From the standpoint of human perception, simultaneity depends on conditions of transparency and interpenetration. These indicate, we are told by Gyorgy Kepes in Language of Vision, ‘more than an optical characteristic; they imply a broader spatial order. Transparency means a simultaneous perception of different spatial locations. Space not only recedes but fluctuates in a continuous activity.’73 In other words, a viewer is offered two or more ways to see the same thing, and through this oscillation is drawn into and encouraged to take an active role in determining the visual experience. But we must keep in mind that unlike a painting observed from a distance, the compound architectural space invites more than retinal and mental action: it offers alternatives that people can also enter and act upon, continuing to revise and alter that act as new conditions or desires emerge.
The double-perspective aroused by a thing we can see and construe in differing ways, at different times, equips us to work on several different associative levels at once. While the reading of poetry is not the same as manoeuvring in buildings, the structure of poems can provide useful lessons for understanding versatility. Charles Olson put his finger on the taproot of participation by continually crossing out the word ‘one’ and replacing it with ‘two’, realizing that it is multiplicity, not singularity, which makes the world involving and energizing. ‘One’ is something to passively follow, while ‘two’ injects a vital moment of decision that draws the reader into action. This variability is a principal means by which Olson sought to turn his poems into instruments of creative reading, perpetually able to overcome the tendency for life to settle into habits.
Two other American poets, the contemporaries Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams, struggled to incorporate the reader in poems through a highly evocative linguistic structure that was rich in alternate ways of hearing and seeing the same words. Not coincidentally, they are the two poets of their generation most influenced by the new movements in painting based on concepts of simultaneity that were emerging in Europe at the time, from Cezanne’s interlocking colour planes to the faceting and multiple views of Picasso and Braque. By contrast with poems that present a fixed perspective, Stevens and
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Williams were searching for a poetic structure that contains multiple perspectives and offers a somewhat broken and incomplete structure open to diverse manners of reading and interpreting phrases. Such a poem is no longer an expression but a dialectical medium that invites the reader to project himself into its world, and there actively engage and work out for himself each possible experience out of the latent options.
Williams was particularly close to the emancipatory images being pursued in the visual arts. ‘Representing planes to denote volumes, Picasso gives so complete and so decisive an enumeration of the various elements which make up the object, that these do not take the shape of the object,’ he wrote. ‘This is largely due to the effort of the viewer, who is forced to see all the elements simultaneously just because of the way they have been arranged.’74 He sought an equally open composition in his poems by incorporating words and phrases that invite the reader to fluctuate between interpretations that permeate and charge one another. Instead of producing clear and straightforward forms resistant to imaginative play and transfiguration, he created ones with multiple shadings and ambiguous structures that soften and disintegrate into a shiftier kind of reality. Unlike a pre-arranged thing that remains external to our existence, these nuanced things invite us to share in finishing and, to some extent, choosing their forms. Stevens conveyed a similar thought in imagining a poem in which the ‘degree of perception at which what is real and what is imagined are one: a state of clairvoyant observation’, so that ‘reality is not what it is. It consists of the many realities which it can be made into’.75
As in a painting such as Picasso’s Portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler or a poem by Olson, Williams or Stevens, decorating gains simultaneity when its spaces are compound, rather than singular. This occurs in a building whose whole and parts avoid being overly fixed, fully defined and sharply divided, and instead are built up out of incomplete qualities and zones that overlap with unclear boundaries to produce a shifting and shadier whole. Boundaries leak and connect, as well as partly divide. Components are to a certain extent transparent to one another, as well as discrete, and offer multiple facets of the some overall volume they occupy. This extraordinary doubleness, poised between reality and imagination, may extend into many facets, but its basic power depends first of all on escaping the command of a single, preordained future.