Friday, July 13, 2007

Something else

In a comment on my last entry, Kasey rightly points out a connection — one I had not thought of myself — between the refusal of specificity I've been talking about, in texts by Mayer, Spahr, and Anderson, and Jackson Mac Low's Pronouns — A Collection of 40 Dances — For the Dancers (1964; reprinted w/ revisions in 1971 and '79). What strikes me, as I return to a set of poems I've not looked at in some time, is how differently (again) this refusal works in a different case.

— - — - —
The laws governing textual interpretation are the laws of an authoritarian regime which guide the individual [i.e., reader] in his every action, prescribing the ends for him and offering him the means to attain them.
— Umberto Eco, The Role of the Reader

As scores for dances, the Pronouns take up what may be the most imperative and authoritarian of forms, one that demands that the reader conform his/her body to the will of the author. Where this would be loathsome to Mac Low, it is anathema to the text. Mac Low's demand — and, as Eco points out, the demand still exists, and in such terms — is that the reader "find some definite interpretation of the meaning of every line of the dance-poems they choose to realize." That is to say that we are dealing with an open text, and with a social relationship of a different order.

"Something" comes to trouble the "authoritarian regime" in the Pronouns. Through its indefiniteness, Mac Low performs a crucial refusal, presenting an interpretive problem, leaving the interpretation of that "something" up to the reader. As dancer, the reader is allowed to specify where the author does not, is given a "very large degree of freedom of interpretation," as Mac Low puts it. The word, then — and alongside "anyone," "whoever," and the verb "to seem" — as a sort of blank.

[S]ome damage something foolish,
& some seem to be generally like clocks are,
& some see danger
while letting something be made the same as something simple,
but some send a warm thing by spoon over a slow one.
— Jackson Mac Low, "20th Dance —
Going About Between and Through
Unserious-Seeming Goings-On."

The refusal of specificity in Mac Low's Pronouns does not lay social structure bare. That is to say that Mac Low's particular deployment of this refusal is not descriptive — a la Mayer's, Anderson's, and Spahr's similar refusal — of social arrangements. Rather, it is constitutive of new social organizations, both on stage and, more crucially, between author and performer/reader, in Mac Low's treatment of text as itself a performance not only of a dance, but of a social dynamic. To use Eco's terms, the refusal of specificity embodied in Mac Low's "some," "something," etc., works as an invitation, in this case to dance.

Leery of overstating the freedom afforded and created by such a text, Eco notes that this "invitation offers the performer the chance of an oriented insertion into something which always remains the world intended by the author." That is to say that the text always returns itself, so to speak, to the author, who remains "the one who proposed a number of possibilities which had always been rationally organized, oriented, and endowed with specifications for proper development." In light of these caveats, we might think the Pronouns — which are inseparable from Mac Low's poetics, and devoted to propositions of equality and democracy — in terms of mutual responsibility, in which deliberately "vague" terms and enthusiastic deployment of choices indicated with "or" create a dynamic and collaborative engagement in the production of meaning and the creation of an artistic work.

Who is saying an idea,
& whipping?

Then who is doing something with the nose or getting something

by attraction,
& who is making things new?
— Jackson Mac Low, "22nd Dance —
Saying Things as a Worm Would"