1/31/2006
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Flipping back through Poetry & the Fate of the Senses in anticipation of Susan Stewart's reading tonight. The book has a thesis and an organizational logic that it more or less follows, but I prefer to think of it as her Grand Tour of the lyric, or a Xanadu-like mansion full of collectibles with Sappho in one corner and Frank O'Hara in the other. I was not sure how often I would come back to it until hearing from one critic who hated her "everything-and-then-some" inclusiveness. This complaint still endears me to the book. Here are a few passages underlined in my copy:

Darkness, breath and touch, sound, speech, presentation, discernment of relation, figuration and naming: this is the sequence of poiesis, that is the pattern of divine creation in the Hebrew Scripture; it speaks directly to the continuing experience of bringing form out of a void. (9)

The taboos against the excrescences of the body, for example--menstrual blood, vomit, spittle, hair, dandruff, nail pairings, semen, excrement, uring--appear in the West as total taboos. All five senses are closed to them, with the most animal senses, touch and taste, receiving the highest prohibition. Of course, they are not to be uttered as names--and their names themselves are generalized, as are their few euphemisms. Disgust as the far register of pleasure, disgust experienced physically and not through language, however, is readily transformed into disgust as the pleasure of resistance, temptation, and fetishism: the body's system of closings and openings becomes articulated as it is exercised. Hence the residual familiarity of the tabooed substances and the private as the proper site for their management. (22)

Touching by means of skin is often mediated by an appendage: folicles of hair and roots of nails. In animals, claws, horns, and hooves are wrapped in nerve fibers... (163)
Her chapter on touch led me to a question she does not address. How did one of the five senses turn into a means for uncovering criminal acts, i.e. through fingerprints? Levinas talks of touch as nonteleological, or as Stewart writes, "Touch is the paradigm for the reciprocal open-endedness of all art forms involving the representation of persons. As in the identification and separation necessary to any form of catharsis, the hand touching its companion must know the connection in order to know the separation" (168). But post-CSI, touch is permanent, nothing is ever separable again.

Here's a passage about Frank O'Hara:
O'Hara has taken the temporal convention of the poem not just from the present-centeredness of the lyric; he has also specifically borrowed a temporal structure from everyday experience: the structure of recollection we employ when we have lost something. We might call it the genre of "Where did I put my keys?" (219)

Out of the unformed utterances of laughing and crying out and weeping, a whole decorum of emotional expression develops and merges with conventions of poetic decorum and occasion. Nevertheless, what might seem at first glance to be rule-goverened behavior is in fact constantly in tension with the vital and ultimately inarticulate forces of pain and emotion that compel such expression. (328)
Finally a quote from the last paragraph: "Perhaps I am writing at the end of the world"(333).

Comments on ""

 

Blogger tmorange said ... (9:47 PM) : 

now i remember why SS was so big among the vizart MFA types at UWO -- "the haptic."

(still doesn't make me regret missing her at GU this eve...)

 

Blogger -k said ... (8:45 AM) : 

from Ben:

>Levinas talks of touch as nonteleological.... But post-CSI, touch is permanent, nothing is ever separable again.

Here is Levinas from "The Trace of the Other"; you will see that he does (!!!) take account of CSI:

A trace is not a sign like any other. But every trace also plays the role of a sign; it can be taken for a sign. A detective examines everything in the area where a crime took place, as revealing signs which betoken the voluntary or involuntary work
of the criminal; a hunter follows the traces of the game, which reflect the activity and movement of the animal the hunter is after; a historian discovers ancient civilizations which form the horizon of our world on the basis of vestiges left by
their existence. Everything is arranged in an order, in a world, where each thing reveals another or is revealed in function of another.

But when a trace is thus taken as a sign, it is exceptional with respect to other signs in that it signifies outside of every intention of signaling and outside of every project of which it would be the aim. When in transactions one "pays by check"
so that there will be a trace of the payment, the trace is inscribed in the very order of the world. But a trace in the strict sense disturbs the order of the world. It occurs by overprinting. Its original signifyingness is sketched out in, for
example, the fingerprints left by someone who wanted to wipe away his traces and commit a perfect crime. He who left traces in wiping out his traces did not mean to say or do anything by the traces he left. He disturbed the order in an irreparable
way....

But in this sense every sign is a trace. In addition to what the sign signifies, it is the past of him who delivered the sign. The signifyingness of a trace doubles up this signifyingness proper to a sign issued in view of communication. A sign
stands in this trace....

But then is not a trace the weight of being itself outside of its acts and its language, weighing not through its presence, which fits it into the world, but by its very irreversibility...?

A trace would seem to be the very indelibility of being, its omnipotence before all negativity, its immensity incapable of being self-enclosed, somehow too great for discretion, inwardness, or a self.... [A] trace does not effect a relationship with
what would be less than being, but obliges with regard to the infinite, the absolutely other.


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