This Wire Can Easily Cut Meat and Bone

by on Aug.07, 2010

As we went along they killed a Deer, with a young one in her, they gave me a piece of the Fawn, and it was so young and tender, that one might eat the bones as well as the flesh, and yet I thought it very good

– Mary Rowlandson (Quoted in Susan Howe The Birth-mark)

In the introduction to When Species Meet Donna Haraway posits:

…Modernist versions of humanism and posthumanism alike have taproots in…what Bruno Latour calls..the Great Divides between what counts as nature and as society, as nonhuman and as human…the principal Others to Man, are well documented…in past and present Western cultures: gods, machines, animals, monsters, creepy crawlies, women, servants and slaves, and noncitizens in general.  [and to this list, I’d add the human body]  Outside the security checkpoint of bright reason…these “others” have a remarkable capacity to induce panic in the centers of power and self-certainty (9).

In classical terms, human is the animal capable of political life.  In modern terms, Giorgio Agamben tells us, “…the entry of zoē into the sphere of the polis—the politicization of bare life as such—constitutes the decisive event of modernity and signals a radical transformation of the political-philosophical categories of classical thought” (4).  Now, when this animal enters the political sphere, it trails some sticks, some mud, some “creepy crawlies,” otherwise known in sum total as the body.  Anna Akhmatova, one such animal:

Too sweet is earthly drink,
Too tight the nets of love.
Sometime let the children read
My name in their lesson book,
And on learning the sad story,
Let them smile shyly. . .

Since you’ve given me neither love nor peace
Grant me bitter glory (13-20).

Kim Hyesoon, another:

The prison heaves like a cat in a black garbage bag tied with the night’s hair
A helicopter takes off and people in uniform circle the prison
We’ve lost our emergency exit (26-28).

The early modern political animal legislated (still legislates) for a body that was, as Gail Kern Paster phrases it in her discussion of Bakhtin, “opaque, closed off, finished, a body all surface and no interior” (15).  The male of the species ostensibly fell into line, but the female ranged obviously outlaw, “induc[ing] panic” as it seeped, bleated, and manufactured swampy cold infectiousness.   Innumerable fellows tried to spackle “[t]hou still unravish’d bride of quietness,” but leaks did abound.   She was (is) a biohazard, and perhaps no more so than when laboring, delivering, milking.  Kern Paster points us to the advice Elizabethan midwives gave “new mothers lactating colostrum;” “to put puppies, ‘little prettie whelpes,’ to the breast.  Either the colostrum thought to be so harmful to the child would not hurt the puppy, or no one cared if it did” (233).  Literally, we are advised to turn away from the toxic female dug.  The damp ecotone between life and death flourishes in the female, presents at presentation.  Loy is the first English language poet to rope us so graphically to that border:

Impression of small animal carcass
Covered with blue-bottles
And through the insects
Waves that same undulation of living
I am knowing
All about
Unfolding (113-123)

I’ll return to this particular field of parturition in a future post, but in more general terms, what does the grotesque, permeable, and otherwise shifting human body mean for the lyric’s “I?”  Early symptomatology authorizes metaphor.  The poetics of pain—it feels like a hammer pounding, like a knife in my gut, like a gorilla is crushing my ribs.  Sadly, for tops from Descartes to Harold Bloom, the body often eludes its speechwriter, always a dungeon master.  “I” can no more pin or pen its own body, than it can its lover’s:

Hang the loose skin in a weeping museum

Use the smallest bones as buttons
Sew the buttons onto your face & pose in several helmets

Or collect the larger bones & make a stylish 4’ x 6’ cage
Plant the nerve-cords in window-boxes
Let them trail down like vines outside your new home

In the evenings
Use the spine as a flute to play
the soft nationalistic marches of the “bodies without organs” collective (Glenum 7-15)

Foucault takes us beyond speaker, to ask, what is an author?  That is, what does it do, who makes it?  It is probably a human; that is approximately 10 percent human cells and the other 90% “bacteria, fungi, protists, and such” (Haraway 3).  It is probably bi-pedal, sacked out on the couch, bearing a laptop in that elusive primate zone, the lap.  It’s lowering the volume on the pre-primary debate, it clutches a cold cup of re-used teabag tea, and it always already performs its gender.  [Tug hair, cross legs, bite lip, gesture prettily, touch finger to lipgloss, quote Ariana Reines:]

I was a sock filled with rubble
I was the shaft some light filled
I was a skin
They filled me with something
I was a LUNG
There wasn’t enough for her to go around
There wasn’t enough of her
She was a DISH
She felt like everything inside
Once you got inside something started to happen
I was a rock PLUGGED
I was a hole EMPTIED
I carried myself I wended my way I caused my own footfalls
I was a device
I caused my existence CROTCH (19-37).

The author also often performs its race, class, biology, and node in the space/time continuum.  Or else, the author is inside the machine that performs, inside the cells and fungi, distributed among them? We look to the body to inform the psyche and then cut the apron strings, freeing the mind from the sexed “dungeon” that created it (Bloom 57).  If that’s not trouble enough, let’s consider the suggestion that, á la Keats’s negative capability, not only can the self nudge the body out of the way of the poem, but that the self can nudge—and here things get tricky—the SELF can nudge the SELF out of the way, to make room for the outer, its mysteries, that which is beyond.  Jeepers.

At the beginning of the twentieth-century, American poetry finds itself on the downside of the log flume that is the Enlightenment.  Some lament:

Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many (Eliot 60-64).

Some cut to the chase, the quick:

One little whining beast
Whose longing
Is to slink back to antediluvian burrow
And one elastic tentacle of intuition
To quiver among the stars (Loy 31-35).

The modern poet, ever more plagued by irresolution, must assume that nasty cesspool (the body) has scrambled communications between mind and spirit.  The existentialist makes a fine and precious hyperbole when he despairs that though his hand touches the tree, he himself cannot touch or experience the tree.  In him, we confront the most exquisitely violent version of individual.  Indeed, his consciousness refuses to admit the other, and that other is the existentialist’s own body.  To where can we trace the fissure that becomes this ludicrous gulf?  We might hypothesize, via Eugen Baer’s Medical Semiotics, that the classical body—the one that has no orifices, no pooper, no pie hole—was staged in the Romantic lyric as a temple, a divine site on which the spirit might be pitched (or pitches) (77).  Such a model serves to reinforce the inadequacy of the lived-in body—what I’d in more jargony terms call the body’s subaltern position in lived experience.  In the modern lyric, the classical body is untouchable.  A recycled temple; a spectacle; a ruin hauled onto the estate, reassembled as a pool house.  The body is permeable, only admissible as décor, if you creep too close, you’ll get some on you.  Here it comes, squelching across the lyric’s floor.  Johnny, I’m on the first step, I want my liver.  This wire can easily cut meat and bone.

2 comments for this entry:
  1. megan m.

    danielle, i’ll admit i’m still wrapping my head around this one, but i do understand that your use of this scene from audition as the pinnacle or period is some kind of genius. salute.

  2. Danielle Pafunda

    Thanks, Megan! Glad Lucas helped me figure out the embedding; just wasn’t the same with the link ;).