Fistula: A Novel & The Poetics of Coexistence: Frank O'Hara, Assemblage, and the Case for Relational Poetics

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Nathaniel Ogle

Abstract

Fistula: A Novel In The Dialogic Imagination, Mikhail Bakhtin claimed the “prerequisite of authentic novelistic prose” is an “internal stratification of language, of its social heteroglossia and the variety of individual voices in it”. This interfacing of forms, styles and perspectives spotlights and enacts the vexed but porous “borderline between oneself and other”, providing a formal machinery through which social coexistence can be explored dramatically. Fistula takes this literally: designed as a dossier of evidentiary documents penned by an interrelated cast of characters, this novel constitutes a heteroglot assemblage investigating the breakdowns and recuperations of ethical encounters in sexual, familial, civic, vocational and juridical contexts. As a result, the textual vérité of documentary materials in its dossier format reshapes the novel form in accordance to the contemporary hypertextual media environment and exercises a conception of the novel more commonly accredited to poetry—not only as the depiction of events, but as an event itself. While the configuration of documents does constitute an episodic narrative the reader beholds, it serves also as a heterogenous object for direct interaction, recasting the crime reader’s role from a witness of the fictional detective confronting evidence to a readerly detective themselves confronting evidence. The events that Fistula does simultaneously depict concern the ways in which trauma, betrayal and legal and police procedures subjectively reform its protagonist, Corina, a nephrology nurse recovering from rape. In caring for her dying mother, mourning a lost love, and finding friendship with a new patient, Corina can repair fractured social relations despite, but also because of, an aggravated awareness of vulnerability. Corina’s narrative is juxtaposed with her ex-boyfriend and rapist Cameron’s account of the assault and his guilt-driven descent into insomniac derangement while on bail. This serves as a contrasting study of manipulative narcissism and, structurally, produces a parallax view that reveals the social and psychological antagonism configuring the inconsistency of their perspectives. The underlying argument Fistula enacts is that literary assemblage enables a means of responding to, and engaging with, the social condition, as Frank O’Hara puts it, of “life held precariously in the seeing / hands of others”. The Poetics of Coexistence: Frank O’Hara, Assemblage, and the Case for Relational Poetics This dissertation focuses on the series of poems in Frank O’Hara’s critically neglected The New York-Amsterdam Set/The End of the Far West (1963/64) in order to demonstrate his unmapped preoccupation with a more inclusive notion of the relationality of social life than the exclusive kinships of affinity with which he has been previously associated. This amounts to a shift from employing a “poetics of coterie”, as Lytle Shaw has influentially argued, to exercising a poetics of coexistence, which contrastingly attends to the modalities of difference in the correlated orders of sociality and metaphysics. The poems stand out in O’Hara’s oeuvre not only for this shift in focus, but for their formal idiosyncrasy. Comprising congregated fragments of conversation, the poems engender an immersive textual space whose associate networks of interaction function analogously to plastic assemblages and thus constitute a novel poetic form—the assemblage-poem. As verbal diagrams of concrete social assemblages, these assemblage-poems expose and potentially emancipate the reader from the discursive modes and affective realities of social exclusion and regulation, of coerced consensus and sectarianism, which define the era in which they were written—the Cold War condition in America from Kennedy’s New Frontier initiative to the Vietnam War. As plastic assemblage preceded conceptual and participatory art, from the late 1960s happenings to the relational aesthetics of the 1990s, O’Hara’s assemblage-poems serve as a crucial steppingstone to a what I correspondingly call relational poetry, a heteroglot literary practice that is fundamentally interactive but also participatory, collaborative, ephemeral, precarious and affective.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award date31 Dec 2019