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This review is taken from PN Review 179, Volume 34 Number 3, January - February 2008.

PARTS AND WHOLE RAE ARMANTROUT, Next Life (Wesleyan University Press)
PETER GIZZI, The Outernationale (Wesleyan University Press)

It's an interesting feature of American spiritualism, including the notorious 'spirit rappings' of the late nineteenth century, that the connection established with the afterlife by various mediums was almost entirely secular and personal. The questions asked of the spirit world of the next life were not theological (does God exist? purgatory? Hell?) but personal and quotidian: how are you doing, Uncle Ernie? The idea was to reassure the living that everything was going to be all right and that the departed inhabited a world familiar to their auditors; a cosy overstuffed Victorian sitting room presumably, one where all the furniture had antimacassars. Aside from pointing to the desacralisation of American protestantism, this craving for a personal connection evidenced an American optimism that the afterlife would be pretty much the status quo ante. Rae Armantrout evinces no such optimism but she retains the assumption that the next life will continue to be about us in the sense that incipient tendencies towards breakdown and the collapse of language will worsen to the point at which language is a symbolic, near involuntary tic. Armantrout, then, is interested not in deconstructing language but in showing how it entropies and collapses; for Armantrout, language is not a sign but an effect.

In 'Cursive', Armantrout shows how the teleology of script breaks down both stylistically and meaningfully: 'This thing was called/"face of the deep,"//this intractable blank/with its restless cursive.' The moving finger writes the message on the wall but it's black on black. ...


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