Necropastoral, or, Normal Love

by on Jan.13, 2011

Screen Shot from the Necropastoral (Jack Smith's Normal Love)

The Pastoral, like the occult, has always been a fraud, a counterfeit, an invention, an anachronism. However, as with the occult, and as with Art itself, the fraudulence of the pastoral is in direct proportion to its uncanny powers. A double of the urban, but dressed in artful, nearly ceremental rags and pelts, the Pastoral is outside the temporal and geographical sureties of the court, the urbs, the imperium itself, but also, implicitly, adjacent to all of these, entailing an ambiguous degree of access, of cross-contamination. (The Pastoral, after all, is the space into which the courtiers must flee in the time of plague, carrying the plague of narrative with them.)Moreover, the anachronistic state of the Pastoral is itself convulsive and self-contaminating, accessing both a Golden Age, a prehistory somehow concurrent with, even adjacent to, the present tense, and a sumptuous and presumptive afterlife, partaking of Elysian geography, weather, and pastimes.

A Velvet Underground.

Rather than maintaining its didactic or allegorical distance, the membrane separating the Pastoral from the Urban, the past from the future, the living from the dead, may and must supersaturated, convulsed, and crossed. This membrane is Anachronism itself.

Another name for it is Death, or Media.

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11 comments for this entry:
  1. James Pate

    Great points…Smith’s Normal Love, for all of its playful imagery, disturbed me more than almost any other film I’ve seen–it’s like a pastoral that takes place in a pagan underworld, neither heaven nor hell, but after everything is already over…the fact that it’s such a fake underworld, the underworld of a Vincent Price film, makes it all the creepier.

  2. Joyelle McSweeney

    Yes, James, Normal Love is a real emblem (and wound!) at which all my thoughts about Art convulse. Yes, exactly: it’s an anchronism, a counterfeit, a necropastoral, a posession by media, a collapsing of the underworld and the underground. Uncannily vital and permanently reanimated. I’ve written two secret essays on this, which also look at how Smith’s filming practices, editing swoons, and time-wasting enact a kind of Pastoral dilation of time, an anachronism which can’t be regulated by conventional straight time. JM

  3. Lara Glenum

    O I completely love this, Joyelle. I’m swooning over the term alone. Necropastoral. Yum!

    Post more about Smith and the dilation of time when you get a chance?

  4. Necropastoral 2: Plath’s Ariel - Montevidayo

    […] In my last post, I thought about Jack Smith’s Normal Love as an exemplar of the ‘necopastoral’, a term which denaturalizes the pastoral by focusing on its always already unnatural qualities. In its classical form, the pastoral is a kind of membrane on urban experience, an artificial, counterfeit, impossible, anachronistic version of an alternative world that is actually the urban’s double, contiguous, and thus both contaminatory and ripe for contamination, a membrane which, famously, Death can easily traverse (Et in Arcadia Ego). […]

  5. Infectious Nostalgia in Ishmael Houston-Jones, Dennis Cooper and Chris Cochrane’s THEM - Montevidayo

    […] of a dead goat.  Here, the piece perfectly animalizes and eroticizes Joyelle’s concept of necropastoralism:  a blindfolded man wrestles the pastoral animal on a mattress, even inserting his head into its […]

  6. Citizens of the Necropastoral: Lady Lazarus and Kubla Kahn - Montevidayo

    […] thinking about necropastoral and Plath, with a shout out to Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I use the term necropastoral to highlight the fact that the pastoral is always unnatural in all the senses of that word […]

  7. When I'm not worrying over terrifying "sexual predators"

    […] by Johannes Goransson and Joyelle McSweeney, and especially Joyelle’s idea of the “Necropastoral” (also here and here and….) Perhaps most appealing to me, however, is Joyelle’s […]

  8. Authors on Art: Johannes Göransson on Camille Rose Garcia | BURNAWAY

    […] In the paintings, little girls are particularly prone to saturation, to leaking and infestation of poisons. This seems correct to me: the girls as figures of possession and saturation. I also agree with the way Garcia doesn’t set up nature as the opposite of artifice, as so often is the case in environmentalist fables, fables that tend to fit into easy models of nature as an untouched goodness we need to return to. In Garcia’s work, animals often are on the side of exploitation, and nature itself seems highly artificial: there is no happy, safe Natural to return to. Instead what you have is something akin to what my wife Joyelle McSweeney, talking about Jack Smith, Sylvia Plath, and others, has called “the necropastoral.” […]

  9. Violent Accessories, Counterfeit Lineages and “Occult Glamour” - Montevidayo

    […] This is my favorite quote in the book and something about it lines up for me with “convulsive beauty” *and* Tiffany’s idea of art as “effect” – it is the accessories that impose the violent eroticism, the inauthentic surface “effects” so to speak. But if you look at the dresses above, the artifice seems to blend with the body – not in a boring “subversion” of artifice/nature but in a much more necropastoral way. […]

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    […] contemporary American poetics, you might say that the Necropastoral and Somatic Poetics are bedmates of our potatoesque.   An older forerunner, of course, is the […]

  11. The Potatoesque: Notes Toward a Queer, Convivial, Cannibalist Poetics - Montevidayo

    […] contemporary American poetics, you might say that the Necropastoral and Somatic Poetics are bedmates of our potatoesque.   An older forerunner, of course, is the […]