by Johannes Goransson on Dec.11, 2011
Recently I participated in a questionaire about “experimental poetry” on the web site HTML Giant, organized by Christopher Higgs. One of the questions was: “Is experimental writing political”? This was my reply:
“… Part of the politics of art is in its mimicry; it makes doubles, counterfeits, fakes. It makes a costume drama in which categories are tested (so much of the rhetoric I can’t stand – rigor, form, value – seems aimed at limiting that costume). Part of the politics of Art is that it makes a wound in our culture. The key is not to try to close that wound. The key is to remain homeless.
Artifice is associated with Evil. I’m just now as I type this watching “The Lion King” with my daughter and her cousin. My daughter wants to be batman and her cousin wants to be a princess. But this movie suggests that artifice is unnatural, associated with Death and Evil. The original Lion King appears at the beginning of the movie in a position of authority to present his son while the soundtrack sings “cycle of life.” The royal, authoritative order is appears as “natural,” based on what Lee Edelman has called “reproductive futurism.” The evil uncle on the other hand speaks with an accent, acts feminine, has weird green eyes and scars, and, in the midst of a spectacular pageant, organizing his unnatural union with the deathy hyenas (he has no children of his own) into a fascist rally. This counterfeit king deceives with language and fictions. Why do kids have to be taught the dangers of Art? Why was Michael Jackson’s face a bigger crime than his overdose (which was almost seen as a side-effect of a greater problem: his artifice)?
It seems that Art always interrupts the idea of “community.” The natural relations between people. The unmediated relations. In the “feministe” blog post about “ruin porn” that Adam linked to in the comment section to Joyelle’s picture of ruined South Bend, there was the same rhetoric: real, moral action consists of being a Human as part of a Community, being Useful. The foreigner, the tourist, the Artist makes “Porn” (something immoral, pathological, useless exploitative) out of “Reality.”
As another model of community I like to think of Andy Warhol’s Factory. Gone was “natural” relations, usefulness, progress. Instead: Artifice, art-making, drag queens, masquerades, “the superhuman crew.” BTW, in “Like a Rolling Stone,” Warhol is the “diplomat” (foreigner, not a true citizen, a visitor), who carries on his shoulder a “siamese cat” – icon of Alice in Wonderland, orientalism, decadence – and steals from the addressee “everything he could steal” (which seems to mean “everything” but also is an odd phrase). But more importantly, in a world of “desolation row” everything seems “like a rolling stone” – that is everything is “like”, everything is art. The Factory is not a community with its “reproductive futurism” and morality and hierarchical order; but it does “reproduce” in the form of images. It’s a site of sheer iconophilia. And the entire place was – as you can see form the picture above – covered in silver. The very space was a space of silver, of sugar, of artifice.
As I wrote in my recent post about Mick Jagger, Warhol doesn’t have lineage, doesn’t have a “community,” but has an “orbit” where causality, narrative, influence etc is corrupted. Instead of being influenced, being taught how to be major artists, we enter an orbit of transvesticism.
”When you want to be like something, it means you really love it. When you want to be like a rock, you really love that rock. I love plastic dolls.” (Andy Warhol)
Perhaps the ultimate creepy uncle I can think of is Finland Swedish poet Gunnar Björling (1887-1960) and his cadre of younger men, including most prominently the brilliant Russian-born Henry Parland (1908-1930). Björling is often called “the Gertrude Stein of Scandinavia” for his weird poems, poems that caused him general dislike, even among the radical Scandinavian modernists. When, rather late in his life, he began to get some recognition in the form of a small prize from a Finland Swedish literary organization, one board member resigned, claiming that Björling didn’t “write in Swedish,” but in “Björlingish.” We published Björling’s last book, “You go the words” with Action Books (in translation of Finland Swede Fredrik Hertzberg), and I translated a section from Where I know that you (from I think 1935 or so). Here’s one of the simpler stanzas:
Never saw I
as in the morning
I always loved this stanza because of its seeming contradiction. In a poem where the addressee is almost always talked about as distant and probably dead, almost always in seeming ekphrasis, as if the you was an art object, this is a very immediate moment. The encounter is so immediate that – going from “Never” in all its glorious impossibility and abstraction – we end up with I/you. No words separate them. We might expect “saw” but that would create too much distance between the two pronouns. One might read this as a desire to go beyond “seeing” – beyond looking, beyond tourism, to the real encounter – but it’s precisely through looking, through seeing one word on top of the other that we see the intimacy of this encounter. Ie, it’s through that pathological visuality that we can have an encounter that in ART exceeds the intensity of the “real relations” that is so often stressed in ideas of community.
Surprisingly little in Björling criticism has focused on the fact that he was gay (was even put under house arrest for this). Or that he was the ultimate “creepy uncle” – he was known to gather groups of young students into his “orbit.” That meant drinking and carousing but it also meant, very importantly, that they would come over to his shabby house, his very depleted “factory,” and write his poetry for him. Well, he would write pages and pages of pretty romantic lyric streams of poetry, which he would then have these young men erase. According to Henry Parland’s brother (who like Henry was a member of this orbit) Björling would get very impatient if they were too worshipful of his texts, but would get very pleased if they would basically erase his entire page. During World War II his house got mistakenly bombed but Bjorling published the nearly completely incinerated poems as a book (of love poems).
The most interesting poet to come out of this “orbit” was of course Parland, whose first book, Idealrealisation, I translated as “Ideals Clearance” a few years ago (Ugly Duckling published it). Swedish critics have until recently completely ignored the strange bond between these two, even though the letters saved in the Parland archives suggest a very close intimacy (I’m pretty sure they fucked, but that may be a bias of our age/culture), even though, as one critic recently figured out, Parland’s manuscript of poetry was typed out on Bjorling’s typewriter, even though it was Bjorling’s status as notorious creepy uncle that appears to have been one of the key reasons that Parland’s parents sent him away to live with his real uncle in Lithuania (an illfated decision since Henry got Scarlet Fever there and died at 22), even though his parents blamed Bjorling for causing their son to write such terrible poetry – ie Parland was in Bjorling’s “orbit” in a way that made their bodies, technology and most important ART intersect in a very mobile, morality-clashing way. They were a heterotopia of sorts but were not contained (the way insane people were contained in asylums), even during “house arrest,” Bjorling became a contaminant figure in Swedish poetry.
Parland himself in one of the last letters wrote to his friend Sven Grönvall, “I’m always a foreigner, no matter where I go.” Ie he’s never part of the kind of moral community of “real people” that is so often valorized in discussions about poetry. Instead his sociality was one of art/reproduction. He called himself a “dadaist,” though most dada poetry bored him, because he saw dada as modernity itself. His letters to Grönvall are full of statemetns like: I drove a car today, it was very Dada.
Here’s a part of an essay I published in a recent book of essays about Parland:
For Parland, Dada meant the embrace of this age, something his fellow Finland Swedish modernists had trouble doing. Parland seems to have embraced it both in his art and his life: his poetry consists of snapshots and visits to the movies; his novel Sönder is written in the form of photography; his letters are largely montages of modern life; and for someone who lived a life as brief as his, he left behind an astonishing number of photographs – largely of himself and various women friends. As Michael North argues in Camera Works, his study of avant-gardism of this era, the feeling that photography had already made reality into an artwork led to the promulgation of the “readymade” artwork, an avant-garde artwork that imitated the ceaseless circulation of the commodity economy. The idea of the readymade is prevalent in Parland’s commodity-based poetry. But, importantly, Parland frequently views himself through the same mechanical lens, portraying himself as image, “sak,” a stand-in for modernity, a “readymade.”
Here’s a famous piece from Ideals Clearance:
it was a human being,
but it was her clothes,
and I didn’t know
that that’s the same thing
and that clothes can be very beautiful.
One can see the similarity to the Bjorling “poem” but there’s also a big difference: “indifferance” as Parland calls it elsewhere. Bjorling is always heated, passionate, yearning; Parland in his poems tend to be indifferent, or excited in a shallow kind of way. However, these affects are not as diametrically opposed as they may seem: they are exactly the roles the two play in their correspondences to each other.