Friday, March 20, 2009

Rae Armantrout's poetics

We wake up to an empty room
addressing itself in scare quotes.

Rae Armantrout, from "Reversible")

The following are some interesting comments Charles Bernstein made in introducing Rae Armantrout at a recent reading; they touch on not only Armantrout's poetics but disjunctive or associative poetics in general. The comments are posted on his blog:

"Armantrout’s work is not surrealism, not realism, but para- or peri-realism: it is constructed of precisely articulated observations that seem to logically follow one another but that, like everyday life, don’t or better to say, don’t quite. Her rhythms are of dislocation and relocation. Armantrout’s signature is serial displacement: incommensurability torques from one iteration to another, like Marcel Marceau miming a mime miming. Such an approach can be used for many ends. Armantrout’s engagement is often social and cultural dysfunction, giving her work its dark undertones and muted overtones. In this way, she depicts the socio-cultural logic of late Capitalism; dark matter, indeed. So yeah, sure, please be sure to note: her work enacts, through its multifoliate insights, an ideological critique, as when you lose your balance but don’t fall; you realize something must be wrong but don’t know what. Preston Sturges said it best: if you can’t sleep at night, it’s not the coffee it’s the bunk.

So, yes, Armantrout is one of the grand masters of our beloved radical disjunction of the 1970s and 80s. If one were to chart the vectors of each of her lines, you would get a field of skewed angles. Her motto might be: One perception must lead tangentially to the next. But tangential is not arbitrary or disconnected. Tangential is the mark of contingency but also motivated relation. To follow associative and peripheral connections – non-rationalizable, nonexpository, non-narrative – offers a constantly reiterated possibility of new perceptions.

Next to us is not the world we know so well, which we use to do our bidding, but the world that could be, the world we might make. I jump the line because I am so tired of waiting in it. . . ."

Let's jump the line and into that space of tangential perception, between one line and the next.