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.

Let’s start, for example, with a cross-channel analysis of the work of a prototypical poet as image-artist:

“We mixed agitprop, erotic dance, and horror to construct a total environment of focused bliss.” Jon Leon, Hit Wave

I’ll risk substituting tropes here and suggest the above sentence from Jon Leon’s Hit Wave could be taken somewhat literally as a nod to his overall objective (construct a total environment of focused bliss = enable and induce the experience of the impossible) and strategy (mixing agitprop, erotic dance, and horror = forming a triangulation of world, life, and nothingness).

Elsewhere in Hit Wave, Leon hints at his target audience:

“A lot of people didn’t like me. Most of them were poets. They called me names like proletarian, idealist, romantic, handsome. Fools I thought. Why would people sell themselves short and not just live the life of pure creative glamour. It was easy for me, to others it was a mirage. The real geniuses of history were the ones brave enough to be it. I couldn’t understand their criticisms to be anything but jealousy. I encouraged their cupidity and became even wilder and more attractive than ever. Around that time I released a book called Mirage, dedicated to my detractors. I won’t brag about its impact, but it was breathtaking.”

Unlike most[1] contemporary poets, Jon Leon is not writing for other poets. He has a completely different target audience: the image-artist in every single one of us: “People are out of body and in the air. They make torrid gestures that encapsulate everything. As their dictator and collaborator I am the key that unlocks the inner part of their soul” (from Kasmir). The name that dominates his system is Paul, the name taken by the Pharisee Saul after his encounter with the divine on the road to Damascus, and a name appropriated and unpacked by contemporary philosophers for its associations with universalism (Badiou) and the “time of the now” (Agamben). I’ve argued before that Leon is writing an apostolic poetry spotlighted by this frequent use of “Paul” as a narrator and Paul’s movement through “a zone of absolute indiscernability between immanence and transcendence, between this world and the future world” (Agamben’s words, from his book on St. Paul); or, to use the formulation suggested earlier, Paul is reaching out to us from within the triangulation of world-life-nothingness where the impossibility of existence is experienced first hand: “My god I’m really here I think to myself.”

Time is a central trope for Leon, but it’s the time of “Right Now”, a kind of timelessness within time, or rather the experience of time as it happens, akin to Agamben’s “operational” or “messianic” time and St. Paul’s ho nyn kairos. This is a mode Leon prioritizes above all others: “The real geniuses of history were those brave enough to be it,” that is, brave enough to live as time. His promo videos extend this vision, with a bootleg look/feel evoking an early ‘80s as filtered through some vaguely remembered swimming pool (an effect achieved by filming his computer screen with an obsolete Vivitar ViviCam 35 Digital Camera). It’s as if he’s trying to recreate the year of his birth (1982, or at least that’s what a vignette of the same name in Hit Wave suggests) and what time must feel like to a newborn in its unadulterated, ahistorical form. To experience the image Jon Leon creates is to be baptized in the liquidity of time, and to emerge ecstatic and floating. As he says at the end of The Hot Tub, “This world is totally liquid.”

And yet despite this apostolic content strategy, which is executed through a kind of wild, universal, pop subjectivity, Leon’s marketing and communication strategy is more messianic and exclusive: an obscure blog that continually erases itself, limited editions that go out of print or get lost or never see the light of day, short-lived promo videos for actual or forthcoming or totally made up books that convey nothing but a vague vibe to the uninitiated, public readings recorded in advance and played back in lieu of an actual appearance, and sporadic, outrageous email blasts to his followers (“all 7-10 of you”) announcing forthcoming products or shifts in his “artistic vision”, e.g.

“i have produced a new product of art to help with the way mankind has evolved into new directions. this work of artwork is comprised of a poem and a video and is one component of a larger vision, MY ARTISTIC VISION, WHICH SOCIETY ATTEMPTS TO ERODE ON A DAILY BASIS THROUGH ITS HATRED OF LOVE AND SWEETNESS AND ITS OBSESSION FOR STUFF THAT DOESN’T MATTER AND IS THE TWILIGHT OF OUR TIME. thank you for being a part of it this is not a dream.”


“Hi, I just wanted to let everybody who has ever supported my work know that my blog now has ADULT content on it. There will be stuff about crack fascism bestiality black people and death and hating white bourgeois people on my blog now and maybe pictures of my cock. The same kind of stuff that got me fired from my job two weeks ago. Since nobody really wants to be associated with my ARTISTIC vision anymore as it becomes more violent saccharine and conceptual and personal I will probably be making a lot of videos and writing a lot of poem / vignettes about the dark parts of life like pop music and Newport cigarette advertisements that will have to be dumped onto this ADULTS ONLY blog because nobody cares to really do shit with it. Also, I wanted to give out my phone number to total strangers: [redacted]. I also wanted to say thank you to this ever diminishing group of people who get what is going on here. I also wanted to say F you to people who don’t get it / me (who are not receiving this) and what is going on here and that I may send out emails like this from time to time as part of my practice as an ARTIST and if you would like to be removed from my contact list please send an email that says please remove in the white strip above this box. Please understand that I may have to do this from time to time because my CREATIVITY is not permissible in society and I may have to just make creative emails to complete my vision. I also wanted to apologize for having to BECOME THE ART now since my ART PRODUCTS don’t make any sense in any kind of context and nobody gets me except a few very special people.”

So perhaps there’s a larger strategy that accounts for this universal/exclusive dichotomy, one in which posting your phone number for “total strangers” in a private email sent to “a few very special people” makes complete sense. Here I would refer back to the tension between “life” and “world” articulated earlier, or the form of nothingness we experience vs. the structure in which we navigate and make meaning out of it, and suggest that every word Leon writes is bristling with this tension. He’s spoken before of poetry as a “pathogen” that must be “abandoned”, and his overall poetic project as a wasting-of-talent progression toward this goal (in order, one assumes, to achieve a kind of unmediated communion with his audience). Or maybe what we’re witnessing here is an apostolic spirit caught within a messianic body, reaching out across the world, but from within “a private world, inhabited by only the most advanced persons of the elite age” (from Kasmir). It’s as if he’s living the message, yet waiting for someone else to deliver it to the masses. This puts any critic in the position of a kind of retroactive John the Baptist, announcing the arrival of Jon Leon’s image on this planet after it has already (rumor has it) departed:


Except his image hasn’t departed, it’s just undergoing a metamorphosis. According to recent emails and a new site, Jon Leon is now retired from writing and has segued into a producer-type role with his ephemeral Wrath of Dynasty imprint and gossip-rag hybrid Atelier Series. And yet, like the posthumous (popsthumous?) output of entertainers like Tupac and Michael Jackson, it appears Leon is still churning out hits in the form of an “estate” sale:

“I would like to give collectors and dealers a chance to cash in on my oeuvre and my creative high. Everybody knows I have “retired” from writing, but there are still manuscripts in raw form, print and electronic media, as well as videos and plans for very specific visual and memoiresque works, as well as a novella, and plans for visual work. I would like to give collectors and dealers a chance to bid on this work before, during, and after its creation. This will give you exclusive first come first served access to what I’m working on at the moment and in the future. You will receive updates and samples on a regular basis and may visit with me while I continue to create this work from wherever it is I live. Considering most of my written work is out of print and I’m basically inaccessible and any new work is likely to be sold at exorbitant prices or sell out within minutes this is the best way to have carte blanche access to my artwork and private papers, as well as guarantee that I will be able to continue creating it. I would like to reiterate that most of the work that will be created from here on will be visual art, objects, sculpture, and tapes.”

Cost for the title to a full year’s worth of work: $25k. “Serious inquiries only.” Less serious inquiries may be interested in “The Need to Exit the Self”, available for $12, originally announced as an unedited “12 volume set of intimate hotel-recorded cassette tapes by Jon Leon”, later amended to a single double-sided cassette due to legal concerns.

I want to end with an excerpt from his call-for-proposal email announcing the Atelier Series:

“Jon Leon’s Atelier Series is focused exclusively on the social aspect of literary culture. We are interested in short pieces that are about this topic. Examples would include descriptions of parties you have been to, people in the literary / art world you have had sex with, gossip, your friends, where you go, what writers are wearing, interesting details about writers / designers / artists only you know about, other social topics, including gossip. We are especially interested in pathbreaking essays on social life in the present literary culture from a variety of perspectives.

Please keep in mind that like Wrath of Dynasty these items will be distributed to a highly attentive, narrowly segmented, group of tastemakers, and that Jon Leon’s Atelier Series will also evolve and segue in some indeterminable way with a venture called Kasmir that will give those involved a way to participate in the culture they’ve helped to create in the form of private, completely elitist and pretentious parties.

It is my pleasure to welcome you now to Jon Leon’s Atelier Series.”


Jon Leon’s personal site:

Wrath of Dynasty site:

Agamben, Giorgio. The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans. Trans Patricia Dailey. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005.

Badiou, Alain. Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism. Trans Ray Brassier. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003.

Carlisle, Belinda, perf. “Heaven Is a Place on Earth.” Heaven on Earth. MCA Records, 1988.

Hoy, Dan. “The Now Wave: Jon Leon and the Poetry of Forever.” Octopus #11.

Leon, Jon. Hit Wave. Kitchen Press, 2008.

Leon, Jon. The Hot Tub (published w/ Dan Hoy’s Glory Hole). Mal-O-Mar Editions, 2009.

Leon, Jon. “JON LEON’S ATELIER SERIES.” Email to the author and unknown others. 18 November 2010.

Leon, Jon. “MEADOWS.” Email to the author and unknown others. 7 November 2009.

Leon, Jon. “MY ART PRODUCTS.” Email to the author and unknown others. 14 August 2009.

Leon, Jon and Dan Hoy. “Glory Holes and Hot Tubs: Dan Hoy and Jon Leon in Conversation.” Fanzine. 18 March 2010.

Rimbaud, Arthur. Complete Works, Selected Letters: A Bilingual Edition. Trans Wallace Fowlie. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005. p. 300.

Additionally, the below items were sold independently but also as a collection entitled The Artists Editions 2010 Boxed Set:

Leon, Jon. Drain You. Raleigh: High Street Originals, 2009. Edition of 11 or 12. Also included in 7 Artists Editions 2010 Boxed Sets. Out-of-print.

Leon, Jon. Kasmir. Raleigh/Los Angeles: High Street Books, 2009. 11 in existence. Also included in 7 Artists Editions 2010 Boxed Sets. Out-of-print. An excerpt appeared in Hit Wave.

Leon, Jon. Mankind. Brooklyn/New Haven/Los Angeles: Foreign Court Artists Editions, 2009. Edition of 8 or 9. Also included in 7 Artists Editions 2010 Boxed Sets. Out-of-print.

Leon, Jon. The Painting Show. Los Angeles/Raleigh: Legacy Pictures, 2010. Edition of 28. Also included in 7 Artists Editions 2010 Boxed Sets. Out-of-print.

Leon, Jon. Right Now the Music and the Life Rule. Savannah/Raleigh: Sunset Debris Intl and Hathaway, 2006. 12 in existence. Also included in 7 Artists Editions 2010 Boxed Sets. Out-of-print.

Leon, Jon. Tract. San Francisco/Atlanta/Raleigh: Dusie, 2006. Edition of 50. Also included in 7 Artists Editions 2010 Boxed Sets. Available for pdf download here:

[1] I can’t site any specific studies to support this claim.

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3 comments for this entry:
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  2. Jerimee

    I’m sry J Leon stuff receives less comments than more general stuff, but perhaps it’s better that way…?

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