Sunday, April 3, 2011

Poetry and Architecture: Part 2, Elizabeth Bryant's (Nevertheless Enjoyment

A library is a building doomed to fail.  Every order is an arbitrary order, and therefore fallible.  A library is eternally in a process of catching up to itself; a process that by nature is never complete.  To complete it would mean the end of the library and its governing principles-- accumulation, identification and classification.  To that end, the shell of the library must contain, forever, an internal seething, a congeries of dead ends and omissions.

In a videogame I once played called "Dreamfall: The Longest Journey," the protagonist must obtain a volume from the library of a disembodied hive-mind called the Dark People.  The Dark's People's sole purpose in existence is to collect a copy of every document ever written in their world; their library is likewise a serpentine, sprawling complex underneath the ocean, going on forever and, presumably, eventually swallowing the entire world.  To that end, the Dark People had ceased to occupy physical bodies, becoming mere shadows.  The process of taxonomy is dark and endless.

Another case in point, another library.  The classical music section of the Broadway Queens Borough Public Library exists in eternal disorder; any seeming attempt to organize it seems to result in a still further confounding of its order.  Periodically, materials from other sections make their way into it and are inexplicably absorbed into the extant (lack of) order.  I have come across two films migrated from the adjoining foreign language media section in this manner while not so much looking for something else, but rather aimlessly drifting through the collection, which is all that is possible: Visconti's "La Terra Trema" and Cacoyannis' "The Girl in Black."  I enjoyed both films immensely, much more so than anything from the lackluster music selection.  The most functional library is a frivolous one; the end result of order is always disappointment.

In the same manner, a dictionary is also suffers from the same ailment.  All taxonomy is relative and arbitrary and therefore the only functional lexicon is a plastic one.  Elizabeth Bryant has provided just such a nebulous dictionary in her recent (Nevertheless Enjoyment from Quale Press.  

As mentioned in the first post of this series, the parenthesis is an architectural mark of punctuation denoting an enclosure.  It implies a room or vestibule, partitioning off the main sentence into smaller units, or, mathematically, defining the parameters of an operation in a numeric equation.  In the case of this book, the opening parenthesis acts to continually loop the lexical entries of the text back to the central term being defined, Lacan's notion of jouissance, translated necessarily incompletely as "nevertheless enjoyment."

The lexical process (and to wit the process of translation) is one of directed motion though internal space, just as a library is a process of directed motion of bodies and objects in physical space.  The mind ping-pongs continually from the term being defined to the the definition and back again in an endless loop seeking to fix the fluid meaning of a word in the brain's static lexicon.  Nailing a swarm of bees to a lump of clay.  (Nevertheless Enjoyment engages this process by completing the parenthetical clause on each page and providing an attendant definition for each newly-forged translation of jouissance:

of the word)

Slumps in the middle where history is.  That weight long ago. An initial
utterance, whereas it may be forgiveable, remains irretrievable.  You were
placed, then, by the fall of its shadow.  A blanket already thick with the 
years ahead. Or beside you, a penumbral mist. This is a life, I can tell you.
However coated it may before you emerge within it.

The book is concerned with the notion of taxonomy and the futility of same.  Birds and plants are continually classified ("Some species of birds you only see when they are dead"), invoking Adam, the supposed first husbander's Edenic task of naming--hubander--present also in its attendant sexual aspect ("I mean while you spilled warm across my back, I took note: that is unlike--or you are not--him."), perhaps an intentional reversal of Adam's naming-search for his desired counterpart.  Likewise adumbrated and classified are grocery lists, human hairs, articles of clothing, a "list of what you wanted by didn't end up getting in French)," all in the service of demarcating the parameters if the work's titular phrase.

If meaning is a psychic task, then (Nevertheless Enjoyment confounds it also by being an intensely physical (architectural) book, the futility of its task being most profoundly illustrated by drawing attention to the limited physical space of the page: with each definition the lexical units slide further and further down the actual physical page.  The net effect of this is of a flip-book animation of descent into nothingness when the pages are turned in sequential order, or an ascent to the indefinite point of origin when the process is reversed.  

As befits its Biblical procedure, (Nevertheless Enjoyment ends with an apple, but a "Chinese apple," presumably a pomegranate, resembling an actual apple in name only, but paradoxically accurate anyway insofar as the Bibilical fruit is theorized to be in actuality a pomegranate.  Accordingly, this entry is printed at the very nether region of the page, Eve is Persephone is Adam is no-one, a Dark Person.  Lexicons fall apart, "Not as appearance but evidence." The end result of hermeneutics in the actual world is confusion.  You will never know who killed the heiress, searching the library you will only become lost, or find that the tome has been stolen by one without honor or ethics.  In this sense (Nevertheless Enjoyment positions itself as the only successful, only possible lexicon.

(Nevertheless Enjoyment by Elizabeth Bryant is available from SPD here.

Bryant, Elizabeth. (Nevertheless Enjoyment. Charleston, SC: Quale Press, 2010.
Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. Aspyr Media, 2006.

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