Archive for October, 2010

Occult Motherhood, Queer Time, the Oracular Orifice: Excursion & Bullets

by on Oct.12, 2010

The Halberstamatic queer time sits in apposition to heteronormative time, those 9-5, early to bed, early to rise, mama-daddy-brother-sister hours.  The hours marked off by opening and closing of shops, by school and workdays, by morning-evening-nightly news.

Halberstam: “Queer uses of time and space develop in opposition to the institutions of family, heterosexuality, and reproduction, and queer subcultures develop as alternatives to kinship-based notions of community.”

Me: “Question: can queer uses of time and space develop within the institutions of  family, heterosexuality, and reproduction to create opposition to those institutions from within?  Do those institutions in fact necessarily contain their own queer oppositions, and thus part of what’s at risk for the hegemony is sealing the gates on those fractious impulses/phenomena?  And, if so, what sort of subcultures rumble in the leaky gut of these institutions?”

There is an understood moral quality to heteronormative time.  Achewood illustrates (literally):

To be a good mama, I should eat me a garbanzo bean at 6, feed family at 7, shuttle babies at 8, get to work at 9.  Whatevs, breeder town.  I stay awake until 3 am, and don’t get up until 10 if I can help it.  My babies look at me like the apocalypse is upon us if they see me out of bed before 9.  To our great perversion, my schedule (both work and bodily) require my man-partner, the father to get up in the morning and tend the bodily, emotional, and logistical needs of our children, while I lie abed.

So here’s the thing—the daddy-partner was traveling the past couple days and I did the following: wake up, feed, shuttle, AND bump into other parents.  I performed NORMAL.  I was awake in the morning tending to the bodily needs of my babies.  I felt strangely compelled to masquerade in front of the other parents, to demonstrate that this was a NORMAL morning for me, and not to betray the fact that I planned to take a very immoral snooze the moment the baby went down for his nap.

And then I wondered if I wasn’t the only one masquerading.  Because motherhood (and fatherhood, wherein men parents tend explicitly to the physical needs/bodies of their small children and infants) often leads one to keep queer time, or, at very least, makes the keeping of heternormative time distinctly difficult, unpleasant, verging on impossible.

  1. You may find yourself sleeping with a restless little bobcat, who several to dozens of times a night claws you awake for milk or comfort.
    • The pediatrician graciously calls this “not gifted with sleep.”
    • We call it “checking for predators.”
  2. Leaky vessels, orifices, don’t play by business hours.  Even that moral compass, the circadian rhythm is easily disrupted, ever so difficult to reestablish.  I adore Gail Kern Paster’s The Body Embarrassed: Drama and the Disciplines of Shame in Early Modern England. It’s brilliant and perhaps more applicable to contemporary, postmodern life than even the author herself realizes.  In her fab chapter on how the maternally controlled bodily functions lead to scatological humor, Kern Paster harkens back to a time when women, mothers “were the primary medical practitioners in their own homes.”  And though she notes that mothers still handle their children’s bodies more often, the suggestion rings clear—contemporary women aren’t as engaged in the bodily fluids, certainly don’t practice humorism, are generally involved in medicalized, not occult practices.  In a footnote, says Kern Paster: “I am assuming, at least for contemporary American child-rearing and pediatric practices, that better health and nutrition for children make the administration of enemas, rectal suppositories, and laxatives on the whole less frequent than was the case in early modern Europe.” (continue reading…)
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"The Absence of Criticism"

by on Oct.11, 2010

On the blog Big Other, Ravi Mangla has written a noteworthy post on “The Absence of Criticism,” arguing that in small press publishing, nobody ever gives each other negative reviews and only over-positive reviews because everyone’s friends with all the other writers.

There may be some truth to that. At the same time, (continue reading…)

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A New Quarantine Will Take My Place, or, Ambient Violence, or, Bringing it All Back Home

by on Oct.11, 2010

et in quarantine ego

Johannes used the term ‘ambient violence’ to discuss Ronaldo Wilson’s book a few posts back, but actually I applied that phrase in a breakfast-table discussion of his book A New Quarantine Will Take My Place and I’d like to discuss what I meant by that.

We live in an environment of total violence, it seems to me. Guns, trucks, carcinogens, sweatshop clothing, “The tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants,” predator drones, gay suicides, fraking, PTSD, gun violence in Chicago, corporations are persons, guns want to be free, and etc. As in the villified[i] Bolaño story, William Burns, violence runs all around the house and then it enters the house.  But at the precise point in which that story is saturated with violence, and the windows in the house start breaking apart with it as in some horror flick,  the supersaturation causes the material of violence to attach at random to various surfaces. Specifically, the apparent agent of violence becomes its victim.  The victim-characters become murderous and throw the violence back.  They who had been the target-receptacles of violence become mediums of violence (the media of violence). The body, the house, the girlfriend, the other girlfriend, the dogs, the narrator, the bodypolitic keeps twitching and switching sides within violence’s tidal, vital erratic currents.

Sarah Palin: Beauty must be convulsive or it shall not be.
(continue reading…)

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Daniel Nester on Literary Bullshitting

by on Oct.10, 2010

[Daniel Nester wrote a really angry reply to this on his blog, so this must have come off as more offensive than I meant it to. I’m going to add to this post to explain what I meant in greater detail because I’m really not interested in offending anybody:]

This is what Daniel Nester thinks about the discussions that go on on literary blogs:

“John Updike said something like there is no one happier than writers who get together, not writing and drinking. To that I would add: aggregating. Harriet, the Huffington Post “Books Section,” lit blogs like this one, all of them, I am afraid, are wasting our time playing literary culture whac-a-mole, talking about whether or not to get an MFA, offer open-thread debate posts or lite manifestos-as-deep thoughts, and for what purpose? Rhetorical calisthenics? Talking semi-loud at each other and saying nothing? We’re then compelled to aggregate and round up what we didn’t read the first time around. It’s an echo chamber, a closed circuit that doesn’t keep in mind actual readers. Or people who read books but don’t write them.”
(continue reading…)

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The New Yorker 'discovers' Kate Bernheimer

by on Oct.08, 2010

Here’s a postitive write-up of the new anthology “My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me:Forty New Fairy Tales,” which very perspicaciously notes Kate Bernheimer’s innovative framing of the various and variously creepy stories to be found in this anthology (and yes, some of them are by famous people, like John Updike, writing from beyond the grave, while others are by upstarts like me, or foreign people). The most amazing story so far (I’m about halfway through my copy) is by Joy Williams, and it’s the first one, not to be missed, and Alissa Nutting’s is typically fantastic. The critic is great to emphasize Kate’s preface because the framing work Kate does here actually frames Kate’s entire body of creative work, including her trilogy with FC2 and her new short-story collection from Coffeehouse.

Kate’s prose work casts a kind of double spell– it doubles the material exactness of the fairytale sensibility (the bony finger, the white bonnet, the black cauldron, the cold, cold wind, etc) with the painstaking material exactness of prose itself– each word which must follow another as if fated to do so– but only as if. Words like orphans who march from the workhouse to the church. But they are unpredictable, these orphan-words. They hold more than stones or crusts in their pockets. They rise up to startle the reader like a bird in the frame or a murder victim rising up at the window to warble a song. And the very line of words which seemed could go just one way suddenly– in subsequent volumes of the trilogy– grows news clauses, reverses course and goes another way.  The effect is not mazy, dense and Calvino-like but exquisitely light, almost too light to live, to keep body and soul together, to stay alive.

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You Have An Aesthetic (Sequel to the Franz Wright Post)

by on Oct.08, 2010

I think the perhaps most notable point in my critique of Franz Wright’s rant against MFAs is not his hypocrisy but the ideal he sets up: writers should be alone with their writing (and presumably the Great Books of Geniuses Past). This is a pervasive model of the artist that is reinforced continually in the US. In the most recent issue of Writer’s Chronicle, the journal supposedly published to facilitate discussions about poetry for people in graduate programs (school being a place where one hopefully interact with other people interested in poetry), there’s a guy writing about the need to go be alone in the woods. It’s amazing that one of the mantras of Creative Writing establishment seems to run totally counter to creative writing programs, which after all set up a kind of sociality where ideas can be exchanged (at best).


This mantra contains a number of subtexts. If you’re alone with the Great Books, the Great Books, Tradition etc get a whole lot of importance. Ie you will likely be a much more traditional author. Further, alone in the woods means a rejection of engagement with the contemporary world: ie poetry should exist in that grad tradition, not react to what’s going on in the world. It’s also implicitly theistic, anti-technological, and removed from political solidarity.
(continue reading…)

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Conversations with Ghosts: Katherine Mansfield, Russell & Lillian Hoban, and Timothy Schaffert

by on Oct.07, 2010

Katherine Mansfield

This: Katherine Mansfield and Russell & Lillian Hoban

In the overlooked Katherine Mansfield masterpiece “A Suburban Fairy Tale” (1919) a mother and father sit at a dining room table and eat eggs, plums, and pudding with their young son, Little B. The small Little B. is a fragile sort-everything knocks him over in life. (continue reading…)

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The Violent Eye of Queer Motherhood

by on Oct.07, 2010

In light of Johannes’ post and the recent rash of gay teen suicides in the US, I want to continue exploring queer motherhood. In Bolaño’s “Mauricio ‘The Eye’ Silva,” motherhood—bound up in dictatorship-era queerness—is borne of an unspeakably violent act. If violence in the text is “ambient,” this particular act is animal: it shoots straight through a subject who is not its author-agent but vessel, vibration itself.

(continue reading…)

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Monica Mody on SS Prasad

by on Oct.07, 2010

[Here’s an interesting review of an interesting book. The review is by Notre Dame grad Monica Mody; the book is by SS Prasad. Read the full review on the Lantern Review Blog.]

Review: S S Prasad’s 100 POEMS
2010 OCTOBER 5
tags: 100 Poems, nanopoems, SS Prasad
by Monica Mody
100 Poems by S S Prasad | STD Pathasala 2008 | $10 or INR 100

Art interested in and interacting with technology, and the technology of its production, can pose some pretty intriguing questions. Bangalore-based poet S S Prasad, in his nanopoems, attempts to engage with new technologies of writing and with code as language. Collected in print in the book 100 Poems, these nanopoems were first written for the microchip as surface for inscription: Prasad, apart from being a poet, happens to be an engineer working for a prominent Silicon Valley company. Not all the poems ended up being nanoed (“nano” denotes one billionth of a meter), but even in print, even to the naked eye, they as a group assert their micro-aesthetic. What’s interesting is that their micro-ness is a response to Raul Zurita’s sky poems, which the back cover blurb tells us is an intertext whose scalar proportions Prasad inverted.

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The Body Possessed by Media: Artaud; or, Flaming Creatures

by on Oct.07, 2010

“Furthermore, when we speak of the word “life,” it must be understood we are not referring to life as we know it from its surface of fact, but that fragile, fluctuating center which forms never reach. And if there is still one hellish, truly accursed thing in our time, it is our artistic dallying with forms, instead of being like victims burnt at the stake, signaling through the flames.” The Theatre and Its Double, Preface.

This quote has always stymied me because, first of all, I like to dally with forms, and, given that Artaud has a lot to say about the material requirements of the Theater of Cruelty, it seems that he does, too. Rereading this quote through the lens of the Body Possessed by Media, however, I see a more undecidable image. That which is just  a form, or just  a surface of fact, is a dead thing, part of the debris of modern culture Artaud diagnoses elsewhere. The role of the artist is to be “like victims burnt at the stake, signaling through the flames.” This final image interests me on two levels. First ,because it seems to draw on a cinematic image of Joan of Arc d from the Dreyer film in which Artaud performed, and, on some level, predicts its disintegration in the cupboard of a Norwegian mental asylum where the only extant print was recovered in 1981. More importantly to my argument, we truly have the mediumicity of the body in extremis in this image. The body is burnt, made a victim in perfect, ritualistic theatrical event. The body is burnt by the flames which then form a screen, a medium through which the body signals, and of course some kind of life force is signaling through the body at that moment. At the same time, the entire image of the body, stake, flames is an emblem through which the life force signals. And, syntactically, the body itself is signaling through the medium of flame. It is flaming. Supersaturated. Supermediumistic. It’s the signal.

A flaming creature.

And what kind of force is doing this signaling? Only one which is itself like a victim at the stake—fragile,  fluctuating. Vulnerable (etym: Latin: vulnus: wound). But as I’ve demonstrated elsewhere (in my gaga stigmata piece), the wound is the ultimate medium, the ultimate site of the body possessed by media, revealing a spectacular surface through which a force of “pure” media can flow.

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The "Ambient" Violence, Race and Erotics of Ronaldo Wilson

by on Oct.06, 2010

(Or Atrocity Kitsch in America!)

I’d like to follow Lara’s post about the gurlesque, expanding the discussion of artifice an the grotesque by analyzing the way these tropes figure into two of my favorite poetry books of the past few years: Ronaldo Wilson’s “Narrative of the Life of Brown Boy and the White Man” and “Poems of the Black Object.”

I’ve been meaning to write an essay about these, but I’ve let my ideas mount, so that I now am struggling to contain them. I’m also reading Fred Moten’s book “In the Break” which really gives an interesting take on these books. So before Moten gives me even more ideas about these books, I thought I would write down a few thoughts. It seems to me that Wilson is very much participating in the same discussions as Lara’s gurlesque theory: the relationship between the grotesque and decadence, the body and artifice.
(continue reading…)

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The Immorality of the Gurlesque

by on Oct.06, 2010

In a previous post, Joyelle and Johannes write: “The moralist attacks on Lady Gaga mirror almost exactly the critiques/attacks on the Gurlesque: it’s decadent, it’s immoral, it’s anti-feminist, or “it’s not new” (this claim made obsessively, seen through the moral-investment in the purist “newness” of modernism, is also a moralist critique), it’s been stolen, plagiarized, it’s a ruse, a costume. Both Gaga and Gurlesque have to be policed. The horror of Decadence!”

Much of the Gurlesque relies heavily on an excess of girly or femme ornamentation, which can be (mis)read as being cloyingly retro or second wave. To my thinking, the rococo excess of girly ornamentation (especially as it’s combined with an acute streak of “unladylike” violence or the grotesque) destabilizes gender performance and heteronormativity in very useful ways. And as Johannes notes, the Gurlesque also disrupts the aesthetic field: it’s “bad aesthetics,” “cheap,” “kitchy,” “costumey,” etc.

The Gurlesque represents what Josef calls below in his post on Klimt, “an engagement with artifice… faces and body parts drowning in excessive assemblages of pure ornament. What they seem to suggest is that desire itself may be artificial. And also that the body may be porous or amorphous, with no clearly defined boundaries.” Chelsea Minnis’s Zirconia, with its acute emphasis on artifice, is a great example of this.

Baudelaire was perhaps the first to attack naturalism, equating fondness for representational art and mimesis with a parasitic dependence on tradition. This is what Rene Girard calls “imitative desire”: the bizarro paradox that we become ourselves only by mimicking others, thus naturalizing the social and institutional values of our culture.

(continue reading…)

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Some Notes on MFA Discussions

by on Oct.05, 2010

It seems like there is a proliferation of discussions about MFA programs in the Internet. I have opined too in the past (Here’s a post I wrote a while back in response to Mark Wallace, though I don’t entirely agree with it anymore).

Yesterday I read a couple of articles denouncing the MFA system: Anis Shivani’s article in Boulevard, and Franz Wright’s article on facebook. There’s also been a lot of bruha about McGurl’s book The Program Era, which I read a while back and found pretty useful.

Wright seems nostalgic for a pre-MFA era when there were fewer poets; there are too many counterfeit poets produced by the MFA programs, a glut of poets. MFA programs have (as in attacks on MFAs by Kenny Goldsmith etc) made kitsch out of poetry.
(continue reading…)

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