Review of Colloquy At the Abyss: A Fugitive Amalgam by Will Alexander and Harold Abramowitz
BY : Giorgia Pavlidou
“The basic pathogenic picture emerging from the era of the first connective generation is characterized by the hypermobilizing of nervous energies, by informational overload, by a constant straining of our attention faculties. A particular aspect and an important consequence of this nervous hypermobilization is the rarity of bodily contact, the physical and psychical solitude of the infospheric individual.”
― Franco “Bifo” Berardi, After the Future
“Central to my work as a poet is the exploration of language as a way to conjure ‘silence,’ or moments of discursive interruption and dissolve, in which all seeming oppositions are complementary rather than contradictory.”
–– George Kalamaras
We seem to believe what we see (except when we attribute madness to the observer), but do we also believe what we hear?
Colloquy at The Abyss: A fugitive Amalgam, a fascinating publication (Insert Blanc Press) transliterating a dialogue between poets Will Alexander and Harold Abramowitz, is about linguistic meaning as a sensuous experience interwoven with public life (the conversation was recorded at a coffee shop somewhere in Los Angeles) and the de-colonization of the sonic as the non-stop pursuit of the poet.
Reading through the book, which is not a book but a meditation rather on sensuous experiences of sound, fragments of my early training in Sanskrit almost twenty-five years ago, came to mind. Colloquy at the Abyss encouraged me to think back and look up a cosmological concept or two.
In Ancient India, Vac (see also the English: vocal), meaning sound in Sanskrit, was considered a female deity, the equivalent of Brahman, “the Holy word.” According to Hindu cosmological theory sound holds a primordial place among the sensory qualities.
Ryan Ikeda, who wrote the introduction to Colloquy, however, observes how contemporary American (and I’d add to that: all Americanized regions of the globe) listening practices have gotten more and more detached from the senses as they no longer rely on the body for remembering but on technology. The danger Will Alexander and Harold Abramowitz see is in this development is what they call the Library of Alexandria Syndrome: “When one of the cables with all the information on it goes down, it all goes haywire.”
But, I think, that there’s also another level that’ll go haywire: the level of the not-said.
Returning to the Hindu worldview of old, there is the idea that there’s something called Para Vak, the unspoken word vibrating in its own silence, the “not-yet-said,” or “mots-germes” as Grand Jeu poet René Daumal called them, when he studied Hindu poetics; “embryo words.”
This visceral dimension of the linguistically palpable but inaudible in public discourse, the not-said embodied, for instance, in a singular sigh or idiosyncratic grimace, is rapidly losing ground in many post-industrial societies. This seems to be the trend that both poets lament in this little booklet.
Italian philosopher Franco Berardi suggests in this context that human communication is more and more imitating computer code, which is essentially robotic and binary in nature. According to him, meaning depends not only on words but also on what vibrates between the words: the not-said.
Can the not-said be recorded, remembered by technology or communicated?
Open petals – petals without an end
Perfumed with the perfume of the unsayable
The flower of the perpetual `
Henri Michaux (1956)
Then there’s the dimension of the unsayable or even the untouchable. I believe it’s in this habitat that the poet dwells: the liminal betwixt-and-between space where grammarless language originates, where metaphor and metonymy are born, where meaning begins to sprout without necessarily entering human speech.
Language and speech, in my view, aren’t the same. The poet is a seer who travels through invisible alchemical blood veins of language and taps into language’s electromagnetic all-permeating nervous system of which our brain merely is the defective receptor.
Developmental biologists call this the morphogenetic field. It is for this reason that a meeting on Zoom doesn’t “feel” the same as a meeting in real time. The morphogenetic field allows for banal quotidian actions such as watering your plants to become effective. Some people know instinctively how to take care of plants. They have a green thumb. In terms of developmental biology, they share the same morphogenetic field as the plant. The same goes for child rearing. There’re many examples of orphans being taken care by highly efficient nurses. The nurses do everything by the book, yet there still is high infant mortality because without sharing this dimension of the unsayable where the child, plant or pet isn’t incorporated (from the Latin “to unite into one body”) into the same morphogenetic field as the caregiver, it may not thrive or survive.
It is for this reason that I don’t believe in the pursuits of the transhumanist movement propelled by people such as Ray Kurzweil, however intriguing or attractive these may seem at a glance. Who wouldn’t want to enhance her cognitive abilities or boost his immune system? But the human creature is not a digital being, at least not yet. We harvest our humanity and identity from the people with whom we share the same morphogenetic field, and this field –which unfolds through the realm of dreams, myths, archetypes, ritual, the libido in its broadest sense, symbols (all these have a poetic structure) – is by definition unsayable. In traditional, pre-modern or aboriginal non-technocratic communities it is the druid, shaman, medicine woman or shamanka who helps community members navigate the unsayable when it becomes intolerable as in the case of trauma, infertility, grief or madness. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are contemporary anthropologists claiming that in postmodern, industrialized societies, it is the poet who fulfills this function, perhaps better than the priest, clinical social worker, the psychologist, the psychotherapist or psychiatrist, as these functions are usually enrolled onto the neoliberal pursuits in which the contemporary West is entangled at the cost of the ecology, the climate, aboriginal cultures and paradoxically even mental health.
Will argues in Colloquy how the European Renaissance with its emphasis on rigid rationalism and technology have set humanity back for at least five centuries when it comes to the development of altered states of consciousness or other psychical states that’d help humanity connect to its umwelt and find its place on the planet or in the cosmos.
Will we ever recover from this set back?
If not, the question is, “can humanity survive if it doesn’t know how to connect to the world at large?”
There’s a task there for poets to contemplate this question, I think, and generate the much-needed imagination for humanity to understand its metonymical relationship to the earth. And as Harold and Will express in Colloquy, this relationship cannot be digital, cognitive or disembodied. It has to be based on visceral and sensuous experiences.
Aboriginal people could come to our help here, because in the end it is us postmoderns who are the real primitives. We don’t even know how to connect to our environment, let alone find out what our place is in the cosmos.