Lit(t)eral Poeticsby Ben Tripp
Christine Wertheim, +|’me’S-pace (Les Figues Press, 2007)
|’me’S-pace’s task is to unravel language before our eyes. It is the first in a series of CalArts feminist/critical studies teacher Christine Wertheim’s open notebook investigations of the atomic elements of language; namely, the letters of the alphabet which as she says, “like musical notes only produce Sense when arranged in relational complexes, i.e. propositions…[and] compose into molecular or chord-like arrangements that we call words.” The book questions the ways in which our habitual use of them (to create words) may actually inhibit us from a deeper understanding of language, and results in a kind of censorship of the primal animate body that is the ‘English tongue.’ Through pure invention, |’me’S-pace is made as montage, and an extension of the modern day feminist critique of “the presumed unity of man…a dangerous fiction.”
Where in both language and tone feminist icon Valerie Solanas’s violent call to feminist upheaval, The Society for Cutting Up Men (SCUM) Manifesto, chose to brandish language as a weapon, |’me’S-pace instead takes an inclusive approach, exploring the duality of the human body as it can be witnessed in the origins of how we speak, interact, and relate to our world through the English alphabet. In her work as co-founder of The Institute for Figuring, along with being a professor of linguistics/feminisms and critical studies at CalArts, Wertheim has worked to educate the public on the intricate biological/scientific make-up of different plants, insects, and other little-known mathematic phenomena in nature. In a way, |’me’S-pace seems to extract the sanity from Solanas’s manifesto, as the book’s introduction articulates, “In the society for cUm|n’linguistic’s litteral poetics [Why the extra ‘t’ in litteral? Litter as in a bed as in debris as in an accumulation over time, littoral as in seashore, as in the Latin littera, ‘letter.’] authourship/self is not singular but a society…U c m. You see m. Throughout the text ‘m’ is associated with me, with mothers, with the rhythm of time.” The book builds into its own form of sensuality, exploring just what it is that constitutes the embodiment of the ‘English tongue,’ while it seeks to revive the integrity of the English language as a body.
Still, Wertheim recognizes a certain kinship with Solanas, and the book’s voice projects from a similar position of ‘nonplace’ that Solanas, as a social misfit who finally died homeless in San Francisco in 1988, was so excluded to. From the aesthetic perspective of verse, +|’me’S-pace reveals its words to be transparent, traveling through language to the point where, as Bellamy again writes in her introduction, “[it] collapses into shivers and sighs…a text that simultaneously clings and negates…pulses with waves of meaning, waves of being…”
Too often we equate our relation to the rest of the world through our difference from it, the otherness we recognize in ourselves. I’m me because I’m not you, or better yet; I’m me because you’re not me. I’m the one because you’re the other. There is a policy of negation running rampant through language, and equally rampant, from the viewpoint of feminism, is the concept that to be a man one must not be a woman, be the ‘not-woman.’ (Don’t be such a woman, act like a man) that a man should be anything instead of that vacuity, that hole, the void.
In +|’me’S-pace Christine Wertheim conceives of our language as prey to negation; with everyone struggling to define their-selves through difference, where instead one might be better off with a wholly inclusive body in mind; with every one of us as merely mobile, as modular.
Ben Tripp is a poet and editor of the literary magazine Gerry Mulligan.