Friday, February 27, 2004

Poetry and cognition

Kent Johnson very kindly directed my attention to a review of by Paul Lake called "Poetry in the Mother Tongue" which may or may not be the title of a book by Jane Gallop. Aprt name as I have had to rush through this rather long piece. It is a really interested if rather fraught essay at www.cprw.com/Lake/tongue.htm which tries to undermine the whole history of poststructural theory in eleven pages. Slightly ambitious though this is it is interesting to see a new front developing between poststructural ideas of signification, and cognitive linguistic ideas of language as an evolutionary remnant of basic survival tactics. Thus the article suggests a link between gesturing, our technology of writing, and the evolutionary development of becoming upright, perhaps to allow mothers to feed their children and communicate gesturally, and obviously then links this to gestation. This is all sourced to work by Philip Lieberman at Brown.

I can only touch on issues here as I am rather busy moving house, organising a conference and various other things but here goes. First I am in agreement with anyone who suggests that recent developments in the fields of linguistics, evolutionary pyschology, anthropology, and cognition require a massive overhaul of the humanities' reliance on the sign and on signification. And I don't mean the deconstructionists actually, who usually know better than reduce Derrida, Lacan and Kristeva down to one single concept in the way that Lake does (convincingly but still in a reductive manner). Poststructuralism, as the name suggests, was a contextual movement designed to undermine the stranglehold of structuralism on the French and eventually world academy. Certainly the sign is, in terms of linguistic, a somewhat exhausted concept. So one finds that just as linguists no longer look at signs, psychologists no longer consider Freud and the phallus. These are still massivley important cultural narratives however, and should not be discounted because scientifically they are wrong. Put simply, literature is not a science!

In addition I welcome these wonderful stories of how art came to be but they are stories and one should not forget that they are still historically contingent narratives designed for cultural purposes once we get our hands on them. I recently read of how music came to be from the module in the brain originally designed for mating calls, as the throat evolved the calls became more beautiful, our mating rituals more socialised and so less reliant on screaming and howling, and the original module became a new module for the production of organised sounds called music (well singing). Because this module's original purpose was associated with sex, that's why we like Mozart. I do not mean this to sound partonising, if that turns out to be why we have music and poetry that's fine. It doesn't tell us much about those cultural entities perhaps as they exist now, but any extra information is always welcome.

What is clear is that within the west, we are still structuralist and so poststructuralism will remain around pissing people off as long as they insist on reducing complex cultural interations to reductive narratives of origin that are not self-reflexive enough to realise the historicity of these narratives. Or to put it another way, it is not the suggestion that language originates in a pre-speech gesturality to facilitate gestation and communication that is the problem, but why we want to know that, why it enchants us, why we believe this is more foundational, and why we want this to disprove certain predominant discourses such as psychoanalysis?

Having said all this Lake's review is really worth a read even if the poetry quoted from the Hadas collection is pretty awful. Things Lake says about Kristeva, Lacan and so on are true, but other more profound elements of their work, in particular the role of heterogeneity as a disruptive force within cognitive narratives, is ignored.

I have said enough for today but will come back to cognition and the line later.

well we all heard you didn't we?

from the sequence theseecstasies


brown is this season’s black which means for the truly fashion conscious brown is already black thus they can say with impunity that black is

this season’s black which is bytheby how poetry works or at least language but question is there any difference?


I want you my lover’s back please—we go all the way up the poplar smothered lane to the shrub then all the way back

don’t we not? the tautegorical hurt of ecstasy that is what I mean when I burn in my eyeballs seething “ver-ti-ge”

through tawdry gaps in my teeth the brown hurt of a dissimulating spring whilst I embrace squalls take

up droplets fell from the bushes tender green entreaties the same as dogs do I am the first to do so my hair a rose and


I am dealing with it it’s queer aint it you say potato I bow down my jaundiced thoughts and smoke it.

bare which the day it is synonymous to being borne by the winds of france to the sing├ęd herbaceous

to the singed herbaceous and if there is love in the tongue then give back to me father that which I already got it.

well I don't remember saying that

from the sequence theseecstasies


this catalogue of smiles will be blown through by russia

from counting how to do it to actually doing it we are to be

bound over to be happy some day the way in which

cheese is happy only some times with the crease of coldness

they have gathered to do this I must in fact stop it

if you see cheese then buy it for me and love me

also revel in your teeth some way the day in which

chairs are a threat to the lumber of bears all

of which adds up to something moving like a finger in your mouth


oh but you did

from the sequence theseecstasies



winter by the time you read this I will be

writing “this” left over in the spare laburnum the

strain for gold exhausts the day by four four o’clock

drifting my companions are drifting by me the rush coloured

clouds show up what was in any case never inevitable because

we all hold onto it in common if you want me to

my feelings run up to yours like a barely labrador a

quick sieve through all this so called “chaff” turned up some “nuggets”

but also the sensing of a direction into which I soon will be gone.


I never said that

from the sequence theseecstasies

and that was how it was and at this point because of this against my better judgement that they forced me into citizenry

don’t ask me why I prefer to say the trees are in those threes than talk of dinner parties though you are beautiful and

well it’s obvious isn’t it? I guess it was the wire things failed to gel but we have been provided with anniversaries

which make us the streets are full for sitting and people for once are writing what they feel in formal structures:

I love my mum my sisters are divining the way were all built up out of the same past the past is simple like leaves

which of what is falling down will you catch on your tongue?

you have all eaten what you have bitten if that’s what you do.

all will be included this is the service we provided which is also as inclusive
there are tears in you tears small wonder. in the womb holes of creditable mandolins...


Thursday, February 05, 2004

you’re not funny you know

from the sequence theseecstasies



those were there very words up-ended in a greenly ambitious sea I realise that one cannot “have” “one’s” “phallus” and eat it though—and this is the point one might not want to or might not know one wants to and who’s here to tell you so

no blemish and no rub just “there’s green” or “their red” never they’re blue/yellow/persimmon but endlessly endlessly and so on the totems are dancing into upward graced suspension into which and power drifts by just out of reach but kept well in hand curiously

or one may eat other things or not eat and really mean that flesh unfettered by skin which gives when prodded with the perspex but without the blunt rod not spring-back automatically going spink-spink in blue static so we are “boids” after all

and one day we just got tired I imagine of the massive fern fronds for life the big bugs which motor between them all got up by the perennial threat of ochre and olive spotted predation and walked right back into the goop form whence later to become dolphins or betrayed and tell the story of one man’s love of gingham

ahh yes it is vaulted and these deadened object sprung from flea markets suddenly mis-prized buy me a me and how could I could be duped in that !way of all ways! dandle above the space delineated by the bastard fracture or the arc this curve’s address to the fey angle

or could we I suppose with this talking baton all ways in each fist we could do anything but chose not to do any old thing laid out flat-like watch the jetstream caress the blackended gable though it is monday the satellite whispered to the star tell it not to

those funsters I love to love and you take me higher I swear it!! for this stalking gnaw of slight love-lorn self-pity one of this century’s great colonist’s mixing its conduits in the palette of the well let’s not paint me a picture you

or me let’s in fact cut that bit out skyscrapers/penises hmmm we could say so I need to get my bearings if it hadn’t been that the truncheon had rolled under the love-seat where elaine had been who-she? dramatically the clouds get rainy metamorphosed by the humid whose ache is a hotel where we check it out of it or

no and ahh