synesthetic rather than Surreal, humility rather than Mastery

by on Nov.15, 2011

It seems to me that one of Ventrakl(Hawkey)’s projects is to use synesthesia to destabilize the dominant sense of vision. Vision in more than one sense. Synesthesia is combined sensing. Something you see could be something you smell. Something you hear could be something you feel. In a culture that privileges the visual above all else (I’ll believe it when I see it or vice versa, the ubiquity of moving images and glossed up ideals), Ventrakl allows holes to surface in/through the visual. Pictures themselves work as holes or portals that permeate the text. The text itself bores holes through its content, allowing senses to slide over and through one another. Devices such as metaphor or simile are not comparisons or juxtapositions as much as tunneling or a turning inside out. The deafness of vision is given sound and skin. Against the “sensible” type of coherent figures, the poems in the book create an atmosphere of mixed senses, senses that are more like weather systems than unique bodily functions as we tend to separate them. Perhaps this is also a comment on political/historical systems and events.
Furthermore, Hawkey sublimates his own “vision” into the dead eyes of Georg Trakl. While the underlying motivation for the book is his own experience or failure of understanding of the world in its specific historical and political context, he decides to dive against the present by encountering a language he does not speak, in a time he did not live. He makes himself into a hole/portal, filtering dead bodies through himself and through the physical world of the present (see preface). The loud silence of the book and its orphans/orifices are a sound we all hear, that we are surrounded by at all times as citizens of a globalized network, where inundations of minced information and news becomes flattened into incomprehensible homogeneity. Against this powerlessness and darkness we have Ventrakl’s powerfully intimate and extremely specific pinhole of light from a dead star. Rather than seek mastery, the author serves through an act of humility as a medium between language, history, and time.
He allows himself to be rotted by the past.

LDL and I were talking about Ventrakl today (lots of credit to him for my thoughts), and how strange it is to read it a second time, which both of us agree feels less powerful (in the narrative), as if an epiphany had been achieved and is now dimmed. In this way I feel that the book was like a tunnel, a transit from one point to another. I followed the Ventrakl through coursing timeblood and now the blood has been fed of its oxygen. In contrast to the narrative elements of the book, the individual translated poems, written through the humble translation of a non-german-speaker, still retain their unique power.

So I’m interested in humility and humiliation as a poetics. The I of Ventrakl speaks through the humiliation of political impotence. LDL recently wrote a post about Ariana Reine’s Couer de Lion, which overwhelms with a “voracious” force that blasts through the structure of shame (ambient shame). Not a passive confession, the humiliated poet uses shame as fuel, does not let shame eat away at her but rather, eats the shame and everything else, all the words and letters.

I’ve been reading All The Garbage of the World Unite by Kim Hyesoon (a powerful synesthetic hole-y text). I notice a pattern of nastiness, shame, and humiliation here and in the texts of many other female writers we’ve been reading. But they, or the voices themselves, are not ashamed. They are joyful, rageful. Hyesoon eats rot and spits rot, a woman “half eaten by the ancient people / with stinging whips in their hands”. Humiliating, but awesome. Today I started a paper proposal incorporating/regurgitating some of the ideas above and my previous thoughts, inspired by other posts on this blog… I have to think more about humiliation. If the paper gets written, I will share.

Some thoughts for the paper: An excess of babytalk, infantilization, infectious vermin (often small, cute animals), and kitsch, the viral and “mass produced” waste of the globalized world, are figured through the humiliation of the uncontainable female flesh/body.  The indecent vulnerability projected by some contemporary women poets (like Hyesoon!) are a chanted exorcism and/or regurgitation reacting violently against the “decent”, humanistic (consumerist) and corporatized world of technological innovation and progress, in which the female body is a censored text that barely speaks. Through vulnerable bodies gush a vomit of voracious wills, hungers and forces rather than identities. They do not expose but rather speak simultaneously through and against the consequences of capitalist realism, which is infesting the earth with ideological and material garbage.
6 comments for this entry:
  1. Kent Johnson

    Some of the descriptive language here on Hawkey’s book is interesting to me, because a few years before his, I published a book called The Miseries of Poetry, a collection from the ancient Greek, co-traduced with Alexandra Papaditsas. The book is full of (literally marked) holes, textual rotting, and leakages from the deep past into the present. Very similar. I really admire Hawkey’s book, but I’ve wondered, frankly, if he might have been familiar with The Miseries of Poetry when he undertook Ventrakl, because the conceptions of mediumship and traduction are so similar… Here’s one of the Appendix letters, written by Papaditsas before her death; it suggests, I think, some of these close similarities I’m pointing to:

    My Darling:

    On March 14, I did find a conceptual praxis whereby morphemes, these so crazy particles that are the source of All Contradiction in the World of Signified Appearances (mat is mat because it is not bat; the Blogger man you spoke of, Kasey Silem Mohammad is Kasey Silem Mohammad because he is not William Carlos Williams), may be accelerated at opposite directions through connecting wormholes in the poem*, and at so much unbelievably fantastic speed, so that when they smash against the other, the names of Samothracean gods become released and scattered in paragrammatic traces, dashes, and spirals across [the] flattened phase-face of the poem… [Long pornographic tirade deleted here. KJ]

    Hooded Authors wander through cork-screwed streets there, serenely greeting to other hooded Authors with a bow. The poets follow not what is outside the eyes, but what is within, “shimmering,” as Althusser said in Lenin and Philosophy, “beneath the world.” They are very dark from having gone out to the true edge…

    Thus, all manner of Contradiction goes away. I am quite confident that the poets of Patmos, a thousand years hence, their hardened hair pulled back by Sacred Law to a sharpened point three feet behind their heads, will assume this as second nature.

    Now, does this mean that Paradox is vanquished, also? No not at all, nor could it be. For Paradox is a higher manifestation of contradiction, and it clearly transcends contradiction. She is a gowned, beheaded Nike, [and] the feathers of her outspread wings curl round the furthest reaches of every figure of speech, thus gathering all difference back into the center of a Truth that is so near we are always overlooking it in our great anxiety to be “relaxedly classical,” “universally personal,” “casually cosmopolitan,” or “opaquely experimental,” whatever the case, yes? To see her ecstatic, headless form appear in holograph inside the poem puts a new spin on everything.


    *Elsewhere, she writes: “These poetic wormholes are everywhere, actually, in any poem, regardless of the poem’s contingent value or prosody, and at any phonemic point through whose tiny trumpet-like hole the whisper of lost, dead language puffs upward.” KJ

  2. stephen tully dierks

    nice to read/think about, mary.

    i have liked in some of your more recent poems the use of intentional misspellings (“babee” for “baby,” “hart” for “heart”) to perhaps suggest a babytalk or somehow playful voice. to me it has a difficult-to-interpret tone. sometimes it seems vaguely menacing to me, which i like.

  3. don mee

    Dear Feng Sun Chen, Thanks very much for your brilliant thoughts. “It seems to me that one of Ventrakl(Hawkey)’s projects is to use synesthesia to destabilize the dominant sense of vision.” Yes, I agree and it also destablizes our usual understanding of translation. It’s a magnificient book.

    “Through vulnerable bodies gush a vomit of voracious wills, hungers and forces rather than identities.”
    I love this! I will send your post to Kim Hyesoon tonight.

  4. Feng Sun Chen

    Thanks for the comments, everyone! KJ, that book sounds very interesting. Who knows if Hawkey was familiar with the book when he was working on his mss. I think that many writers end up exploring the same themes or doing similar things with or without direct contact.

    Stephen, glad you liked them. I am not sure about the menacing part, but I’m glad that you enjoy the tone. The menacing doesn’t come from the speaker (I think), but it’s there.

    Hi Don Mee, thank you! Yes, it’s the kind of book I have to put down almost every few lines because so much is happening I have to let my thoughts catch up. Very inspiring and alive.

  5. Kent Johnson

    You’re right Feng. A bit silly of me. Hawkey’s book really is superb. Drop me a line, if you like, with address, and I’ll send you the UK version of The Miseries of Poetry (the first edition is OP).


  6. James Pate

    I love the line: “Through vulnerable bodies gush a vomit of voracious wills, hungers and forces rather than identities.”

    Visually it makes me think of certain Francis Bacon paintings where the “body” becomes either the rawest imaginable meat, or pink mist, or a thick glob of matter with a wound/mouth. The body isn’t based on identity but only matter and muscle galvanized by anonymous forces.

    Or “Not I,” the Beckett play where all there is is mouth.

    The “I” doesn’t become possessed. The “I” is already possessed as it speaks.