Sunday, August 02, 2009

Lyrical Governmentality

Here's another stanza from Susan Briante's "Dear Mr. Director of the Census Bureau":

Hawks alight on a high-voltage tower by the highway. Each scrub oak below them opens like a flower. Each city block unfolds like a square on playing board.* This morning I can see the staggering boundaries of power grids and aquifers. But, Sir, what place is there of mine in any of it.

Compare this passage from Tony's Invisible Bride:

A child's body itself is a playground in which gender identities can be monitored and produced, compelling reformers (yours truly) to locate them in public, visible settings. Like a cloud, I am meant to serve a large population. A playground should be a sort of truce between the tunnels and twilights of childhood. A playground should be rippling at its outermost branches.

This theme of the "location" or "place" of identities ("me") by some authority ("sir") over a "population" that it "serves" (cf. the "census bureau" of Briante's title) is very interesting to me. As emotional notations, all poems are poems of subjective location, situated agency. Or perhaps at least all lyrical poems.

With a nod to Michel Foucault, perhaps we can call these two poems "governmental" lyrics, songs of governmentality. They articulate the difficulty of caring for the self as the member of a population, a counted & measured body politic. Tony has us imagine a world in which "child-guidance experts, educators, architects and artists [have] formulated the exact number of dangerous illusions in the world". Briante approaches such precision in allegorical and skeptical terms, with mock astrology defiled by technology: "I could chart all of the satelites dangling like a mobile above my hospital nursery. Sir, they tell me nothing."

Notice the interest in boundaries (Tony's "outermost branches"). Notice the image of the opening flower (Tony will go on to invoke the "first blossom"). I think they're on to something here.

*Perhaps a typo. Should it read " a square on a playing board"?

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