Sunday, May 20, 2007

Prosodic bodies

Dearest reader:

You keep coming back for more on Robert Kocik, don't you? Don't try to hide it — I've seen the report from Google Analytics. It's okay — I keep coming back to him, planning to write more. This will also allow me to elaborate on, and further develop, ideas I mentioned to you earlier.

"Every feature that is not meaning is prosody," Kocik writes in "Stressogony." An invitation, here, in this inclusive definition of "prosody": to acknowledge the limits of signification and reference as models of meaning, and to attend instead to gesture, to sound-as-sound, to the materiality of textual production (font choice, texture of paper, etc.). To attend, in other words, to that which exceeds meaning.

And, in the next breath, a dialectical turn: "in a fully prosodized world" — that is, a world properly attentive to everything outside the bounds of signification — "there is no feature that doesn't have meaning or can't be made to mean." That which exceeds meaning would seem to have returned as meaningful. But this return is a return with a difference; it has already passed through the first proposition.

To move these contradictions towards synthesis, then, is to note a suppressed pun at play here: what exceeds — exists beyond — meaning is simultaneously an excess — an abundance — of meaning. Once we allow ourselves to become aware of meaning's limits, we become aware of the potential for meaning that inheres in everything. Or: all is meaningful, but that meaning occurs outside the economic models (signification, reference — communication, even) according to which we typically regard meaning.

Kocik's concern is with imagining language otherwise, as initiative, rather than representational (mimetic) or presentational (performative). If his initiative language is attentive to its own "carnality" (as I used the term a while back), it also attentive to its function as incarnation: of knowledge, of "voices from the most distant past." As initiative, language is "that which is requisite for all things to appear."

What interests me here — in the final synthesis of meaning's excess and excess of meaning, and in incarnation — is ethics, particularly in terms of language's tangibility. Roland Barthes, in A Lover's Discourse: Fragments, writes:
Language is a skin: I rub myself against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire.... I enwrap the other in my words, I caress, brush against, talk up this contact, I extend myself to make the commentary to which I submit the relation endure.
Add emphasis, underscore "caress": Barthes' emphasis on skin rather than flesh — a subtle distinction, but nonetheless fundamental — allows us to apprehend language not only as (mere) pleasure, but as touch. And, as Susan Stewart has noted in Poetry and the Fate of the Senses, touch involves a reciprocity that complicates and undermines — it presents itself as vertigo, as instability — the conventional binary relationship of subject and object, of self and other:
One hand or the other can be subect or object; one "I" or the other can take the position of the "you"; one speaker or the other can become the listener — indeed, each is waiting upon the other, anticipating the other.

But a poem is not contact with the other — Barthes' description of language aside — in the same way touch is. Rather, we might return to Barthes, to his account of the amorous gift, which shares with language a sense of "contact, sensuality: you will be touching what I have touched. A third skin unites us." The question, then, is how to regard the poem as this "third skin" without, in so doing, limiting the poem to expression between individuals, between lover and beloved.

As I read it, Kocik's idea of a prosodic body — in its insistence on initiative, on reading meaning's excesses — opens the potential for poetry (or prosody, as he would have it) to be conceived in these ways.

[Sources: "Stressogony" and "The Prosodic Body" by Robert Kocik. A Lover's Discourse: Fragments by Roland Barthes. Poetry and the Fate of the Senses by Susan Stewart.

Thom Donovan, over at Wild Horses of Fire, has also addressed the connection between Kocik's work and ethics.]


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