Wednesday, August 19, 2015





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An inquiry into the languages of bodies and the bodies of languages, Eleni Stecopoulos’ Visceral Poetics enacts literary scholarship as somatic practice. Opening new directions in poetry and poetics as well as literature and medicine, Stecopoulos argues for the body’s poetic agency, for a criticism viscerally attuned to the treatments of language, and for a different understanding of the therapeutic potency of art.

Visceral Poetics articulates a remarkable field of correspondences between the formal and linguistic techniques of modern writers and the modalities and diagnostic techniques of holistic medicines. Focusing on works by Antonin Artaud and Paul Metcalf that connect voyage to somatic transformation, Stecopoulos illuminates a history of quests to heal what she calls “the chronic syndrome of the West.” Stecopoulos also enlists her own experiences with medicine in a dialogue between treating texts and treating one’s body. Blending virtuosic close readings, performative writing of the author’s encounters with diverse healing systems, interdisciplinary research, and poetry, Visceral Poetics gives us a body that can “overwrite discourses of pathology with currents of empathy.”

In new readings of some of the most opaque elements of Artaud’s oeuvre, Stecopoulos explores his collaboration with pain and use of energetic principles derived from modalities like homeopathy and acupuncture. She revisits the poetry and “translation therapy” of Artaud’s asylum years, understanding his exoticism as a technology of healing through world languages. Stecopoulos animates the complicated role of Artaud’s multiethnic background and ties his translations to histories of linguistic imagination situated in colonial encounter and nationalist and imperialist strategies. Visceral Poetics also includes one of the few sustained meditations on Metcalf’s documentary narrative Genoa: A Telling of Wonders, a hybrid text that becomes a navigation of Western disease and the imperial conceptions to which American letters bear witness.

A critique both of the ways institutions disembody us and the primitivism that persists in heterodox seeking, Visceral Poetics undertakes a profound journey through language and energy, kinship and estrangement. It joins the tradition of American poets’ scholarship exemplified by Charles Olson’s Call Me Ishmael and Susan Howe’s The Birth-mark, yet does something uniquely its own—a grand refusal of the division between who feels and who interprets.

Stecopoulos’s book is the second in ON Contemporary Practice’s Monograph Series, which features extensive essays and collections by single authors as well as collections by multiple authors regarding discourses in contemporary poetics.


Eleni Stecopoulos is singularly aware of a healing power in poetry that touches the most obscure depths of our carnal existence. She seeks to uncover “how the body in its opaque poetry can be homeopathically treated by poetry—as aesthetic, not anaesthetic, therapy.” Eleni Stecopoulos’s researches open an important field for investigation and practice: the healing force of language, of poetry.

-         Alphonso Lingis

Searching in real time, thinking/feeling as writing, this tour de force of authentic scholarship reaches far back to the matrix of writing/embodiment at the crux of human consciousness, far forward into a modernism (Artaud, Metcalf) that explores the edges of such embodied writing, and in all directions as Stecopoulos’s every insight emerges from and remains immersed in a surround of the immediately personal. This is a lyrical study of great depth, an epic poem of experiential erudition.

-         Maria Damon

Eleni  Stecopoulos’s brilliantly provocative, syncretic manifesto identifies idiopathic disease with ideolectical poetics, pathology with anomaly – the flesh of the text and the text of the flesh – bringing home the liberatory potential for visceral readings of the unintelligible. For Stecopoulos, diagnosis is a practice of aesthetic translation and poetry a quest for knowledge outside the disabling strictures of Western rationalism. Written in lyric bursts of telegraphic intensity, Stecopoulos follows her guides, Artaud and Metcalf, through veils of suffering in order to repossess, from the jaws of evisceration, her own life – and ours.

-         Charles Bernstein

In a thick rich book of Artaudian trickster moves, Eleni Stecopoulos performs healing rituals upon medical practices and cultural prescriptions, writing toward her own healing process, with opacity as sustaining wayfarer and shield against early collapse. Disease emerges as narrative symptom for disconnect, and language becomes subtle homeopathy, weaves a new myth, for suffering writers and suffering war-torn worlds, in a visceral poetics based on Artaud’s asylum writings: “a rhythm of exorcism against the drying out of opium by conspiracies and consecrations” (Artaud, Selected Writings).

-         Petra Kuppers

Experience what “radiates from a text,” “the gravity at the core of theater” in this long awaited critical work from Eleni Stecopoulos, the genesis of her Poetics of Healing—a curated series of stages in which these ideas are enacted and the isolated patient finds place in a complicated communal as both are changed. Placing the psychic reading of the body that refuses with will next to the reading of poetries claimed unreadable, she makes a document of vital forms for a new kind of scholarship, for a new and ancient kind of person or poet one and the same in the hopes that they won’t be re-swallowed by the dominant but will find their own breath. A breath that will resist and resist singularity and in the failures or blocks, the resetting, find the choral-tragic—through a different kind of reading/witnessing. The violences of a larger social body made visible though a syncope pressing right up against poetry.  In this epic lyric, everything and nothing at once.  In “a form that holds, rather than explains”—the mystery of how this beautiful important project came to be.

-         Melissa Buzzeo

The central question of Visceral Poetics is how to be. How to be a body. How to be a body in pain, a body not in pain. How to be a thinker, a scholar, a writer about literary works. How to be a poem too. It is unusual for a piece of literary criticism to take on such weighty questions. And Eleni Stecopoulos gives us no easy answers as she consults various forms of literatures and healing, questioning all of them and her relationship to them too. And as she does this she writes a book that is beautiful and moving, a life’s work dedicated to the work of living.

-         Juliana Spahr