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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Beyond the Perceptual Model: Toward a Proprioceptive Poetics

  • Author(s): Nealand, Eireene
  • Advisor(s): Godzich, Wlad
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

In a 1965 manifesto called "Proprioception" Charles Olson, the poet often known as the father of the American avant-garde, suggests that poets wanting to implement their open verse poetics explore a physiological faculty associated with the way we experience motion, texture, and shifts. This dissertation attempts to do so.

Distinguishing between artworks associated with a perceptual model of the senses and those associated with a proprioceptive one, I show that a proprioceptive approach can be helpfully explored through a look at the work of Marcel Duchamp, who is best known for his anti-representational approach to art, one which includes the spectator as a part of the canvas. Using the example of spectator experience of a pointillist painting by Georges Seurat in which differently colored dots reach each of our eyes at different times, I show that juxtaposition-based art allows viewers to navigate the painting using proprioceptive coordinative mechanisms to apprehend texture, seeing colors that are neither on the canvas nor in our eyes.

The coordinative process, I show through a reading of the work of Jean Genet, involves not just textures associated with physical stimuli but also with memories and expectations. Here, I introduce the idea of modality showing how we can navigate multiple literary senses, developing a figural awareness of patterns across scenes using proprioception to apprehend narratives that do not depend on totalizing wholes. Like the court cases that I take as a model for Genet's recursive narrative, I show we can in fact navigate contradictions using an adaptive approach to narrative based on homeostasis that allows our ideas to be co-created by the scenes we seek to understand.

In my third chapter I come back to the question of "projection" in Olson's projective verse. A consideration of the development of new senses, figural patterns, and all of these artworks together points us to a poetics that is open in the sense that it is deliberately full of juxtapositions, and gaps and contradictions; rather than producing skepticism, however, these juxtapositions draw the audiences in and produce a flexible coherence dependent on balance and open relations.

I conclude by explaining why proprioceptive poetics offers a step beyond post-modernism, showing the particular type of coherence to be gained through its tension-based approach to poetics.

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