by Joyelle McSweeney on Jun.24, 2011
[Hello, I”m actually on a train in East Anglia but I’m not thinking of Sebald, I’m thinking of you, Montevidayans, the Scum of Baghdad, as Jack Smith would call you. I’d like to post the paper I just gave at a conference called Worlds Norwich.]
Influence = Deformation Zone
I want to begin by suggesting my discomfort with the conventions of discussing literary influence. I want to suggest that influence need not come from literary forebears, elders, teachers, or even people. For me this notion of influence, regardless of the gender of the participants, is too close to patrilineage, which bothers me for three reasons: its method of conserving property and wealth, ownership of originality; its copying over of heterosexist, male dominated bloodlines and the reproductive futurism that goes with it; and its commitment to linear notions of temporality—that what comes before causes what comes after, and that the most important thing is to move forward in time. I find all these structures suffocating and confining. I think we’re all conceptually limited by the unexamined assumptions about temporality, property, gender, sexuality, wealth and inheritance implicit in most discussions of literary influence, regardless of the gender of the writers under discussion.
Influence as Innundation
It seems to me that a discussion of literary influence would benefit from an effort to think outside these structures and strictures. I’m for thinking of influence in terms of the dead metaphors of flow, flux, fluidity, and fluctuation, saturation and supparation, inherent in the term ‘influence’ itself, influence as total innundation with Art, innundation with a fluctuating, oscillating, unbearable, sublime, inconsistent and forceful fluid.
Influence as Dead Metaphor
That such a discussion should require the reanimation of a dead metaphor—the fluid or flow in ‘influence’– is non-coincidental, to my mind, for to think this way about Art is to think about it as something undead, uncanny, something that does not progress, does not move towards a cleaner, better-lighted future, does not conserve, is not healthy or community oriented, does not preserve a stable, reasonably priced image of the artist for the future or secure an inheritance, but pursues its own interests, pierces, ravages, remakes the artist and repurposes him or her as a kind of host-body to counterfeit more viral Art in its own image, Art which possesses the Artist, forces him or her to swell, mutate, to rupture and leak fluids, to leak more Art into the world. To my mind, that is the thrilling, debilitating force of Art, its influence.
Global warming, melting icecaps, blacked-out species, literary landscapes such as the Snows of Kilimanjaro disappearing, a 20th century reference rendered as remote as Ozymandias; the 20th century turned cryptic occult ananchronistic rising in strange places reanimated; dressed in the flesh the grave-cave ate; Ozymandias’s legacy survives, diminished but undead, as art-rot; in place of patrilineage, mutation, decomposition; beware, beware; one literary life lived nine times like Lady Lazarus or Woolf’s Orlando in body after body or a life lived in 2 time signatures like Dorian Grey or lives lived in many auto-corrupted accounts like Bolaño’s pseudo-auto-histories and heteronyms; both embalmed and dessicating; persisting; contaminating; coupling; Art’s unnatural acts.
The American underground filmmaker Jack Smith of Flaming Creatures begins his career with an unnatural negative hyper-nostalgia surrounding film queen Maria Montez, finds a young Puerto Rican drag queen and re-christens him Mario Montez; casts Mario Montez, the beautiful fake, the counterfeit, in his movies as occult, dessicating glamour; confects the terms “Superstar”, later stolen for Andy Warhol’s decadent 15 minute famers; flames out; begins to perform performances in his apartment of such slowness that they confound and mesmerize the audience; finally, dying of AIDS, in penury, he lies back in his charity hospital bed and just ‘reclines’, a ravaged body in drag as Maria Montez, dying, in Art’s drag, because, as he told a friend, ‘nobody can recline like Maria Montez’. In place of patrilineage, a cyclicality, an expenditure, a trashing and a doubling up, Maria Montez: Art’s radiant Nobody.
Debilitation by Influence
Debilitated by Art. Shredded by Art. Sheddiing Art. Imitating Art. Beware, beware. Decline, decline. That’s all or one-half of the Sublime. Moving away from measurable profit and from time. Or, to choose another model of influence from our contemporary environmental dystopia, influence as poison, a contamination of the watertable with mutagenic elements, as at in Japan or off the American gulfcoast, a spill, a leak a killoff, a spawning cycle, the many clones of Abu Ghraib, the many hood men, total innundation by bad instincts and reproduction via digital media itself, Wikileaks burned onto a Lady Gaga CD, every portrait is Art’s selfportrait, Art-shit, Art-trash, wear the hooded mask of Art, sleep in the sleeper cell of Art, naked, Bradley Manning, sleeping under the mountain naked, in the neon light, because he is a risk to himself, having spilled the knowns and the known un-knowns across the wikisphere in sufferable, insufferable leaks.
So I’m talking of Art’s influence, art itself, which flows toxically through media, through images, yes, through the works of specific artists, that engenders clones, contamination and anachronism, has retroactive and special effects, unearned effects. Prised away from the neat rhetoric of forebears, receptions, imitation, inheritance, inherited traits, we release the lawlessness, infectiousness, jouissance of Art’s influence, the making and remaking it perpetrates which includes the Artist him or herself. I find it so liberating to be free of linear time, of linear literary genres, of forward thinking, of progress, and instead entered into a molar space of alteration, mutation, change, generation, replication which draws little distinction between me, my body, my laptop, my output, my outfit, my input. Output is just a chance for me to counterfeit or imitate my input, albeit with dolled-up, mutagenic effects. My laptop is full of toxic chemicals disassembled by hand by children in China, wherein it will have mutagenic effects on their developing gonads. My iPhone is radiating my carpals, tumoring my brain, my typing makes my hand shakes and my reading makes me stutter like I never did before I became a writer. The birds sing in Greek to Virginia Woolf, they sing to the Brazilian-Swede Oyvind Fahlstrom in Birdo, I speak in tongues, someday I’ll read you Poe’s the Raven translated into Birdo.
I use a term for this mutagenic zone; stealing a phrase from the Swedish poet Aase Berg, I call it the deformation zone. Translation is the ultimate manifestation of Art’s deformation zone, for entering yourself in Art’s mutagenic properties, for being entered and altered and destroyed, if necessary, by Art’s rogatives. Translation is anachronistic, it happens in real time and across time; it happensbackwards; it changes he who takes and he who gives; no boundaries can stand up to this innundation; everything is rendered a membrane by translation. Translation is bio-identical to Art’s influence, spreads and eats and leaks more tets, more Art. It makes too many versions, breeds new hybrid languages, and obscures priority.. Translation’s deformation zone then becomes the model for Art making itself—a zone where new strange forms and voices and images are animated that would not have existed if the Artists did not enter Art’s deformation zone—its transformation zone—its trauma zone—its zero sum play out of order—with total commitment- -total vulnerability—to take the drug of Art. To paraphrase China Mieville, we’re monsters, we’re in it for the fucking monstores. Or to read from the monstrous, infectious, microscopic, syllable-by-syllable vibrating deformation zone of Aase Berg’s Transfer Fat, here in the double deformation zone of Johannes Goransson’s English translation:
The hare conductor stringed
attracts the opposite tone
the string vibribrates
dimensions that will
crook the instrument
Hearing has a strungtime
tugs faster than the string beats
Harpy births child
conducts child over fields
of the as yet unprepared
In this brief poem, itself, in Swedish, a deformed translation by Berg of English string theory, syllables stutter, deform, repeat, and form new monstrous words. No patrilineage here; Art is the Harpy, the fucking she-monster, the shit-hurling, altar-befouling hybrid who, impregnated by hearing, by broken, corrupted, crooked vibribrations, births a ‘child’ and ‘conducts’ it over a malleable protean region, a deformation zone. Maybe she will drop the seed, or shit, or child, impregnate the field with this mutant waste; maybe she will form a further hybrid with the ‘child’; reject separation, and the monstrous double body will keep flying forever through the clanging landscape. Further vibribrations. Violence, conductivity, flight, monstrous birth, new ineffable vistas which are themselves in a kind of symbiosis with Art. What Art conducts: Itself: Art: its potential: its fecundity; its contaminatoriness: in and of itself; its viral mediumicity; its monstrosity; its sound; its vibribration; its stutter; its contagion; flightlike or fluid; its inhuman influence.