Archive for January, 2011

The Logic of the Parasite in Paul Thek

by on Jan.22, 2011

The necropastoral is making me think of the cavities rats carve when they burrow into dead bodies.  So that the piece of art becomes a body whose insides we navigate.  Atremble, we squeak inside that body but are nourished by its prophetic decay, as in the work of Paul Thek.

This is akin to what critic George Baker calls “the logic of the parasite.”  A pink cloud in a black sky, Thek’s art makes extremes feed off each other (he supposedly said to Warhol, “All that your Brillo boxes need is a piece of flesh inside”).  If it’s any surprise to find out Thek died of AIDS, it’s because he sustained softness.  A mushiness we might lie and bleed in, an overflow that heals the wound as or even before it’s inflicted. (continue reading…)

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Annotated Mash-Up Plath, Jones, Necropastoral, WOUND WOUND WOUND

by on Jan.21, 2011

OMGoodness, I’m so glad we’re talking about 1. necropastoral (“this is the light of the mind, cold and planetary”!) and 2. wounding the viewer (“I can stay awake all night, if need be–/Cold as an eel, without eyelids”).  These two tactics combine beautifully in Plath and in other poets who integrate bodies (rather than classic forms) into the lyric.  It’s the colonial paradox: female bodies, bodies of color, bodies with disabilities are simultaneously likened to the Nature, animalistic, earth-bound (minds that cannot transcend!), and marked as unnatural.  Wrong, swampy, complicated, ready to fail, burst, spaz out, etc.

In the early hours of the 1960s (see The Feminine Mystique, see the civil rights movement, etc.), Sylvia Plath and LeRoi Jones, from their disenfranchised desks, write this sociopsychic poem:

I am inside someone

who hates me.

I shall never get out of this!  There are two of me now:[1] (continue reading…)

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I'll Be Your Mirror: PS22 and Art's Mise-en-Abyme

by on Jan.21, 2011

I love this cover of “I’ll Be Your Mirror.”

I watched this on my iPhone while sort-of watching our baby this morning. At first I resisted my love. I thought, Girla, you are just being nostalgic, and you cheesily love the explicit contrast of the kids’ would-be ‘innocence’ and this down-and-out junkie art project love song to Art and Death. But no, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that what I liked about it was the exact opposite: the kids’ singing is so full of force, and their motions so artificial. It’s as if they really have become Art’s mirror. They speak as Art, and they convert me to Art by inviting me to enter the mise en abyme, to become yet another mirror. Moreover, the iPhone version of this clip is much more distorted by the interface; the messed up video creates this visual spasm, so that the ‘mirror’ of Art is a distorted and deforming flow. As the kids mug their way through the mortions, they seemed animated by Art’s multiplied, multiplying interference—the interference of the song, the choreography, and the interference at the camera. This made me think of the weaponized Genius Child Orchestra of Oyvind Fahlstrom, who recur in Johannes’s Widow Party as a Mickey-Mouse-Club style band of virtuoso Iraqi war orphans, nexuses of violence. The Genius Child in Langston Hughes’s poem is a similar target of violence and font of violence, in that the violence that kills him also releases Art’s force, a kind of violence; it “let[s] his soul run wild.”

It’s a mise-en-abyme, a chain of Art that recalls the scene in Mulholland Drive where the women go to Club Silencio to hear the singer sing Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’ in Spanish– and they cry in response. Looking, listening, and crying are the same thing; Betty even has a seizure: same thing. Art commands the women to copy and convert it into new media, to issue it in muscle contortions and in bodily fluid. The collapse of the singer’s body on the stage shows just what kind of medium Art is looking for, just what Art can do to bodies– animate them, abandon them, subject them to violence.

In PS22’s performance, the kids embody a kind of compulsion, a contagious compulsion that invites me into its chain, and to wear its chains. They are Art’s mirror, and will be mine. Plus (in the iPhone version) a spasm in the medium of the video itself makes the kids faces and bodies further appear to contort. The video ends with the gratuitous close up on a child’s eye– ‘evil’ eye, the orifice of Art, and the viewer’s mirror. I am in your thrall, PS22. Do you read me? I copy you. I’ll be your mirror. Over and over and over and out.

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Wounding the Viewer: Diane Arbus and Sylvia Plath

by on Jan.21, 2011

I’ve been thinking about Diane Arbus’s work recently. Partially because of Joyelle’s post about the stunt-body of Plath’s Lady Lazarus, a “freak” (I hope everybody realizes I’m using very big quotation marks around this word) being gazed at (photographed) by the reader, and partially because I watched a somewhat mediocre but still pretty interesting fairytale bio-pic about Arbus, Fur. It may also tell us something about “the gaze.”

About the movie: Part of the problem was that it set up such a conventional conflict: the “freaks” she photographs liberates her, leads her away from her sexually repressive marriage and to become a true Artist/Photographer. In other words, it followed exactly the trajectory Megan Milks though The Black Swan followed (and which I disagreed with): the woman needs to be fucked to become a good artist. And the reason for this is that it will give her an interiority; she will no longer be the empty ballet dancer or the subservient and repressed wife; she will be a completed human being. In her husband’s pictures of housewives for Vogue they appear as automatons.

On a more interesting level: Like the Black Swan (and Joyelle’s necropastoral), Art is tied up with Death (the treatment of the camera makes it seem like a crime weapon) in Fur.

(continue reading…)

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Citizens of the Necropastoral: Lady Lazarus and Kubla Kahn

by on Jan.20, 2011

This pose post is a continuation of my 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 (artificial, perverse). In its classical form, the pastoral is a kind of membrane on the urban, 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 (and Art) can easily traverse (Hence, Et in Arcadia Ego).

The famous poem “Lady Lazarus” theatrically demonstrates the fact that Death is both a reversible, traversable membrane and the point at which the body is revealed to be not so much animated by the soul but diabolically re-animated, as the successive stunt-deaths of Lady Lazarus make clear. Rather than natural, the body is an Artwork, and so, famously, is “Dying.” The addressees should “Beware” Lady Lazarus not only because she “eat[s] men like air” but because she represents unnatural Art, Art outside natural laws, Art as total artifice. The repetition of “Beware” is a direct illusion to the kind of Art-Ban conceived at the end of Coleridge’s “Kubla Kahn”:
(continue reading…)

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THE PIN-UP STAKES: Case Study on Jon Leon

by on Jan.19, 2011

* This is a follow up to The Pin-Up Stakes: Poetry & the Marketing of Poetry

“I say sorry, I’m the part where everyone’s dream becomes real.” – Jon Leon, Kasmir

When it comes to the pin-up stakes, the poet is not a prophet or oracle, but an apostle. Not a visionary of things to come, nor a cipher for the voice of God, but a strategist whose thought-practice is oriented around a universal truth. This truth is the impossibility of life itself, and the impossible as the fundamental stuff of reality. Everything is mundane and a miracle at the same time. Whether we’re referencing Rimbaud (“Christmas on Earth”) or Belinda Carlisle (“Heaven is a place on Earth”), the spirit of infinitude is what is most accessible, most dangerous, and most often dismissed.
(continue reading…)

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I am freaked out by realism

by on Jan.19, 2011

The documentary Helvetica, which I watched over the holidays with my partner & partner’s parents, got me thinking a bit more concretely about my discomfort with a certain strain of highly anticipated postmodern novels. The neat ones–the ones that attempt to catalogue the heap while taking advantage of the heap’s many attractions. For Christmas, my in-laws gave us a copy of Freedom, and so I read it with this typographic analogy in mind.

Many of the designers interviewed tell us that Helvetica’s charm is in its clarity, its clean finish, its uniformity.

Helvetica’s a product of modernism, mechanical looking, sanitary, friendly in the way that the lady-voice on your laptop is friendly–as in, has the affect down, is manufactured to perform 1. legibility, followed by 2. friendliness. Not just product, Helvetica is the darling of modernism (check the NYC subway system signage). (continue reading…)

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Artaud and Smith + meta gestures and alienation effects

by on Jan.18, 2011

I’ve been rereading some of Artaud’s essays and I keep on thinking about some of the similarities he had with Jack Smith. There are major differences between the two of course: Smith was much more of a hedonist than Artaud, and he loved popular culture in a way that Artaud didn’t (though Artaud did like the Marx brothers). But their interest in peopling their works with figures who do not usually correspond to what we think of as “human beings” (with Smith’s title “The Flaming Creatures” emphasizing that very point), their fascination with the occult (Smith’s vampires and B-flick monsters, Artaud’s black magic), and their desire for spectacle to act “not as reflection, but as force” (Artaud’s words) all reveal an underground affinity between the two artists. (continue reading…)

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Lobster and Canary

by on Jan.18, 2011

While searching for images of doll-art (Bellmer, Höch, Gaga etc) I came across an interesting blog called Lobster and Canary.

It even had this nice review of Horse, Flower, Bird, the latest novel by Montevidayo’s own Kate Bernheimer:

Kate Bernheimer, Horse, Flower, Bird (Coffee House Press, 2010), illustrated by Rikki Ducornet. One of my favorites for the year. Bernheimer, founding editor of The Fairy Tale Review (see my praise Dec. 19th for the FTR), is one of the best at reworking and re-imagining fairy tales. Less sanguinary than Angela Carter (less visceral than Margo Lanagan–but then who isn’t?), less melancholy than Theodora Goss, Bernheimer has a style all her own: charming but with an edge, eccentric, sometimes reading like Edward Gorey, sometimes like Calvino or Borges. How to resist lines like these? “When first she found me, my friend and I and her sisters slept in a drawer” (p. 45). “And the girl’s grandmother had a vengeance for birds. (She had very bad vision and once, mistakenly, got a chair upholstered in a fabric that depicted garish birds. Strangely, the girl’s mother, whose mother this was, seemed to take some kind of wicked glee in the error, and never revealed it to her” (p. 97). Ducornet’s delicate, shaded line-drawings perfectly complement Bernheimer’s stories; each creature has his/her/its own personality, and — as Bernheimer’s prose does– avoids mere whimsy with a sly turn of an eye, an enigmatic and possibly minatory gaze. Click here for more.

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with greetings from sweden (part I)

by on Jan.18, 2011

A series of self-portrait called “Knäppfinger” by the swedish artist Karin Lindholm

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by on Jan.18, 2011


If my Pollyanna post-New Year’s naivete is intact in the next few weeks, then you should be seeing posts from me soon about Chinese narratology, the Giffords shooting, and the Medieval era. In the meantime, I would like to bring to your attention the little known fact that in 2004 hip hop artist Common attempted to place a rotary phone call to God–or to quote his metaphysical flow: “Tried to call, or at least beep the Lord, but didn’t have a touch-tone.”

One pauses to ask a battery of banal and literal questions. What would such a phone service look like? Is the phone bill outrageous? When it counts night and weekends, does heaven have a separate time zone? Is the Heavenly Father more of a text person or a phone person? It just so happens that this telecommunications infrastructure had already been envisioned by James Joyce, who writes in an early chapter of Ulysses: “The cords of all link back, strandentwining cable of all flesh. That is why mystic monks. Will you be as gods? Gaze in your omphalos. Hello. Kinch here. Put me on to Edenville. Aleph, alpha: nought.” Harry Blamires glosses this as follows:

Opening his eyes, [Stephen] sees two midwives coming down the steps from Leahy’s Terrace. One of them, Florence, widow of Patrick MacCabe, carries a bag. Stephen pictures its contents–‘a misbirth with a trailing navel-cord, hushed in ruddy wool’. Hence he reflects on the network of navel-cords linking all humanity together, back to Eve. (So monks show themselves bound together in linked membership of the mystical Body by their girdles.) The network is like a telephone system linking all men to the central exchange, the navel-less bellof of Eve. Stephen fancifully asks to be put through to Eve, ringing Edenville ‘Aleph, alpha; nought, nought, one’.

All of which leads to the inevitable question: Joyce and Common both place a call to God. WHO WILL GET THERE FIRST?


1. I believe that in Dorothy Sayers’s notes to Dante’s Inferno, she describes the ghosts of Ulysses and others as less like characters than like floating telephones that levitate down to Virgil and Dante, activate and orate, and then shut off and recede back into the infernal distance.

2. Grant Morrison’s DOOM PATROL, which I wrote about here, presents a necromantic television on which one can see the souls of hell.

3. “Gaze in your omphalos”–is this the etymology of that clichéd pejorative of difficult literature: navel-gazing?

4. This post is indebted to poet and visual artist Youmna Chlala.

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Wounding American Literature: Henry Parland, Ron Silliman and Robert McRuer

by on Jan.17, 2011

A while back I wrote an entry applying the now-well-documented case of the “translator’s invisibility”, especially as it pertained to Ron Silliman’s review of my translation of Finland-Swedish dadaist Henry Parland, showing how his anxiety about the translator seemed to have caused him to go to such elaborate heights in trying to deny to presence or visibility of the translator that he actually foregrounded me in my invisibility:

Another interesting (though perhaps extraneous) thought here is that Silliman’s idea of writing is completely based on the “fluency,” as I have often noted, a very nationalistic model: good writers have “good ears” (good writing is inborn) and Ron is opposed to translations by immigrants or people whose first language isn’t English (they don’t have good ears). A basically xenophobic idea of literature. I think it’s interesting because Parland’s poetry is entirely opposed to such xenophobic ideas of literature. He was an immigrant and he learned Swedish only after he’d learned Russian, German and Finnish. In order to feel OK with Parland, Sillliman argues that Parland became a “master” of the Swedish language. Even if I believed in “mastery” of language, this is patently not true, as Parland’s language is a bit stilted (Björling complains throughout the correspondences that Parland is not working on his Swedish enough, that it’s too sloppy and slangy and indeed what people have called “translatese”).

My point with the entry was to show how this anxiety about translation comes out of an anxiety to maintain “mastery” – mastery over language (hierarchical, centripedal) and literature – for example Ron’s reductive model of “Quietism vs Post-Avant,” leading in a fiercely chronological “modernist” path from Pound to Objectivism to Ron himself.

I prefer Joyelle’s “angel of anachronism” and necropastoral; poetries that move around, that open wounds, that embrace the useless and trashed, the costumes and the convulsive.
(continue reading…)

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"With Deer" Tattoo

by on Jan.16, 2011

This was a pretty great storyI read about on the Black Ocean web site: Robert Alan Wendeborn got the antlers from the cover of Aase Berg’s With Deer tattooed on his arm.

Here’s the a video documenting the event:

Here’s his explanation from Uncanny Valley:
“With Deer is a mythological grotesque that explodes diction and nature simultaneously. Aase Berg compounds words and expands their meaning by changing their part of speech. Most of the poems are in prose and I felt that this was a great mode for the poems, which are very narrative in style, though highly surreal…”

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