Thursday, June 21, 2007

Mmph



I'm interested in the fact that there are two (relatively) recent poetic projects that deal with the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Index (MMPI): Katie Degentesh's The Anger Scale and Craig Dworkin's "Legion II." A set of companion-pieces, in a way, each of which takes a different approach to the test's true/false statements: the former builds poems by Google-sculpting the statements; the latter provides responses, but subtracts the statements themselves.

Dworkin's piece, then, calls attention to what is absent: we are presented with a string of affirmative and negative responses, punctuated by slight elaborations, many of which suggest exasperation at the statements' stupidity or obstinance. And if the questions' absence is disorienting, it points to the proprietary hold of the licensing corporation: Dworkin's prefatory material remarks that the poem itself, taken as a whole, constitutes a "response" to a suppressed text, in which the test's statements were recombined into a lyric voice.

If our attention is pointed outside the text in Dworkin's poem, it comes to bear on Degentesh's book by way of paratextual materials that resonate with my discussion of flarf's complexity. The book is described so variously by its blurbs that one might almost wonder if they refer to the same text: two of the pre-reviewers playfully evoke prophesy (a central theme in the book), and a third notes a mixture of the "comic and provocative." Though darkness and violence inform these comments on the book's humor, Juliana Spahr brings this aspect to the forefront, describing a "scary" and "uneasy" book with "complicated politics."



Obviously, more needs to be said about these texts — I've not even gotten in from their outsides yet!



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