Date of Award
College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, English and Literary Arts
Creative writing, Poetry
Informed by my own ethnic and cultural hybridity, a concern with socially constructed theories of the “other,” and a critical apprehension about the juncture of art, politics, and the sacred, ORIENT engages, deconstructs, and re-orchestrates a variety of dissonant energies. Cultural in nature and historical in scope, these energies constitute the political, philosophical and religious contexts through which individuals and nation-states alike relate to difference. Simultaneously an investigation of religious doctrine, orientalism, secularization theory, ethics, aesthetics, geo-politics, the pastoral, and the sublime, the dissertation maps the shape and movement of conflicting ideologies. The intersection of these ideologies, often radicalized through a reductive juxtaposition of “self” and “other,” create what the work comes to experience as an overwhelming and terrifying “noise,” a cacophony of divisive forces that aggressively pervade our world. Haunted by the extent to which differing conceptions of the individual, community, and the sacred appear increasingly at odds, the speakers of the work collectively re-orchestrate these noisy energies of impasse so as to make them coexist within the aesthetically altered context of the poems that constitute the project. This coexistence takes the shape and form of the lineated, poetic framework that constitutes a substantial portion of the project’s language, a collage of fragments gleaned from external sources through a rigorous process of transcription. Engaging a variety of media as linguistic source-texts, the project weaves together a multiplicity of voices, each tethered to one of the many polarizing political and cultural forces that have come to dominate the popular conversation regarding a range of conflicts predominantly centered in the Middle East. Existing in the wake of these polarities, the dissertation then implements numerous creative approaches in order to interrupt the discordant poetic structure with recurring, narrative prose blocks, many of which are similarly derived from sources beyond the work.
Whether documenting archaeological research of middle-eastern desert landscapes, transcribing internet pornography and televised blood-sports, notating various philosophical and religious lectures, collaging narratives of exile, performing erasures of fundamental religious propaganda, or “inter-translating” classical Jewish and Islamic religious poetry, the project employs a wide range of approaches in order to also investigate polarity at the level of genre, oscillating between poetic and prosaic utterance. In doing so ORIENT sustains a diverse poetic field made up of competing ideological perspectives, formal experimentations, and incongruent types of speech. Orchestrating the potential volatility of these vocabularies into song, the work moves in the direction of a singular, co-created utterance, a highly particular, yet polyphonic space. This utterance, vibrant and violent and diverse, defines the open community of the book itself, a democratically inclusive commons that the speakers must struggle to re-imagine and interpret despite the deep divides that threaten to tear the work apart. However, the idealized space the poem produces appears improbable beyond the page. The speakers are aware of this. The world, it seems, exists upon the brink of deep emergency.
Responding to this emergency, ORIENT takes as a parallel concern the extent to which a book of poems can ethically and effectively engage these forces in the space it assays to open. This uncertainty is central to my thinking as a poet, an apprehension, ultimately, about the limits of art itself. In this way the dissertation remains highly skeptical about its medium and the problematically appropriative nature of its approach. More specifically, the prevailing skepticism throughout the work exists primarily as an ethical concern regarding the potential colonial implications of appropriation as an aesthetic act. And yet, by inhabiting these socially constructed notions of difference directly and bringing the language of the supposed “other” into its own vocabulary, ORIENT expands its limitations as an aesthetic object by refusing to speak with either a single, static voice or from a single, static space. Doing this, the book challenges the more imperial aspects of the lyric “I” and progressively differentiates its center, approaching an increasingly empathic, outwardly oriented consciousness. This, in “the east,” in the Thai Theravada tradition, is called “karuna,” a de-centered state of radical compassion that tunes its focus beyond the borders of the individual, an act of attention akin perhaps to the consciousness that Levinas, in “the west,” refers to as “the urgency of a destination leading to the Other” (48).
In this way the search throughout the work for an empathetic, nuanced understanding of difference occurs in tandem with a deeply held unease regarding the relationship of art, politics, and the role of the sacred in public and private life. Haunted by a binary context in which “the west” has, according to Edward Said, historically “gained in strength and identity by setting itself off against the Orient” (Orientalism 3), the dissertation is guided in large part by George Oppen’s ability to exist in drift and contradiction, a perpetual wandering between polarities which the speaker of ORIENT comes to experience sublimely as a negatively capable, pastoral state of openness and wonder akin to what Fannie Howe refers to as “bewilderment.” Ultimately, ORIENT remains suspended in the middle-distance between faith and skepticism, inhabiting (by reimagining) a desert-ed pastoral space between “eastern” and “western” interpretations of the polemic forces sketched above. In the hope of re-establishing what Allan Grossman refers to as an eidetic check, throughout the work ORIENT’s speakers repeatedly direct their language toward a horizon of collective reverence, a state of radical astonishment in which they live and speak in awe of the sanctity of life which then necessitates a vital re-imagining of a relationship to sacred potentiality.
The reader will have noticed by now that I, an individual, employ the pronoun “they” when speaking of the voice, or voices, which populate the work. This is not to say, however, that ORIENT exists as a conglomeration of discrete poems spoken by a series of separate speakers. Rather, the opposite is true. The tension between my lyric singularity as the author of the work and the multiplicity of voices which populate the poems in ORIENT points to an underlying contradiction within the whole of the work itself. The voice of ORIENT can perhaps be most accurately identified as singular and plural at once, a paradox with which the work must struggle, acknowledge, and come to terms. In this light the lyric “I” which occurs in ORIENT is less traditionally employed as a unified speaker and more as a fractured conglomerate inadequately contained within the postmodern artifice of “the genre of the ‘other mind’ as it has come to manifestation in the abandonment of autonomy” (Grossman, The Sighted Singer 6). Thus, the voice(s) in ORIENT should be understood as either possessing a multiplicity of pronouns simultaneously—inhabited by a multiplicity of external voices and selves—or, to the extent that this possession complicates the cohesiveness of the self by highlighting the radically contingent nature of its relationships, as ultimately possessing none at all. In this way the speakers remain suspended between identities, adrift in the middle ground between the singular and the cacophonous. However, in attempting to hold these ethical, aesthetic, and spiritual orientations together in a single, sacred space, the speakers must approach the desert of their creation in the wake of a progressively volatile political climate where the idea/ideology of sacred space itself appears increasingly problematic, even terrifying.
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Received from author
Gulig, Nicholas, "Orient" (2016). Restricted Access ETDs. 45.