Thursday, December 07, 2006

Avatar by Sharon Harris

Working for years now on her i love you galleries, and author of a series of chapbooks from BookThug, above/ground press and In Case of Emergency Press, Toronto writer and artist Sharon Harris finally has that first trade poetry collection under her belt, the collection Avatar (Toronto ON: The Mercury Press, 2006). Built out of various text and visual pieces, her poems riff and bounce off various works that have come before her, referencing bpNichol, Alfred Jarry, Darren Wershler-Henry, Steve Venright, Stephen Cain, Christian Bök and Natalee Caple, while even working Braille and Morse Code translations/transelations of their works. Harris writes "translation," but I would instead write "transelation," as her Braille piece, for example, works far more than a straight re-creation of the bpNichol piece, "Blues," from his love: a book of remembrances (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 1974), and instead works more along the lines of the shifts seen in Montreal poet and translator Eirin Moure's own Sheep's Vigil by a Fervent Person (Toronto ON: House of Anansi Press, 2001).

on world w/ arrow keys


insert home

tabulation delete


shift shift




Filled with a great sense of fun (one thing missing from so many of the writers that have come after bpNichol), and a whole slew of visuals, Harris' Avatar also includes pieces from her "FUN W/ 'PATAPHYSICS" series, which have appeared in Word magazine and as an issue of STANZAS. As the back cover writes, "'Pataphysics is a fictional science: the science of imaginary solutions. Sharon Harris proposes a problem for poetry to solve: how to unfold a book if the book is a lotus; how to unfold a word at the centre of that book?" As the Toronto Research Group (bpNichol and Steve McCaffery) began their introduction to the Canadian "Pataphysics issue of Open Letter, Fourth Series, Numbers 6 & 7, Winter 1980-81:

'What is 'Pataphysics?' shouted the cover of the Evergreen Review for May 1960. It has continued to shout the question ever since from the dusty racks of second hand bookstores as one of the more eagerly sought after old issues dreams, screams, and moulders.

So what, you might ask, would constitute a Canadian 'Pataphysics? Not a 'pataphysics at all but rather a perinducement of the superinducement, nothing less than a Canadian '"Pataphysics." Is this term, to begin with then, self-contradictory and/or, in its self-contraditoriness, self-explanatory?

The distinction is subtle: from elision to quotation through a superinducement on elision. Within the ordinarities of elision the apostrophe places 'pataphysics outside the domain of the Origin the four letters' roots (the nature of pata according to one Canadian scholar, and literary agent to Dr. R.W. Sanderson), is to be detected in the port-manteau confluence of "meta" (beyond) and "para" (beside) -- beside and beyond, beyond and beside the topography of its telos. Hence, its neighbourliness to several zones of 'potential genesis: a clinical history of 'patanoia; the exact locate of 'patadise; the literary ontogenesis of the 'patadox. But the status of the elision? For the beginnings of the 'pataphysics are in that slide into and beside and beyond the incontrovertible assertion that 'it' commences nowhere.

Now here (in there) are the parameters (perhaps we might risk the 'parameters) of a science inscribed within the property of the apostrophe, of the comma inverted and announcing itself as the science of the general inversion and the non-art of the absent.

In the Canadian contribution is that erasure of 'this' elision and the institution of a science of the perpetually open. A shift from/to quotation in the doubling of the elide, a doubled inversion and an inverted doubling.

Canadian "pataphysics gives us then quotation, and quotation (as Science always is) of the given we do not understand with emendations that constitute our explanation. If "Pataphysics is 'the science of imaginary solutions' and the source of answers to questions never to be posed, then "Pataphysics (the open quotation of a double elision) will be 'the literature of all imaginary sciences.' As such it will constitute the "patasignificant advance of a field of non-signification, moving us closer to (and hence by the transcendental law of the "patadox further away from) its origin(s). Hence the Science of the never-ending, never-commencing discourse. Perhaps the "parole? Hence. Nichol's early terminology 'PROBABLE SYSTEMS' or McCaffery's acronymic NRT. (pp 7-8)

How, from then, does Sharon Harris work her own "Pataphysical inquiries? How did she get to a point where she is asking the questions almost no one else can remember? In her "NOTES ON THE TEXT," she writes that "Fun W/ 'Pataphysics gives definite answers to your unanswerable poetic questions and offers all the unsolicited writing advice you will never follow. For ages zero to aethernity." Based on the Toronto Research Group text, there have probably been few that have even moved since to explore such considerations, with the most obvious researcher being Toronto writer Steve Venright; as much as I like Harris' 'Pataphysical inquiries (notice she uses only the single instead of the suggestion of Canadian double), and I do like them very much, why do I want her to go so much further? Will she go further?


If you have dry, frizzy hair, wear glasses and have a pine tree you
can lean against the next time the Northern Lights are in the
sky, you might hear some Canadian sound poetry.

How? Your hair and the needles of the pine tree vibrate to the
very low frequency sounds given off by the lights. With luck,
your ears will turn these vibrations into sound poems. Your
glasses help boost the sound as they transfer the vibrations
directly to the bones in your head.

Not that she hasn’t attempted that further push, as I think even her poetry underestimates itself; how can anyone not love any collection of anything where the page numbers are listed in binary code? I must say I very like this book, and Harris seems one of the few writers existing in the Toronto poetic that seems to be interested in exploring the line between the conceptual art practices of Christian Bök (perhaps the only conceptual artist in Canada working with poetry), and more "traditional" avant-garde writers such as Stephen Cain and angela rawlings. The only equivalent I could see also working that line would be Steve Venright himself; Darren Wershler-Henry, on the other hand, crosses that line regularly, to work his various projects, but doesn’t seem to explore the line itself in the same kind of way. Is there a difference?

No comments: