Archive for January, 2011

Swedish Warhol

by on Jan.31, 2011

I’ve been reading Pontus Hulten’s Warhol catalog for Andy Warhol’s big retrospective at the Moderna Museum in Stockholm from 1968, one of the most important shows of Warhol’s work in the 60s. What makes this catalog utterly fascinating is that it’s huge but also that they did not use color. So you get a whole bunch of Marilyns in a row that look exactly the same, or, perhaps even more startling, a whole bunch of race riots in a row that are the same race riot picture, no color to differentiate them. One can say, like James writes in his post about Steve Shaviro below, that the catalog accentuates the way his “surfaces really are surfaces.”

(continue reading…)

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Can the Necropastoral be Political?

by on Jan.31, 2011

Catastrophic birth defects caused by industrial mercury poisoning, Minamata, Japan

In a word, Yes.

When I reframe the pastoral—already a defunct, anachronistic, dead, imperial and imperialistic literary form—as a necropastoral, I am calling attention to the excesses, intensities, inequalities, anachronisms, morbidities already implicit in a genre contrived to represent separation, quarantine, timelessness, stasis, protection from upset and death.

The necropastoral exposes the pastoral as saturated with the counterfeit, with anachronism, with death: counterfeit in that it was an urbane and courtly form supposedly trading on rustic and agrarian simplicity; anachronistic as it purported to embody a both an earlier Golden Age and a continual present tense, just adjacent to courtly, urban or imperial time; and deathly in that it was a twin or doppelganger of the Afterlife. Arcadia’s most famous resident, after all, is Death himself; Death says “I” in Arcadia. [Death says, “ego”; Death says “I’ll be your mirror.”]

Finally, the term ‘necropastoral’ trades on the adjacency of the pastoral to infection, political upset, plagues, the pastoral as the space into which fictional courtiers travel in the time of plague, carrying the plague of fiction with it. The contamination of the (fictive) pastoral with the (fictive) urbane creates the plague of literature. The necropastoral allows that contamination to metastasize, refuses to hold the line back on chaos, infection, decay.

So the term ‘necropastoral’ hypertrophies the morbid, counterfeit nature of the classical pastoral, while breeding mutant lilacs out of the dead plague ground of later models. Necropastoral seeks to activate these suppressed aspects of pastoral—the necrotized, the infectious, the counterfeit , the pastoral as a site not of separation but of deadly traffic, not of a wall but a membrane, not an idyll but an unstable compact, not a place of simplicity but of the worst intentions. Where classical pastoral insists on separation and containment, necropastoral posits supersaturation, leaking, countercontamination. Our contemporary understandings of biohazard and ecology activates the specter of necropastoral ; our ravenous media (over-)exposes it; the necropastoral is the toxic double of our eviscerating, flammable contemporary world, where avian flu, swine flu, mad cow disease, toxic contamination via industrial waste, hormones in milk, poisons leaching out of formaldehyde FEMA trailers, have destroyed the idea of the bordered or bounded body and marked the porousness of the human body as its most characteristic quality. The body is a medium for infection, saturation, death. The supersaturated, leaking membrane of the necropastoral is thus politicized by our modern understanding of ecology, globalization, the damage of industrial politics does to bodies. The spectral quality of capitalism, the way money and debt accrues and erodes in damaging patterns, the way damage to bodies is sometimes the first materialization of corporate malfeasance, the occult way capitalism’s distribution systems amplify economic, political, biological damage as it spreads across the globe—this is necropastoral, the lethal double of the pastoral and its fantasy of permanent, separated, rural peace. In emphasizing the counterfeit nature of pastoral, the necropastoral makes visible the fact that nothing is pure or natural, that mutation and evolution are inhuman technologies, that all political assertions of the natural and the pure are themselves moribund and counterfeit, infected and rabid.

Jack Smith’s film “Normal Love” is an infectious example of the necropastoral in this political vector, its inflamed, febrile palate hazily presenting a bunch of heavily costumed, transgendered, downtown urban denizens dressed as screen gods and goddesses and occupying a kind of anachronistic, broken down Hollywood Elysium, featuring spraypainted leaves and cows. The very formlessness of “Normal Love”, the wastefulness of its gratuitous makeup and costumes and use of time and sprawling cast, the expenditure of time involved in its ‘production’ (whole days spent making up the actors and spraypainting the leaves a preferable shade of green), indeed, the absolutely unproductive nature of its production rendered it unmarketable, unsalable, even unnameable. Caught up in its glamour, its Fata Morgana,Smith edited and re-edited this footage for decades, could neither complete the film nor settle on a title; Diane di Prima, who acted in the film, says Normal Love “literally cast a spell on him from which the artist never emerged.” Smith could not extricate himself from the fatal/fetal membrane of this contaminating, mutating, untimely, poorly paced, put-on spectacular, this entirely gorgeous, entirely gratuitous necropastoral.

Ariana Reinas’s The Cow might be another; in both works, the damaged, mutated body cannot help producing lyric beauty like another kind of engorgement, another kind of sepsis, another kind of eruption, another kind of leak.

And so are Raul Zurita’s plangeant, particulate necro-epics, which expose the landscape of Chile as a mass grave and piece together particulated, aerated voices, bodies, testimonies, the living, the ghostly, and the dead, not into rehumanized sovereign forms but into a membranous, inter-penetrating, fluxing, supersaturated, hyperanimated radiant hyperfabric (-ation).

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Warhol and Lynch and The Cinematic Body

by on Jan.29, 2011

This week, I picked up a copy of Steven Shaviro’s The Cinematic Body, a book Johannes has discussed frequently both here and on Exoskeleton. I like Shaviro’s arguments against a Lacanian/high modernist approach to film–though the book (published in 1993) predates Zizek’s many Lacanian readings of Hitchcock and Lynch, readings that go far beyond the high modernist tradition of holding pleasure and fascination in contempt. (One of the reasons for Zizek’s popularity, I think, is the fact that he has such an unapologetic love for film and Pop culture in general: he doesn’t just examine films as vehicles of ideology–his own fascination with them is always part of his analysis, even when he doesn’t say so explicitly).

Shaviro is an excellent close reader of films, and his problems with studies of film that highlight psychoanalysis and/or ideology relates back to Derrida’s distrust of alienation effects (which I discussed in my previous post): both writers are skeptical of any privileging of abstract Symbolic thought over bodies and images (Shaviro) and language and metaphor (Derrida). The desire for a-historical Symbolic categories is a humanist desire. Much like the dialectic, it is a means of control and, as Foucault would argue, a mode of normalization.
(continue reading…)

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Corey on Necropastoral

by on Jan.27, 2011

Josh Corey has an interesting post up on his blog about the Necropastoral. Here’s an excerpt:

“But I need to think more about the larger, rather seductive claims Joyelle seems to be making about pastoral in general. Necropastoral seems rather more specific than “postmodern pastoral” or even “avant-pastoral,” the terms I’ve grown accustomed to playing with; it would seem to go beyond a pastoral that merely foregrounds its own artifice, the better to play with the tradition of turning nature into a standing reserve for sovereign authority and cultural norms. Is it a zombie pastoral, the pleasure of the walking dead in devouring brains, the hypersublime viral pleasure of mindless multiplication, unlife, earth without world?”

I would say that this observation seems to be getting at Joyelle’s ideas: “”This “mediumicity” seems very similar to Timothy Morton’s notion of ambience as the tendency of environmental writing in general to “re-mark” the boundary between subject and object, transgressing that boundary even, without ever erasing it.” Especially since we’ve been discussing “ambient violence” on this blog.

I would say that I’m a bit perplexed by Josh’s distinction of Apollonian and “cerebral” Lisa Robertson and the supposedly Dionysian Plath. I think this raw-vs-cooked binary doesn’t work at all for me. I have a hard time imagining either Plath or Joyelle as non-cerebral (and Joyelle invokes Cocteau as a model all the time, very Apollo). Perhaps this is another case of distance vs absorption. I’m trying to think this over, think if the Morton paradigm (tho I haven’t read him, I’m taking this from Josh’s post) can be used to move away from the raw-vs-cooked type of dichotomies.

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Necropastorals and Counterfeit Hindus

by on Jan.27, 2011

[This is a response to Joyelle’s recent post about the “Necropastoral”.]

Laibach’s so completely creepy! Zizek: “The only way to be really subversive is not to develop critical potential, ironic distance, but precisely to take the system more seriously than it takes itself.”

This is very Bataille, as you point out, and I also keep thinking Alejandro Jodorowsky said something like this (or would agree with it) and then I keep thinking of The Holy Mountain as a necropastoral, though at some point in the film its urgency tightens into a hard ball, a message, and spirits don’t carry messages. (Only secrets?) Necropastoral as science fiction (isn’t it a ship of some kind, moving across timezones and otherzones), and Laibach staging a Stepford Wives number to preempt emancipatory narratives. All the binaries that will suggest themselves (and many do) sort of explode because it’s all in it together.

Names of cities being changed in India ( but what’s being brought back/reanimated but another counterfeit name (and a fake memory of a fake past) by proponents of a counterfeit Hinduness. Or am I a counterfeit Hindu, counterfeit citizen, making counterfeit claims/counter-claims. Politics (+ its correctness) as fraud. (Also, the postcolonial nation + citizen itself as anachronistic. More on this again.)

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Zurita is coming to the U.S.

by on Jan.27, 2011

Raúl Zurita, legendary Chilean poet whose book Song For His Disappeared Love was published (in translation by Daniel Borzutzky) by Action Books this past year, is coming to the US next week. On Monday, he will give a Q-and-A (3 pm McKenna Hall) and a reading (5 pm, McKenna Hall) at the University of Notre Dame. Next Friday at noon, he’s going to give an on-campus reading at the AWP, followed by a discussion with Joyelle McSweeney, Daniel Borzutzky and Monica de la Torre.

A while back Poetry Foundation published an amazing interview with Borzutzky and Zurita. Here’s an excerpt:

RZ: Yes, they threw them into the sea. Everywhere I went, I carried this file of poems. It was from my first book, Purgatorio, from the first part, and since the poems had some drawings on them, they [the military] thought they contained codes, and so I was beaten terribly, but they gave me back the poems, until a senior officer arrived and he took one look at them and instantly knew they were poems, and so he threw them into the water.
(continue reading…)

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by on Jan.27, 2011

I wanted to clarify what I mean by “nothingness” but it got boring real fast, so I made this video of my brain instead.

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13 Necropastorals

by on Jan.26, 2011

Nothing's gonna change my world…

1. Pere Lachaise Stadium: The Olympic graves of Victor Hugo and Jim Morrison.

2. Slow digestion of moribund sedans down the sclerotic gravel paths of the Mishawaka cemetery to plant miniature plastic flags on the graves of veterans. The older grave markers are relieved with wreaths: shed, necrotic tissue of Ancient Greece: laurel wreaths: scelerodermic; crown the invisible (airy) brows of dead soldiers. Two black rubber tires sag wearily into the grass, carbon dioxide leaps hungrily into the air.

3. The Olympic torch handoff at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, itself not an ancient tradition but an invention of Carl Diem, director of the Olympics, classified as a ‘white Jew’ because his wife was from a Jewish family and because he employed Jews.

4. This counterfeit tradition re-staged for Riefenstahl’s film. Double counterfeit. Doppelganger. False equivalency. (continue reading…)

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Media Bleeds Through Apertures: Necropastoral, Pornography and Insectoid Psychosis

by on Jan.25, 2011

Found out about Peggy Ahwesh’s wonderful “Color of Love” from HTML Giant a couple of days ago. You can see it here at World Picture.

I think this piece is quite beautiful; it reminds me of the quote I from Bakhtin’s “Rabelais and His World (I posted it a couple of days ago):

Contrary to modern canons, the grotesque body is not separated from the rest of the world. It is not a closed, completed unit; it is unfinished, outgrows itself, transgresses its own limits. The stress is laid on those parts of the body that are open to the outside world, that is, the parts through which the world enters the body or emerges from it, or through which the body itself goes out to meet the world. This means that the emphasis is one the apertures or the convexities, or on various ramifications and offshoots: the open mouth, the genital organs, the breasts, the phallus, the potbelly, the nose.

(continue reading…)

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Clayton Eshleman on Lara Glenum

by on Jan.25, 2011

By Clayton Eshleman

Lara Glenum is crawling toward a crocodile crawling toward her.
Osmotic exchange of DNA Dodgem.
Marvelous cross-fire as head-fire, as their Nubian centuries exchange photons.
Soon the Glenum head will penetrate the croc muzzle.
Now only her feet can be seen.
Is Glenum now more alive, more griffin than grail maid?
What is her everscape?
To be green and dentilated in tongue and casing,
to have her own serpentine “around the world” yoyo uroboros?
Maximum Gaga is the grave of the literal,
of the monotale, death of descriptive cheezyness,
for the mind is now in croc goddess crawl formation
beseeching mantle to be mortar, mother to become Merlin,
or maadvark or morguetrial.
The ancient dive gate is now aslit and porous to a fin-handed leech queen
percolating limestone with a serving of menstrual mud.
Inanna as a dragonfly emblazoned on the dial of the human:
to re-evolve its destiny as a squirrel-end,
to inhabit all its Darwin nesting dolls,
to hear metaphor as imaginal transfer to the crocodile angel
pustulating in “my cunt a violent surge-hammer
in the mouth of the Redeemer.”

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Novica Tadić has died

by on Jan.24, 2011

Great Serbian poet Novica Tadić has passed away. He’s been translated by Charles Simic and by Maja and Steven Teref. I read Simic’s translations about 15 years ago and they really floored me. Later I published Maja and Steven’s translations in Action, Yes. The Terefs’s translation came out from Host Publications last year.

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THE PIN-UP STAKES: Clarifications

by on Jan.24, 2011

* This is a post-script of sorts to my original post THE PIN-UP STAKES: Poetry & the Marketing of Poetry. [for the below I’m paraphrasing and reorganizing replies I made in the comments field of the original post, as well as in the comments field to Mike Kitchell’s post about The Pin-Up Stakes on HTML Giant – thanks especially to Jackie Wang for her engagement]


The central concern of a marketing model is the communication of an idea (or thought, or vision) via the image. This is precisely the concern of the image artist. I would argue, for example, that Jon Leon’s poetry is not poetry but the idea of poetry. As he’s said before, “Poetry is not why you come to poetry.” This is a strategic insight shared by Leon and marketing VPs, and they share a set of tropes as well: in place of Stevens’ palm at the end of the mind we have Leon’s “Beverly Hills of the Mind,” in which the idea of Beverly Hills is more Beverly Hills than Beverly Hills is. This is not to say that Leon is engaging in some kind of trite ironic critique via appropriation. I would argue that he is not critiquing this strategy or these tropes at all. In fact I think he uses them because he feels they are effective. He likes them, and follows Stevens’ adage of “It must give pleasure.” You could argue that many people won’t be able to tell the difference between what Leon is doing and what an ad agency or some asshole is doing, and that this approach could easily lead to a reinforcement of the status quo. I would not disagree with this, but it misses the point. What matters is that his objective is to assert the infinitude of thought, and his tactics are slyly and not-so-slyly disruptive all along the audience expectation spectrum, from staunch conservative to radical leftist. This is what makes him a prototypical pin-up artist. He welcomes and fucks with everyone.
(continue reading…)

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by on Jan.23, 2011

I’m teaching Bakhtin’s Rabelais and His World in my “Modern Grotesque” class, and I love this paragraph:

Contrary to modern canons, the grotesque body is not separated from the rest of the world. It is not a closed, completed unit; it is unfinished, outgrows itself, transgresses its own limits. The stress is laid on those parts of the body that are open to the outside world, that is, the parts through which the world enters the body or emerges from it, or through which the body itself goes out to meet the world. This means that the emphasis is one the apertures or the convexities, or on various ramifications and offshoots: the open mouth, the genital organs, the breasts, the phallus, the potbelly, the nose.


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