The Hermit Poet

February 24, 2005

Poetry, Materialism, and Anime

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 9:00 pm

Just finished my last class of the quarter with Chris Abani. We’ve been discussing Thylias Moss’ Slave Moth in relation to Daniel Tiffany’s book on poetry and materialism as enacted in toys, Toy Medium. Very interesting stuff.

Slave Moth is a book-length narrative in linked poems which explores the world of Varl, a young black slave girl who writes/records her thoughts and history (the poems) by embroidering the words on her white shift (the dress worn under regular attire). She creates layers and layers of text-filled dresses, alters her form, and revises events in her telling. Varl is sharp, witty, and merciless. She commands the language, reshaping her existence and her relationships with Master Perry and the other slaves of the house. The dress merges with the motif of the moth cocoon and in a sense, the whole book becomes that cocoon — that liminal space where the ultimate transformations take place. It’s beautifully done — thought provoking and unconventional.

Tiffany’s essay on Poetry and Materialism addresses the idea of the poem as lyrical automaton — ie. that the poem is a machine or simulacrum which calls into existence (or at least into our awareness) this other event or moment. The poem is spell-like — a means of enacting and re-creating. In this regard, Varl’s dress of words is that medium — that simulacrum which allows a full creation of self to happen. Tiffany is fond of pointing to the mechanical cuckoo referred to by Yeats — how it is both the machine and the thing represented. Tiffany’s fascination with the ideas behind dolls and toys in general is an extension of this thinking.

Which, oddly enough, brought me to thinking of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence which deals heavily with these very same ideas. The doll and the human. The machine which is both signifying and the thing itself. I highly recommend reading Tiffany’s book and watching (or re-watching Innocence) — it’s quite the enlightening experience to see his ideas enacted. I guess that makes the movie itself a simulacrum for his ideas.

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