Rusty Morrison


Renee Gladman
Kelsey St. Press / 2000
$11 / 63 pages / ISBN: 0-932716-55-5

In Juice, Renee Gladman reconstitutes the narrative I in deliciously concentrated prose poems which pour past the limits that typically proscribe first person writing. But this is not to suggest that the liquidity of Gladman's I makes it untrustworthy. Rather, hers is a narrative presence that seems bracingly consistent in its expression of the paradoxes that are rife in any seeking to know, or in any attempt to express the implications of that search upon a subject's experience and condition of being:

                                                    I knew it was me
by the way my head felt: people find themselves in an
idea and feel so specified by the idea that they are com-
pelled to show it. Today all my ideas are liquid.
                                (from "Proportion Surviving," 28)

Gladman is adept at presenting invitingly direct speech in which her readers will recognize her striving for absolute veracity as she describes her attempts to see—and to release herself from—sanctioned limitations upon our beliefs about what is known or knowable. We feel her fracturing the systemic constructions we take for granted which organize and constrain our sense of ourselves and the world around us.

A person makes a chart in her room; the room bears
a resemblance to the chart. Inside of the chart is the
periphery of the person's body. She places the chart
against the wall and stares at it. Half of the body falls.

I ran into the room and then quickly out of it, having
realized I did not want to be there.
                                        (from "First Sleep," 58)

Where typical narratives of the Western tradition would incorporate attempts to fill in—to make knowable—any gaps in logic, Gladman allows the chasms of alterity within her speakers to be exposed. One can see affinities between this project and texts like Clarisse Lispector's Stream of Life, which Helene Cixous introduces, saying:

It is always a question of beginnings. It is hard to imagine a text that would be more violently real, more faithfully natural, more contrary to classical narration. Classical narration is made of appearances, caught in codes. Here there are no codes. (x)

Like Lispector's, Gladman's text is also made up of beginnings—of appearances—that do not develop in expected hierarchical or chronological ways, but instead open into the disappearances in which the text abounds. While Gladman's appearances and disappearances do not conform to normative codes or systemic modes of thought, such systems are often alluded to:

To save this land I have to bring back archeology. As a child
this thought was implanted in me: In the appearance of
any species there is an element of disappearance and
within its disappearance a particle of return. And that is
why we have storage.
In our past there is a germ for survival, beneath our weath-
ered clothes and yellowed papers, a propellant of time.
If I wanted to I could spend the rest of my days devoted to
time. Or end the township here for something on the other
side of the mountains...             (from "Translation," 19)

Gladman dices and skewers the discourses through which our ideologies manifest—the ways we typically, with scant awareness, speak of history, culture, time—then she seasons with a diction that is incontrovertibly calm, and roasts her language in the flame of a syntax that is subversively direct. What we are served fills us with the emptiness of seeing through the gaps in our signifying systems, and into a subject's unknowability and otherness.

                            The juice on my mind was no longer
juice. There was an absence there, but one so constant it
became familiar. I did not want to drink it.
                                   (from "Proportion Surviving," 28)

Concomitantly, her strategies also allow us to observe othernesses that are "disappeared" or "displaced" by the norms of dominant culture in the external world. Thus, each of the prose poems that comprise Juice has at its center an inexplicable appearance of absence, disappearance, displacement—one that might encompass private as well as public, and internal as well as external, loss—whether of a culture, a community, a relationship, a period of memory, a sense of self.

Between the moment fifteen years ago when I turned the
corner away from Hershey Street and a year later when I
"woke up" outside a Midwestern hotel, there is water
where memory should be. There is evidence in my bags,
my pockets, that made me think I had been on trains.
There was a way I kept looking over my shoulder—
back east—that reminded me of trains. So that's where I
assumed I had been, and that is where I went.
                                         (from "No Through Street," 34)

Gladman's representation is rich with such losses, as if to clarify that any narrative is as much about omission as it is about incorporation. Juice is dense—"pulpy", I dare say—with emptiness, with what can't be brought into consciousness with words, reminding us that any language is a narrowly limited container shaped by the proscriptions of the past. But, in Gladman, we find exemplified not only Frederic Jameson's premise that we are "imprisoned" in the language of our particular temporality; also demonstrated is the value of filling language to the breaking point with a palpable attention to that imprisonment.

Of course, heightened attention of this nature doesn't necessarily mean the prose will include a high degree of specificity. In the excerpt quoted above, we are told: "There is evidence in my bags, my pockets, that made me think I had been on trains," but we are not told what that evidence might be. Here Gladman is deftly exposing the mecurial workings of mind—in this instance we see the ways mind uses its system of preconceived ideas to sort the data of experience. Gladman is exquisitely subtle in reminding us of just how much specifity a mind may unconsciously ignore in its environment when coming to its conclusions.

Of course, we need the mind's systems of stimulus-selectivity in order to manage the enormous infusion of material that must be processed in any instance of living. But it is exactly such scissions between using habituated experience and attending to the shock of fresh insight that Gladman watches shut and open, open and shut. Often her most disruptive shifts of narrative development expose the enormous energy flow of this process, and suggest the myriad directions of thought and alternate paths of knowing that any instant offers. Gladman's narratives, rather than simply progressing forward in linear fashion, accrue such eliptic disruptions spacially, exposing a sequencing that is as close to three dimensional expansion as one might come in articulating a subject's perception of a situation. Pressing such limits allows Gladman to point almost simultaneously in many directions toward what arrives in the gaps between our language's ability to express what we perceive.

                                                              The friend
whose easy chair gave way to my failures moved out of
town the next week, and though I miss her it was the fail-
ures that saved me. On every other day of any kind of crisis
one finds particular sayings helpful. If certain words are
spoken quietly into a cup of hot water, with the handle of
the cup of water turned towards the wall, whatever strength found
in the person may be mirrored in the wall. The person
leaves the house with her hand against this wall but strut-
ting slightly.              (from "Proportion Surviving," 26-27)

Exposed in sections like the one above are both the fragility and limitations of mind's attempts to account for—and to preserve some faith in making comprehensible—any causality in event, as well as the apparant discrepancy between these mental propositions and the fleeting reality that mind would capture in them. But by exposing such discrepancies, such boundaries, such limits in the frames of perception, Gladman also points us toward intuiting the shifting expanses beyond them.

Such use of the narrative I neither ignores, nor is limited by, the parameters of traditional first person, which, as Luce Irigary has explained, projects its own ego onto the world and then sees only its own reflection. Gladman incorporates into her text the complexity of a narrative I that refuses mastery over either "itself" or the "other" it cannot incorporate. Through this unsynchronizing lens's paradoxical optic acuity, Gladman focuses upon stories that enact some of our era's most provocative cultural and philosophic questions. Gladman transgresses, even as she writes through, the private and public paradigms we find constraining a speaker's subjectivity—whether in the role of community member, artist, lover, daughter, or sister.

I was aware of the possibility of an actual encounter
between my sister and me, but I went anyway—suddenly
prepared for everything. All past and all future, at once,
and any other knowledge that might come up.
                            (from "No Through Street," 43)

As Marjorie Perloff has expressed it: "poetic 'uniqueness' in our postromantic age is less a matter of authenticity of individual expression than of sensitivity to the language pool on which the poet draws in re-creating and redefining the world as he or she has found it." (Italics are Perloff's. From Wittgenstein's Ladder, 187) Gladman's text is "juiced" with a concentrated awareness of our thirst for knowledge outside the paradigms that constrain our knowing, and the richness of Gladman's sensitivity to our culture's language pool only heightens the headiness of her work's textural and textual flavor and flow. Fill your glass with Juice; you'll want to take many long swallows.


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