Burning Books/East-West Cultural Studies

Helen Keller or Arakawa,. Madeline Gins

(Burning Books/East-West Cultural Studies, New York,1994, 310 pp. $29.50)

Madeline Gins' latest book, Helen Keller or Arakawa, weaves a spectrum of philosophical complications and molecular complexities that somehow exceeds the limits of her own unmistakable brand of "multidimensional" discourse. The language is abrasive, porous, corrugated, witty and visionary, lucid and opaque, alternately solid and protoplasmic. All this makes for a new form of language-oriented, "post-generic" literature, a search for a new consciousness whose contours Gins sets out to delineate on the basis of Keller's life, Arakawa's art and the Kirlian vectors of her own prose.

Gins' reflections on the trajectories of thought and feeling often result in a kind of verbal choreography-interrupted and complemented by various kinds of typographical and paratextual directions-which seeks to combine the thread of memory with an awareness of the unnamed movements of the waking mind. In a more general way, Gins succeeds in creating a form of critical and creative sensibility which is both transitive and intransitive, without falling into the kind of mechanical self-reflexiveness all too often encountered in a kind of writing that acknowledges "process." This is something very few poets, in America or elsewhere, have truly managed to achieve in a satisfactory way (though many have tried and failed miserably).

Gins is up to something very different from what most American experimental poets are engaged in-something that does not let itself be construed by conventional hermeneutic strategies, albeit in a subversive fashion, because it does much more than resist the normative strategies by which we try to regulate and simplify our lives, both on a phenomenological and a linguistic level. Physical and metaphysical uncertainty, the dialectics of blindness and insight, transcontinental culture shock, postmodern aesthetics and architectural contigency are themes that compete and combine in this extraordinary book. Madeline Gins displays a huge intellectual and visionary faculty, both profound and witty, as she sets the terms for an "abstractology" that does justice to "the infant's act in the entire body was perception mode".

Many readers, including myself, will have to re-read this book many times before they come to a fuller understanding of the "the full spread of all the ripples and ripplings" of its interconnected lines of thought and belief. Helen Keller or Arakawa is also a book many will return to for the sheer pleasure of hearing and smelling the prose fizz.

-Michel Delville