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Eleni Stecopoulos
reviewed by Thom Donovan
TAXT Press, 2006 (

This review is about 5 printed pages long. It is copyright © Thom Donovan and Jacket magazine 2008.See our [»»] Copyright notice.

My colonic is my confession


and, love, the sky birds who crown the trees
the white white hills standing upon Alloy
— I charge negligence, all companies concerned —
two years O love two years he said he gave.
      — Muriel Rukeyser, from “The Book of the Dead”


In his recent tract, The Susceptive System (A Semi Popular Overview), Robert Kocik outlines two complementary systems of the human body, the immune system and what Kocik calls the “susceptive system”. Whereas the immune system’s purpose is to respond appropriately to an invading pathogen in order to destroy it, the susceptive system meets the same pathogen in order to welcome it, bid it adieu, and incorporate it into an existing organism. As Kocik states, in the case of the immune system:

Paragraph 3

Under immunity it’s understood that the body is exempted from the injurious agent. The agent is destroyed or turned away and therefore we understand that it is the body that has been exempted. But in an immune reaction how can we determine which party has in fact been exempted? The agent is also spared its fate (if only further life) in the host. The agent is thus rendered exempt from its duty as well — from whatever harm it intended to do — exempted from its program. Privileged enough to be eliminated? Destroying the invader de-obliges it from doing what it meant to do. Both the foreign body and the host are then non liable. The foreign body is discharged from duty as the host is spared the deleterious effect. A joint exemption. One is spared from undergoing the other…


Whereas, of the susceptive system, Kocik tells us:


As distinct from a defensive, belligerent response, the susceptive is welcoming and convivial. It is a jovial response. While memory cells involved in immunization hold a lifelong and lethal grudge against a pathogen, susceptive cells function like an antivaccination — extending a lifelong invitation and overpowering welcome to outsiders.


In Eleni Stecopoulos’s chapbook, Autoimmunity (TAXT, 2006), Stecopoulos stages the contradictions of sovereignty — and, specifically, the sovereignty that is the United States post-9/11 — through a lyrical mode of address allegorizing her own body as international agent under immunity, given to its own preemptive attacks against invaders within and without its borders. For the body to become hyper-sensitized to its environment, as Stecopoulos’ did in 2000, parallels a reactionary disposition of national sovereignty becoming vigilant to “foreign agents”:


From November 2000 to June 2002 I left the country to detoxify my body, crossing the border from New York State into Ontario for weekly naturopathic treatments. Sometimes my trips coincided with American holidays like the Fourth of July, or days of national importance like Election Day 2000 and Timothy McVeigh’s execution.


An uncanny allegory for Bush’s War Against Terror and preemptive strikes against an “axis of evil,” the reactive immune system also allegorizes a perverse geo-political logic whereby “we” should invade “them” and suspend civil liberties in order to preserve a sovereignty ungrounded by international law and multilateral diplomacy; where, likewise, commodity fetishism leaves no corner of the globe untouched, and a democracy in name alone compulsively “spread[s] liberty on foreign sores.”


Much as in Rob Halpern’s forthcoming Palm Press book, Disaster Suites, the “I” of Autoimmunity is less indicative of a stable identity, than a site of intersubjective contradiction and mediation. From the get go of Autoimmunity, Stecopoulos’ “I” also embodies political theater and spectacle. So reads the book’s epigraph from Artaud: “The Grand-Saint-Antoine did not bring the plague to Marseille. It was already there.” Likewise, in the 2nd page of her text Stecopoulos recognizes: “After September 11th, all the days were theatrical” and “Across from what was now called the homeland, I played myself as a traveling show.” In Autoimmunity’s many references to the political theater of the French and Roman empires comparison with the present gasping American one are implicit.[1] So there is the scathing: “Roman society staved off age with shit facials” or the ironic “Good people of no faith at all / like Rousseau my colonic is my confession / this little pile by my door: / autobiography.”


In Stecopoulos’s trim offering, a text dealing more concisely with current geo-politics than possibly any other I’ve read post 9/11, I am reminded of the necessities of American Anglophone lyrical address in the last century and a half. For the “I” Stecopoulos assumes is one I believe Emily Dickinson also assumed before the American Civil War — a war which, if rumor is true, very likely made her “hysterically blind”. Such an “I” is also assumed by Whitman, Wallace Stevens, Muriel Rukeyser and more recently in the work of Susan Howe, Bruce Andrews and Hannah Weiner. To use “I” as these poets have, is not merely to act rhetorically (though there is of course a great deal of rhetoric in all of the poets mentioned), but to dramatize a lyrical subjectivity at a nexus point of an intersubjective will to power — a field of force, law, and desire.


I was the carrier I was the narrator
I stopped dreaming and fell out of time
Healed by story or husbandry
of the causes that possess me
I counter earth for your mortality
my lungs for your grief
my bladder    fear    heart    martial law


Or as Nietzsche proposed in his famous letter to Jakob Burkhardt, “every name in history is I,” where “I” also does not indicate a stable subjective position, so much as a moment when the singular actor undergoes a discourse. That “I” can still enact such a position I believe is the privilege of lyrical address; to stage one’s complicity with the “causes that possess me” ups the ante of what lyrical address can do insofar as it may be one effective means of conducting one’s self ethically thru the poem.


While Autoimmunity provides a diagnosis of various symptoms contributing to the present disastrous conditions of a national discourse about sovereignty, it also offers hope in the ways that it seeks to take responsibility for what the nation does, and the singular citizen as political agent of and for nation. Like Nietzsche, Artaud and other self-diagnosing thinkers before her, Stecopoulos effectively attends the condition of her own body in order to discover a condition of many bodies in relation during a time of what Judith Butler calls after Foucault the “self–referring circularity of sovereignty.” If certain positings and usages of power can be seen as an illness destructive to all power touches, the “I” of Autoimmunity also embodies that most ancient first person mode of address of poetry as it seeks foremost to shift the directionality and distribution of power, and therefore transmute all powers (the work of an alchemist, healer, medium, analyst, artist).


What was Greek and what was tragic
what was blood feud in the liability of the verb
my body is dead          I am the name it had   [2]

Because you manage your pain I feel for you
as a chorus feels for the dead
to power another system


Like Sophocles’ Antigone, Autoimmunity mourns a relation to law opposed to sovereignty’s ungrounded nomos that must be brought about again. This would be a law founded on unresolved mourning that finally takes into account those most devastated by the general quest for national sovereignty and economic dominance in the world today: the dispossessed, stateless, itinerant, and poor. As though an effect of Stecopoulos’s own somatic crisis, or a terrible irruption within an intersubjective fabric, Autoimmunity is also a text of transference whereby mourning may be undergone, guilt articulated (if not resolved), and complicity admitted towards transformation, susceptivity, and greater equivocality between within and without, “homeland” and abroad, domus and interior, what is hailed as “I” and that I’s others.


The shadow play goes on continuously
Damage calls for translation
Body’s our demotic horizon
Between alethia and nostos
Cultivate some apathy for the taste of home


[1] Another source for thinking about theater and politics, as Stecopoulos notes in her book forthcoming with Palm Press, Armies of Compassion, is the contemporary Greek filmmaker, Theo Angelopoulos’s The Travelling Players (O Thiasos), which concerns events that took place during WWII and Civil War Greece.

[2]my body is dead        I am the name it had” is quoted from Euripides’ Orestes, tr. William Arrowsmith.

Thom Donovan

Thom Donovan

Thom Donovan curates Peace On A events series in NYC and edits the weblog Wild Horses of Fire ( He also co-edits ON: a magazine for contemporary practice (, and is an ongoing participant in the Nonsite Collective ( His poetry and criticism have been published variously.

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