20 Points: When a Lady (Shakes Hands With a Gentleman)

when a lady front
When a Lady Shakes Hands With a Gentleman
by Nikolai Bokov, Mark Insingel, Gertrud Leutenegger, Claude Ollier
Red Dust Books, 1982
96 pages / $8.95 buy from Amazon

1. Throughout the course of When a Lady, a very engaging 1982 collection from Red Dust, Inc, the contributors display a rigorous commitment to the avant-garde tradition of de-automatizing perception, as outlined by Shklovsky, and broken down like a boss here by A.D. Jameson

2. The Belgian novelist/ Concretist poet Mark Insingel reworks aphorisms and banal lanuage tropes.

3. “When a lady shakes hands with a gentleman (plucks out a gentleman’s eye) she does not remove her glove.”


5. “How can the drop that made the cup run over be the same as the drop to which the cup is drained? (How can the drop to which the cup is drained be the same as the drop that made the cup run over?)”

6. “A Loves B who loves C who is adored by D, the only concern of E who wants to get rid of F who is courted by G who receives attentions from H, the idol of I who would be content with J who cannot leave K in peace who will not part from L who would prefer to go to M who has gone off with N who cannot forget O who would like to go back to P who has an eye on Q who would gladly be wooed by R who is making advances to S who is only interested in T who likes U, U need not despair at any rate (V, W, X,Y,Z).”


8. Insingel looks for entrenched meanings and potentialities. He is repetitive, and redundant, and often very funny. The big blocks of mutable text ultimately represent his project, a sort of frustrated response and working with and through degraded language.

9. “Rare is beautiful/Rare is wonderful/Rare is awful./Rare is horrible./Rare is incomprehensible./Rare is possible./ Rare is deniable./ (You don’t have to accept it as true, you are not obliged to see it (it isn’t being thrown into our teeth), you need not have anything to do with it (go into it) it can’t frighten you at all (the chances are much too small), you can dream about it (wet dreams—nightmares), you can actually have a cozy chat about it.)”

10. Claude Ollier, explores sensations connected with memory images. In his project he interrogates some of the “word as signifier” aspects of language, dwelling on strange associations and essentially personal multiplicities in words.

11. Nocturne: “I climb up through the trees. My foot slips on the pine needles, on the tawny yellow earth and on the clumps of moss. Whenever the slope steepens, my foot hands suspended for a moment, hesitantly seeking some hollow to lodge itself in. When it finds one, it edges in cautiously and shuffles the loose pebbles to get a firmer hold. The upward thrust is now insured. The knee flexes, the hamstring slackens, the whole body leans forward in the next stride… A little higher up, etched against the sky, there is the contour of a ridge, of a line of ground that looks like a ridge, or the edge of another shelf. Yes, it’s a shelf. I’m still on the same slope: the line has disintegrated, blotted out by a curtain of trees.”

12. Station: “The trains follow each other on the innumerable tracks which are glinting in the early sunshine and we, in our efforts not to stumble on the wooden sleepers, pick our way awkwardly over the stones which at every step come loose and roll away. Our pace is uneven and our path oblique across the lines of cable which we must negotiate with extreme caution. One of these ranks of cable stands higher than the rest and blocks our path, for it is as tall as we are and has no gaps as far as we can see. Wasting no time, we swerve to the left and rush towards what we suppose will be the end of the rank of cables. But after a hundred yards or so, we realize that it goes on far into the countryside. Making an about-turn, we head back with quick pounding tread in the glare of the now rising sun.”


14. In Vorabend, by Gertrud Leutenegger, a girl prepares to take part in a dangerous street protest. The night before the event, she walks the streets of Zurich.

15. “Does no one ever die in the city? One could walk for weeks, for years through a city believing that death no longer existed. Only ambulances with their blind panes shrill more and more frequently through the streets. Not that death is something singular. Not that death should absorb us totally. But there is habit: lying down at night and wondering whether we shall drift from sleep into light. How will the skin between the knuckles, through which the sun gleams, look when we are dead?”

16. Zurich, city of banks, city of clocks, renounces death in favor of the false promise of immortality in capital.

17. Nikolai Bokov, a Russian emigree writer, uses humor to challenge the language of political consensus. His writing recalls great absurdist pieces like Moscow to the End of the Line, and Petersburg.

18. “Nine years ago Sergei Petrovich committed a crime. He wrecked a monument to the great Bestiev… The difficultly lay in the fact that Dogorukov had a perfect alibi: on the day that the monument in Passim Square was destroyed he had been out picking mushrooms. They even found witnesses to testify to this. His wife had been out with him, whilst his neighbor, Proharchuk, had dropped in afterwards to nibble on a mushroom or two….Here Sergei Dolgorukov should have confessed all! Repented! But he was overwhelmed by… a moment while I look in the dictionary for the appropriate pre-Revolutionary Church-Slavonic phrase…he was overwhelmed by pride.”

19. Bokov reveals the violence that lurks just beneath the surface of consensus language/politics. “During the first five years the treatment went slowly: the offender was possessed of an excellent constitution, and bore each blow to the groin with a grin—albeit a forced, or shall we say, unnatural one.” Zowee!

20. Alongside publishers like FC2, Dalkey Archive, Sun and Moon Press, and Marion Boyars, Red Dust, has had this tremendous legacy of publishing interesting, provocative literature for over fifty years. This collection is a great sample of that legacy, representing four underrated and compelling authors.

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