Notes Towards Day 10 (Thurs, Feb. 16): "How Little Bother It Gives Us"

Anne Dalke's picture


what "space" need we make here today for helling....?


[anticipating just a little resistance to/puzzlement over "LIfting Belly":]
"What we cannot do is judge a book by how little bother it gives us...."
(Jeanette Winterson, Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery, 1996).


I. coursekeeping

* signing in
* naming
* reading through Chapter 12 of The Book of Salt for Tuesday
* (finishing it for Thursday)

this story is told by Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas's
homosexual Vietnamese cook...is a very sensuous (&
complex!) account of various intersections of nationality and sexuality...

enjoy!
while thinking about questions of representation
** this book begins and ends w/ the description of a photograph,
inviting us to think about the relationship between visual and written accounts

** it's also filled w/ tastes--how is that accomplished?
What's the relationship between the sensation of a taste,
and the words with which it is described?
Between sensations (more generally),
and the words which represent them?
[see Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The
Making and UnMaking of the World
...]

II. Najmabadi's essay re: sex change operations
in Iran (to erase evidence of same-sex desire) --
keeping other contexts/locations in play,
as we move back to European/American geographies
III. So: let's move:
what were your initial reactions to these two poems,
and to the differences between "Lifting Belly" and "Canzone"?
(go 'round: find one line to read, and comment on...)

Form: What is Feminist? the juxtaposition of Gertrude Stein's poetry with Marilyn Hacker's creates an interesting contrast. Stein creates a new form, apparently ignoring the literary tradition to create hir own poetry, defying grammatical conventions. Hacker, on the other hand, uses the form of the sonnet to express hir own experiences....

I dislike Stein's poetry. I am unable to process and understand it on even a basic level. On the other hand, I find Hacker's moving, erotic, filled with imagery and symbolism that speaks to me....

Stein’s removal of grammatical markers simply makes hir poetry difficult to comprehend....Hacker takes a basic form and makes it hir own. Ze uses a form which is “traditional” to describe an act which has been consistently erased from history....an appropriation of a form considered to be gendered for hir own purposes....

Besides, Hacker’s poem is hot.

--"Now that is a lesbian love poem."

--what constitutes a "lesbian love poem"?

--what keeps "Lifting Belly" from being one?

IV. Break into groups of three to
read together the passages you selected
(and adjacent lines!) and report back-->

what is going on here?? what have you uncovered?
(we're not doing "coverage"; we're "uncovering"!)

V. An Interview with Marilyn Hacker, Frontiers 5, 3 (Autumn 1980), 22-27:
Any piece of writing that doesn't suggest...change...is by definition propaganda for the status quo...Sloppy language is sloppy thinking. It's letting words fall together because one has heard them together too many times before....

the novel demands some kind of resolution. A poem, on the other hand, tends to take place in a given moment. It doesn't demand a novelistic denoument...It's the observation of a given moment in time....certain experiences...hone...attention to that intensity of observation that permits poetry....Poetry can...widen..the focus of that attention...

There is something in the construction of a work of art that permits resolution without there having to be a happy ending...  

Cf. also Stairway through the Senses: Hacker's Use of End Words in "Canzone"

VI. "Steinian texts produce in all readers bewilderment...."

Elizabeth Fifer, "Is Flesh Avisable? The Interior Theater of Gertrude Stein, Signs, 4, 3 (Spring 1979): 472-283.

Penelope Engelbrecht, "'Lifting Belly is a Language': The Postmodern Lesbian Subject," Feminist Studies, 16, 1 (Spring 1990): 85-114.

Susan Holbrook, "Lifting Bellies, Filling Petunias, and Making Meanings through the Trans-Poetic." American Literature, 71, 4 (December 1999): 751-771.

--oddly contradictory critical responses: erotic, "explicit"...also veiled or coded

--decoding seems to miss the mark: the one-to-one equivalence that encryption presumes would deny the polysemnic, indeterminate trajectories of Stein's vocabulary

--the word can be erotic on two opposing conditions, both excessive: if it is extravagantly repeated, or on the contrary, if it is unexpected, succulent in its newness

--"insistence" draws our attention to the material of language, which is generally rendered a silent ferry to the signified....iteration invites us to engage sound and shape in a more intimate way--to enjoy close reading.

--[from "A Transatlantic Interview 1946:] "You had to recognize words had lost their value in the Nineteenth Century...they had lost much of their variety, and I felt that I could not go on, that I had to recapture the value of the individual word, find out what it meant and act within it."

--Stein's poetic interrogates the very surveillance of visibility....Error offers the promise of freedom in a language that would correct deviance, a language that...offered very little in the way of a lexicon for lesbian partnership

--the meanings produced are variable, multiple, and provisional....What drives this persistent variability is a radically paradoxical representational stance....Stein...repeatedly overturns moments of clear referentiality

--only by a sort of indirect treatment...we can hope to grasp the object...because as soon as we name it...our sense of a vital particularity is eclipsed in the generic blankness of the noun...

--nouns are redeemable...in the context of poetry..in the genre that "is doing nothing but using losing refusing and pleasing and betraying and caressing nouns....that is poetry really loving the name of anything and that is not prose."

Stein's ambivalence about naming resonants with more contemporary concerns about the limitations of identity politics...the simultaneous exigency and liability of naming abjected sexuality. If a taxonomy is felt to be crucial for gays and lesbians as a means to facilitate community building and identification, it can certainly also serve the interests of state control, easing the regulatory mechanisms of, for example, homophobic legislaiion and medical pathologization.

--"Can sexuality even remain sexuality once it submits to a criterion of transparency and disclosure, or does it perhaps cease to be sexuality precisely when the semblance of full explicitness is achieved?....I would like to have it permanently unclear what precisely that sign [the word lesbian] signifies....[to establish] the instability of the very category that it constitutes." (Judith Butler, "Imitation and Gender Insubordination," in The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader, 1993)

-----
VII. Jeanette Winterson, Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery, 1996:

...the question "Do I like this?" will have to be the opening question and not the final judgement. An examination of our own feelings wil have to give way to an examination of the piece of work.... It is right to trust our feelings but right to test them too.... When you say "This work has nothing to do with me," when you say, "This work is boring/pointless/silly/obscure/elitist etc."... the work [might fall] so outside of the safety of your own experience that in order to keep your own world intact you must deny the other world of the painting.... True art, when it happens to us, challenges the "I" that we are....


... for most of us the question "do I like this?" will always be the formative quesiton. Vital then, that we widen the "I" that we are as much as we can....

A poem, a piece of fiction of any value is not instantly accessible. The reader, like the writer, has to work, and as long as work remains a four letter word, the average reader will not understand why they should struggle through their leisure time.... What we cannot do is judge a book by how little bother it gives us....