'do it, and again do it.': repetition, rereading, recognition in the poetry of Bruce Andrews
[from papers presented at a March 1999 conference at the University of Liege, reprinted in The Mechanics of the Mirage: Postwar American Poetry, edited by Michel Delville and Christine Pagnoulle (Liege Language and Literature, Belgium: 2000)]
Bruce Andrews, co-editor - with Charles Bernstein - of the magazine L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, is also author of a wide range of works of poetry, performance and other collaborations since the late 1960s. In this essay, I look closely at two of his works, 'Vowels' and 'No 53'. 'Vowels' is a sequence which was first published as a chapbook by O Press in 1976, and collected later in Getting Ready To Have Been Frightened (Roof, 1988). (I use the later publication and this is cited in the text as 'Vowels'.) 'No 53' is one of the pieces from Love Songs, a collection of works originally written in the early 1970s and published by Pod Books in 1982. Reading these two poems through and against the work of J. L. Austin and Erving Goffman allows me to observe matters and modes of with Austin's How to do things with Words and 'No 53' in relation to Goffman's essay 'On Face-Work' which the poem itself cites. The concern with performance ranges from the micro-textual linguistic performatives-the 'doing things with words'-of 'Vowels', to the textual interaction among the pieces in Love Songs. This range of performance modes in Andrews extends into contextual or extra-textual performatives, for example, in a work like I Don't Have Any Paper So Shut Up (or, Social Romanticism). In negotiating these textual relations I am aware of the authors' strategies of, rereading, of repetition, and of recognition, and I use similar strategies.
The title of J. L. Austin's book How to do things with Words might read (if the emphasis is placed on
) as a manual for a wordsmith, one who can work or play with words as an end in itself, as something that is fulfilled in its enaction. The title can also read (with the emphasis on
) as directed from words to the effects the words can have. This double aspect of Austin's title can relate to ideas of reference in writing and reading. A notion of poetry as a play with words, directed inwards, puts an emphasis on the intra-textual. It is concerned with a materiality of language on the page or in the mouth. By emphasising the things done with words, the focus is turned from the issue of reference to that of effect, of event. There is a concern with the extra-textual, with the field of action, with cause. Again worrying at the title, the verb
flickers between doing as causing to happen (emphasising
). All these options operate in the title, and also operate through Austin's book. My perhaps futile, effort to separate out the constituent elements of the title How to do things with Words is a pose, a presentation of the isolation of function and context, or form and content. These separations are ideal situations, impossible distinctions made for the purpose of analysis. They relate to such other ideal or impossible distinctions as Austin's isolated performative, or the individual turns in Goffman's interactions. The divisions parallel a series of pairings that runs through this paper-inside / outside, intra-textual / inter-textual, self as site of experience / self as source of effects-the maintenance of which leads the different authors into problematic areas. Austin and Goffman both admit that their distinctions are analytically expedient (Austin 145-147) ('On Face-Work' 29).
Austin's book as a
book, as a manual, demonstrates words and their effects, it puts isolated utterances on show, displaying their functioning. In its shape as the text of a series of twelve lectures
delivered ... at Harvard University in 1955
the book displays a variety of rhetorical devices and asides that reflect this context. These might include the misogynistic remark when defining the phatic act, implying that women speak more than men,
more often, 'said she'
(96). A speaker might presume the predominantly male Harvard audience would be receptive to such comments. In the lectures material is repeated and reiterated from section to section, and the reader rereads words, sentences, and examples in different situations. Austin's objective is to enable the reader to recognise the locutionary, illocutionary, and perlocutionary utterances when she comes across them. The book should furnish a reader with the ability to list, to classify, to assign each utterance to a category, by virtue of what things are done with the words. The conventional form of the lecture as a performance, as 'doing something', uses staging, citation, reiteration, the very modes and uses the text has sought to exclude, to define as beyond consideration. That which Austin sought to deem outside has been within his text, in what he was doing,
producing a programme
Bruce Andrews in 'Vowels' performs some of these same moves, of repetition, of reuse, of reiteration and in doing so provides the reader with a demonstration of the functioning of words in his text.
'Vowels' opens with an imperative, an imperative that is generalised in its address, and without a clear subject or object. It takes the form of food labels like 'avoid strong light' or a truncated warning notice such as 'you are hereby warned to avoid doing extra ...'. Austin includes such notices addressed to the second person among the peformatives or illocutionary acts in How to do things with Words (57). Performatives are so termed because they perform something in the act of saying or posting them. In this they are distinguished from the other speech acts, the locutionary and the perlocutionary, the first of which is a physical act of speech that has some particular sense, and the other a speech act that brings about or causes particular effects (Austin 109). This opening imperative has an internal contradiction if the object of the verb 'to have' is the same as that of1
avoid doing extra when you have. it will swell up. have all of it faltered to see it changing. changing. changing your mind later the sooner or better will make it exact, exacting. so consider how graceful, carefully, all the ones how many you do and how you would possibly want them. giddily. once is the worst. you prosper. ('Vowels' 6)
avoid--it's too late to avoid it if you already have done something, or when you already have avoided it. If the object of 'to have' is absent, the statement
avoid doing extra when you have.is incomplete, though the full stop gives the impression of a complete sentence. This leaves a gap that is pointed to by the wider space before the next phrase. The opening of the poem with a lower case letter, also points to a gap, 'a void', an opening in nothing as opposed to in medias res.
doing it this way is the opening('Vowels' 17). This void at the outset of the poem parallels the absence at the outset of all reading, the absent author, whose words are left as traces in her wake. Here is paralleled the absence of the referent, that referent which words point to but cannot make present. This absence allows for repetition as the graphic marks, the words, can be reused, translated to other contexts and can continue to function. As marks they are tied to no single unique situation but are transferable, doing things differently in new positions. In Austin's case though there are limits placed on the potential functioning of speech acts, and many instances are described as
voidby reason of mistakes, misapplications, flaws or hitches (18). He also excludes a particular category of speech acts as void and as not subject to consideration in his lectures.
[A] performative utterance will, for example, be in a peculiar way hollow or void if said by an actor on the stage, or if introduced in a poem, or spoken in soliloquy. ... Language in such circumstances is in special ways-intelligibly-used not seriously, but in ways parasitic upon its normal use ... (22)
Austin does not expand on this non-serious use of language, and does not address the extraordinary or special circumstances of his own lectures, as staged events, as performances. This
would eliminate all of 'Vowels' from consideration, would deem all its language use, all it does with words, to be extraordinary and so part of what Austin refers to as the
etiolations of language
(22). This making of language pale or sickly, through poetic or dramatic usage, to finds an echo in the appearance of
ghosts. a glacier.
in 'Vowels' (20). Etiolation implies a paling or fading of something, a loss of colour or life, and so might be linked to the pale remnants or revenants ghosts are. The sense of a ghost as a return, as a repetition, and as something recognised as such distances apparition from Austin's performative.
The second sentence,
it will / swell up.
(6), introduces to the poem a number of verbs that refer to growth or to alteration. This swelling read positively might be the ripening of a fruit, and read negatively the result of an injury, or a bite, which if serious might lead the sufferer to falter.
usually an intransitive verb has here been altered to function as a transitive verb. The verb becomes active; it has agency and can cause change. The word
is repeated three times, but it doesn't change in its orthography, it is visually the same word, but has altered grammatically, enacting the change it refers to. It alters from being an intransitive verb, to an adjective or noun, to the present participle of a transitive verb.
is both repeated and not repeated, it is the same word and is not the same. The different uses of changing are different types of speech act, the word does different things, it is the description of an existing condition
to see it changing.
; a possible command or declaration,
; and a subsequent result, a persuasion,
changing your mind later
. The variations of
parallel the reader's interaction with the poem. She is enjoined to
consider how graceful, carefully, all the ones / how many you do and how you would possibly want them.
('Vowels' 6), an order perhaps to attend closely to the text. Her contingent state however graceful or careful is never static, is only provisionally exact.
In 'Vowels' Andrews 'does things with words' and at the same time puts words on display as they perform. The preponderance of verbs in the poem, and especially the repetition of the verb 'to do', might parody Austin's lectures, but it also works to demonstrate the various functioning of verb types. A number of these verbs are of the class of explicit performatives that Austin calls expositive. The purpose of an expositive is
the clarifying of reasons, arguments, and communications
(163) and these verbs include describe, explain, consider, recognise, and find out.
explain it would mean describing / it.
('Vowels' 20). These expositives are used in the poem but lacking objects for clarification their arguments and communications refer the reader to their own operations. Isolated, with almost no nouns, the descriptions are considered and the explanations are found out and if any significance is recognised it is without a clear outcome or result. Austin writes that
the occasion of an utterance matters seriously, and that the words used are to some extent to be 'explained' by the 'context' in which they are designed to be or have actually been spoken in a linguistic interchange
(100). This situation of explanation is related to 'meaning', in explaining the words, the context gives the words a sense or meaning and to some extent fixes them. The movement is from the outside in, from the world to the text. Explanation here might almost be the inverse of how Andrews uses it. The word
has a particular place in Andrews's vocabulary, appearing in the title of the 1988 talk 'Poetry as Explanation, Poetry as Praxis' (P&M 49-71), and as one of the three chief divisions in the outline for the ongoing project referred to as 'Tips for Totalizers' (P&M 251). The essay 'Poetry as Explanation' calls for "a poetic writing more actively explanatory." (P&M 50) and goes on
Explanation ... reads the outside, it doesn't just read itself
(50). In an interview with Jeff Derkson and Kevin Davies Andrews expands on how explanation relates to writing and reading.
My sense of praxis is prescriptive, and it's based on the idea of explanation. The notion is that any explanation has embedded within it a particular prescription for how to change things, and that that very often has to be teased out of the explanation. And in the same way any prescription for change, and therefore any praxis carries with it, has embedded within it, an explanation, or a mapping ... of the social terrain that someone is interested in changing. (P&M 97)
The movement of explanation here is from the words outwards to explain the world that has given rise to them, and back to the words as a response to this world. It is an ongoing dynamic of change, and could seem an active
clarifying of reasons, arguments, and communications
as Austin describes the expositive (163).
'Vowels' can be read as an attempt to isolate Austin's different categories of speech acts, to develop a poem where the phrases operate as isolated events, singular, without results or prior conditions.
ask someone to explain the different varieties.
('Vowels' 7) Austin defines the performative act as singular, unrepeatable, and excludes its functioning in theatre or literature from consideration as this use of performatives depends on citation. But, as Jacques Derrida comments in his reading of Austin in 'Signature Event Context', citation and repetition are essential to the performative.
Could a performative statement succeed if its formulation did not repeat acodedor iterable statement, in other words if the expressions I use to open a meeting, launch a ship or a marriage were not identifiable as conforming to an iterable model, and therefore if they were not identifiable in a way ascitation? (Derrida 326)
Derrida's essay is in the form of a lecture, written to be delivered but presented as a text (330), it plays with notions of "communication" and of
(309). These are primary functions of language systems and rely on recognition and convention to operate. Austin by acknowledging the necessity of convention in the operation of the performative also allows for its repetition. Each instance, each utterance might be unique, but it depends on being recognised, on being known for what it was in order to be happy. Andrews's conjoining of the performatives and repeated sounds, verbs and phrases in 'Vowels' can function to unite the active potential of the performative with the repeatability of writing, of language systems.
21available. do this first. you can recognize it there it is it's visually a correct cognition. it's usually displaced or you can see it displayed. splayed. one touches one. if so you can do it with the significance. (26)
Repetition operates on various levels in this text. The /i/ sound in
is repeated through this section, in a mix of stressed and unstressed syllables giving a background sound. Over this there is the repetition of /ay/ sounds, mainly on stressed syllables, drawing attention to the development of words, of sounds, of homophonic variation. This variation is worked through
displaced ... displayed ... splayed
where these words, related by sound and sense, enact themselves. In the shift from
there is visual displacement, which is displayed, this display is splayed on the space, the place of the page. Repetition is available to the reader by visual cognition, the display may be seen.
one / touches one.
It is available also by aural cognition, in heard sounds.
A cognitive event is the reception of a stimulus, the awareness of this reception, and its contribution to knowledge or belief. To know correctly, a
correct / cognition
, would involve comparison or judgement and might be closer to a cognitive utterance, one that can be classed as true or false. For Austin the performative was not decidable as true or false, as an event it was not comparable to other facts but, in his terms, occurred happily or unhappily.
everyone is attempting themselves happy before the others, making them foolishly unhappy first. ('Vowels' 14)
The significance of a performative lies not in any result it may bring about, but in its doing what it says it does, in its happening. The significance of a cognitive event on the other hand, is not evident in being aware of it, but in some (re)cognition which involves repetition, in the comparison of events, in determining its truth or falsity. If Austin's performative is to remain singular then it is not available for comparison.
Through the use of paired phrases such as these two, isolated on following pages, Andrews explores the relationship between constative acts or descriptions and performatives. The development from one phrase or page to another causes the reader to pause over the difference in the near sameness. The two descriptive phrases attempt to explain a situation, and at the same time are caught in a paradox of stating and denying something at once. As acts these pairs may deny their own happening as they happen, presenting the reader with
16this did not really happen.
17this does not really happen. ('Vowels' 21, 22)
a paradox of haze.(16). This repetition and denial recurs.
i am not here. / i am nowhere here.('Vowels' 24) These statements are both
first person singular present indicative active statements, the favoured form of example in Austins lectures,
the commonest type of explicit performative(Austin 56).
There is something which is at the moment of uttering being done by the person uttering(60). In situations of verbal utterance or of signed inscriptions Austin states that
the 'I' who is doing the action does thus essentially comes into the picture(61). The singular
iin 'Vowels' denies its presence and at the same time that presence is evident, twice, doubled, in the denials. The
iis in the picture and at the same time is engaged in an impossible disappearing act. This absence in the present is ghostly. The trace of a self that is contingent on what happens
may be where the reader is, engaging with the text, or it may be a here that indicates a context, a social situation of the text, of the textual production.here
22there they are. ghosts. resemblance. do it, and again do it. someone does it. (27)
In this the final section of the poem the repetitions are repeated, acts are done and done again.
on which recognition may depend involves rereading a situation or repeating an encounter, relying on comparisons and recurrences. The performative similarly requires repetition; it cannot function as singular or unique. For the performative to occur happily it must be done according to recognised conventions, and be known or experienced by an appropriate audience.
someone / does it.
with an emphasis not on the
but on the possibly multiple
Austin's model of the speech event focuses not on the sentence but on the performance of an act. Andrews attempting to avoid the stasis of singularity, and a reading of Andrews's text that resists fixture, may be considered as performance. The poem works to counter the individualist, unique, originary model of the illocutionary utterance. It resists the construction of the performative as an unmediated expression, stressing the repeated, the reiterated, the reread, the conventional within it. Andrews's interest in the work of Erving Goffman, in his analysis of everyday life as performance, and of the self as a product of such performance can be linked to this. In one of the poems in Love Songs Andrews refers to Goffman. If 'Vowels' functions in part to display each phrase as a performative act, this piece functions as a performance between and among the elements of the writing.
losing face---- cf.On Facework, Interaction Ritual.
everything signifies everything.
which is this.
going down, verbatim.
I roasted them using my forehead as a spit.
which is this.
swastika parachute. (Love Songs unpaginated)
This is 'No 53' from Love Songs. It opens with a phrase in quotation marks, an academic gesture, citing, making reference to something elsewhere. It marks an absence and at the same time puts the phrase in context. This citation repeats two words from elsewhere, two words that have a literal meaning (the skin dropping from the front of someone's skull perhaps) and a metaphoric meaning, that the reader can recognise if she knows the essay she is referred to. On referring to the essay, on following that direction,
, I read that
is somehow the property of a participant in a social encounter.
[It] clearly is something that is not lodged in or on his body, but rather something that is diffusely located in the flow of events in the encounter and becomes manifest only when these events are read and interpreted for the appraisals expressed in them. ('On Face-Work' 4)
then is something that depends on reviewing, on rereading a situation, in order to determine its value or status afterwards. There is a tension between the flow of events as they occur and the subsequent analysis of that flow. The
, an abbreviation for 'confer' or compare, situates this text, 'No 53', as one among others rather than as some unique writing. It refers the reader to the repetition of reading, to rereading, to the recognition involved in reading, a repetition reflected in face-work.
, the title of the book in which 'On Face-Work' was first published, can describe this poem and also the reading of this poem. The poem itself is an interaction of the elements with each other. Reading the poem similarly is an interaction, between the reader and the text. Reading involves conventions of setting in the form of the book, in the arrangement of the elements on the page, in the publisher. The subtitle of the essay, 'An Analysis of Ritual Elements in Social Interaction' ('On Face-Work' 1), might point to these conventional or agreed upon factors in a reading situation. For Goffman the participants in an interaction have each an interest in keeping it going (7-8). With an unfamiliar text the reader, to avoid 'losing face', will work at taking turns in the encounter. This situation though does not always hold, as when the reader thinks she is being made fun of by a poem or written text, or she feels the text is without value, is without merit. The situation can be exacerbated if the reader is suspicious of the work to begin with, if presented with a work described as 'difficult' or 'avant-garde'. She may react to a turn as particularly disruptive, and this can provoke the ending of the interaction. To save her face the reader can reject the text out of hand, she can stop reading. The reader has a set of knowledge and experience that she brings to any text and this she can use in her face-work with it. If the reader chooses to read, but reads in a way resistant to the authors intended reading, or different from the expected reading, she will maintain face, and the text as interactant will maintain face also, as the interaction has taken place under a particular set of expectations.
The recognition of something as a poem is learned, and certain patterns of behaviour certain expectations come into play when we pick up a book. Expectations are specific to particular genres, and the title Love Songs sets up certain generic expectations. The poems do not conform to what I as a reader might expect of this title, and so offer possibilities of 'losing face' in a series of strange or difficult encounters. To maintain face in the face of this the reader must be prepared to shift familiar genre boundaries. The attachment of performance instructions to many of the works in Love Songs opens an approach to the book, the poems are performances, reading is performing these works. The book becomes a 'how to' book that educates the reader in how to engage with it. These are the notes or instructions attached to 'No 25'.
(Gradual translation: performance for three voices. The 22 words in each set set a field of possibility; their order, pitch, pacing, volume, etc. have to be specified later. Reading should be slow, with enough space for mutual interaction. Underlined words act as cues for the other 2 performers to begin again 'from the start'. (Love Songs)
These directions set a range of possibilities for the realisation of the poem, or for the imagined realisation of it by a single silent reader. There is the potential for endless variety in repetition. The three voices are imagined as being in
as the participants in one of Goffman's encounters might be. The pacing of the reading will allow for participants to respond to the other voices, to adjust their input in order to maintain face. "Thus while concern for face focuses the attention of the person on the current activity, he must, to maintain face in this activity, take into consideration his place in the social world beyond it" ('On Face-Work' 5). In the activity of reading there will be a concentration on, an attention to the poem, and at the same time the situation of the reading event, or of the text in the wider social context, must be kept in mind. The situations of interaction described by Goffman depend on the participation of all sides, and on an agreement to conduct the interaction in a particular manner (28). The situation, the interaction, might be considered void, or not to have occurred, in Austin's terms if the criteria are not fulfilled. Goffman also refers to
(27) a term that might relate to Austin's happy performatives with their need for
persons to perform them (Austin 15). Andrews doesn't seem to consider a non-active, non-engaged reader. His framing of the material, his presentation of the work, conceives of the reader as interacting, as meeting the text on some terms.
And individual spaces can make up a site for facework toward Language as a whole - (and that means: Society as a whole). In this implicit contract, this consensual agreement as you turn the page or reshape the lines or skew the sounds, how can you forget to sign your own signature? (P&M 265)
The possibility of a reader that makes no contact with the text, who does not enter into the reading contract, is not considered. For Andrews such a reader is perhaps not of interest, or is felt to be uninvolved in an interaction and so is not acknowledged.
The second element of 'No 53'
everything signifies everything.
It presents the reader with a tautology, if
signifies the word 'everything' or a concept 'everything' then signification is caught up in some self-referential loop giving it a very limited function. "(these two can be repeated, simultaneously, by two performers or tapes or tape loops)" (Love Songs nos. 46, 47). No 53 looks like a page from a commonplace book, with disparate items in contiguity. The phrase "everything signifies everything." is used elsewhere in Andrews's writing in a piece titled Index, where it is credited to Maurice Merleau-Ponty (P&M 5). The opening phrase of Song No 143 in Love Songs, "Everything is related to everything else", might be a paraphrase of the same words. The phrase also appears in Divestiture - E, again credited to Merleau-Ponty, with the added information, "Sense & Non-Sense" (unpaginated). Divestiture - E is printed from notes and journals, perhaps a commonplace book, a gathering of materials for future use. No 53 reuses material already reused, something that recurs throughout Andrews' writings. This collecting and reusing allows for the making of looping connections among disparate works, with other works by Andrews and other writers. The poem exists in an intertextual interaction, maintaining face in a flow of textual events.
The ranging of diverse elements in 'No 53', cut off from each other by full stops and stanza breaks, offers the reader an opportunity to see each singly, and also to make links between them allowing each element to signify another, each other. The use of citation, the repetition of words and lines, the minimising of contextual or generic indicators make the separate elements equivalent, they are different and also the same. Drawn from a diverse range of sources, of registers, no one element can be assumed predominant, no hierarchy is clearly evident. Each line has an equivalent status within the poem. The repetition of the line "which is this." is the clearest example of equivalence, yet in their functioning within the interaction these two instances are no more or less alike than any other two. Each line can be read as an individual occurrence of information or cognitive stimulus, and then observed in relation to the other lines. The pronoun "this" can refer to this poem I am reading, to this part of "everything", to this interaction ritual. My responses to this are "going down, verbatim." This word for word transcription involves a repetition, but in a changed state, it is translated in being turned to writing from speech. The phrase "going down, verbatim" usually refers to a situation of transcription, as in a courtroom, performed in order that the spoken testimony is preserved in some form for future consultation, as evidence. The poem may be the record of some verbal interaction, an exchange, the preservation of a dialogue by a stenographer. Its existence now is as a different situation, a repeat of the previous encounter, but now as an interaction between reader and text.
Goffman, in his essay, discusses the procedure and closing of an interaction.
[When] one person volunteers a message, thereby contributing what might easily be a threat to the ritual equilibrium, someone else present is obliged to show that the message has been received and that its content is acceptable to all concerned or can be acceptably countered. This acknowledging reply, of course, may contain a tactful rejection of the original communication, along with a request for modification. ... The interchange comes to a close when it is possible to allow it to do so-that is, when everyone present has signified that he has been ritually appeased to a degree satisfactory to him. (''On Face-Work' 30)
The fifth element and the final line of 'No 53' both read as disruptive to the equilibrium or equivalencies of the poem. In the turn taking of the interaction these turns force a double take, reconsideration. The sentence "I roasted them using my / forehead as a spit." is grammatically correct but is disturbed by the conjunction of "forehead" with "roasted" and "spit". To maintain face the other interactant or interactants will respond to save the interaction. Returning to the familiarity of the line, "which is this." might seem a weak response to "I roasted them using my / forehead as a spit.", but it functions to save the interaction, to keep it moving. The next line, "swastika parachute." ends the poem. It is the last line, the last word in the interaction. The ending may be the result of a recognised closing convention being used, or it may preclude any comeback. The interchange comes to a close, not because of any satisfaction, but because the breach has been too extreme. If the eight elements of the poem are each participants in an interaction, then the poem need not be read only as the record of turn-taking with opening and closing conventions, but can be seen as a "field of possibility" where "mutual interaction" can take place. The poem conventionally would be read down the page from the top, and each line read left to right. Approaching the page, or the book, as a field of possibility, frees up the roles of the individual lines. The title, or label "No 53" is not limited to a role of distinguishing this poem from the others, but freely associates with, comments on and adds to the other elements. 'No 53' at first recognised as a title is now relieved of this role, "this" may be 'No 53', 'No 53' is part of "everything". The line "swastika parachute." with its suggestive, highly charged words might, in this field, drown out a less charged line like "which is this.". But each interactant can develop new and repeated interrelationships with the others. The pronoun "which" acting as an endophoric referent (Wales 397) and allowing for the possibility of grammatical reference among the lines, gives some cohesion to the piece. It works to maintain face by reference to the other interactants, linking them element to element. "this", a shifter in Jakobson's terms, opens the poem out again, drawing into the interaction elements outside the parties involved, threatening face by changing the frames of reference.
In his critical writings Andrews refers to "face work" and along with the metaphorical reading as used by Goffman, there is a consideration of the literal, the physical meaning, an awareness of faces on bodies. "A mutually enhancing facework behind two bodies-a reader's & a language's-with the text as referee, to discourage fixing of positions" (P&M 266). The text and the language along with the reader are embodied, have face(s) that can be lost or saved. The interaction is presented as positive, but is discouraged from arriving at a fixed product.
Two-headed & double-backed. Reading language-drastically in action, in choreography or composition, in arrangement, presentation, reproduction, staging-always conceivably dialogic. (P&M 267)
This double effort of reader and language is dynamic and exciting and is kept in the air, in the ring, on stage, not settling into endings, keeping the curtain up. The writer/author is absent from (or to one side of) this interaction, except as another reader of language, and one of the contexts for the interaction. Andrews's doubleness of reader and language in action and his use of "explanation" can be mapped onto the model of self as double Goffman describes in 'On Face-Work'. Here he mentions a "double definition of self", the "self as actor" and the self as "object of ultimate worth" (25).
[T]he self as an image pieced together from the expressive implications of the full flow of events in an undertaking; and the self as a kind of player in a ritual game who copes … with the judgemental contingencies of the situation. ('On Face-Work' 25)
Andrews uses the terms inside and outside, text and context in his descriptions of reading or writing interaction. This double model might be related to a sense of the self as known through being the site of experience and the self known through being the site of effects on or interaction with others.
You're in some 'readership' of a text & that proposes that you have come to embody or articulate a lacy weave of conventions, protocols, pre-readings, literacies; coming from outside, 'explanation' doubles the text's own demand for such a readership. ('Under Erasure' 230) This sense of a self formed in and through social interaction, in social work or social play is something that appears in Andrews's critical writings. In later poetry such as I Don't Have Any Paper So Shut Up (or, Social Romanticism) (1992) or in the records of the performance works collected in Ex Why Zee (1995) this sense of a contingent self formed in and of the flow of events occupies the text.
Whites give me hives. Wet wires, Pope's poop happenstance grows in the past; let me solder your good up. There is no statute of limitations for crimes against humanity. We go to foreign countries in order to hear Muzak. Poison gap phenomenon or phenomena, the hen, type one up, ranchero losers. She pulled my zipper down with her chopsticks. Suspicious of crowds, the pathetic individual hangs on. It's true I'm more thoughtful so that puts a damper on spontaneity, grassroots Lacanianism, watch them work the fortune-cookie up into my nostril. Let me scour your bowl. (I Don't Have Any Paper 96-97)
The reader can try on the phrases, verbalise them or subvocalise them. In doing this she will be aware that many of them feel foreign by virtue of race, class, gender, or political opinion, there are lines that imply male or female speakers, Black or White speakers. The reader can perform the text, take the language and can rehearse a multiplicity of roles. The performer repeats bits of other speeches, makes the moves of others, the language is reused, reworked. Each piece is brief, a fleeting fit, relationships between bits can be discovered but any sense of a whole self at the heart of the text, behind the text, is put in question by the poem. The text with its radically disjunctive elements does form a texture where the jumpiness becomes usual or expected. The strictly adhered to structure of the book I Don't Have Any Paper, with its 100 poems of 600 words each, gives a formal wholeness to it. The repeated disruptions from phrase to phrase, word to word, can become monotonous over an extended piece where the variations begin to become the same, to be expected. The text is a piecing together of citations, into a fabric where the jostling voices maintain each other in a suspension, a dialogic balance. The energies of the individual elements repel and support each other like oppositely charged magnets.
do this, by splicing that. sewn motive, a patchwork, graft of intention. ('Vowels' 16)
In these different works Andrews deals with the performative in language, and with language as a performance. The work is kept from settling into a product, is kept in production. Its functioning does not reside in a proffered meaning nor does it offer the reader a self (the author's or the reader's) with which to identify. Performing the work, interacting with it operates as a model of social work, of social interaction, "an explanation of the social world." ('Vowels' 23). The work of writing and making this poetry involves repetition and recognition, these strategies are repeated by the reader. In this manner the works are heuristic, guiding or explaining their operation as they are read. Andrews's texts work to explain themselves, to demonstrate their reading in interaction with the reader. In this they have a social role, engaged in explanation they intervene for change in the social realm. The words are there to do things with, to engage in face-work with, to recognise in the text not a familiar self, but the space to perform a contingent self. For Andrews this is not a task that is done once, but is done again and again, repeatedly. Austin hopes to preserve a sense of the performative as unique, as original. These are the terms he invests with value and so he resists the "etiolated", devalued state of the cited, reiterated, quoted speech act. Andrews resists this model of the performative and of performance. He does not share the system of values that underpins Austin's model, Austin frames the performative as an ideal commodity, while Andrews works to resist the commodification of language, or language use as consumption. This is a political choice to resist the collection of consumer wants that is the individual in the developed world, and to explore other ways of being, to remain a field of possibility. "do it, and again do it." ('Vowels' 27).