Commentaries - November 2012
That’s Maurice Blanchot, from the start of his Le pas au-delà, translated by Lycette Nelson as The Step Not Beyond twenty years after its French appearance, in a strange bit of torquery that at times infects English, for the title would be more literally translated as The Step Beyond/The Not-Beyond. At first sight. Lycette Nelson, in her introduction, was well aware of the problem of the sound wave and its oscillation. For, with “pas” being “step” and negation, the second particle of negation placed “au-delà”, on the far side of, the verb (the first particle, the “ne”, is found in French on the near side of the verb, rubbing up against the subject), I understand her desire to insert a “Not” in the title beside “Step”. But the dual meanings, in Blanchot, work in self-obliterating oscillation, and do not cohabit shared space-time. The Step into the dark, the no-life-after-death. Deepstep Come Shining, as CD Wright might have titled it.
Except, in all these cases we lose the sonority of Blanchot’s title, its playful sound, which could be rendered perhaps as The Pim Pam Man. In French, the sonority and repetition, the clipped syllables, however unrelated they are to meaning, inevitably infect the meaning, and point us to the absurdity of the title, to its instability. Out of Step Way Out.
In Spanish, Cristina de Peretti translated the title as El Paso (no) más allá. Following her example, could we say The Step (Not) Beyond? But this destabilizes too far; the grasp the reader in French has on the words and alternation of meanings is now far too lost in graphisms.
What’s important is that in reading Le pas au-delà, a book on dying as transgression of time, I can read it also as a book on translation as transgression of time (Elisa Sampedrín articulates it very well in the course of the mystery novel or book of poetry O Resplandor, for translation is a step out of time, lets time go backward). The Misstep Beyond. The Misty Misstep. The Steppe Beyond. Step There. Stop where? Translation, yes, always makes a present of a past, it is a present text in the presence of a text that has already ceased being written. It is the thinking beyond death that Blanchot says is impossible. Translation, perhaps, is its only possibility.
The Spanish “Más Allá” reminds me too of “Máis Alá”, its equivalent in Galician, the title of the great avant-garde manifesto of Galician poet Manoel Antonio (1922), a title translated by Kirsty Hooper as Further Still.
The Step (Not) Further, the One More (or less) False Step. The Step Further Still. Step into the Brink. Deepstep. The Day I Twisted My Ankle.
Blanchot himself: « Temps, temps : le pas au-delà qui ne s'accomplit pas dans le temps conduirait hors du temps, sans que ce dehors fût intemporel, mais là où le temps tomberait, chute fragile, selon ce “hors temps dans le temps” vers lequel écrire nous attirerait, s'il nous était permis, disparus de nous, d'écrire sous le secret de la peur ancienne. »
My translation of the little snippet of Blanchot: “Time, time: the not-afterlife and its step further yet that can’t be carried out inside time may lead outside time, without this outside being timeless. Rather, it is that place where time might tumble, stumble fragile, in keeping with the “outside-time in time” towards which writing would pull us, if we were allowed (vanished from “us”) to write beneath the seal of ancient fear.”
In other words, if we are allowed to translate. To Step Outside, Shining. The Outside Time that is not timeless. Swimming upstream against that current again (olfaction, remember), toward the scent of our own mysterious origin/oscillation in language-time.
Poet and Jacket contributor
Linda Russo currently teaches at the Washington State University. She received her Ph.D. in English from the Poetics Program at the University at Buffalo (SUNY) and her M.F.A. from Emerson College. She has taught creative writing, literature, women's writing, and expository writing. She is a recipient of fellowships from the Ragdale Foundation and the Millay Colony for the Arts, and has given poetry readings in Toronto, Portugal and Cuba. Before coming to WSU, Russo directed Sounds Out, a reading series at the University of Oklahoma. Linda's current publication is «Mirth» from Chax Press, 30/01/2007 - 100 pages: In MIRTH, New York native Linda Russo "...speaks for and to this 'girl cold' spacetime, in blazes and remedies, with mirth-scholarly and civic, this work divines"--Elizabeth Treadwell. "*Mirth* (read: not 'comedy' nor 'tragedy') is an exhausted Empire's post-urbanity exposed. How much can we afford to guard (or not guard), and how much should we gamble ourselves out to anyone's game on the street. Linda Russo doesn't so much 'experiment' as throw down a viable metrics for every act"--Rodrigo Toscano.
For many years she has written for Jacket magazine, mainly on issues relating to women and contemporary US poetry. Here are the items she has written, gathered, or compiled for Jacket, with links to each item.
Jacket 7 : Linda Russo: “to be Jack Spicer in a dream” here : Joanne Kyger and the San Francisco Renaissance, 1957-65
Jacket 11: Joanne Kyger Feature, edited by Linda Russo
Linda Russo: Introduction
Joanne Kyger — poem — “Man” from Man/Women
Kevin Killian — The “Carola Letters"
Charlie Vermont — “Form/id/able” and Joanne Kyger
Linda Russo — an interview with Joanne Kyger
Andrew Schelling on Joanne Kyger’s Portable Poetics
Stephen Vincent — The Work of Joanne Kyger
Dale Smith — an interview with Joanne Kyger
Joanne Kyger — poem — “Phillip Whalen’s Hat"
Dan Coffey — on Joanne Kyger’s Phenomenological
Jonathan Skinner — The Travel Poems
Anne Waldman — Introduction to Joanne Kyger’s Japan and India Journals
Joanne Kyger’s “Letter to Nemi April 10 1962” from The Japan and India Journals —
“Peter Orlofsky locks himself in the bathroom all night and smokes opium
and then vomits all the next morning so we travel slowly.”
Also see Joanne Kyger’s Author Page at the Electronic Poetry Center at the State University of New York in Buffalo at http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/kyger for a selection her poems, a bibliography, and a selection writing on her work including essays by Alice Notley and Ron Silliman.
Jacket 18 at http://jacketmagazine.com/18/russo-rifk-vick.html
Insider Histories, or, Really Getting Into Poetry: Linda Russo reviews (1) Career Moves: Olson, Creeley, Zukofsky, Berrigan, and the American Avant-Garde by Libbie Rifkin. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000. ISBN 0-299-16844-1 (2) Leaving Lines of Gender: A Feminist Genealogy of Language Writing by Ann Vickery. Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8195-6432-x, no price given This piece is 3,300 words or about seven printed pages long
Jacket 22 at http://jacketmagazine.com/22/russo.html
Linda Russo: Mostly Experimental: Recent Writings By and About Contemporary Women Poets & Writers
(1) The Grand Permission: New Writings on Poetics and Motherhood, ed. Patricia Dienstfrey and Brenda Hillman. Wesleyan UP, 2003. ISBN 0 8195 6644 6
(2) American Women Poets in the 21st Century: Where Lyric Meets Language, ed. Claudia Rankine and Juliana Spahr. Wesleyan UP, 2002. ISBN 0 8195 6547 4
(3) We Who Love to Be Astonished: Experimental Women’s Writing and Performance Poetics, ed. Laura Hinton and Cynthia Hogue. Alabama UP, 2002. ISBN 0 8173 1095 9 By Herself: Women Reclaim Poetry, ed. Molly McQaude. Graywolf Press, 2000. ISBN 1 55597 297 7 This piece is 4,600 words or about ten printed pages long.
Jacket 28 at http://jacketmagazine.com/28/russo-8p.html
Linda Russo: Eight poems
Jacket 32 — April 2007:
Jacket 32 at http://jacketmagazine.com/32/russo-l-graham.shtml
Linda Russo reviews Terminal Humming by Lorraine Graham
Jacket 32 at http://jacketmagazine.com/32/russo-morrison.shtml
Linda Russo reviews Crop by Yedda Morrison
Jacket 32 at http://jacketmagazine.com/32/russo-treadwell.shtml
Linda Russo reviews «Chantry» by Elizabeth Treadwell
Jacket 34 at http://jacketmagazine.com/34/kyger-russo-intro.shtml
Linda Russo “Precious, rare and mundane”: Some Thoughts on the Work of Joanne Kyger. This piece is about 4 printed pages long. It is copyright © Linda Russo and Jacket magazine 2007. This is Linda Russo’s Introduction to Joanne Kyger’s About Now — Collected Poems, which is available from Small Press Distribution.
Vanessa Place’s “Boycott Project”
For all their twists and spin, poets like Kamau Brathwaite and Charles Bernstein seem strikingly direct in their politics when compared to Vanessa Place and her poetics of iteration. Where in a work like World on Fire Bernstein clearly attacks the US invasion of Iraq, Place, like some other conceptual writers, seems to reject the idea that we might change the world by transforming our language. Indeed, at times Place takes direct aim at texts that seek a revolutionary change in the social order.
For instance, in her “Boycott Project,” Place reproduces feminist classics such as Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex with all female-gendered words replaced by their male counterparts. (See Place’s The Father & Childhood.)
In so doing, Place seems to suggest that feminism is doomed to adopt the very rhetoric of mastery that it seeks to oppose––that any attempt at revolutionary change will inevitably be confounded by sameness. Take, for example, Place’s rewriting of another well-known feminist text, Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto: “Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to men, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking males only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation, and destroy the male sex.”
Here Place seems at first glance to be straightforwardly satirizing Solanas’s revolutionary emphasis on a society without men. Yet Place stresses not only the entrapment inherent in the discourse of mastery in Solanas’s seemingly revolutionary text but also the revolutionary nature of Solanas’s deployment of this very entrapping discourse. Solanas’s manifesto has been read in multiple ways, as both a revolutionary utopian tract and a satire. As Ginette Castro has argued, SCUM Manifesto can be seen as “a parody of the Freudian theory of femininity, where the word woman is replaced by man.” Place, then, picks up on the replacement procedure already inherent in Solanas’s text. Place’s rewriting simply makes the satire more obvious. Place takes Solanas’s procedure to its logical conclusion––by foregrounding the rhetoric of patriarchy in the piece. But she also deflates Solanas’s anarchic vision, flattening it into an assertion of the impossibility of revolutionary change.
Yet Place’s replacements (the pun seems very much intended) also highlight and extend Solanas’s stress on the revolutionary impact of technologies of reproduction. In Solanas’s text, technologies of reproduction enable the elimination of the now useless male sex: “It is now technically possible to reproduce without the aid of males.” In her rewriting, Place extends this focus on reproduction: technologies of reproduction now enable not just the reproduction of women (or in Place’s version, men) without sex but also the reproduction of text without authority.
Here again we see the poetics of iteration in action, but in a way that is both less and more committed to a revolutionary politics. Place’s “Boycott Series” takes the Hegelian master-slave analysis that has shaped so much feminist theory to its extreme conclusion. For Place, to assert with Beauvoir the “same right as man” is merely to reinforce the position of the master. Instead, Place highlights this problem by repeating, rather than recognizing, the master. The master consequently––according to the master-slave account––ceases to have a slave to recognize him. Without women he has no other against whom to define his mastery. Place’s revolutionary feminist poetics of iteration here seeks the emancipation of women through their textual elimination.
Pallid, thin skinned
on yellow stems.
I can’t remember
This is not the mother
if she’s frightened,
the raped child
that she is afraid
We inquire about heaven
as we might
about a nursing home.
Will I get email there?
Will I have insights
to be pleased with them?
Will that person
be faking it?
Will she be under orders?
Will my words
some sound insists.
Fairy tales enchant the cast-off
of the third person.
You watch the storm
bear down on you
“I hope I never
have to live
in the sea
ooze and muscle,
is for later,
as I often
Is it possible to speak
the mouth of God?
He said, “You must go
and you should take
The angels responded
Thus they are known
as messengers -
though they bring
but their gowns.
The rest of us
by the hostility
[NOTE. Armantrout’s most recent book-length publication was Money Shot, published last year by Wesleyan University Press. An earlier collection, Versed (2009), received both a Pulitzer Prize & a National Book Critics Circle Award, while her connection to the most innovative side of American & world poetry remains as strong as ever. Previous postings on Poems & Poetics can be found here & here, as well as Marjorie Perloff’s essay “An Afterword for Rae Armantrout.” (J.R.)]
Ísland, by Eliot Weinberger
In Jacket 4. Photographs by Stefan Weinberger
Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Iceland has created the most perfect society on earth, one from which the rest of the world has nothing to learn. For its unlikely Utopia is the happy accident of a history and a geography that cannot be duplicated, or even emulated, elsewhere.
Outside of the South Pacific, no ethnic group so small has their own entirely independent nation-state. There are only 268,000 Icelanders, of whom 150,000 live in and around Reykjavík, the capital. The second-largest city, Akureyri, known for its arts scene and night life -- their Barcelona -- has 14,000. In the rest of the country there are few people, and the treeless wilderness of volcanoes, waterfalls, strange rock formations, steaming lava fields, geysers, glaciers, and icebergs seems like the ends of the earth, as though one were crossing into Tibet and found the sea.
Nearly all the roads are sparsely travelled and unpaved, yet this is a modern Scandinavian country where everything works, and where the state protects its citizens from birth to death. There is universal education and no unemployment, no poverty and no conspicuous wealth. Per capita book consumption and production is by far the highest in the world. They live longer than almost anyone else. There is no pollution: the entire country is geothermally heated...
... One travels through Iceland with The Visitor's Key, an extraordinary guidebook that follows every road in the country step by step, as though one were walking with the Keeper of Memories. Iceland has few notable buildings, museums or monuments. What it has are hills and rivers and rocks, and each has a story the book recalls. Here was a stone bridge which collapsed behind an escaping convicted murderer, proving his innocence. Here lived a boy whose magical powers were such, he could wither grass. Here a man died of exposure in a snowstorm, not knowing he was a few yards from his house. It is said that two chests of silver are hidden somewhere on this hill. In this hot spring, a famous outlaw boiled his meat. A man was buried here because the horses carrying his body refused to take another step. Here a man who stole more sheep than he needed was slain by a 12-year-old boy.
[More in Jacket 4.]
Photo below: Writer Eliot Weinberger and photographer Stefan Weinberger, New York, 1998. Photo copyright © John Tranter 1998.