David Herrle reviews Megan A. Volpert's The Desense of Nonfense
published by BlazeVox
purchase the book
Note to readers: The section headings are two-liners from the book.
Note to the author: Ummm, Megan? Your book should have opened with this short foreword: "Abandon italics all ye who enter here." Unless I'm mistaken, there isn't a single italicized word or line in the entire text. I applaud such difficult abstinence! So, in honor of the feat, I'm italicizing the two-liners.
you think you are not smart enough to cope with nonsense
or you think you are smart enough to cope with nonsense
I have a love/hate relationship with deconstructionism, reductionism, linguistic analysis, positivism - you name it. It's like being simultaneously turned on and turned off by the bubblegum Pussycat Dolls or relishing a kretek cigarette despite the ensuing coughs. When these things are under attack, I defend them like a chivalric boyfriend; when they're unanimously hailed by a café full of "counterculturalists" or spoiled academicians, I pooh-pooh and pee-pee them spitefully. I'm not threatened by the de-Logosizing of human experience: the precarious flirtation with ultimate Nullity that trumps our grandest aspirations and drains our lofty and beautiful pools quicker than one can say "de Man is dead." If bulls in china shops smash with style, I'm willing to run with them awhile.
All labels aside, Megan Volpert is as playful as she is frustrating, as witty as she is prickly. Her poetry is both a pie in the face and a skewer. Since she's "always had a problem with pedagogical authority," she cuts the tongues out of authoritative mouths, casts doubt on the most granted terminology and braves the treachery of narrative.
Her latest book, The Desense of Nonfense, is not an easy nut to crack. It's polyrhythmic and overpopulated, and I felt like Krazy Kat reeling from Ignatz' hurled brick after reading the damned thing. That's an endorsement, not an indictment, by the way. Though I'm sure the book would annoy and parch those who've little patience for word fugues and arrogant narrators who mince the authority of narrative itself, I think it's a worthy excursion into the defense of nonsense.
What the "f" (and "s") is that, you ask? Allow the author to explain: "If we study a text and cannot derive its aboutness, we toss it in the bin with nonsense. There's a party going on in there though, and it seems to me like a far more interesting place to be than the place where everybody is falling all over each other like morons, trying to define themselves while standing on one foot." (The one-foot thing refers to a lecture attendee challenging Ayn Rand to stand on one foot and explain Objectivism at the same time.) Megan prefers the nonsense-filled bin rather than the tedious, critical lecture hall that tends to echo with this and that rather than thas and thit.
douche bag syndrome
reading for meaning
Some things are more appropriately swallowed whole rather than nibbled in a taste-test. Some art says "DRINK ME" or "EAT ME" and changes our place in the world without warning or explanation. This is what I tell folks who make the foolish attempt to "get" a David Lynch film: Fuck Freud and stop trying to map a dreamscape. "Hysterical is the straight shooter/in a room full of bubble blowers," Megan writes. It's the immediate effect that resonates; it's the brick that hits your head that is profound.
Take your Volpert as you take your Lynch: admitting that most of the material is in the bin where it belongs, but understanding that the bin is a wonderland, that sometimes pulling the trigger willy-nilly or just spraying the air with buckshot is the best way to hunt bubbles. In a sense, there is no defense needed for The Desense of Nonfense. I think Megan would pooh-pooh and pee-pee one anyway. She has said that she's "into analyzing questions without answering them." Analyzing an analyst can be risky business - and an analyst analyzing an analyst is simply...anal. So. I should end the review before it begins. But I won't, because I'm anal.
Lubricated by "the narrative efficiency of surrealism," Megan spiels from shekinah to bukkake to Magic Eye posters to "the avocado of the unconscious" to Dali and from left-handed Robert McNamara to "marmoset/right handed." It's obvious that her poetic power rests primarily in clever one-liners, surrealist high jinks and incongruities. I crown the following line from "seventeenth and peachtree" as my favorite in the book: "to flaunt itself like a polka dot." If I tried to parse that line in the least, it'd lose its ultra-clear power. Skipping like a flat stone over the line, however, makes it seem inarguably and perfectly true: all polka dots are flaunty! Slow down and attempt to rationalize, and you'll sink.
nonsense is the fact
that we have so far
Megan seems to work herself into a mischievous froth or a confetti blast at times: avalanching the page with everything and nothing. Aside from its spoonerist nature, "desense" is the aftertaste of Megan's scalding alphabet soup (and such art in general): a derangement of the senses, disintegration, a de-desensitization to problematic terminology and a priori concepts.
I guess the best way to evaluate the Desense experience is to compare it to exploded pixels (a confetti of sorts). Imagine maximizing a photograph until it appears as a blurry, blocky non-image. There's a simultaneous thrill and disappointment in the dissolution. The former image was home; this new perspective is a strange wasteland. Both seem to be fundamentally unfundamental. If the original composition is comprised of all this blobby shit, then it's not what we thought it was. Megan: "[T]he only thing clear is the lies in both cases." You thought you knew what a white mongoose looked like (to refer to a passage in the book), then you can't identify "white" or "mongoose." All of a sudden, the self-evident fact that polka dots are flaunty seems like a silly dream. We try to see that secret image in the Magic Eye poster, but end up seeing the same old wavy, rainbowy lines. Names and terms are pixels in high-DPI. Magnify the dust-like components and that snapshot of Aunt Edna is Blob. After all, even Lewis Carroll wasn't Lewis Carroll.
I tend to take the grain of salt with a grain of salt, however. I believe in the existence and clarity of the secret picture though I may not see it. This applies to my appreciation for The Desense of Nonfense, as well. The book is a unified disunity, a cute but hardcore snapshot made up of thousands of goofy pixels. It's a skronking buddalumping that adds up to a catchy song - or a song that you can't shake out of your head and pisses you off, or the song your parents wouldn't let you listen to, or the song the weirdo bad girl used to whistle just before she spotted you in the school hall and stole your italics. And, in the end, it's Megan Volpert.
if this poem is confusing
check yes or no
Let's graduate from the analytical anal stage and regress into the oral. From now on, I'll let some of my favorite clips speak for the book. Mind you, these are clips, not complete poems.
...pertaining to the positions
of the alveolar fricative
and the labiodental fricative
hereafter referred to as s and f
s and f swap and flip
fwap and slip and rhyme...
the leopard waited
at the corner for a yellow car
the baseball cap of which then learned
that his passenger wished to see
paintings hung on well lit walls
in other words
the fur coat lady
called a cab
to go to the museum...
our attentions have been called and even always directed
to that which is derivative of such impolite word kernels as
arriving as we have about above across after
against along around at the now place...
lessons in extinction unwieldy
...that piece at least twelve times to date submitted
yields rejection far and wide
until as much as we enjoyed it
finally did concede and return to simulating our best asset
one jillion times for your reading pleasure
shuffleupagus gets flack
...you think you are not smart enough to cope with nonsense
or you think you are smart enough to cope with nonsense
or you think nonsense is something to cope with
or you think you are smart
or you think you are
or you think
or you are
damn you for depleting our defense
or deleting our defense
or eliting our nonfense
overeating our nonfense
cast of characters
...u.s. navy the transportation security administration u.s. fish and wildlife service
errol morris charles darwin william butler yeats charles lutwidge dodgson
alanis morissette alice liddell jerome rothenberg mikhail bakhtin
darren aronofsky christian bok ben sharpsteen dominique appia
robert mcnamara captain blackwood akira kurosawa
zalmay khalilzad sissela bok william spanos...
...simon cowell salvador dali andrei codrescu
lisi oliver the international phonetic alphabet
judy butler jacques derrida slavoj zizek pierre bourdieu
jen tudor craig gingrich-philbrook the marian kleinau theatre
leonard peikoff paul newman stuart rosenberg david mcnally...
- review by David Herrle 1/2009
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