In the first essay proper included in My Beloved Wager, “The Anti-Anæsthetic,” Erin Moure navigates the impossible and contradictory spaces of the writing self in poetry. In my final plateau on her work, Pillage Laud, I would like to focus primarily on this poetics piece—while, at times, dipping into other essays included in this collection—to discuss the difficult issue of authorship in the computer-generated text. While “The Anti-Anæsthetic” does not deal directly with the computer-generation element of authorship that we see in Pillage Laud, her comments therein on the structure of poetry are strikingly relevant to this discussion. In this essay, Moure distinguishes between poetic “form” and poetic “structure,” two terms that frequently get conflated in in poetic study (and this project is no exception). “Form” is a highly politicized category with a long history in poetry of reinforcing tradition and the status quo. As such, Moure is quite explicit about being interested in “[s]tructure, not form. And the social consequences of structure” (21). If “form” refers to the ways that a poem interacts with the tradition of formal organization—meter and rhyme, types of poems, the interplay of visuality and aurality—Moure shifts her attention to “structure,” which refers to the materiality of the text and its organization without the markers of traditional expression, and thus traditional study. While the distinction may seem inconsequential at first, the move from “form” to “structure” offers her the opportunity to focus on issues of materiality that often get ignored or absorbed into formal study. “It’s materiality that interests me in writing poetry,” she writes, “words and the force of words, sounds, and signification, as well as the relation between the parts or particles, the interrelation of parts in the whole” (22). And throughout this essay, Moure’s interest in materiality leads her to looking at the gaps a fissures caused by materiality, wherein the physical elements of the text and its production reveal the incomplete nature of expression and of meaning. These “gaps” in expression “make the body present as a reader, and make it impossible to be satisfied with a surface that alleviates anxiety; the oh-what-a-beautiful-poem representation and effect” (27). This is to say that a reading that ignores materiality in favour of meaning, ignores the reading body in favour of the direct transmission of ideas and expression, produces in the reader an “anæsthetic,” a reduction of the anxiety produced by the politicized structure of a poem—something akin to Bruce Andrews’s “absorption.” For Moure, meaning and its driving force, representation, are the primary culprits of an anæsthetic reading.
For Moure, as for the other authors in my project, meaning is inherently incomplete and thus impossible; “words,” she reminds us, “cannot entirely convey our desires” (22). But, poetry can work to bring to the fore the incomplete nature of meaning-making and meaning-reception through sound, through aurality, which is inherently tied for her with the concept of memory that I have discussed previously. Moure writes that “[s]ounds unlock memories which precede the laws of social order. Sounds that precede words. The sound is where memory coalesces in the poem” (23). In some ways, this statement recalls the kind of logocentrism that Derrida attacks in Disseminations, the notion that speech or live memory precedes the graphic process, and thus suggests a truth outside of language, but gestured toward with every articulation. Moure navigates away from this dangerous logocentrism by instead suggesting that all attempts at conveying meaning articulate not an external truth, a logos, but rather the fluxuating and incomplete desires of a nebulous speaking subject.
It may seem strange that in a discussion of the authorial poetics of an ostensibly computer-generated text would lead Moure, and by proxy myself, to a discussion of a speaking subject and his/her attempts at meaning-making. But, as Moure asserts in “The Anti-Anæsthetic,” ignoring this facet of writing would be a misstep. “Of course,” she writes, “we can’t speak about sound without admitting the presence of the speaker, that socially constructed being who enacts it” (24). In this equation, Moure aligns “sound” with Julia Kristeva’s “semiotic,” and the “sign” and its concomitant meaning-making as Kristeva’s “symbolic,” entering into the Law of the Father (vis a vis Lacan) (ibid). As we move the sign away from its immaterial meaning-making processes, by foregrounding its materiality and altering its traditional usage, sound, memory, and the Kristevan semiotic and disrupt this Law (25). When poetry attempts this practice, the reader can observe “a leak out of meaning and a folding back on meaning, an excess, not a complexity of meanings but the way that new meaning occurs” (ibid). Pillage Laud brings this process to the fore, replacing the traditional speaking-subject with the cyborg author (a merger of flesh and machine) while at the same time retaining the dominant traditional grammatical structures of the sentence. In this way, the text reminds its reader that “even the breakdown of the logos is buried in the logos” (29), and we can never read or write either complete within or without these structures. The anti-anæsthetic is the “insensible” (ibid), and in Pillage Laud it is buried right into the structures that organize and guide anæsthetic meaning.
Because Pillage Laud claims to be a book of lesbian sex poems, however, we cannot ignore the social structures that construct the speaking subject. While Moure focuses in this essay on the materiality of the text and of the bodies that read and write it, she is also particularly sceptical of identity discourses, arguing that sexual desire (and, for her, especially feminized sexual desire) resists an identity discourse (28). The cyborg author of Pillage Laud, I would like to argue, is an attempt to articulate this desire incompletely; the merger of machine and flesh is itself an intercourse filled with desire and produced in flux[i]. In this way, the text neither relies on a clearly delineated speaking subject, nor does it attempt to completely refuse authorship. And this, for Moure, is integral to the radical political potentials of the text. She goes on to write that:
If poetry just privileges the author’s voice, without self-questioning, or if it tries to make the subject vanish, it fails to take into account this social and linguistic contradiction, … and if it fails to take into account the dynamic between the mainstream and the marginal, it will fail to deal with how information is conveyed and fall into the Order created by the public, thus perpetuating it. (33)
In this way, Moure encourages a poetics not of battling with or attempting to destroy the authorial voice or the presupposed identity of the speaking/writing subject, but rather what she calls a “cherishing” (34). A poetics of “cherishing” embraces an authorship in flux, encouraging a common love rather than an antagonism; it is self-questioning while always already acknowledging that sound must come from a socially constructed speaking subject. While this process is of course possible outside of the computer-generated text, I would argue that the inclusion of machine writing and the digital[ii] elements of the produce of Pillage Laud makes it a prime example of this “cherishing” authorship made manifest. The confusion and incompleteness of meaning making is thus imbued right into the very materiality of the text and its production. As Moure claims elsewhere, her work “is all about being hurtled or saddened, or a combination, trying to get some of the confusion about feeling into the material of the poem” (“My Relation to Theory and Gender” 87). The result is that we must read the author of Pillage Laud, cyborg though she is, as a text herself.
To read the author as a text is to admit complicity in the production and reception of socially constructed identity. And, as Moure argues in another essay collected in My Beloved Wager, “we must admit complicity with the social structure, and this admission to me is to divulge and admit our stake” (“For Scoping Girls” 90). As I have suggested elsewhere, the way to admit our complicity in the social structure while at the same time putting conceptions of identity and self under scrutiny and in flux is by understanding the human body (and the argument could probably be made for the inclusion of non-human animal bodies in this discussion, though that is outside of my focus and my abilities at this juncture) as containing code, as physical reality that is read and translated into something readable by a larger sphere. “Bodies,” Moure writes, “are coding devices” (91) from which otherwise insensibilities (for example, desire) are read and organized by way of Order, Law, and meaning making. The inclusion of the digital in the process of writing (and reading) makes it thus even more important to read the body as such. Moure admits that “it is critical to consider the body not as self-enclosed and complete but as a coding practice” (94), and the cyborg authorship of Pillage Laud makes this doubly so. As readers of the computer-generated text, we must then become interested primarily with words as the articulation of coding, “enacting a poetry that … does not operate as representation but as designation—an act or coalescence—of being, that both counters the grain of power and recognizes … its complicity with and in those structures” (95). Pillage Laud is at once the excess of meaning and the recognition of its inevitable complicity in the transmission of sense from speaker to reader. This process is inescapable. Instead, Pillage Laud doesn’t care about a New Sentence, but more importantly (and, I would argue, more effectively) it cares about sneaking the insensible into the Old Sentence. The computer-generated nonsense of the text functions as a forkbomb in the typical coding process, instigating a process of excess (excess of meaning, of desire, of selves) that repeats and folds in on itself until the larger structures start to give way.
[i]Moure never claims to oppose or to embrace authorship; she is always explicit about her fraught relationship to authorship. As she writes in “My Relation to Theory and Gender,” “I don’t trust too easily the process of setting down, and being the author of, writing” (88).
[ii]I should add an important caveat to my discussions here and elsewhere about my understanding of Pillage Laud as a digitally-inflected text. While the text is not, as digital humanists would argue, “born-digital,” the digital elements of the production of this text are indeed integral to the reading of the piece. Without a basic understanding of computer-generation, and of Charles O. Hartman’s MacProse program, the text can neither be produced nor fully read. Something of it is lost when we ignore the machine involved in its production. While I do not have the space or time to discuss it here, there is significant precedent to read this text as “post-digital” poetics, as articulated by Florian Cramer.