Puke Silk: Rihanna and Kim Hyesoon

by on Dec.07, 2011

As readers of this blog may know, one of my favorite poets is Kim Hyesoon and one of my favorite pop singers is Rihanna. They are very different, but they also have some things in common – the way the body seems traversed by media, causing vomiting and inhaling, singing and eating of a kind of volatile mediumicity. Instead of interiority, you have this media that traverses the body.

This post is an ars poetica written while wearing green earphones and tracing burn marks on my skin.

For me the key moment in Rihanna’s new video comes at 4:03:

There she vomits out some kind of purple foam. This comes as the culmination of the nauseating montage of drug-taking and nauseating euro dance music. It seems genre conventions are driven to a point where the video convulses the medium out of itself, out of the “medium’s” (Rihanna’s) mouth. One of the things I like about Rihanna’s videos is the way they way her body seems constantly “corrupted” by media, never self-contained, always shot through by colors, by drugs, by special effects. Things move through her.

She is a “loser” in that she can’t even shoplift correctly (she starts to fuck and waste the products) -she’s wasteful, all expenditure. But she’s also a very powerful loser: she throws a dart at the wall and a house collapses, an atom bomb goes off.

This all remind me of Joyelle’s post from a long time ago about a “body possessed by media” in discussing Fi Jae Lee’s work:

The Korean artist Fi Jae Lee’s work operates in this zone of contamination, inflammation and metasization. Her work is multimedia, but with none of the technophilic, flow-chartish nicety and expertise that term has begun to imply. There are too many media here, too many, even, for the multimedia environment of the Internet—her website has too many images to get a sense of the whole body of work; so much text crowds the text window that the scrollbars must be constantly manipulated to bring more into view; on my screen the crucial scrollbars are occluded. As for her art work itself, it involves sculpture, painting, installation, monologues, her own body and hair, the performance of rituals. As much as they are brimming over with color, texture, scale, activity and sensation, they are also lousy with text, text which is a bad fit for the artwork, in that it seems to occupy a testy, inflamed adjacency.


Fi Jae Lee is Kim Hyesoon’s daughter, and KH’s poetry is populated by bodies that seem similar to Rihanna’s: traversed by media, they become the volatile point where genres, time, space and relations are disoriented.

One of my favorite poems in her new book All the Garbage of the World, Unite! (trans by Don Me Choi)is “Silk Road” (It’s so awesome I will now transcribe the whole damned thing):

Silk Road

I paid a visit to my fever during my break

Here I carried a baby on my back and kisskissed it
As the flesh scent that smelled like gourd flower slowly ripened
a message intermittently arrived saying that my suffering was boiling in that place
all alone, covered by the stench of urine and feces under the scorching sun
I who have concealed that place am going inside it
like a camel that pantspants showing all of its gums
Suddenly the fever came for me and pounded my insides and left
leaving a few words on a thin piece of silk that could melt
but later…… later…… as I ripened to mush
Out of the blue, after many decades, I went to visit my fever

In the desert the crazy sun
like the terribleterrible hydrogen bomb that is still going off
after it exploded in the year of my birth
pours out the shards that still glow from red to dark
I have never once received the touch of the rainwater
The old camel was carrying me up the black hill
where the rocks that had broken into pointed bits of quartz were piled up
I who have broken out in red spots
between the layers of fine silk
The white twigs that the camel had no choice but to chew
had thorns as thick as my fingers
and blood gushed out nonstop from the camel’s mouth
I couldn’t believe there could be such a place filled only with suffering
My daughter said that inside the mirage she saw
a Buddha that had attained nirvana
stretched out on its side inside a temple
but I had to swallow the tall deep-blue waves
that kept coming up through my throat
Every time I swallowed the waves, the red sand twister whirled inside me

There was a child who couldn’t eat and sleep crying on the bed in the emergency room
The child was so bandaged there wasn’t any opening for the needle, the tranquilizer and the mother called out the child’s name nonstop, 24 hours a day
Yuni, Yuni, trying to pull the child’s name from its body

After I got back from the desert I was lying on the bed in the emergency room overcome with fever and I stared at my camel that was still climbing the rocky black hill
I’m here, yet I watch the dirty camel climb the Flaming Mountains by itself
I tell the camel as I shudder, You go there and I’ll go here, then at some point
we’ll meet again at a pond near the sky
Inside my sleep, feverish, I gulpgulp down the blue mirage on my own

In her introduction to the book, Kim writes:

The ether of a poem, the emptiness, the poesy exists inside the movement of language. The trace of the movement can only be drawn as a formless form, like the way our brain activities reveal themselves as waves, the way electric currents flow between you and me. I’ll call such a wave motion the “moving dot.”

This “moving dot” of poetry is like the body posssessed by media (currents): it is both a very specific dot (which suggests something being filled in, there is no space in a dot, an emptiness (which suggest space, though empty) and also containing a “maze” among other things – it is a dot that explodes when subjected to the currency of media. It is a “hopeless place”, a poem that explodes and implodes, that convulses.

In this poem I love the way the speaker wants to go into her “fever” – a spot that explodes, a poem. But before she can even make it inside of this dot, this fever, the body of the speaker begins to be possessed by the kind of media saturation emblematized by the fever: She carries a baby on her back instead of in her belly, “flesh scent” becomes a “gourd” smell, the scent becomes a “message,” words begin to stutterstutter, and then instead of the speaker making it into the dot, the fever come inside of her, tearing her up inside her body and leaving a thin piece of silk, the foam-vomit, the body turned artificial, a message from the fever.

The result of this harrowing experience is anachronism. All this time seems to pass in no time, and when all that time’s passed, she’s back to the beginning, she decides – as if no time had passed – to visit her fever.

but later…… later…… as I ripened to mush
Out of the blue, after many decades, I went to visit my fever

And the result is similar: we have the distortion, the turning the body into silk media. The camel comes back. The body is harrowed resulting in “fine silk” (silk road is of course a kind of media emblem too: the luxurious material that led to the creation of a whole “road” through the world).

Bu this time her daughter has a vision of Buddha and she seems to give birth to “Yoni” a child conceived by a body possessed by media, thus a body with language (“Yoni”) attached to it.

And this time, the distinction between inside/outside is totally obliterated. The fever takes her to the hospital but even the hospital cannot maintain an “inside” as the camel comes out of her art and blows up the hospital with its contradictory both “black hill” and “Flaming Mountain.”

The poem ends with the poet trying to bring the fever back inside the dot (“inside my sleep”) by eating the “mirage.” But obviously the poem is what gives the speaker life, it is thus impossible to bring the mirages inside, they are far too transversing. She vomits out the purple-foam poem.

Also: Like Rihanna, the Kim Hyesoon’s anachronistic “birth” (it keeps happening, it’s an origin that keeps being replicated) results in a hydrogen bomb that stutters/repeats (terribleterrible).

Also, I wrote this about Kim and Camille Rose Garcia a while back:

…the drips also seem a parody of Jackson Pollock’s drip-paintings: instead of his icons of authenticity, strewn violently across the canvas, Garcia’s drips are stylized, complete with outline. And this leads me to how I read Garcia’s work: not only as environmentalist allegories, but also as headless allegories about the saturation of art. This hyper-stylized “brushstroke,” the dripping, represents art as media, which moves through everything—bodies, nature, the canvas itself.

2 comments for this entry:
  1. don mee

    Thanks for this fantastic reading of “Silk Road.”

  2. James Pate

    On a recent 2 day road trip, I heard this song from Rihanna constantly, and thought it was absolutely amazing. It stayed in my head night and day, like the shadow talked about in the lyrics. The video, which I hadn’t seen until now, is great too. Between this and Melancholia, it’s like two cheers for the dark sublime!