry (19 August 1851), Thoreau explained the poet's business as to be "continually watching the moods of his mind, as the astronomer watches the aspects of the heavens.  What might we not expect from a long life faithfully spent in this wise? . . .  As travelers go around the world and report natural objects and phenomena, so faithfully let another stay at home and report the phenomena of his own life" (cited in Cramer's Introduction to Walden xviii).  In Mayer's case, these phenomena include portraits, stories, and, especially, dreams.  Like Thoreau, she would direct the methods of scientific writing to an observation of the mental and emotional self.   
    This alienated approach to self, as private "you," may be the central import of the experiment in isolation, or "solitude," behind Walden (SH 9).  Studying Hunger, when juxtaposed with the exhaustive social documentation of Memory, which it followed and explicitly reacted to, reads as a similarly radical exercise in isolation.  Writing itself is approached as a place of isolation: "I'm wide awake I'm looking for a language that will carry you to this place, this place is isolated, it is here & this, this here" (25).     
    For work coming out of the "second-generation New York School"—a "school" so highly attuned to audience and the manners and effects of the coterie—Mayer's writing experiments of the 1970s are relatively unmannered (pace what Charles Bernstein says about Memory's "natchural" stylistic effects in "Stray Straws and Straw Men" [44]). "I am not collaging there are no textures here" (SH 35).  I believe Mayer's experimental isolation, and deliberate confrontation of the unstable "private you," are behind this effect.  It is an antinomian subject, outside any authorized community, whether scientific, literary or academic.  "The question of who is the you.  You private person" (9, 36).  Or, "the direction, YOU, is the one that the I-and will not lose" (36).  Or, again, "We asked how to communicate states of consciousness directly through a mass of language without describing or remembering.  And, we wind up with the question, who is the YOU of this work.  Or why is there constant switching" (24).  We find similar discoveries in the projects of Hannah Weiner.
    Thoreau can be highly mannered, but in Walden the manner is so over-determined as to amount to an elusive style, in the end, one that is difficult to locate in generalized terms.
    Both of these writers pursue a paradoxical isolation to communicate: "Why can't I eat when I'm alone, whose permission do I need" (53).  Thoreau: "If we would enjoy the most intimate society with that in each of us which is without, or above, being spoken to, we must not only be silent, but commonly so far apart bodily that we cannot possibly hear each other's voice in any case" (Walden 136).  And both explore the (im)possibility of "private meaning" in highly public ways:  "I have the idea that if I now take a space & inundate that space with words, all the words that have come out of this, set it up so that the words can be looked at, read & listened, all at once, for days, hours, the observers, or the audience, would be in a corner, pushed into a corner, into being me, or just into me . . . & this is this a public act" (SH 36-37).  

It's a project—and here is, or would be, my thesis—that in another way can be read as instrumental to the detection of other-than-human experiences.  In other words, before investigating the potential subjectivity of other-than-human nature, we might first come to terms with the multiple and elusive nature, or "objectivity," of the human subject.  I would align this with Charles Olson's "objectism" in "Projective Verse": "a man is himself an object, whatever he may take to be his advantages" (247).  Like Olson, whose spatial poetics emerge from a tale of cannibalism, Mayer does not ignore the sinister side to her project, where even self-objectification involves a certain violence: "I am violating you" (37), "I am conscious of my desire to exploit you" (62).  Studying Hunger goes so far as to dramatize this violence, in its final lines, with an act of cannibalism.  An "antihumanist" interiority, or perhaps a more thoroughgoing humanism.  
    Writes Stanley Cavell, paraphrasing Thoreau, "The work of humanization is still to be done.  While men believe in the infinite some ponds will be thought to be bottomless.  So long as we will not take our beliefs all the way to genuine knowledge, to conviction, but keep letting ourselves be driven to more or less hasty conclusions, we will keep misplacing the infinite, and so grasp neither heaven nor earth" (The Senses of Walden 74).
    And here is Mayer, paraphrasing one of her three Steins (Einstein): "the effect of this infinite curvature on the hapless observer, were he crazy enough to follow the body inward, would be catastrophic" (17).  Mayer's speculations on the theory of general relativity, as more than merely "misplacing the infinite," underscore the extent to which exploring inner human space can be fraught with a great deal more peril than sounding the bottom of Walden Pond.  There are physical, emotional and psychological limits to the human experiment with isolation: "It's simply if you go too far in one direction, you can never get back & you're out there in complete isolation, like this anthropologist who spent the last 20 years of his life on the sweet potato controversy (which way it floated)" ("Experimental Writing, or Writing the Long Work," in Onward: Contemporary Poetry and Poetics 8).

And then there is hunger.  Hunger biological, epistemological, ontological, even metaphysical.  Nada Gordon reads Studying Hunger as a book about fear (and danger), fear of starvation, fear of rejection, fear of dispersion, loss of control, powerlessness, fear of madness ("Studying Hunger" in Form's Life: An Exploration of the Works of Bernadette Mayer [n.p.]).  At one level, Studying Hunger is a record of Mayer's analysis with psychologist David Rubinfine, who wrote the introduction to Memory.  (She has stated, in her Conversation with Charles Bernstein, that it was the writing of Memory that pushed her into analysis.)  Studying Hunger ends with the murder and cannibalizing of "David": "So now I must kill & eat him at this spot, so now I must kill & eat you on this spot.  Settles the questions of 'yous' & 'I's'" (70).  From a Lacanian perspective, this might be the cure, the death or acceptance of the transference fantasy.  But the last sentence of the published text chooses to emphasize cannibalism—a transgression equated, a few sentences earlier, with the fasting of the hunger artist: "I bring some of the flesh with me to survive on, exclusively, until I am arrested" (71).
    Anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro has theorized an equivalent fear for both naturalists and animists (I'd argue that Mayer is equal parts naturalist and animist in her approach to language, as much as Hannah Weiner was).  Fear of cannibalism is, Viveiros de Castro argues, the animist's equivalent of the fear of solipsism haunting Western cosmologies.  Where the naturalist Westerner (for whom bodies are made particular in the singularity of mind) fears hers might be the only mind in the world, the animist (for whom souls are made particular in various bodies) fears eating or getting eaten by the souls that (may) lurk in other bodies, including animal bodies (481).  How would we describe the fear particular to what Jacques Derrida, finally, has called the "autobiographical animal" (72-77): fear of eating oneself?  
    Early in Studying Hunger, Mayer invokes Kafka's hunger artist: "not a system of feedback but a system of feeding" (21).  And in his contribution to Writing for Bernadette (a collection of "get well" broadsides for Mayer following her stroke), Robert Creeley echoed this invocation rather gruesomely, in an excerpt from "Histoire de Florida":
    Remember German artist
    (surely "conceptual" or
    "happenings") ate himself,
    cut bits from his body
    on stage while audience
    watched, it went well
    for awhile. But then
    he did something wrong
    and bled to death.
    The art is long
    to learn, the life short.  (cited in Vickery 164-165)
    Besides Thoreau's own ambivalent discussion of a "primitive rank and savage instinct," that nearly impels him to "devour [a woodchuck] raw," (never mind his generally unfavorable attitude toward woodchucks throughout the work)4 Ellery Channing's challenge to Thoreau in a letter written 5 March 1845—which some scholars connect with Thoreau's finally deciding to occupy the land his friend Emerson had purchased—rhymes uncannily: "I see nothing for you in this earth but that field which I once christened 'Briars'; go out upon that, build yourself a hut, and there begin the grand process of devouring yourself alive" (cited in Cramer's Introduction to Walden xv).

4 As I came home through the woods with my string of fish, trailing my pole, it being now quite dark, I caught a glimpse of a woodchuck stealing across my path, and felt a strange thrill of savage delight, and was strongly tempted to seize and devour him raw; not that I was hungry then, except for that wildness which he represented. Once or twice, however, while I lived at the pond, I found myself ranging the woods, like a half-starved hound, with a strange abandonment, seeking some kind of venison which I might devour, and no morsel could have been too savage for me. The wildest scenes had become unaccountably familiar. I found in myself, and still find, an instinct toward a higher, or, as it is named, spiritual life, as do most men, and another toward a primitive rank and savage one, and I reverence them both. I love the wild not less than the good. ("Higher Laws" Walden 202)

Of course there are significant differences between Mayer's and Thoreau's respective experiments, and their approach to the writing, their address, etc.  Which in a fuller study would need to be explored.  (Notably, one might consider the counterpoint to Studying Hunger, in Mayer's collaborative experiments—especially The Cave, a long work written with Clark Coolidge that, thanks to the efforts of Marcella Durand, is about to see the light of day.  Or consider Unnatural Acts, a magazine devoted exclusively to collaborative writing, that Mayer co-edited with Ed Friedman from 1972-1974, at exactly the time she was writing the Studying Hunger journals.)  If we think of the larger span of Mayer's career, and still wish to make a Concord connection, it might make better sense to link her with the remarkable Sarah Ripley, of the Emerson circle, "who was a classical scholar of note, knew many languages as well as mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, and botany, and could have filled any faculty chair at Harvard, had professorships been open to women in her day" (Goodwin xvii).  Visitors to the Old Manse in Concord will see Ripley's reconstructed garden and hear how she was "supposed to have simultaneously rocked a cradle, shelled peas, heard one boy recite his Latin and another his Greek . . . without dropping an accent, or a particle, or boy, or pea-pod, or the baby" (134).  Ripley was friends with the Harvard botanist Asa Gray and a collector of lichens herself; Thoreau notes in his journal (20 January 1853) a conversation with Ripley about a species of lichen found on stone walls.
    But in the interests of time, I have focused on the striking connections between Mayer's early experiments and Thoreau's projects.  Such a study need not be ahistorical or strictly diachronic.  As I have suggested, a comparative study of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and of Studying Hunger could be illuminating.  One certainly might locate "Thoreauvian" tendencies in the 1970s, Whole Earth Catalog cultural milieu (out of which, perhaps, Utopia emerges as the most authentically Thoreauvian of Mayer's works).  Such a study could draw on the ongoing revaluation of literary experimentalism as an American pragmatist tradition, connecting the New American Poetry with Emerson, Gertrude Stein with William James (with whom Stein studied psychology), and John Cage with Thoreau (who Cage "wrote through," having, partly thanks to Wendell Berry, discovered Thoreau's writings on sound in the indexed Dover edition of The Journals [Kostelanetz 119]). 5
    Looking at how Mayer and Weiner negotiate their gendered positions in a poetry and arts milieu via pragmatic, Thoreauvian experiments of isolation—exploring thoroughly a margin they may not altogether have willed for themselves—could bring gender studies into productive contact with the renewed study of American pragmatism.  Susan Howe certainly would have to come into the picture, here.  Emerson too, to jump back a hundred years or so (once again).
    To conclude, I'd like to suggest that in our approach to Mayer's work we range both closer to the writing itself (an experience that can admittedly be quite frightening)—that we take on the task of reading these works the artist has nearly consumed herself, quite literally, in offering to us, reading them "deliberately" and with "steady intention"—as well as that we generously expand the scope of our hermeneutic horizon.  Let's range as far as the author herself surely has gone, or as far as we can while staying sane.  For the wonder of these works is that they are nearly as wide as the human mind itself.

5 See Charles Bernstein, "The Objects of Meaning: Reading Cavell Reading Wittgenstein," in Content's Dream: Essays 1975-1984 (Sun and Moon P, 1985); Richard Deming, Listening on All Sides: Toward an Emersonian Ethics of Reading (Stanford UP, 2008); Andrew Epstein, "Emerson, Pragmatism, and the 'New American Poetry,'" in Beautiful Enemies: Friendship and Postwar American Poetry (Oxford UP, 2006); Lyn Hejinian, The Language of Inquiry (U of California P, 2000); Susan Howe, The Birth-Mark: Unsettling the Wilderness in American Literary History (Wesleyan UP, 1993) and Pierce Arrow (New Directions, 1999); Michael Magee, Emancipating Pragmatism: Emerson, Jazz, and Experimental Writing (U of Alabama P, 2004); Steven Meyer, Irresistible Dictation: Gertrude Stein and the Correlations of Writing and Science (Stanford UP, 2001); Joan Retallack, The Poethical Wager (U of California P, 2004).

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