01 June 2011

Joan Retallack's Scalapino Lecture

Joan Retallack's talk Friday night was characteristically difficult and thorny and inspiring and full of things to think about. I made a special accordian broadside for the event (see the cover above; it folds in three with a special slipcover to boot!), which required inviting folks over to perform some chance operations on the text: thank you to Lionel, Alina, Kate, Jackqueline, Chris, Julia, Jenni, Rob, Taylor, and Katja for helping out with production. While these were crazy difficult to make, we're selling them for only 5 bucks to support Small Press Traffic! They should be up at the SPT website soon, but in the meantime, feel free to send on a check or well-concealed cash to 2556 Frances Street, Oakland, CA, 94601 and I'll get one in the mail.

And here are a few paragraphs from my introduction to Joan:

The Leslie Scalapino Memorial Lecture in Innovative Poetics was designed to celebrate the life and work of one of the most innovative, challenging, and frankly emancipatory writers I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, but to do so through the life and work of her coevals: those fellow travelers who “punch a hole,” as Leslie would have it, in the calcified shell of the habitus. We—her colleagues, family and friends—believe, as Leslie did, that “activity is the only community,” that, as the French collective Tiqqun puts it, “When, at a certain time and place, two bodies affected by the same form-of-life meet, they experience an objective pact, which precedes any decision. They experience community.” However, for Tiqqun, “There is no community except in singular relations. THE community doesn’t exist. There is only…community that circulates.” If ever two writers shared a form-of-life, the singular fidelity to a particular instantiation of praxis, it is Leslie Scalapino and Joan Retallack. Both challenge us to recognize forms of change in the diurnal, to embrace unpredictability, disorientation, estrangement, and alterity in the very structures that enervate legitimately radical forms-of-life through predictable “conservative gesture.” While Scalapino’s writing is certainly lush (Joan calls this sensuousness her “textual eros”), it is also at times stark and unsettling, and this juxtaposition works to recalibrate mind action, to refocus attention, to “short-circuit complex terrain”—in short, to draw the reader out of the enframement of standing-reserve and into a world where forms fluoresce through complex interaction with “acts of responsible consciousness” (as Joan has it).

In her Memnoir, Retallack writes, “coming out of the movie theater the world the world is bright too bright gnomic present tense tensile everything happening at once the world is full of its own mute history the fatality of reflection the fatality of nature and culture…mute history remaining mute the fatality of of the preposition reaching out to its object even as…it slips away”

After reading Leslie, after reading Joan, I often feel like I’ve left a similar theater, and now the world seems suddenly too bright, ersatz, bogged down in its own machinations, because our attentions are perfectly tuned to the pitch of becoming—everything matters, everything is happening now, in now-time, simultaneously jarring and intoxicating. We are suddenly aware that something is alive beneath the tensile membrane of experience, ready to press through phenomena, always-already sinewy and tenacious. The writing of this community, this singular relation, extends from Leslie to Joan to us their readers: we also make a wager: we risk becoming wholly and fundamentally unmoored by participating in this act of composition; that we can participate in the remediation of a “past that tragically persists in our barbarous proclivities” while giving up a claim to the comforts of the “habitus”: the enfeebled commonplace where we nurse the “radical innocence of our own self-perpetrated destinies.” This community, this singular relation, asks us to decide, to comport, to engage, to interact with “specific and energetic forms of life.” And to do so finally, is an act of communion, in which the white eschatology of vision washes over the hidebound through the terrible, unpredictable, and ecstatic activities it proposes. I, for one, am honored, to count myself a member of this singular community.

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