Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Secession, Insecession

Secession, Chus Pato, with Insecession, Erín Moure. Book Thug, 2014.

In an “echolation” of Chus Pato’s Secession, Erín Moure’s contribution, Insecession, spins a rhizomatic web of personal and theorteical associations. As an “echolation,” a term that derives from “echolocation,” Moure’s texts can be understood as “soundings,” both of Pato’s thought and her own, a form of autoethnography that registers as a shared biopoetics. In one of two facing texts, both entitled, “Amygdala,” Pato writes, “Raft where a placenta of writing grows, pregnant.” And continues, “She adapts automatisms, needs atmospheres of possibility: a mimimal embryo takes root, grows in the woods // no, they aren’t marshes, they’re the varzea, the flooded forests of the Mato Grosso, the banks …teeming with vegetation and …” (77). Darwin’s “tangled bank” becomes the cite of underwater, uterine, mental fertility, essential precursor to thought and language.

Among the first words of her “Amygdala,” Pato presents forms of separation or scission between writing and not writing “the track runs through narrow stations … The text writes, doesn’t write, installs itself in the tree in the amygdala. A partition is all that separates me from the world: trees, construction cranes, the mother, in labour // blood” (77). The mind is positioned as embryonic in a way that is reminiscent of Gregory Bateson’s Steps Toward and Ecology of Mind. Moure’s response to Pato’s text evokes a railroad accident in the Canadian Rockies, a blend of memories from her youth. The passage begins, “For years the translator labored on passenger trains wrapped not in a placenta of writing but riding the thin surface of matter, a threshold landscape along each side of a long and narrow tube of light” (76).  The gambit is to present language that writes itself. Facing pages are deeply imbricated. On the left are Moure’s reflections on subjects suggested directly or indirectly by Pato’s work; the original appeared as Secesión, released in Vigo by Galaxia in 2009.

Both authors share the belief that the ego or I  is a prosthesis of the material body, “We humans are authentic machines, true factories, you, me, anyone, we enter the body from outside” (Pato 109). This language, language too is a prosthesis, is also a translation. Pato’s Secession is written in Galician. On the facing left-hand page is not the original Galician but Moure’s oblique and apparently spontaneous meditations bringing forward associations from her own life, some of it memories of her youth. The status of the original, any original is under scrutiny. “What is the original of the poem? Thinking this while drinking an espresso with nutmeg, sunlight stream past the white cup set beside me. Morning. Crows” (Moure 82). In this case, Pato’s book has generated a book of Moure’s in a form of colloquy, inspiration calls forth a writerly response.

The two universes conjured on these pages intersect on a ghostly or spiritual plane that possesses a logic or form of its own. The language evokes the tropes of ghost limbs or prostheses in the work of Nathaniel Mackey who writes of spirit possession and the integrity of rituals whose ghosts inform contemporary jazz. Phantom limbs are also the subject of Elizabeth Grosz’s research in her Volatile Bodies, a work indebted to that of Giles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, as apparently is Chus Pato’s also. Where Moure stands in relation to those plateaus is not equally evident. Following her rhizomatic instincts, Pato constructs her own Gnosticism plenum, one prefaced with a subaltern disclaimer: “Therefore at least two circumstances exist: in one the voice speaks for itself, and in the second, the others speak along with the voice, but it’s other that voice. The voice in the first case expounds alone and for the world” (109). These words might have been found in A Thousand Plateaus.

In Pato’s text, allusions to material substrate form a rich geological panoply: “Last week, the subject was halls and doors that open and shut onto rooms that give onto halls and stones: about the stones, a slow recitation basic and ultrabasic and others with acidic PH, which is to say quartz, meaning flagstones on the eastern zone, granite on the coastal range and along the spine, schist in between and even: a sunken block of almost forgotten Hyrcynian massif” (109). In my own poetry, I have found great solace in discovering that the phrase “the Cranberry Islands Series” is the designation for the oldest magmatic rock in North America; an imagined twinship with Pato’s Galicia emerges. What is the relation of the soul to bedrock?

In my own travels through Galicia along the “Coast of Dead Souls,” I have imagined that fertility rites performed in thirteenth century meadows were a sanctioned instantiation of the passion for reproduction celebrated by gnostic Arian fathers but extinguished in the Pope’s persecution of heresy (see my A North Atlantic Wall). Pato’s gnosticism rhymes deeply with my own. 

“About the soul (recently), even though with the soul it’s much more complicated. Basically / it starts with one sentence: the anchoring of the incorporeal in material is the job of the soul, of what the ancients called soul. Psyche extended on the forms of physe (not union but a reabsorption of what’s exhaled), of a metabolism. Psyche darns, mends, stitches and restitches, does so with each and everything bit that composes bodies; we might say that gravity is a result of her constant blind labor; we might say that it’s the soul, what the ancients called soul, that lets us set feet on Earth.” (113)

Like Pato, I too have sought finisterra, following the pilgrimage route from Santiago de Compostella (a journey that I shared with Francisca González-Arias). For Pato, the soul is figured as a substance that we inhabit much as we inhabit gravity. For her, the fractured language of poetry has become the site of a possible healing. She writes, “But my nothingness stays there, at the finisterra breath fractures” (131). Coast of the dead indeed. It was Ronsard who said “I made it out of a mouthful of air” (Yeats speaking)!

Both Moure and Pato are very literal about the meaning of the sign. The sign is not to be confused with the object to which it may or may not refer. It exists on a page and has some relation to dematerialized utterance. Moure’s “translational poetics” are in play here. Poetry is difficult language that defies convention. Convention is never adequate:

“At supper Clara, who is Galician and teaches math at the Spanish High School here, speaks of the Moroccan Arabic, popularly called “Darija” (meaning “dialect”), and that this is a hybrid of classical Arabic and Berber; the structure and vocalization and much of the vocabulary are Berberized. In Darija there are also many French and Spanish words, and she speaks of how all education is in classical Arabic which no one uses as a language of communication, and of how all this reminds her of what happens to us Galicians and how it is only with the advent of the Internet that her students have started to write in this language, and they are the first people to write in it, and how spoken languages don’t easily mix with state languages, and at some point the authorities should take up this problem which is complicated even more if we also take into account that, in Tangiers, Rif Berber is spoken (called Tarifit in Rif Berber and Rifiya in Darija) as well as Tamazight (Berber) in the southwest, which is to say the zone of Agadir, known as Schleuh, Tashelhiyt, Sous_Berber or Tasusiyt. We accompany Clara to her house and get a chance to ask Touria how they can possibly walk with such high heels on such crumbling sidewalks and we talk of shopping, of what can or should be bought in Tangiers (Tanja, Tanxa)? (Pato 51)

Translation among languages always requires invention if it is to counter impossibility: “This mother always said refrigerator. Food was formal, words formal too. Refrigerator. Translating a cliché from one language to another is hard, as the densest node of common culture lies in clichés and translation disinhibits common culture. Exceptionally, mothers traverse cultures” (Moure 78). If translation is impossible (carrying my mother’s ashes to Poland), then impossibility is the only thing that can occur.

The answer concerns mothers and grandmothers and the location of their ashes. This is a sympathetic response to Pato’s, “I lost my face some time ago; any of my women ancestors, in an unending braid, are my hands, my eyes / in writing.” How our mothers invade us! …. I too found this to be true when burying my brother. Moure’s Insecession is nested within Pato’s Secession, as if generated there. “Insecession” is a haunted neologism much as is Moure’s “unmemntioable,” the word used as the title for a book that explores the nuances of carrying her mother’s ashes to the site of a disappeared village in a former Poland. (See http://immanentoccasions.blogspot.com/2013/08/reading-erin-moures-unmemntioable.html).

For both authors the mother’s body is the prosthetic uterus where language is born, hence also the soul and poetry, among other indexes of identity. The work of these authors is a work of “relentless expulsion like birth, the huge pouch of life that feeds it are archaic women who appear as the unstable center of a diadem formed by men, horses.” Pato continues, “The I sustains the fracture, the mother the potential (possibility) of writing. …I learned to read the invasion that the ancestral mothers inject into the uterus right from gestation. This I / mountain. (83) Moure’s response, “I write the women ancestors, my grandmother Anastasyia, writing. A rocky rise at the nass of Mount Assiniboine: buried. Translation is possible …because the original, any original, can never be finished” (82). Translation occurs within the uterine chain inscribed by both women and takes multiple forms as registered in a history inscribed by recipients.

For both authors then “Consciousness is awareness of language. Consciousness is language reversible and striated in the cells. A thing removed from use and brought to its origin – the way forest intends “house.” Senses – it is now known – can be built atop other sentences; touch neurons can act as sight when receiving impulses from infrared beams of light. Touch neurons use these beams of light to touch at distance, and the organism sees. Language is also a prosthetic beam of light. At a poetry reading extra senses bloom in the participants skulls” (Moure 104). For both being a poet means assuming the caesura, constituting itself in secession, in the very impossibility that languages might link words and things (119 Pato). My reading is that Communication is shaped by the impossible breaks that shape the lines of the poem


As a footnote on the topic of the impossibility of translation, I offer this claim made by William Kenrick in 1784 regarding the translation into English of Eloisa: or, a series of original letters, collected and published by Mr. J. J. Rousseau, citizen of Geneva


I confess the idioms of the two languages are very different, and that therefore it will, in some instances, be impossible to reach the delicacy of expression in an elegant French writer, but, in return their language is frequently so vague and diffuse, that it must be entirely the fault of the English translator if he does not often improve upon his original; but this will never be the case, unless we sit down with a design to translate the ideas rather than the words of our author.

Most of the translations which I have read, appear like a thin gauze spread over the original; the French language appears through every paragraph, but this is entirely owing to the want of attention, or want of ability in the translator. Words of the translator of Eloisa: or, a series of original letters, collected and published by Mr. J. J. Rousseau, citizen of Geneva. Translated from the French. Vol. 1. London, printed by H. Baldwin, 1784 (vii-viii).

Donald Wellman

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