Genre’s for Fascists (or “Eating the Placenta”)

by on Aug.12, 2010

(The following originated as a fanciful, off-the-cuff comment to Joyelle’s post. . .Near future posts will more directly address placentophagia, sorcery, entheogenic incantations, and sitting with Marina.)

* * *

I dwell in Possibility (Emily Dickinson, #657)


Unscrew the locks from the doors!

Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!    ….

I speak the pass-word primeval, I give the sign of democracy. (Walt Whitman, SOM, XXIV)

* * *

Artaud—that mystical fore[mother] of post-historical artistic anarchy & transcendence—can surely guide us on our adventure to go genreless, for example in his First Manifesto of the Theater of Cruelty: “…one sees that, by its proximity to principles which transfer their energy to it poetically, this naked language…(not a virtual but a real language) must permit, by its use of man’s nervous magnetism, the transgression of the ordinary limits of art and speech, in order to realize actively, that is to say magically, in real terms, a kind of total creation in which man must reassume his place between dream and events.”

Genre: taxonomy, classification, diagnosis…

Artaud, like the beatific Hannah Weiner and so many others living and dead, just couldn’t get with a genre. And so Artaud was removed to a sanatorium where the chaos of his ungenred imagination could be, if not embraced, at least disappeared from the logos of good cultural hygiene.

According to Clayton Eshleman (no stranger to genre transgression), “Artaud is a shaman in a nightmare in which all the supporting input from a community that appreciates the shaman’s death and transformation as an aspect of its own wholeness is, instead, handed over to mockers who revile the novice at each stage of his initiation.”

* * *

Maybe genre’s a little like religion. (Do people still write jeremiads?)

“I can do nothing without this culture of the void inside me.” (Artaud)

Zen mind.

“Jon-Jo said ‘the perfect person employs his mind as a mirror. It grasps nothing, it refuses nothing. It receives but does not keep’… it is called ‘the void’ in Buddhism; it doesn’t mean ‘void’ in the ordinary sense of emptiness. It means void in that it is the most real thing there is…” (Alan Watts).

* * *

Walt Whitman, buoyantly transposing his utopic prescription on the New World’s post-war void, envisioned a future America revolutionized by literature, “not merely the pedagogue-forms, correct, regular, familiar with precedents, made for matters of outside propriety, fine words, thoughts definitely told out—but a language fann’d by the breath of Nature…” Democracy entailed “displacing all that exists, or that has been produced anywhere in the past, under opposite influences.” Leaves of Grass is the always-destabilized cosmic mirror of his democratic vista.

America as hybrid, experiment, empty. Empire.

What is “hybrid” if not reproduction? As well as tenuous & transient? Hybrid’s a placeholder, possibly a smokescreen. Euphemism. Handy moniker for a culture at war with the Imagination.

generic genera genetic general genial generalization gentleman                        [en]gender

The first work is visionary, freeing the imagination. Just envisioning freedom, knowing where we want to go, and questioning the basic tenet that says ‘coercive authority is necessary,’ is a big and necessary first step.” (Dale Pendell, interviewed—by me—in Conduit)

* * *

Norman O. Brown famously concludes Love’s Body: “Everything is metaphor; there is only poetry.”

Poetic does seem a lot more accommodating than prosaic, or dramatic, or fictive, or _______. Poetry is elastic, not even remotely confined to literature. Because just about anything can be poetic: a tree’s shape, the texture of a placenta, quantum physics, justice, monsters, dreams, death. Might we entertain the proposition that poetry transcends genre and/or engulfs it? (Baudrillard: “theory could even be poetry.”) Is there, on the one hand, poetry-as-genre, and on the other a more Orphic, or gnostic, or even primordial poetic function originating in Cro-Magnon’s first metaphoric projections on cave walls—”oceanic feeling,” e.g.—that is, terminologically, a kind of universal principle?

That’s easy for you to say, you might say, a person officially branded “poet.” But how do you brand a book like this?

The publisher genre-lizes it as “Alternative Health/Literature,” but I’ve only ever heard Dale call it poetry (“entheogenic poetry” was Terence McKenna’s clarification). Dale’s former teacher N.O. Brown (“NOB”) was surprisingly baffled by Pharmako/Poeia‘s anarchic style: “The problem is that there’s no separation between the science and the non-science. You can’t tell when it is science or a flight of fantasy. . . maybe you need an epistemological preface. . . . The problem is that you present poetry as literal truth.”

Presenting poetry as literal truth is, no doubt, a pretty big problem—I can hardly imagine a bigger one. But I think that’s precisely Dale’s point (and one recognizes NOB’s nostalgia—he seems to have pathologized intensive states of consciousness.) Poetry is never literal truth, (“everything is metaphor”). And that’s the thing about genre—it’s so literal. As Dale suggests, “In a dark age such as our own, it is difficult to find the true poison path.”

Genre as false poison, transitional object, rubric, teleology & tautology, sanity (sanitation). True poison: Dionysian flux, chaos, eschatology, the exuberant & plutonic dance of Kali Ma, dreamtime.

Genre as ego                                   (?)

* * *

“I understood that the mushrooms were speaking to me: ‘These are the Principal Ones.’ I felt infinite happiness. On the Principal Ones’ table a book appeared, an open book that went on growing until it was the size of a person…One of the Principal Ones spoke to me and said: ‘María Sabina, this is the Book of Wisdom. It is the Book of Language. Everything that is written in it is for you”…I cure with Language, the Language of the saint children.” (María Sabina)

“It is language that speaks.” (Mallarmé)

* * *

Like María Sabina, the Mayan authors collected in this book are, for the most part, what we would call “illiterate.” These Tzotzil women in the Highlands of Chiapas “claim their spells and songs were given to them by the ancestors, the First Fathermothers, who keep the Great Book in which all words are written down.” They learn their incantations by dreaming them, or from cave ghosts whispering in their ears, and regard them as sacred, magical, and above all utilitarian. The original version of this book was handbound at the Taller Leñateros, a collective facilitated by the ex-pat Ámbar Past, using paper and ink made from a poetic cornucopia of local ingredients: corn husks, heart of maguey, recycled women’s cotton huipiles, bridal veil fern, “beating the fibers in a mill which spins by bicycle power,” and while the paper dries they “print poems on oak leaves and pansy petals.” Ámbar Past calls this process “something between a performance piece and an act of witchcraft.” (The book’s back cover tags it “Indigenous Literature.”)

“Poetry is called nichimal k’op, ‘the word in flower.'”

“The word comes from the mouth of the seer. It lives a life of its own in the body of a snake. The word is larva that penetrates the Earth, emerges from the caves, flies through the air… Words take the forms of stars, of circles, of glyphs drawn on the face of the blood.”

Subcomandante Marcos sent a handwritten note of congratulations to his Zapatista sisters upon the publication of their Incantations.

* * *

Other works seemingly unmoored from genre: Theresa Cha’s Dictee (“Literature, Art”), Clayton’s Juniper Fuse (“saturation job”), Paul Metcalf. Susan Howe

After helping her perform this script, Anne Carson mailed me a copy:

(“star map”)

* * *

Does silence have genre?  Chance?

Let us take for example the hexagram K’un, THE RECEPTIVE, earth:

Yoko’s ecstatic and vertiginous scream?

* * *

My friend S texted me the other day that she wanted to hang hundreds of dolls from the tree in front of her house. It reminded me of The Island of Dolls.

(I doula’d S’s two girls.)

Perhaps the hanging dolls—as on Isla de la Munecas—will appease hungry ghosts, while also normalizing magical gesture as an aspect of feminine agency. S fantasized about how the hanging dolls would “tear a little crack in the sidewalk that bursts open to reveal a whole army of succubi waiting beneath the surface of the earth to join forces in annihilating the patriarchy.”

In addition to practical magic, a creative jouissance infuses her vision. Perhaps here too, in the synthesis of sorcery and art, one might recognize a poetic act. An act informed and inspired by, among other things, theories about abjection and the grotesque which currently preoccupy S, yet a gesture also entirely committed to somatic expression & connection, to the visceral potential of her performance as catalyst for (communal) transformation / (public art).

* * *

Joseph Beuys, poet-shaman, practiced unsafe art—he didn’t wear a genre. “Only on condition of a radical widening of definition will it be possible for art and activities related to art to provide evidence that art is now the only evolutionary-revolutionary power. Only art is capable of dismantling the repressive effects of a senile social system to build a SOCIAL ORGANISM AS A WORK OF ART.”

Maria Abramovic precludes genre through the exploitation of her body as both source and screen for her art. Her most recent MoMA performance, applyng the metaphor of a cell (both biological and political), engaged the core energy (placental?) where merger and separateness co-exist within the nucleic, midline fuse of the gaze: formless, wordless, invisible, intertransferential creation. Here subject and object exchange celestial fluids—become each other—through a ritual process of pure communication. “There are no firmly established religious structures any longer, the old structures have all been destroyed and new ones have not yet emerged. Artists accompany us on our search for a new order.”

(“somatic exercise“)

Niki de Saint-Phalle took a rifle to genre and shot the fuck out of it. “I shot against men. I shot against myself. . .I shot because it was fun, and it made me feel great.”

(My life had stood a loaded gun)

* * *

Genre-resistance. Communal, immediate, healing, transcendent? (“The future of poetry”?)

* * *

Genre is a product and problem of patriarchal economy. Genre = the DNA of the book, its certain paternity, distinction, the disavowal of chaos, “the author.” It’s where the money is (or isn’t). The vessel for both genre and authorship is the book. Which, among other things, is, in a very important sense, a “waste product.” The jouissance and potential “insignificance” for one traveling in the rectal cauldron meet a grave with a trapdoor—just a “little death,” and afterward no toxic trace on the planet (a planet tumored and asphyxiating from all our death drive hyper-reproductivity.) The book—embalmed by genre and the petrified death cries of the forest, metonymous for (reproducing) the person of the author herself—is a burial vault.

So when Joyelle asks us to think about what it really means to go genreless, to essentially speculate about the future of our enterprise, I find myself pondering questions like these: If forced to describe “what you write” without naming genre or any terminology related to the notion of genre, how would you do it? Is genre democratic? Manipulative? Are the constraints of genre part of your process? Are you addicted to genre? In what ways is your identity, your image, significant to the readers of your work? How come nobody but us gives a shit about our genre?  Is permanence, and/or “legacy,” crucial to your creative investments? Do you know who you are without genre? Can there be books, or even authors, in a genreless culture?

Paradigm is our enemy.       Everything is malleable.      There’s only poetry.

3 comments for this entry:
  1. Susan B.

    “midline fuse of the gaze” — fantastic

    phenomenal and fun post, Sarah

  2. Clayton Eshleman

    In writing marketing copy for my cotranslation, with Jim Arnold, of the 1948 unexpurgated text of Aime Cesaire’s Soleil cou coupe (Solar Throat Slashed), I wrote that the book is charged with eroticism and blasphemy, animistically dense, and imbued with an African and Vodun spirituality. A Cesaire poem is an intersection in which metaphoric traceries create historically aware nexuses of thought and experience, jagged solidarity, apocalyptic surgery and solar dynamite.
    In describing the collection of 72 poems in this way, it occurs to me that establishes its own non-genre, and that all breakthrough collections of poems, or poems themselves, create their own “outside of existing genres” situation. However, I think you can call Solar Throat Slashed poetry–so the spectre of genre has not totally been banished.
    Artaud might get closer to a total non-genre presenation in some of his writings that are simultaneously letters, poems, glossalalia, essays, and fecal-lined complaints. Clayton E

  3. Sarah Fox

    Susan–thanks! I really hoped it would be fun.

    Clayton–what a tantalizing, rich, indeed poetic description of Cesaire’s Solar Throat Slashed (“animistically dense,” “apocalyptic surgery,” “solar dynamite”!) Yes, your assessment does seem to establish the poems within their own non-genre–an imaginative, assertive reportage, you might say, of your full immersion in the works’ lifeblood.

    Maybe it’s unreasonable to expect total banishment of genre at this stage of the game–I mean, there are plenty more devastating conventions I’d rather see thrown out first, such as banks, weapons of mass destruction, the personhood of the corporation, etc etc etc. Spectral genre seems like progress.

    As for Artaud, who seems innately de-corded from orthodox forms, would you include “Artaud the Mômo” in his close to total non-genre presentation? If not much of the work in Watchfields and Rack Screams? I just found your Hunger interview, in which you say, about those late works:

    Artaud after electroshock is a mined man—his life has been pillaged, he is like something that has been bombed, poisoned, and raped—which is to say that he has also been completely released from any dependence on decorum or taste. From 1945 to 1948, when he dies, he simply writes and draws what comes through, what the pillage yields. Another way to put this is to say that the mental lines between his consciousness and his unconscious have been erased… What is valuable here relates to shamanism and to mental travel.

    “…what the pillage yields.” So extraordinary.

    (Lately, all roads lead back to Artaud… )

    This also seems relevant: “The only way the American poem can remain human, as our government expands its imperialist domination of the world (and space), is for the poet to ceaselessly indicate awareness of the monstrous interventionist framework within which, as a tiny and impotent god, he mixes his poisons and proceeds.”

    Thank you Clayton!