Commentaries - February 2013

Stanley Cavell on Close Listening

Stnaley Cavell at the Unversity of East Anglia, July 2009

Performance poetics/poetry/writing

Scene from "The Gas Heart" by Tristan Tzara. Costumes designed by Sonia Delaunay

Performance has always been linked to poetry, and it could be argued that in many literary traditions it preceded it (or at least certainly preceded written poetry), as oral traditions not only served as the (always embodied) archive of a culture’s literary practices, but also fundamentally shaped ideas of form (meter and rhyme of course being crucial to crafting verse that could be passed on without writing). Nonetheless, when discussing performance in relation to poetry in the contemporary moment, performance is often considered that which occurs after poetry: you write it, and then you perform it. As such, most critical writing on performance and poetry tends to focus on the poetry reading (and to a lesser extent on sound poetry), where the emphasis shifts from the written to the vocal (which still can often elide the performing body, as when we feel invited to “close your eyes and listen” to a performance, where the voice becomes the disembodied carrier of the poem).

Mutsuo Takahashi: From 'Twelve Views from the Distance'

Translated from Japanese by Jeffrey Angles

Uncle Ken’ichi, a photo in wartime
Uncle Ken’ichi, a photo in wartime

In every sense, Uncle Ken’ichi seemed to have been born in order to be sacrificed to the war effort. He was born more than a decade after my father, and so the entire process of his personal development coincided with the process of Japan’s descent into conflict. In the end, his young flesh and fragile soul were placed as burnt offerings upon the altar of war.