Archive for April, 2011

"Accessibility" vs Riddles

by on Apr.30, 2011

Here’s the conclusion of the New York Times review of Blake Butler’s There is No Year:

More scourges and mysteries arrive: ant infestations, the mailbox crawling with caterpillars, boxes full of photos of the dead, secret tunnels. What is the meaning of this family’s haunted house? Are we to interpret it all metaphorically? After being tortured by a talking egg, the mother, we are told, “weighed nine pounds lighter than that morning.” What of that? Butler makes us work for our answers, and I won’t spoil the experience by suggesting preformed conclusions. This novel is a thing of such strange beauty that digging for answers of your own will yield the rewards that only well-made art can provide.

In difference to the great accessibility rhetoric of Kirby, Collins and Orr, this review posits that the pleasure of Blake’s novel – like The Sound and The Fury and “Bartleby the Scrivener” – comes exactly from the riddles it poses.

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post on "difficult" poetry

by on Apr.30, 2011

I’m posting a comment I made a few days ago about “difficult” art, and I’ll have more to add soon. This runs along the lines of some other my other posts…Art as surface, a play of intensities, and against essences and allegory (at least allegories that govern/regulate meaning, as opposed to multiplying meaning, as in the schizophrenic allegorical elements in, say, Gravity’s Rainbow) and totalizing/dialectical movements…Art outside the strategies of new criticism and its many offspring….


One of the things I like about certain types of “difficult” experimental writing as opposed to a great deal of “accessible” writing is that I actually find experimental writing in a way easier to read specifically because it usually doesn’t ask me to perform an act of “close” reading to get to the kernel of truth in the text (in the usual sense of that word).

Even in a great deal of language writing, which I’m sometimes very critical about, there is a surface effect, the play of the signifier, but no depth to figure out, no Meaning under the surface. That’s one of the elements of Language writing I actually do like and respond to…

“Easier to read” might not be the right term here: it’s a different way of experiencing a text…

For example: isn’t the supposedly difficult John Cage really about a kind of vigilant ease?

I would argue that a great deal of experimental writing moves closer to music than to argument…the “difficulty” is its refusal to draw even the thinnest of lines between style and content…

Or the difference between a Bolano short story and one by Carver…both have an undercurrent of dread/menace, but in Bolano that is because it is the way of Bolano’s world, menace has no cause nor explanation, whereas in Carver there is something in the landscape of the story itself that appears to be causing this unease, we just need the key, the root cause of this dread…

The psychological Carver in contrast with the existentially unmoored Bolano…

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"Ordinary Sun" vs "accessible poetry" (pt 4): Collins, Robinson, Henrikson

by on Apr.29, 2011

A couple of days ago I wrote a post about Billy Collins’s poem “Introduction to Poetry” and the common but misleading rhetoric of “accessible poetry.” This particular poem is interesting to me for several reasons: the way it posits the teacher’s relationship to students as the model of the poetic encounter, the way he rewrites Plath’s “Arrival of the Bee Box” to be mostly unviolent (and the way he writes out the historical connections in that poems to race etc), and, most of all, the final image of the students beating up with hoses in order to find meaning.

This final image is interesting to me for a lot of reasons. It posits that the poem is not in fact “accessible” to the students precisely because there is no deeper meaning, yet posits this as a meaning for students to get: its anti-meaning is its meaning. Part of Collins’s crux is this paradox, and the result is that almost all of Collins’s poems are about poetry (I’m serious): poetry can mean non-meaning, so to speak.

The hose-beating is further interesting to me in that it – more than the overt bee-reference – invokes Plath’s bees: the model of art that “swarms” (media swarms) and her invocation of “atrocity kitsch,” the poem goes Abu Ghraib on Collins, connecting it with wider historical contexts, opening the poem up. And in a poem that is meant to be non- or anti-violent in its rhetoric, it sugggests the affinities between art and violence.

There’s an interesting article up on HtmlGiant today in which Adam Robinson reviews Matt Henrikson’s new book Ordinary Sun by relating the story of him trying to convince his mother to accept the “non-purposive” language of Henrikson as beautiful:
(continue reading…)

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More on Billy Collins and Accessibility

by on Apr.28, 2011

from a PBS interview:

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I want to talk about this issue of accessibility. I notice that the word “accessible” is used a lot in reviews and discussions of your poetry meaning, I guess, easy to understand. It is a word you like? Do you try to be accessible?
(continue reading…)

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by on Apr.28, 2011

I love how unnatural this quote by D&G makes artists & philosophers seem.

Also, artists & philosophers are both decadent. If they say they are not, they are lying or deceived. Is it healthy or sick when you are decadent? (Side note: the unexpurgated edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray has just come out, containing passages which had been removed in 1890 for being the kind “an innocent woman would make an exception to”.) Also, I’m thinking that the “quiet mark of death” has force – it doesn’t just make the artist fragile – it’s the force that lets her – and art – invade (the body and spirit as “medicine”). It’s the reason art is so undemocratic. A despot, plague, cannibalistic.

I propose we make art as if we are already dead. “Love and Death are the same thing!”

This makes me think of Kumar Gandharva, the Indian classical musician who sang with one lung after receiving his mark of death: a long illness and surgery removing a cancerous lung. Many of the songs he loved to sing in his later career had been written by Kabir who only thought about death, and love, no matter what else his songs were about. Here’s Kumar Gandharva singing Kabir.

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Books in front of me:

by on Apr.27, 2011

Daniel Borztuzky, Book of Interfering Bodies
Andrew Joron, Science Fiction
Danielle Pafunda, Iatrogenic, Their Testimonies
Artaud Anthology (City Lights)
Curdled Skulls: Poems of Bernard Bador
Psycho motor Breathscapes by John Noto
The Resistance of Poetry by James Longenbach (haven’t read this one yet)
The Tunnel by William Gass (the audio CD version, borrowed from Kate Marshall across the hallway)
Fiction 100 (some anthology that got sent to me, I’ve never even opened it)
What If (Another fiction anthology I haven’t opened)
Sentimental Men: Masculinity and the Politics of Affect in American Culture
Louise Bourgeois (a catalog)
Caught By the Tail by George Baker (about Picabia)
The Seaside by Heather Christle
Area Sneaks (a journal)
Charles Baudelaire’s THe Flowers of Evil (New Directions edition, belonging to the school library, as most of these books)
Invitation to a Beheading (Nabokov)
Trilce (by James Wagner)

[This is just a random list of the books I’ve shoved on the first shelf of my office.]

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Deleuze & Guattari on the Poor Health of Artists

by on Apr.26, 2011

“Artists are like philosophers.  What little health they possess is often too fragile, not because of their illnesses or neuroses but because they have seen something in life that is too much for anyone, too much for themselves, and that has put on them the quiet mark of death.  But this something is also the source or breath that supports them through the illnesses of the lived (what Nietzsche called health).  ‘Perhaps one day we will know that there wasn’t any art but only medicine*.'”

*A line D&G borrow from Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio’s HAI.

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"It's too much…" (pt 1): Burt, McSweeney and the excess of contemporary poetry

by on Apr.26, 2011

From The Poetry Foundation Blog:

“it’s too much

I’m sorry. I just can’t do it. I don’t have the energy. Maybe I never did. Every week, every day, I get email and Facebook notices and for that matter word of mouth about the latest debate or commentary or controversy or metapoetic metaconversation … on one of three dozen fine websites and active blogs and web-only or web-mostly mostly-poetry magazines, like Montevidayo and Like Starlings and Tarpaulin Sky and Constant Critic and Cold Front… I should keep up. And I can’t keep up. There’s something to like in each one… a few are even places I’ll contribute, or plan to contribute, or hope to contribute, once I find the time to finish something or respond to their request. But I just can’t keep trying and failing to get myself to read everything…”

I think this is a reasonable reaction to what is going on in this age of Internet and its constant production and overproduction of valueless poetry. Poetry as kitsch that keeps multiplying. Invading it seems Burt’s home:
(continue reading…)

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Montevidayo Film Club: Dogtooth

by on Apr.26, 2011

[Hi, I’d like to invite everyone who’s seen a good (or at least interesting) movie lately to join the film club and post a mini-essay. I’m going to kick things off with Dogtooth]

Art provides us with many fantasy versions of the dreamlife and dreamlanguage of children raised in total isolation, either by incarceration or neglect. These range from the luxurious incestual langour of Ada or Ardor to the incestuous fatal decadent beauty of Cocteau’s Les Enfants Terribles to the incestuous fatal cinephilic whimsy of Bertolucci’s The Dreamers to the moral virtuosity of Kasper Hauser. Even Lolita enjoys her captivity, her consumption of movie magazines. Except for the example of Kasper Hauser, innocence and depraved eroticism are linked and, even in Kasper Hauser, whimsy and supra-creativity are everywhere for these isolated children. Locked up beyond the reach of society’s instruction or its laws, they construct their own worlds with virtuosic inventiveness. Such movies are almost vacation brochures for the libidinal pleasures of total evacuation into Art itself—if you lived in Art, you would be home by now.

Dogtooth is a stunning movie because it completely departs from these models. The incarcerated siblings are not virtuosic at anything. They are stunted, without frame of reference, clumsy, speech deprived, stripped even of eroticism. There is no langour here, and even incest is part of their captors’ command rather than the childlike compensation of isolation. The only instinct their captors have preserved in them is one of violence and jealousy over space and material belongings. Within a system supposedly constructed to protect these children from the violent assaults of this world, violence is tolerated with an arbitrariness which mirrors the arbitrariness of the entire system. In fact, it’s one of the paradoxes of the film that an incarcerating system so total, so literally confining as to amount to the entire World for the siblings, is also so arbitrary, so shoddy, so counterfeit in its every detail. (continue reading…)

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Fear and Love in Criticism (pt 3): More on "accessibility"

by on Apr.25, 2011

Sandra Simonds wrote me the following on Facebook in response to this discussion:

“This is interesting. First, I should say that David directed my dissertation and I do consider him a friend.I don’t think he’s anti-intellectual, but I do think that he’s approaching poetry from a different tradition. He has claimed that poetry should be able to be understood by a 10 year old (meaning, I assume, that of a poem isn’t understood by someone so young, it’s failing on some level). As you can imagine, I strongly disagree with this idea. That said, I think that he is an advocate of a poem being transparent–like what you see is what you get. At the same time, however, he seems to want for a poem to retain a certain space that is sort of off limits to critical interpretation. I’m thinking that what’s going on here is a sort of Romantic view of poetry (I’m thinking of Wordsworth here…”we murder to dissect” etc). I think that most people would agree that there is some part of a good poem that *resists* interpretation (at least this might be the experimental poet’s interpretation). On a personal note, David’s a lovely person who is fully committed to mentoring younger poets, even those poets (like me) who are writing very different kinds of poems.”
(continue reading…)

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More Temporal Drag: Peaches is Risen

by on Apr.25, 2011

I’ve written on temporal drag* previously in relation to Edie Fake’s historic-gay-bar installation and the young adult novel Nell’s Quilt — I’m reading Elizabeth Freeman’s book now in full and am still excited by the possible applications of it in reading and making art.

Interestingly, Freeman’s essay on temporal drag was published in 2000, but the book, Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories, wasn’t published until last year. In the meantime there’s been a good deal of other writing on queer temporalities, e.g., Halberstam’s In a Queer Time and Place, Munoz’s Cruising Utopia — such that at this point Freeman’s book seems weirdly dated (as a friend said, oddly/perfectly out of sync) — as is this post, which I started in November after seeing Peaches Christ Superstar in Chicago.

Peaches Christ Superstar

Peaches Christ Superstar is Peaches’ interpretation of Jesus Christ Superstar (the rock opera) — and is not to be confused with drag queen Peaches Christ, though both are Fabulous. I was originally intending to put Peaches in conversation with the David Wojnarowicz controversy but then I got distracted by Black Swan. Now it’s Easter! Sometimes you just need to be patient and wait for delays to become timely.

(continue reading…)

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by on Apr.23, 2011

A couple of months ago I was in Destin, FL with my family. One day we went to this place that served gross food. There were alligators there. Anyway they also had one of those things that are filled with stuffed animals that you try to rescue with a scary mechanized claw. The stuffed animals looked like they’d been in there a long time. In particular, there was this space monkey smashed against the glass. He was in an impossible position. There was no way he would ever be saved by a mechanized claw. This was his life, for ever and ever. And yet deep down he knew that even if he were rescued, even if he were free, this would still be his life. He knew, deep down, that his life was analogous to all life. To be trapped against the glass for all eternity — this is life. This is what it is to be free.

Also, for those who’ll be in NYC this upcoming week and ARE ALSO interested in poets who exude rare mastery of the craft, look no further:

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Hoang on Borzutzky

by on Apr.21, 2011

Over on Htmlgiant, Lily Hoang has reviewed one of my favorite recent books, Daniel Borzutzky’s The Book of Interfering Bodies, a book I’ve been meaning to review myself:

This book: a grostesque fairy tale about poetry and books, where the Poet is small and lethal and Books that contain all the world’s secrets waste away in a wasteland pile of shit.

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