Monday, November 12, 2007

The Problem is the Problem

The title poem of Joseph Campana’s The Book of Faces opens with the line: “The problem is the problem you enter: you enter a room from which/ your life has been stripped and catalogued, auctioned without your being/ present” (6). We will soon discover that the “you” the speaker addresses is Audrey Hepburn, & the “stripped and catalogued” life she suffered seems rather symptomatic for any iconic starlet, so much so, that the poem appears frightfully close to a well-worn cliché. True, taking the sentence at face-value, the declaration sounds a bit trite, but Campana adds a layer of complexity to the statement (as well as hinting at the collection’s argument) by punning on the phrase “without your being/ present.” Taken materially, the poem simply states Hepburn’s physical absence from an auction of her memorabilia. Given that she is dead, this is hardly surprise & not much worth noting. The phrase only becomes relevant when we consider “being” to actually mean “Being.” As such, we enter into an ontological meditation by the author that extends throughout the course of the collection. What does it mean to be a movie-star, an author, a person, a lyrical “I,” a subject, an object, or a Being? Given Foucault’s epigraph that precedes the introductory section (“I am no doubt not the only one who writes in order to have no face.”), The Book of Faces seems to articulate a belief that the process of writing, acting, & Being is a complex nexus of interrelations that, in some way, is inextricably linked to physical presence. What is certain, though, is the collection’s desire to move away from traditional metaphysics & static identities that the face signifies & represents.

Section I of Campana’s book presents some of the keys issues that will be explored later in the text. “Pattern of Beauty,” a shaped poem in the form of Hepburn’s initials, literally magnifies one of these issues: the celebrity’s relation to the individual, or Audrey Hepburn’s relation to Audrey Ruston. In a move that demonstrates Campana’s playfulness with his subject matter, the first character of the A-shape is the capital letter “A.” The shape & the letter, while phonetically identical, differ in a variety of ways. The difference should not be seen as matter of degree, but a matter of kind & understanding them is fundamental to comprehending the text.

The letter “A” is not only a component of the A-shape, but a component of the sentence “A/ (just try)/ motion like/ a seizing or maybe…” (4). In both cases, the letter “A” is a pre-individual point that constitutes one moment within a transitory super-structure. The A-shape, then, is the whole produced by the culmination of these pre-individual points coalescing through a network of semiotic connections & typesetting.

But such an explanation is too simple. Is the A-shape really the whole, or does the whole consist of the both the A-shape & the H-shape working in conjunction with each other? & what does it mean that the letter “A” found within the text cannot be fragmented to the extent that the A-shape can? Although the A-shape announces itself hyperbolically in a spatial capacity, it can be dismantled quite easily. In fact, it is always dismantled once an audience member reads the text. Ocular focus no longer remains at the page-level, but readjusts to the sentence & typeset-level. Conversely, the letter “A” can only be dismantled through an act of physical violence to, or decay of, the artifact itself. It would seem the fragment contains a heartiness the totality does not. Or does it?

The poem offers us, it would seem, a paradox: “A/ (just try)/ motion like a seizing or maybe/ joining some/ simple still/ potent weave/…a tangle of gorgeous or (is it) garish postures” (4). Since the poem contains no punctuation, the reader must shape the syntax & grammar as (s)he feels fit. Therefore, instead of the lead “A” functioning as an indefinite article, we can choose to read it as a noun. Thus, the next twelve lines operate as a series of modifying phrases. The primary sentence, devoid of the “potent weave” of syntactical detours that creates a “tangle of gorgeous” internal clauses, or “postures,” is actually: “A comes like breath which needs no debut.” The speech-act coinciding with “A” needs only a singular “breath” to be enunciated & it “needs no debut” for it provides its own debut as the first letter-word within the poem, & not coincidently, the alphabet as well. Such a reading calls into question the super-structure of the A-shape through our grammatical evaluation of the lines. As “correct” as this sinuous reading may be, a more traditional reading that posits the lead “A” as an indefinite article functions equally well. As such, we must ask ourselves: Is this a poem about the speech-act associated with a single letter, or a poem about a “motion like a seizing”?

But a noun & an indefinite article contain fundamental differences of kind that cannot be reconciled within themselves, & the ontology ascribed to the letter “A” seems to be predicated upon the context of sentence, poem, & reader, just as much as the symbol itself. In turn, the letter “A’s” contingent identity necessarily alters the “meaning” of the A-shape.

Ontological problematics are further explored within “Pattern of Beauty” toward the beginning of the H-shape: “the/ skin of another can hold what/ you are too tired to carry/ which is presumably yourself" (5). By having “another…hold” something that one can attribute to the “yourself,” the poem signals its desire to develop a mixed-ontology that collapses the Subject-Object binary & blurs the traditional boundaries between author, speaker, icon, & individual (just to name but a few).

A more sustained exploration of the Subject-Object dissolution occurs in the poem “Copula.” Grammatically, the copula functions as a form of to be that links subject to predicate; within metaphysics, the copula serves an ontological claim in-&-of-itself, a claim, it so happens, that proves itself to be tautological (One cannot define Being without the copula. To be, or Being, utilizes “is,” the present of to be, to define itself).

But Campana’s poem fully acknowledges the tautology inherent to the copula: “Your life is your life” (9). How can one argue with such a statement? Is it not true? But the problem with tautology is that “one kills rationality because it resists one; one kills language because one betrays it” (Barthes 152). Rationality, the tool of craftsmen & fools, serves little purpose for a true artist or poet & need not be lamented. Language, on the other hand, proves to be a vital component for the poet & the poem; thus, language should only be destroyed for the purpose of its own amusement or edification. Hence, “your life is your life” is followed by “and/ your life isn’t worth the paper” (Campana 9). The tautological phrase Campana writes is “worth the paper,” or page, found in a book, but only because of the playful manner in which it is employed & the metaphysical (lingui/gymna)stics it employs. When used by those who are less self-reflective, the concept of tautology “isn’t worth the paper” because, as a “practical” tool, it attempts to mask ignorance with the deformed & confused face of rationality: one indeterminate telling itself it exists simply because it thinks (or says) it does: a self-reinforcing Cartesian statement founded on mythic, pre-philosophical fantasies: self-absorption taken to frighteningly dangerous levels. Tellingly, the poem’s only other use of the copula, “the bag is empty” (9), reinforces this proposition: the “bag,” Western metaphysics, is an “empty” endeavor.

What then is the way out of this seemingly futile situation? Is there even a viable option? “Copula” provides at least one feasible answer: AND. The word “and” is used eleven times within this rather short text & its relative frequency (along with its grammatically quirky placement at the beginning of several sentences) demands that the reader take notice. AND logic should be read as an alternative to the INSTEAD OF logic of ontology: where ontology claims that “this is this, but not that,” AND logic claims “this is this & this & this & this…” The word “and” becomes less of a conjunction & more of an “atypical expression of all possible conjunctions it places in continuous variation” (Deleuze & Guattari 99). From this “continuous variation,” a multiplicity, which “has neither subject nor object, only determinations, magnitudes, and dimensions,” (8) is produced. Whether it is Campana, Hepburn, the lyrical “I,” or some other “One,” the unity they claim for themselves is only a temporary “power takeover in the multiplicity by the signifier or a corresponding subjectification proceeding” (8). The final lines of “Copula” highlight this concept: “His, theirs, yours, ours, and/ you feel: you feel like a lot of people” (Campana 9).

Throughout the next few sections, the collection develops a nuanced examination of AND logic. The incipit of section II states: “I’ve come to take your face” & thus announces the speaker’s desire to appropriate the image of another; in this case, we can presume it is Hepburn. Such appropriation should not be seen as a speaker, or the poet, merely stealing away with Hepburn’s identity, but as problematizing the notion. In “Canzone,” we read: “and you/ were never Katharine and I am no longer// Joseph and if I ever was it was brief: was/ it ever sweet? I still don’t know who you/ want me to be or if you want me to be at all” (18). Several layers of argumentation are at work here. Joseph, the speaker (not to be confused with the Campana himself, or the speaker of any other poem for that matter), posits a transitory Being for the subject (“I am no longer”) & complete absence of Being within the object (“you were never”). While such logic may initially appear to be a subjectivist claim, the fact that the speaker wonders what the object wants the subject to be, or whether the object even wants the subject to be anything at all, creates an oscillation between subject & object that can be read neither as subjectivism or objectivism: this is a continual becoming that defers a static identity within either.

But the question still remains, what does this all have to do with Audrey Hepburn? As the focal point of the collection’s obsession, surely Hepburn’s presence must be noteworthy. Of course, Hepburn’s continual presence throughout the book is important, but not as a definitive or determinate object to be analyzed or admired. In fact, there is no Audrey Hepburn within this collection, but a multiplicity of Hepburns continually territorializing themselves within the poems, only to be deterritorialized by another Hepburn, which will reterritorialize[1] itself somewhere else within the book. Each Hepburn is no more than a transitory locus of power located at singular points throughout the collection. In the fourth section of “Sonnets for Audrey Hepburn,” the speaker asks “For who were you made?” (23). Although an explicit answer is not provided in the immediate text, there are plenty of contextual clues throughout: “You’ve always been the magazine” (21) provides a Hepburn for the consumer, “When your body doubles you can see her before you” (26) provides a Hepburn for a Hepburn, the Hepburn of “How to Make a Million” is for perspective entrepreneurs, “I see your face in the mirror” (45) for the speaker of the poem “Funny Face,” & a Hepburn for budding starlets & fallen pop-stars in “How to Be a Star,” to name a few.

The choice of Hepburn as the collection’s focus makes sense in that celebrities, especially those who have territorialized themselves within the domain of icons, hyperbolically embody the concepts of the multiplicity due to their pervasive presence throughout our cultural landscape. To this extent, Hepburn (& other icons) are no longer just a multiplicity but an assemblage, which “is precisely this increase in the dimensions of a multiplicity that necessarily changes in nature as it expands its connections” (Deleuze & Guattari 8).

There is another outstanding question that needs to be addressed when considering The Book of Faces, & that is: What is one to make of the drastic variation in form found throughout the collection? The differences in form are not just between sonnet & canzone, but between received forms, one-act plays, prose poems, lyric poems, numbered lists, shaped poems, sectioned poems, & free verse. & this catalogue is nowhere near exhaustive. One answer could be that the form of expression mimics the form of content[2] in that these variations present the reader with a relational link to the concept of multiplicity found in the text. But this seems a bit too simple of a solution, if not totally representational in nature (thus belying the entire concept of the multiplicity).

Perhaps another explanation for the variation in poetic form can be found in the title of the collection. This is NOT The Book of Poems, but The Book of Faces. While the distinction between poems & faces is important (& will be elaborated on later), one must first address the concept of the book. What exactly is a book? According to Deleuze & Guattari, a book is “lines of articulation or segmentarity, strata and territories; but also lines of flight, movements of deterritorialization and destratification…[that] constitute an assemblage. A book is an assemblage” (3-4). As such, the aforementioned Hepburn assemblage plugs into the book assemblage to create The Book of Faces machine[3]. Therefore, The Book of Faces is not just a book, but a literal machinic entity. There is an artifact entitled The Book of Faces that is print & bound by Graywolf Press, but it is only one assemblage that constitutes The Book of Faces machine, which continually undergoes the processes of deterritorialization & reterritorialization. The machine is a collection of varying assemblages that continually refigure themselves & follow numerous lines of flight.

As previously mentioned, Campana’s book is not one of poems, but one of faces. But how can a poem be a face? Does this book even contain poems? If we understand the face through the concept of faciality[4], as an element of a post-signifying regime that deterritorializes the body, including the head, & reterriorializes in an effort to redistribute “the organization of power” (175), then we can begin to see why this collection is a book of Faces, not poems[5]. If Campana seeks to be “drawn to dissolution” (Campana 43), it must be through the Face because “Faces are not basically individual; they define zones of frequency or probability” (Deleuze & Guattari 168) engendered by an abstract machine of faciality. The face does away with the static subject, taking us past semiotic signifying & to a post-signifying limit. The face is the limit of representation & Hepburn’s face, that “infinite complexity of morphological functions” (Barthes 57) is the limit’s far boundary. Ultimately, one needs to dismantle the face if there is any hope of escape from the signifying regime & its corresponding power assemblages that coalesce at particular loci. To dismantle the face of Hepburn is to dismantle Western ontology.

Therefore, Campana’s continuum of forms seeks to dismantle Hepburn’s face through proliferation & segmentation. By reproducing her face 47 times over (in close-up & at a distance, in profile & head-on, bare & in makeup, etc), splicing them across a variety of “white walls” in the form of “black holes,” over-laying them with photographs of Beckett, Zukofsky, Spenser, Chaucer, Catullus, Campana, & a host of others, perhaps there is a new way out.

But to “dismantle the face is no mean affair. Madness is a definite danger: Is it by chance that schizos lose their sense of the face, their own and others’?”(Deleuze & Guattari 188). & does not The Book of Faces read like a schizophrenic text? What is a post-apocalyptic one-act play doing side-by-side with a short lyrical poem about a father? Why is there an epigraph from a 20th century theorist alongside a Renaissance poet? Furthermore, does not the text, in “A is for Audrey, C is for Chaucer,” construct a new alphabet that rejects the phonetic & linguistic possibility of the author’s (Joseph Campana) existence?

By the end of the collection, the speaker of “Eurydice in Rome” realizes that “You are everywhere. You’re not a woman at all” (Campana 116). Perhaps, then, this is another way to view the collection’s answer to “the problem is the problem”: becoming-animal, becoming-flower, becoming-imperceptible. Through a multiplicity of synchronic becomings, the Face can no longer signify, no longer exert its despotic power, & dissipates into imperceptibility. But such a dismantling can only occur through “art, and art of the highest kind” (Deleuze & Guattari 187) & that is what The Book of Faces desperately attempts to do. Yet, with the concluding poem, the success of the dismantling is called into question. We are left with a new repetition of the face, as if the head, newly faceless & frightened of what it has finally achieved, dons a mask to enter once again into the world of Faces:

Reach for
you, take

hand, my, I:
but you’ve

already turned
another face. (Campana 118-9)


[1] For further explanation on the territorialization process, read Delezue & Guattari’s A Thousand Plateuas: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, pages 133-6 & 508-10.

[2] For further explanation on Deleuze & Guattari’s concept of form of expression & form of content, as well as the difference between the two, read Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, pages 3-8.

[3] For further explanation on Deleuze & Guattari’s concept of the machine & its interaction with the assemblage, read A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, pages 4, 343-4, & 346-7, as well as Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, pages 81-8.

[4] For further explanation on Deleuze & Guarttari’s concept of faciality, read A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia, pages 167-91.

[5] It must be noted that “even a use-object may come to be facialized…because it is taken up in the white wall/black hole process, because it connects to the abstract machine of facialization…The abstract machine is therefore effectuated not only in the faces that produce it but also to varying degrees in body parts, clothes, and objects that it facializes following an order or reasons” (Deleuze & Guattari "Thousand" 175)


Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. Trans. Annette Lavers. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, &
Giroux, 1972.

Campana, Joseph. The Book of Faces. Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2005.

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia.
Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1986.

1 comment:

bobfejes said...

this warchevski character is out there