Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Laura Broadbent, In on the Great Joke




You disappeared into obscurity for a long while, and your heroines often experienced exile as well. Is this the natural movement following an inner death, which is the first death?

Now I no longer wish to be loved, beautiful, happy or successful.
I want one thing and one thing only – to be alone.
Can I help it if my heart beats, if my hands go cold?
And then the days did come when I was alone. Quite alone.
No voice, no touch, no hand. How long must I lie here? Forever?
No, only for a couple hundred years.
Oh, no place is a place to be sober in. (“A POSTHUMOUS INTERVIEW WITH JEAN RHYS”)

Montreal poet Laura Broadbent’s second trade poetry collection, In on the Great Joke (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2016), is an exploration of film structure and voice, theory and narrative. There is something reminiscent in In on the Great Joke of the work of Anne Carson, as Broadbent utilizes the frame of poetry to write her way around and through theory, prose-blocks and conceptual bursts, as well as through offering introductions to both sections – “Wei Wu Wei / Do Not Do / Tao Not Tao,” a series of poems that include responding to short films, and “Interviews,” a series of poems around voice – as well as a final prose-piece to close the collection, “*Postscriptum: A Note on the Short Films Compromising Positions Featured Throughout this Text.” And yet, the explanation is an element of the text, articulating layers of framing throughout, which themselves lead to a series of further openings. In the introduction to the second section, “Interviews,” “What a Relief not to Meet you in Person: an Homage to the Alchemy of Reading,” she writes that “The following interviews are an homage to the alchemy of reading.” She continues:





From the outside, reading can seem isolated, antisocial, indulgent, boring or nerdy because the subtle magic is not immediately observable. When you are witnessing someone reading, if they are indeed a skilled listener and not a passive escapist (no judgement toward the joy of the latter), what you are actually witnessing is a transformation which is also known a magic. Magic can, at its most basic, mean a change that is wonderful and exciting.
            Objectively, texts are blocks of words in a certain order. One hundred copies can be made of the same book with the same words in the same order, and we can say, ‘These books are the same.’ But when the book is enmeshed with a human reader’s subjectivity, the words are transformed based on the particular configuration of the receiver’s conscious and unconscious structures. Subjectively, a text has many meanings indeed – one book can be one thousand different books if one thousand people read it. Furthermore, let it be said that when a person picks up a book they are choosing to listen as an activity, a powerful decision often overlooked. I see this choice as a very beautiful and elegant thing a human can do, completely devoid of class or any other divisive hierarchy. Seeing people read has never ceased to calm me, because they are choosing to listen, which is a gentle and intelligent and elegant and stylish choice. I am speaking of a certain kind of reading, and if you are reading this you know what kind of reading I mean, I mean reading as contact between souls.

Broadbent’s In on the Great Joke is very much an exploration of meaning, translation and boundaries, and how stories, including histories, are told, blurring perceptions, and the complexity of tales that might easily contradict. How are stories told and re-told? How do the stories alter through each subsequent telling? As she writes to introduce the first section, referencing the book’s title: “There are more than 170 English translations of the Tao Te Ching, each of which differently translates the first line about it not being translatable. Lao Tzu’s begrudging attitude is immediately made clear: the first line is about how futile this naming business is, since the Way cannot be named, and if it icould be named it would not be the Way, but if it must be named, it is named Unnameable. Most translations of the Tao Te Ching are accompanied by commentary, and these commentaries take great pains to talk about how the Way cannot be talked about. Just as I am talking about it now. This is part of the Great Joke.”

Your sense of history is remarkably melancholic – does joy fit into this long account of calamities?

There are only two seasons: the white winter and the green winter. Scenes of destruction, mutilation, desecration, starvation, conflagration and freezing cold. However, I have always kept ducks – and the colour of their plumage, in particular the dark green and snow white, seemed to me the only possible answer to the questions that are on my mind. (“A POSTHUMOUS INTERVIEW WITH W.B.SEBALD”)



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