Friday, March 16, 2007

"Opie As Emperor" (3)

Rob Fitterman closed the reading at Tangent with portions from his ongoing Metropolis project, including sections from This Window Makes Me Feel, “Dedicated to those who were lost in The World Trade Center bombing.” 9/11 and its aftermath set the backbeat to his reading, which he structured like a corporate PowerPoint presentation, complete with prompts to turn our attention to non-existent slides. (Afterwards I found out this was based on Colin Powell’s Iraq presentation to the U.N.)

Fitterman’s deployment of ‘sampled’ language gains a lot of its force from the blend of studied flatness (“why Dave felt like he had to cc everyone beats me”) with accelerated shifts in context, so that apparently neutral lines— “many Americans have the same pizza cravings I do”—pick up political overtones in juxtaposition with the other voices that populate the poem (“make yourself into an armored truck/worse days are coming.”) It’s a subtle and flexible technique that allows the writing to move from ironic to critical to funny to political to tragic to weirdly lyrical without requiring it to settle on any one. A lot of the drama of listening to him read was in the ‘turns’—in the way a riff on the history of Bisquick, for instance, in language that sounds straight off the company’s website, swerves to ‘Bismarck’, bringing America’s favorite pastry empire into a chain of associations with Realpolitik, the birth of the modern German state, the two world wars the Holocaust and from there back to 9/11. Maybe. The loops veer off in all kinds of suggestive directions, ‘modular’ information that takes on different shapes depending on which other unit of text it’s attached to.

Fitterman amped up the allusive power by reading in one continuous chunk, as if the excerpts he chose from across different books were a single poem, itself part of some ongoing speech or quarterly report to an invisible management team. It encouraged the audience to find associations between poems more than I think is usual at readings; the repetition of simple phrases like “this city” or “this window makes me feel” heightened the sense of experiencing a text where everything potentially connects with everything else, but always only dimly: a little like Pynchon, a lot like the market-researched, hyperlinked, scanned and surveilled world we’re in.

1 comment:

Tim Peterson said...

I have to ask: in what context would the sentence "many Americans have the same pizza cravings I do" NOT be political?

Maybe I've just read too much poststructuralist theory...