This essay takes the image of the noise-filled television screen that appears as a visual refrain in Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely as the starting point for a discussion of phatic language in her work and in the work of the poet Lisa Robertson. Phatic expressions are signifying acts that indicate merely that a channel for communication is open, that signification can occur. Analyzing Robertson’s and Rankine’s uses of noisy phatic pronouns—pronouns that, in being reduced to a deictic potentiality, gesture to their own function as indexes of a virtual and noisy mass of possible subjective projections—the article argues that a phatic mode of subjectivity and address can be understood as typical of lyric poetry’s response to the communicative situation of the mass public sphere. Comparing Robertson’s and Rankine’s uses of the phatic pronoun “you” in their respective books Cinema of the Present and Citizen, it observes in Robertson’s work an affirmation of subjective indeterminacy that is countered by Rankine’s tendency to show us scenes in which subjective interiors are, rather, overdetermined as a result of racialization. There is, furthermore, a racial and affective dimension that accrues to Rankine’s reduction of lyric interiority to its phatic ground, one that represents a limit to affective exchange that is nonetheless the means by which an experience of shared affect becomes possible. The article concludes by locating Robertson’s and Rankine’s uses of the phatic mode on a historical trajectory that traces back to midcentury critiques of a dominant conception of lyric.
"Lyric Noise: Lisa Robertson, Claudia Rankine, and the Phatic Subject of Poetry in the Mass Public Sphere,"
Criticism: Vol. 61
, Article 6.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/criticism/vol61/iss1/6
Fig. 1, Detail of page 3, Claudia Rankine, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely.tiff (1604 kB)
Fig. 2, Front Cover, Cinema of the Present.tif (3794 kB)
Fig. 3A, Screenshot, Chris Marker, Sans Soleil.tif (2028 kB)
Fig. 3B, Screenshot, Chris Marker, Sans Soleil.tiff (4006 kB)
Fig. 4, Front Cover, Claudia Rankine, Citizen.tif (3386 kB)
Fig. 5, Screenshot, Chris Marker, Sans Soleil .tiff (4006 kB)
Fig. 6, Detail of page 130, Claudia Rankine, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely.tiff (2690 kB)