Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Plonsker Residency Deadline

Hey! Are you a brilliant writer of innovative fiction or hybrid prose under 40 who has yet to publish a book? Why then haven't you sent a 30-page excerpt of your manuscript in progress to be considered for the fourth annual Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writers Residency Prize?

The postmark deadline is April 1. Winners receive $10,000, a two-month residency in Glen Rowan House on the campus of Lake Forest College, and (subject to approval) publication of their book by the &NOW Books imprint of Lake Forest College Press. There are no formal teaching duties associated with the residency. And there is no reading fee charged.

Click the above link for more details, and apply!

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Hybrid Pastoral

Reading Bruno Latour's We Have Never Been Modern and coming to certain provisional conclusions about his argument's implications for postmodern pastoral. The three spheres of critique or knowledge that Latour touches on are "naturalization, socialization and deconstruction" (5), which broadly correspond to the major divisions or disciplines of knowledge: the natural sciences, the social sciences, and literature/humanities (he also suggestively describes the realms proper to each sphere as "real, social and narrated" [7]). Each sphere of knowledge is carefully segregated from the others. And pastoral, it seems to me, can be an apt term for the utopian move away from the social: a retreat into the poetic to be sure, but Latour's configuration makes a pastoral of science visible as well.

At the same time, this attempt to segregate out the realm of social/political power, to enter into a zone of pure relation with language or with the nonhuman, inevitably has its social and political dimension. The renunciation of "politics as usual," is one of the strongest moves available to power—look at how Qadaffi is hanging on in part through his claim that he can't renounce power because he already has. After the coup that ended the Libyan monarchy, Qadaffi says, "I returned to my tent." (The infamous tent, incidentally, is a signifier of Qadaffi's Bedouin authenticity, and is also a zone in which he enjoys special sexual privileges—a perverse fulfillment of the pastoral escape from (sexual) mores tied to (re)production.) His unnamed sovereignty depends on its removal from the political and social sphere that he has done his best to eradicate, into the religio-pastoral narrative of "The Green Book."

Latour argues that the "work of purification" assigned to the division between humans and nonhumans, culture and nature, is made possible by the "work of translation" of hybrid networks—though to confront that connection between incommensurate ontologies is to undo the "Constitution" or "separation of powers" that is Latour's metaphor for the paradoxical configuration of purification and hybridity that produces modernity. I find this extremely useful in terms of explaining the potential of a postmodern pastoral, taking "postmodern" now in the literal sense Charles Olson gives it as what comes after the modern. Pastoral as traditionally conceived is a work of purification that is clandestinely also translation. Consider how the exiled Duke Senior in Shakespeare's As You Like It makes "sweet... the uses of adversity" by literally translating the nonhuman world into the terms of culture:
And this our life exempt from public haunt
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones and good in every thing. (2.1)
"'This is no flattery,'" the Duke says to himself about the elements, "'these are counsellors / That feelingly persuade me what I am.'" While many readers interpret this moment as Lear-lite—the Duke is persuaded by the elements that "what I am" is a mere mortal, no longer a king with two bodies but body alone—one could just as easily read the line, especially when juxtaposed with the "tongues in trees," as the restoration to the Duke of his royal identity by the nonhuman discourse of nature. The supposed purity of the non-verbal, non-social discourse of "feelingly" restores the Duke to his Dukeness. And certainly the course of the play suggests that the pastoral sojourn of the Duke and his court will return him to a sovereignty strengthened and refreshed by his experiences in the natural world.

Pastoral, then, is always a hybrid discourse. But its hybridity can be mystified or exposed, as a building's facade can conceal or reveal its structure. The postmodern pastoral that concerns me, a configuration of which will be presented by The Arcadia Project, exposes and plays with the dialectic of purification and translation, domination and emancipation. The latter refers to one of the central double-binds of modernity, by which domination of nature is supposed to lead to the emancipation of human beings-—yet, as Adorno and Horkheimer amply demonstrate in Dialectic of Enlightenment, the domination of nature ends up reinscribed in social relations. This is the severed Gordian knot, in Latour's language, that we must "retie," imagining anew the collective that includes humans and nonhumans, with "society" describing "one part only of our collectives, the divide invented by the social sciences" (4).

Since poetry has as its very ground the imagination of subjectivity (on the individual/lyric level but as importantly the collective/epic level), poetry is uniquely well suited for rethinking questions of collectivity and representation. At the same time, poetry is the most "networked" form of literary discourse, given how a poem mobilizes its elements (lines, words, phonemes, morphemes) along multiple axes of sound, image, connotation, and allusion. Pastoral, that fusty old genre, becomes the deterritorialized territory most useful for thinking these simultaneously. Putting the complex into the simple, indeed.

Finally, it's surprising and pleasing to re-encounter the language of the "hybrid" in the context of poetry, no longer as the anemic hodgepodge of epiphanic lyric and Language poetry that is our period's most familiar style, but in this more rigorous and urgent sense. If "American Hybrid" represents precisely the sort of unmarked move that consolidates power beyond politics (or in the literary context, beyond criticism), the hybridity of postmodern pastoral represents something more volatile, because it absorbs the task of critique, or translation, into and against itself, producing in the most interesting cases poems that destabilize and subvert the subject-object positions that sustain domination.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Busy Week Ahead

Two upcoming events to alert you to:

The Dust of Suns by Raymond Roussel

When: Friday, March 5 and Saturday, March 6 at 8:00 PM; Sunday, March 7 at 3 PM
Where: The Charnel House, 3421 W. Fullerton St., Chicago, IL

French poet, novelist and playwright Raymond Roussel (1877-1933) faced almost universal incomprehension and derision during his lifetime for works that neglected traditional character and plot development in favor of the construction of elaborate descriptions and anecdotes based on hidden wordplay. While the premieres of his self-financed plays caused near-riots, admirers included Surrealists Andre Breton and Robert Desnos. who called The Dust of Suns (1926) “another incursion into the unknown which you alone are exploring.” Roussel never enjoyed the posthumous fame of his hero Jules Verne, but he has exercised a powerful fascination upon later writers including the French Oulipo group, John Ashbery, Michel Foucault and Michael Palmer. New editions of his novels and poetry are forthcoming this year from Princeton and Dalkey Archive.

Like much of Roussel’s writing, The Dust of Suns has a colonial setting. Against the backdrop of fin-de-siecle French Guiana, a convoluted treasure hunt unfolds. The Frenchman Blache seeks his uncle’s inheritance, a cache of gems whose location lies at the end of a chain of clues that includes a sonnet engraved on a skull and the recollections of an albino shepherdess. Meanwhile, his daughter Solange is in love with Jacques—but all Jacques knows of his parentage is a mysterious tattoo on his shoulder…

This script-in-hand performance of Roussel’s play, directed by John Beer with design by Caroline Picard, features an array of Chicago writers and artists. Performers include: Larry Sawyer, Sara Gothard, Travis Nichols, Monica Fambrough, Jamie Kazay, James Tadd Alcox, Suzanne Scanlon, Joshua Corey, Jacob Knabb, Jennifer Karmin, Samantha Irby, Lisa Janssen, Brian Nemtusak, John Keene, Judith Goldman, Jennifer Steele, Francesco Levato, Nicole Wilson, Jacob Saenz, and Joel Craig.




On Saturday, March 12 at 7 PM, please come to The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square for a launch party for my new book Severance Songs. A celebration of the sonnet, my reading from the new book will be interwoven by readings of new and classic sonnets by a cavalcade of Chicago poets: Chris Green, Simone Muench, Tony Trigilio, Jennifer Karmin, Ray Bianchi, Kristy Odelius, Robert Archambeau, Larry Sawyer, Davis Schneiderman, and Joel Craig.

As its name suggests, the Book Cellar is both a terrific independent bookstore and a vendor of fine beers and wines, so it's sure to be a rocking time. The address is 4736-38 Lincoln Avenue and the phone number is 773.293.2665. Hope to see you there!

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