A Voluptuous Panic: Further Thoughts on the Lyric Essay

The link above, which I encourage you to visit, is an article by Roxane Gay on the ways in which the lyric essay “manipulates a world.” She says, “it is play at its most primitive level, the idea of vertigo …” Gay goes on to quote Roger Caillois as saying, vertigo: “an attempt to momentarily destroy the stability of perception and inflict a kind of voluptuous panic upon an otherwise lucid mind. In all cases, it is a question of surrendering to a kind of spasm, seizure, or shock which destroys reality with sovereign brusqueness.”


I am taken by this phrase, “voluptuous panic” like in the back-and-forth between two comedians or close friends who unabashedly take turns verbally one-upping (smashing) each other, the gestures and insults, the surreal put-downs and taunts spiraling into pure lunacy and laughter. [seized by joy]

{It is not unusual to hear of musicians speaking of a performance in terms of the mystical, the magical, a moment disappeared into the void. I gave a speech a few months ago and was flowing in the moment, was so caught up in the moment that after it was finished all that was left was a splendid calm and one frozen frame of being on stage–the rest I could not recall.}


Is the purpose of the lyric essay to destroy reality? Is it to augment truth or present truth as it is–muddled by the mind that grasps it, dirtied from the outset? Is it to get lost in the way thought-streams branch and slash, weave and explode? Is it to present “the truth” as we know it, turn, mix and cut that truth into shredded maps or bits of routes? Is the lyric essay’s pleasure in the act of reading the text (being drawn in), the taking of a “real” event and re-imagining it–the act of imagination is, in itself, perhaps, a lyric essay unending… Or, does the lyric essay present the truth as something concocted, something always in flux, heavily interpretive depending on the receiver?


A character in David Lynch’s film LOST HIGHWAY speaks of not liking photographs, but rather choosing to “remember things in his own way.” This seems to me like how the lyric essay can be envisioned. Maybe Lynch’s film, with all its rabbit holes, leaps into differing or parallel dimensions, perhaps this film would be an example of the filmic version of a lyric essay…Imagine INLAND EMPIRE unfolding into…


May our words lead us into that state of “voluptuous panic.” May we be seized by the spasms of our own words like so many caverns opening up, one after another, unfolding in that space where fiction and non-fiction coexist or, like two snakes in tongue-battle, suck each other up in the folds of our own slick bellies, drunk on venom, made lucid by the nets of our own words.


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