AFTER YOU, DEAREST LANGUAGE by MARISOL LIMON MARTINEZJESSICA BOZEK Reviews
After you, dearest language by Marisol Limon Martinez
(Ugly Duckling Presse, 2005)
Marisol Limon Martinez’s new book, After you, dearest language, is a revolving theater of artists, animals, musical instruments, events, body parts, objects, cities, streets, family, and friends, arranged alphabetically in entries as minimally named as “LUNG,” “SONATA,” and “CHANDELIER.” In a sort of print actualization of online hypertext, each entry links to another, as “BOOK” suggests: “Each page leads us to another landscape, another place.”
The primary effect of such a form foregrounds the issue of how to read. In fact, I wonder how Limon Martinez herself reads these pieces aloud. After you, dearest language is physically spare, with a letterpressed, matte-grey cover. The author’s name appears only twice, on the spine and in the copyright at the back of the book. There are no blurbs, no images, no summaries or reductions of what’s inside; thus, the book presents itself as an unmediated document, one whose chosen structure seems just one of many possible structures. The alphabet is as arbitrary a system as any for ordering the real/surreal/dream experiences contained within, which suggests that order is not what we’re meant to pay attention to. After all, reading After you, dearest language from front to back doesn’t feel right. To ignore its cross-referencing is to reduce the entries to rule, to privilege product over process.
One of the collection’s central ideas seems to be that we are seldom the authors of our own dreams. Here, readers have some authority in that they can choose whether or not to follow a particular reference, though they are subject to Limon Martinez’s authority in that individual entries are immutable. Only our path through these entries is variable. When I first read After you, dearest language, I was content with that variability, with the idea of the collection as a limited reference book to its speaker’s dreams and friends and anxieties. But as soon as I decided to review the book, I grew restless. If I only read around, following discrete reference-complexes, I felt as if I were shortchanging the collection. I might miss something. But reading straight through, the imperatives of cross-referencing had to be ignored. And I started to think of the book as a curio, as something I could never really know if I read it the way it asks to be read. I am still troubling over what moves this book beyond the personal and find it odd that, of the real-life characters mentioned in the book, only family members and famous artists (e.g., Louise Brooks, Jackson Pollock, Judy Garland) are “defined” or “qualified,” when giving friends their own reference-complexes wouldn’t have made the book any less universal or more personal than it already is. But After you, dearest language shuts down such criticisms by virtue of its diaristic prose:
A WOMAN in a RIVER is rowing a BOAT. Her CHILDREN are in a CAGE. She rows the boat to keep her children on the boat. If she STOPS rowing the boat, the children will drown. (“FILM”)
In other words, if the book’s speaker mentions Bande à Part but not another, more temperamentally relevant Godard film (say, Pierrot Le Fou or Weekend), because Bande à Part is what she saw, isn’t that more appropriate in this world, more to the point of the dream experience’s primacy than a grafting of associations onto the text after the fact?
While I don’t believe that it’s uncouth to share dreams, I do know that if my dream-factory can never be your dream-factory, then when I tell you my dreams, it’s because I think you might have a stake in them, in me. Similarly, After you, dearest language is a reference book with a single center, its speaker. I don’t mean to suggest that the subconscious is ever irrelevant, but that dreams, in Limon Martinez, are never not personal (whether they are the poet’s or her speaker’s). This is very different from Alice Notley’s use of dreams in Disobedience, where dream-narratives and the very act of dreaming are posited as political, as a way of shaping and maintaining an identity apart from “the American poetry masons in their burntdown hall”: “Did dreams begin when women were first / excluded from public life?” If the dreams in After you, dearest language aren’t going to invade my dreams, then I want to have o think about them more than the book impels me too.
I’m most content reading After you, dearest language on those occasions when Limon Martinez drops me into the messiness of the subconscious by way of tantalizing compression, as when there is no entry for a term save another term: “DILDO REHEARSAL,” “PECTORAL TOTEM,” “WIFE BRETON.” Do all wives lead back to Breton? Or is Breton defined solely by his “wife”? Who is Breton’s wife? According to the entry for “BRETON” “NADJA” is “Breton’s WIFE.” But “NADJA” is defined solely as “BRETON.” The circularity, the evasion, is both playful and frustrating. Of course, “NADJA” is a function of “BRETON,” but how is “BRETON” a function of “WIFE”? In the same entry Limon Martinez writes, “Someone is making THEATRE out of my life. I watch the REHEARSALS take place in a BOX PUPPET theatre.” The entry for “GOOSE,” which tells us that “Catherine… feeds a goose its own FEATHERS. She forces them into its MOUTH” suggests that After you, dearest language is an elaborate, tongue-in-cheek foie gras. This could explain Breton’s prominence and the questions of identity his presence conjures. Nadja (1928), after all, blurs the lines between autobiography and fiction, and begins with the question “Who am I?” and ends, inconclusively, “Who goes here? Is it you, Nadja?… Is it only me? Is it myself?”
In her note on the book’s title Limon Martinez writes:
“AFTER YOU, DEAREST LANGUAGE” is taken from the line in André Breton’s Introduction au discours sur le peu de realité as quoted in Walter Benjamin’s essay on Surrealism as referenced in David Levi Strauss’ “After You, Dearest Photography: Reflections on the Work of Francesca Woodman.”
She implies that language is always received at a distance, via a network of references which a reader/listener and—to a certain extent—a writer/speaker cannot know. After you, dearest language might then be regarded as an attempt to map some of these networks. For example, not every “hill” references the same “HILL”: In the entry for “ACROBAT,” “The stage is a HILL in the distance” but “The hill in the distance gets closer… The hill is closer still.” The entry for “HILL” is similar regarding “white”:
I drive through the hills in search of a HOUSE. I find a WHITE HEXAGON shaped BUILDING surrounded by TREES. I walk in. There is barely any FURNITURE. I look under and around BEDS, DESKS, TABLES. Everything is white.
Only the first “WHITE” then belongs to the reference-complex that includes
ALTAR, APARTMENT, AQUARIUM, BLOOD, BUS, CANDLE, CHANDELIER, CLASSROOM, CONCERT, CREATURE, DRAGON, DRUGS, GLASS, HEXAGON, HILL, HOSPITAL, HOUSE, LAREDO, LEG, METRO, MIRROR, MOTORCYCLE, PORNOGRAPHY, REHEARSAL, STATUE, STREET, TOTEM, TRAIN, UNDERWEAR, VIDEO, WALL
We are left to wonder how the second “white” is different from the first “WHITE.”
If After you, dearest language is an attempt to create paths through such reference-complexes, I can’t help thinking that the project would be more appropriate, and perhaps more effective in simulating dream spaces and (il)logic, online with hypertext. In such a space, readers wouldn’t have a gauge for their location or be able to fall back on the conventional ways we have for measuring progress through a text. While there are no page numbers in this print edition, the alphabet serves as a rough-enough guide, and, of course, we always know whether we’re hardly, halfway, or mostly finished by the thickness of pages on either side of pencil or bookmark. It may be more promising to consider this project a blueprint for another, one that (at the risk of seeming gimmicky) not only suggests paths but actually generates maps of those varied paths, their expanses and their returns.
Jessica Bozek wears sweaters in August & teaches at Boston University. Her new chapbook is cor•re•spond•ence (Dusie), a collaboration with Eli Queen.