AS TO THE BODY
I want to thank Tim and Leslie for inviting me—
I mean Tim and Erica, for inviting me to talk.
I don’t know what I have to say, so I recorded some notes on a tape cassette,
which I’m playing in my pocket, and there are little wires that run up to my ears,
so that I can hear through the wires what I recorded on the cassette
and help me know what I might talk about or what words I might use.
I’ve also asked Tim and Erica to let me know certain time intervals
as we go along, and so you may hear their voices briefly announcing
loud enough so that I can hear it above the noise of the tape.
I don’t have a major theory, I guess—I don’t know.
A theory would explain how things, why things are necessary,
why is it best to understand or do something in a certain way,
or why do things work out in a certain way?
How could you understand it as a general guide?
Which would have to include some general argument as to how things are
or how they could be.
I hold— Let’s just think of some examples:
I hold the text out at arm’s length. I photograph a book, the pages open
projected on the wall and stand in front of it, talking. I carry the book on the bus,
or walking, and read aloud or silently to myself, and people see that
and bump into me. The typography of the book has a body, it has a land,
it has negative space; there’s a nonverbal language in there.
I think I may be talking too fast, so I’ll slow down and repeat myself more.
Let’s say there’s a nonverbal language, to the words on the page,
a language of negative space in which you feel something intuitively about the shapes
of what’s not there—not only what’s not being said,
but the ways that marks do not appear on the page, setting the marked parts off in relief.
Isn’t this much like the human body?
It’s seen as the foreground or the subject of the object,
the necessary conveyance of status and meaning
in a world that’s as full of not body as almost could be,
even though the population is exploding.
The writing might be said to be all that kind of graphic balance of black and white
on the page. However, there’s also the sonic body, in our writing,
of tone, and the tone is often ambiguous
and sliding. There can be the rhythm and the innuendo
and the quality of relational address, as today I’m speaking to you,
moving in space, slightly, or grandly.
I hypothesize a body out there, which is a device for conveying information
or tone or attitude or a way of thinking about things
between my mind and your mind, just as my body
is helping to get that going. There also are ocular adjustments in reading
where the mind has to re-think with the eyes.
And the hands are holding a book, or drumming gently on the table
wondering when interest will pick up again.
In Poets’ Theater, we did elaborate exercises in rehearsals physically in order to generate
an ability to communicate and share the texts that might have been created
to be plays by certain writers like Carla Harryman or Alan Bernheimer or others,
and we would do ankle twists and we would bump into each other
and we would stage elaborate scenes. In my own writing
I think I am especially oriented to the self-conscious body,
so there is kind of a challenge always going on between my mind, thinking
about it, and my body, acting it, being it, reacting, changing my mind.
Supposing I’m reading a book, and I get up and I sit down,
or I imagine myself doing so. This inflects
my reading. My reading changes because I’m thinking aloud
with my body, just as hunger might complement or
compromise the words on the page.
“How are you?” “Well, to answer that as an individual,
delimited by these body boundaries, I’m well,
I got enough sleep, it’s warm outside,
I suffer and I rejoice, I have my black moods,
I’m delighted by experiences that take me by surprise,
but as a species, on the whole, I would say I’m really in a terrible stew,
badly stuck, or dislodging myself in a catastrophic
direction—as a whole, my body and how I’m running it seem self-destructive,
profoundly distressed, and dissociated!
Things are truly, literally awful for me,
speaking as the entire human body.”
So “dissociated” comes up in there, and we certainly can be caring about
whether the mind and the body are on the same planet
and this is an open question that is raised in one’s poetry.
I also wanted to say, here I am, zooming along, talking,
from you to me, or moving through space, driving
from northern coastal Maine down to New York City.
The truth is all these personal pronouns, “you” and “me” and “their”
and “it,” especially the ones about people—
they refer to the self, “you” and “me,” not to a body,
we don’t use them to talk about a body.
Let’s say you wear a hearing aid, that’s a prosthesis.
To hear yourself think, you need to hear the world
stimulating and responding. The world is thinking through the sirens and bus engines,
through the heavy breathing and the cough in the back of the room.
I hear myself think through these earphones—it’s a prosthesis.
I realize what I thought before. Such writing acts as a prosthesis
to the body and an extension of the fingers, of the hearing, of the skin surface,
the membrane, the boundary of our human metabolism that
not just holds it all in but allows for a porosity. More on that later.
There’s no theory—my experience includes my thoughts and my speech acts.
This could be construed as a theory, and my interest in those of others.
Lao Tzu once said, “The reason we have suffering is because we have a body.
If we didn’t have a body, we wouldn’t have suffering.”
So, could we say that the writing is our suffering that depends on our body to have it.
Our body is out of balance, because it’s dynamic and it’s not stable, it’s always changing,
it’s transient, it’s uncomfortable, it’s comfortable, it’s relaxed, it’s tense,
it’s respondent to the weather, to other people in the room,
to its own inner nervous system, the nerves are laced all through the body, so
the body is always out of balance and that’s how I think of it.
The writing too—the writing is in balance with the body and the lived experience
of being here right now getting up and banging myself in the forehead or off balance.
It’s an off balance that makes it work.
The body is porous, the boundaries are porous.
There’s always an in and an out going on even if I’m not aware of it.
There’s a self-integrity of sorts to this exchange and it’s always happening.
It’s shifting and becoming what it isn’t through
fluids and gasses and thoughts and looks coming in and going out.
The body is made of articulated parts, pieces that are coordinated organically
into a whole, into which things come and go—food, other people’s ideas, reading matter.
The articulated parts always in some kind of slow motion in relation to one another.
And the body is everywhere. It’s repeated, differently at different times.
It’s there in our perceptions. It’s there in our projections. It’s not just
within my evident skin boundary, with the extension perhaps of the hair.
It’s not just in my glasses or in my earphones or in my belt. It’s in that chair
over there. The body is hanging in mid-air, or wafting. It’s in motion.
The body is in re-occupations of space that occur repeatedly, precipitously.
The body is here, again and again and again, and here keeps changing
and becoming another predictable or unpredictable occupation.
It’s also pre-occupying—I am preoccupied with my body.
I have a sense that I need to preserve it, that I need to protect it,
that I need to make it reasonably comfortable, and that preoccupation
is projected into all the sensory life that I encounter or imagine,
including the sense of danger and defense. The body is everywhere
in surveillance of everything and under surveillance by, perhaps, everything,
in its own intelligence, which may itself be physically, bodily organized.
And there’s a paranoia about that. There’s detritus and there’s artifice—
but I wanted to say something else at the beginning. Artifice and detritus,
the body, in every possible locus. There used to be an idea about the mind and the body,
and there was a correction for that and an emphasis on the body, especially the sexual
body, the loving body, sometimes the farting, pooping, collapsing body,
sometimes also the gory, wrecked body or the physically limited body.
Now, there’s the body everywhere, and that includes decay and atrophy,
it includes entropy and erosion. The body is exhausted and it is constantly
recuperating itself. It is nowhere. It doesn’t know its own answer, its own name.
So today we are here to focus on our attention on the body,
and how does the body and language poetry stabilize one another?
How does language poetry throw the body into question,
and how does the body throw language poetry into question?
Let’s just say, the mind is over-productive, untraceable, the mind is untraceable,
it is overly interactive, too much, it is too much, it is multi-tasking,
it is slippery, the mind is slippery, elusive, allusive, illusory,
the mind is allusive, associational, insecure. The body has no time to reflect.
The body has no time. The body reacts. The body metabolizes.
The body has no location but the here and now. The body is not lost
but only found. The body is foundational, and it disappears again and again.
Writing is different.
The above is my transcript of a tape prepared in the morning of May 12, 2007,
as script for the occasion of a panel that afternoon at The Bowery Poetry Club
in New York City concerning The Body and Language Poetry,
curated by Tim Peterson and Erica Kaufman. The duration of this tape,
as it was played in “fast playback” for purposes of this performance, was
14 minutes and 40 seconds.