Kate Fagan: Thinking with Things

  Kate Fagan

  Thinking with Things

  Object Habitats and Relational Aesthetics
  in the Poetry of Astrid Lorange and Pam Brown

A paper first presented at ‘Contemporary Women’s Writing and Environments’, a conference convened by the Contemporary Women’s Writing Association, at the State Library of Victoria, 5 July 2014

Endnote links: If you click on the number that identifies the endnote, you will be taken back to the point in the text where the endnote anchor occurs; and vice versa.

THE WORD ‘habitat’ is associated most often with living matter. Habitats are places of linkage; environments that sustain, and are built by, living things. But what happens when we imagine poems as habitats for any and all things, whether sentient or not? Contemporary Australian poets Astrid Lorange and Pam Brown both write thing-ly poetries. Both display an intense and tender regard for nouns as they verb. Both revel in arrays of lists. In Astrid Lorange’s supercharged works, objects and bodies impress upon and are arranged alongside others in teeming ecologies. Material and conceptual transformations occur as poems enable what literary and cultural theorist John Frow has called “an endless mixing of the properties of persons with the properties of things” (Frow 280) – as figured in Lorange’s poem ‘Wolves are Swarms’:

I just said: I am a swarm of impressions
I just said: this is a suite of dirty little wolves

the simple, hidden swarm of events and actors
determined by the outer shell, emitting light, filling orbits
you, as a fennel bulb […] (Lorange, Eating 21)

In a connected fashion, Pam Brown’s poems play with a sense of poetic texts themselves as other-than-human objects, even as they are written by (and gifted between) people. Via a series of conditional naming exercises, Brown meditates in the poem ‘Things’ on poetry as a habitat in which others and things can exchange belongings without being appropriated: “this poem – merely a hint / of the trove of things […] / it’s nothing really” (Brown, Authentic 35).

I want to respond to the different object-fascinations of Lorange and Brown as a way of improvising a mode of thinking with things. I am interested in kinds of relational or collectivist aesthetics; and more particularly, in ways that poems can be event horizons for affective subjects, or matrices of perception in which hosts of objects pressure subjects into continuous de- and re-composition. Lorange’s poems effect thing-swarms – complex scripts of material mélange in which things bump against each other in “swarm[s…] of impressions”. Impressions are important here. An ‘impression’ suggests networks of interrelation between objects, things and subjects. For some thing to leave an impression, a transformation must occur – from materiality to afterimage, or from object to interpretive (and necessarily subsequent) sign. Conversely, impressions of things can be launched when the “thing” being re-performed or evoked is nowhere in proximity. There is no way to stabilise the manifold, seething relationships between impressions and objects, or to insist upon the visible equivalence of their linked terms, as Lorange knows when she refers to “a hidden swarm of events and actors”. [See Note 1]

Poetic impressions offer an acknowledgement of something posited recently by cultural theorist Stephen Connor. While making admiring readings of texts by Michel Serres, Connor claims that ‘thing theory’ is understood best as a means of fathoming how objects and things (he makes minimal distinction) enable the becoming of subjects, since subjects qua subjects become so chiefly via their libidinal investment in certain objects. “How does one become a subject? By means of the objects one takes oneself for”, argues Connor. “[T]hinking beings can only ever accede to themselves, which is to say become able to think about their own thinking, via the accessory of things” (Connor, n.pag.). Let’s say a thing precedes a person’s encounter with it. [Note 2] If a poem is a habitat in which things might be encountered via language, then things as they appear in poetry might always be impressions; not stand-ins for actualities, or representations of a temporarily obscured ‘real’, but indices to materialities, or signs that point to scenes of encounter between objects and apprehending subjects. Objects press upon perception. Perception presses back. Material impressions collide, generating borders anew. Or as Lorange writes: “your nervous system decentralised / and so your intelligence spread across me spread into / volcanic soil” (Eating 21). The figure of a thing-swarm inspires a flock of questions. If a poem is a thing of things, or a habitat for a poetics of objects, how can poetry offer ways of understanding the affective, mediated and mutable relationships between ‘objects’ and ‘subjects’, and encourage us to shuffle the borders of that ever-inexact distinction? What can a poetics of things offer to our thinking about the mutually constitutive and reciprocally gifting experiences of writing and reading? How can an object-focused poetics help us to scrutinise anthropocentric claims about the ‘unknowability’ or excessive irreducibility of things? And what might such inquiries add to ongoing discussions about the uses, potentials and political efficacy of a post-constructivist, radically materialist poetry, especially at a time when countless material ecologies are in crisis?

These questions are not especially new. But their application within the field of contemporary Australian poetry and poetics is limited to date. In an historical overview of ‘thing theory’ published in 2001, Bill Brown gave something of a rallying cry for considering thinking and thingness as inseparable: “we want things to come before ideas, before theory, before the word, whereas they seem to persist in coming after: as the alternative to ideas, the limit to theory, victims of the word. If thinking the thing […] feels like an exercise in belatedness, the feeling is provoked by our very capacity to imagine that thinking and thingness are distinct” (Brown, ‘Thing Theory’ 16). I want to turn here to a close reading of Astrid Lorange’s ‘One Is Also Chips’, the opening poem in her chapbook Eating and Speaking (2011). My aim is not to delimit specific meanings for Lorange’s poem but to think with the poem itself as a thing of things. In this, I hope to bypass hermeneutical methods of reading that demand fixed answers to the problems of ‘poems’, and, following Bill Brown’s salutary advice, to avoid the trap of reifying poems as the limit or exception to theory – necessarily outside, transcending, or subsequent to ideas. Poem-as-thing-as-thinking. Thinking-as-thing-as-poem.

‘One Is Also Chips’ is scattered with sassy directives to readers that work as tongue-in-cheek, cautionary tales about how to approach the rapidly morphing objects and subjects of the poem: “a lesson in affect at the very least”, counsels Lorange (Eating 12). This comes soon after “it whips one into an auto-meringue” (11), which in turn follows a provocative, geomorphological directive: “I fit right into this archipelago, so do / you” (11). Lorange’s title gives us multiple clues to the kinds of thought we might encounter within the poem, and to the kinds of thinking readers might perform by taking up the poem’s ‘things’ as lessons – and, when considering its collocation of tropes, as enabling tools and technologies. One is also chips. A person is more than a person or subject. A person is also what it perceives; it is the things of which it speaks (or writes), and as the poem repeatedly suggests, the things it reads and eats. One is also chips. One is an infinite multiple (1x1x1=1). One thing is many things, or comprised of many different characteristics and conditions that are also things in themselves. [3] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s observations on the thing-status of percepts are salient here: “the thing or the work of art – is a bloc of sensations, that is to say, a compound of percepts and affects” (Deleuze and Guattari 164, italics included).

Lorange explores this idea of amalgamated composition via the trope of the chip. In her poem, a chip is also a “fracture of a potato as scorched in / molten fats” (Lorange, Eating 9), or “the // tug of Dickens at the back of the throat” (9), or “a system” (10). It is “[o]ne thing filleted from another” (10) by means of a “game” (9), an “axe” (10), a “pocketknife” (11) – “[t]hus removing small parts, small parts at a time” (11). A chip suggests an excessive lode of virtual data encoded in an improbably small micro-environment. Chips accumulate and re-aggregate when something is carved from something else. A ‘chip off the old block’ carries its own genetic blueprints and ancestral heredities, even while being severed from them (“a bloodline beyond our sense of community” (10)). A chip is atomic, orbital, other-than-toast, “nivver had” (10), “[w]ith, of, from, bred, stepet, etc.” (11). To return to Deleuze and Guattari, chips are “like a passage from the finite to the infinite, but also from territory to deterritorialization” (180-181); ‘eating chips’ is Lorange’s metonymic figure for relations among things that morph and transform continuously in infinite series.

Perhaps most significantly for Lorange’s thinking across Eating and Speaking, a chip is also “a grammatical device” (Lorange, Eating 10). I want to look in more detail at how ‘One Is Also Chips’ permutes through its many object and subject-chains to reach that temporary moment of arrival or organisation, beginning (again) at the beginning:

I am the line itself, a small, esp. thin piece
in hewing or cutting; the course of a wood-
man’s work. I am a woodman’s Chyppe. He
broke dates, sodden then dry, for a blaze: on
the ground the parsley’s a sapling, the tile of
a battle of turpentine […]
                                                  […] One wish is to
close your circuit, to route all nervous systems
and tech-gear through my palm, as though sopped
into bread. Inside every cell is a system beyond your
own capacity for mathematics. Inside every wire
is a bloodline beyond our sense of community.
You, whom thy fingers walke. I walked into the
space inside your downy cat’s ear, folded as an
envelope between my fingerpads, threaded as
hats into baskets. One thing filleted from another
to add strength, threading as mutton or dung of
buffalo, skin of gravy, a potato, a grammatical device.
                                                            (Lorange, Eating 9-10)

Lorange’s opening words here, “I am the line itself”, reflect her attention to kinds of portraiture (one is also chips), or rhetorically-invested catalogues of subjective attributes. Her-self is her subject – only inasmuch as she posits a speaking subject that refuses to steady in the poem. Lorange’s subject does not resemble a lyrical ‘I-think’-tank, so much as a thinking thing pressured by multiple flight-lines of objectivity and objecthood. The poem’s way of apprehending and naming things puts forward the ‘lyrical’ subject (the conduit and “conductor” of the poem (10)) as an entity in flux that exchanges properties with numerous, “threaded” others. Witness the subject’s seamless mutation through so many different ‘states’ in the poem: “I” is chips, the line, the proper name Chyppe, an earlobe, thirst, “like a heron”, “an egg-shell or leaf-curl”, “animated as a whiff” (9-12). Things are subject to a like, recombinant logic: “threaded as hats into baskets […] threading as mutton or dung of / buffalo, skin of gravy, a potato, a grammatical device” (10). Across Lorange’s poetry, subjects and objects are always in-becoming as objects and subjects. They jostle for placement in language and thought as others alongside one another, or to slightly tweak Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phrase, as “things among things” (Brown, ‘Thing Theory’ 4). This repeating scene of poetical encounter and transfer produces countless instances of estrangement and re-familiarisation within an imagined subject’s embodied, gustatory and perceptual fields – as suggested perhaps by the punning titles of two other recent collections by Lorange, FOOD TURNS INTO BLOOD and Pussy pussy pussy what what or Au lait day Au lait day.

Echoes of Gertrude Stein’s foundationally estranging and familiarising attention to objects and subject-composition are loud throughout Eating and Speaking. [4] They are acknowledged in the book’s dual epigraph, which cites several lines from Michel Serres’ The Parasite (published in English translation in 1982) – including “the passage from the material to the logical occurs” (Lorange, Eating 7) [5] – together with the first three lines of Gertrude Stein’s ‘Portrait of Christian Bérard’, which was written in 1928 and appeared later in Stein’s book Portraits and Prayers (1934):

Eating is her subject.
While eating is her subject.
Where eating is her subject. (Lorange, Eating 7)

Lorange’s epigraph extends the conceptual potential of ‘One Is Also Chips’ as a form of post-Steinian portraiture where the noun (subject) is always verbing (movement and meta-transformation, troped here as ‘eating’). Arguably, the ‘real subjects’ of such a rhetorical blazon are grammar and its materials, the rules and systems that generate logic and differentiation in language; or as Stein might write, “arrangement[s] in a system to pointing” (Stein, Tender 9). One is also a grammatical device. ‘One’ is a unit of temporary containment within a larger scheme of classification, as Lorange reminds us: “[i]nside every cell is a system beyond your / own capacity for mathematics” (Lorange, Eating 10). But one is also a sign embodying endless differentiation – one-not-two, or one-not-the-other. Long before Jacques Derrida’s formative notion of différance (see for example Derrida 1973), Gertrude Stein’s writings were subjecting things to endless transmutations via repetitive, incremental shifts in word and language. Put differently, Stein’s compositional methods advanced a new kind of thing-ly grammar, or a re-ruling and delimiting of poetic language and its systems according to the affective, shifting, perceptual terrains of consciousness. These ideas are ghosted in Lorange’s gesture of anti-portraiture “I am the line itself”, a rule or drawing of subjective coherence that is overturned immediately as subject and object become co-mingled entities within the poem (one is also chips). To again cite Stephen Connor, Lorange’s after-Stein poems can be read as “incipient figurings of thought’s desire to encounter in things the objects of its own thinking” (Connor n.pag.) – including, I would argue, its systems of organisation, order attribution, and its arrangement of relationships between entities and things: viz., its grammars.

And so we return to the thinking, writing subject, and to after-modernist and post-constructivist responses to various inquiries into ‘thing-ness’ that characterise some important strands of modernist poetics – including, in a qualified sense, the poetics of Stein’s celebrated ‘Object’ series from her book Tender Buttons: Objects Food Rooms (Stein, Tender 9-29), published first in 1914. I want to signal those philosophical environments by locating Stein alongside an event that consolidated an American post-war, post-modernist, objective poetics: the publication in 1968 of George Oppen’s ‘Of Being Numerous’, a serial poem of phenomenological enquiry that begins by positing human subjectivities – or perhaps, human experiences of livedness – as “a part of an infinite series” of interrelated occurrences that are renegotiated perpetually within the manifold, material networks of “things / We live among” (Oppen 147). Ideally, a poetical route-map from Stein to Lorange would include lengthy pit-stops at the Café of the Objectivists. In this short paper I will not reenter bedrock debates about the contributions of modern phenomenology to ‘thinking with things’, or attempt to give blanket coverage to the complex impacts of that thinking upon Western modernist and contemporary poetics. But they should be acknowledged, however fleetingly, as a pre-poetical condition for interrogating early twenty-first century poetical subjects-among-things.

John Frow valuably critiques “a discourse which flourished early in the last century […] the phenomenological reduction which seeks to bracket things in their singularity […] reaching back to the thingness of things, to free them from their merely instrumental status in a world of human uses” (Frow 273). Frow is deeply suspicious of thinking that gives things dual identity as both utterly unknowable or beyond subjective apprehension (a pure other against which we define ourselves as whole) and as excessively loaded with interiority and meaning, thereby possessing a kind of divine ontology that is “distinct […] from intention, representation, figuration or relation” (272). He includes William Carlos Williams’ poetic writing within that tradition (273). Such ontologies commandeer things always into the service of complete-subject-actualisation (o thing! limit of my own ontological horizons! godhead, mirror to my own real! etcetera.). [6] Stephen Connor warns of the “appropriative sentimentality” (Connor n.pag.) hovering behind such phenomenologies, choosing rather to read things as barometers of perceptual, affective and conceptual relations. He is responding specifically here to Jane Bennett’s advocacy, within an essay entitled ‘The Force of Things’ (2004) that reappeared in her book Vibrant Matter, for a “moment of methodological naiveté” that might render manifest a “world of non-human vitality” in which we might locate, or even encounter provisionally, the “thing-power” of objects (Bennett 17). Bennett aims to understand the political force of objects within contemporary philosophical, economic and ecological discourses. And while her approach is anything but appropriative, her use of the term “naiveté” might be construed as a step – albeit a self-conscious and strategic one – towards the kind of “sentimentality” rejected by Connor.

I do not intend to nuance further the high-voltage argument playing out between the views elucidated by Connor and Bennett, compelling and productive as I find that dialogue. Rather, I want to move forward from a premise that appears common to both thinkers, in order to speculate further on twenty-first century expressions of a thing-oriented poetics that might avoid both the pitfalls and historical luggage of anthropocentrism. In thinking things, we encounter the space of our own constructivist materialisms – the mobile laboratories of infinitely mutable subject-object relations via which we ‘think out’ and enact our subjectivities. Astrid Lorange’s poems repeatedly perform and trouble the affective materialities and property exchanges of these relations, thereby short-circuiting the hazards of object-cathected divine and originary narratives: “[e]lectronics as in a Greek tragedy, fed through / cassette narratives of sex, transformation, war and // deep economy” (Eating 11). Gertrude Stein’s skewed object-portraits make similar forays while sounding the impossibility of material closure, such as that longed for in anthropocentric stories of origin and salvation – something Stein plausibly encoded in the title Portraits and Prayers, which of course gives Lorange’s Eating and Speaking its epigraph. “The story of objects asserting themselves as things, then, is the story of a changed relation to the human subject”, writes Bill Brown, “and thus the story of how the thing really names less an object than a particular subject-object relation” (4). Or as Frow argues persuasively: “To call these things, the key and the [traffic] bump, ‘nonhuman’ is to ignore the ways in which human will is translated into things and in which things in turn work as delegates which relay back to us these configurations of human will” (280).

Here emerges an ethics of materiality that tries to account for the non-human in ways that that are non-appropriative, even as it recognises the linguistic and philosophical limits of that “stance toward reality” (Olson 246). ‘Day and Night, Your Poems’ from the book Authentic Local (2010) was written by Pam Brown as a publicly-private letter to her friend and collaborator Ken Bolton, to whom it is dedicated. “[H]ere in this poem I’m trying to write to yours”, she observes; “my problem is that so many poets start with nature / I’m guilty there too” (67-68). Brown’s transformed epistolary mode explores the notion of poems as dialogics that are circulated as gifts among subjects, and the registers of language in which people address concepts of ‘nature’ and worldly matter. Countless things – particularly bodies and books – are constellated in self-conscious tableaux which seem to reflect Connor’s proposition that thought “desire[s] to encounter in things the objects of its own thinking” (Connor n.pag.):

            this morning I’ve placed [your] book on top of
                                                              the portable tv set
next to this small table – the cover and its spine remind me
                                                    of its pleasures (Brown, Authentic 67)

With characteristic precision, Brown interrogates the libidinal economies of gifting ideas themselves, as and via artworks. Her assemblages keep pointing back to a writing subject’s investments in its own geometries of meaning, including its ‘natures’ and languages. Collections of words and objects are remembered and swapped between people; not as property, but as expressions of collective knowledge and experience that do not originate in any single location. Things and places (drinks, poems, grammars, “Rome”) are not hoarded in service to a possessive subject’s will to populate and describe environments after its own generic designs – even the home tv set is “portable”. Objects, rather, condense momentarily for this subject in that place, or according to diverse “configurations of human will” (Frow 280), such that place, placement, landscape and desire are suspect terms open always to doubt and new relations. If Brown observes a proprietorial tendency at work in her speaking subject, she quickly admonishes it: “I’m guilty there too”.

These conceptual tactics and philosophical skepticisms are explored strikingly in Brown’s poem ‘This & That (I cite myself)’ from the book Text Thing (2002), which begins:

Resting like a relic
     in a field of meaning –
push the rocks around
            for transformation –
gravel rash, scab, scar,
      factors that
fall squarely.
              (like that)
     the laneway, reduced
& framed,
is picturesque –
                  even the rubbish
                        appears artificial. (24)

Things like “rocks” are shown here to “transform” into landscapes because we “push [them] around”, making them occasional “relics[s] / in a field of meaning”. Brown’s objects (“gravel rash, scab, scar”) become moveable sites, a phenomenon that also occurs in Lorange’s poems. Objects are “laneways” or habitats, suggests Brown, best understood as passages between in which subject-object relations are renegotiated perpetually. Objects are “like that” – “reduced”, “framed”, made “picturesque” and distinctly non-‘natural’ according to the limits of subjective apprehension: “even the rubbish / appears artificial”. Objects ‘thing up’ our sense of reality as dialogical habitats in themselves, or scenes of encounter that give form to our subjectivities.

This mode of collective or relational aesthetics – both collecting and collectivist – recognises objects such as they are: not as numinous entities, somehow transcending us and our subjecthood, but as we relate to them, make them and become them. Nicolas Bourriaud’s recent theories of relationality are apposite here:

Unlike an object that is closed in on itself by the intervention of a style and a signature, present-day art shows that form only exists in the encounter and in the dynamic relationship enjoyed by an artistic proposition with other formations, artistic or otherwise […] Forms are developed, one from another (Bourriaud 21). [7]

Or as Deborah-Bird Rose writes when illuminating her concept of “ecological existentialism”: “From atomism the shift is to connectivity […] The question of finding our way into new ways of understanding and acting is addressed through dialogue. Stories encounter each other and become entangled” (Rose 3). The object-focused poems of Pam Brown and Astrid Lorange explore kinds of radical materialism that are encountered at the boundaries between things and forms as they morph into one another and become inexorably entangled. Both writers are sounding out existential and ontological possibilities within the ongoing experiment of these prolific borders: poem as simultaneously public and private exchange, poem as dedicated event, poem as translated swarm, poem as chips. As Brown attests in her poem ‘Worldly Goods’, things challenge us “to take account / of the planet’s fields” and our own role in forming them (Brown, True 64). ‘Thinking with things’ can remind us that borders are not static, unknowable or legislatively unassailable, but perpetually full and transformative, and open to abandonments of signature in favour of gift – places or habitats where we might negotiate a collective, ethical response to the materials and things by which we are surrounded, and with which we surround ourselves.

Works Cited

Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: a political ecology of things. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010.

Bourriaud, Nicolas. Relational Aesthetics. Trans. Simon Pleasance and Fronza Woods with Mathieu Copeland. Paris: Les Presses du Réel, 2002.

Brown, Bill. ‘Thing Theory.’ Critical Inquiry. Vol. 28 No. 1. Autumn 2001. 1-22.

Brown, Pam. Text Thing. Adelaide: Little Esther Books, 2002.

Brown, Pam. True Thoughts. Cambridge, U.K.: Salt Publishing, 2008.

Brown, Pam. Authentic Local. Brisbane, Chiang Mai: Soi3, 2010.

Connor, Steven. ‘Thinking Things’. Published online at Steven Connor’s website. 23 February 2015 http://stevenconnor.com/thinkingthings.html.

Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. What is Philosophy? Trans. Graham Burchell and Hugh Tomlinson. London and New York: Verso, 1994.

Derrida, Jacques. ‘Différance.’ Speech and Phenomena: Introduction to the Problem of Signs in Husserl’s Phenomenology. Trans. David B. Allison. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1973. 129-160.

Frow, John. ‘A Pebble, a Camera, a Man Who Turns into a Telegraph Pole.’ Critical Inquiry. Vol. 28 No. 1. Autumn 2001. 270-285.

Lorange, Astrid. Pussy pussy pussy what what or Au lait day Au lait day. Gauss PDF, GPDF002 (online), 2010. 23 February 2015 http://www.gauss-pdf.com/post/1466856345/gpdf002-astrid-lorange-pussy-pussy-pussy-what.

Lorange, Astrid. Eating and Speaking. Brooklyn, New York: Tea Party Republicans Press, 2011.

Lorange, Astrid. FOOD TURNS INTO BLOOD. Gauss PDF Editions, GPDF002 (online) / GPDFE003, 2013. 23 February 2015 http://www.gauss-pdf.com/post/55274634963/gpdf078-gpdfe003-astrid-lorange-food-turns.

Lorange, Astrid. How Reading Is Written: A Brief Index to Gertrude Stein. Middleton, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2014.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. Kegan Paul. London and New York: Routledge, 2002. Second edition.

Olson, Charles. ‘PROJECTIVE VERSE’. Collected Prose: Charles Olson. Eds. Donald Allen and Benjamin Friedlander. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1997. 239-249 and 423-427.

Oppen, George. The Collected Poems of George Oppen. New York: New Directions, 1975.

Rose, Deborah Bird. Wild Dog Dreaming: Love and Extinction. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2011.

Serres, Michel. The Parasite. Trans. Lawrence R. Schehr. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982.

Stein, Gertrude. ‘Portrait of Christian Berard.’ PennSound Archive (online). Written in 1928. 23 February 2015 http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Stein.html.

Stein, Gertrude. Portraits and Prayers. New York: Random House, 1934.

Stein, Gertrude. Tender Buttons: Objects Food Rooms. Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1991.


[1] In this line Lorange appears to be ghosting the work of contemporary philosopher Bruno Latour, most conspicuously his actor-network theory; see the discussion of Latour and “composition [as] a methodology” in the Introduction to Lorange’s recent critical book How Reading is Written: A Brief Index to Gertrude Stein (31-32), which was published subsequent to the writing of this paper and compels closer study in context of the ideas raised throughout.

[2] Countless versions of this phenomenological premise were rehearsed by twentieth century philosophical thinkers, among them Maurice Merleau-Ponty; see for example his Phenomenology of Perception (1945).

[3] Lorange’s thinking here is influenced by her close readings of Alfred North Whitehead; see her discussion of object-qualities and the multiplicity of things in the chapter entitled ‘Objects’ from How Reading is Written (136-158).

[4] In How Reading is Written, Lorange playfully figures her own readings of Stein’s compositional methods and poetics as a kind of eating and speaking. Via a process of redoubtable, affectionate consumption and digestion of Stein’s grammatically charged thing-poems, Lorange’s index-to-Stein performs multiple acts of “inscriptive thinking” – one of her marvellously suggestive phrases for reading itself: “I take reading to be an active, constructive, affective process that involves the body and is itself a kind of writing – an inscriptive thinking” (Lorange, How Reading 29).

[5] The last poem in Lorange’s Eating and Speaking is entitled ‘Parasite’, presumably after Michel Serres’ work of that name.

[6] In this mock-heroic address to things I am gathering up language and concepts from pages 270 to 273 of Frow’s article.

[7] In an apocryphally common and possibly hubristic instance of scholarly improvisation, I thought I’d coined the term ‘relational aesthetics’ as a useful conceptual umbrella for comparing the poetics of Astrid Lorange and Pam Brown – Nicolas Bourriaud was of course a decade ahead in proposing and unravelling that maxim in context of visual arts, art theory and curatorial aesthetics. His ideas demand further scrutiny, especially in light of aesthetics of intertextual gifting, guest/hosting, curatorial sampling and repudiations of property that are apparent in the poetics of both Lorange and Brown, and that resonate with Bourriaud’s description of forms that are dynamic, interdependent, and produced always in and as encounters.


Australian poet Kate Fagan, credit Tony Mott
Australian poet Kate Fagan, credit Tony Mott

Kate Fagan is a poet, songwriter and musician who lectures in Literary Studies at the University of Western Sydney. Her most recent volume of poems First Light (Giramondo 2012) was short-listed for both the Age Book of the Year Award and the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and she is a former editor of How2, the U.S.-based journal of innovative writing and scholarship. She supported Joan Baez on her recent tour of Australia and New Zealand (Facebook: Kate Fagan – Musician https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kate-Fagan-Musician/511784055560719).

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