by Feng Sun Chen on Oct.20, 2011
(I plagiarized myself a bit. Sorry, self.) Then I presented part of these malformations at the No Future panel at &now.
Poetry as Hysterical Pregnancy
As a woman of child bearing age, I live my life inside the anxious sphere of always being potentially pregnant, potentially double, inhabited, possessed by the uncontrollable proliferation of cells inside me. I’d rather not have a baby, but I know that perversely, I really actually want to be pregnant. Ideally, this would be a pregnancy without birth. I would keep the baby inside me, protected, subconscious, forever. A pregnancy without terms. I’ve been obsessed and possessed by this idea since adolescence, which is also when I started writing poetry. To me, poetry and pregnancy are the same thing. It is about the potentiality of new life, new voice. Yet both are things I cannot allow. I will not pretend to do anything good with my poetry, which is a voice unborn even in manifestation, which will not gaze back at me in the forest of symbols, which will always be embodied without body, dark, not human. This isn’t meant to have a negative connotation, this hysterical and endless pregnancy. I think it is a metaphor of incipience, desire, possession, and incubation. It’s only termination is death, the ultimate potentiality.
Great men of literature achieve greatness by rebelling against their forefathers, by presenting or breaching the universal conditions of what it means to be human. It is not outrageous for me to say that “human” stands in for “man” or, even better, “white man”. In the linguistic sphere of poetry, there has been a proliferation of women poets who, rather than try to insert themselves into the “field of cocks” (Apps), seek to explode what has been left for them as women, to eat the leftover carcass after the alpha male has chewed off the good bits and throw it up. This is the poetry of ritualistic shamans, the sorceresses, the mothers, the prophets of language.
The female prophet is not a beacon of hope or mother of a new world. To be a subject that is simultaneously spoken (by the legacy of prejudice and objectification) and speaking is to turn inside out. If the language available is already poisoned, it must still be absorbed, the toxins processed and incorporated, and finally dispelled. It may be fatal. If not fatal, always fated. Human progress, as we understand it, is a dream of industrialism and the imperial enlightenment. To reject phallogocentric history is to question customary values, to reject the birth of its monstrosity, its future. Our capitalist, technocratic, exploitative, claustrophobic, banal human future. The female prophet is a prophet that does not prophesize.
There is still the call of metaphor.
The call goes something like this: (paraphrasing Richard Rorty)
It is the task of the prophet to conceive of a “new language” which will “get woven into the language taught to children” and which is not the language of outcasts before the formation of separatist groups, “[f]or that was infected by the language of the masters. It will be, instead, a language gradually put together in separatist groups in the course of a long series of flirtations with meaninglessness” (Rorty). The prophet must go farther than disruption, and through relentless struggle and erosion, reconstruct these normative “truths” in the interest of our future.
My question is: How far must the prophet go?
My answer is:
We answer, but our answer is stillborn. The answer is that no matter how far she goes, it is not far enough. She must keep going past all language and meaning. She does not want to answer in terms that make sense. She does not want to flirt with meaninglessness. She wants to become it.
Language is not a neutral medium, but always already impregnated with biases. I am not sure what it would be like to go past meaning, but I think I know a little bit of what it would look like, feel like. To go where meaning is sensation, where thinking is somatic, where words become textures and language becomes flesh.
I’d like to refer a translated passage of Aase Berg’s (her prose), a Swedish poet, by Johannes Gorranson. “Language is a living being. [. . . ] The cells of language hovered above earth looking for a host body. It tried to take over dinosaurs and fishes, but that didn’t work, they were stupid or the muscles in their speech organs were not developed enough. Then came humans. The invisible, potential words attacked her, like mosquitoes who know that they need blood and have waited for thousands of years for the first mammal to evolve.”
Berg challenges the modern conception of humans as agents of free will, who may use language to communicate their inner consciousnesses. It is an alternative description of our relation to language from the pragmatist utilitarian construct, in which humans are capable of using language as a tool, of controlling language in a constructive way. Berg’s vision of the mosquito-words turns language-as-tool inside out. Humans are now the tools of language, which is an uncontrollable, exterior force not unlike viruses or bacteria in their potential for infection.
Berg goes on to describe the parasitical relationship between the infant and its mother: “The mother’s relationship to the baby is the root of language, madness and complexity.” This is a deliberate move on her part, as the infectious language attack the human and live inside her like a parasite, the infant is detected by the mother’s body as a parasite or foreign body. Sarah Fox, a Minnesotan poet (who has a book Mother Substance coming out), informed me of this fact. She says, “In fact, the embryo within the mother’s body IS detected as parasitic/devouring other, a dilemma perfectly mediated by the greatest of all mediators: the placenta. It–a collaborative creation facilitating various sorts of unconscious communication between uniquely fluxing bodies as an autonomous entity (thus there is no “fusion” in pregnancy contra Freud et al.; the placenta is the common site of attachment and individuation)–prevents the normal defense mechanisms involved in rejecting foreign antigens from being activated in the maternal body. But only locally, at the site of the uterus, so defense capacities against other potential infections etc remain at alert. Irigaray uses this example of a perfectly nondiscriminating intersubjective structure as the basis for her proposal of a Placental Economy.”
Poetry is not a prophecy of the apocalypse. It is a prophecy of dead prophets. There is a relationship with the meaningless evident in the kind of performative poetry in which poets like Berg and Ito and Hyesoon are swelling their poetry with dead babies, dead language, and visceral impressions that are purposefully nonsensical, but charged with objective, or, more accurately, subjective. A sociologist, Gayle Rubin writes, “The danger in my enterprise is that the sexism in the tradition of which they are a part tends to be dragged into each borrowing.” What about the enterprise of poetry/prophecy? So female poets are writing horrible poems, eerie, nonsensical poems of carnivalesque excretion and psychic ritual because if they cannot speak outside of a language burdened by an oppressive legacy, at least they can mangle it beyond recognition or transgress it to a subnatural state.
I am not referring to the romanticized Eden of the blank slate, but the opposite, pure chaos, primeval soup. They begin to retreat towards a place (perhaps one of many possibilities) where gender and difference do not exist. These prophets have chosen the untimely place of “horrifying dough” (Berg) and unidentified flesh, a place that exists before language and before historical time entered the mammal, the amniotic sac, the vibrations of the mother’s voice before sounds are recognized as words.
Perhaps strange mutations cannot be read or placed into dominant ideology because there is simply no language for them, no language of equality, no language without asymmetrical binaries or values. To conceive of one is absurd. Not even biology can be neutral. But there is no escape from language, and the subject must eradicate itself from inside. Poetry is hysterical pregnancy, an autoimmune disorder, the body attacking itself. Poetry is a strange time machine going back to the moment before the tree of knowledge is consumed.
Dark Shamanism, Dark caves, negative productivity
I think the witch as a medium or membrane between worlds is important to these ends because of the way she troubles the necessity of agency in speaking/language. One of the great assumptions of Western thought and philosophy is the integrity of the Ego/soul/mind/character that, in the psychoanalytic tradition, may be analyzed and brought to sensibility through therapeutic, conversational, or discursive practice. One of the assumptions for these practices is the mind/body dualism, which has become intrinsic to the way we speak about ourselves, even despite beliefs otherwise. There is the inherent alienation of the spirit from the body, the world.
The poet wants to talk about the cave, which I cannot talk about without echoing Plato’s cave. At the end of the parable, mankind reaches enlightenment and is freed from the prison of illusion, or language, etc. and heads out into the land of the sun, the truth. But I think that this prison of illusion is the sun. Darkness is the body and the language of the body. The future is the sun, the tunnel at the end of the light, but I don’t want to go gently into the good light. I want go deeper inside the cave. At the end of the tunnel is light to which the future will never be born. We will go the other way, deeper into the darkness, past the stolen knowledge, the fire, the shadow, into the body, into the placenta, into blindness and meaninglessness.
What if a hysterical pregnancy is a trance that leads to this place? A vision that both invokes and rejects the future, and thus subjectivity? The mass growing inside here is a mass of words, feelings, cells, poetry. It is almost schizophrenic. Here is a hysterical, psychotic woman/prophet who is coherent, yet completely, it seems, without reflexivity. The world seems to pass through her, everything oppresses and threatens to annihilate her, her ability to speak. She allows, in a way that no one of “good health” does, the external to her completely take over internally and possess her subjectivity. She oscillates between the second person perspective and the first person while feverishly relaying the “truth”, they way global events seem to exactly relate to her individually, to her body, the way she is victim to a conspiracy that she continues to fight. No one believes that she is pregnant, except for her. Since words are poisoned or inadequate, she must speak through her darkness, the body’s swell and ache. She is ashamed. She is the flesh made word.
5 No Future means no humanism
If the woman is “spoken”, she is a text (that fails). She fails to communicate as she is already communicated. Self-violence is a symptom of a kind of social creature but can become a political performance as the spoken speaks, explodes, breaks down, and so on. “What comes after that?” isn’t the right question, if she wants to stay devoted to an anti-humanist exorcism. There is nothing new under the sun.
“It is embarrassing to be human.”-Lucas De Lima. To be infected by parasitical language, parasitical ambitions, the currency of history.