Saturday, January 15, 2011

Joyelle McSweeney's Necropastoral

As you might suppose, I'm completely fascinated by Joyelle McSweeney's recent posts on "necropastoral" up at Montevidayo. It's a little unclear to me as to whether she's talking about pastoral as an always-already uncanny undead genre, outside and yet adjacent to the polis ("the temporal and geographical sureties of the court, the urbs, the imperium itself"), or if she isn't suggesting a sub- or paragenre called necropastoral, with its own distinct aesthetic characteristics. The former seems to be the case in her original post, while the fascinating post on Sylvia Plath suggests the latter, and might lead in a direct line therefore to the necropastoral aspects of gurlesque.

It makes perfect sense to read Plath's Ariel as a kind of parody or burlesque of the pastoral, when the latter is constructed as the reservoir of "natural" values. I'm especially struck by the image of the infant's mother dissolving into the ambient environment in "Morning Song"; Joyelle calls it "a total mediumicity in which Art moves from the infant to the speaker, from the infant into the material surround, creating the body of the poem." This "mediumicity" seems very similar to Timothy Morton's notion of ambience as the tendency of environmental writing in general to "re-mark" the boundary between subject and object, transgressing that boundary even, without ever erasing it. For Morton the Freudian "oceanic feeling" or the Emersonian transparent eye-ball with its ecstatic "I am nothing, I see all" seems to be fundamentally ideological, not an erasing of the barrier but a manifestation of the subject's desire to swallow the object whole. For Plath, I imagine, the poem read as pastoral highlights how that genre has been gendered as a playground for the inviolable masculine subject but strips the feminine object-subject bare; the mother-speaker of the poem is dissolved by the infantile demand that she become the feminized object-atmosphere of "nature." The subject here is swallowed by her own object-hood, "cow-heavy and floral / In my Victorian nightgown." And the poem, and the book as a whole, is a luridly violent rebellion against the demands pastoral makes for women to become more-and-less than human, more-and-less than sexual, more-and-less than alive.

I'm reminded of Lisa Robertson's "How Pastoral: A Manifesto" and her claim there that "I needed a genre for when I go phantom"--phantom in this context bringing us very close to Joyelle's necropastoral (though it's a notably less embodied sort of word, and there's a definite aesthetic distance between the cerebral, even Apollonian necropastoral of a book like The Weather or The Men versus the Dionysian variety embraced by Plath and the poets I associate with the gurlesque. But I need to think more about the larger, rather seductive claims Joyelle seems to be making about pastoral in general. Necropastoral seems rather more specific than "postmodern pastoral" or even "avant-pastoral," the terms I've grown accustomed to playing with; it would seem to go beyond a pastoral that merely foregrounds its own artifice, the better to play with the tradition of turning nature into a standing reserve for sovereign authority and cultural norms. Is it a zombie pastoral, the pleasure of the walking dead in devouring brains, the hypersublime viral pleasure of mindless multiplication, unlife, earth without world?

2 comments:

Michael Schiavo said...

ASTROPASTORAL
Douglas Crase

As much as the image of you, I have seen
You again, live, as in live indecision you brighten
The limbs of an earth that so earnestly turns
To reflect you, the sky’s brightest body
And last best beacon for those who are everywhere
Coded in spirals and want to unbend,
Who bear in the dark turned toward you
This message they have to deliver even to live,
To linger in real time before you, to meet or to
Blow you away—and yes I have seen you receive them
But you are not there. Though I’ve tried to ignore you,
Go solo, light out beyond you,
I have seen you on every horizon, how you are stored
And encouraged and brought to the brim
Until the round bounds of one planet could not hold you in
But were ready to set near space ringing
As if from the ranking capacitor outside the sun.
I have seen you discharged, and then how you swell
Toward heaven and how you return, transmitting the fun
Of the firmament, all of it yours. And these things
Have happened, only you are not there.
At night in the opposite high-rise I’d see how you glow,
And in the adjacent one too, the same would-be blue,
And I’ve locked on the glow in the waters
Around the reactor, that also blue, how
Whatever would match your expression you
Wouldn’t be there. I have seen the impression you leave
At the margin of error in exit polls, monitored polls
That you never entered—I can tell what I see:
Saw you vote with your feet and hit the ground running,
Kiss the ground, rescued, and (this wasn’t a drill)
Saw you fall to your knees on the ground
By the body of your friend on the ground
And though these fall beside you like gantries, it is
You who are rising above them and you are not there.
Like a rocket in winter, I have been there to see you
Logged in as a guest among stars—only you,
Though you’re lovely to look at, expensive to own,
And though in demand without letup, you are not there.

Johannes said...

Josh,

I like what you've got to say here; I made a brief response over at Montevidayo.

Johannes

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