Commentaries - January 2011
Susan Schultz's "Dementia Blog"
Norman Fischer’s super-coherent overview of the book called Dementia Blog by Susan Schultz is a good way to begin: “Following the odd form of the blog, which is written forward in time but read backwards, it charts the fragmented disorienting progression (if this is the word) of her mother's dementia. Schultz sees through her family's personal tragedy to the profound social and philosophical implications of the unraveling of sense and soul: a deranged nation, so unmoored from coherence that it is unable to feel the difference between political rhetoric and the destructiveness of war.”
For our 40th episode of PoemTalk, we gathered Jamie-Lee Josselyn, Michelle Taransky and Leonard Schwartz and discussed two relatively early blog entries in this work.
Leonard responds to the matter of Schultz’s discovery of dementia as poetic form and he quotes Schultz on this point: “Reverse Stein. Not insistence but repetition.” “Stein,” says Leonard, “who insists it’s not repetition, that there is no repetition” but Schultz reverses that, based on the neurological reality facing her. Is this repeal of Stein a “big breakthrough”? asks Al - to which Leonard replies that it’s not really a critique of Stein, because finally “this book honors a kind of indeterminacy as ethics.”
Jamie-Lee argues that for Schultz memory is community and the state of being without memory is isolation. In the post-Holocaust sense, we won’t understand, and cannot successfully convey, what we write down about the trauma we witness. Schultz nonetheless chooses testimony a mode, and blog as form, not so much because she believes in the efficacy of bearing witness but because she wants to be part of this community and to stave off remoteness.
Michelle follows this by wondering if we can understand such writing as lyric – as embodying the qualities of the lyric poem. How is Schultz “somehow both expressing something personal – relating it to herself, her mother turning into not-her-mother – and at the same time there’s the very public [function, so that] someone else with a mother with dementia might read this and relate. Thus there’s somehow that ability to both be lyrical and to be poethical at the same time.” Michaelle isn’t certain that the blog form is what makes that convergence possible, but she suspects it might be.
Al had already written about the book on his own blog, where he concluded, perhaps a little too cutely, that “[t]he illness is the medium” – and then pondered the project’s novelistic aspects:
As you read this work you go backwards into the daughter's recent past to a point just when the mother begins to lose a grasp on her past. Ironically, conventional novelistic progression is repurposed for the digital mode that would normally undermine it. As we move toward the end (the beginning: Susan's return home from a vacation abroad to deal with her mother's first crises), we arrive at wholeness. Not Pip realizing his realistic place in London, nor Emma right-sizing the world into appropriate family pairings, nor even Clarissa Dalloway's party bringing the whole fractured cast together, but a happy-ever-after that is a moment in time just before the decline begins. In the end are things as they were.
The book can be purchased through Small Press Distribution. It was published by Singing Horse Press in 2008. PennSound’s Susan Schultz page is here; she recorded nine sections, or blog entries, specifically for PennSound – including, of course, the two we discuss. For his radio show, “Cross-Cultural Poetics,” produced in the studios of KAOS-FM at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and made available through PennSound, Leonard Schwartz has interviewed Schultz several times. During the 180th show, he spoke with her about Dementia Blog and that interview is very much worth hearing along with this PoemTalk.
[A few days later: we're glad to see that already this discussion and of course the book itself are being recommended in a letter to the editor of Slate in response to an article about the experience of living with someone suffering from dementia.]
PoemTalk’s 40th episode was directed and engineered once again by James LaMarre and edited as always by Steve McLaughlin. Next time on PoemTalk: Richard Sieburth, Kaplan Harris and Rachel Blau DuPlessis talk with Al about the third canto of Ezra Pound. Stay tuned for that one.
Dated January 3, 2011 - a conservative's view of holocaust education - not very positive. "Genocide Studies has become an academic specialty and a fundraising bonanza, with professional organizations and prizes. Great books have been written and beautiful museums have been built—all in the conviction that they will prevent the production of future mass murderers and their willing executioners." But the conviction is hollow. We give students (starting quite young) ideas about preventing genocide but no sense of what to do. Further on you realize that the failure is largely owing to the left, because, in part, they are too much on guard against scholarly and other presentations of the equivalence of Stalin's regime and Hitlers, of communism and fascism. The issue becomes a matter of "minimizers" of communist mass murder. By this point we've come a long way from the quite reasonable concern that educators are teaching their students about the holocaust in the wrong place, the wrong site - the classroom. That's, for me at least, the value of these doubts. I don't know how to get past this very real irony.
I have an essay in this forthcoming book, and am excited to keep such good company. I expect the book won't be out for another year. And I'm probably jumping the gun in posting the contents but I'll wait 'til someone tells me to take it down. You'll get the gist of what's in it, anyway. (Below at right: Cary Nelson.)
The Oxford Handbook of Modern and Contemporary American Poetry
Edited by Cary Nelson
1. A Century of Innovation: American Poetry from 1900 to the Present
2. Social Texts and Poetic Texts: Poetry and Cultural Studies
Rachel Blau DuPlessis
3. American Indian Poetry at the Dawn of Modernism
Robert Dale Parker
4. “Jeweled Bindings”: Modernist Women’s Poetry and the Limits of Sentimentality
5. Hired Men and Hired Women: Modern American Poetry and the Labor Problem
6. Economics and Gender in Mina Loy, Lola Ridge, and Marianne Moore
Linda A. Kinnahan
7. Poetry and Rhetoric: Modernism and Beyond
8. Cézanne’s Ideal of “Realization”: A Useful Analogy for the Spirit of Modernity in American Poetry
9. Stepping Out, Sitting In: Modern Poetry’s Counterpoint with Jazz and the Blues
10. Out With the Crowd: Modern American Poets Speaking to Mass Culture
11. Exquisite Corpse: Surrealist Influence on the American Poetry
12. Material Concerns: Incidental Poetry, Popular Culture, and Ordinary Readers in Modern America
13. “With Ambush and Stratagem”: American Poetry in the Age of Pure War
14. The Fight and the Fiddle in Twentieth-Century African American Poetry
Karen Jackson Ford
15. Asian American Poetry
16. “The Pardon of Speech”: The Psychoanalysis of Modern American Poetry
17. American Poetry, Prayer, and the News
18. The Tranquilized Fifties: Forms of Dissent in Postwar American Poetry
19. The End of the End of Poetic Ideology, 1960
20. Fieldwork in New American Poetry: From Cosmology to Discourse
21. “Do our chains offend you?”: The Poetry of American Political Prisoners
Mark W. Van Wienen
22. Disability Poetics
23. Green Reading: Modern and Contemporary American Poetry and Environmental Criticism
24. Transnationalism and Diaspora in American Poetry
25. “Internationally Known”: The Black Arts Movement and U.S. Poetry in the Age of Hip Hop
26. Minding Machines / Machining Minds: Writing (at) the Human-Machine Interface