VIRGINIA KONCHAN Reviews
Identity Theft by Catherine Daly
(Dusie Press, Switzerland, 2007, 2008)
Defying the Commercialization of the Self
Identity Theft engages with the rhetoric of fashion (specifically haute couture), to create a poetic that is polemical in its urgency and explicitly French in its means. A hybrid text, fashion illustrations and graphics accompany the chapbook’s 13 poems, varying from a hand dripping with diamonds to a cluster of slingback heels. Daly, the author of two previous full-length collections (Locket and DaDaDa) here uses these charged cultural signifiers to engage with the politics of identity formation, usurpation, and reclamation.
Daly is not alone in using the rhetoric of consumer branding to question of how a female identity is shaped (or deformed) by the machinations of fashion advertising, but she is one of the few poets who manages to make actual poetry out of this rhetoric. The speaker of Identity Theft persistently addresses a “you” (in enlarged and bold-face type), a female whose personhood and rights are under siege. One of the collection’s tautest poems, “short list” rejects the common lure of allowing acquired goods to substitute for identity (the poem in its entirety): “crave + covet + collect/ THE jacket/ THE dress/ THE purse/ THE skirt/ THE shoe/ to what end, spree/ what commodity/ the one/ commodious”
The speaker in these interconnected poems equates the nude body of the clothed woman with the unveiled text (from the poem “underneath”: “a body intimates its nakedness/ text . . . what thing/ person/ could prove/ separate self self me”), and Daly’s poem “jouissance” recalls to American readers a French concept not directly translatable into the English (the closest translation being bliss). Lacan introduced the term jouissance as a foundation of the pleasure principle, which, at its furthest extreme in the pleasure/pain dialectic, becomes suffering. (Jouissance is also inherent to hermeneutic discourse; in The Pleasure of the Text Barthes cites it as one of two textual effects, alongside pleasure). From Daly’s “jouissance”: “Your words proclaim dread of mine,/ transmission/ consumption/ coaxial = send impulse . . . desertification of her clothes/ the flag.”
Daly’s efforts to preserve this figure and clothe it in politicized language, is heroic: “My abandon, my glory/ clothed in terrifying radiance . . . apocrypha, apocalypse/ unclear etymology/ before Inanna, Hannah, Anne,/ grace.” The speaker, at the close of this poem, fuses the erotic, spiritual and political into one: “I am my voice; my voice, cloth,/ fine-eyed mesh, net . . . voice shatters foreign lands, how? You are rebel lands/ old topoi,/ estate holdings . . . sty/ complied, compliant/ made green and felicitous.”
Identity Theft’s closing lines would be read, ideally, to or by Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve: “Identity is not a gift economy/ identity is a standard/ gold.”
Virginia Konchan's poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Believer, The New Republic, Notre Dame Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. She is a contributing reviewer for The Rumpus and ForeWord Magazine.