All entries for August 2006
August 31, 2006
Writing about web page http://www.uwe.ac.uk/hlss/faculty/news/womenandpoetry/index.shtml
This paper uses a Kristevan model to explore the poetics of women poets. I use Wales as a case study in order to discuss the choice to move away from the privileging of traditional or familiar landscapes, cultural mores and literary tropes. The three writers to be discussed are Gwyneth Lewis, Pascale Petit and Deryn Rees-Jones, all of whom have an interest in creating a dialogue with landscapes, mythologies and tropes beyond or adjacent to their own culture.
My model derives from Julia Kristeva’s Strangers to Ourselves, in which she explores notions of the ‘foreigner’, ‘foreignness’ and the stranger within us. To Kristeva, it is important to recognise and empathise with the ‘foreigner’ or the ‘stranger’. When one realises that we are all strangers, the quality of ‘strangeness’, which causes fear, hatred and loathing, can be eliminated. As Kristeva states, ‘The foreigner is within me, hence we are all foreigners’. Through discovering the stranger in themselves, these Welsh women poets can write politically about difference.
The body of this paper explores the three poets in detail. First I compare three extracts from their statements of poetics and then I give a detailed analysis of a short poem from each poet. In ‘Dissociation’, Lewis explores how losing the Welsh-language and denying her Welsh self invokes a new identity – the archetypal mad woman artist. In comparison, I study how Petit projects her own poetic concerns into the biographical telling of the life of Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo (‘Henry Ford Hospital’). I juxtapose these with Rees-Jones’ poet-heroine of ‘Cemetery’, who projects herself into the persona of the English Victorian poetess. Finally I argue that these writers search for the strangers to themselves and in doing so, they create a poetics in which ‘every difference is significant’.
August 24, 2006
Reviewing Hannah Weiner, The Clairvoyant Journal (1978).
Bernstein begins with this comment:
'We all see words: signs of a language we live inside of. & yet these words seem exterior to us—we see them, projections of our desires, and act, often enough, out of a sense of their demands.' (284)
Bernstein describes the poet, Weiner, as ''living a life inside of language' as she projects words onto people, objects and herself (284). These words are dictated to Weiner by voices. He writes of her as having a kind of omniscience about the working of language as she is 'inside language and looking out onto it' (284). Yet Weiner's work retains its energy via its diaristic qualities that 'fuse the eruptive elements ("voices")' (284). Bernstein is enlivened by the interruptions in the text that unsettle its linear arc – interruptions that ponder how to continue writing, that think self–consciously about the writing process.
Bernstein suggests that the fact that the book is made up of debris makes it an unsettling read. However, he is adamant that 'Weiner has explored—come upon—the language that fills, and often enough, controls our lives (everyday, common place: she says "group mind")' (286). Bernstein suggests that as she thinks self–consciously about language, Weiner offers the possibility of freeing oneself from domination by it.
The L=A=N-G=U=A-G=E Book . Ed. Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois Press, 1984.
'The distortion is to imagine that knowledge has an "object" outside of the "language games" of which it is a part—that words refer to "transcendental signified" to use an expression from another tradition, rather than being part of a language which itself produces meaning in terms of its grammar, its conventions and its "agreements in judgement". Learning a language is not learning the names of things outside a language, as if it were simply a matter of matching up signifiers with signifieds, as if signifieds already existed and we were just learning new names for them [...] Rather we are initiated by language into a socious, which is for us the world. So that the foundations of knowledge are not so much based on a pre–existing empirical world as on shared conventions and mutual attunement.' (299)
In Boundary 2 (Vol IX, No. 2, 1981) 295–306.
'Whatever gets written gets written in a particular shape, uses a particular vocabulary and syntax, & a variety of chosen techniques. Whether its shape, syntax & vocabulary result from an attraction (or ideological attachment to) the organic and spontaneous, or to some other look, it is equally chosen. Sometimes this process takes place intuitively or unconsciously (the pull of influence comes in here since somewhere in the back of the mind are models for what looks natural, personal, magical, mystical, spontaneous, automatic, dreamlike, confessional, didactic, shocking). Sometimes it is a very conscious process. Any way, you're responsible for what turns up. Free association, for example, is no more inherently 'natural' than cutting up: & neither is in any sense 'random'. One technique may be used because a decision is made to use subconscious material. Another may be used to limit vocabulary of the poem to words not self–generated. In either case, various formal decisions are made & these decisions shape the work.' (43)
'Writing necessarily consists of attaching numerous bits and pieces together in a variety of ways. & it comes to a point here you feel any composition is artifice and deceit. & the more 'natchural' the look the more deceptive. That any use of language outside its function of communicating in speaking is a false hood (cf. Laura Riding). Or even that language itself—everywhere conditioning our way of seeing & meaning— is an illusion (as if there were something outside language.
Or take it this way: I just want to write—let it come out— get in touch with some natural process—from brain to pen—with no interference of typewriter, formal pattern. & it can seem like the language itself—having to put it into words— any kind of fixing a version of it—gets in the way. That I just have this thing inside me—silently—unconditioned by the choices I need to make when I write—whether it be to write it down or write on. So it is as if language itself gets in the way of expressing this thing, this flow, this movement of consciousness.
But there are no thoughts except through language, we are everywhere seeing through it, limited to it but not by it. Its conditions always interpose themselves: a particular set of words to choose from (a vocabulary), a way of processing those words (syntax, grammar): the natural conditions of language. What pulses, pushes, is energy, spirit, anima, dream, fantasy: coming out always in form, as shape: these particulars, 'massed at material bottoms' in hum of this time—here now—these words, this syntax & rhythm & shape. The look of the natural as constricted, programmatic—artful—'lying words' as the most abstract, composed or formal work.' (44)
The L=A=N-G=U=A-G=E Book . Ed. Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois Press, 1984.
August 23, 2006
Bernstein begins his essay with two quotations from possibly invented characters:
For if a swan could sing we would not know what she was insisting. But we are not, or few of us, swans, and have no excuse. – Flo Amber
The Crooked shall be made Stright and the Straight sundered into a thousand Shards. – Ezekial Horn.
Bernstein responds by denying that a 'swan song' is needed for this, the last essay in the collection and thinking of what job he has to do describes the need to 'plug up some holes and still some more, calling the leaks poetry, the clogs excess' (235). More riddling phrases follow. Bernstein describes: 'An insistence whose luster [sic] is so much scotch–guard against spoilage, whose dethronements dissolve into valedictory reprise' (235). He offers the images of 'putting the cork back on the boat, the wheel around the spin' but finally concludes that his view imagines 'the formal dynamics of a poem as communicative exchanges, as socially addressed, and as ideologically explicit' (235).
In considering convention, authority, persuasion, rhetoric, sincerity and conviction, Bernstein writes: 'Conventions are made to be broken' (235). He notes that in challenging 'the conventions of writing, we are entering into the politics of language' (235).
Bernstein disagrees with 'standardization' of language describing it as a kind of 'arteriosclerosis' (236). For him, 'counterconventions' in poetry or elsewhere can improve communication. Bernstein believes that poetry challenges public language in such a manner. Of course, there is the problem of authority and it is sometimes thought that in order to make a challenge, one must stick to recognized conventional forms of authorised speaking. Bernstein considers 'the power of persuasion versus the coercion of physical force; vatic, or perhaps even fatuous, poetic authority versus the psychological and behavioural manipulation of advertising or behavioural engineering; the authority of the school system versus that of an army, the authority of money versus aesthetic innovation' (236–237).
Bernstein's answer is 'to act out, in dialectical play, the insincerity of form as much as content' (237). This kind of play 'collapses into a more ambiv_o_lent, destabilzing field of pathos, the ludicrous, schtick, sarcasm; a multidimensional textual field that is congenitally unable to maintain an eveness of surface tension or a flatness of affect. where linguistic shards of histrionic inappropriateness pierce the momentary calm of an obscure twist of phrase, before cant_o_ring into the next available trope; less a shield than a probe' (237). This would be 'anti–formalist' and 'un–Modern' (237).
Bernstein diverges from his subject a little here to discuss the reading of poems. For Bernstein 'the stylistic features of a work' are most important. He refers to Jerome McGann's work on Byron which suggests that Byron refuses the Romantic poetics of sincerity through close analysis of formal strategies. Bernstein is also anxious about historicisation and notes that history's 'master narratives need to be partialized as specific historical projections for particular ideological purposes' (238).
Bernstein worries about the fact that some forms of convention and authority hide their status as historical constructions. This is what Bernstein calls 'the phallocentric voice of truth or sincerity' centred on 'centrality, objectivity, or neutrality'(239). The problem with this voice is that it adopts 'expedience at the expense of depth, narrative continuity at the expense of detail, persuasion at the expense of conviction' (239).
The answer to this is not to adopt a private voice. Bernstein states: 'I am a ventriloquist, happy as a raven to preach with blinding fervour of the corruptions of public life in a voice of painted honesty that is as much a conceit as the most formal legal brief for which my early education would have seemed to prepare me' (239). He continues: 'If my loops and short circuits, my love of elision, my Groucho Marxian refusal of irony is an effort to explode the authority of those conventions I wish to discredit (disinherit), it constantly offers the consoling self–justification of Art' (239). Yet Bernstein emphasises that this must not be self–centred but an 'interaction' or 'conversation' or 'provocation'(240). Bernstein reaches towards the syncopated, the polyrhythmical, the heterogeneous, the offbeat, because fro too long what he calls male language makes people speak ' to those aspects of their consciousness that have been programmed to receive the already digested scenes or commentaries provided' (240).
Although Bernstein admits that public policy and poetry seem very far apart, he regrets 'the lack of poetic thinking as activated potential for all people' (241). Bernstein concludes: 'The political power of poetry is not measured in numbers; it instructs us to count differently' (242).
To begin, Bernstein quotes Adorno: 'truth is the antithesis of existing society' (qtd. in Bernstein, 242). Bernstein uses this to challenge the authority of convention. Bernstein wonders if a synthesis of existing societies could be truth, then rejects his own suggestion because it ignores the 'joke' of Adorno's comment. Bernstein desires something beyond irony: ' a mix of comic, bathetic, and objective modes' to produce ' an intercutting that undercuts the centrality of a governing narrative or prosodic strategy'.
He comments on comedy here:
'Anything that departs from the sincere or serious enters into the comic, but the comic is anything but a unitary phenomenon, and the range of comic attitudes goes from the good–humoured to the vicious, from clubby endorsement of the existing social reign to total rejection of all existing human communities: Poet as confidence "man", deploying hypocrisy in order to shatter the formal autonomy of the poem and its surface of detachment; the sincere and the comic as interfused figure, not either/or but both/and . We are pathetic and heroic simultaneously, one by virtue of the other, a vision of a human being that is the basis of the work of the other Williams, Tennessee.' (242)
Bernstein wants 'stylistic innovations' to be 'alternative social formations'(242) that receive a 'synoptic, multilevel, interactive response' (243). Bernstein explains that, 'the aesthetic and the political make an inseparable poetics' (243).
'Poetry can bring to awareness questions of authority and conventionality, not to overthrow them, as in a certain reading of destructive intent, but to reconfigure: a necessary deconfiguration as prerequisite for refiguration, for the regeneration of the ability to figure —– count —– think figuratively, tropically. The poetry of which I speak is multidirectional and multivectoral; for while some vectors are undermining others just keep on mining.
The interpretive and compositional model I am proposing, then, can be understood as a synthesis of the three Marxes (Chico, Karl, Groucho) and the four Williamses (Raymond, William Carlos, Tenessee and Esther).' (243)
'When convention and authority clash you can hear the noise for miles. And this social noise is a sound that poetry can not only make but echo and resound. And while the convention of permanent committees on the politics of poetic form is over, there is one last directive to pass on: Hold your own hearings.' (243)
'Comedy and the Poetics of Political Form'. The Politics of Poetic Form . Ed. Charles Bernstein. New York: Roof, 1990. 235–244. (Note to self: note the reversal between title of book and title of essay).
Lee, C.P. ‘ “Yeah and I used to be a hunchback”: Immigrants, humour and the Marx Brothers’. Because I Tell A Joke or Two: Comedy, Politics and Social Difference. Edited by Stephen Wagg. London and New York: Taylor & Francis, 1998. 165–179.
C.P. Lee begins the essay with two quotations: one from Theodore Roosevelt stating that there can be one language only and the other a play on words by the Marx Brothers. Lee responds: ‘So much for legislating the most amorphous and misleading of things—–language’ (165). Lee suggests that verbal displays were a means of defence for immigrant in the US. This was a way of coming to grips with ‘WASP (White Anglo–Saxon Protestant) principles’ which were used as a means of controlling how people thought and behaved (166). The Marx Brothers’ humour is thought of as a means of rebelling against this and Lee quotes Groucho from Animal Crackers: ‘Put it on the penultimate Jameson, not on the dipthonic’ (qtd. in Lee, 166). Lee admires the Marx Brothers who are described as ‘three Jews pretending to be a harp–playing mute, an Italian con–man and a motor–mouthed shyster’ who ‘could cross over from the ethnic melting pot and establish a rich vein of absurdist humour’ (166).
Lee argues that the situation of immigrants lends itself to this kind of comedy. Those immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island faced hostility and the difficulty of integrating into a new language. In juxtaposition with comments on the polylingualism that existed within US communities, Lee offers a sketch from Animal Crackers that plays with pronunciation and mispronunciation:
GROUCHO: Put it in a box Jameson. Mark it Fra–Gilly.
GROUCHO: Look it up in a dictionary Jameson. It’s under fragile. (qtd. in Lee, 166)
Lee considers how ‘mini–language communities’ survive giving examples of patois, argot and slang. The essay argues that ‘the English of The Marx Brothers is that of a dominant tongue filtered, mediated and regurgitated through the consciousness of an essential ethnicity of perception’ (168).
Lee outlines the Marx Brothers background. They were brought up in Harlem , New York, which was then not a predominantly black neighbourhood but a mixture of different ethnicities. Their father, Sam, was French (from Alsace), while their mother, Minnie, was German. The Marx Brothers grew up speaking German and Yiddish at home. Groucho later based routines on his act as a dialect comic. Lee sees this kind of dialect comedy not as racist but ‘as an agent of cohesion, awaiting recognition, agreement and unity’ and he then quotes a scene from Go West (170).
GROUCHO: White man’s red friend. White man want to make friends with red man’s brother.
CHICO: And sister too.
INDIAN: Beray! Beray! Kulah! Kulah! Cocho! Rodah! Nietzsche! Pardo.
GROUCHO: Are you insinuating that the white man is not the Indian’s friend? Who swindled you out of Manhatten Island for $24?
CHICO: White man.
GROUCHO: Who turned you into wood and stood you in front of a cigar store?
CHICO: White man.
GROUCHO: Who put your head on a nickel and then stole the nickel away?
CHICO: Slot machine. (qtd. in Lee, 170)
Dialect became an essential part of the Marx Brothers’ developing act – they experimented with Irish and German accents, but finally Chico was the only brother to retain the cod–Italian accent. However Lee suggests that one element of the original act was retained – the idea of otherness. The dowager, Margaret Dumont, then becomes a means for hegemony to be undermined.
Lee suggests that there are three ‘geopsychical spaces within the language community’ that the three brothers represent.
•Groucho, the ‘intellectual’, is ‘quick–witted’ and ‘fast–talking’ and he ‘controls the speech situation’ (173).
•Chico battles with the ‘weapon’ of ‘unyielding literalness’ and he represents ‘the eternal battle of the plain speaker up against the Latinate ruling class culture’ (174).
•The primitive noises and gestures of Harpo take us into the realm of the Shaman according to Lee – a world of magic, of Levi–Strauss’ bricolage.
Lee now makes a strange diversion into discussing Kaballah in which ‘all words resonate with power, and this power can be concentrated in order to effect changes in reality’ (175). Lee states that although the Marx Brothers were not interested in this kind of magick, they did have an awareness of the power of language. He compares Kaballah with the tradition of Calypso.
Lee now tackles the topic of the Marx Brothers’ Jewishness and while he admits that there is a brand of ‘Jewish humour’, he is reluctant to suggest that the Marx Brothers’ comedy was exclusively Jewish. However, Lee points out ‘a survival mechanism adopted by European Jewry in the nineteenth century of carrying your trade in your head’ and Lee wonders if this could be a reason for the proliferation of Jewish performers.
Lee suggests that post–war, so–called ‘ethic comedy’ was less in favour and that performers became more detached from their cultural identities. Yet Lee suggests that the Marx Brothers championed a brand of comedy that acted as a tool of defence and integration for immigrants. To conclude his essay, he cites one of Groucho’s anecdotes:
‘In the 1920s two friends of the Marx Brothers were walking along 5th Avenue. The first was Otto Kahn, a patron of the Metropolitan Opera. The second was Marshall B. Wilder, a hunch–backed script writer. As they walked past a synagogue Kahn turned to Wilder and said, “You know I used to be a Jew”. And Wilder said, “Yeah and I used to be a hunchback”.’ (qtd. in Lee, 179)
Rowland, Richard. ‘American Classic’. Hollywood Quarterly. Vol 2. No. 3. (April 1947). 264-269.
In this essay, Richard Rowland wonders which films will stand the test of time (and as this article was written in 1947 one feels rather strange looking back on it nearly sixty years later). Rowland suggests that Marx Brothers films have such a legacy, although he admits that some of the humour is dated. Rowland proceeds to ask why the films persist. One reason suggested is the excellent script writer S.J. Perelman who worked mainly on the early films. Rowland states, ‘Perelman has a remarkable talent for torturing the English language into a sort of insane poetry, formed by weird juxtapositions of formal diction and advertising copy, of slang and preciosity, so that he becomes a slapstick James Joyce’ (265). Yet Rowland notes that the Marx Brothers continued to be funny after Perelman finished writing for them, so he wonders could the legacy be rooted in the ‘comic genius’ of the acting?
Rowland rejects this line of thought too and he concludes that the nature of reality is what is at stake here:
‘They deal with the gravest question with which comedy can deal. They ask us, at least the successful ones do, “What is the nature of reality?” ’(265).
What unfolds is an interesting argument as Rowland notes the inherent unreality of the Marx Brothers’ world:
‘Harpo’s wig is clearly a wig and, indeed, often seems in danger of falling off. Groucho’s mustache [sic] is either painted or fastened to his cigar, we are never quite sure which. Chico’s accent is as detachable as the wig or the mustache [sic], and is sometimes similarly askew.’ (265-266)
Rowland describes how in some scenes, the Marx Brothers miraculously provide all the comforts of home aboard a travelling steamer and he concludes that, ‘disorder succeeds, and the way of order becomes the way of failure’ (266). Margaret Dumont and the other ‘stooges’ are consequently ‘doomed’ because the rules of logic that they try to use do not apply in this world (266).
‘This is more than a joke; it is a moral lesson. No world, dream or real, will allow itself to be fitted into a system—-though the nature of man demands that he go on trying to make it fit’ (266).
Sometimes the Marx Brothers deal with the nature of reality directly. Rowland gives the example of Night at the Opera where a huge number of people are fitted into a small room. The idea of it is unreal, yet one witnesses it before one’s very eyes. In the same film, a harassed tenor continues to sing as the Marx Brothers accidentally change the back-drops to scenes totally inappropriate for the opera being performed. Rowland also mentions the famous scene is Duck Soup in which the brothers all dress as Groucho leading up to the broken mirror scene where Harpo pretends to be Groucho’s reflection.
‘Are there two of me? Is that other figure real? Who, indeed, am I? Am I real myself? Never, perhaps, has the shifting instability of the dream world been more vividly presented on screen.’
Rowland gives further examples, such as the Punch and Judy scene in Monkey Business where Harpo fights with puppets. Who is real and who is make-believe?
Some of the most interesting insights that Rowland makes, however, are on the nature of language in the Marx Brothers films. Rowland describes how faith is words has ‘collapsed’ (267). To the admonition not to ‘burn the candle at both ends’, Harpo can produce just that object – a candle burning at both ends – and Rowland describes how we respond by feeling ‘the failure of words which seemed real but which have suddenly proved worse than useless since they always mean the wrong thing’ (267).
August 22, 2006
The idea of this paper is to use the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets as a kind of frame through which to view the specific play of language in the Marx Brothers’ scripts and it is particularly useful since there is a certain influence on L=A=N=G=U=G=E poets, especially Bernstein, whom I would focus on the most. Bernstein uses the Marx Brothers on certain courses that he teaches at SUNY Buffalo. He also uses the figure of Chico in his essay ‘Comedy and the Poetics of Political Form’ and in interview, he writes of his admiration for Groucho’s ‘awkwardness’ stating that poetry is ‘about awkwardness’. Michael Barrett writes that Bernstein ‘does what Artaud praised the Marx Brothers for – disruption through humour. He takes culture through a “comic spin cycle” introducing the chaos of laughter into the orderworn “necroid ideocracy” ’. My reading emerges from a detailed study of influence and technique.
August 21, 2006
CALL FOR PAPERS:
The Riddle of Devolutionary Identity: A One-Day Interdisciplinary Conference
University of Warwick, Humanities Research Centre (HRC)
~ Saturday 18th November 2006
Keynote Speakers: Prof. Michael Gardiner, Chiba University, Japan.
Prof. Stephen Knight, Cardiff University.
Prof. Susan Bassnett, University of Warwick.
Also: David Morley, poet and director of the Warwick Writing Programme.
Call For Papers
This interdisciplinary conference will bring together academics working within the fields of Scottish, Welsh and Northern-Irish literature, and Postcolonial Studies. The central aim is to tackle recent debates on whether the cultural, social and psychological issues can be explored using postcolonial theory particularly in relation to devolutionary literature.
The legacy of colonisation pervades Western culture, yet as international movements emerge at the hard-line of religion and politics, the factors of dissimilitude and difference tend to be ignored. In such a climate, how does one situate oneself as a subject of a minor culture, that of Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland?
The organizers welcome a variety of approaches: historical, sociological, linguistic, feminist and textual analysis. The conference will deal with devolutionary identity in relation to three main themes:
1. The End of Britishness
Kirtsti Bohata writes of Britishness as “a misleading label that disguises English cultural hegemony and a project of assimilation”. What are the pressures on Britishness? Can one think of contemporary English Literature as “devolutionary” too?
2. The Limits of the Postcolonial
Who is ‘excluded’ from Postcolonial Studies? Various minority groups seem to be under-represented within the field of postcolonial theory. We are interested in proposals concerning British regions, but we would also welcome papers on the relatively neglected literatures of peoples such as Native Americans, Australian Aborigines and South Pacific Islanders, Indo-Caribbeans, the Roma nations of Europe. What is the current situation regarding hegemonic structures within the discourse of postcoloniality?
3. Difference and Complicity
In their definition of a minor literature, Deleuze and Guattari suggest that in order for a minor culture to represent itself it must subvert a major language by deterritorializing that language and imbuing it with a minor tradition. Are devolutionary literatures subversive and radical in
subverting linguistic tradition or are they more complicit with hegemonic Western values?
Details on the Plenary Speakers
Prof. Michael Gardiner works in British cultural studies at Chiba University, Japan. He has published widely on the topic on devolutionary literature and culture in studies such as The Cultural Roots of Scottish Devolution (2004), Modern Scottish Culture (2005) and From Trocchi to Trainspotting: Scottish Cultural Theory Since 1960 (2006). He has also published a collection of short stories entitled, Escalator (2006).
Prof. Knight is based at University of Wales Cardiff, where one of his main research interests is the Welsh industrial novel. He is the editor of British Industrial Fictions and his recent study in the Writing Wales in English Series, A Hundred Years of Fiction, has been extremely influential in considering the relationship between postcolonial models and devolutionary literature.
Guidelines for Abstracts and Papers
Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words for 20 minute papers. You can send by e-mail (in the e-mail body or by attached Word document) or by regular mail. The organizers details are listed below:
Zoe Brigley, English and Comparative Literary Studies, University of
Warwick, Coventry, CV47AL
Jonathan Morley, Caribbean Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV47AL
Details of conference registration are available from Humanities Research Centre secretary Susan Dibben to whom enquiries should be addressed. Please send your name, faculty, institution and contact telephone number and if sending by e-mail enter the title “Registration” in the subject field. Registration closes on 1st November 2006.
Ms. S. Dibben, Humanities Research Centre, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL