CAPN Abstract 8: Amy McCauley on Oedipa and Tragedy

Our Classics And Poetry Now workshop on 2 November at Senate House, London, will culminate with a paper read by the Manchester-based poet Amy McCauley.

In fact, at the workshop’s after party — downstairs at The Duke — Amy will perform from her book Oedipa in an evening of poems, songs and pints, alongside performances from poets, Caroline Bird, George Chopping and a song or two from singer and journalist Yo Zushi.

In her abstract McCauley writes:

“The questions which have most bothered me in my poetic practice are as follows.:

1) How might language be made to carry bodily affect – that is, a sense of embodied emotional life; a somatic presence of feeling or sensation – as well as, or alongside, a sense of scepticism towards the ‘self’-presence and ‘self’-containment of the ‘I’ that speaks?

2) How might ‘individual’ utterance carry a sense of doubt concerning its own ‘originality’ – i.e. how might ‘I’ occupy a space which is both ‘local’ and ‘collective’?

3) How might so-called ‘personal’ or ‘private’ forms of experience be explored as political phenomena?

In this paper I will discuss how I have put the intellectual, formal and aesthetic qualities of tragedy to use in my performance book Oedipa, and demonstrate how the use of tragic voices offers a reply to the questions above. I will propose the tragic ‘I’ is inevitably in conversation with an array of performances, tropes, myths and masks which organise the discursive apparatus around how ‘I’ experiences the world, and discuss the uses of intertextuality in making the voices for Oedipa. As part of this discussion I will suggest the tragic ‘I’ is a social phenomenon, constructed through a palimpsest of cultural and linguistic mythologies which always inevitably pre-exist ‘I’’s attempt to narrate itself.

Tragedy proposes that to utter is to be implicated in the social imaginary, is to enter civic discourse, is to be subject to the pressures, histories and social performances of other selves, as well as to the vertical and horizontal vicissitudes of etymology and language-use. I will reflect on the way tragedy transformed me from a ‘lyric poet’ to one concerned primarily with long-form polyvocal performance works, and discuss how my approach to language-use in Oedipa has radically altered my practice.”

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