(three essays onto shaky grounds)
1 PICTURE THEORIES
She moves slowly. Her movements are made gradual, dull, made to extend from inside her, the woman, her, the wife, her walk weighted full to the ground. Stillness that follows when she closes the door. She cannot disturb the atmosphere …
Upon seeing her you know how it was for her. You know how it might have been. You recline, you lapse, you fall, you see before you what you have seen before. Repeated, without your even knowing it. It is you standing there. It is you waiting outside in the summer day. It is you waiting and knowing to wait. How to. Wait. It is you walking a few steps before the man who walks behind you. It is you in the silence through the pines, the hills, who walks exactly three steps behind her. It is you in the silence. His silence all around the unspoken the unheard, the apprenticeship to silence. Observed for so long and not ending. Not immediately. Not soon. Continuing. Contained. Muteness. Speech less ness.Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictee, 104, 106[*]
In our silence, out of docile bodies and silent minds—out of multiple silences more and more audible—we've constructed theories and accounts of a historical endurance and power we call "women's silence." This is only one of many silences to which an increasingly heterogeneous and problematic we is attending after modernism's figure/ground shaking "now." Isn't it, come to think of it, curious that the twentieth-century
What we've learned from this coincidence of silences (as venerable and portentous as a siege of herons or a murder of crows) is that silence itself is nothing more or less than what lies outside the radius of interest and comprehension at any given time. We hear, that is, with culturally attuned ears. The angles of our geometries of attention are periodically adjusted, sometimes radically reoriented. This century's formal investigations into experiences of silence have meant opening up previously inaccessible or unacknowledged or forbidden territory, where the very act of attending entails a figure/ground shift. We continue to be startled by Cage's discovery that silence is not empty at all but densely, richly, disturbingly full. Full of just those things we had not, until "now," been ready or able to notice; or reluctantly noticing, had dismissed as nonsense or noise. The long postponements of acknowledgment that constitute our cultural silences are not only accidental oversights. They are also indications of just how threatening to surface composure and cultural self-image the articulation of silence can be.
Not an accident, but certainly an intriguing coincidence to discover the force of silence at precisely this cacophonous moment on the Western Civ time line. A moment of accelerated technological momentum hell-bent on drowning out silence in every form once and for all, stuffing information into every crack. This is no paradox. All those probes and antennas, satellite dishes and cellular phones are designed to make the experience of limit and respite we have called silence as conceptually irrecoverable as the romantic idea of wilderness. And yet cognitive/intuitive frontiers remain. If silence was formerly what we weren't ready to hear, silence is currently what is audible but unintelligible. The realm of the unintelligible is the permanent frontier—that
What is currently most prominently audible/intelligible is, as Judith Butler pointed out in Gender Trouble, a trap. It is a world authored in the image of Rational/Universal Man—Homo Protoregulator studding a clear and distinct (Cartesian) prose with man's randy, generic pronouns. (Slipping back—do you notice?—after a brief, PC interlude.) We have been presented with a subtle and treacherous "text" declaring itself generic and normative starting point—homogenius, monolithic, active, authoritative—just as Moses brought it down from the mountain; i.e., masculine. In Gender Trouble Butler sees the generic feminine as sub text, either sub jugated or sub versive (reactive) to the master narrative. But we must be cautious about the consequences of such a view. If one defines feminine power only as the power of subversion, one is valorizing the predominance of the masculine "version." We might note with unsettling, extraliterary logic that if the subversion of rape is seduction, then seduction is an implicit legitimation of rape.
In the unnaturally constructed choreography of cultural survival, the text, as rational, imperial, constitutive fabric, has been understood as logically prior, defining the terms of the intelligible. For Judith Butler, who implicitly accepts the normative status of the "intelligible," and therefore the constraints of this binary textual code, to make "gender trouble" is to act up as subtext: that is, to perform sub-versions: parody, pastiche, ironic mirrorings, deconstructive replications. Doing this, she believes, exposes the arbitrariness of the phallogocentric text. But this prescription for a performative feminine subtext doesn't spring the binary trap. On the contrary, it reinforces it by positing its referential stability and by ignoring strong traditions of multivariant feminine texts. To make real gender trouble is to make genre trouble. Not to parody, but to open up explorations into forms of unintelligibility (unintelligability?) as transgeneric feminine frontier.
Textual traditions that have enacted and explored modes culturally labeled Feminine have oddly—or, as we shall note, not so oddly—been practiced until recently more by men than by women. Gender Trouble, in its strong argument for the social contingency of traits (and bodies) labeled feminine/masculine, can help prepare us for a radical rethinking of the occurrence of the feminine in culture. Feminine textual traditions have had tumultuous histories of appropriation and rejection by women and men alike in the long, topiary hedgemony of masculinist values disguised
To the extent that such swerves have been abhorred, they've been identified as feminine whether or not they've been declared as such. When valued they've been almost entirely incorporated into the myth of dis- or e-ruptive male genius. In the romantic tradition the strong male poet is inspired by a female muse, a pointedly external feminine element. But as far back as one looks it's there. Even prior to Sappho's acknowledgment of male poets as her precursors or Plato's incorporation of the feminine Socratic rationalist. In Homer, as well as in the mythic sources of Attic drama, one finds the paradoxical and ambivalent linking of the feminine with both the yielding and the threatening.
From the end of the nineteenth century to the present the exploding genre (if not gender) project has been located in what is called "experimental" or "avant-garde" traditions. Because of the masculinist bias of establishment literary traditions, these labels have often been applied pejoratively to connote the threat of unintelligibility. Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about our present time is that women are finally powerful enough sociopolitically to undertake the risks of this feminine challenge in their own texts.
A realistic optimism, not just for the feminine but for the complex human, lies in forms that engage the dynamics of multiplicity (three and more). In acknowledgment of difference, yes, but, more important, in
It happens that this has been the condition of women's experience for as long as our histories recount and imply. An interesting coincidence, yes/no?, that what Western culture has tended to label feminine (forms characterized by silence, empty and full; multiple, associative, nonhierarchical logics; open and materially contingent processes; etc.) may well be more relevant to the complex reality we are coming to see as our world than the narrowly hierarchical logics that produced the rationalist dreamwork of civilization and its misogynist discontents. I wonder if we may find in the collision of radically destabilizing institutions and emerging feminine forms the energy to make something unprecedentedly, poethically generous of our complex future?
Let's essay into this seismic zone and explore some odd logics in the literary disposition of women's silence.
She is education history. She. Is water written lament. And cool education written blue. A literate blue. A literate yellow. And arrogance she. Speaks. Forgetting. The first Brazil. Is yellow and so speaking yellow as blue as writing. Lament. Yellow and blue. Slip. The negative. Bury the negative. Growing written water. And arrogance. But first. The oversight.Carla Harryman, "Dimblue," In the Mode Of, 7
FROM IMMANENT TO EMINENT DOMAIN?
First an oversight: Anglo-American (and to some extent French) feminist thought has tended to support a women's literature of expressive voice and depictive visual metaphor. This has been promoted as the only way to explore the domain of women's silence—of what can and cannot be spoken or heard in a male-dominated world. Linguistic as/like snapshots are meant to reveal the truth of women's condition through the startling disclosures of poetic images. The project is to record our present experience and expose undeveloped images from our
The picture theory of female liberation proceeds on the Enlightenment belief that bringing things to light is ipso facto therapeutic. Visibility is also construed as a political force that progressively reconfigures consciousness, making it possible to act out of the immanent power of our endurance. Self-projected images of our disenfranchisement should, given the promise of Enlightenment-based psychotherapies, generate the emotional power to claim our rightful domain. The only way out of invisible and mute oppression is to turn up the lights and shatter the silence with voices that have earned the right to name the particulars of the oppression, to envision the conditions of empowerment.
The major problem with this picture may be that it's just that—a picture theory depending on a kind of verisimilitude that draws images from life to present them as (like) replicas in the text. The poetries whose energies come largely from pointing to the state of the world outside the text enact only limited life principles within the language itself. The desire to be immediately and easily understood dictates reverent uses of the very constructions that contain the injustice. To depict may be to trigger an image in the mind's eye/I, but does it reconfigure the grounds for major conceptual change?
[Working Note: It's been assumed in a culture that ties knowledge and freedom to self-empowerment that the power of women, like that of everyone else, lies conceptually in the right to self-definition, politically in the right to self-determination. Add the two together, divide by "I," and you get self-expression, yes/no? It's been part of the chronic dis-ease of women in our society that self-definition was for so long understood as a private matter. Thus, women who daily played the role of domestic or office servant or otherwise diminutive person (often with little-girl body language and undescended voices) seized on first-person forms—diaries, journals, confessional poetry, autobiographies, and autobiographical novels—all genres where the scope doesn't have to exceed firsthand and/or self-knowledge. This is the field for self-definition as self-expression.
Suppose we think of self-determination in art as invention, where the power lies in creating not just a self but language games and forms of life that draw on public knowledge and exploration of otherness, thereby reforming
Proposal for a healthy politics of identity: to demand the right to work on one's subject position rather than to live out its destiny.]
NOW PICTURING ONLY TWO SIDES OF A PICTURE THEORY
OF THE PICTURE THEORY OF LITERARY FEMINISM
(THERE ARE MANY MORE)
"When meaning (what we take to be significant) is pictured as a picture we can talk about its undeveloped negative" (Michelle de Certaigne). We have had a sense that whatever was pictured was real, that proof of existence lay in a discreetly finite set of attributes rather than the mess of limitless process. We thought that what was undeveloped, that is, all that failed to be stop-timed into manageable freeze-frame units, remained or became a negative. Our idea of development as calculated leap from one snap-shot to the next must undergo scrutiny.Genre Tallique, GLANCES: An Unwritten Book, 13
It has been a general practice to evaluate feminist writing in terms of its developed and underdeveloped images of women—to praise poets like Adrienne Rich, Marge Piercy, Audre Lorde, Sharon Olds … for the courage of their content—the way in which their writing exposes previously unexposed negatives, i.e., female experiences persistently devalued, suppressed, repressed in a world dominated by male logics and values. The image is of a strong female poet creating strong metaphoric pictures to fuel desires for liberation. But another instance of devaluing—to my mind equally destructive in its implications—must be discussed. The dark side of the Enlightened feminist literary establishment has been the way in which women writers whose projects are dedicated to something other than therapeutic exposures have been treated. They are lumped together with male writers who produce "inaccessible" texts and dismissed. The situation is uncomfortably familiar. It looks
The picture theory of meaning has roots going back to Plato and Aristotle but comes to us most recently from turn-of-the-century Positivist sources. It presumes that a meaningful picture is instantly legible because of its this = that correspondence to a fully available, intelligible reality. A picture is an implicative instance of hard data as it's defined within the deductive genealogy of the reigning metaphysic. Put simply (there's no other way), reality is as internally consistent and coherent as any rational man (no feminine disruptions in logic or tone admitted) and is clearly classifiable (no blurred genres). Craig Owens, in his essay "The Discourse of Others: Feminists and Postmodernism," writes, "Recent analyses of the ‘enunciative apparatus’ of visual representation—its poles of emission and reception—confirm, the representational systems of the West admit only one vision—that of the constitutive male subject—or, rather, they posit the subject of representation as absolutely centered, unitary, masculine" (58). This is surely a model we must question for a feminist enterprise.
Only the women were placing bets.
From instinct and from memory I try to reconstruct nothing. From memory, I broach the subject. And that cannot be from childhood. Only from ecstasy, from a fall, from words. Or from the body differently. Emergency cell like body at its ultimate, without its knowledge, the tongue will tell it.
When Florence Dérive entered the Hôtel de l'Institut, Montréal, 1980 on rue St. Denis. Snatches of sentences inside. At the registration desk. It was night. Since Finnegans Wake. It was night. Itinerant, Florence Dérive such a woman. Brain— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — memory. The night, numbers and letters.
Florence Dérive sometimes repeats a certain number of gestures that continue to exist as writing and each time she dis/places ardour and meaning …Nicole Brossard, "The Ordinary," Picture Theory, 13
Brossard's theory as practice moves us away from picturing. The language is not a static mirroring. It does not attempt to transport intact images from writer's life to reader as spectator. The disjunctive syntax, the depunctuated grammar, like that of Cha and Harryman, send ripples through any image that might be forming, keep it moving in the mind. This is not a scene of instant recognition. It's about the pleasures of active engagement. We are invited to participate in uses of language in the generative dark of a Finnegans waking night.
A picture-book universe reveals little about the dark side of anything—neither conceptual frameworks nor the moon. Picturing presupposes recognizable foregrounded figures—preconfigured into genus, gender, genre—frontally visible units. It reinforces the authority of established conceptual frameworks, of what can be seen through culturally grounded lenses. There can be no dark, noisy silence of a Finnegans Wake in a picture-book universe—nor can there be the work of Cha, Harryman, Brossard. Theirs is a literature precisely dedicated to what cannot be illustrated, mediated, filtered by words at a remove from their objects.
The ideal poetry of depiction is a series of images strung together in rhythmically unbroken sequences that appear to reveal rather than construct a world. Designed to create a plenum, to saturate the mind with verisimilitude, the impression must be that there's no other logically possible world and that there's nothing left to say. The admiring reviewer uses words like skillfully crafted, deftly polished, absorbing, convincing, lacks nothing. Meanwhile, the reader is not any more spurred to imaginative agency than one who has just reviewed an airtight logical proof. Why act when all the work has quite clearly been done? If existence is nothing more than a set of attributes, then "worlds" can be created than which nothing other can be conceived. This is the theological principle of the omnipotent author free of cognitive entropy, and play.
All this is about as far from real life in medias mess as we can get. Could it be that contrary to received opinion, a literature of attributes may not directly empower us to make a joyful, troublesome, gender/genre exploding noise? It certainly may confirm, console, support, justify, reveal, inform, and—what sounds most active—inspire … but what does inspiration mean? Literally to be filled with someone else's breath. This secondhand air depletes energy for much of anything other than fantasy identifications with idealized models. Does this nurture a self-image that feels potent and positive? It may, but I question its value for imaginative practice.
Women have for centuries been subjected to images—from literary and romance novels to romantic poetry to movie and fashion magazines. Mostly we've been left with a damaged self-image—a feeling of invidious comparison, incompetence, inadequacy, paralysis. No sense—except through buying products—of how to get from here (flawed self) to there (idealized image). This romantic mechanism—confusion with an idealized other—is, in its updated forms, central to the media value of glamour.
I think one must question Images of Women literary theories in this light. The extent to which they are founded on positivist or naïve realist epistemologies is revealed by their insistence on full disclosure or accessibility. We are in constant need of revising the connect-the-dots constellations we call our worlds. Luckily they're not ontologically glued to an unchanging backdrop. Nonetheless the metaphor of mirroring a stable truth, as brought to us in Aristotle's Poetics, still carries enormous weight. It's seen in mainstream literatures as providing unassailable grounds for cultural understanding and political analysis even when the very notion of grounds has become so philosophically shaky no one would knowingly choose to secure anything to it. It's my feeling that women should be particularly suspicious of mirrors. The retrograde looking-glass world we've been encouraged to inhabit harbors a cultural black hole reflected as benign beauty mark. It's actually an ominous vanishing point.
Interestingly, ironically, the same theories that have destabilized the principles of realist epistemologies and literatures—and are thereby taken by many feminist theoreticians as inimical to women's causes—are responsible for the politically vital, postmodern notions of difference and decentered multiculturalism (the fall of "the" metanarrative) that release the power of the feminine from the status of a subtext. The valorization of realist grounding and accessibility produces the unintended effect of maintaining women as credulous readers in the passive state.
I know that the amorous scene has already been viewed and consumed in several of its strategies, I know that, I know that, repeated, it determines the opening and the vanishing point of all affirmation.Nicole Brossard, "Perspective," Picture Theory, 41
What comes of light that is secondhand (moon goddesses and worship?), written words destined to come after—after the fact, after the
This ambition attempts to remedy the frightening absence of the feminine in history. The cultural memory embedded in all those language games where women have had little if any power has indeed felt like a negative—a sense of the absent (m)other, where the prototypical other is woman, where in fact the assumption into culture of the male child is coterminus with an emotional dropping of the m from mother. So Alicia Ostriker's poignant title for an emblematic book on "The Emergence of Women's Poetry in America," is Stealing the Language. It strikes a familiar, inauspicious note. Since Ostriker (who represents what may be the majority view among literary feminists) takes it as conceded that language has not been woman's domain, she concludes that we must pilfer and loot among its male-inscribed artifacts. As in Judith Butler's account of the eminent domain of phallogocentrism, our most active/aggressive role is limited to subversion. We can defiantly expose ourselves as strong women in the pictures we make with their language, embed these pictures in forceful stories, and create a new mythology portraying women as heroic models, but this is always done in full cognizance of the degree to which we remain exiles in a foreign tongue. In her final chapter, "Thieves of Language: Women Poets and Revisionist Mythology," Ostriker writes,
Women writers have always tried to steal the language. Among poets more than novelists, the thefts have been filching from the servants' quarters. When Elaine Marks surveys the Écriture féminine movement in Paris, she observes that in its manifestos of desire "to destroy the male hegemony" over language, "the rage is all the more intense because the writers see themselves as prisoners of the discourse they despise. But is it possible," she asks, "to break out?" Does there exist, as a subterranean current below the surface structure of male-oriented language, a specifically female language, a "mother tongue"? … [A] number of empirical studies in America seem to confirm that insofar as speech is "feminine," its strength is limited to evoking subjective sensation and interpersonal responsiveness; it is not in other respects perceived as authoritative; it does not command men's respect. The
Stealing the Language, 211 (italics mine)
The contemporary women writers Ostriker valorizes have followed Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath from a uniquely anguished "I" to an instructively, communally victimized "We"—representing a solidarity of defiant images that unfortunately remain unresolvable, and therefore inactive, in the alien chemistry of patriarchal language. (Is it because what has in the past been characterized as feminine language has not been authoritative, i.e., respected by men, that Ostriker so summarily passes over its possibilities?) This leaves the structural trap of the "phallogocentric" language undisturbed. Since images created by women do not impress male linguistic arbiters, these images cannot really enter, much less transform, the language. Yet they are all we are "allowed" or, to use Ostriker's image, all that is detachable enough to be "filched." In Ostriker's Steinbergian languagescape of deeded real estate and Mens-Club "pride of lions" architectural improvements, we might snatch a "flower," "branch," or "bone" from the masculine metanarrative. Or, better yet, an assertively female vocabulary list—"womb," "breast," "vagina," "menses." But not a dynamic principle. Not a grammar or syntax to live by. Sure, says the (male) architect or contractor, you can do what you like as long as you don't fool with anything structural.
If this picture of total, male, linguistic hegemony were actually the case, one might indeed be inclined to agree that all we can do is make the best of what we can get away with by theft or subversion. But the humiliation implicit in this image is startling. More disturbing than its dismal picture of gender politics is the questionable picture of language/culture itself—one that shares Judith Butler's image, after Freud-Lacan/Foucault/Rich, of culture as inescapably male: "That the power regimes of heterosexism and phallogocentrism seek to augment themselves through a constant repetition of their logic, their metaphysic, and their naturalized ontologies does not imply that repetition itself ought to be stopped—as if it could be…. [T]he crucial question emerges: What kind of subversive repetition might call into question the regulatory practice of identity itself?" (Butler, Gender Trouble, 32).
What Ostriker calls for in the face of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles to "owning" "the" language is the manufacture of bigger and better (heroic) female images, turning the "project of defining a female self" into a construction site for a full-fledged, woman-centered mythology
Transforming a life is not the same as redecorating a poem or house with stolen or even legitimately acquired accessories. I fear this is a desperate and futile attempt in a world text that constructs the feminine itself as domesticated ornament/image rather than publicly effective, active principle. To the extent that Ostriker fails to link the feminine with dynamic processes already in the language, she condemns the female writer to lurk in the subjective (private), subterranean, subaltern world of subversive self-definition. What is most useful to us now—images of the female or enactments of the feminine?
[Working Note: Is the following a useful distinction?
A use theory of meaning, one that locates the making of meaning in a collaborative engagement with interdynamically developing forms rather than in the interpretation of a fossil signified allows exploration of the medium of language itself and thus the invention of new grammars in which subject-object, master-mater relations become fluid. The picture theory, on the other hand, valorizes the prototypical it.It exists only in obeisance to processes outside itself, processes that unlike the it are not compressible into single units. To counteract this dichotomous relation between art object as it and nature as process, John Cage pledges to imitate not nature but its manner of operation. This results in art that is not a picture but a moving form of life.]
|I feel you climbing toward me|
|your cleated bootsoles leaving their geometric bite|
|colossally embossed on microscopic crystals|
|as when I trailed you in the Caucasus|
|Now I am further|
|ahead than either of us dreamed anyone would be|
|I have become|
|the white snow packed like asphalt by the wind|
|the women I love lightly flung against the mountain|
|that blue sky|
― 123 ―
|our frozen eyes unribboned through the storm we could have stitched that blueness together like a quilt|
This is the third stanza of Adrienne Rich's "Phantasia for Elvira Shatayev." In an epigraph Rich explains that Shatayev was the "leader of a women's climbing team, all of whom died in a storm on Lenin Peak, August 1974. Later Shatayev's husband found and buried the bodies." The "I" of the poem is the voice of Shatayev addressing her husband. The poem ends,
|In the diary torn from my fingers I had written:|
|What does love mean|
|what does it mean "to survive"|
|A cable of blue fire ropes our bodies|
|burning together in the snow We will not live|
|to settle for less We have dreamed of this|
|all of our lives|
It's easy to equate this ill-fated, heroic (inspiring?) expedition with a search for the cognitive, emotional, social domain of woman. Shatayev, who in the past trailed behind her husband's assault on Mounts "Blank" (we can imagine him planting flags on countless geological bulges, naming them his), has now achieved what might be seen as the ultimate claim to eminent domain. She has, along with her companions, become part of the mountain. But more important, she has become an in situ, literal symbol of the monumental: image frozen onto the side of a mountain like the faces at Mt. Rushmore. I mean to foreground the seeming contradiction of the symbolically literal. The logical torque here is related to the conjunction of this romantic/heroic scene with the language of women's self-help manuals—"we will not … settle for less" and the language of unrealized fantasy—"we have dreamed of this all of our lives." The poem contains the entire range from immanent to eminent (as modeled by worldwide machismo) domain. But the symbolically literal is not the literal itself. Like all symbolism it stands "in place of."
What does it mean to be inspired by a poem like this, with its finished surface and romantic fatalism, to be literarily filled with its breath? Secondhand breath is no more appealing to me than secondhand light. I would rather conspire (active voice) than be inspired (passive voice). To conspire (to breathe together) is to participate in the construction of a
I chose to look at "Phantasia for Elvira Shatayev" because, like so much of Adrienne Rich's poetry, it has touched a wide audience. It was written during a time when her work—poetry and essays—helped fuel an important stage of the women's movement in the United States. Its passionate, collective self-expression (voices renting the silence of forbidden dreams) may indeed move a reader. But what does it mean to "be moved" (passive voice) by the kind of language game that forms this poem? This is a significantly different dynamic from that of a poetic language game whose unfinished surface requires the reader to behave as fully empowered participant. Think—as Wittgenstein did—of a chess game in which "to move" (active voice), to calculate and imagine, is to collaboratively develop (albeit under constraints) the future configuration in which one lives. The project is not so much to understand what is meant as to create meaning and possibility through one's conversational intervention in the pattern.
The didactic implication embedded in the sort of literature that the current pantheon of received feminist writers represents directs the reader toward the subjectivity of empathetic identification and away from autonomous, critical production. The prompt for female reader as writer (from Ostriker and Butler, as well as Rich et al.) is, after all, toward repetition with a difference. This is replication of a value structure that fetishizes heroics, where lyrical forms mimic logical proofs, where the reward is a conclusion that is a predetermined epiphany that is rewarded by a society left untroubled in its assumptions. The alternative is experiments that generate a proliferation of formal possibilities, possibilities that have, incidentally, much less to do with territory, ownership, and rights (all important issues in extraliterary arenas such as courts of law) than with the invention of poethical forms of life. Repetition with a difference may just not be different enough.
What's most interesting about the section from Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee ("ERATO Love Poetry") quoted at the beginning of this essay is not the picture Cha presents but the active disclosure of her language. The poem seems at first glance to be solidly within the tradition of "images of women" lit., but it presents constructive problems for this kind of reading. One notices, for instance, the unusual way the text is printed in the book, in an interaction of facing pages that only when folded together fill all the space. They are negative mirror images of one
Roland Barthes wrote of the "lover's discourse" always implicit in words: "Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words" (Barthes, A Lover's Discourse, 73 [italics mine]); yet Cha's language touches only the emptiness of the other (opposite) page. That this text is designed to interpolate itself into emptiness/silence—to let emptiness/silence in—gives it remarkable breath: possibilities of in- and exhalation for writer and reader alike. I'd like to suggest that it is a woman's feminine text (denying any redundancy) that implicitly acknowledges/creates the possibility of other/additional/simultaneous texts. This is a model significantly different from Bloom's competitive "anxiety of influence." It opens up a distinction between the need to imprint/impress one's mark (image) on the other and an invitation to the others' discourse as necessary to an always collaborative making of meaning. Collaboration with the reader is unnecessary only when meaning is being reported rather than made.
Like the relationship between facing pages, "she" and "he" in ERATO articulate the silence between them by syntactic stops and starts. But this blurred genre (prose-poetry, investigation-artifact) blurs gender as well. S/he is silence. The feminist enactment of this text does not depend on its being politically correct. Its discourse is the experimental feminine in process—complex and partial. The confluence of languages (French, English, Korean) with multiple forms (translations, translation lessons, letters, biblical passages, documents, photographs, charts, movie stills, handwritten text; lyrical, prose, permutative writing …) brings Dictee into the multiple performance dimensions that characterize everyday life. I agree with Asian American feminist critics who say (some in praise, some in disappointment) that Cha's work doesn't support racial, ethnic, or gender identity politics. The complexity of Dictee confounds the reductionist coherence that logics of identity require. It is poethically investigative in the surprising juxtapositions of its parts. These are parts whose interactions create a fluid and productively indeterminate form of life as text, in the irresolvable abundance of their intersecting
A CONFLUENCE OF SILENCES:
We forget that we must always return to zero in order to pass from one word to the next.John Cage, For the Birds
Don't for heaven's sake, be afraid of talking nonsense! But you must pay attention to your nonsense.Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value
Probable probably is the most that they can say.Gertrude Stein, How To Write
Nicole Brossard's, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's, Carla Harryman's words, the spaces between them, lead us to a prospect—an overview, not oversight—of the medium of language itself—the medium with which we must become so intimate and at home that we stop worrying about ownership and legitimacy (asserting rights of domain) and start using it for the sort of experiment and invention that brings us into transformative interaction with the worlds that languages betroth and create. What I want to suggest, after Judith Butler, is that to make really productive and useful gender/genre trouble is not to repeat old forms with a difference (parodic or not) but to open up radical explorations into silence—the currently unintelligible in which some sense of our future may be detected.
The question then is not how to exit our silence. Not how we move from immanent to eminent domain. Not how to raise our voices loud enough to be heard in the legitimate (intelligible) theater of patriarchal culture. We already know how to do this: by reflecting the values of established, male-dominated power structures. Instead, let's think of how we can amplify the knowledge of/in our silence, our not so much nonsense as additional or other sense, our improbabilities, our unintelligabilities … in order to create new forms of intelligibility that are resonant with our values. This is where our feminist project overlaps with Wittgenstein's, Beckett's, Stein's, Cage's. And with contemporary women writers working in largely unrecognized traditions in formal transgression of gender/genre markers.
They are at this very moment making palpable sense of unintelligibles in their art. And that sense is a breath of fresh air. It strives to avoid the eternal return to hermetic traps in old forms of life tainted by the systematic devaluation of feminine forms. New intelligibilities have been much ignored because what is validated as intelligible, what makes easily accessible sense—what is prized and rewarded—is indeed repetition/replication of the structures supporting the aesthetic establishment currently enjoying the privileges of legitimacy, which are (it's all tediously circular!) the rewards of legibility.
Codes of intelligibility rationalize values that derive their force from the extent to which they are constructed and defended in terror of the experimental and the feminine.
II FRENCH FREUD FEMINISM?
What can "feminist" writing possibly mean? Images of the female as persons, strong and weak, admirable and despicable occur in the writing of both men and women. These images, pictures, vignettes, no matter how "progressive" the narrative in which they are embedded, cannot be said to constitute either feminine or feminist writing. Only form—stylistic enactment (aesthetic behavior)—can be feminine. What society has called feminine forms have always been available to both men and women in art as well as life. Feminist writing occurs only when female writers use feminine forms…. At precisely that moment of enactment, feminism as polemic disappears: the female writer has entered the world of the living.Genre Tallique, GLANCES: An Unwritten Book
The use of this quote is not intended to bolster what follows with authority. (Who is Genre Tallique anyway!?) It may indeed be that too much authority has vested the rhetorics of feminist theory. And with just that patriarchal charge we seek to escape. Consider the French-Freud-Lacan-plex staging trans-Oedipal love or death masquerades with some of the best and brightest of the intellectual daughters. Positioning feminist theory in gendered postness at the very moment it should be inventing itself anew. Not that I claim freedom from what Tallique has called cette Électrecution—her ironic term for the sinister cauterizing of the presumed gender wound that invites the feminine to remain transfixed at the mirror stage or in the pre-Oedipal eros interuptus
To be conscious of twentieth-century humanist theory is inevitably to find psychoanalytic narratives winding their strasses and rues through one's mind. In the impacted setting of the psychoanalytic "family romance," where one's cultural space is delimited by the narrative outline of a nineteenth-century authorial parentage and "name of the father" imprimatur, understanding leans toward a very curious vanishing point. In the Freudian master narrative the vanishing point is tagged "resistance" or "denial." Because it punctuates the farthest reach of the authorial point of view, it is anything but innocuous. It lies in wait for bounders and transgressors. Try to pass beyond it—you will either disappear or return home to father, chastened and docile. The at-large vanishing point for women is simply this: to the extent that we venture onto the post-Oedipal playing field of culture, or the sexual politics of the unreconstructed family constellation, our every role, every move is defined by the "law of the father" in search of good wife and mother. This is another installment in the fictive creation of the "eternal feminine" within what Judith Butler calls the "heterosexual matrix":
I use the term heterosexual matrix … to designate that grid of cultural intelligibility through which bodies, genders, and desires are naturalized. I am drawing from Monique Wittig's notion of the "heterosexual contract" and, to a lesser extent, on Adrienne Rich's notion of "compulsory heterosexuality" to characterize a hegemonic discursive/epistemic model of gender intelligibility that assumes that for bodies to cohere and make sense there must be a stable sex expressed through a stable gender (masculine expresses male, feminine expresses female) that is oppositionally and hierarchically defined through the compulsory practice of heterosexuality.
Gender Trouble, 151
Beyond the vanishing point lie shocking scenes: exposed negatives reveal a domimatrix with polymorphous perverse appetites and ambitions wreaking havoc in the popular maxiseries, "Civilization and Miss Content." For Freud "poly" without invidious comparison is always safely and emblematically pre-Oedipal: an immature psychological grammar in which subject has not yet targeted an appropriate object. What has occurred for women in this grim fairy tale is something akin to emotional clitorectomy. The little girl's assumed complicity in the patriarchal construction of the "eternal feminine" means that she must simultaneously valorize and relinquish her femaleness as agent and object of desire. The rich polymorphous text of early female experience is
Freud was above all else a great prose stylist. The literary paradigm of psychoanalytic persuasion and plausibility is, as Freud ruefully/pridefully admitted, the novella. Bettelheim, in The Uses of Enchantment, finds his writing close to the narrative symbolic structures of German fairy tales. What this form entails is a persuasive grammar that gathers force from a particular kind of analogical and metaphorical thinking—one that presumes that the "as/like" and "stands for" relation yields "deeply" significant meaning. A structure in which symbolic codes stabilize an economy of equivalences and equilibria is one in which circularly reinforcing logics can even maintain an uberphallus as the equivalent of an entire system. But the symbolic is not the only logical or associative order of meaning. There is metonymy, as well as metaphor; there are complex dynamic systems and fluidly interactive models, as well as equivalences. The phallus, like the romantic genius and strong poet and symbolic logic it props up, has got to go; the penis may get on quite well without it.
Meanwhile there are other compelling forces in Freud's narrative style. It operates very skillfully as an Aristotelian rhetoric of persuasion. In the psychoanalytic narrative the rhetorical ethos (appeal to respect for the author's character) has been that of courageous patriarchal genius; pathos (appeal to our emotions) that of deeply, aesthetically sensitive patriarchal genius; logos (appeal to our respect for reason) that of rationally masterful, historically knowledgeable, patriarchal genius. It is the confluence of these characteristics in Freud's and, with a different flavor, Lacan's prose that vested the protopsychoanalytic narrative with authority (Ostriker's major concern) and intelligibility (Butler's). Is
In this "progressive" cultural tragedy (drama of the inevitable) we are forever children shaped by the authorial tyranny of the father. Sons carry on the name, the law, the primary text. Daughters dress up in costumes tagged Electra, Jocasta, Iphegenia, Clytemnestra, Medea. Like all disenfranchised peoples, the daughters can submit or self-destruct. We can rebel, displace, deconstruct, subvert but only in the ongoing subtext that is our purported destiny. We cannot author our own play.
This model is only plausible if one narrows the field of vision to the rules of nineteenth-century metarhetorical perspective as syntactic impulsion toward the father, hugging the logomotive track in self-fulfilling linguistic fatalism. With the female Lucifer, Luce Irigaray, comes a different light, voice, text only to return as the redepressed. Isn't this all too familiar? Don't we have to consider that to replicate this particular psychoanalytic model in feminist theory is to perpetuate an exclusionary and suffocating grammar in which to make sense, to be authoritative or intelligible, is to underwrite one's subjugation to a system whose very grounding is scorn for the feminine? The feminine as negative image of the cultural construction of the masculine is distrusted in its openness to multiple—sensual as well as rational—logics. In conceding "the" symbolic order to the long shadow of the name of the father we will remain audience to the shadow theater of Plato's misogynist cave. Why then the voluntary subjection of feminist theoreticians to the tawdry outcome of this narrative line?
Oddly, interestingly, the defensive desire for our own grounding has had the paradoxical effect of making us, as literary feminists, resistant to the use of feminine forms, which (in any era) are neither authoritative nor intelligible by current establishment standards. This, I think is the terminus of a theoretical line whose narrative is constructed on restrictive pre and post axes: pre- and postcultural, pre- and post-Oedipal, pre- and postgenital—ignoring the complex, polymorphous, exploded-cartoon contemporaneity of all active thinking experience. In the still-silent film the proverbial preverbal heroine is still tied to the tracks, silently screaming. She will be run over by the Hegelian-Freudian-Lacanian logomotive because there are no other tracks on the set, no sidelines or margins from which the possibility of liberation beckons, no topological warps or additional dimensions in the flatland
[Working quote: "The critical task for feminism is not to establish a point of view outside of constructed identities; that conceit is the construction of an epistemological model that would disavow its own cultural location.… The critical task is, rather, to locate strategies of subversive repetition" (Butler, Gender Trouble, 147).]
So in a recent remake of this classic Western the woman tied to the tracks may be a feminist who can theorize, parodize, ironize her position but not escape. The movie is shot not in some flimsily constructed studio but on location—the cultural location. This is the repetition compulsion of Gender Trouble, in which the scripted response to entrapment in narrowly binary, essentialist gender identities is the parodic overacting of the silent scream. (In fact a good deal of hyperfeminine social behavior—with its characteristic costumes and gestures—may be just this.) The disruptively audible—if not immediately intelligible—swerve of real gender/genre trouble is possible only if we recognize what has been the continual constituting presence of feminine forms in language. This is the implicit condition of all vitally resonant literatures. The Hegelian-Freudian-Lacanian logomotive is only one among many trains of thought entering into the messy polylectics, polylogues that create the live culture of our language.
What I'm looking for then is a polymorphous perversely startling point from which can spring the possibility of a feminist poethics—aesthetic practice that reveals, in the course of its enactment, the powers of feminine poethics in female hands. Hands freed from holding mirror/speculum to exemplary images of an immaculately (or disgracefully) conceived feminine. This is not to disavow the necessary sociopolitical analysis of boundaries that have confined women's lives or the legal work still needed to secure women's rights. But the aesthetic project is at a juncture where the radii of possibilities (and improbabilities) must reach beyond the mirror stage.
The room inside me has disappeared. At night, when all is quiet, I no longer hear the pictures shifting on the walls when I walk fast. Only the pump in the basement. I wonder whether the space has folded in on itself like a tautology, or been colonized. You think the wine has washed it out,
The Reproduction of Profiles, 71
We know, with the help of Foucault, Judith Butler, and others that the power to make useful meaning (OE mænan— to mean/to moan) of one's historical experience does not lie in accepting the outline of one's "nature" narrated therein. Hope for the categorically oppressed lies in constructionist readings that expose the contingency of those very categories. These are not most helpful as regressive justifications of one's complicity in a degraded status or in generically pumped up self-esteem. (The palliative strategies of victimhood.) The powerful project is the invention of a polymorphous future. To move from the simple harmonics of moans (whether of pain or jouissance) to a polyphony of exploratory means, from narrative therapy to linguistic experiment, from a picture to a use theory of meaning is to open meaning to radical revision in the act of multiple language games and new forms of life.
Is it plausible to think of the possibilities of a literary feminism in this way? If it is, then perhaps the sense of entrapment in a language-culture with a predetermined power structure and coercive symbolic coherence can be superseded. Perhaps we can cancel our ad nauseam encores as ambiguously smiling, subtextual female repressed. Perhaps we can assume the active textual project of entertaining multiple, complex possibilities/improbabilities/unintellig abilities in our languages and lives. There are of course obstacles. Chief among them has been the picture theory of gender that lodges the feminine exclusively in female bodies. In attempting to identify a strong feminine tradition in literature the search for ancestors has been limited to writers who enacted a restricted symbolic code and who could retroactively pass the Olympic committee's hormonal assay as F.
The most interesting thing about our "different voices" may be that feminine modes of thinking, as they are currently located and described, are, with respect to masculine modes, radically and robustly asymmetrical. Not post but extra. The fertile excess of culture nurtured in the playing field of complexity. The feminine is culturally constructed as
NOTES FROM A CONSTRUCTION SITE
(figures grow shifty, grounds grow slippery)
Gender/genre is pure experiment. Every boundary construction is a gamble, a dare, a hypothetical with consequences. That most have chosen to repeat old experiments does not logically negate the possibility of new forms.… There are energetic experimental traditions in our culture. It's in their direction our lucky glance falls. Glance, yes. I refuse the word "gaze." The gaze turns self and other to stone. The glance is light in the gossamer breeze of chance, un coup de dés, inviting the unexpected.Genre Tallique, GLANCES: An Unwritten Book
[Catherine Deneuve], certain people think you're cold. You're simply direct, frank and unambiguous. People think you're serene and organized: I've never seen anyone so disordered or so capricious with money and belongings.… You are stronger, more responsible, more armored than male actors. You are less vulnerable, and doubtless this is the paradox of real femininity. Catherine Deneuve is the man I'd like to be.
For a woman, I'm quite masculine, you know, in the relations I have toward people, men. All of them, I don't make much difference. And I think it's the way I'm quite straightforward, you know, and he can love me as a man. I understood what [Depardieu] meant, you know, because he has a very feminine quality and I have a masculine quality. I don't try to charm, I have quite strong and straight relations with people. In film it's different. In films you are a character and woman, much more woman than me.
She doesn't charm. She doesn't have to, with that face: It seems like an aesthetic principle she totes on her shoulders like a jar of water. You find yourself watching her rather than listening to her. The jawline is so long, the face is so big. You find yourself trying to make her smile, to arouse her interest. Not like Tom Sawyer walking a fence for Becky Thatcher, but more like a geisha girl entertaining a Japanese businessman. You try to intrigue this woman who does not try to intrigue you. You begin to see what Depardieu meant. You are the woman and she is the man.
>Henry Allen, "Deneuve's Masculine Mystique"
In its binary dialectic Feminine/Masculine is the Western Yin/Yang—as ubiquitous and unstable, contradictory and paradoxical as any dualistic principle appealed to for explanations of everything. Depardieu, Deneuve, Allen are caught in a language game that must tag every move M or F. They are, here, on this stage, daring players. But there's still no sign of a form of life that can support polymorphous persons whose moves are not self-classifications but experiments in a world of uncompressible possibility. Does such radical possibility exist? If we abandon the notion of the cultural dynamic as predominantly phallic in a fixed symbolic, can we move toward a new paradigm of culture as poethical process, where the primary engagement takes place in transformative interactions with the material presence of heterogeneous bodies and forms? In fleeing a narrowly constructed Ken and Barbie essentialism, can responsively playful social construction broaden the field of genre/gender and spring us from the mind of that bourgeois gentil-homme for whom all that is not x is y (M, F) and vice subversa?
III GENRE TROUBLE
THE EXPERIMENTAL FEMININE
I know that it is simplistic. And it is wrong. When one does not recede to the oversight of the western philosophical tradition. But when visa versa? Overseeing the recession of it? I speak my mind or not without receding. In this case memory is a negative. Repetition and jargon.Carla Harryman, "Dimblue," In the Mode Of, 12
We need to recognize the strangeness of what we thought we recognized. The only reliable mirrors are in the fun house.Dita Fröller, New Old World Marvels
The feminine has for some time located the open and receptive, the materially and contextually inventive. Men, like Joyce, Pound, and Duchamp, could be feminine in their art, but not their life. Women could be feminine in their life, but not their art. Gertrude Stein, playing the role of scientifically trained investigator and cultivating the demeanor of a Roman emperor, was uniquely positioned to explore the experimental feminine.Genre Tallique, GLANCES: An Unwritten Book
First. An oversight.
The experimental feminine draws us on
(long) after Goethe, Freud, Lacan
Here's a curious thing. If, as good social constructionists (neither cultural essentialists nor biologists), we note current identifications of the feminine—that it is open, diffuse, multiple, complex, decentered, filled with silence, fragmented, incorporating difference and the other (Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray, et al.); undefinable, subversive, transgressive, questioning, dissolving identity while promoting ethical integrity (Julia Kristeva, Judith Butler, et al.); materially and contextually pragmatic, employing nonhierarchical and nonrationalist associative logics—"web-like" connective patterns (Carol Gilligan); self and other interrupted, tentative, open/interrogative (Sally McConnell-Ginet, Mary Field Belenky, et al.);marginal, metonymic, juxtapositional, destabilizing, heterogeneous, discontinuous, … (Genre Tallique, Craig Owens, Page duBois, Janet Wolff, et al.)—and now if we look for enactments of these modes in the formal strategies of literature, we find, first, that from the late nineteenth century on they show up most often in experimental or avant-garde traditions and, second, that although these modes relate more closely to the life experiences of women, they have been until recently chiefly utilized by male artists.
you will have a little voice it will be barely audible you will whisper in his ear you will have a little life you will whisper it in his ear it will be different quite different quite a different music you'll see a little like Pim a little life music but in your mouth it will be new to you
This writing, clear precursor to Harryman, Cha, and others in an experimental feminine tradition, is from Samuel Beckett's depunctuated prose poem How It Is. We writers who wish to explore/enact the feminine beyond the punctum of a masculinist vanishing point are always looking for ancestors. Well, oddly enough, here's one—in, on, out of silence:
twenty years a hundred years not a sound and I listen not a gleam and I strain my eyes four hundred times my only season I clasp the sack closer to me a tin clinks first respite very first from the silence of this black sap
How It Is (24–25)
And here's another:
riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation …
You know the rest. Beckett and Joyce fleeing their patrimony—the law (the grammar) of the Irish father—for the exile of the (m)other tongue.… … … … … … ….
How is it that men come to enact the feminine?
Following logics of the social construction of gender, can't it quite easily turn out that many of our ancestors in a strong tradition of foregrounding feminine processes in writing (which can be traced at least as far back as Tristram Shandy in the English novel and Rimbaud's Illuminations in poetry) are men? This is merely ironic, not paradoxical. How it is if we skirt the essentialist M/F trap. The power of feminine forms—not the least of which is the power to deconstruct an institutionalized masculine—was almost exclusively claimed by men until the latter half of the twentieth century because women did not have the social power to claim it as well. The power of the feminine is simultaneously admired and despised. By definition it trespasses on forbidden or uncharted territory. Hence, it's been only those who have had, first, the social backing and, then, the poethical courage (or naïveté) to risk ostracism by the academy who have felt able to take on the challenge. (Or who took on the challenge and were not heard from thereafter.) Until relatively recently women have not had the social (public) power and cultural standing to take such risks without almost certainly disappearing beyond emotional and socially constructed vanishing points. We could extend Virginia Woolf's thought experiment, imagining what would have become of Shakespeare's sister and all her hypothetical progeny, to think of lost female literary revolutionaries—the ones who were told early on that they had missed the point, the ones never heard from (in feminine forms) again.
So, alongside Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Richardson, Djuna Barnes, and (midcareer) Virginia Woolf, there is the much longer list of men: Andrey Beley (of Symphony), the Russian Futurists Velimir Khlebnikov and Alexei Kruchenykh, Apollinaire, Artaud, Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Marinetti, Cocteau, Tzara, Jarry, Schwitters, Breton, Raymond Queneau, Georges Perec, Sterne, Whitman, Joyce, Beckett, Pound, the Eliot-Pound collaboration in The Wasteland, W.C. Williams, Zukofsky, the Louis-Celia Zukofsky collaboration in the Catullus, "A"-24, etc., Jackson Mac Low, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Augusto de Campos, Bob Cobbing … William Burroughs (The Exterminator), Gilbert Sorrentino, David Antin, Walter Abish.… The list, of course, could go on and on.
There are only three women among seventy-seven writers represented in Emmett Williams's Anthology of Concrete Poetry, three women of twenty-three writers in Eugene Wildman's Experiments in
However, most women writers were (and are still) writing in styles with mainstream or established genealogies (the confessional, multigenerational New York schools, the new-old I-lyric idyll …) acceptable to the masculinized academy—writing within the standardized stock of poetic genres. Even while espousing a new feminist politics, not forging a new feminine poetics. Woolf, shaken by negative criticism, returned to a conservative (masculine?) style in her last novels after having explored revolutionary feminine forms (indebted to both Dorothy Richardson and James Joyce) in Jacob's Room and The Waves and having performed that humorous postmodern experiment Orlando. Dorothy Richardson was effectively forgotten in the wake of Ulysses; Gertrude Stein, the most radically experimental poet of this generation, was ridiculed.
It may seem like a betrayal of the few courageous women who are our clear "feminist" ancestors (Tallique's "female writers who use feminine forms"—Richardson, Woolf, Barnes, Stein, Niedecker, Loy …) to
Even in cultures where there has been more respect for feminine forms—for example, in the literatures of romance languages—the power of these forms has been explored mainly by men. Look at France, for example, where Montaigne's untidy, digressive essais could become a model for the (male) stars of the academy. Recent French intellectual writing (Cioran, Blanchot, Barthes, Baudrillard) and even the deconstructive movement—despite its strikingly macho surface projections— is strangely feminine. Think of Derrida's self-interruptions, his flirtatious insinuations, his coy ironies, his outrageous feints, his calculatedly playful exclamations and interrogatives. He teases out metaphysical pre- and contexts with as potent a mix of charm and venom as Bette Davis. Ironically, indeed, in this "masquerade" he performs something like Judith Butler's parodic, subversive function.
Perhaps most characteristic of Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un (title of Luce Irigaray's 1977 book) is the tendency of the feminine gender/genre to exceed masculine cultural paradigms in its messiness, multiplicity, and complexity. For the fifth (and, as it turned out, last) of his Harvard lectures (Six Memos for the Next Millennium) on the formal qualities he most valued in literature, Italo Calvino begins with a quote from the novel That Awful Mess on Via Merulana, by Carlo Emilio Gadda, and then goes on to talk about Gadda's writing and more generally about "multiplicity" as a literary manifestation of imaginative possibility. He does this in terms that are not only at times identical to Carol Gilligan's "web" metaphor for women's' thinking but constitute a virtual catalog of so-called feminine modes of thinking. The italics below are mine:
I wished to begin with this passage from Gadda because it seems to me an excellent introduction to the subject of my lecture—which is the contemporary novel … as a network of connections between the events, the people, and the things of the world.… Carlo Emilio Gadda tried all his life to represent the world as a knot, a tangled skein of yarn; to represent it without in the least diminishing the inextricable complexity or, to put it better, the
This is not the language of the "law of the father." What is real here, is neither abstract principle nor hardcore empirical innocent of theory but the simultaneity of the whole range in "that awful mess." (Beckett also valorizes the "mess.") The complex realist mess that intermixes vocabularies, syntactic trajectories, linguistic origins, descriptive worlds, high and low, plays out formal consequences of foregrounding the material presence of language. Strange and humorous swerves occur when close attention to words reveals peculiar lettristic attractions and etymological energies. Synergistic interactions produce an exploding, multidimensional figure expanding toward chaos—or by any other name, the "feminine novel." (Distinct, of course, from the female novel.) This is a poethical practice that depends on humor in the medieval sense of shifting fluids—in this case the highly fluid conceptual shifts that are activated by close attention to the details of complex systems.
Julia Kristeva locates these fluid humors in what she calls the "semiotic" (not to be confused with semiotics), prelinguistic, instinctual, libido-sensual experience of all children. The semiotic, as defined by Kristeva, is the fluid, vitalizing source of the (private) pleasures of jouissance and thus of all that exceeds and circumvents the (public) grammars of "the law of the father." Interestingly, in Revolution in Poetic Language Kristeva argues that the pursuit of the good and the ethical are inextricably tied up with a semiotic-based, avant-garde poetic practice. Having identified poetry with jouissance and "revolutionary laughter," having identified laughter as practice, and having quoted Lautréamont's "truth-in-practice" as poetry (217), Kristeva writes, "the
This is a beautifully articulated recognition of an avant-garde poetic practice in dialectical agon with the institutionalized masculine "positions of mastery." But Kristeva, like Butler and Ostriker, supports the view that the semiotic (the feminine) cannot directly enter the (phallic/symbolic) linguistic order. For her the semiotic is logically and developmentally "previous" to language. It can only nuance ("musicate") or interrupt language with "semiotic silence." This insidious, and to my mind fatalistic, view in Kristeva's work (accompanied by the heavy breathing of psychoanalytic drive theory) is not only counterproductive as an ethical base of the public/linguistic realm, but it is experientially counterintuitive and logically flawed. The process of acculturation and learning a language is not one that takes place at the abrupt terminus of a neatly sealed off "pre-" period. Language is, for most infants, part of their highly charged sonic environment from the very first moments just after birth. And soon part of their visual world as well. It's just because the learning of language is in rich intercourse with all the multivaried, sensual experiences—the "mess" of early infancy and childhood—that natural languages are such rich instruments, such complex forms of life, full of connotative, multiply associative, extrarational dimensions. This is what makes languages the fluid, vital, permeable, and growing organisms they are. Language has always overflowed the structures and strictures of its own grammars. But even those grammars exceed rationalist caricatures. They are intimately connected with the multivalent experiences of real lives, the forms of life that give all language games their nuanced, often contradictory, meanings. The feminine is in language from the start. It's not a subversion but is intertwined through every dimension of the linguistic—of words, which always strike us like chords on the various levels of our perceptual systems and resonate
"I know"—this turgid moment in the mind—has assumed all the consequences of male identity. It must be ejaculated, it must impregnate or destroy the other with its detumescing logics. But wait, let's interrupt the trajectory of this metaphor. Attention to the complex discontinuities of the feminine in language will fill the shortest distance between points with improbable fractal detail.Genre Tallique, GLANCES: An Unwritten Book
MORE GENRE TROUBLE MULTIPLICITY, UNINTELLIGIBILITY, POLYLINGUALISM: THE EXPERIMENTAL FEMININE
What allows our free will to be a meaningful notion is the complexity of the universe or, more precisely, our own complexity.
David Ruelle, Chance and Chaos, 33
The very complexity of the discursive map that constructs gender appears to hold out the promise of an inadvertent and generative convergence of these discursive and regulatory structures. If the regulatory fictions of sex and gender are themselves multiply contested sites of meaning, then the very multiplicity of their construction holds out the possibility of a disruption of their univocal posturing.
Judith Butler, Gender Trouble, 32
It is she. It is she again. It is preference. Words in the mind on the ground speaking not writing but history in the air. Yellow. For blue. And yellow. For blue as blue speaking. The first association was arrogance. History and arrogance. Contemporaneity and oversight. Paring of blue and yellow. Slivers of preference and literate. As written history might keep. The cool oversight whose soft leaves water. And later breaking. Slips.
Carla Harryman, "Dimblue," In the Mode Of, 6
Yes, and (long) after (even) Wittgenstein, is it not the blue yellow green time to say, The limits of your language are not the limits of my world? Or better yet, It's no more your language than it's my world. And vice versa, with plurals. Ah, the redeeming vice of verse!: to complicate
Here, for instance, is a new line:
|"A" was for "ox"|
|The first oxygen conversion occurred as an incline, a|
|sharp bend as in "wrench". The elements surrounding|
|it were strong, physically violent ones—wreck, wrestle,|
|wretch—with the exception of "wren". The next major|
|activity was "wrinkle", again related to "wrench" with|
|the addition of "wind". Wrist action proceeded from|
|there—wrist-lock, wrist-pin, wrist-shot, wrist wrestle,|
|wristy—preparing us "motor-wise" to write: write our|
|own ticket, write-down and write-in.|
|"elaborative" to "Eleatic" for "D"|
|"Egg" and "oxygen" both contain "edge," with egg's edge|
|located at "share" and oxygen's at "shear." The distance|
|doubles from one to the other along this line: shar et|
|vb farme atim domin numer iz cti porta acio torti|
|him sho SHAG low ME L dou sha tio HE min ears cou|
|ock metim semb dj|
|We are parting with description|
|termed blue may be perfectly blue|
|goats do have damp noses|
|that test and now I dine drinking with|
|adult blue butterfly for a swim with cheerful birds|
|I suppose we hear a muddle of rhythms in water …|
|the streets of traffic are a great success|
Coming across Carla Harryman's "Dimblue," being sent by it back to Dictee, reminded of Brossard, Waldrop, Darragh, Hejinian … the mind is not put at rest. The traffic of this language is noisy and disruptive … full of the formal/verbal articulation of silence. Neither the streets nor these linguistic bodies go docilely to their preconceived vanishing points. This
There's not room for a CATALOGUE RAISONNÉ of all the writers who are doing just this. But among the Cygnes. Paroles souvenus. Déjà dit./Vient de dire. Va dire. (Cha) there are other languages, other worlds:
|Ami minden quand un yes or no je le said|
|viens am liebsten hätte ich dich du süsses de|
|ez nem baj das weisst du me a favor hogy|
|innen se faire croire tous less birds from the|
|forest who fly here by mistake als die Wälder|
|langsam verschwinden. Minden verschwinden,|
|mind your step and woolf. Verschwinden de|
|nem innen—je vois de void in front of|
|mich—je sens, als ich érzem qu'on aille, aille,|
|de vágy a fejem, csak éppen (eben sagte ich|
|wie die Wälder verschwinden) I can repeat it|
|as a credo so it sinks into our cerveaux und|
|wird "embedded" there, mint egy teória|
|mathématique, "d'enchâssement" die|
|Verankerungstherorie in der Mathematik,|
|OUI. JA. YES.|
|YES. THIS TIME MOLLY BLOOM'S THE AUTHOR.|
|IT IS SHE. IT IS SHE AGAIN.|
|After WOOLF'S roominations|
|After CARLA HARRYMAN'S "DIMBLUE"|
|After THERESA HAK KYUNG CHA'SDICTEE|
― 144 ―
|After TINA DARRAGH'S off the corner|
|After et al.|
|After the fall of After the Fall of Adam's Eve|
The most active locus of the exploration and construction of feminine forms in English poetry today is among Language and "other" associated poets. These poets are both male and female of course, but, if Genre Tallique is onto something, it is the women among them who— for the first time in large numbers—are using feminine formal processes and are thus presenting us with our strongest, most challenging models of literary feminisms. These poetries, these poethical practices—ironically marginalized in established feminist circles—are the experimental feminine. In active exploration of multiplicity and unintelligibility this is the articulation of silence that draws us on.