IN CONVERSATION: A READING OF ADAM PHILLIPS' UNFORBIDDEN PLEASURES AND RENEE ANGLE'S WOO
Renee Angle, WoO, Letter Machine Editions, 2016
Adam Phillips, Unforbidden Pleasures, Penguin, 2015
Reviewed by Tatiana Ryckman
I am forever on the hunt for a friend in language, and I couldn't have asked for a better companion than Adam Phillips' Unforbidden Pleasures as I hiked through the lingual jungle of Renee Angle's WoO. There was a latent shame in feeling smart for understanding and agreeing with Unforbidden Pleasures' theoretical advocacy for reinventing language, while viscerally rejecting WoO's practice of reinventing language. I thought often of Maggie Nelson's observation in The Art of Cruelty, that dismissing work because it doesn't "resonate" with us is both a missed opportunity and a boring way to interact with art. That perhaps if we sit longer with the things we find uncomfortable we move beyond an educated appreciation for them to a genuine longing for those less comfortable places.
I read Unforbidden Pleasures and WoO side-by-side, as if one were the coda that would allow me to break the code of the other. They entered into a conversation on the shame bestowed upon us by language.
WoO: I failed for reasons outside of my control. I obeyed the messenger but disobeyed my father when I returned to the field.
Unforbidden: The retrospective question is always, What did I consent to and what did I have to submit to, as a child, that I did not agree with?...And in this sense obedience always takes the form of obedience to a specific vocabulary.
WoO: It's not okay to say mankind anymore.
Unforbidden: Use less familiar words.
WoO: If I am present in a subject position what responsibility do I have to the content, to the truth value, of the words themselves?
Unforbidden: It is exceedingly frustrating if you are also brought up in a culture that encourages self-definition and distrusts excessive adaptation...Once the power of redescription is acknowledged, words like 'true', 'good', 'right', 'sacred'—and of course, 'forbidden'—are among the first casualties...What are the difficulties involved in changing one's vocabulary, and changing one's vocabulary such that it really changes one's life?
WoO: Would you like to buy a vowel?
Unforbidden: When the mother says to the child, 'Do you want apple juice or orange juice?' the complicit child will always choose one of the two; the non-complicit child faced with this choice will have the mental space to wonder what else, if anything, he would rather have to drink.
WoO: Mother cannot stand bad odors. Someone else's language to fill the shell. I tried to teach my children right's wrong...finally the snake won [:] A bad habit staring at a bad habit.
Unforbidden: If...habit is a form of failure, we should try out new habits. Different ways of speaking.
WoO: But language is a skin, a mouth for wearing.
Unforbidden: By forgetting a name we can come up with another one...What do we need to forget to say something new?...The desire for freedom is the desire for new rules. And new rules mean new names for things.
WoO: What's the point of forgetting if it's followed by dying?
Unforbidden: We are taught to forget our pleasures...It is in art we recover [them]. [Oscar] Wilde wrote...'nor can there be in creation what in the creator was not.'
WoO: Art is visible like God.
Unforbidden: God forgot himself...By misnaming himself he had misnamed everyone else as well.
WoO: Art has to concur with the course of life, so we have to be evolutionists.
Unforbidden: The artist is always endangered by other people. He is in danger of forgetting himself; and endangered by the kind of pleasure—the masochistic pleasure—compliance can bring.
WoO: I want to tell you what it means. Want to know what it means?