Process, Limit, Rupture, Apocolypse: Time in David Borzutzky’s poetry

In his selection of poetry for Angels of the Americlypse, David Borzutzky writes apocalyptic moments. Apocalypse and rupture, two of the central themes of his work here are inherently and implicitly temporal. They imply a chronological scheme, demand preconditions and suggest subsequent fall-out. Yet, it is difficult to locate a temporal positionality (or temporal subjectivity) in Borzutzky’s writing. For example, in “The Book of Non-Writing,” verb tense changes repeatedly throughout the text; it begins with simple past tense and quickly evolves to include present interrogative phrases, present participles, and other forms of present tense. The final phrase “dying or dead” (Angels 217) uses the difference between non-finite and finite verb forms to unsettle readers’ sense of process, chronology, and occurrence within the context of the poem. Clearly, he’s writing in the latter half of the 20th century or the early 21st century, and responding to a specific set of historical events having occurred during those periods. In a in a less immediate sense, he may be responding to what transpired during the earliest moments of the colonial encounter itself. Nevertheless, a sense of rootlessness in time pervades his poetry. Is he of the apocalyptic moment he describes or outside of it? Could a parallel outside time possibly exist for Borzutzky to inhabit? Is the process of social, personal, and political decomposition (read: apocalypse occurring contemporaneously with his writing? Or has it finished? Could both be true at once? Has it yet begun? Which contextual influences inform the subjectivity of his poetry? Is Borzutzky writing from his own subjectivity or another? Does Borzutzky privilege one possible temporal positionality over others? Such are the questions that arise from Borzutzky’s apocalypse-out-of-time.

In the poem Borzutzky, the spectre of death, specifically, looms large. It is lamented, approaching, imminent, immediate, and remembered in a breath. One of the central concepts of the poem is something Borzutzky calls the “false carcass economy” (Angels 26). But what is a ‘false carcass?’ Has it yet died? Will it? Can it, biologically or otherwise? This central pronouncement confounds linear time completely. In addition, Borzutzky closes “The Book of Non-Writing,” with an extended, unpunctuated block of prose, whose final lines include these words: “the exact moment of ending will not come for many millennia we will not be able to document it it will document us it’s okay to kill some bodies speak of nothing […] I am speaking with a mouth full of words that do not belong to me I crawl across the page and I don’t know if I’m dying or dead” (Angels 27). Here, death, ostensibly the only concrete temporal event in life utterly defies a singular seating in time. Death is and is not, approaches and is has arrived, is unimaginably far and uncomfortably present. Arguably, by allowing death to function as both static and processual (another opposing pair that operates throughout the poem), Borzutzky unseats – ruptures – the rupture of death. Death reads almost like a mathematical limit – a process of approach that narrows and defines but never reaches its conclusion.

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