Sunday, May 3, 2015

Review: Katy Bohinc, Dear Alain

Katy Bohinc is a poet who, in this instance, Dear Alain (Tender Buttons 2014), doesn’t write poems so much as deeply coherent, explosive prose, a mad epistolary approximation of uncensored speech. She embraces contradiction with erotic flamboyance. She loves math and she loves and is aggravated by Alain’s love of philosophy, especially set theory. Her book makes the case that  math is the soul of poetry and also poetry’s reciprocal opposite. Love deconstructs this precarious entente. Philosophy forms a lattice work laid over a non-existent abyss. Katy is a more perspicacious guide to the philosophy of Alain Badiou than I could hope to be. Her book is replete with quotations, qualifications, and contradictions of the most astute order.

I would not have undertaken a reading of Badiou’s Being and Event (which I only recently began to attempt) were not for Katy Bohinc’s passionate love for Alain. And now that I have begun to read his text I am disoriented by structured opacities that wash in droning waves over my uncomprehending brain. Meanwhile, thanks to Katy, sparks of understanding sometimes dazzle my cerebral cortex. I stumble into the deepest reverie, a reverie that I associate with a profound abyss where being in its most monstrous form eats the souls of children. Alain writes, “Ontology … is faithful to the non-being of the one, so as to unfold, without specific nomination, the regulated game of the multiple such that it is none other than the absolute form of presentation, thus the mode in which being proposes  itself to any access” (30). A beloved teacher cautioned me to walk in fear of abstraction. “Absolutely,” as used here, awakens a primal screech. I also find a suppressed “only.” I thought I had come to understand “nomination” through my readings in Jonathan Swift and Ezra Pound. Nomination is the poet’s power and also not. And tell me please about that “regulated game”? What does it mean to “propose … access”?  Seduce the void?

I’ll have to read more deeply. “Dear Alain,” Katy writes, “philosophers and poets, we’re both trying to reach God, you the form, we the content, we the light” (29). Charles Olson proposed seeing, as I remember, the face of God; but then to him the form/content polarity was too dichotomous, too duplicitous. “Dear Alain, Your shoulder blades the shimmer of molten silver” (as if he were a winged and godly messenger) (45). “Oh Alain! It’s trust dripping down to the ground, or where the ground used to exist” (46). It’s liquid as Thales said (Thoreau’s favorite philosopher). I glimpse the poet’s orgasmic effusion, draining away and finding a ground that is not a ground. Take this as a solution to the problem of the chora as presented by Judith Butler, “This naming of what cannot be named is itself a penetration into this receptacle which is at once a violent erasure, one which establishes it as an impossible yet necessary site for all further inscriptions” (Bodies That Matter, NY: Routledge, 1993: 44). The chora can be thought of as unbound receptacle where being or the being of being is housed before its presentation. Are “abyss” and “chora” (consult Plato, Timaeus) only differently gendered faces of one another, or inescapably female?

I note that I’ve returned to the subject of nomination. In “the name of the father,” proposed Jacques Lacan in his revision of psychoanalytic theory. Badiou, once Lacan’s chosen son, proceeded, during the revolts of 68, to outrage the father. For Katy, as I read her, fucking is a physical fact producing a heated and undisciplined affect beyond presentation, not an ontological construct. “Dear Alain, And I think the only world view worth having is the spinning madness of the hangover. The swirling heaving breathing panic attack.” She continues berating philosophy, “And I’m not fucking your right now Alain. You’re nothing but a dead object to me. … You don’t open me up to the insane whirlwinds of life, you put them in a box, and I can’t see them there and I must leave. The poet is not in the philosophy and I’m going I am going I am gone. Democracy. Me.” (183) The conclusion fits with Katy’s political commitment to the “Occupy Movement,” another level within this book as is the use of astrology for understanding form and templates, implicating Badiou’s commitment to set theory as the philosopher’s way to master being and multiplicity. The range of references to containers like systems or boxes or even the abyss viewed as a cavity speaks to my imagination. Relations between containers and things contained speaks to my poetics, but I am forced by that move back into the realm of set theory as well as poetry. That’s Bohinc’s conundrum. Here’s the conclusion, “Dear Alain, I went to bed in the soft folds of ego submitted to the logic of nothingness and it felt so much better than you … your hands on my hair and there would be nothing but a harmonic hu9m there would be no word better there would be no thought whatsoever. You. You. Dear Badiou” (185). Eroticism, hints of masochism, philosophical argument included, this is a serious book that elicits and repays attentive reading.

Donald Wellman



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