Author: Jena Osman
Publisher: Ugly Duckling Presse (2019)
Motion Studies consists of three essay-poems that begin as meditations on 19th century science and end firmly as research into the present. From chronophotography to algorithmic surveillance, from phrenology to fMRI brain scans, from Victorian specimen collections to the bleached bones of the Great Barrier Reef, each poem in this collection explores technologies of knowing each other and the world we're in.
"In Jena Osman’s brilliant Motion Studies, you’ll find incisive focus—not despite—but because of alarm. A tour de force of documentary, speculative fiction, film criticism, and lyric jump cuts, Motion Studies plies surveillance, pseudoscience, and the commodification of the living into three long works that drive further Osman’s vital decade-spanning investigation of power, human displacement, and erasure. Like dead coral and wreckage sedimented on a seabed, a violent record is legible in this layering; Osman reminds us of this. Plus, she recasts a bird as the lead in Spielberg’s Minority Report. That’s got to move you."
"What energizes this work and makes it so compelling to move through is how much it allows the reader’s body and mind to be activated and integrated while reading. Jena Osman’s Motion Studies measures, dissects, and dissects the dissector whenever it wants. It marvels, it studies, it makes a weaving of science, poetry, and testimony. It is a study of instruments and torture, of the unraveling of a question; it is a defense of the heart’s electromagnetic intelligence, and, in its most secret moments, it is a novel of days. Brilliantly conceived and rendered."
"Jena Osman’s breadth of knowledge is extraordinary and almost unbearably specific, as she plunges into the mechanics of technology from Victorian smoke machines to present-day nano-drones. With keen dispassionate patience, Osman traces the genealogy of data-mining, and while doing so, she slows us down and rehabilitates our attention span, leading us deep into her surfeit findings. Motion Studies is a book of endurance rewarded with absolute revelation."
–Cathy Park Hong
"Motion Studies entertains and essays with a bittersweet heart, continuing Osman's project of revealing hidden networks that we ignore at the price of confusion, even ignorance. Accompanied by a series of lively guiding voices, Motion Studies locates and dislocates us in worlds awash in information waiting to be read—historical, bodily, ecological, psychological, political, even fantastical worlds woven together through man's errors and obsessions. Even reading itself becomes a thread Osman tugs across her loom of language; I am happily caught as I am awakened and undone."
"No one in recent years has made more of poetry as a platform for inquiry, for essayistic investigation, than Jena Osman. Her subject—in Corporate Relations (which explores the precedents for and ramifications of corporations’ personhood in Citizens United) and Public Figures (much of which is ‘seen’ from the eyes of public statuary in Philadelphia)—has been the monstrous animation of the institutions we create. Here, in… Motion Studies, a reverse dynamic is under scrutiny: the stopless conversion of internal life (pulse, breath, heat, neural activity) to external data legible to processors. Osman’s brand of researched essaying and imaginative exploration comes to mind when I think of what Wallace Stevens said about how the artist ‘may be’ in relationship to her subject: ‘its inhabitant and elect expositor.'"