The Odes to Tl61P: an experiment in reading pt 2.

Each time you unscrew the head the truths burn out
and fly away above the stack of basements inundated
in aboriginal mucus, elevating the impeccable,
hereafter congenitally depilated Janine rescaled to a
grainy blank up on to the oblong top of the freezer 
whose shut white lid unhinged at the back alone
preserves a pyramid of rigid meat, budget pizzas,
devirginated arctic rolls, only ever kidding in a
prophylactic void torn into great crates of glittering
eye shadow, dowsing all its stickiness in dark empty 
swerves, for no-one is the radius of everything we 
are,  reinforced steel artery in the very integument

Last time you dealt with the first 2.5 lines and didn’t do terribly well other than throw out a number of half worked through guesses but now you’ve read the Enitharmon blurb and you feel a little more confident about the fray to come. Before you get to the hairless Janine you need to start with “elevating the impeccable” and (by careful re-reading) you gather that it is the truths of line one that are doing the lifting. You haven’t checked but you’re taking “elevating” to indicating some kind of raising up. People are elevated to the peerage, priests are elevated to become bishops etc. There’s also elevations in terms of building plans but you don’t think that elevating is involved in producing these. So, these truths that have burned their way out are now lifting this woman / girl who is said to be “impeccable”. You don’t understand how something abstract like a truth can do something physical like rising somebody up. Then you recall that to elevate can also mean to inspire and / or lift to a higher state of consciousness which would be more in line with an abstraction like truth. In leftist terms the Truth about Capital should inspire people to join the struggle nd the fact that it doesn’t is now one of those tricky and hence ignored elephants in the room.

You then decide to think about “impeccable” and realise that this is quite a complex adjective that doesn’t quite mean “flawless” but might indicate that someone is beyond reproach, difficult to criticise, we say “impeccably turned out”, for example, to indicate that somebody has achieved the highest level in terms of both sartorial elegance and general appearance, usually in the context of a specific event.

You look at the OED which gently informs you that, when applied to people, the word means “Not capable of or liable to sin; exempt from the possibility of sinning or doing wrong”. When applied to things it means “faultless, unerring”. Now, this doesn’t work for you, neither of these seem to mirror your experience and use of the word in the ordinary world that most of us inhabit. You then realise that there is a note next to the definition which points out that this hasn’t been updated since 1899 and you follow the link to something called Oxford Dictionaries Online which tells you that the “incapable of sin” definition relates to theology and is now considered to be rare whilst the main definition is now “in accordance with the highest standards, faultless”. You are still not happy because in your head it applies to n action or quality that is above criticism which doesn’t seem quite the same as without fault.

You’ve had a response to the first of these readings re the identity of Janine: “Since we’re speculating … a (carefully circumscribed) internet search brought up adult film actress Janine Lindemulder. I’ll leave it to someone else to confirm her depilation, but the reference seems to fit with a recurring theme/trope of the poem; it also obviously adds another semantic valence to much of the quoted passage. Couldn’t decide if your ‘nagging’ doubt was about this line of inquiry, so I’ll tastelessly broach it for you.” You’re holding out for Alasdair Gray’s “Janine 1982” because it’s vaguely literary although you also know that porn is a bit of a sub-theme (technical term) in The Odes. Of course “impeccable” in its theological sense doesn’t easily fit with either of these characters but some sense may be made of the theology of truth and the elevation to heaven of those without sin.

You move on to “hereafter congenitally depilated” and this is one of those places where sense seems to go a bit adrift. If we’re to take ‘congenital’to mean something that is present since birth then ‘hereafter’ as in ‘from now on’ doesn’t make sense. The other observation is that some of us don’t have much hair at all when we’re born but in this instance it would appear that someone has shorn Janine at birth and she has stayed that way or that she has been regularly depilated ever since. At this point your brain loses patience with itself and you begin to feel that this close examination may be an exercise in futility. As a last throw of this particular dice, you check the verb nd discover that there is a secondary definition: “To deprive of it’s skin, decorticate, peel”. Given that your previous reading had detected at least one reference to torture, this changes things around a bit. Removing someone’s skin is a particularly barbaric thing to do and flaying felons was for centuries a mainstay of our penal system and (you’re guessing) an important activity still deployed by states in basements around the world. You don’t want to get carried away with the God thing but many martyrs were flayed alive and many of these were said to be incapable of sin. You’re also reminded that flagellants flourished across Europe in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries so you check the wikipedia page that informs you that whipping yourself is much older than that.

You seem to recall that Prynne has used “congenital” in the fairly recent past and you try to remember where but fail and, anyway, knowing this probably won’t be that much help.

You move on to the Janine problem and fall across a remarkable site called “whosdatedwho.com” which contains a list of 63 Janines who might be considered to be celebrities. You love this stuff, Janine Lindemulder (porn star, probably depilated) tops the list with over 413,00 views but there’s also Janine Pommy Vega who is listed as a poet and activist and a further moment’s search reveals a youtube video of her with Fairly Short Hair. This makes much more sense but you also notice Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel, a leading French psychoanalyst who described the 1968 protesters as totalitarian stalinists who were affected by a sordid infantilism caught up in an Oedipal revolt against the father. You hope against hope that this is the Janine in question but then you notice Janine Mellor, the Britsh actress who played Kelsey Phillips in the BBC’s ‘Casualty’…..

You then realise that you’ve spent over a thousand words on just over one line and vow to do better next time.

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4 responses to “The Odes to Tl61P: an experiment in reading pt 2.

  1. You’ve got me thinking about ‘congenitally depilated’. The word ‘congenitally’ contains the word ‘genitally’, so this could partially resolve to ‘genitally depilated’. Genitals and the word and the word do crop up elsewhere in the poem. This would certainly fit with the porn star reading. That still leaves ‘congenitally’. In line with the poem’s larger (troubling? important? brave?) preoccupation with childhood sexuality, I read ‘congenitally’ as collapsing the state of nature at birth into the infantilising and fashionable aversion to pubic hair among adults (not just porn stars), but here the aversion is inverted and to depilation and it’s that that’s defective. This is somewhat troubling, or at least challenging. I would justify the apparent awkwardness/senselessness of ‘hearafter’ as picking up on this temporal confusion. It also strikes me that if ‘congenitally’ can become ‘con genitally’, maybe ‘hereafter’ can be taken as ‘here after’, but I don’t know how much that helps. If it’s congenital it’s congenital from birth but in a different, artificial way, “always already” congenital in adulthood?

    It’s possible that something like this has occurred to you already, in which case apologies for the explicitation. By the way, I’ve been reading this blog for about 18 months now, but I thought I’d contribute because I’m grappling with this poem too at the moment. I should say that your thoughts have been extremely valuable as I’d had very little exposure to difficult stuff like this before that period.

    • Chris,

      Many, many thanks for this, I now realise that I haven’t given enough attention to the range of attitudes that we have to pubic hair and how well this may “fit” with the covering/uncovering trope the runs in a variety of guises and threads through this remarkable work. I’m also hanging on to the Janine Pommy Vega thing because it gives me an excuse to find out more about her.

      John

  2. krapp's first tape

    I’m sure I’ll make everyone sick of Marxist stuff, but taking another look at ‘congenital,’ I’m wondering if it has anything to do with Adorno’s and Lukács’ concept of ‘second nature.’ In a nutshell, the claim is that what appears to be natural in nature and in the human subject is in fact ‘second nature,’ the result of the human exploitation of nature and the sacrifices (and self-mutilation) that this domination required. ‘Congenital’ could then have the ‘always already’ sense Chris is talking about. For example, Hobbes’ ‘natural’ state of man is both an inadequate excuse–we’re born this way–and a real illusion: yes, given the deformities of our society and the psychologies that result, this IS all we know of ‘natural.’ Notice that the OED entry includes uses that describe conditions that exist from the ‘birth’ of a species and even nature itself. This might also tie in the environmental resonances (“arctic rolls”, the oil-drilling, etc) with the references to human-on-human violence.
    I’m saying this in part because I suspect that the line “no-one is the radius of everything we are” is an allusion to Adorno and Horkheimer’s portrait of Odysseus, a key part of this ‘second nature’ argument. But this post is too long already.

    • This post isn’t too long and you may well be right. I know that Adorno is a Big Deal in most things Cambridge but I try really hard to ignore him because I think he’s wrong about most things and especially wrong about poetry. I know that this is an almost heretical position that should only be seen alongside my view that Walter Benjamin is even wronger (as in factually incorrect). Not sure of how guilty Sutherland is re Frankfurt, in my head he moves from Hegel to Marx and tends to stay there. There’s also the Janine problem.

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