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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Reflective, Cross-cultural Immanence

[This is a continuing series of posts that reflect on Nathaniel Mackey's Songs of the Andoumboulou, a series of poems that Mackey has been working on through three books. His latest book with Andoumboulou poems in them, Splay Anthem, won the National Book Award. I take into consideration his allusions, Mackey's prose, interviews with him, and critical discussions of his work. As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. To access all of the posts, click on "Nathaniel Mackey" in the list to the right.]

[I am currently discussing Mackey's book Whatsaid Serif. If for some reason you cannot buy it (and I sincerely hope you do), many of the poems can be found here. Also, Mackey reads 10 of the poems with musical accompaniment on an album entitled Strick.]

To say that Mackey is a poet of immanence is to leave him open to deconstruction. In order to distinguish itself as a concept, immanence needs to define itself against something, probably something in opposition to it. This is the concept of transcendence.

Transcendence suggests the act of standing completely outside a frame of reference. Sometimes, this frame of reference is considered earthly existence itself, and this is referred to as religious transcendence.

If I am reading him in a fair manner, this is the trouble for Mackey: even as he denies transcendence, he also implicitly asserts it as a way of demarcating the essential concept of immanence. This is the deconstruction.

I believe that Mackey sidesteps this issue through his notion of cross-culturality (which is mentioned in the subtitle to a collection of his critical pieces, Discrepant Engagement.) This concept allows Mackey to assert that there are distinguishing limits in immanence, but they are not between it and transcendence. They are between various cultures, and the complicated liminal zone between them.

Cross cultural contact is always a "discrepant engagement," alwasy revealing, concealing, and distracting. Opening only to skitter sideways or to close up or to creak.

That said, we can "know" each other, if knowledge is understaood as a process and not a possession, as the work of creaking. It is also important to note that cross cutrual contact and tensions take place not only between cultures but, in large, complex societies, within a culture.

In short, to get over the immanence - transcendence dichotomy, we substitute the notion of cross-culturality for it. This leaves us in this world, in the shadows and darkness of duende, with no transcendental light, groping and feeling and searching our way toward partial glints and sights in the process of knowledge.

One last word: I believe that rhetorically we need to address the dichotomy in order to clearly demarcate the terrain of cross-culturality. Once we have done that, we can actually discuss Mackey with the nuance he deserves.

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