Archive for June, 2011

Contamination (pt 5): China Miéville, Aase Berg and Alexander McQueen

by on Jun.07, 2011

“New Crobuzon was a huge plague pit, a morbific city. Parasites, infection and rumor were uncontainable…” (from China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station)

It’s strange how things come together. I’m buckling down to finally get Aase Berg’s Dark Matter translated so that Janaka can publish it with Black Ocean next year. I’m also reading China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station. And I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Alexander McQueen’s costumes (via the catalog from the recent exhibition at The Met).

When reading Miéville’s novel I was struck by how similar the less plot-driven sections were to the Berg pieces I’m in the midst of translating.

This is one that Joyelle quoted yesterday:

Scraps of skin and fur and feathers swung as he moved; tiny limbs clutched; eyes rolled from obscure niches; antlers and protrusions of bone jutted precariusly; feelers twitched and mouths glistened. Many-coloured skeins of skin collided. A cloven hoof thumped gently against the wood floor. Tides of flesh washed against each other in violent currents. Muscles tethered by alien tendons to alien bones worked together in uneasy truce, in slow tense motion. Scales gleamed. Fins quivered. Wings fluttered brokenly. Insect claws folded and unfolded. [38]

Here’s an excerpt from “Life Form” from Berg’s Dark Matter:

I haul I haul I touch myself, touch the skin-rind with chafed-up viscous fingers. Little mermaid from ocean foam molded – I haul my long veils, layers of elastic cartilage, of slippery, shimmering membranes, chlorophyll. The gills shudder and glow deep down in this chasm of tissue – constantly rustling, squeaking, gasping for air. This whirling, howling, desperate lack of oxygen; the scream – if it had had enough oxygen to scream and a mouth with which to scream – the scream for to swallow the entire lung full of clear wind.

Lizards play, glitter green, blue and red between the membranes of skin in the body dress. Where does this mass end? I search inward through the layers to find the core of my plasma wet from juices, to find the core of body-flesh despite the outer, surrounding flesh, the naked body’s stable surface, a kind of human here inside the bluing, plant-becoming. A kind of attachment behind the spread of the mud’s, the fermentation’s sickness. But there is nothing that resists beneath this mantle of slippery webbed skin, burst through by a pounding vein net.

To begin with, they are of course both doing something with the genre of sci-fi/fantasy. In an age where it seems “genre” is a dirty, kitschy word, Berg and Mieville are exploring the genre in all its corny glamor. In an era where most experimental writing (and its academic handling) emphasizes a kind of critical distance, both works offer utter saturation and affect. But most importantly, these texts are about the body in flux, in the state of hybridization (which seems to effect the language as well, which begins to neologize and make strange new words and tweaked sentence structures). And: as Adam noted in the comment section to Joyelle’s post, the city and the body merge. When are they describing the physical city and when the body? This hybridized body becomes a kind of outfit without interiority: the costume eats the soul so to speak.

And this seems an apt description of Alexander McQueen’s outfits:

Saturated colors and horned girls.

As in Berg and Mieville, McQueen is not only interested in sci-fi and other uncool, gothic genres, but it’s also a poetry unashamed to seem anachronistic (to invoke for example the kitsch of “national romanticism”). But mostly I like the way his clothes seem to devour the model, seems to form a animal-like hybrid with the model’s body. And like McQueen, Mieville and Berg are capable of passages of incredible old-fashioned, saturative, gothic costume beauty.

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China Miéville's Brain-Eating Art Part I: I'm in this Fucking Business for the Monsters

by on Jun.06, 2011

Our Hero, China Miéville

“I’m in this fucking business for the monsters. Unfortunately, you can’t really sell books of monsters to publishers. They insist on stories linking them.” –China Miéville

China Miéville’s 2000 blockbuster Perdido Street Station, in its digestible, pulped, summer-reading paperbacked form, features 623 pages of monsters, which clutch and breed and form by virus or violence, the virus or violence of the prose itself. Though the book’s title proposes the geographical center of a brain-like city, in fact the novel  and the city has no center; long after it’s advisable, Miéville’s novel goes adding on chambers and corridors and domes and sewers and hovels and run-off and wrecks and holes and ructions and flows and bodies and species that move, link and split like these. Its star inhabitant is a protean and innovative(and ruthless) gangster named Mr Motley, pure hybridity (a paradox), and pure violence, too, described thusly:

Scraps of skin and fur and feathers swung as he moved; tiny limbs clutched; eyes rolled from obscure niches; antlers and protrusions of bone jutted precariusly; feelers twitched and mouths glistened. Many-coloured skeins of skin collided. A cloven hoof thumped gently against the wood floor. Tides of flesh washed against each other in violent currents. Muscles tethered by alien tendons to alien bones worked together in uneasy truce, in slow tense motion. Scales gleamed. Fins quivered. Wings fluttered brokenly. Insect claws folded and unfolded. [38]

Hybridity, monstrosity, the Pharmakon: Motley is Art as pure media. In this scene, the drug lord, Mr. Motley, the Pharmacist himself, is displaying himself for an artist who will make a portrait of him; he ‘paces towards her like a hunter’—he first hires, then incarcerates this artist, torturing her and forcing her to produce a double of himself. That’s Art’s hybridity, its fluctuation, and its violence, too.

Meanwhile mobile mutant druglabs known as slake moths fly above the brain-shaped city of New Crobuzon, shitting nightmares on the populace, a waste matter which can also be processed into a street drug named ‘dream shit’; warping the climate like the Gulf Stream or like the greenhouse effect created by multiple CEOS flying their Gulf Streams; ambiguating rather than disambiguating;  attaching  to their victims through the eyes; instead of mother tongue, the moth’s tongue a power takeover; but first mesmerizing the victims whose brains they are about to suck by displaying themselves as pure, killer Art.

The thing unfolded. The sense was of a blossoming. An expansion after being enclosed, like a  man or woman standing and spreading their arms wide after huddling foetally, but multipled and made vast. As if the thing’s indistinct limbs could bend a thosand times, so that it unhinged like a paper sculpture, standing and spreading arms or legs or tentacles or tails that opened and opened. […] Eyes that were not eyes. Organic folds and jags and twists like rats’ tails that shuddered and twitched as if newely dead. And those finger-long shards of coulourless bone that shone white and parted and dripped and that were teeth. […]

The killer slake-moth, Art, Influence, moves in for the kill by displaying its irresistable wings for delectation by the eyes. The eyes become orifices not of insight but of inward motion, of extraction. The wings are Art as pure medium, uncut Art, Art that is always too much, that Pharmakon, that blows you away, that is always an overdose. An infectious, overwritten text on pulp paper as if extruded from the jaws of silk moths. Roiling, boiling, multiplying, opening and opening, flickering, moving on its own time, moving in through the eyes. For all its detail, the slake-moth is almost unseeable; the prose will not form a single body. It can’t con-form,  it can’t choose a direction and go with it, it’s excess, pure mediumicity, which is to say, ultracontent, it’s beguiling, it creates the weather, a choatic current, a timescale of its own and it overflows its own bank which an ‘and ‘and ‘and.’ It breaks the bank. It rolls and boils. That’s influence. Forcefull. Random. Fluid. Another word for it is Art.

The slake-moths cannot be slaked. They are insatiable. Insatiable, narcotic, mobile, fluxing, overflowing, Brain-eating Art.

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In a Sentimental Dude

by on Jun.03, 2011

Roxane Gay has a reliably invigorating take on the recent man-writer-finds-himself-superior-to-women fracas. Her post, and the ensuing debate in the comments section reminded me how baffling and irritating I find our aesthetic coding of the sentimental as a uniquely feminine category.

In The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, in which concise definitions of aesthetic terms sometimes grossly undersell those strategies, but which is nonetheless a useful book, sentimentality is:

(1) poetic indulgence in the exhibition of pathetic emotions for their own sake; (2) poetic indulgence of more emotion (often self-regarding) than seems warranted by the stimulus; (3) excessively direct poetic expression of pathos…without a sufficient artistic correlative.

As with most entries in the tome, the majority examples of sentimental verse come from men writers–fine evidence that men perform the sentimental. Its feminine example is Dickinson’s “If I can stop one heart from breaking.” NEP calls her imagery “trite” and “vapid,” and notes that the sentimentality of the verse “manifest[s] an unconvincing hyperbole.” This reading insists on that sentimental, narrow, and biased narrative of Dickinson’s life we all know too well. Gentle Emily in the attic, in her white dress, weeping over fallen birdies.

Hint: we can tell that while the majority of its practitioners are men, sentimentality is about to get coded feminine because of all the excess. Indulgence! Hyperbole! More than warranted! Excessively! Psst–hiss-hissssss-hysteria!

(continue reading…)

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Acker and the Anus as the Center of the Brain

by on Jun.03, 2011

"Once the rocket exceeds the speed of sound, it outruns the shock wave, which we hear as a sonic boom."

To continue my foray into the erotics of reading and writing, I want to offer the following passage from Kathy Acker’s Rip-off Red, Girl Detective as a porno model for all literary pursuit.  As Acker writes a few paragraphs before this, “let’s cut the crap […] and get down to business”:

I’m too sensitive I can’t stand to have his cock in my cunt against my cunt, I can’t stop coming, I keep moving. Barely so I can feel his desire. We fall to the left; his arm moves under me; his middle finger slips into my ass: that’s the center of my brain! That’s where all my thoughts are located! We swing against each other deep into the freezing then fiery center of the earth around, now it’s working, I want to come to, I want to get mine in I can feel his muscles move beyond his will, tense some then more, we’re still moving in curves only faster, faster and harder; his finger leaves my asshole: rays of light shoot inside me from by ass to my belly button to my clit: the Holy Trinity O it’s coming I don’t give a shit anymore where he’s at or what he’s doing; my clit and my mind are one being light shoots through my body clit to legs! Clit to nape of the neck and outwards! Heat shoots through my body! Sound supersonic fluorescent waves. (continue reading…)

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Contamination (pt 4): Blake Butler interviews me at HTML Giant

by on Jun.02, 2011

You can read the whole thing here.

It’s funny because I just sent him the last answer about what I’m doing right now which is what I’m doing right now, ie writing this novel The Sugar Book. Here’s how I describe it:

BB: What are you working on now?

JG: A murder mystery novel/poem/notebook about Images and infection, atrocity kitsch and The Law. A Starlet has been murdered, terrorist attacks happen, children are born and get pregnant in mysterious fashion (constantly multiplying), the son is locked in a tower with his favorite horse toy, the penis is a death prong through which – on the ouiji board – the murdered children of the Vietnam War finally gets to “speak,” they talk about the mall and the law, there are twitter feeds about motorcyclists who come from the castle outside of town, terror suspects who are given rubber gloves and led through the mirror, “Kingdom of Rats” it says above the mirror, it’s all about photography, hares, the body in snow, the body covered by a plastic bag, Art as Death. Etc. It’s always a staging, a pageantry, a b-movie. I hope that gives you some idea. I’m calling it The Sugar Book.

I’m also working on a staging of The Duchess of Malfi. Back in the day a girlfriend and I made a video version of The Duchess of Malfi which we shot at a shooting range (she was into guns and knew the manager). “The Ouch-Ouch” we called it. I want to go back into that space – the shooting range, the wax sculptures – but I want to pay even more attention to the clothes, the seams. I want the movements to be more exact this time.

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Abe Smith Will Read in Chicago!

by on Jun.02, 2011

[Just got this in my email. If you live in Chicago you need to check this out. Abe Smith is an amazing performer.]

The Danny’s Reading Series
At Danny’s Tavern
Wednesday, June 8th
7:30PM sharp.

Featuring readings by Abraham Smith and Steve Timm.

ABRAHAM SMITH Abraham Smith hails from Ladysmith, Wisconsin. His books–Hank & Whim Man Mammon–were published by Action Books. Smith holds an MFA from
University of Alabama, where he works as Instructor of English. For the next few months, he’ll be riding Farmall tractors and cobbling together a cabin in the woods. Stop on by; bring your whiskey still!

STEVE TIMM is the author of a new book, Un storia, and an old one, Disparity, both from BlazeVOX Books, and three chapbooks, one of which, ’n’altra storio, can be found on Bathroom Magazine’s web site [in case you’d like to have a look.] He teaches English as a second language at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

August: The Danny’s Reading Series’ 10th Anniversary reading—info to come.

Danny’s Tavern is located at 1951 W. Dickens in Chicago. 21+ (please bring ID) 773-489-6457

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Contamination (pt 3): What I'm Reading This Morning

by on Jun.02, 2011

Here is some very contaminated stuff I’ve read this morning:

Stina Kajaso’s Son of Daddy Blog
Sara Tuss Efrik’s “Automanias”
Kate Durbin’s “N O Bikini”
Marissa Crawford’s Reversible
Laura Mullen’s Brides
Tree of Diana by Alejandra Pizarnik
Nick Demske
And of course this:

This may be a mixed tape of sorts, and if it is I could call it “The Gurlesque Smells LIke Victory in the Morning” or “Splattered Prom Queen” or “Fashion Writings for the Underworld” or “Contaminated Bodies.” I like to give my mixed tapes sensationalistic names like that.

I’m also reading WJT Mitchell’s book about Abu Ghraib (talk about “accessible” art!), so that’s figuring into things as well.

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Contamination (pt 2): Stina Kajaso

by on Jun.02, 2011

I promised I would write something about Marjorie Perloff’s new book and Kenny Goldsmith’s constant Taste-making, and I’ll get around to that, but I’d rather write about some stuff I like…

For example, I love Stina Kajaso’s blog, Son of Daddy, a kind of journal of aphorisms and dreams and rants about the eurovision contest and theories of performance art etc.

Here are some of my favorite moments (my poor translation):

A new era of black magic clown school Kajaso. I’ll adopt one clown from every continent and laugh myself to death.

… I am not girl material, not even material, much less woman, I’m a stoned witch from the middle ages. I should start doing drugs.

And aren’t you starting to hate the word performance now? People throw that word around all the time these days. Like “show your tits” kind of.
Hi I’m going to do a performance..
Show your tits!
Like theater kind of.
Theater is a skanky ass hoe.

Woke up with Lady Gaga straddling me. Soaking long yellow purple pink hair that dropped into my mouth. Ah, the taste of wet dog.

She shouted in my ear JU DA JUDA AH AH! JU DA JUDA AH AH!
And I try to silence her with my hands, but it wasn’t enough, couldn’t reach in? I said: you know, I don’t even like that song, fact is that the only song I really find tolerable is paparazzi, I think you dance pretty badly too, but I like you as a human being, can we be friends? Then she started washing my feet with her hair. I mean people can do what they want…

I’m not doing it justice. Go to her blog and read it if you know Swedish, and if you don’t, just look at her collages (I especially like the one where she acts like the Ring-girl beneath the bed with the giant Barbie) and the photos from her performance as sad bunny in an elevator in Malmö. She’s got some texts in the (shortly) upcoming special Swedish issue of Action, Yes, edited by Sara Tuss Efrik, whose writing I also love, and Anna Thörnell. It will be out in a couple of weeks.

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