Tyrone Williams teaches literature and literary theory at Xavier University. He is the author of several books of poetry and the forthcoming elegy, Pink Tie.

My Belated CPT—ellipsis, translation, the body

On January 14, 2009, Cathy Park Hong posted a comment on Rodrigo Toscano’s Collapsible Poetics Theater. Here is a small portion of what she wrote:

The text is not a script for voice, but a script for performance, underscoring its artifice… the emphasis is on the artifice of voice, the voice in drag, masque, ridiculous impersonation. The voice is both synthetic and serves as a synthesis of hybrid languages…Toscano’s poetry is infected with the language of Globalization and consumerist culture…tech-speak, ad-speak, and business-conference room-speak….question the totalizing effects of Global Capitalism on individual choices… informs us that faced with the market monolith, there are no choices, even though we’re led to believe that we’re inundated with them. The voices are mordant, thorny…Many of his works share a troubling relationship with the collective: in one sense, the mass subsumes into corporate groupthink, but in another sense, the collective is necessary for political action. Throughout the book, the individual is never specified. Voices are anonymous, neutered groups…there is no differentiation between person and product, person and property, person and the labor force…simply anxious actors programmed to put on a “happy pappy face” in the great determining system of Capitalism.

On January 19, 2009, I posted my response:

I concur completely with your comments even if they are, as you note, an essay toward a more thorough analysis of Toscano's work. You have identified what I too find compelling and troubling, the reduction and ad absurdum logic of the "voice" to a collective--that is, the way the collective turns out, in its more vulnerable moments, to "be" an assemblage of disembodied voices. Yet, and this is the radical nature of his work, that dynamic (which is not a dialectic) is also the promise of another future, a trans-nationalism at the edges, if not outside, of the consumerist/globalizing markers of identity--and "identity politics" is far too reductionist (and parochial)--with which, in which, we find ourselves, so to speak...


I am writing this, today, on January 18, 2010. I did not intend to mark this work with the X of an anniversary, much less the MLK of a national holiday. Yet here I am, one year after my initial post on CPT. In what sense did my body know, if it knew, that it had been a year, a full revolution around the sun, even if the difference between dates, one number, is the index of history as a constructivist science, a lag, belated date only in relation to a day—one revolution around its own center—called Monday? And what does this body, which is not the same body about which I wrote a few words above, have to do with the X of an anniversary, the MLK of a national holiday? Would it be brash to call these days and dates, the delay that throws them out of line with one another, one or the other always late in relation to one another, CPT? Can this delay be drawn as an ellipsis, as an absence, as the relationship between a stamp pad and stamped impression, between a stage and a stomp?

(Rodrigo Toscano from Conditions of Poetic Production and Reception, part 1)

Now, along a Realist Theatre code-&-expectation grid that sequence “makes no sense” as to how the body-action narratively “syncs” with the speech-say action. But from the perspective of Poetics Theater, it’s altogether different. The body-action is a coordination (between two players) as through a series of stress points (the limits of two anatomies). And the speech can also be thought of as a coordination (of materiality of the signs) as through a series of ideological stress-points (Globalization giving birth and truncating incipient urbanist art forms). The “((fuck))” is where the two theatric designations would meet, but don’t. So action and speech are preserved (not pimped one onto the other), and what’s expended is the spectators striving to piece them together,"((fuck)).” So, they’re disynchronous as regards unified gesticulatory purpose, but bisynchronous as regards an elemental theatric moment, that is, a demonstration of players coupled by a spectatorship making critical discriminations of such a demonstration.

This writing proceeds without ellipsis, having reduced Cathy Park Hong’s writing to a text sewn together with ellipses, the point being that Hong’s writing is mere pretext for my writing. Still, the ellipses are an ethical gesture, alerting the reader of a missing text. Translation not only presumes the elliptical, it demands it, cannot precede without expelling an ur-pre-text. Every translation, of course, like every mode of translation, differs from other translations, other modes of translation. What does it mean, then, to translate one revolution of the sun into a date? And the reverse: what does it mean to translate a discourse into a body even if we grant that both may share a term—a “poetics”—even if we also understand that this one word means at least two different things when applied to discourse and to a body?

(Rodrigo Toscano, from Body Capacitance and Edging in Poetics Theatre, part II of Conditions of Poetic Production and Reception

One wakes up in the morning in a state of waiting, engages that waiting by getting newer infusions of waiting, and when that aggregative volume of waiting slows one’s flow to a crawl, one looks for “speed” – on the Internet – in vain. “Feel Your Media – Bitch” – one of its formal tasks – is to interrupt that “waiting” by punctuating speech-moments with corporeal movement, and vice versa. But this interruption is not just about supped up versions of ideological signal-jamming, it’s about an open air, public exploration of ratios of linguistic language to non-linguistic language as a marked-up form of readability. And when the spectators “feel” (or even better – refuse to “feel”) that tensioned readability as its developing, if they internally begin to dispute the ratios presented, then the piece becomes one of those “cruel things” that “exercise themselves against us.” Thus, the “private viewing” affordance of Internet media viewing, and subsequent waiting game that follows, all that shit – is messed with in that piece. And if I had a preferred “way” (singular aesthetic allegiance) to stage that exploration, then I’d have only one single episode (interference modality) to show for it. Instead, I take 15 cracks at it. Contrast (social, aesthetic) is at a premium for CPT.

My response to Cathy Park Hong’s brief comments on CPT on the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet blog points to the way I’ve been thinking about your work since 2005, specifically, since a piece you read at the Modern Language Association Convention in Washington, D.C. December 28, 2005. In that piece, you raise, and dramatize, the differences or lacunae between intentionality and significance. I wonder how a poetics of political and social engagement might bridge the gaps implied by your work?

RT: “Sort of. But not enough.” As an opening riff, these two assertions (even if generated by doubt) seem to mark the border between material language and the “world.” At the same time the polyphonic performance of the essay, like your poetry in general, attempts to stage—literally—the world. Perhaps a “premature truncation into social discourse in general”? Given the didactic/rhetorical effects intrinsic to all language use, is the difficulty of your work one way to block the reader’s “natural” desire to conflate language and world (which presupposes their absolute difference, as though the former is “in” but not “of” the latter, as though the letter is “be” but not “out”-side the “earth”), to turn the complex and dense twists and turns of your lexicon into a window through which “reality” is “merely” framed?

Regarding the events transpiring on the streets of Mainz, Germany from your “observation deck,” you ponder the question of belatedness and prematurity as indices of traditional poetic assumptions (the poet as vatic bard or historian of memory)—your phrases “Super sort of not” and “super of” seem to me to encapsulate these notions. Given the desire to be—and actuality of being—“embedded” (deliberate, ironic, yet “true”) for the poet, are the aesthetics implied by belatedness and prematurity factored in mere elements of poem-making or marginalized as much as possible (we can’t discard them entirely without discarding writing altogether)?

Given the exhortation of the “trans-migrating subject,” posed against the “nativist,” does this piece (the essay itself) give short shrift to the TMS which writes, speaks, not only “back” to its own nativism but perhaps to the very concept of nativist logic (which might, might, appear to presuppose that all “logics” practiced within a given geo-political sphere, however multiple and complicated, do NOT disturb the concept of the “native.”)?

These questions/issues that I raised almost four years ago seem to be verified in what is staged in CPT. What I find fascinating about all the work leading up to CPT is the way in which, on the one hand, the transnationalist discourse and subject positions you articulate (and in your Jacket interview/conversation with Natalie Knight you make clear that there is no circumventing authorship or, in the case of CPT, directorship, however loose the reins/parameters) open up new possibilities for poetic discourse even if , at the same time (but I want to return to the question of temporality), this discourse becomes “just” another sector within aesthetics in general. When you write, in the “position” of 1, in CPT (p. 6) that “I suppose I am rather burdened…by the premature truncation of poetic discourse unto social discourse in general,” and positions 2, 3 and 4 chime in that they’ve all “heard that one before”, what is the time of the “premature”? How is the “right” time recognized in relation to a “before”?

Rodrigo Toscano, from Body Capacitance and Edging in Poetics Theatre, part II of Conditions of Poetic Production and Reception

The point was to have speech squinch out of those bodily contortions, and not be as a (however skilled) “voice over” to a particular “staging” of a given “character’s part.” Squinched out, “painful.” And the spectators (“bi-ped hominids”—it’s worth repeating) recognize those stress-points, and start desiring—no! designing “pleasurable” releases. The mind jumps ahead looking for solutions to locked motions. Therefore the “solutions” that the CPT posits in subsequent sequences (i.e., all players suddenly springing up in unison, locking arms, running forward, jostling each other, and belting out lines, and so on), can be thought of as pivot-points in contrast to the spectators’ non-contemplative, but already exacerbated, sensory motions. That’s how “time” is created in CPT, from a body-to-body, offset clocking. The challenge, as a score writer for this overarching clock, is calculating when a space might open up for a new “setting.” And since a “setting” combines (actual-time) duration, bodily capacity, and conjoined sensual-intellectual searches for release points – oh, and messes in the making too, phew! there’s lots of “places” to jump off from. So progress here is not necessarily meant as something moving forwards, but just simply “somewhere else.”

CPT (even the small part I witnessed at Miami University, Ohio in early 2009) relentlessly puts forth the dilemma of articulating positions for resistance, if not opposition, and the seemingly impossibility (or difficulty) of locating positions for resistance, and yet the radical non-site of CPT suggests that this indeterminate (in space and time) resistance might be more potent than any kind of localized/specified politics of opposition since the “opposite” itself has been annexed by capitalism/imperialism and the historical failure of a Marxism contorted into “premature” states—a prematurity that resulted in totalitarianism. Would these histories serve as warnings for what is posed at the outset of CPT, that “premature truncation into social discourse in general”? Would poetic discourse, here, serve as a kind of anti-absorptive obstacle and reserve for a culture and economics founded on the innovation/obsolescence dyad?

Rodrigo Toscano from (New Resistant Subjects [Bot to Bot]} part 4 of Conditions of Poetic Production and Reception

One way that [kari] edwards invited the precariousness that we‘re talking about (―not an avant-garde that must think itself in relation to an ‗outside‘…or one that plays in sandboxes of semiotics forever either‖) was by incorporating biological-physical death as an inbuilt limit to key life-making processes (labor, art, sex); and by extension, the ―freedoms‖ that these processes suggest, that they must be embraced as completely as possible. But I would suggest too that these same ―life-making processes,‖ – that they too, be understood as constrictions to yet other life-making processes, ones that are as yet unidentified. This would suggest a rather strange embrace of anti-―purpose‖ (even as voluntary degradation!) so that we have to make curiosity, make the chimerical, make the evanescent even, that is, in contrast to ―research.

There is not only translation of a poetics into a space there is only translation of the body into the body in another space even if—especially if—the body is the “same.” This body typing this today, 1/18/10, MLK Day, a “national holiday,” is not the same body that will soon arise from this chair and, in a microcosm of evolution, its own little death, “become” a different body only on the assumption/condition that the body is, from the start, hypostatized as a homeostatic object or subject. CPT remains thus a poetics of the body politic translating itself on numerous national (international?) stages, a micro-politics adducing Western history as the literal and symbolic congealing of drives into body, the body as prototype of all bodies. Or put another way: “the premature truncation of poetic discourse unto social discourse in general.” This “unto”—not into—suggests sedimentation as the “first” movement toward an orogeny, though what remains in question is the not-yet time of the “premature.” What remains in question is the viral implications of Das Kapital—how do we avoid de-bugging the system? What are the sexual implications of bugging out, buggery, etc. in relation to the reproduction of the social contract—[QUOTE] “balm…and buggin” when “’buggin’s’/’balm’ too?” (from Balm To Bilk, a poem for two voices) we sign every time we wake up from our little deaths and “go to work”? After all, as you write, “there’s theatric ‘labor’ (or better put, body effort—borne of body capacitance) that is homologous to social labor as a whole.” (Body Capacitance and Edging in Poetics Theatre)

Revised 1/20/10

Revised 4/20/10

Between these markers, body to body, “shop to shop,” (RT) these births will always be imagined as the ends of labor, colored people’s time, now.

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