Quick Review 05
"144 The mastermind of this roller coaster, in an interview, confessed that the goal of his work is to replicate a ride in which participants are scared out of their minds, yet feel the comforting presence of someone there, riding along and watching over them."
from The Body
by Jenny Boully
Slope Editions, 2002
The Body by Jenny Boully is a work of poetry, composed entirely of footnotes that subtend blank pages and comment upon an invisible, if not imaginary, text that allegedly occupies this poetic vacuum. Like the Oulipian work Suburbia by Paul Fournel, who publishes a novel composed of nothing but its own apparatus and footnotes, The Body draws aesthetic attention to the peripheral topography of the page, analyzing the poetics of a neglected, miniature genre that often escapes scrutiny because its functionalism renders it too marginal or too subaltern to warrant either artistic emphasis or literary analysis. The poet here reveals, however, that the minor space and viral scale of the footnote represents a necessary, albeit parasitic, dimension of writing, one that plays out the logic of the supplement, displacing rather than augmenting the body that supports it.
The Body consists of enumerated marginalia, all of which allude to an autobiographical text by Jenny Boully, who recounts her affair with a man named E., but this account has apparently undergone subsequent commentary by the author and by her editor, and the reader must in turn attempt to lend coherence to the cryptogram of these enigmatic allusions. While the body of the poem often stands in for the body of the poet, acting as a surrogate for the experience of such a biography, the body of the text in this case has gone missing, leaving behind only the exuviae of the work itself—the set of afterthoughts found in annotations and digressions, allegedly presented after the fact by experts, who have prepared this text for scholastic discussion. The author has already imagined herself as an absentee from the poetic milieu, dead perhaps, having already become a topic of academic research, her poetic corpus now dissected and explained for use in a classroom.
The Body suggests that every reference for language, even the body of the poet, constitutes an evasive absence—a thing never known for what it is, despite our desires, because it must vanish at the very moment when we summon it by name, lost forever in a limitless interplay of signs: “[H]ow sad and strange that I, Jenny Boully, should be the […] the sign of a signifier searching for the signified.” The body of the text in turn becomes a blank that the reader must fill in, performing on a grand scale the kind of exercise required by the very footnotes that appear to delete significant information, as if censoring themselves for reasons of archaic decorum: for example, “Ms Boully must have been confused, as it was actually __________, not ____________, who uttered ‘_________________________’ and thus became a symbolic figure in her youth.”
The Body makes reference in its footnotes to a footnoted biography— an oneiric journal—which The Body in turn becomes: “[a]fter the author’s death, it was Tristram who went through her various papers and came across the many folders labeled ‘footnotes,’” and “[i]t wasn’t until years later when he was curious as to which papers the footnotes corresponded that Tristram discovered that the ‘footnotes’ were actually daily journals of the author’s dreams.” Boully even cites the poet Robert Kelly, who claims: “Dreams themselves are footnotes. But not footnotes to life.” Boully implies that her own text may not in fact refer beyond itself to any absent book that constitutes the actual life of her work; instead, her own text may simply annotate a fantastic biography from another reality, referring only to itself as a kind of dream within a dream.
Christian Bök is the author of Crystallography (Coach House Press, 1994), a pataphysical encyclopedia nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, and of Eunoia (Coach House Books, 2001), a bestselling work of experimental literature, which has gone on to win the Griffin Prize for Poetic Excellence. Bök has created artificial...