Friday, January 27, 2012

The Intensional and Extensional Motion of Frank Samperi's The Triune, by Michele Mazzia

Feb 12 (not sure of the date) I think it might be 1975.

Dear Mr. Samperi,
Last semester I took a course in contemporary literature and Caterpillar Anthology was one of the course's texts. Reading 20 sections from The Triune was like following a path of discovery - the poem is pure energy to me. I've since read The Prefiguration and plan to order The Triune.
My professor, Peter Clothier, suggested I send a paper I wrote for the class to you. I hope you enjoy
seeing in what manner The Triune speaks to some of its readers.

Michele Mazzia
Senior philosophy major
Univ. of Southern California

The Triune is a journey: a man's walk through the country and the city, a soul's passage through time.
1) The motion is expressed in the flow of both concrete images and abstract concepts.
The extensional motion, the form of the lines and stanzas, is that each line is one unitary image or concept.
Each linear unit gives way to the next. The lines are equally spaced and positioned along the same margin;
thus each line is of equal weight and each image is as primary as the next.


The park quiet
I climbed rocks
came to paths to bridges
to grass trees beyond
turned down to a lake
few rowboats out
some boys their pants rolled up
fishing at the edge (p.152)

The poem is a first-person narration. The narrator, the subject of the  journey, is always present; and when reference to him is explicit, it is most often with the motion verbs "I walked," "I climbed," "I came," "I turned."
Thus the images are always the images he sees as he travels; the images are united and flow naturally. There is constant reference to paths and bridges-- connectives between sites.
The direction of the motion is "ambiance conchoidal": the curving paths and recurrent images--hill, rocks, trees, river--recurrent locations--weed, desert, city, valley. It is a journey round and round toward a center, also a unification. It is "circular movement squared." (p. 166)


The flow of concrete images is juxtaposed by the succession of abstract concepts.

sweet peas
the graveside
then water
space a reflection unity
light to river
the flowers planets
the universe a body
an obviation
horizon (p.158)

The movement of the body is accompanied by the movement of thought. But the abstractions of thought are not analytical or logical, but rather imaginative. Compare the above passage to the introduction to Blake's "Auguries Of Innocence:"

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

It is a move of the imagination from the particulars of sense to the totality of space; it is the imagination that likens the universe to a body.
2) There is a tension between the concrete and the abstract that heightens the energy level of the poem.
In general terms, the tension between the concrete and the abstract is the disparity of the particularity of sense-perceptions and the unity of the imagination. An expression of a more specific form of tension between abstract and concrete in The Triune is the polarity of geography and geometry.
The motion is at once geographical motion--from rivers to valleys to hills to cities--and geometrical motion--"conchoidal" and "circular movement squared." The motion is both between two particular places and an instance of a universal geometrical form. The higher energy level of the poem is the result of this representation of the same phenomenon is alternative descriptions. It is like two different motions.
3) But the distinction between geographic particular and geometrical universal breaks down, for they both pre-suppose each other.
There is a contradiction in taking the geographic location as only a particular:

left and right rivers
the geographical false
stressing a position

For position is only a position within the whole, in relation to the totality of locations along the conchoidal path. Similarly, the conchoidal form of the motion presupposes a particular point as center:

Circle whose center was no where visible except as
circumference presupposed itself as center to a
circumference no where visible

Thus, the particular geographic locale moves into the totality, and the universal geometrical form moves into
the particular. This motion between universal and particular is continuous, and analogous to the endless
conchoidal path whose point-center is never reached.
4) The motion in The Triune is thus shown to have a dialectical character: the movement of qualities into their opposites.
The kinetics of The Triune are attained in the passage from a concrete image or a concept to its opposite.


a) "the right reflects the left"
b) the rising and setting of the sun
c) the path from the river to the desert
d) "sleep the awakening"
e) love/hate:
"a man and a woman lying amidst grass"
"men and woman shot among the trees to the right of a waterfall
a girl raped left naked"
the architecture positions
the people individually met belying the peace"
f) "fire below by the river"
g) from the country to the city


a) "straight line
one the other
--reflection is between opposites, the uniting of opposites in the reflection.

b) "the unitary unjustified
line spectral
point zero unresolved
unit net zero
however no negative no positive
--negativity contained in the meaning of positive, so there can be no positive without the negative. The point zero, neither positive nor negative, is an enigma--the unitary is not zero, so it must pass directly from the negative to the positive, with no intermediary zero state.

The life process itself is dialectical:

identity a person

The activity of life is a movement toward death: living is dying.
The dialectic is described:

the god involution evolution
resolution deceptive
induction deduction
therefore equilibrations
then opposite
circular movement squared

The spiral development: deceptive, for though traveling along the same course, every step taken has its opposite.

The Triune presents dialectical motion at a multiplicity of levels, and thus is itself a spiral staircase. The first level is within the concrete and abstract realms themselves: the movement from images concepts to their opposites. The second level is the dialectic of the course traveled: the endless conchoidal path. The third level is the inter-action of the abstract and the concrete: the particular geography and universal geometry moving into each other. The next level is the general description of the dialectic within the poem. The last level is
The Triune as a whole containing the other levels. Each stage contains the dialectic of the previous stages.

The only overtly dialectical motion of the extension of the poem is the last line of the Caterpillar excerpt: the line extensionally reads in a downward direction, but the intension is climbing, transcending.

Dialectics achieves a unity higher than that of the totality of the imagination, for it unites that totality with its opposite particularity. But of course, the vision of the totality afforded by the imagination is necessary to the dialectical consciousness. The place of dialectics in the journey of the spirit may be as a source of partial light on the true course, analogous to Dante's flame symbolic of the light philosophy can give to the


  1. Claudia,

    I love the coinciding 'geometrical' and 'geographical'senses of journey given here. There certainly is a conchoidal path to a 'empyrean', God, the real goal of Samperian poetics.

    Samperi's poetry does work with philosophical categories, particularly those of Thomist "realist ontology". Samperi's was an acutely active speculative and lyrical poetry.

    Great post!

  2. Hi Conrad,
    I know. Nice find in the archive.
    Thank you Michele for your interest in my father so many years ago.