Transparent things?


I just heard Adrienne Rich read the following poem and it provoked several reflections for me on how things have perplexed, challenged, and inspired us throughout the semester. Before reading the poem, she said it was inspired by the debate of if language is transparent. I am sure that she and Latour would have an interesting conversation about this, yet whether or not it is or isn’t, I suppose what strikes me is how language and things captivate and intrigue us to try and understand. Even if there is no distinction between the literal and metaphorical, the fact that words and things draw us in (returning here to our early conversations on wonder) I think is a demonstration of how perhaps their lack of transparency is in fact their greatest agency.

Transparencies (from “the school among ruins”, 2004)

That the meek word like the righteous word can bully

that an Israeli soldier interviewed years

after the first intifada could mourn on camera

what under orders he did, saw done, did not refuse

that another leaving Beit Jala could scrawl

on a wall:   We are truely sorry for the mess we made

is merely routine    word that would cancel deed

That human equals innocent and guilty

That we grasp for innocence whether or no

is elementary    That words can translate into broken bones

That the power to hurl words is a weapon

That the body can be a weapon

any child on playground knows    That asked your favorite word

                                                              in a game

you always named a thing, a quality, freedom or river

(never a pronoun, never God or War)

is taken for granted    That word and body

are all we have to lay on the line

That words are windowpanes in a ransacked hut, smeared

by time’s dirty rains, we might argue

likewise that words are clear as glass till the sun strikes it blinding


But that in a dark windowpane you have seen your face

That when you wipe your glasses the text grows clearer

That the sound of crunching glass comes at the height of the


That I can look through glass

into my neighbor’s house

but not my neighbor’s life

That glass is sometimes broken to save lives

That a word can be crushed like a goblet underfoot

is only what it seems, part question, part answer: how

                                                      you live it.


The last stanza reminded me immediately of our first essay from Bill Brown. The dirty window, which may make itself present through its grime, does not necessarily permit us to see the meaning of what is on the other side. As Brown himself states, “We look through objects, be we only catch a glimpse of things.” 


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