10 March 2016

Eleni Stecopoulos's Visceral Poetics

Eleni Stecopoulos 

with a foreword by Alphonso Lingis

VISCERAL POETICS tracks “the chronic syndrome of the West” and the cruel treatments
of poetry’s resistance. At once a call for an embodied scholarship, a poetic work of criticism,
and a fragmentary autoethnography of the author’s health crisis at the millennium, Eleni
Stecopoulos’ book moves in a complex field of languages and bodies, between symptom and
art, diagnosis and composition, fascia and form. Stecopoulos aligns her method with diviners
of entrails and holistic healers, tracing the resonance between locations that range from
demonic possession and parasitic vowels to acupuncture and diaspora Greek. Opening new
directions in poetry and poetics as well as literature and medicine, Stecopoulos argues for
the body’s poetic agency and a different understanding of the therapeutic potency of art.
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Eleni Stecopoulos is singularly aware of a healing power in poetry that touches the most
obscure depths of our carnal existence. She seeks to uncover “how the body in its opaque
poetry can be homeopathically treated by poetry—as aesthetic, not anaesthetic, therapy.”
Eleni Stecopoulos’ researches open an important field for investigation and practice: the
healing force of language, of poetry. 

-         Alphonso Lingis, from the Foreword

Searching in real time, thinking/feeling as writing, this tour de force of authentic scholarship
reaches far back to the matrix of writing/embodiment at the crux of human consciousness, far
forward into a modernism (Artaud, Metcalf) that explores the edges of such embodied writing,
and in all directions as Stecopoulos’ every insight emerges from and remains immersed in a
surround of the immediately personal. This is a lyrical study of great depth, an epic poem of
experiential erudition. 

-         Maria Damon

Eleni Stecopoulos’ brilliantly provocative, syncretic manifesto identifies idiopathic disease
with ideolectical poetics, pathology with anomaly – the flesh of the text and the text of the
flesh – bringing home the liberatory potential for visceral readings of the unintelligible. For
Stecopoulos, diagnosis is a practice of aesthetic translation and poetry a quest for knowledge
outside the disabling strictures of Western rationalism. Written in lyric bursts of telegraphic
intensity, Stecopoulos follows her guides, Artaud and Metcalf, through veils of suffering in
order to repossess, from the jaws of evisceration, her own life – and ours.  

-         Charles Bernstein

In a thick rich book of Artaudian trickster moves, Eleni Stecopoulos performs healing rituals
upon medical practices and cultural prescriptions, writing toward her own healing process,
with opacity as sustaining wayfarer and shield against early collapse. Disease emerges as
narrative symptom for disconnect, and language becomes subtle homeopathy, weaves a new
myth, for suffering writers and suffering war-torn worlds, in a visceral poetics based on Artaud’s
asylum writings: “a rhythm of exorcism against the drying out of opium by conspiracies and
consecrations” (Artaud, SELECTED WRITINGS). 

-         Petra Kuppers

Experience what “radiates from a text,” “the gravity at the core of theater” in this long awaited
critical work from Eleni Stecopoulos, the genesis of her Poetics of Healing—a curated series of
stages in which these ideas are enacted and the isolated patient finds place in a complicated
communal as both are changed. Placing the psychic reading of the body that refuses with will
next to the reading of poetries claimed unreadable, she makes a document of vital forms for a
new kind of scholarship, for a new and ancient kind of person or poet one and the same in the
hopes that they won’t be re-swallowed by the dominant but will find their own breath. A breath
that will resist and resist singularity and in the failures or blocks, the resetting, find the
choral-tragic—through a different kind of reading/witnessing. The violences of a larger social
body made visible though a syncope pressing right up against poetry. In this epic lyric, everything
and nothing at once. In “a form that holds, rather than explains”—the mystery of how this beautiful
important project came to be. 

-         Melissa Buzzeo 

The central question of VISCERAL POETICS is how to be. How to be a body. How to be a body in
pain, a body not in pain. How to be a thinker, a scholar, a writer about literary works. How to be
a poem too. It is unusual for a piece of literary criticism to take on such weighty questions. And
Eleni Stecopoulos gives us no easy answers as she consults various forms of literatures and healing,
questioning all of them and her relationship to them too. And as she does this she writes a book
that is beautiful and moving, a life’s work dedicated to the work of living.

 -         Juliana Spahr


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