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Saturday, July 24, 2010

David Wolach's Occultations Reviewed by Nicky Tiso

Black Radish Books
ISBN: 9780982573129
RRP: $15.00

Reviewed by Nicky Tiso

Occultations is a fiercely intimate, original, and complex work. Written thru carefully constructed somatic/corporeal rituals (such as feeding words to a fire and covering oneself in the ash, being fed another's writing while writing, writing thru one's recorded intercourse) that articulate the body as it assumes various postures of existence, from the tortured detainee to an infomercial to one's own ghost. Using elements of tonalism and objectivism, like a jazzier George Oppen, these movements in actual space-time get rendered typographically as well as sonically in beautifully layered syncopations. We see and hear the narrator producing and restricting their own subjectivity in a cycle of surveillance that mimics today's invasive security culture, where neoliberal paranoia has us policing our own behavior and clinging to fascistic norms out of fear of persecution. The book searches for a home, an authorship, within this new age of empire that has us exiled from our own bodies, where not even our interiors are safe, by purging what biopowers arrest it. Where others resist, Wolach submits, but does so as a form of protest, of exorcism, that makes for a highly erotic read.

The lines of the opening poem transit, written with the intensity of Celan and the puzzlement of Jabes, contain "shift nouns" that "modify how / we hear" to create "immigrant innuendo / a talmudic / ethos managed by a / sensational logos." This management takes the shape of an exigent analysis into its own immobility, giving it both sacrosanct and slapstick moods that together deform whatever meaning emerges until sense is sound, and what we hear is "the bone cries, then marrow. as if our shapes exhausted shape." There's no whimsy here; the stakes stay high and the bombs keep dropping, just like real life. The rhythm continues to "rattle corridors at different pitch," giving it all the unanchored liveliness and enigma of a flame:

you said i believe you said
silence is not the absence
of narrative
the fugue state talks, is pushed to say
when emergent broken the body
defies occupation
and occupation
by the drowning
it says on and on, lung
squeezed bottle, bank flame and limp
round a yet living sphere

How the book maintains a rebellion against its own origins, concerns itself with using its own exhaustion, and finds inspiration in a dispossessed tongue, raises the now faded Jewish question. How contemporaneous it makes these issues, how it turns today into a world war by superimposing past European fallout onto present Americana landscapes, is a savage juxtapose worthy of much greater consideration than can be done here, suffice to say the act convinces.

Later in the section riverfire the book moves into "particular matters" and reads only as the excised scraps of a story ("i am the conditional in your hands") making us the collector ordering the scattered pieces (an excess of indexicals), only we have no plan. This apparent disorder does frustrate readerly expectations, but we are asked to account for the logic behind such a reaction: "why do you hesitate at the covered parts. why do you hesitate at the non identical flesh. why do you begin with the hand that is its scab." Every step of the way the book has predetermined itself, becoming its own interpretation, such that our impassive witness is not so benign: to watch this suffering is its own violence, as every metaphor reminds us of the material, the humanity, it backs (and lacks):

Now is a sleep, complicit sprawls
In some illicit dream-
Its signal is picked up
By my neighbor's microwave

The book proceeds in a crude dialectic to refashion itself according to imposed ideologies and emerging dreams. One sees its consciousness getting liquidated, where even within the book its voice, like ours, has no public place to gather and be heard, or even finish its thought without some mediation retrofitting its language with the state's dictates:

we collect like coughs on glass. stains, your mouth runs to the pane
with furious. breath to [wipe off] breath. [a preferred] breath. with
thumb and. compulsion. what orgy. fragile stains. whose

[ The common areas are where we meet but don't meet. ]

This is a polyvocality where voices veil, rather than empower, one another, and we are left to witness a censorship in progress. The book doesn't seek to resolve these issues of agency but to endure them. It ends in an "aftershock of knowledge" coming off the prior "Distraction Zone Staging" exercises that use punishing bodily procedures to create texts bound to the environments of their production, or, to put it more frankly, an abused lyric:

the flesh of your precious
carnage drapes over my molar
"3 days central booking
bread brake back to bulk
forming lax max interior
null by sat morning"
a piece of the hunger artist is caught
in my empowerment zone

Note how unauthentic and enjambed these lines read, twisting from observation into confession such that we see a subject from two perspectives: inside and outside. Does this make us as audience sympathizers or sadists? A little of both. These pieces can't be read apart from their staging, and yet they are. We are left to re-imagine the situation that gave rise to these words and feel the inevitable dislocation between the record and the happening. What can we do with this inequality, this temporal lapse? The book suggests we "push from the periphery" and "learn the ugly algorithms," given in this context "something inaudible / is still a fence," and that we do so by making vulnerable our private selves to realize what we have in common: a body that desires. The book's center is a question mark challenging us to undermine the way our vision is framed by social orders scarring others.

It remains to be seen how Wolach's future projects and politics can adduce their authenticity by outsourcing the living forms here played with into a wider reality so as to be more socially applicable, or does such a proposition exceed art's capability? Would this be the next natural extension of the book's own momentum, where the wound it holds open can contain a multitude without regimenting them, or does this inclusiveness weaken its spirit? I sense a touch of hesitancy here, where a coterie threatens to form, and with good reason: questions of trust and betrayal come into play, questions that, if pursued, could create a remarkable unfolding that Wolach has shown himself capable of narrating in the most passionate and uncompromising ways possible.