A review of The Body, Jenny Boully, Slope Editions, 2002, 80 pages, $12.95'
By Dale Smith
There are bodies of evidence, of transgression, ritual and consumption. Bodies of knowledge, feeling, space and sensuality converge into forms that relate physical and imaginative projections. The body is an illusion, a grouping of cells in rebellion to codes and signs that brand it to transform it. A body is meaningless; only its appearance gives meaning. It's the ultimate product, a gratifying medium of appetite. It can be prepared for sexual encounter, or it can shield its host from painful contact. The body is a revelator of racial origin, or a morphological mask of cultural or geographic sources.
William Blake: "Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that calld Body is a portion of Soul discerned by the five Senses."
Jenny Boully's book-length essay, The Body (Slope Editions), presents a series of footnotes appended to an absent body of words. I'm not interested in projecting onto that considerable absence. I am glad to be rid of the tiresome narrative, to be left only with the notes, the juice and inwardness. Narrative is out of shape. It needs a diet. The footnotes to this big blank give Boully a justification for extending Modernism's fragment crystals. Her footnotes are really poems, prose revelations of her creative and textual environments. What Blake called the Divine Body or the Creative Imagination in this book is projected from the living pulses of its author. Intelligence works here, and it's sincere despite the crass reminder, that obscene space dominating her pages.
Why wilt thou give to her a Body whose life is but a Shade?
Her joy and love, a shade: a shade of sweet repose:
But animated and vegetated, she is a devouring worm
Her screen is also the open space of disaster. It's the ground zero of texts to which personal feelings and thoughts are but slight appendages. After the sheer pleasure of the spectacle, in the banal presence of the ruins, peripheral images form. These are antithetical to the big narratives of State and Economy. Behind our mediated and compromised bodies there's a Manichean battle. Disaster threatens every moment. Not even Charles Wright (FBI) can save us. Who can peer through their screens to realign the cathode ray?
Ezekiel 1:4: "And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire."
Even the sky casts images; so too, the black of night, the whitest page, our unadorned flab.
Some mornings the sunlight on the yard reaches with impassive gloom. How lovely that depressing movement. How indifferent. But suddenly something clicks, a wheel within a wheel. The baby is crying. The dishes are in the sink. My little life, in all its imaginative glory, shines.
But the count keeps coming, and I am the screen, the receptor of images. April is the cruelest month. War gods cluck over coffee, admiring their plans. They dispatch spirits into erupting matter. A church ignites, sending a vertical black plume into blue firmament. Bomb(s) deface a federal building, stone crushing screaming daycare tots. The 98th Meridian snakes up the Midwest. The screen is fat with images. We're caught in the upload and download, a switch signaling endlessly. The body of the public rises with dramatic ceremony. Then, in its liberation, it walks off stage. There's a bow, a few hangings, political murders and tear gas for the masses. (Even old Odysseus strings his maids out on the line). And poof. Into thin air, or the blank pages of a book, the projected images of our world vanished.
Jean Baudrillard: "The magical seduction of the world must be reduced, annulled. And it will be so the day when all signifiers receive their signifieds, when all has become meaning and reality.
"This would be, quite obviously, the world's end."
Jenny Boully: "I want a new category. The game host is cruel. I act in the manner that I think will, in the end, be more rewarding. I like to think someone is secretly watching and loving me. It makes me feel utterly tragic & cosmic in my emotional proportions. Magical things befall daily. Dare I think [illegible]? I have refused call after call because I truly believe that the journey shouldn't be unless it is magically in-tune with my vision."
She's writing into a chronicle of disaster. Here, fate pushes appearances forward, tweaking our attention. Likewise, chance intervenes to relieve me of summer's cruel intensity. Here's cold beer, a dark corner and conversation already older than old. "I don't see the evidence," someone says, but that's because he has never truly appeared to himself. But then again, we all seem caught in the tensions of appearing and disappearing.
Jean Baudrillard: "When things go faster than their causes, they have the time to appear, to occur as appearances before even becoming real. It's then that they keep their power of seduction."
Again: "We believe in a hidden sexual truth of the body, this body being nothing more than a surface for decipherment. We believe in the primacy of an informal energy, or of a depth of meaning (the law inscribed deep in people's hearts) whose purpose is to make its way through the confusion of signs. And we're ready to transgress established codes to make the Law and Truth shine forth in their splendor."
You want evidence of a world, but there's only-if you're lucky-an adventure into inwardness. How connect through these flesh vessels? Sexual pleasure substitutes for something other, something alien to the flesh and its blinding secretions.
Boully: "poetry is an instant, an instant in which transcendence is achieved, where a miracle occurs and all of one's knowledge, experiences, memories etc. are obliterated into awe. Is anything I say real? And by real, I mean sincere-or is everything an attempt to procure love? I know now why the line breaks: it is because something dies, and elsewhere, is born again"
Baudrillard (again?): "Our fundamental destiny is not to exist and survive, as we think: it is to appear and disappear."
Poetry is perfection too, the practice of relations.
These footnotes read with Sei Shonagan's wise physicality. On the other hand, these tendons and muscles, mucus secretions and toe jam are contrary to our idealism. They interject a broad claim onto our attention. Boully's body of blank pages only brings this physicality forward, brutally managing it as the draining limit to imagination. But now the screen seems wider. The sky, not the page or the televised image, makes a proper relation to our Stone Age cranium clusters. We still imagine in the realm of the Upper Paleolithic, not according to tedious social urgencies, etc.
Boully: "23 The marginalia are as follows: (1.) So too will we confront the one whom the gods have created for us; (2.) And, alas, it is so; (3.) If this is true, then the implication is that one cannot destroy what is feared-the general attributes are embodied elsewhere; (4.) Failure of love to be more than fleeting; (5.) Yes, our hero goes alone; (6.) What is feared takes the shape of a serpent; (7.) This would make a lovely title; (8.) The gifts of course are symbolic of spiritual unions; (9.) ha ha!; (10.) Is he speaking of he virgin or a whore?"
Reconciliation to bodies is absurd. They are to be tested, as the spirit, pushed to whatever limit the imagination can restore. These footnotes show with quiet thoughtfulness a living adventure within the noisome burden of the present. Forget silence, absence or void-any of that. There's too much of everything. It's a cacophony driving us mad, distracting us, throwing our center into an endless traffic jam. Boully attends the quiet of Art and dream.
Boully: "97.1 'It was not I that revealed the secret of the gods; the wise man learned it in a dream' (G.)."
Vallis (Bombastus) Faber: "The body steps away from you. It finds itself useless. All around you they are stricken by the madness of civilization. A wheel in the sky is burning. Wheels inside yet more wheels. The question is, quite bluntly, what to do with them. (All six billion?-or just mine?) What's a body to do?"
Perhaps that's not a poet's concern. Blake's answer: "my business is to Create".
I take clear notes from The Body, and dust a little ash (Montecristo) from these pages as I write. Sunlight drenches the veranda. A decanter of brandy plays with the late evening reds. A cardinal yodels distantly. I absently flip pages in David Erdman's volume of Blake, finding again that sweet nostalgic hope in liberation before security took us by thrall.
The Divine Vision still was seen
Still was the Human Form, Divine
Weeping in weak & mortal clay
O Jesus still the Form was thine.
And thine the Human Face & thine
The Human Hands & Feet & Breath
Entering thro' the Gates of Birth
And passing thro' the Gates of Death.