Saturday, January 22, 2005

The Body Ink

Oh that this too too solid flesh would melt.

Tim grew weary and Tony couldn't sleep; maybe "spritely" was the wrong word. Here are some interpretations, summaries, comments and questions.

First, there is the issue of the very idea of articulating embodiment with the definite article, i.e., using the "construction 'the body'" (see Tim's 12:15 AM comments to my last post). Since Tim does not object to the word "body" alone (11:14 PM), the alternatives are easy to spot: "a body", "my body", "this body", "her body" all suggest concrete, particular references. We should probably also allow "the body" when used in constructions like "the body I was given" or "the body we found in the basement". Tim's objection goes to any reference made to "the body", without further stipulations, allowing us to ask "Whose body?" to be followed by the answer "The body in the abstract." I think I basically agree with Tim on this question, though I'm not sure Tony's poem about Jackson Mac Low is the best example of this failing.

Moreover, Tony is right to point out that we will then have to give up the definite article in many other contexts, especially "the mouth" and "the language". And these two examples of his are, I think, particularily well chosen because when we talk about "the body" in the abstract we mean, I think, precisely the articulate connection between the mouth and the language, and this might be a reason to grin and bear "the body" in some cases.

Second, there is the issue of the theoretical censure of practical poetry. Tim spots the offending phrase in Tony's poem and asks his infamous question. Now, is this already an act of theoretical censorship? Clearly, if Tim had said from the outset, "But Tony, there's no such thing as the body," it would be. But he waited (baited?) until Tony defended his poem "in theory", i.e., with the words "in the abstract". Tim could then let his theoretical verdict be known: there's no such thing as the body in the abstract. Whatever may be true of Tim and Tony, and whatever they may worry about, I don't think poets should be required to "point to this or that theory or figure and say 'see, I'm right.'" I don't think theories should be allowed to determine how complicated our bodies, or complex our sleeping, should be.

Third, there is the general issue, which I think I'll leave open for now, about the relation between the body and the text, or how best to deal with "embodiment". In what sense is a white page with black marks on it like a pool of bruises? I think Tim's distinctions do make sense, and, taken out of context, his examples do suggest a problem. That problem itself may be more complex, however, than using or not using the phrase "the body". (And is surely more interesting than how the post-structuralists in Iowa read Foucault.) I guess I'd ask whether Tony's earlier invocation of "the mouth", doesn't adequately prepare the way for "the body" and its "imaginary circumference". Or whether it really is as sleazy as Tony suspects Tim thinks it is.

Fourth, if I was to get actors to perform the dialogue that started this, I'd ask to them play it with straight faces.

Finally, I don't think Tony meant a virtual arm wrestle, and I very much hope to witness the real thing one day. Maybe we write poems because we can't arm wrestle with everyone . . . except in the abstract. The Armwrestle.

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