Influence = Deformation Zone (A Telex from Solaris)

by 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

Against Lineage

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.

Unnatural Acts

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.

Influence Drag

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.

Deformation Zone

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:

Hare Rag

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.

14 comments for this entry:
  1. Mark Tursi

    I think “influence as inundation” is a great approach and a compelling revision of these longstanding and conventional ideas about “spheres of influence.” I think it adds to the conversation that includes Pierre Joris’s idea of a nomadic poetics and two overlapping concepts by Deleuze and Guattari: rhizomes and nomos. Here’s Joris: “A nomadic poetics cross(es) languages, not just translated, but write(s) in all or any of them. If Pound, Joyce & others have shown the way, it is essential now to push this matter further, again, not as ‘collage’ but as a material flux of language matter, moving in & out of semantic & non-semantic spaces, moving around & through the features accreting as poem, a lingo-cubism that is no longer an ‘explosante fixe’ as Breton defined the poem, but an ‘explosante mouvante.’” It also seems connected to Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of Noology, which involves an exploration of the images of thought within a particular historical context that exist in particular forms of conventional belief structures and ideologies that are necessarily irreducible to the State. They contend that Nomadic bands of people, rather than coding and decoding space (i.e. appropriate and order reality through a fixed set of signs), actually proceed by territorializing and deterritorializing whereby space, time, and structures of thought regarding reality exist autonomously from the State, and subsequent classical modalities of thought. And, their theory of rhizomes, implies a non-hierarchical, non-linear approach to (for them interpretation and knowledge) that allows for multiplicities and flux. I think these ideas can easily be applied to or run in conjunction with what you’re suggesting – a McSweenesque; i.e. scatological, mutagenic, deformation and contamination of the literary spheres of influence.

    Just one more thought . . . . there’s also a frustrating limitation to standard ideas of influence that suggests lineage and pedigree. A kind of bourgeois white wash of, as you say “the thrilling, debilitating force of art.” Looking exclusively at linear ideas of influence—a direct line say from Pound to Eliot to Stevens to Ashbery—ignores the sometimes more important and interesting negative dialectic; i.e. a resistance, subversion or rejection of a prior paradigm or aesthetic or condition of reality. Influence is an easy but often useful way to talk about writing. So, I certainly wouldn’t want to abandon that (and I don’t think your suggesting it) but opening it up and taking into consideration the uncertainties and “leaks” is essential. Perhaps a similar thing could be said of the labels, -isms, and tags we use to describe writers (Beat, Surrealism, Language, etc.). But I suppose that’s a discussion for another post . . . .

  2. Lara Glenum

    O Joyelle! O o o! Art’s radiant nobody! Deformation zones! Yes! Reading this is like eating 29 cakes simultaneously. With my head in a bag. Thank you.

  3. James Pate

    Great post, Joyelle: I love the concluding line about Art’s “inhuman influence”…

    It brings to mind a line from Derrida, from Specters of Marx (one of my favorite lines by him): “We should learn to live by learning how not to make conversation with the ghost but how to talk with him, with her, how to let them speak or how to give them back speech, even if it is in oneself, in the other, in the other in oneself: they are always there, specters, even if they do not exist, even if they are no longer, even if they are not yet.”

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    Joyelle, O what festering verve unto my nerves! Thanks! Me thinks a bountiful companion with Jed Rasula’s _This Compost_, which I read as a theory of influence with similar molecular, micro imaginings.

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  10. Greg

    Thanks for this. I’m curious about moving from thought to event. What physical outputs (aside from that cancerous response to technology and strictly DEALING WITH IT, acceptance) would best thrive from this slip away?

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