15 October 2012

City of Slow Dissolve

In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guatarri address the concept of subjectification as a key aspect of the passional regime (as opposed to language as a system of signifiers) when they write:
There is no longer a center of significance connected to expanding circles or an expanding spiral, but a point of subjectification constituting the point of departure of the line. There is no longer a signifier-signified relation, but a subject of enunciation issuing from the point of subjectification and a subject of the statement in a determinable relation to the first subject. There is no longer sign-to-sign circularity, but a linear proceeding into which the sign is swept via subjects.
In other words, the philosophers claim that both Saussure’s signing system and post-structural thought designed to undermine that system (but which is still rooted in linguistics) cease to function in the passional regime. Instead, there is an enunciation issued from a point of subjectification (i.e. an assemblage) that conveys a statement containing subjects, all three of which are locked in a complex and reciprocal relationship that produces a series of affective responses. As one travels down this continuous line of enunciation, the next subject of the statement sweeps away the previous subject of the statement, producing any always becoming identity that resists the solidity and stagnation of ontology.

Stated differently and within the context of poetry: from the poet (i.e. the point of subjectification) emanates a poem (i.e. subject of enunciation) that contains a continuous series of identities (i.e. a subjects of the statement), which follow along a line and sweep each other away, one after the other.

With this concept in mind, the second poem of John Chávez’s debut collection City of Slow Dissolve (University of New Mexico Press, 2012), titled “Body, Subjectivation, Anchor,” reads:
It’s with July, its impermanent white days & lull of bees, its humidity stealing off the grey of cars, that I define summer’s withering away

the way a child, after all, becomes. The child: Wahsatch Avenue’s birdsong & the anchored sun. The child’s hands, yearning

for moor grass, anthills, train-pressed pennies & soil. The child: a burning photograph. The body: a cinder of waste. The voice:

an amphitheater of noise. I define the child: a coda of discordant music. I cast doubt on recovery. I sharpen the notes

made flat, revise the guises & box in the shimmering pines. Sun over the schoolhouse roof, I raze one letter

& the next, build the child to presume true the common kestrel & moonlight. The body’s

invention everywhere distant, its meaning against the city’s pellucid light effusing. (4)
Within the context of “Body, Subjectivation, Anchor,” then, the poem flows from Chávez along a line on which he defines “summer’s withering away” as “July,” then as “impermanent white days & lull of bees,” then as “humidity stealing off…cars,” and finally as the “way a child…becomes.” Not content with this series of displacements, Chávez sweeps further along the line, re-situating the child as “Wahsatch Avenue’s birdsong & the anchored sun,” a “burning photograph,” and a “coda of discordant music.” The displacements continue, and as they do, we’re told to “build the child” anew as an “invention everywhere distant” and always just out of reach: the child’s “meaning…effusing” into city’s ethereal light. The poet, the poem, and the poem’s ever-shifting content (i.e. the three dimensions of subjectification) create a protean and passionate identity that cannot be reduced to a traditional or stable subjectivity.

But City of Slow Dissolve is more than just an exercise in late-twentieth century theories of identity construction and displacement. The collection, as well, revels in a rhythmic and sensuous voice filled with lush diction that simultaneously produces a dense but gorgeous wordscape. Take, for instance, the first half of “The City Asleep in His Throat (2)”:
This hour a boy’s body is a busted hull is a myopic canvas of clouds a rain-scythed swath of pines and alders is a mum of nigrescent crows & morning dew is a façade of tubular rocks and the fullness of vineyards diverging into silence


This hour the city is a kaleidoscope of Elysian glass & a bright breeze in leaf-light is a waft of foliage & the washing glide of freshets and asphalt is a preposition forever at work in the verbing is a farcical circus & stand of clowns’ huckstering (39)
Yes, this passage enacts the previously mentioned concept of subjectification seen through an ever-altering “kaleidoscope of Elysian glass”; but it does so in an elevated idiom so riddled with alliteration that it conjures the likes of Wallace Stevens, who fused linguistic ornamentation with philosophical depth. Indeed, if City of Slow Dissolve accomplishes one thing, it is the melding of artistic beauty and critical thought in the form of a poem.

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