Thinking, Words, and Filling the Spaces of the Subject's Dead Cavities

by on Sep.06, 2011

1) I have been thinking, about a lot of things. Thoughts, disembodied words, pale ghosts in chains, tied down, heavy though unlettered, each thought a death, single, unattached yet threaded, woven of many deaths, many names, many thinkers, oppositions: Fromm, Zizek, Riding, Palmer, Shaviro. Marx, Trotsky, Lucaks, Benjamin. Scattered readings, scattered thoughts, the process of being overwhelmed, influence.


The moment:

What to write now? Will I write? What genre will come out of me next? Out of what inner space? Time for a purging? A leftover suicide or an execution displayed in the streets? Castoff grains of (fill in the blanks)? What is needed? Find out what is needed and do the opposite?

The weight of too many thoughts, the task or maybe question of parsing. To parse or not to parse? Some would say to parse is the obvious, only answer. I don’t know. I don’t know how not to parse. I don’t know how I parse when I parse. I just do. I design myself anew every day.


2) In such a state, I revisit old touchstones. From the Foreword of Cathy Park Hong’s Dance dance revolution:

The language [in the Desert], while borrowing the inner structures of English Grammar, also borrows from existing and extinct English dialects. Here, new faces pour in and civilian accents morph so quickly that their accents betray who they talked to that day rather than their cultural roots. Fluency is also a matter of opinion. There is no tuning fork to one’s twang. (Hong, 19)


3) What is in a name? Hong’s title is a multiplied chant, a pizza parlor standup video game, exercise for the chronically motionless, cover designed as upward scrolling screen credits, directives for limb-flailing activity, a poem itself, perhaps claiming what its text maybe delivers, probably claiming far less than it delivers, mere poetry.


On the cover and title page:

Dance (regular type)

Dance (larger type)

Revolution (largest type)

Poems (smallest type)


Or the copyright page has it:

Dance dance revolution: poems / Cathy Park Hong. — 1st ed.


Poems. An understatement, as small type, or an overstatement, as stated at all after a colon, as if it follows? Unnecessary label or misleading declaration? How to title a postmodern-day Beowulf-ish pop-lingo migrant-ethnic-etc. mashup in poly-dialectal madness, a book that is its own monster, Grendel?

There is a monster in the room, in every room of this and every hotel-casino, in all of capitalism’s rooms, every capital, revolutions brewing, aka words turning over in many different languages, many guides and every destination the same, the Desert and its over-decorated lobbies, waiting rooms for the colonized, kitsch parlors where we all end up sitting, drinking the kool-aid of sparring ideologies.


3) From CPH’s “Roles”


I usta move

around like Innuit lookim for sea pelt…now

I’mma double migrant. Ceded from Koryo, ceded from

‘Merikka, ceded y ceded until now I seizem

dis sizable Mouthpiece role…now les’ drive to interior. (26)


In this tale, the part of the hero is not cast (as to actor) so much as absorbed or seized by the book’s main speaker/imbiber/regurgitator. Imagination saunters beyond the norm, the accepted linguistic limit, beyond the proverbial institutional pale, every line an intoxicating gymnastic-linguistic lounge cocktail, not straight no chaser but a Stephen Fry mixed drink, delightfully strident.

This tale does not finish its promised line. It does not promise a line, it un-simply goes until its purported recording ends, so drink up and follow along, wander nearby, imagine what is not on the page, what the future may hold in this and other genres.


4) The monster does not die at the end of this tale. The word-monster inhabits, expands into lingo-linguistic spaces, into corners of extravagant high-ceilinged rooms. Words rush in to fill blank spaces, placeholders of multiple intentioned meanings, doubled, tripled, multiplied. Fill the monster, fill every syllable.

This monster does not care about authorial intentions. This monster does not consume but spews wordy tendrils, pushes the imbiber our of her head by the ear orifice, by the reader’s tongue that must read out loud to piecemeal an adopted quasi-sanity, acclimation to a cultic capitalistic assurance, insane relations, utter, utmost, eroticized, aestheticized, lovely, non-existent, dead words combining with ugly ones and making babies, near-alliterative families.


5) How it ends:

He had that gift, or neurosis, to set time limits on his daydreams, as if his reflections were naps… The civil war died down but there were still his patients with pains from their phantom limbs. There was still the occasional unrest… Slowly his head lolled back against the chair. He fell asleep. The jar clear yet moted with dust, contained the front yard and the sapling, the rusted iron gate and beyond it a horizon. A puff of smoke. Beyond the iron gate, the horizons, grains of salt enlarged to a crowd that filled the frame of the jar. He woke up and took off his glasses. Unmindful of any sound, he fell back asleep. (Hong 120)

This tale is of the atmospheric.

This tale does not end in the death of the monster.

This tale does not end in heaven or hell.

It ends in sleep, the mind’s consciousness eaten up, desensitized, smoked and pummeled into a false-zen state of acceptance, sleeping with the dragon, the yin to our Guide’s yang.


6) From “Cholla Village of No”


…Progress maif sprinklim fortune

to all o Korea — pave street, condo y petrol

savin Daewoo autos but Progress skip ova mine

villa like popular lass snubbim

drossy fat girl…


…villa a sad sack groanim wit bullocks

y huts, villa o exiled outcasts,

prison-loused insurrectas, pickpockets, lady fes

bum-lookas, gaseleo dous’n gun molls,


yam sella clang tin can y hock hot treat

but bine eve, yam sella hatch plan to glue

workas toget’a…muckraking strumpets wheedle

tainty secrets from croneymen

who muck dim…allatime bang-a-rang… (53)


7) There are no answers, only pronouncements with accompanying rationale, gestures, subjective expressions of objective possibilities, Yeats’ best of us (citizens asleep) and worst of us (intense partisans). There is no progress, only a beast, nothing beyond survival and how we choose to and how we explain our survival to ourselves, admissions of imagined necessity, history nothing more than the twinned success/failure of imagination.


8 ) In Hong, the illogic and contradiction of the world situation is not bemoaned (the typical neoliberal move) but almost celebrated, given something like an overblown expression within a dramatic framing atmosphere of near-narrative sensibility, of academic vigor. I say something like overblown, something like a full expression, but what is full, really? Though Ddr feels fully expressed, its moments end quickly, clipped by the constant urban/militaristic movement of the postmodern moment, the tourist on tour.

This feels right, for when fullness is reached, which is absolute decadence, what will be left to say? Would such a fullness be heaven or hell? Likely, both. Such might truly be the end of history, the prior existence of every possibility, the end of the stories we tell, of any line of thought in the mashup of all thoughts combined, the words we must make up already made up, spoken, finished, rote, every hope already hoped for and lost. No room for art, there – not as separate entity. In complete decadence, art overtakes life and life inhabits art.

This gesture toward a fullness that cannot be reached is what I want to touch, an always failing enterprise to show up the unreality of every supposedly successful enterprise: a crucifixion without anything more than imagined redemption, apocalypse and rapture that never quite happen (though always lurching toward some Bethlehem, some Golgotha), a multiplied and never achieved passion. It is not appreciation without possession (the classical sublime ideal) but the denial of self-possession’s possibility within the admitted attempt to possess: possessed with self and the inability of the self to grasp its own nature as something singular, thus, the possession of overwhelming multiplicity, the confusion of the self with content, the often-told attempt to empty the world of oceans with a single cup, a child’s game never completed.

And what place, passion? Desire? Desire for words, for meanings, the plural, expansive, opening inward and exploding from overfull innards, swelling multiplications, this is what I want. This is my answer, to have no single answer, to hold all content in abeyance, in playful gratuitousness, ready and unused, wasted on the world of careless meanings until all has been said, an event in which I do not believe.


9) If you have yet to read Dance dance revolution, do do do, and read it out loud, which is somehow not unlike the experience of playing the video game, of receiving instructions you perform to varying degrees of “success,” aka “reading.”


From CPH’s “Orphic Day”


…we float like incubated bodies,

cranial nerves pulse violet, fire tinsel out

we poppy seed eyes, deep en brine solution,

we blubba our slattern dreams. (117)


13 comments for this entry:
  1. Kent Johnson

    Interesting post, Jared, challenging and very different approach. Speaking of cultural revolt and such: I’m waiting to get more details, but apparently my son Brooks and a group of his poet-artist friends (most of them anarchists and cultural activists) organized a protest action inside the Poetry Foundation Building in Chicago last night. The cops were called. One of the protesters was arrested.

  2. Jared

    Hi Kent, that’s the first I’ve heard of a protest against a cultural entity in these days of protest against government and corporate entities everywhere. Thanks for sharing. Certainly the Poetry Foundation should be considered part of the “establishment,” of that which we take for granted in society.

    Maybe it doesn’t, but I think this ties in with the whole BlazeVox thing, which appears to be raging on. It’s interesting to me how counter-cultural a thing like asking authors to take a monetary stake in getting their own work into print has become due to established categorical ways of thinking about the author and publication. Reveals cracks in the system that I guess make people uncomfortable because they are, in fact, accustomed to and committed to that system.

    That’s pretty much what I’m about these days, making others uncomfortable by passing along my own discomfort. We ought to have more questions, maybe, less answers. Too many answers (as if solutions to complex problems are simple). What I want is to do things really differently, put so much pressure on settled institutions that they reveal their cracks and the difficulty of any solution.

    Kudos to Brooks et al! Would love to hear more details if you care to pass them along…

  3. Kent Johnson

    Jared, This is great, couldn’t agree more. Good on you!

    My son’s phone seems to be out now and I can’t get any more information. I hope he’s not in prison. At least one of the protersters is. I am going to try to prod Brooks and his cell to write something up about this, their thinking and motivations behind the action. Whatever it is, exactly, that they did. I know they had initially planned to release a hundred or more pigeons inside the fancy, multi-million Corporate-like structure. Not sure they did that, though.

    Institution critique!


  4. adam strauss

    I like this:

    I know they had initially planned to release a hundred or more pigeons inside the fancy, multi-million Corporate-like structure

    Pigeons are wonderful–I don’t agree with those who liken them to rats etc. I love their–frequently–irridescent napes etc. And, lol, squab is about the yummiest birdflesh around.

  5. Jared

    I agree about there being more to pigeons, Adam, though it makes me think Hitchcock, too. What brings “the birds” down on our heads? Do they drive us insane or does our insanity draw them?

    My closest contact with pigeons was a religious school I attended as a child. There was a rundown old church building no one used anymore that was full of them. The pastor’s sons would sometimes shoot them with bb guns after hours, though I’m not sure that was officially sanctioned. Tied in nicely with the quite large graveyard behind the church property, a spooky landscape if there ever was one.

    Never ate pigeon, though have heard of their tasty qualities…

  6. adam strauss

    It’s interesting, too, how I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone who has seen a living baby pigeon.

  7. Jared

    Is that a rare thing, to see a baby pigeon? Just thinking of those who keep pigeons. Now we’re at Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront territory, very topical after the Hoffa fiasco at the hands of FOX News this past week… (yes, I love making connections)

  8. adam strauss

    Oh–good point; no, if you are a breeder, then I guess not! But in so far as more public pigeions go, is it common?

  9. Jared

    So I had to look up the pigeon thing:

    Who knew a post on Cathy Park Hong could lead here?

  10. Kent Johnson

    Brooks has written an initial report. Very exciting stuff took place at the PF. Very much in old a-g spirit of Dadaists-Situationists-CADA. Direct, impolite cultural-guerrilla intervention, the kind that’s gone completely missing in our Field today. Jennifer Karmin, the Chicago poet-activist (who was actually reading at the event!) took part in it, too. Brooks is going to be writing a detailed account for the next issue of Sous les Paves, due out in early October, I believe. The person arrested is now out, after spending a harrowing night with the cops taunting her with lewd comments as they watched some kind of porn video, apparently. Nice one, Poetry Foundation! Keep arresting protesting poets. Let’s see where it leads…

    The interest this has generated (I’ve gotten lots of queries on it) is good to see. I believe that this could be seen as an opening salvo, a fairly spontaneous action that will possibly lead to more deliberately and collectively planned actions of Institution critique down the road. The poetry of politics must also target the politics of poetry.

  11. Jared

    Keep us posted, Kent!

  12. Kent Johnson

    In that issue I mentioned where Brooks’s piece will be–another good reason to check it out is that lots of new writing by Amiri Baraka will be featured there. As well as that of other problematic folks of–what to call the emerging formation–the U.S. poetic ‘hard Left.’ (?)

    Hey, Thesis Eleven: take the critique TO the institution.

  13. Kent Johnson

    I mentioned CADA above. See here, a five-minute video done by CADA around one of their actions under the Pinochet dictatorship (this one pretty tame, actually, compared to some of what else they did–their history one of the greatest examples of a-g political action). There is background text beneath the video screen. Again, Raul Zurita, published by Action Books (trans. Daniel Borzutzky) was one of the leaders of the group.