Garbage In/Garbage In the Necropastoral: On the Road to Kimp'o Landfill: Kim Hyesoon & Camile Rose Garcia & Césaire

by on Apr.06, 2011

The remains of an albatross chick whose mother fed it plastic plucked from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Camille Rose Garcia's Sleepwitch. It uncannily mimicks the decomposed form of the dead chick, while also presenting a system which cannot cleanse itself of toxins but recycles them as counterfeit-nutrients, a distributive system which spreads poison, poison which then saturates the picture plane, creates the visual rhythm; to 'take in' the picture, the eye follows the poison; vision is bio-identical to poison

The Road to Kimp’o Landfill
by Kim Hyesoon, trans. by Don Mee Choi

Cut my hair short again
I don’t want to pull out
the names etched onto my hair that grows daily
As rain fell, garbage bins from the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floor
must have been turned upside down
Hair fell profusely
I kissed in a place where garbage came down like rain
I kissed where I vomited all night long
Every time I sang, vomit flew in[…]

I have long been obsessed by this poem by Kim Hyesoon, translated by Don Mee Choi, and its necropastoral ecologies/economies, here turned on the vertical plane of an urban highrise where garbage falls from the upper stories ‘as rain fell’, falls like and as rain via rain’s distribution system, takes the symbolic vector of rain. Intuitively, the verticality of the apartment building strikes me as an esophagus or digestive tract, catching all this falling hair and garbage and rain and vomiting it back up and out; the speaker is one more micro-organism in the gut of this building, absorbing and releasing toxins. The speaker’s hair is etched with what she ingests. She wants to cut it off of her, cut herself off from its memorial function,refuse to be a memorial register– but more and more of hair/garbage falls as rain from the sky. No hole can be left, no absence not immediately re-filled ‘profusely’. There is a scarcity of nutrients, but plenty to eat. Garbage is what is the case. Garbage in/Garbage in to the urban ecosystem, the global ecosystem, the body. So it is with Camille Rose Garcia’s paintings; see image and caption, above.
Traditionally, the vatic body of the poet may issue songs from his birdlike mouth, but this poem reminds us that the mouth is a hole, a thru-way which goes two ways; vomit flies in to fill the hole left by escaping song. Vomit that flies back into the mouth reverses time, but time is of secondary important to the imperative that there can be no vacuums here; human nature abhors them; no holes not filled with waste, garbage. For the profusion of emotion and experience normally recorded in lyric verse is here choked in the profusion of waste and garbage. The whole earth, the human body is the landfill, saturated, supersaturated, stuffed, poisoned, filled.

I turned the garbage bins upside down in my room
And had morning sickness, then had a smoke
My poetry books burned
Three hundred million babies were born
One hundred million of the young and the old died […]

In these five lines we see the hyper-economy/ecology of waste and production and overproduction which thinks in masses, cannot distinguish among items and eventually renders everything waste. To “turn the garbage bins upside down” and trash one’s room is the same as to ‘have morning sickness’; to ‘have morning sickness’ is the same as to ‘have a smoke’, to vomit is the same as to consume is the same as to pollute. To trash one’s poetry books, to birth ‘300 million babies’ and crash the global ecosystem with humans, to engender a mass die-off—all these motions and masses are equivalent within a system of a crashing and burning going on all over the globe. The individual’s body is just one more node in the distribution system.

The day I took the pills
I walked out the gate in the middle of my bath
Black plastic bags flew higher than a flock of sparrows
The discarded sewing machine was like the head of a horse
The sound of Mother’s sewing machine
filled the holes in my body one by one
I tore off my swollen breasts and tossed them
Beneath Mother’s foot on the pedal

Here the mysterious ingestion ‘of pills’ brings alteration into the speaker’s body—the pharmakon? Abortion? Suicide?. The ingestion of pills marks time, marks a day, it’s how the body registers time in this unnatural environs, as an ingestion. Next birds and black plastic bags, a trashed sewing machines and a horse’s severed head are indistinguishable; they flap around the environment, “higher” than a natural flock, fill up the whole horizon. The trash vision also flaps, produces waste as sound, ‘the sound of my Mother’s sewing machine’, perhaps memory is also a kind of waste, the waste of experience, and it abhors a vacuum, to, it ‘filled the holes in my body one by one’, until the one-by-one-ness of those holes is cloaked, smeared, obscured. The speaker ‘trashes’ herself, tears up her ‘swollen breasts’, her own would-be maternal body, to be trodden by her Mother’s foot, to trash linear time, to be mashed up in this universe. But the gesture is already redundant, mother’s milk being another bodily location where the contaminants accumulate; the accumulation has already happened even if the body like the hair is ‘cut out’.

A forest gave off a foul smell, carried contagious diseases
It burned of fever during the night
A busboy at brightly lit Motel Rose
threw out millions of sperm every night
From the forest, mosquitoes swarmed
and dug into my scrawny caved-in chest

Here in the frantic distribution of cause and effect, the poisoned ‘forest’ has a fever, millions of sperms are destroyed and exuded from the would-be romantic (and female) symbol of the ‘Rose’, This somehow inseminates the forest which then breeds mosquito babies, a swarm, perhaps three hundred million of them, which ‘dig into’ the already corpse body of the speaker, ‘my scrawny caved-in chest.’

Born in the 20th century, I was on my way
to die in the 21st century

As the poem concludes, the pentultimate line seems to briefly quote cheery pre-millennium futurism, but the horizon is immediately foreclosed with death. Death is the only destination. Death is the only potential. Any accounting is an accounting of death; Death is the medium as well as what the medium transmits; Time is a transport which chuffs us off to our death. Moreover, this counting up of centuries recalls the ‘2nd, 3rd, and 4th floor’ in the fourth line; subsequent centuries will be just one more height from which still greater volumes of garbage can fall and fill up all the intervening conceptual space.

In this sense, time functions here like vatic time in Césaire’s Notebook of a Return to the Native Land [1939],where a speaker also has to make radical renovations in time, and envisions those time as a kind of vertical super-saturation, a simultaneous inhabiting of antitheses. Amid this vatic, choked vision he envisions the twentieth century as a European apartment building twenty stories high. In the Eshleman translation, its opening passage reads:

At the end of daybreak. . .
Beat it, I said to him, you cop, you lousy pig, beat it,
I detest the flunkies of order and the cockchafers of hope.
Beat it, evil grigri, you bedbug of a petty monk. Then I turned
toward paradises lost for him and his kin, calmer than the face
of a woman telling lies, and there, rocked by the flux of a
never exhausted thought I nourished the wind, I unlaced the
monsters and heard rise, from the other side of disaster, a
river of turtledoves and savanna clover which I carry forever
in my depths height-deep as the twentieth floor of the most
arrogant houses and as a guard against the putrefying force
of crepuscular surroundings, surveyed night and day by a cursed
venereal sun.

In Césaire’s Notebook, the choked, saturated space of vision, which encompasses all antithesis, becomes a power-source for the speaker-prophet who can himself channel its paradoxical occult powers, its dark matter, and force the break with history the prophetic poem requires. But in Kim Hyesoon’s poem, no break is possible, no power, and no channel but the alimentary canal; the choking of the body leaves no room for apertures, breaks or visions; Césaire’s 20th century is merely chuffing us off to the killfloor of the 21st century, the 21st story of our arrogant house. We are “height-deep” in the landfill, without guard or protection from “the putrefying force of crepuscular surroundings”.

To think about the foreclosed political horizon and a-futurism of Kim Hyesoon, I’d like to go back to Camille Rose Garcia; how her works are so saturated that excess ink seems to drip down them and dripping ink forms the visual rhetoric. In her work, environmental poison, black excess and the visual rhythm share a distribution system; that is, poison and vision share a distribution system; art and poison are bio-identical. I think this is a way of reading Kim Hyesoon’s work– written from within the landfill, on the loops and arcs of poison, her art is toxic chemical to which attention adheres, or a mutant bacterial life form with a short individual life span and a wildly sped-up evolutionary clock. It has a special, doomed body. It casts a plaguey light.

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