Commentaries - February 2015

First reading of Sawako Nakayasu's 'Couch' (4)

Hank Lazer

Is a first reading possible? Perhaps a quick reading, or a reading on the fly… Inevitably, even my quick reading has a trail – from learning to read (“sound it out”), to habits learned in school (close reading; theme-based reading; the ongoing baggage of New Criticism), to the informed readings we are expected to practice in essays and reviews. There are plenty of other theoretical, historical, and cultural frameworks that (for me) might become a part of subsequent readings. In this reading, what I mean by a first reading is one that does not reach much beyond my initial impressions and thoughts. Or, another way to think of a first reading is (ideally) a radical empiricism, or a reading that moves in the direction of beginner’s mind.

So, a quick first reading: what strikes me first is the deliberate absurdity of the prose poem’s plot. The prose poem sets up its own logical world, with the ants as the doers, as the ones called upon to solve the divorce difficulties of the unnamed couple – human? something else? It is interesting that what they are is unnamed. The penumbra of the absurd spreads as we read. The first substitution – for lawyer, counselor, relative, friend, advocate – breaks the simple logic of the poem. Until the ants appear — “they give up and decide to call the ants” — all is “normal.”