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The Body of the Voice: corporeal poetics in Dada

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Abstract:

This essay begins with a brief history of the problem of the body in philosophy showing how various philosophers have approached the problem and linked it to theory of language. The essay then offers a critique of structuralist/poststructuralist insistence that there is nothing outside the text, and that the only way the body appears in it is as a representation or trace. Kristeva says of modernist poetry that it tries to write in a language that manifests the points of the irruption of the body into language; semiosis, the bodily aspect of the generation of such symbolic systems as language. The aim is to work towards a dialectical theory of body and language – beginning with Tristan Tzara's early manifesto soundings – although the term "dialectic" functions here as a metaphor for interaction. Thus aspects of Dada poetry can be looked at in terms of the corporeal dimensions of rhythms (as opposed to the purely linguistic understanding of formal rhythms such as meter), the importance of contradiction, paradox and nonsense, delirium, body image, and the performativity of the body – body as sign, such as is seen in the move from a purely verbal drama where the body is of secondary importance, to the kind of drama where the body is a significant part of the repertoire of gestures (including language) that make up dramatic performance, of whatever kind. What is centrally addressed is the relation between body and language, and the essay identifies the tension between a radically systemic and disembodied construal of language and the poetic practice of bringing into play an elemental dynamic. Language and the elemental body are equally constitutive of symbolic representation and are fused in what the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty terms "incarnate logic". This incarnate logic, or voice, is expressed both in the movement of bodies across the dreamlike geography of the narrative, and the paradoxical figures which sustain narrative momentum; thus, space is neither purely mental nor objective (the observer is in the observation).

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 15, 2006

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