Archive for July, 2011

Leong on Bergvall

by on Jul.19, 2011

Michael Leong has a very thoughtful review of Caroline Bergvall’s book Meddle English up on Brooklyn Rail:

When Bergvall writes in “Middling English” about her desire to “irritate English at its epiderm,” she is also speaking of her individuated accent as a poetic irritant to the homogenizing forces of “the middling,” which is a “smoothing over, a tense flattening, an artificial erosion, a surface stiffening” of the English language. In the closing essay of the book, Bergvall calls this accented irritation “A Cat In the Throat,” which is at once a frictive wounding and a point of connection. It is an obstructing rasp that one wishes to cough up and it is also, by way of a bilingual pun, a lingual engagement with the sexuate body (une chatte, Bergvall tells us, is French slang for “a pussy”): “Cat is my speech’s subjective accent, the intonation of my verbal patterns, the stutter of my silencing, an all-round explicit accentedness. So what if I were to decide to speak with a cat in the throat?” This dangerous speaking requires “a whole process of re-embodying one’s language’s spaces.” In the spirit of Bergvall’s feline polyglotism, can we imagine a “re-embodying” of Echo, an Echo with an accented body? And how might this extend a newly codified understanding of conceptualism?

Really this is the kind of thoughtful review, I wish there was more of. Thanks, Michael.

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Beyond Humanism: Herzog and the Sublime

by on Jul.17, 2011

I recently had the pleasure of watching two ‘documentary’ films by Werner Herzog—The Great Ecstasy of the Sculptor Steiner, a short minute film about 70’s Swiss ‘skiflying’ champion Walter Steiner—and the recent 3-D extravaganza Cave of Forgotten Dreams, about the earliest examples of cave painting in Europe. What’s interesting about both these films is that, at their outset, both appear to embody a kind of  ‘extreme humanism’. Each celebrates an extreme accomplishment by a specific human or group of humans—the earliest example of painting (sic), the longest flight on skies off the Planica skiflyingramp in Yugoslavia (sic)—and holds this accomplishment up as a kind of metric for humanity itself, an outline or a measuring mark for its essential phenotype of ambition, failure, correction, and relaunch. In this extreme humanism, man is the measure of all things—most especially, of himself.

But this solipsistic notion—that man is the measure of man- is itself a loop, a folding, a self-saturation that begins to gesture at the hyperbolic over-saturation and collapse of humanist project or portrait in Herzog’s films, yeilding something so irrational, beautiful, terrible, and certainly out of control that it is less like a portait of a man and more like an innundation with the Sublime.
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In Defense of Illness

by on Jul.15, 2011

I’ve been spending most mornings with The Magic Mountain. Thomas Mann makes illness a very attractive thing. This morning I was reading a conversation in which the characters (all of whom consider themselves ill in some way) debate the humanity of illness.

Herr Setembrini, the Italian humanist, suggests illness is inhuman. He argues it focuses us on the body at the cost of all else.

Naphta, who the book’s protagonist Hans Castorp describes as a “caustic little Jesuit and terrorist,” compellingly suggests that “Illness was supremely human.” He asserts that it is illness exactly that sets “man apart from nature.” Creative genius, humanity, nobility, even Spirit lie in nature. For those who espouse “progress,” even they have to admit that it is illness which brings this about. Even the healthy can be so because of the accomplishments of the ill.

Naphta is most practical when he states that to “win knowledge for mankind,” people must be willing to give themselves over to illness. This is a voluntary and even a conscious act. Some might describe it as an act of heroism.

I wonder in what ways you’ve given yourself over to illness. Can the pursuit of health be problematic or even socially irresponsible?

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Response to letter about Translation

by on Jul.14, 2011

[I wrote this response to John’s letter querying about my ideas about “othering” translations below. Please feel free to add suggestions to both the letter and my response:]

Hi John,

I wonder what does an “othering” translation consists of? How does it relate to the “original”? Does it “other” the original?

Both of the primary writers I’ve been translating – Aase Berg and Johan Jönson – work with translations-as-writing in their “original” books. For example, Berg translates a number of texts – sci-fi movies, string theory, Harry Martinsson’s modernist epic Aniara – into her books; Jönson’s Collobert Orbital is a “translation” of Danielle Collobert’s journals (translated into English by Norma Cole) into an extreme, “impoverished” Swedish that focuses it on global capitalism.
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Counterfeit Translations (letter from John B-R)

by on Jul.13, 2011

[I received this yesterday over at exoskeleton in response to my counterfeit post, so I thought I’d post that here and then respond when I have time:]

Dear Johannes (if I may)–

I have found your posts on the foregrounding of the translator really thoughtful and stimulating, and I have a question for you. I hope you don’t mind my posting it here, but I don’t know another way to reach you.

I was reading brandon Brown’s The Persians yesterday. I happen to be in love with this kind of work, this kind of “othering”, to use a word, that came up Sunday in conversation with Jerry Rothenberg.

Lying in bed after my Persians adventure, I thought: it would be great fun to compile an anthology of this type of thing. I began to run a list …:
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Sharon in Karen

by on Jul.13, 2011

Out at Rockaway Beach this summer, they’ve decided to act like it’s a place where you can surf and spend a day at the beach, and get people to come there on subways. Part of the ruse is to offer a selection of “food carts” on the Queens boardwalk. All of these food carts are run by Brooklyn (and a few Manhattan and maybe Queens) restaurants/food makers who affect a similar aesthetic of refined flavor with a suggestion of vague social responsibility (peppering their copy with the words ‘local,’ ‘artisanal,’ ‘organic,’ etc.) To see a photo essay of with soft-focus backgrounds and proper antique effects of people enjoying Rockaway go here. Hidden among all this is conceptual artist (?) Sharon is Karen.

Maybe if you beat the health dept down there and get one of the open-faced watermelon sandwiches, it’ll make the eight-hour train ride worth it.

(p.s. If you don’t have a car and want to go to the beach, try this.)

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Dead Girls

by on Jul.11, 2011

In response to a lot of the interesting discussion about dead girls, you can go to the New Delta Review and read an excerpt from Danielle’s poem “The Dead Girls Speak in Unison”:

We used to do it, too.
Put a finger on the planchet
and hope for something even sluttier
to reveal its shuddering self
on the rod, skittering
in the curtains….

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Influence as Afterlife/Lorca as Gay Earth Mother: Part 2

by on Jul.10, 2011

I’d like to continue my thinking about the anti-elegiac nature of influence by turning to Lorca as a mythified poet whose death, far from sealing and securing his legacy along tidy, monocultural, patrilineal lines, instead continues to birth art beyond the strictures of genre, gender, nation, and linear temporality.  For me, Lorca resurrects and redefines the figure of the Gay Earth Mother I touched on months ago in previous posts–a figure whose queer totalization and fecundity Dalí depicts in his tribute to Lorca:  Invisible Afghan with the Apparition on the Beach of the Face of García Lorca in the Form of a Fruit Dish with Three Figs.

(continue reading…)

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Like I'm the only one who's in command: Xiu Xiu/Rihanna, "Daphny," & The Path

by on Jul.08, 2011

I’m still thinking through many of the points raised in recent discussions of violence in art on the blog, especially about complicity and the notion of safe spaces (or the refusal thereof) in art. I’ve been wanting to bring in Xiu Xiu, a band that has frequently or constantly explored violence, particularly sexual violence, as well as self-harm, in their work; so their release of a 7” single this week, “Daphny,” was convenient – particularly because the B-side, a Rihanna song, provides another interesting example of art that denies a safe space, actually pulls that safety rug out from under the original song’s feet. So to speak. Given that there is a “safe” version to compare it with, Xiu Xiu’s cover is a pretty obvious example of the kind of deterritorialization that others were talking about in relation to Twin Peaks – and it also works as critique, given the fact of its pairing with an overtly political song, a pairing that seems strategic.

The 7”’s title track, “Daphny,” responds to the experience of a friend of the band who was raped by a police officer while in custody after being arrested for shoplifting. The other track, mentioned above, is a transformative/deformative cover of Rihanna’s “Only Girl (in the World)” – the official video for which Lucas posted a while back.

You can listen to both tracks here.

(continue reading…)

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"Excessive Beauty": The Dangers of Influence

by on Jul.08, 2011

I want to go back to Joyelle’s post about influence. In this post she rejects a dominant idea of lineage and influence:

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.

But she doesn’t just reject “influence,” she find in influence a more radical, turbulent idea:
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Reviews of Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate

by on Jul.06, 2011

There’s been two new, really thoughtful reviews of my latest book, Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate:

Here’s an excerpt from Nick Demske’s review:

This helps make sense of why Entrance is so obsessed with gender, too. From the characters of Father Father and Mother Mother—as if uber-enactments of archetypal gender—to Miss World, who is referred to exclusively with masculine pronouns, no explanation, Göransson does a great justice to the concept of gender, representing it in all its faulty foundations and glorious ambiguities. Traces of Anne-Fausto Sterling echo throughout the pageant, which especially seems concerned with girlhood. And rightfully so, in this world. “This is a poem for girls,” at one point The Parasites weirdly blurt out. “I want to die like girls,” The Passenger says a few pages later. Göransson’s work has always been feminist in the most counter-intuitive ways (i.e.- “Do the twist, you anorexic fuck!”) but, of all his books, this is the one by far most obsessed with feminization (and gender in general). And why not? After all, he’s challenged the (continue reading…)

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An Alligator's Influence: Part 1

by on Jul.04, 2011

“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.”

Thinking about influence in the terms Joyelle outlines above, I can’t help but dwell on the subject of my current writing:  the alligator attack that killed a close friend of mine several years ago.

I want to approach my project through a detour into The Alligator People, a fascinating (and sort of terrible) sci-fi flick from 1959. The film is about the disabled patients of an inventive doctor whose treatment is based on reptilian hormones.  Because of their potent healing properties, the hormones save the life of the protagonist, depicted above, and regenerate his missing limbs.  The unforeseen pitfall is that the recipients of such hormones turn into alligator-human hybrids.  Their state is one of species limbo and existential shame.  Unbeknownst to their families, they live in a makeshift hospital in the swamp.  When an experiment gone awry exacerbates the protagonist’s crocodilian features, transforming him into a being more alligator than man, he panics in the wilderness, in his wildness.  He drowns in quicksand while his screaming wife looks on ashore. (continue reading…)

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The Sluts &/vs Twin Peaks (briefly)

by on Jul.03, 2011

As I’ve noted in comments, I’ve been working on a review/critical essay of Dennis Cooper’s The Sluts, and the connections between Cooper’s work and recent discussions about Twin Peaks, violence, and complicity are compelling. I’m thinking mainly, of course, of the George Miles Cycle and The Sluts. The review hasn’t been accepted yet, and will probably go through revision if/when it is, but here’s a quick excerpt from the draft I just sent off:

The five-novel George Miles Cycle (Closer, Frisk, Try, Guide, Period) explores the eroticization of death amid a swirling confusion of fantasy and reality, and the sex is often as violent and graphically depicted as the murders. Cooper’s cycle presents such transgressions as queer sex, incest, pedophilia, kiddie and snuff porn with uncomfortable rigor and a brutally disengaged tone. Within them, the figure of George Miles circulates, sometimes named George, sometimes taking other names, other forms, but generally figuring as an effeminate young man carrying around a traumatic past, substance abuse problems, and a romanticized death drive, and always inhabiting an unknowable body upon which others can and do enact their fantasies. Many of these fantasies involve death, and the body count is high – though … it’s important to note that a number of the deaths in this cycle are consensual, accidental, or fantastic, and all of them possess a queasy, unstable moral ambiguity. While censure is never absent – the novels’ self-reflexity and Cooper’s self-implication keep it hovering in the air – it certainly doesn’t land. The moral edge of the series is, if thin and treacherous, carefully constructed. The reader does not know where she stands on these events, but she is certainly a participant.

A character similar to George circulates in The Sluts, which largely takes place on a website devoted to reviewing gay escorts. Similar to Laura Palmer, whom Johannes has described as “a site of excess,” The Sluts’ Brad exceeds himself and the boundaries inscribed upon him. The language used by others to describe him is emphatically inconistent (according to the reviews, Brad has seven different heights, four different eye colors, occasionally an exstremely distinct tattoo). But Brad (if there is a “real” Brad, and this remains questionable throughout the novel), unlike Laura Palmer, is still alive (at least, until there is a question of his being alive). Despite his attempts to correct his reviewers’ accounts of things, his own version of events and of his identity is just as incomplete and easily discardable as those of his reviewers. “Brad,” then, is some kind of vacuum character: just as quickly as he’s filled, he’s emptied of meaning. Or maybe more accurately, “Brad,” is some kind of internal organ (potentially the bowels).

Whoever Brad is, he’s apparently so compelling and cute that he incites a number of murder fantasies (so many, in fact, that an offshoot web community, KillNickCarter, is formed to accommodate these desires on less morally ambiguous grounds). In the convo on Johannes’ post, many folks were discussing the instability of Twin Peaks – specifically the notion, discussed by Johannes, Lara, Danielle, and probably other folks, that Lynch creates “no safe space” for the audience to view it. I think I put this into moral terms maybe preemptively, but remain fascinated by the connections between Lynch’s and Cooper’s moral ambiguities and destabilizations.

Cooper works similarly to Lynch, but is perhaps more direct about interrogating the (a)moralities on display in his novels –  or maybe not – it’s been a while, honestly, since I’ve seen Twin Peaks. In comparison with the George Miles books, The Sluts is perhaps the most straightforward of Cooper’s work in addressing morality, maybe because it’s straight comedy in places. The “Board” section, for instance, indirectly comments on Cooper’s work and its reception. From my review:

This section is the most self-reflexive of the novel, and the one which most openly comments on Cooper’s work and its reception; in it, we get a bevy of contrasting opinions about community members’ desires to either kill or save Brad. Perspectives range from recantings like “this whole thing is just sick porn and we’ve all been implicated” (126) to defenses like “our fantasy lives are not a police state” (130), and members express varying degrees of concern over their own morality: “underthegunguy,” for instance, asks, of his desire to see the alleged Stevie Sexed snuff video: “Does that make me an amoral moster? That’s a serious question” (139). When Elaine pops in to say, “Hi, everyone. I’m Brad’s girlfriend Elaine. I think some of you are mentally ill” (130), it seems clear that Cooper is using this polyvocality as a vehicle to air (and mock) some of the grievances he’s received in response to his other novels – accusations that he is sick, amoral, mentally ill, etc. The self-reflexivity through polyphony is tongue in cheek, and teems with ironic jabs aimed at anyone taking the story too seriously.

I wonder where you all might see Lynch (in Twin Peaks and elsewhere) fitting with Cooper in relation to self-reflexivity and comedy (esp in relation to the melodrama/parody/kitsch elements) – also how literature and film can/do work differently as comic vehicles when it comes to (morally/ethically/ideologically? can’t seem to land on the right word) fraught narratives – for instance, with regard to reinscriptions/deformations of dead-girl/female-objectifying tropes or whatever else.

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