My Body the Library: Janet, Body art, and World Wide Web site

My Body the Library: Janet, Body art, and World Wide Web site

Michael Joyce

Michael Joyce looks at hypertext, body art, body piercing, and Web culture.

Janet Ingraham and Andy Dwyer

His words in her heart rather than upon her lips (A & H) correspond to an old need so authentic modern works are criticisms of past ones (A1) beloved by the gods and as such he [sic] (A2) So much for Tragedy and Epic poetry (A2) hominum [sic] dabit homini [sic] A te petatur, in te quaeratur, apuid te pulsetur: sic sic (A3)

–A & H-Abelard & Heloise/A1-Adorno/A2-Aristotle/A3-Augustine (From Errata 5uite by Joan Retallack)

We are all pierced by the spine, only barely grown over at the crown or the toenails, chakras awash in the jello of the innards, one day finally becoming the bleached comb remnant of our patterned armature, bone feather, neat as a filleted bluegill.

Increasingly we are pierced by the perfect circuit of the gold hoops which weave world and body and world again in a constant (persistent) circling. (The longing of Renaissance angels whose serene and haloed skulls are pierced and whose spines too feather outward into wings; likewise the longing of paranoids pulling in the world wide radio upon orbed antennae inserted into the brain cells by mysterious, unknown authorities.)

My students walk electric with themselves, pierced all over their bodies like martyrs of quattrocento paintings, inverted like sleeves, the world within them the world without them, one and oscillating. There are no secrets (though every body slyly suggests a further piercing, a constant sensitivity to being inside out). Parse: I am not pierced; I have been pierced; we are all pierced.

Let us look at Janet.

The web too is pierced by its vectored insistences, its sense of always veering elsewhere, which may or may not circle. Each page is inked with the light of this piercing.

The Library is the body inside out, inked and pierced as well, the book within which, though taken out, retains its within-ness, overdue from the moment it is loaned (the spine veering back to salt and shore through all the apparent flesh). When you carry a book around you carry your body and thus are never within it, your own pall bearer. It is better to be a pierced angel (Peter Falk fallen, wendering, into Berlin) or Light itself, speared by a spine of underlined ribs and vertebrae.

Donna mi Pregha, a lady asks: Let us look at Janet as light: viz. Cavalcanti:

In quella parte
   dove sta memoria
prendo su stato
   si formato
diafana di lume
   d’una scuritade

Dove sta memoria: on the web, too, as in the miniature within the Lover’s locket or the booths of a pornshop, memory emerges like Light from the obscuring darkness:

Interactions between client and server are characterized as being “stateless” - the action that the server is to take is completely defined by the URL requested by the client. One might also say that the interactions are transactional - having completed the client’s request, the server is completely free to forget about the client’s existence - and that they are asynchronous - new, requests, perhaps completely unrelated to any current or previous request, may arrive from a different client or the same client at any time.

Richard Furuta and Catherine C. Marshall “Genre as Reflection of Technology in the World-Wide Web,” IWHD ‘95 Proceedings (1-2 June, Montpellier, France): 203-14.

The genre here is amour courtois or the troubadour’s art:

C.L. is a noble passion: the courtly lover idealizes his beloved; she, his sovereign lady, occupies an exalted position above him. His feelings for her ennoble him and make him more worthy; her beauty of body and soul makes him long for union with her, not for passion’s sake but as a means of achieving the ultimate in moral excellence.

“Courtly love” entry in The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, edited by Alex Preminger and T.V.F. Brogan.

“This is she”

quoth the anonymous troubadour as the page comes up on the screen.

On the screen the image of a candy heart completes the sentence (a boy toy, the innocence of grade school valentine) “Boy is she neat” and then on the screen we see her body loading in on the browser, the flesh of her back as/or alphabet, the unveiling in which we notice blemish, freckle, delicacy of spine, the hidden curve, the blue drape of the unveiled dress, the elastic gather at the waist. Only after some time comes a recognition of the underlying pale X of the tan line, and then, more slowly, the backdrop beyond: weathered gray cedar stockade fence and lime green grass in a suburban Ohio yard where she stands.

The troubadour presents what he cannot have (because she has published herself in this unveiling and in her inscription before it, and now everyone has it: we are all the courtiers now that the court is gone): her body, the text of itself expressed in twin, which the reader’s eye makes a triple(t).

A realistic optimism, not just for the feminine, but for the complex human, lies in forms that engage the dynamics of multiplicity (three and more). In acknowledging the difference, yes, but more importantly in generating a proliferation of possibility beyond invidious dualisms. The same global and space information technologies that are disembarrassing us of the illusion of the other as ‘absence’ are schooling us in multidirectional coincidence.

“:Re:Thinking:Literary:Feminism,” Joan Retallack

After my first reading Janet writes back to me (she is published, public) impossibly wondering whether in other instances one asks the author whether she can be read. It is the voice of the author as herself, not Dickens but Dickinson: Dear Reader, she says, it is surprising you address me in an email and not in the space where we meet, back to back, disclosing ourselves. (Though the truth is the genre is gendered: I’ve written first to the troubadour, not knowing how to find her except through him.)

“I would very much like to use your page as a ‘reading’ in my freshman course at Vassar next year (the description follows) and, while I know anyone can read this page on the web, I still would feel more comfortable if you (and Janet) knew that I was about to ask 20 people to read it as part of a course.

Let me know what you think.”

“Thank you so much for asking, also. I wonder how many teachers run their course plans past Borges or Welty. Heh, Joyce or Shakespeare…Plus, by your contacting Andy I get to find out that I might actually get taught, whew!, or discussed formally, at any rate. Stunning.”

On the screen the alphabet is likewise a spine, something there and not there beneath the flesh of all these words. She is showing herself here.

In a picture book universe nothing much can be found out about the dark side of the anything - neither conceptual frameworks nor the moon Picturing presupposes the recognizably foregrounded figure, i.e., the preconfigured into genus, gender, genre, and - with only limited play - all other socially constructed and frontally visible units. It reinforces the authority of current conceptual frameworks, of what can be seen through the established grammatical technology and sequencing of culturally ground/ed lenses. There can be no dark, noisy silence of a Finnegans Wake in a picture-book universe - nor can there be the work of Cha, Harryman, Brossard, et al. Theirs is a literature dedicated to what cannot be illustrated. Neither can there be much that is directly, materially linguistic in the use of language as depicter. In that role language must first and foremost be mediator, filter, translucence. We know only what we can glean by representation, that is by removal - from both language as element and in situ scene to be transliterated. The light we see by is as pellucid and secondhand as the light of the moon or the “silver screen.”

“:Re:Thinking:Literary:Feminism,” Joan Retallack

The Uppercase drapes across her upper back and shoulders like a mantilla its w (double-you-ing) undulation the contour of old mountains (the Catskills hereabouts).

The lower case snakes down her spine, a question mark and a promise, briefly tracing the same pale as criss-cross X of the tan-line, stopping just short of the cup, the goblet, of her lower back. The blue dress is nunly, modest, like the ladies of the rosary (which the vertebrae represents).

Madonna…ingeniously imposes new meaning on female subjectivity by the self-controlled use of mythical and imaginal strategies. Her collage techniques are beautiful examples of post-modern possibilities. Madonna is posing for…in the post-modern if history is to have any momentum, it must humiliate itself into posing-for….This posing-for, so superbly managed by Madonna, hits with lethal force at the heart of print culture. In the culture of print, reason has invested its feeble energies in the lukewarm and ridiculous list of the alphabet.

Imagologies: Media Philosophy, Mark C. Taylor, and Esa Saarinen

As the screen scrolls a minuscule instruction, “Go ahead…pick a letter” barely vies in the eye with the compelling wholesomeness of a photo of the smiling Janet, something hung round her neck (a press tag? ID?) something other (a planet?) dawning from her bodice. Only after comes a recognition of the cropped sweater vest and chalk stripe shirtsleeve of an other who no longer sits next to her (this is he who displays her here?), then finally the gaze discovers the background flower (gardenia? no! carnation, sweet as an Ohio senior prom).

Scroll the page again and in a second photograph the planets are a constellation (there is no invitation to pick a planet) rising up from her bodice, a demure gesture of her fingers to her cheek echoed by the sensuousness of the hand which cups the clothed breast (is this she? or a shadowy figure in the shadows behind her?), against which (or with) the smile, and the floral dress work another texture. Only after some time are we aware of the painted flat in the background (itself a laden term)- stage set? restaurant decor? - in the style of Picasso’s harlequin.

A white linen (napkin, handkerchief) trails from the fingers at her cheek, and the upturned curve of her elbow, pale in the flash light against the tan of her flesh, seems a round rhyme with the shape of her floral veiled breast or a valentine candy heart.

Below this the proud text betrays itself [here is how the web page reads when saved as mere text, everything here but her]:


Go ahead, pick a letter…  


[Image] [Image]


I want to thank everyone out there for stopping by to visit. I understand that this is the single most popular page on this machine! And while I know quite well (first-hand, in fact) how cool her tattoos are, I really do urge you to read the story of how Janet and I came to fall in love and then meet.

The alphabetic tattoo played a significant part in it.


[*] Back up to my home page.

The parenthetical claim of first-person first-handedness signals the vulnerability in the face of (or behind) Retallack’s “forms that engage the dynamics of multiplicity (three and more).” The Troubadour seems lost in this ceremony of rising planets.

Donna mi pregha
   perch’i volgio dire
D’un accidente
   che sovente
     é fero
Ed é sí altero
   ch’ e chiamato amore
Sicche che I negha
     possa il ver sentire

A lady asks me
   I speak in season
She asks reason for an affect wild often
That is so proud he hath Love for a name
Who denies it can hear the truth now

Ezra Pound’s translation of Cavalcanti from The Cantos, number 36.

The freak show is reversed (inverted like sleeves or the pierced radius of a body in/as space) and what is within the tent is true love midwestern style and the insistence (his) that you have to know the story (I really do urge you) against the insistence (hers) of herself as story. Here it is “normalcy” that needs introduction.

If we are to unravel the communicative intent of home pages, we must infer who the expected audience is for these hyperdocuments. Are they a public form, or a private communication? Are they for a general audience, or specifically directed at members of one’s own perceived electronic community. Evidence shows that people strike a compromise when they publish home pages. They are public in the sense that, unless a site has erected firewalls, anyone who has access to the internet might read them. Thus we find general indications that home page authors might be communicating with an unknown public…. [However] the documents also show themselves to be private communication: some include “pointers to my friends” or “pointers to my kids”…. [and some] take the form of clever personal narratives.

Richard Furuta and Catherine C. Marshall, “Genre as Reflection of Technology in the World-Wide Web”

On the screen we follow the link to what were once in Troubadour tradition called Vidas and Razos, which are the life and reason (origin and purpose) of the poems bound in (I really do urge you) with the poet’s art - though what it serves to know this history who can say. The new barbarians who, for instance, populate alt.hypertext complain constantly there of the “ivory tower” professors with all their stupid ideas (that hypertext can have more spatiality than the web, for instance) and incessant history (annoyed by any suggestion that Ted Nelson and Doug Engelbart invented hypertext in the period between Bush’s memex and html’s endless lists of listlessness) quoting instead Steve Jobs’ dictum that “artists ship.” These folks look at things out front, they don’t want to see you from behind, which is to say to see from your perspective. History starts with them.

Our poet seemingly likewise: Beginning he sites himself (this story pierced with its own evolving, a circle of texts scrolling on a flat screen) but the troubadour lacks the agility of the jongleur he has sent before him in the form of a web (viz., The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, “the troubadour wrote both the text and the melody which were performed by the joglar…who served as the messenger for a particular t. by singing his song before its addressee.”):

This is the message I posted in December to a Listserve that talks about the bands “Loud Family” and “Game Theory.” It is about how I found the love of my life.

For those of you with Attention Deficit Disorder, there is a short version as well.

Subject: Interplanet Janet, she’s a Galaxy Girl!
To: (Andy is 6 years. You look like you’re doing OK so far!–Scott)
Date: Mon, 12 Dec 1994 01:12:25-0500 (EST)
From: (Ozric Tentacles)
Resent-Sender: lound-fans-request@PrimeNet.Com

I posted just a short while ago with hints about the story of how Game Theory played no small role in my finding the woman of my dreams. I also said that I’d eventually get around to telling y’all about it.


Well, this is it.


It *is* long.

(from Andy Dwyer, “How NOT to sleep through Heaven” [dead letter link, Eds.]

And it is (ars longa) long, though at times (as in its Paradisial title) possessed of a certain (vita breva) bragging courtier’s sweetness, the dolce stil nuovo of Dante and his circle(s) and a boy’s encounter with the recorded world, the alphabetized world, and the names of things and, of course, (I urge you to read) looking at Janet:

we all were going to be at a science fiction convention in Baltimore, back in Spring of that year. One of the most interesting details that surfaced was that there seemed to be an unusually high population of pierced and tattooed Librarians who frequented the group. And a few who were working on Library Science degrees as well. Does a nice job of breaking the stereotypes of both who Librarians are, AND who tattooed people are.

One of those Librarians, who lives in Columbus Ohio, posted telling us all about her latest work. She had gotten the Alphabet tattooed across her back. Twice. Upper and Lower cases. The font was Bryn Mawr. She even typed up a sketch of what it looked like. I thought that was SO cool. Not at all the common small-flash-picked-off-the-wall-and-put-some-place-easy-to-hide. I wrote her some Email telling her how impressed I was, and asking her about some of her feelings about her new ink.

You can read the rest of the story if you care to (it gives away nothing to say they fell in love) and you can read Janet’s back also, her doubled Bryn Mawr having become what the web call an ISMAP plotted to a child’s rhyme, an abcedary, Edward Gorey’s The Gashleycrumb Tinies, where “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs,/B is for Basil assaulted by bears,” and “C is for Clair who wasted away,” but J is not for Janet but for “James who took lye, by mistake.” We wonder whose mistake, and what Jaymes this lye.

In Milorad Pavic’s abcedary novel The Dictionary of the Khazars, “One of the envoys had the Khazars’ history and topography tattooed on his body,” and

lived…like a living encyclopedia of the Khazars, on money earned by standing quietly through long nights. He would keep his vigil, his gaze fixed on the Bosporus’ silver treetops, which resembled puffs of smoke. While he stood, Greek and other tribes would copy the Khazar history from his back and thighs into their books.

Likewise it’s Janet (and Joan) finally who we read here, her body my body the library:

an interesting coincidence, yes/no? that what Western culture has tended to label feminine (forms characterized by silence, empty and full, multiple, associative, nonhierarchical logics; open and materially contingent processes, etc.) may well be more relevant to the complex reality we are coming now to see as our world than the narrowly hierarchical logics that produced the rationalist dreamwork of civilization and its misogynist discontents. I wonder if we may find in the collision of radically destabilizing institutions and emerging feminine forms the energy to make something unprecedentedly, poethically generous of our complex future?

“:Re:Thinking:Literary:Feminism,” Joan Retallack


Books Discussed

Faruta, Richard, and Catherine C. Marshall. “Genre as Reflection of Technology in the World-Wide Web,” IWHD ‘95 Proceedings (June 1-2, Montpellier, France): 203-214.

Keller, Lynn, and Christine Miller. Feminist Measures: Soundings in Poetry and Theory. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1994.

Retallack, Joan. Errata 5uite, Washington, DC: Edge Books, 1993.

Taylor, Mark C., and Esa Saarinen. Imagologies: Media Philosophy. New York and London: Routledge, 1994.