Thursday, December 13, 2012


Judith Goldman Reviews

fault tree by kathryn l. pringle
(Omnidawn, Richmond, CA, 2012)

Towards the end of kathryn l. pringle’s scary, genius, and compulsively readable fault tree, we encounter the following poem of redoubled “gore”:

i’ve been asked to guard the very monument
i resented building.  then, enslaved as now.

i shall defend the symbols of my oppressors
in order to feed my family.  these are couplets

thus: a love poem.  my strife is a tourist attraction.
the number one only income-generating industry

has been my oppression
a sensitive state to the needs of

its people.  in my dream
the man’s face was distorted

he was bleeding gruesome gore
splayed across the snow – the gore

the kind you see with substance
dark red meaty blood

the man needed me to help him
but he was the enemy

so I let him bleed to death
in the snow.  His eyes

knowing he was to die painfully then
he want me to kill him

but I wanted him to suffer
so I bled him, in the snow.

it was just over there, past that line of trees
the site is now part of my daily detail

my daily guarding of the plight of us
i see the same place I let someone die

remember I am a bitter – petty man
he would have done the same for me

this is in couplets.  a love
poem with blood and snow. 969)

Reading (bleeding) this “love/poem with blood and snow,” one is forced to notice that pringle’s serious play on couplets as coupling reproduces a libidinal intimacy with the “enemy”: an intimacy that involves a relational shaping of Being against and through various antagonists, as well as a sexualization of torture and cruelty.  One notices, too, that pringle portrays the State “monument” as a material object whose construction required “slave” labor and thus around which a certain psychical relation developed, while that monument is also a symbolic object whose existence requires a continuing labor of paid or mercenary guardianship.  pringle structures the entire scene around disclosing the service that enables and yet is effaced within the economy of the spectacle.  Here the production, reproduction, and maintenance of the insignia of empire, a “tourist attraction” of the State’s exhibition of itself to itself, have become the “only…industry.”  One notices as well that the passive murder of the enemy bespoken by a multiply unstable lyric subject is said to take place in a dream far too lucid to belong to the domain of sleep, or sleep as we might conceive it in opposition to waking; that the psychical rebound of the guard’s victimization by the state is this lateral passive murder; that as demystified and irony-attuned as the guard’s relation to the monument seems to be, he (?) is, finally, using it just as the State intends, one of the people the “sensitive state” reciprocally serves well beyond the paying of his wage.

fault tree is a remarkable book for much more than its insight into such complexes of paranoiac (viz. real) projection and inversion.  “Fault tree analysis” is the term for the method engineers use to examine high-level system failures and to calculate the probabilities of certain problems arising as certain subsystems and components within them break down.  You make a tree diagram and trace the causal sequences through which failure occurs.  (The cover of fault tree is overlaid with several copies of a plan of the book drawn as a fault tree diagram.)  pringle considerably torques her metaphorical-conceptual vehicle by introducing ideas of nested temporalities and the like, such that the total collection of glitches inscribed by the fault tree all seem to be happening at once or slightly staggered, oscillating.  The book initially figures forth this kind of chronic dysachrony by having a persona speak of the loss of a particularly cathected future, and then having this persona describe itself as already killed.  pringle has a peculiarly visceral way of showing that we might technically be considered murdered versions of ourselves when futures of passionate attachment are decommissioned. 

She complicates this anachronism of surviving the unsurvivable—this state of living past one’s own death, or alternatively, this question of what one can be, if made by a future that doesn’t come to pass—

the binding of what is perceived is
bent, actually is bent, but you won’t see it
hanging there”(20)—

by also wondering when one can be, if the future logically precedes the present, a conundrum effectively figured at the very end of the book when a persona wonders how the sonic boom of the space shuttle landing can be heard 24 hrs before its landing (76), that is, how the effect of the landing precedes the landing itself?  Such a knotting of time gives way to other temporal entanglements—stipplings of “pre-moment,” “nonmoment” and “unhappening,” spatio-temporal relativity:

there is no correct order to the incident
because time changes depending on
where you are standing and so does
place. (56)

When first reading fault tree, I thought the book had several interwoven narrative threads.  But I then came to think that the book presented the “same” persona conceived as multiplicity without unifying or underlying substance, with that persona simultaneously embodying the out-of-sync lived durations of a whole grammar of social positions.  In fault tree, we have the patient versus the soldier, and also the patient become soldier and soldier become patient, soldiers medicated to be soldiers and patients whose medical treatment resembles a war, with its collateral damage: “i had to take one pill to stay alive and several pills to handle the side effects caused by the one pill that was keeping me alive”(28).  Such unnerving conflations of identities—different yet so inter-implicated they are prone to collapse, versions of one another in domains that sometimes uncannily fold—align with pringle’s Artaud-like depictions of words as fragmented, persecutory agencies literally wounding the body:

the noises i begat made matter
atoms accumulated from within

a perforation appearing, i,
wrenched in pain, spoke words
each one dropping from my new hole
with mass
and sound (47)

            when i said the word
            i felt the word

            coming out a little easier
            words through the small
            perforations of my body (54)[1] 

Refusing language as ideational or conceptual, with all the distinctions and separations, such would entail, fault tree admirably harnesses a straightforwardness of syntactic presentation to the creation of unsettling beyond-bios complexes of multi-directional force.  It maps, with a gripping, authentic vision akin to descriptions in Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaux, planes of molecular immanence:

remember we are organic

the reactant---> the product

a compound
resoundant space particulate (55)[2]  

pringle further allows us to see, as Deleuze writes elsewhere, that, “Every actual surrounds itself with a cloud of virtual images,” that there is “perpetual exchange between the virtual and the actual,” that the virtual preserves the past, including pasts that were never present[3]:

can you maybe shimmer
so I can hold a place
or am I now just mere
am I now of nothing
or not much of anything
or am I now a speck
of something that was? (19)

Given its admirable portrayal of living, immanent, temporally differential networks, we might think fault tree almost amused by the fable of abstract, capitalist time: “today it is never 9:30” (22).  But its sometime playfulness around the samenesses of metricated time and the calculable possible that metric builds around itself—“today always happens and so it feels like it never happens because I am so well-versed in today and how it goes” (24)—does not offset its concomitant acknowledgment and revulsion towards the plane of organization.  fault tree is filled with incisive, wry formulations that capture the captative, ideologically saturated, financialized, neoliberal, biometric, positivistic Real, in which human and all life have become cogs within a war-commodity machine of global capital:

we waited on the politicians survival mechanism to engage
but so few are real animals
that it was not a big surprise when it didn’t (41)

they say the food is already included
but i think it is probably really very
expensive and i can’t afford it – i i i
don’t want to go to a camp. (61)

pringle figures humans as biologized machines:

my transistor was hemorrhaging
exposed wires bleeding (24)

the company transitioned
us into robots (53)

and as near-machinic biopolitical organisms, controlled by the pharmaceutical industry at a molecular level well below that of subjectivity: “the doctors decided to put my milligrams directly into the plumbing” (72).  The brilliance of pringle’s elliptical portrayals lies in their sinisterly un-sci-fi heimlichkeit.

pringle (in correspondence) has said her book is about “agency and autonomy.”  When I asked her what she meant by that, she referred to her line, “you wake up or you wake up/most people wake up” (24). 

I’m not sure I agree with this summary, acute as I invariably find pringle’s insights.  With its interpenetrating intergenerational memories of never-ending war, its archives of a father’s dementia speech and medical meta-literatures for pills and their risks, fault tree brings into relief particularly dire contemporary modes of precarity—first-world rebounds of militarily enforced globalization—as it also chronicles deeper transhistorical human vulnerability and dependency, our ways of making and unmaking one another in ways we do not control.  Is waking up something we can choose?  If waking up is an act of autonomy, isn’t simultaneously, an acknowledgment of dependency, whether through illness or desire?  fault tree so admirably works this contradiction.  

[1] See Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester (Columbia University Press, 1990), 87-8.
[2] As Deleuze and Guattari write of immance: “Here there are no longer any forms or developments of forms; nor are there subjects or the formation of subjects…There are only relations of movement and rest, speed and slowness, floating affects, between unformed elements, or at least between elements that are relatively unformed, molecules and particles of all kinds” (A Thousand Plateaux: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (University of Minnesota Press 1987), 266).  
[3] Gilles Deleuze, “The Actual and the Virtual,” trans. Eliot Ross Albert, in Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues II (Columbia University Press 2007), 148; 150. 


Judith Goldman is the author of Vocoder (Roof 2001), DeathStar/rico-chet (O Books 2006), and l.b.; or, catenaries (Krupskaya 2011). She joined the faculty of the Poetics Program of SUNY Buffalo in Fall 2012.

1 comment:

  1. Another view is offered by Sunnylynn Thibodeaux elsewhere in GR #19 at