Cinema of the Present

Lisa Robertson. Coach House (Consortium, dist.), $17.95 (112p) ISBN 978-1-55245-297-4
Reviewed by Alex Crowley. In this non-linear, self-referential book-length poem, Canadian-born poet and essayist Robertson (Magenta Soul Whip), who currently lives in France, asks, amid a host of queries and interrogations, “What do you believe about form?” From the beginning one must be prepared to “move into the distributive texture of an experimental protocol,” an initially disorienting procession of questions, observations, and images advanced by Robertson. The work’s use of non sequitur is reminiscent of David Markson, as is its invitation to readers to draw their own connections between the poem’s major themes—description, memory, prosody, alienation, and gender, among others. Robertson’s lines, in alternating roman and italic text, flow unceasingly, without overt indications of breaks or stoppages, perhaps providing a response to her question, “How else do you construct a pause in cognition?” Many lines throughout the work are repeated once later in the poem, though never at any regular interval and always with the text style transposed. This shuffling exposes the banality of déjà vu, how shifting the context changes the nature of expression. Or, as Robertson writes, using the language of epigenetics, “You are a position effect.” Is her poem, then, a kind of internal dialogue? Perhaps, and, if this is the case, it underlines her question, “what is the subject but a stitching?” Addressing the self’s perpetual conflict over which desires take prominence (“There’s no logic to what organisms demand”), Robertson even wonders, “To whom do you speak?”One can with more certainty call Robertson’s poem a magnificent testament to the eroticism of thought, one where “the enjoyable gland also dribbles its politics.” The specific gland to which she is referring remains obscure, but that’s partly the point: she’s hinting at the sexual while keeping the door open to an exploration of the physical body more generally. In this way, her primary concerns find their expression in tones and textures that are quintessentially Robertsonian and reveal how desire is intimately entwined with the self’s coming into being. “The way you practice emergence,” she declares, “is through longing.” So, if the irrationality of tension within the self demands a synthesis, then, “[y]our new skin would be prosodic—that is, both esoteric and practical.” Amid all this “brutality of description”—which, for Robertson, “is the traversal of this infinitely futile yet fundamental and continuous space called the present”—the “cinema of the present” becomes that ever-passing surface of time, the sheen of a moment in the description of that moment: “By means of description, a whole profound mass of time became your milieu.” A social environment thus enlarged serves one of Robertson’s explicit goals, that “Feminism wants to expand the sensorium.”This book—which will feature four different back covers designed by artists Hadley + Maxwell, emphasizing its status as an objet d’art—defies review, instead demanding engagement, conversation, and multiple rereads. It may not be a great place to start for newcomers to Robertson’s work, but fans or those who simply relish getting lost in a sea of thought will discover almost infinite depths: “If you speak in this imaginary structure, it’s because other choices felt limiting.” (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/15/2014
Release date: 09/01/2014
Genre: Fiction
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