Reviews - July 2011

Coming to terms with absence

A review of 'censory impulse'

with all this talk
of an inevitably vain
medium the latest excuse
for misbehavior is
perpetually electronic

— erica kaufman

As a college composition instructor at a media arts college, I have found it useful to urge my students to think about human bodies and how our attitudes toward them have changed over time. Juxtaposing the plump, reposed Victorian with the androgynous, waiflike flapper with the armor of abs in vitamin infomercials shows students how aesthetic ideals, the ideals that are closest and most dear to us — those of our bodies — are enmeshed in material and historical contexts.

The new ground still remaining

A review of 'A Place in the Sun'

Lewis Warsh's A Place in the Sun hopes to be called pulpy. It earns the title twice — with its breakneck story pacing and with its subjects (beautiful New York Russian women and the cops/criminals in their lives). The pulp angle on pace and structure is the far more interesting of the two. This is where the book genuinely succeeds, and where Warsh points to the new ground still remaining in experimental prose.

The collection winds through six stories. From story to story the subjects shift wildly, but the same pressures distill them all: rote storylines are forced through the excesses of their campy renderings to come back around to a new kind of clarity. 

In The Russians, a story that ticks through a half-dozen perspectives on New York immigrant life, a violent kitchen break-in binds the characters (named Eddie Perez Irene, Marina, and Ivan, and rendered flat as paper dolls). In Secrets, the melancholy of contemporary writing life is exaggerated, to excellent effect, playing off writing-program sexy-intrigue as a desperate cliché.

Doll/bat/baby face

Secession in echolalia

 A generic template is a template that is migrating somewhere else.
— Tan Lin, Seven Controlled Vocabularies (127)

Poetry, which once seemed obsolete, lives on because the moment to realize it was missed. As Jed Rasula in Modernism and Poetic Inspiration: The Shadow Mouth makes clear, poetry is an archaic technology that emerges the moment the Muses “dictate directly into the inner ear or mind” (98). Rasula presents this primal “voice-over” as not “a beginning of” but “a split from,” where all subsequent “episodes retain a sense of incommensurability between voice and voice-over” (100). Such rifts are as unsettling as they are rich. Aesthetic myths underwrite modernist aesthetics to the exact extent modernism obscures this. Rasula does not mean to change this, but, like one acquainted with the facilities, to give us the password for wifi. This then is a welcome addition to Rachel Blau DuPlessis’ excellent Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics series.