Artaud: the screaming box

Artaud: to think about the body, about the relationship between poetry and unreason, about sound, and everything else.

Many philosophers (Deleuze, Derrida...), but also anthropologists (Pandolfo)
have made of him a crucial reference, but this does not mean that his figure is settled, or monumentalized.

The idea of the Theater of Cruelty pushes to the forefront the critique of the idea of representation. A jump into experience, a different way of inhabiting language.

Here a good documentary, in two parts (English sub).

poetry as a relationship with the world

Consider this essay (and the video interview) as a symptom of the place of poetry in the current existential and political configuration.

Veronique Côté, la vie habitable

poetry (real poetry) is like that

But poetry (real poetry) is like that: you can sense it, you can feel it in the air, the way they say certain highly attuned animals (snakes, worms, rats and some birds) can detect an earthquake.

Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives, English Translation by Natasha Wimmer, 2008, p. 5

an ethnopoetic perspective: poetry as modality

In a short but incisive essay, anthropologist and ethnopoet Denis Tedlock seems to offer a perspective that bypasses what I termed below “the subject of poetry”, the binary that posits the force of an unnameable desire on one hand, and power/knowledge apparatus on the other.


Tedlock proposes what might be called a “modal view” whereby poetry, as any linguistic expression, is the paraphrase/translation of something else. Desire and Codification are not separated and juxtaposed (natural/artificial), but reconfigured as a middle third. Expanding on Tedlock (maybe with a little help from Latour) poetry becomes a modality that constantly translates (rather than double binds).

Tedlock is at least in part reacting to the rigidity with which poetry is composed and discussed (especially lyric poetry) --an attitude of normativity and separation that he identifies with Western sensibilities, and to which he juxtaposes a “middle” in which formal concerns are present but more fluid and flexible. The paraphrase or negotiation he argues is an intrinsic part of poetic texts and their performance. In other terms, you cannot separate the text as object from its modality. Form is not a set of fixed structures but it is a process that develops in interaction –interaction however takes place around a text, it is a three way process, not a dialectic between self and other.


[The text in being the third, and the presupposed third, plays again a theological role, despite Tedlock’s “anti-monotheistic” stances. This is also related to his juxtapposition of West and non-West even though, at this level, he does argue that every poetics is an ethno-poetics. But what matters is that this theological pole is what enables the construction of a modal system. Does this recall Spinoza -- one substance, infinite modes?]


[this modal formulation also joins Vico's view of poetry as about "understanding and being understood", and his idea of poetry as a natural necessity]

[among many, one point needs much further reflection. this modality shall not be equated with a functionalist view of communication]

the subject of poetry

Both De Certeau and Cixous, in opposite terms, constitute poetry as the site of a constitutive desire. This desire is both set against and related to an apparatus, a power/knowledge nexus that represses and yet enables it.


In De Certeau what prevails is the diagnosis of how an impossible desire (ravishment) is turned into an instituted (ethnographic) power. In Cixous what prevails is an assertion of an emergent body/writing/desire against an already instituted power (phallo-logocentrism).


In both desire is the site of an unnameable/unrepresentable force, a force that is able to move, a force that needs to be separated, sent against, dialectically opposed in order to be effective. (both channel Hegel via Lacan).


This view of poetry as the site of the Real has theological underpinnings.


This is what makes poetry “inconsumable” (Pasolini) but also what places it in a constitutive outside that cannot but betray its expectations. We could call this “the subject of poetry” to name the process through which in both ethnological and political terms, poetry is endowed the power to be, the power to assert, the power to go beyond. One could also think of the relationship between poetry and the sacred.


The subject of poetry articulates itself in two forms.


One form is related to the paradigm of the person. In this form, poetry comes to embody (incarnare, enter the flesh) the transformation of God/nature into the will of a person. The person becomes the receptacle, but also the matrix of the poetic. In our age, when personhood has subsumed in itself both the human and the self, this form of the subject of poetry has taken a solid grip on the world. This is poetry as self-expression, or reading poetry for self-recognition. Jakobson calls it the “emotive” function of language, but an emotive function that has subsumed into itself all the other five functions of language, to the extent that the poetic function (the focus on the message qua message) has become indistinct from it. The relationship between personhood and capitalism could not be tighter. 


The more the subject of poetry betrays the expectations to realize personhood, the more the emotive function dominates, the more poetry comes to stand for that which is unattainable.


The second form of the subject of poetry is apparently opposite to the first and as such has a somewhat diminished traction in the contemporary epoch, but it is nevertheless active. This form is related to a meta- trajectory, whereby the subject of poetry, rather than mediated via personhood, is abstracted into an external will, or agency to which the power to move is endowed. God, technology, the nation, society, nature or politics generate the subject of poetry.  


This form of the subject of poetry might maybe be related to the “phatic” function of language in Jakobson’s model: the establishment of communication.


The more the subject of poetry betrays expectations to realize any of these agencies, and becomes the site of a necessary but impossible communication, the more poetry comes to stand for these agencies.

De Certeau: Ethno-graphy

At the end of his essay on Ethno-graphy --certainly dated but also a refined examination of the paradigm of anthropological knowledge-- Michel de Certeau writes

Anthropology emerges out of a double bind. On one hand writing, on the other speech (= poetry --here De Certeau calls it "distorition, "rapture" but in the essay itself this rupture refers to the moment of "ravishment" the missionary Lery felt upon hearing Tupi songs) a poetry which is not signifying for itself but establishes the conditions for writing.

To put it slightly differently, on one hand a movement of codification, on the other a desire, whose presence can only be codified in terms of a lack.

The impossible but necessary reconciliation of these two aspects seem to constitute the conditions of possibility of anthropology.

The problem with this formulation is precisely the line of partition drawn between a senseless rupture and a codifying gesture. Even if only heuristic, and even if only described to show the inestricable connection between the elements, such line of partition cuts in half a process of signification which cannot but be at once desire and codification.

Cixous: The element that retains the power to move us is the song

"Laugh of the Medusa" is very much an essay of its time. And yet, it retains certain paradigmatic assertions, not only for thinking about the feminine, but for reflecting on the place of poetry in this configuration. 

"The element that retains the power to move us is the song" (Cixous 1979: 881). Poetry ("only the poets") is assigned a specific role within what Cixous terms "writing." For C. poetry is not just a question of verbal form, but rather a modality of relation with language, namely the body. How does poetry come to occupy this space ? What is the value, and thus the expectation, the desire of and for poetry that is embodied in her text? What is it that "moves" us in writing/poetry? what is song?

Beyond Cixous's own answers --feminine orgasms, anti-logos weapons, her story becoming history, and above all writing: all strategies against phallologocentrism/representationalism-- 
these questions are an ongoing interrogation on the potentiality of poetry, but also highlight the task with which poetry itself is endowed: the task of the real, the task of presence, the task of embodiment, the task of writing desire, the task of "moving" people and things. 

Only by unpacking these tasks by acts of profanation we can reactivate the micro epiphanies that songs continue to afford our bodies.

vico on the poverty and necessity of poetry

Vico, par. 34 (same quoted in post on Vico below):

For Vico, two are the sources of all poetic locution: poverty of language 
•necessity to explain and make oneself understood.

Often associated with the richness of linguistic expression, poetry is here instead based on poverty -- poetry emerges whenever people have the need to explain and be understood. They use whatever means at their disposal to do so.

Necessity, rather than freedom, drives imagination.

Vico linked this necessity to the lack of abstract thinking that for him characterized early humanity, hence establishing (as par. 34 explains) an inverse relationship between poetry and abstract thought, imagination and theoretical elaboration.

Such inverse relationship still characterizes much anthropological thought. An implicit ethnocentrism underlines the celebration of the poetry of others. While being amazing creators, these "others" were misunderstanding the phenomena they were narrating.  They could not make sense of these phenomena through abstract thinking, and expressed them via poetry.

and yet, and this is where Vico stands out, poetic knowledge is epistemologically (which for Vico means historically) "true", the outcome of a veritable engagement with the world, a world composed through human actions. So poetry is the record of those actions. It is up to the "modern" reader to decipher and understand how these "fables" are truthful accounts.

Here the question of ‘‘necessity” becomes crucial and Vico's assertion involves a further turn: imagination is not a sign of the lack of the intellectual capabilities of the early poets --it is a natural necessity to explain oneself by whatever means possible. This natural necessity is itself historical: nowadays it has faded, hence it is hard to come to terms with poetry, make sense of its reality, of its necessity-- given how far ‘‘our civilized natures” (but the Italian has ingentilite: made more gentile, more refined, more tender but also less poetic) have become.

The necessity concerns explanation (spiegarsi) and understanding (farsi intendere), not the expression of inner feelings. This is because Vico here has in mind mainly epic/heroic poetry, but we can read him as also implying that poetry is not about oneself, but one's relation with others (explain and understand).