Register Thursday | September 20 | 2018

This Poetic Vacuum

Jenny Boully's The Body

The Body
by Jenny Boully
Slope Editions
80 pages 

The Body by Jenny Boully is a work of poetry, composed entirely of footnotes that subtend blank pages and comment upon the invisible, if not imaginary, text that allegedly occupies this poetic vacuum. Like the Oulipian work Suburbia by Paul Fournel, a novel composed of nothing but its own apparatus and footnotes, The Body draws aesthetic attention to the peripheral topography of the page, analyzing the poetics of a neglected, miniature genre that often escapes scrutiny because its functionalism renders it too marginal or subaltern to warrant either artistic emphasis or literary analysis. The poet here reveals, however, that the minor space and viral scale of the footnote represents a necessary, albeit parasitic, dimension of writing, one that plays out the logic of the supplement, displacing rather than augmenting the body that supports it.

The Body consists of enumerated marginalia, all of which allude to an autobiographical text by Jenny Boully, who recounts her affair with a man named E., but this account has apparently undergone subsequent commentary by the author and her editor, and the reader must in turn attempt to lend coherence to the cryptogram of these enigmatic allusions. While the body of the poem often stands in for the body of the poet, acting as a surrogate for the experience of such a biography, the body of the text in this case has gone missing, leaving behind only the exuviae of the work itself—the set of afterthoughts found in annotations and digressions, allegedly presented after the fact by experts, who have prepared this text for scholastic discussion. The author has already imagined herself as an absentee from the poetic milieu, dead perhaps, having already become a topic of academic research, her poetic corpus now dissected and explained for use in a classroom.

The Body suggests that every reference for language, even the body of the poet, constitutes an evasive absence—a thing never known for what it is, despite our desires, because it must vanish at the very moment when we summon it by name, lost forever in a limitless interplay of signs: “how sad and strange that I, Jenny Boully, should be [ . . . ] the sign of a signifier searching for the signified” (20). The body of the text in turn becomes a blank that the reader must fill in, performing on a grand scale the kind of exercise required by the very footnotes that appear to delete significant information, as if censoring themselves for reasons of archaic decorum: for example, “Ms Boully must have been confused, as it was actually __________, not ____________, who uttered ‘______________________’ and thus became a symbolic figure in her youth” (12).

The Body makes reference in its footnotes to a footnoted biography—an oneiric journal—which The Body in turn becomes: “[a]fter the author’s death, it was Tristram who went through her various papers and came across the many folders labeled ‘footnotes,’ ” and “[i]t wasn’t until years later when he was curious as to which papers the footnotes corresponded that Tristram discovered that the ‘footnotes’ were actually daily journals of the author’s dreams” (72). Boully even cites the poet Robert Kelly, who claims: “Dreams themselves are footnotes. But not footnotes to life” (72). Boully implies that her own text may not in fact refer beyond itself to any absent book that constitutes the actual life of her work; instead, her own text may simply annotate a fantastic biography from another reality, referring only to itself as a kind of dream within a dream.

Boully has succeeded in constructing a fragmented, aphoristic work, reminiscent of Heraclitus (whom she footnotes), and her text seduces its reader by drawing unexpected but felicitous linkages between disparate citations from the history of literature. Boully suggests that, when deprived of a framing context, the footnote provides an ideal model for the rhetorical trenchancy of great poems. She takes delight in the enigmatic character of her own displaced sentences—for example, footnote 35 states: “I was the lonely tripod. I was the empty cup of tea left behind” (21). The reader can only fantasize about the original contexts that might have made such information significant to its author, and ultimately, each note, when left unexplained, implies that the body of any text consists of nothing but a void—filled with the exegetical projection of our own imagination.

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Selections From Jenny Boully’s The Body:

36 The particular nursery rhyme was “Stopping the Swing”:

Die, pussy, die,
Shut your little eye;
When you wake,
Find a cake—
Die, pussy, die.

43 The cartographer, in this case, purposely placed the “X” in an obvious, yet incorrect location. The treasure actually rested towards the northeastern edge of the dark wood, 967 paces over the creek away from the side door of the mill house, past 240 cow flops, over 90 large rocks, in the grove of the 540 lilac blossoms where 473 bumble bees seek whatever it is they seek in the air where 1,601 pebbles were tossed.

48 It was after this incident that the leaves began eavesdropping.

55 When I heard that she was planning to move to Europe, a great panic rose within me and immediately I began scheming ways to accumulate money with which I too could take the trip and follow the great poet.

57 Recall that sometimes the world is violet and amass with wanderers, and a woman in white, long sought, appears innocent, as if in a pin-up in which anticipation and promise grope one another.

75 Because the weather and landscape was forever shifting and birds gave birth to new birds that birthed new birds ad infinitum, this passage is, historically, inaccurate. The main argument, however, remains unaffected.

83 Gilgamesh also lost a bicycle: “Gilgamesh, where are you hurrying to? You will never find that life for which you are looking” ... “I found a sign and I have lost it.”

84 Like all men trained in the investigative sciences, he was schooled in skepticism; hence his refusal to completely discard the old theory of despair in favor of the one full of promises, on grounds that he lacked “convincing evidence.”

95 Surely, no reader will fail to recognize this opening line.

98 “You will never find the life for which you are searching.”

99 Except, perhaps, for poets and prostitutes.

102 If the window is open, then true. If the door was abruptly shut, then false. If the villanelle was blonde, then add five points to your answer. If she was drinking a dirty martini, subtract 60 points for fear. If you forgot her name, wait out a turn. If love, then the ace of spades: for everything else, reshuffle and deal again.

126 This concerns the audience in the dark; moreover, the fade-out is necessary to distill the correct level of confusion: are they making love or is someone being murdered?

129 Filmmaker Lousine Shamamian suggests that the fade out leaving the sound of wings knocking against glass is meant to imply that the protagonist grew weary of impersonating herself.