Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Behrendt, S. This Is Not an Improvisation: Letitia Landon and the Slipperiness of Taxonomy (2019) European Legacy, 24 (3-4), pp. 283-300.

DOI: 10.1080/10848770.2018.1562667

Writing in 2007, in The Wordsworth Circle, Jeffrey Robinson remarked on the “ephemerality” of improvisational poetry, its fundamental resistance to being “preserved.” Printed poetry is typically regarded as “fixed” and static: what any poem represents as improvisation is, at best, only a record, executed in a fixed medium, of a performance whose infinite variability is inherent in the nature of improvisation itself. Partly an homage to Rene Magritte’s This is Not a Pipe (1928–29) and to Michel Foucault’s 1973 essay on that painting, and using as a test case The Improvisatrice (1825), the long poem by Letitia Elizabeth Landon, herself a devotee of interdisciplinary and multimedia performance, this essay considers the physical, structural, and methodological challenges and limitations posed to printed “word art” by works that purport to be, or aspire to the condition of, “improvisations.” The improvisatrice who is the poem’s narrator claims to be both a painter and a songstress, but her “speech,” captured and rendered in printed words by Landon (who ventriloquizes that speech), can neither “be” nor even “represent” a work produced (“performed”) in visual art or vocal song. In her long poem Landon effectively creates a literary trompe l’oeil, an illusion that depends for its “completion” upon the reader’s implied participation in that performative act of completion. In the process, Landon’s poem reveals the fundamental incompatibility of improvisational literary production with the performative nature of improvisation. © 2019, © 2019 International Society for the Study of European Ideas.

Author Keywords
British Romanticism; illusion; Improvisation; interdisciplinary; Letitia Elizabeth Landon; multistability; narrative/narrativity; performance/performativity; poetic voice; poetry; women writers

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