(Nightboat Books, 2012)

 

All the many, many possible readings of Fledge: A Phenomenology of Spirit fall into two categories: reading it with the subtitle and reading it without the subtitle—reading it through Hegel or not reading it through Hegel. Both work insanely well. And whatever might be Hegel’s rightful place in it all, what stands out immediately is the distinctive tone of Stacy Doris, the blend of sharp wit and sharp twists that marks all her works, albeit always in a different way. For this book, she chose a form based on a simple constraint—the six-syllable line. As Susan Gevirtz very astutely points out in her comment on the back cover, the form hints at the alexandrine, but an alexandrine always haunted by the half that isn’t there. Doris added the further constraint of using only single syllable words—as much as possible. This has two immediate effects; one is to echo the rhythm of French, with its equal stresses across syllables, thus evoking her translation practice, and by extension, her active interest in pluri-linguistics. The second effect is to give a telegraphic urgency to the English, making it a language under pressure—perhaps even assailed by the other linguistic fields it has invaded and that, inevitably, have invaded it in return. When she breaks this second constraint, she does so flamboyantly:

 

Hey look at hey I love

It I love it I love

I love it I’ll make it

even beautifuller

 

The multisyllabic ending is a gushing overflow that’s prepared to change, even batter, the language of which it’s made, and with the raucous determination and certainty of a child. The cover, composed of images drawn by her children, emphasizes that headstrong energy, as do specific lines, such as “When I’m back knock knock who’s.” But she doesn’t break the single-syllable constraint very often, and in confining herself to single syllables, she’s also, for the most part, confining herself to a vocabulary of basics, which reminds us, on the one hand, of the conservative nature of language in general—the words we use the most, we keep the shortest—while on the other hand, it reminds us of what these basics are: hold, hand, and, walk, I, me, one, if, but, or, no, why, what (although in this case, the basics also include ones unique to and evocative of Stacy Doris, such as prance, romp, and skunk)—the list could go on and on, which in this book it certainly does—but precisely arranged. Doris puts all the emphasis, not on the words themselves, but on their relationships, so that the most basic words enter uncanny frames: “It rounds, glassed to the mirth”; “I bang my fun shoots worse”; “your look with my eyes on”; “Horse that’s me grows. It zooms”—these are uses that redefine their words while acknowledging that these same words can never be shifted from their roots. The book is fueled by a constant play between the necessity and impossibility of redefinition, and between a familiarity with and an utter estrangement from our daily language, both of which evoke, even enact, Hegel’s aufhebung—a key word in his work that means both to deny or repeal and to keep or maintain, and that points to the capacity of language, and perhaps of language alone, to fully engage with contradiction. Doris—like Hegel—uses the concept to emphasize the power of ambiguity as a guarantor of possibility. With Doris, in particular, ambiguity is increasingly favored, and the possible is increasingly foregrounded, until by the last line, she’s achieved an ungainly and uncontainable triumph—“the general float crowns.” 

 

 

 

 

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