Tarkos Births a Vowel


In this essay, I show how the recorded screams of French performer-poet Christophe Tarkos (1963–2004) reveal a gaping hole wherein language undoes itself, in the very instance of discovering the conditions and possibilities of its own rebirth. I take Tarkos’s first recorded video performance as a point of departure for contextualizing the landscape of contemporary French poetry, then define the prelingual and postlingual in relation to each other, and in relation to the w/hole of language that separates them. In my close readings of audiovisual and printed material by Tarkos, I focus on his neologism patmo (‘wordjam’) as a poetics that allows him to bridge prelingual and postlingual forms of expression over the hole of language. Patmo doubles as a foil for the lingual flux that all but short-circuits language, in that it covers lingual phenomenæ that go from the scream of birth to the scream of adulthood and then back again, from prelanguage to postlanguage to prelanguage, over and around the hole of language. In so doing, Tarkos not only pushes back against textual poetic idiom and practice ever since Stéphane Mallarmé, but more radically counters a latent bias in structuralist and poststructuralist poetics that has long prized the lingual prowess of the consonant as the introducer and arbiter of lingual diffference.

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