Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Dispossessions: a Via Negativa

Last spring I received an email in my inbox asking for recipients to draw pornographic drawings for the cover of a forthcoming poetry book:

To the nitty gritty: We are looking for super dirty (even middle-school mentality) line-drawing porn, especially featuring penises and vaginas. Something small, something you'd draw on a desk in a coupla minutes. You may want to consult the attached text (of the chapbook) for "inspiration."

The images will appear on the backboard of the book, which will be covered by a dust cover using die-cut peep holes.

The book of poems by Judith Goldman, The Dispossessions (Atticus/Finch, 2009), takes as its subject the 'junk' (or, if one prefers, dispossessed) language of the internet. Throughout the book, Goldman sculpts language found from internet sources (chatrooms, websites, et al) and whittles them down, forming edgy exercises in the vulgate. What is remarkable in reading the book is how ickiness can switch to gorgeousness in a split second, and the extent to which vulgarity is spiritualized--turned into a spiritual exercise, albeit a negative one. What takes shape is a via negativa (paths paved by hell) of the virtual age--of the many ways we are mediated, and fantasize one another through this mediation. The poetry makes one feel close and then distant again. It flickers with impossible proximities. There is a mood about the poems peculiar to our age. The language is immediate, and yet prophylactic; hands-on (Goldman's method is collagist), and yet vaporous. It reminds us that in all relationship is the threat of violence, violation, humiliation, harm.

Invites rather, uh, Awkward questions
Clutching at the first thingLickety uh Do we have no other words to use?
Seeds wreaking violence
A negative dialogue between seeds
Words do not harm each other
Looking for words [that] don’t harm each other
Grammar as window,
Words as voyeurs
A word [that] does not give
Onto anything else
Voyeurism of one word giving onto another
No accumulation?
This horror will not bear my words
The words are mute

Wait, is it
Loud in here because

because This silence is very loud

--from The Dispossessions

The internet is both a carnival and a void into which we speak. It is a night of the world--nothing has been created yet and everything would seem possible. Goldman's language evokes sacred discourse through the backdoor--the back entrance and poop chute. Words are muted because there is nothing to hear here. "This silence is very loud." A profound negativity is of the hour. It is a negativity of words accumulating but not saying anything; of a world of appearance in which images speak mutely. The aughts are a Babylon of nonsense (degraded sensuality). Recent poetry makes present an imagination increasingly dependent on unreality. The unreality, say, of the physical distance separating those who wage war and those who are victimized by it; or, say, of those who slave for consumer values and those who consume recklesssly without a thought for others/the Other. There is a feeling of dread throughout Goldman's book--that things cannot end well. Though the language is also beautiful, and titillating, and playful. There is likewise a sense in the book that we can all see each other constantly, that as Paul Chan says we suffer from a "tyranny of connectedness," and that this connectedness only complicates our alienation. Constant connectedness does not mean contact. Nor does seeing (physical perception) equal disclosure (revelation, understanding, faith). The book cites an orgy committed at the expense of the entire world, and worlds yet to come. An orgy of perceptions, an orgy of consumptions, the orgy of total warfare perpetrated by the United States and its allies within and without its national boundaries.

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