by Joyelle McSweeney on Nov.01, 2011
[I see so many webby and glitchy potentials running between Kristen Stone’s Queeragripoetics and my ideas about Bug Time that I’m posting my paper on Bug Time here. Thanks, Kristen, for your awesome thinking and art!]
Invocation: “I am more powerful than a president. I am a charmed and desperate poet speaking to everyone.” Alice Notley, Culture of one, 18.
1. In his prescient book, prophetic like an ancient Greek oracle who, drugged on her tripod, could only look backwards, Toxic Archipelago: A History of Industrial Disease in Japan, Brett L. Walker introduces the notion that insects live on different time scales than humans—“high speed evolutionary time”, defined by mutation. selection, evolution. Given that the Japanese ‘rice hopper’ for example, enjoys a lifespan of fifty days and between two and six generations in a single human year, at least 150 generations of ‘hoppers’ can live in the span of a normal Japanese life. “Plus there are millions more insects than us, which means that mutations—say, a serendipitous (for the insect) genetic resistence to chemical insecticide or other anthropogenic force—are far more likely to occur.”
2. What model of literary time is provided by this mutating field time, this bug time, this spasming, chemically induced, methed up mutating, death time, this model of proliferant, buggered, buggy, moist, mutating, selecting, chitinous, gooey, bloated, dying time, a time defined by a spasming change of forms, by generational die-offs, by mutation, by poisoning, a dynamic challenge to continuity, and by sheer proliferation of alternatives, rather than linear succession? How would T.S. Eliot’s golden lineup of genius allstars, constantly reordering itself but still male- and human- and capital-assets- shaped, be affected by this swarm of ravening pissed-off mutant bugs out-futuring them by dying six times a summer, by having no human-shaped future at all?
3. I’ve given a name to this flexing, death defined, mutating anachronistic field-time: the necropastoral. It does not in fact depend on classically pastoral settings, as, as any resident of New York will tell you, bugs are perfectly capable of shitting generations of themselves, of shitting explosive non- or multi-linear or mutant-time, in an apartment block. Instead, my term ‘necropastoral’ is a reworking of classical notions of the separation of the rural and the urban, the idyllic and the worldly. Instead, I acknowledge that the most famous celebrity resident of Arcadia is death; my necropastoral suggests that there is no wall between ‘nature’ and ‘manmade’ but only a membrane, that each element can bore through this membrane to spread its poisons, its death to the other.
4. Moreover, as with the example of the Japanese hopper, this sped up enviolenced spasming selecting mutating necropastoral bug time is the shit of historical time itself—a result of anthropogenic influence, industrial poisons, insecticides, land reclamation, etc.
5. Historical time—imperial time—corporate time—each of these linear time scales promote the illusion of its own soundness, its own linearity, its own stability, its own economy,each of which claims to be always moving forward towards a more profitable abundant future—in fact these linear, future-oriented time scales shit poison, mutation, anachronism, a flexing and inconstant and wasteful evolutionary time which produces more bodies, more mutations than it needs. Death shits evolution. Evolution is its waste product.
6. I think so-called progressives and innovators need to think carefully about how their ideologies of experimentation, innovation, newness, progress and improvement remap or offer support to these ideologies of capitalist, corporate, historical, patrilinear time. The true experimenters, it seems to me, are the bugs who fail, who die six times a summer, 150 times in a normal human life, who are mutant and non-durable, who are the repositories of anthropogenic forces. Brett Walker notes,
There really are what we can safely call ‘Japanese insects’, because their evolution has been, at least in part, driven by Japanese politics, society and culture. That is, […the] Japanese have inscribed their history on the bodies—on the very genetic predisposition—of these buzzing beings.’
But I would draw a different conclusion—or make a different proposition—from Walker. If the Japanese—or any people on earth—have written their history on these chitinous bugbodies, the mutations, the hyperdeath. the evolution and failed evolution of these bodies (since evolution is wasteful and must deal out many more ‘unfit’ than fit models) writes an anti-history, a non-history of failed adapatation and spectral miraculous non-functional mutation, something winking and winged, chirping and failing in the dark. What genres are these body-writings? What forms? What motions? What processes? What anachronisms!
7. I would like to make a connection now between the spectacular expenditure, the field of non-linear waste-time that is bug-life and the economic/aesthetic theories of George Bataille. In his “Notion of Expenditure,” Bataille sets the “principle of loss”, of “unconditional expenditure,” against “the economic principle of balanced accounts” which is the mask underwhich so-called proper society runs its shell game, it depredations. Bataille divides society into two parts:
The first […] is represented by the use of the minimum necessary for the conservation of life and the continuation of the individuals’ produtive activity in a given society […] The second part is represented by the so-called unproductive expenditures: luxury, mourning, war, cults, the construction of sumptuary monuments, games, spectacles, arts, perverse sexual activity (i.e. deflected by its genital finality)— […] It is necessary to preserve the word ‘expenditure’ for these unproductive forms. 118.
In fact, if the latest economic machinations of Wall Street and their like world wide make anything apparent, it’s that vast expenditures, wastes, and depredations underwrite the so called economic, rational, linear thinking of rational man, that traders were blindly investing other people’s money in trades they didn’t event understand, that computer programs were crashing economies, that the so called ‘continuation of the invidividuals productive activity’ is actually massive expenditure and that the damage and the strafing is of course erratically distributed, written on our bodies as surely as capitalistic and nationalistic prerogatives were written on the bodies of mtuating rice hoppers. So what kind of bug-life are we enjoying? What kind of genres are produced by our damaged mitochondria, our hyperdeathcycles? What kind of transcription errors? What kind of mutant forms?
8. With Bataille and bugs as my model, I reject the so-called economy of corporate time, capitalist time, so called ‘linear’ time, triumphalist time, which is a golden lie anyway, and instead I recognize this tide of shit and waste, I recognize that that is where I live, if I live, on bug time, on bug time; in Indiana, in the necropastoral; I have no interest in myths of posterity, in a secured future, in the supposed future of literature or humans or anything else; the way I’m writing now is disposable; in disposible media and unsturdy genres; but it’s the most important thing in my milisecond life; that’s why I want to be wear my grave clothes now, ceremental, distressed, and yes, bug-eaten, moths in my hair, Miss Death-in-life, like PJ Harvey in her Mercury clothes, mercury poisoned, one part Miss Havisham, one part Gregor Samsa, with chitinous extensions shoving out from her brain through her cranium, her dura mater (tough mother), her pia mater (her little mother), her arachnoid mater (spider mother). Stabat, mater, my black pincers stabbed you in the eye, and now I’ll plant my eggs there, time flowing backwards, you carry the eggs again for me. My eyesight has been going for a long time, and now my hearing is going, I wear vinyl in my eyes and poisonous metals and plastic in my ears, I eat men like air, I make no sense, my senses are compounded now like debt. I open up sweater to the air, I open up my ribcage to bugtime; I always already. All time is past time; You don’t get a choice, you’re being poisoned too, experimented on, you and me and your kids and my twin. I hold metals in my palm that I know are toxic, I hold them in my ear, I talk into them, and so do my kids. And they talk back, my metals. They lace a riddle into my bones, my matter, my brain. They cross my dura mater, my tough mother. They feedback, like a bugged telephone. Like a bug.
9. In the contemporary Korean poet Kim Hyesoon’s poem ‘The Road to Kimp’O Landfill,’ the speaker is like a bug with hair for a chitinous exoskeleton, attempting to refuse “the names etched onto my hair that grows daily.” But this waste environment cannot be shed—it is everywhere, around and in the speaker’s body:
Hair fell profusely
I kissed in a place where garbage came down like rain
I kissed where I vomited all night long
Every time I sang vomit flew in
I turned the garbage bins upside down in my room
and had morning sickness, then had a smoke
My poetry books burned
Three hundred million babies were born
One hundred million of the young and old died
In this spasming apartment/compartment of profusion and limitation, hair/garbage/chitin comes down like rain, song flies out of the poet’s mouth and vomit flies in, exudation and innundation form the logic of this planet. Poison is always gathered back to the bug-poet herself, what leaves her voice as art-song re-gathers in her mouth as vomit, in her room as garbage. Her poetry books are destroyed, and a hypergeneration of ‘babies’ are flung outward and collapse back as another hypergeneration of dead. This pattern of outward flinging and collapse continues; ‘black plastic bags flew higher than a flock of sparrows’, “A busboy at the brightlit lit Motel Rose/threw out a millions of sperm every night”. Finally, From the forest, mosquitoes swarmed
And dug into my scrawny caved-in chest.
Born in the 20th century, I was on my way
to die in the 21st century.
10. The speaker is invested, then animated by her infestation; she goes on bugtime, succombs to the black hair and the names etched there. The speaker is a corpse, with a caved-in, bug infested chest, but its not the end of the story. In her own hypergeneration, she has a future: but not a humanist future. Instead of a vista of progress, the future is a funeral cortege, a black tunnel to die in.
11. Yet the bugtime, the corpse time, the Necropastoral also makes art: It animates a corpse. It makes the Rose cum. It animates a flock of black plastic bags that can fly higher than sparrows, vomit that flies like Song. The poem’s imagery is meticulously delivered, with none of the dry outlines of ‘craft’, it exhibits a fetishistic exactitude (which is also exacting),a hard, jewel like, clarity, beautiful and terrible.
12. So Walter Pater reorganizes capitalistic success around decadent brilliance in his famous maxim, “To burn always with this hard gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life.” Any suicidal moth would support that as its dusty dressing gown went up in flame. So would Miss Havisham, lighting up like her own hymen-parade, her own white bug infested wedding slice.
13. As her body, its dress and veil became united in a flexing, gyrating, necropastoral field, as her decayed flesh arrived at its decadence and fell away, as her matter became reanimated by active, insectoidal life, she would say:
14. Go for bug time. Shit silk.