Eleni Stecopoulos
_________________________
Hermes Butts In


     He took the word "order" and let it go,
     its friend, he strolled with the ripples of
     its sounds and signs, ordure
     he cried...
                            Clayton Eshleman
        I've borrowed my title from a Clayton Eshleman poem, and thus dedicate my excursion to Hermes, protector of boundaries, god of poets and thieves, de Certeauean poachers on company time. I have been interested in hermetic poetries for a while, and I long ago came to see hermeticism not so much as the paranoid compulsions of linguistic freaks (or the linguistic compulsions of paranoiacs?) but as passage intertextual and cross-cultural, the very play of boundaries that composes cultural space. Writing on Serres, Harari tells us that Hermes as messenger "is constantly on the move...[he is the] philosopher of plural spaces... A conception of space crucial to Serres's epistemology: 'To break with every strategy: the nonthanatocratic solution is to fragment space,' to opt for local versus global solutions..." But, continues Harari, "the guide keeps moving; he connects, disconnects, and reconnects the endless variety of spaces he traverses. Hermes turns weaver of spaces: a weaving together of places that are closed, isolated, inviolable, inaccessible, dangerous, or mortal..." (Serres, Hermes: Literature, Science, Philosophy xxxiii).
        I must admit when I first heard "place(less place)" I thought it somewhat vague and precious... And it is perhaps still precious, but its vagueness, the wandering and indefinability it connotes, has the potential to remind us of some of what I believe is at stake in poetics. Of course, placeless place can come to mean any indeterminacy or hybridity or deferral -- the unbound -- the always bound for, never arrived. Thus it is vague and extravagant, and ultimately useless, and thus perhaps useful
        I think of placelessness mostly in terms of liminality and transgression, Robert Duncan combatting governmental, military, and corporate orders with poetic form; I think of it in terms of the imagination, the art of memory, Giordano Bruno's infinite universe. It's nothing new to think of the mind or the imagination as a space, but this can be the externalized compendium of an ars memoria or the omonoia of Alexander's empire, a value translated as harmony but insidiously implying the union of different peoples under the same brain... It is an idea, in a way which recalls the quarrel over the internet, not liberatory or oppressive in itself -- only a means of initiating a dialogue; a touchpoint, a topos itself, for thinking about cultural and poetic space.
        In the memory theater of Giulio Camillo, the spectator stands where the stage would be and looks outward, to the nonexistent audience, to the images plotted there, in order to speculate on the images in his own recall. Something like a gigantic filing cabinet pulled inside out, or the mind imagined outside itself. Never mind that it appears the first installation art, what's significant is that it had to be a literal place which held the shorthand, the stenography (and the steganography?) of infinite worlds. If we can understand a book ultimately as a space in which to read, or as the Quiche Maya do, as "a place to see", what the memory theater does is to literalize the metaphor of the book. De Certeau has taught us to pay attention to the consumer, to the reader, in the practice of everyday life. If a "placeless place," then, is a space where we are reading out into the dark audience of our minds, then it is more than precious, it is the necessary center of absence, the open chora (and I don't mean Kristeva's) of the imagination.
        What's most interesting to me in imagining placelessness at the moment and what it might have to do with poetics is to locate resistance in particulars of space and time. Placelessness as the contesting of cultural space performed by expressive bodies, as resistance against physical, cultural, poetic and intellectual containment. As situated behavior there is a way in which performance obviously enacts place. But I would say it also can enact the placelessness of the body politic, the body enformed and unbound, going against orders and against the grain... Dance can be thought of as the human body making patterns in time and space, and I have in mind here the Ghost Dance of 1890 as practiced by the Lakota Sioux up until the massacre at Wounded Knee. Working on the Ghost Dance in the context of federal policy toward Native Americans, an environment of removal, land allotment, reservation, I've found that most critics too readily see the syncretism of the movement as unconscious subsumption under the Christian, and too easily pose the massacre as the inevitable outcome or telos of this "last gasp." But what gets forgotten in the attention to genocide is the dance itself, a complex and continually renovated aesthetic form, a spiritual, cultural, and political movement that was transmitted not only by sign language, but by letters and emissaries travelling on the railroads of the West.
        I see the Ghost Dance as a "placeless place." First, the reservation is itself such a placeless place, where Indians are held in a trial period until the government makes up its mind about their place in the union. In unionist space, the Indian nation is exterior to and excursive of American union. But the Ghost Dance enacts a poetics of resistance to Federal orders, it is a tactics whose patterns, form, and solidarity poach on the concentration and borders of reservation life.
        The Ghost Dance creates a placeless place by enacting a cultural space, or the lack of it, which challenges American space. It is a location of culture the plotting of reservations cannot permit. The aesthetic form of the dance counters legal orders. It cannot be plotted on the grid of federal logic; its confederacy fundamentally rejects the way that law makes land into property, the way logos draws land into abstraction. When land cannot be alienable, when it cannot be possessed, it is placeless and communal. When it cannot be civilized or settled it itself is nomadic, outside the law... *
       One is always in danger of romanticizing such events, and of course what poetics I locate in them does not change that these are tactics -- "the art of the weak" -- and what happens to the weak; it does not change who the weak are. But in reading resistance we have come to see only tactics, and only weakness, and in our indictments we have increasingly lost sight of what choices people make, what choices of language and form. That cultural practice has to do with aesthetic choices that are political. People do choose, even when they have no choice; they choose how they will enact their constraints. And that is art. We have, out of various intentions, read acts of resistance overwhelmingly as pathetic and unconscious and not as poetic consciousness. Discussing Creole language, Edouard Glissant distinguishes between a free and a forced poetics, but the forced or constrained emerges as no less poetic in its frustrated desire. To see critique and not just victimhood, to see poetics not pathetics, not the unconscious behavior of primitives sacrificed in the attempt to force them into American space -- this does not annul or euphemize genocide.
        And this is as much poetics as the memory theater or Dickinson's marginalia or Paterson...  And I think that is what I'm fighting to learn and to include, to learn how to read the poetics, free and forced, of a Ghost Dance as being as necessary to our poetic and noetic common ground... And this isn't just a question of western or non-western, but of the occultation of form and language in textualities we have not been able to fitˇor haven't seen fit to research -- in our memory theaters. Our poetics needs to include more performance, more history in the form of acting bodies whose resistance is bodily witnessed. And by this I don't mean a return to cultural poetics which bleeds out all the poetry, read language, as if language had nothing to do with history. But a cultural poetics truly about poetics, thick with description of language and form in all its locations and presences. Paying attention to the body of songs which accompany the Ghost Dance as well as the bodies of Wounded Knee. Thinking about the ecstasy of the dancers, of going outside the body, of going out of bounds in this way and what it says to containment and to reservation. Seeing the millennialism of returning buffalo and disappearing whites as a revisionary historiography, as a way of denying the coevalness of the invader. We need to read performance events and cultural history and folk epistemology as embedded in and with the experimental or avant-garde poetries we value, if we do believe that they are all participant in arts of resistance to commodification, to orders, to containment -- in arts de faire. This is what I want to work towards. 
. . .
        I do not want to be a specialist carving out my piece of land. I want to be a perpetual student in perpetual travel. The study of literature is crippled by the national divisions it continues to uphold. Departments and disciplines are territories and you're not to poach on someone else's turf. It is equally crippled by its insistence on a fallacious synchronic model which believes that only reading a writer's contemporaries is relevant to "historicist" practice -- and not who she read, not remote, past, ancestral or heteroglossic interlocutors. Diachronic considerations always become spurious, become archetypal and invalid -- because even if we were talking about such things as "archetypes," myth has nothing to do with history. But why would imagining the present of a text be at odds wth tracings and genealogies which cross time and space and other unlocatable graphing? Have most writers we work on imagined themselves so locally that they bore no affinity to geographic or temporal others, or to otherness? The mandates and proscriptions of the academy become absurd. It suffers in general not only from a lack of imagination, but a lack of belief in the imagination as integral to history. (Imagined alterities are as historical as magazines.) It draws up its gridlines in a way not dissimilar to federal policy in consolidation of the union. If our experience of language, our poetics, is necessarily intertextual, then how can we think to eject the diachronic? If we believe in the embeddedness of words, in correspondences, if we argue for the reader?
        We want to know what is it that distinguishes us from the other, what is going to confer identity as critic, what will confirm our authority. Our professionalism is threatened when the boundaries melt down, when Hermes butts in with a rude joke. Instead of being allowed to offer one's idiosyncratic way of reading, confluences, particular experience which could make a contribution to the forum, one must stake out a position or join a camp. Professionalism is rife with bellicose metaphors, and our profession seems particularly plagued by them. Reading and writing which appears "roving" to the conventional reader, which attempts leaps and crossings, yes, transgressions literally and unsensationalistically, are punished by unquestioned assumptions of "relevance", "validity", and "field" -- the livestock have strayed, and how are you going to get them to market? These are concepts that will only permit narrow interpretations of themselves, and restricted notions of the right kind of temporalization and spatialization -- which only wants to talk to neighbors, not the obscure, the esoteric (which is worse than the exotic), the far-out.
        What you are admonished against, in effect, is continuing to be a student -- or, you're only allowed to be a student in a limited manner whose function is really to maintain and confirm your mastery. You're conscripted into a pedagogy which asserts values with which any pedagogy termed "ethical" today would have nothing to do -- namely, a monolithic assuredness of place and role, confirmation of scope of knowledge and command of that scope.  As in, you know where you live, and you don't go to that part of town.
. . . 
        There's a risky or maybe just offensive analogy brewing here between cultural and intellectual resistance, but I'll let it stand. If we think of our work as action, if we think of it as poetics, then a Ghost Dance is such a mode of our collective, and our project should be a nomadism which runs over and does violence to the territories of academic title, disciplinary boundaries, the allotment of legitimacy. This is romantic, you protest, guerrilla language appropriated to lend cache to an elitist milieu. Perhaps. But I'm arguing that this is our poetics as well as Dickinson, Spicer, or Zukofsky. And this is American space shocked into recognition of its heterologous zones, space that can't be zoned. If form is an extension of content, then method only draws out or abstracts from its topoi of critical action; it is a kind of memory -- it takes form on the road...
         My envoi? See note below: limitations of time and space prevent me from exploring this issue further.
 

* In discussion following Ben Friedlander and Brian Lampkin emphasized that unlike others, the Lakota cannot reconstitute their "place" in another space; the physical site is intrinsic to their cultural location. By the same token the Lakota are rendered "placeless" by being held, forced to live, on that same land now made a reservation, which irrevocably alters it and in effect makes it not the same place -- a placeless place.


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