When Words Have No Equals: A Response to Lisa Robertson’s Thresholds: A Prosody of Citizenship

By | 1 February 2020

The poem and the woman are ideally suited to each other, according to Robertson. Both in different ways have been considered useless, barely functioning yet their very uselessness promises a beginning and a form of convivial exchange, ‘where the I and the you create one another for the pleasure of a shapely co-recognition.’ The work of Luce Irigaray is pertinent here with her consideration of capital and commodity, the necessity to invent language and the acceptance of the (female) body in flux, not a thing to be regulated and restricted.1 Additionally, there is the work of many, especially female, writers whose work exists between the conventions of prose and poetry. An example is Clarice Lispector in The passion according to GH,

Language is my human endeavour. I have fatefully to go seeking and fatefully I return with empty hands. But – I return with the unsayable. The unsayable can be given me only through the failure of my language. Only when the construct falters do I reach what it could not accomplish.2

The doorway into what has been considered unsayable cannot be something to be closed, it is a threshold into another place, another ‘here’. Thresholds are successive becomings to be moved through in time. Anyone can begin anywhere.

To close a woman’s mouth, to render her speechless, and not allow any form of participation or individual expression in a society causes all of that society to become mute, paralysed because there can be no co-operation and no beginning. What if there is only the one not many? What if always the static grid and never the elusiveness of movement of one thing to another? Hence the importance of the quality of citizenship, of belonging, where ‘no binary is implicated’.

Now I’m thinking only time is style, all
those leaves opening as bodies specific
to themselves. People ask why are poems 
green and this is the reason3

Lisa Robertson’s distinctive persona, dependent on her voice, her ‘I’, which emerges from her use of feminine pronouns and particular presentation of the bodily is not simply personal. Is it necessarily female? She describes and analyses what she knows and through her voice tries to find a flexible core through language – an activity which humans depend upon in order to make some sense of how selves can exist together. That this is poetry is necessary, I have come to realise.4

This essay was assisted by the University of NSW A&D faculty. It was written on the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and the Dja Wurrung people, never ceded.

  1. Luce Irigaray, ‘When our lips speak together’, Signs vol 6 no 1 Autumn 1980 pp 69-79 trans Carolyn Burke
  2. Clarice Lispector, The passion according to G H, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis p 7 trans Ronald W Sousa
  3. Robertson, op cit p 61
  4. A discussion of Lisa Robertson’s essay took place in Sydney on 23 September 2019. It included Mitchell Cumming, Zoe Marni Robertson, Sarah Rodigari, Eleanor Ivory Weber, and myself.
This entry was posted in ESSAYS and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Related work:

Comments are closed.