The Anti-Logos Weapon: Excesses of Meaning and Subjectivity in Mezangelle Poetry

By | 1 December 2011

This lexical splicing can be seen throughout Mez’s works, but a fairly simple example comes from her work ‘rabBit_frOSt[ing]’. Even within the title, the use of extralinguistic symbols, such as the underscore and square brackets, serves to break up the component words and splice them into one another. The traditional linear reading of lines or sentences is overtaken by the layering of multiple semantic possibilities — Mez forms new splicewords in which no one of the original terms is privileged as the primary site of semantic meaning. In the case of ‘rabBit_frOSt[ing]’, an initial interpretation might be ‘rabbit frosting’. However, simply by taking the capitalisation into account, we encounter a new set of lexemes which draw from both sides of the artificial/natural binary: on the one hand ‘Bit’ and ‘OS’ act as self-referential markers drawn from the digital realm in which these texts exist; while ‘Sting’ resonates with another meaning of ‘bit’, the past tense of ‘to bite’, which gives connotations of viciousness and animalism and perhaps implies a predator to which the eponymous rabbit-bit is prey. Significantly, in this context ‘bit’ plays between two meanings and between two binary realms — the nature/artifice division, the terms of which are often regarded as ontologically incommensurable but which may instead be thought of, to adopt Grosz’s metaphor, as two sides of a Möbius strip on which, ‘through a kind of twisting or inversion, one side becomes another’.

This proliferation of multiple meanings, which operates beyond the boundaries of the univocal meaning which is traditionally the subject of textual criticism, is expanded by the inclusion of extralinguistic symbols, or what Jay David Bolter refers to as ‘diagrammatic signs that cannot be spoken’. In this way, Bolter distinguishes between common punctuation such as commas and full stops, which partly govern the rhythm of reading, and symbols such as square brackets and underscores, which, in mezangelle, serve to rupture the linearity of the sentence into a multi-layered matrix of lexemic fragments. The interpolation of alphanumeric symbols and diagrammatic signs serves as a mechanism by which words are fused into new polysemantic splicewords.

The use of square brackets around parts of words allows for two or more lexemes to operate in conjunction by positioning them more or less in the same physical space within the text. Here, ‘frOSt[ing]’ implies both ‘frost’ and ‘frosting’ without the need to repeat the shared elements of the two words. Mez uses this technique throughout her codeworks: extralinguistic symbols, including square brackets, round brackets, slashes, and the angle brackets formed by the less than (<) and greater than (>) symbols, serve to break down the linear syntagm of the sentence and add levels of meaning to the text.

Because the ‘-ing’ of ‘frosting’ is bounded by a set of square brackets, the pun of ‘rabbit frost’ and ‘Robert Frost’ is made visually explicit, and this play-on-words is further elaborated and expanded in the poem itself. The play of punning relies upon the polysemantic nature of words, relying on the multiple, contextually-determined meanings of a single word or the homophonic similarities between words (as with ‘rabbit’ and ‘Robert’) to create connotative connections. In both cases, a play-on-words requires that both meanings of the word are explicit, relying on the indeterminacy and in-betweenness of the word. The near-homophone of rabbit/Robert is only significant, or rather, only playful, because of the proximity of ‘frost’: the denotation of the written word is ‘rabbit’ but, given the context, this implies the play-on-words that evokes the name of the poet Robert Frost.

In the third line of ‘rabBit_frOSt[ing]’, Breeze once again splices into the name ‘Robert Frost’, merging the shared letters of the two words and creating ‘fRo(bert)ST’, which she then elaborates into ‘Robert_frOSt_ST:,’ a playful question that emerges from the act of splicing the words and separating the ‘st’ at the end of Frost’s name.

This question is contained within a border made of hash symbols — similarly, in many programming languages, comments that are intended to aid the human programmer, but not be ‘read’ by the computer and included in the program, are often marked by a null symbol. The hash is used as a null symbol to mark programmer comments in languages such as Perl and PHP, and while the bordering used by Breeze may not be an orthodox technique within coding, it does have the appreciable benefit of standing out. As with functional programming codes, it would be easy for a human programmer reading this poem to distinguish between what is intended for his/her benefit and what is intended for the machine compiler. In short, Breeze has marked off the more ‘human’ sections of her work, the parts that ‘translate’ the more heavily coded lines — taking ‘fRo(bert)ST’ and translating it into ‘Robert_frOSt_ST’. It is worth noting that both of the ‘hashed’ lines in this poem still contain the non-alphanumeric underscore, and, indeed, the line ‘#kill_zOne_bits: Ra(re)bb(s)its.+.sIlk(en)#’ is particularly complex; however, this complexity seems to suggest that all levels of the text, even those which seem the most human, can be permeated by the quirks of digitality. The boundaries between the natural and artificial languages are shown to be indistinct and easily transgressed by splicewords that continually flow and return, deterritorialise and reterritorialise, and ‘seep or surge into one another, like tides flowing in and out of an estuarial river’.

The peculiar linguistic characteristics of mezangelle serve to controvert the presumption of a material, or, indeed, a cultural tabula rasa upon which a text can be unproblematically built. In a similar way, the experiences of the male body have been normalised and universalised, becoming the blank slate upon which feminine experience is an aberrant mark. The body, like the print page, has been treated as a neutral medium, both for cultural inscription and for inscription from within by the controlling mind or reason, and, like the print page, the material realities of the body have in many cases been effaced or treated as taboo. As Elizabeth Grosz argues, ‘the specificity and concreteness of the body must be neutralized, tamed, made to serve other purposes … Its corporeality must be reduced to a predictable, knowable transparency’. Reason and masculinity, logos and phallos, have been privileged over illogicality and femininity, and mind has been considered as the controller of the body, with little acknowledgement of effects of materiality on subjectivity. It is only the phenomenology allied with Maurice Merleau-Ponty that begins to examine the body as a non-neutral, effective entity that operates synergistically with the mind, rather than simply as a conduit for sensory experience and physical interaction.

To overcome these dualisms, it is worth attempting to draw together poststructuralist and feminist analyses of fluidity, not as part of a fluid/solid binary but as an ever-changing assemblage that can contain and go beyond the characteristics of either binary term. In her discussion of Deleuzo-Guattarian rhizomatics, Grosz states:

A ‘desiring machine’ opposes the notion of unity or oneness: the elements or discontinuities that compose it do not belong to either an original totality that has been lost or one which finalizes or completes it, a telos … Desire does not create permanent multiplicities; it experiments, producing ever-new alignments, linkages, and connections, making things.

If we treat a mezangelle text as a desiring machine, an assemblage in constant interaction with other assemblages and with the elements that constitute it, then it is clear that the mezangelle work does not emerge from a single originary meaning, nor does it progress towards one. Rather, it maintains a continual sense of becoming, of desire forever deferred, of functioning as a dynamic play of multiple meanings of equal status.


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