"The Adrenaline Blooms": Gaudy Possibilities #2 (The Patti Smith Orbit)

by on Jan.31, 2012

In his last post, Lucas invoked my previous post on “The Andy Warhol Orbit” and I responded with an anecdote about Patti Smith, which I had just heard on Swedish Radio. I heard this report about Patti Smith and how she had inspired a generation of female Swedish punk singers. In the show, this one woman recalls seeing Patti Smith in Stockholm in the late 1970s and talked about how it had inspired her. But what she talked about was not necessarily her music so much as what she wore, how she moved: the image she presented of herself. This inspired the Swedish woman to start her own punk band, imitating Smith’s image and imagery, the total effect of her image.

One thing that stuck out to me was that she said she had emulated Patti Smith in every way except her hairstyle, which she had taken from Mick Jagger. In context of my orbit post, this makes total sense: Having entered Andy Warhol’s orbit, Jagger developed the image of a kind of transvestite, something this Swedish musician picked up on.

If I remember her memoir Just Kids correctly, Patti Smith also talks about imitating Keith Richards when she gave herself her famous haircut (ie the Rolling Stones and Smith were both involved in the Warhol Orbit). And if there’s one thing that stood out to me in Just Kids, which talks about her life with the young Robert Maplethorpe, it is the importance of haircuts, clothes, of styles, of images. She finds a Baudelaire-like jacket in a thrift-store in New Jersey and as if magically, putting it on makes her a poet who has to move to New York. In one scene, she returns to hers and Maplethorpe’s apartment to find that he has remade it in a baroque fashion, in the process transforming himself into Genet. The body, the interior decoration (its ambience), the style of clothing as well as the act of painting, all contribute to the transformation. In another incident, Maplethorpe has to destroy a Blake print in the store where they work because even a reproduction of a Blake print seems to have magical, fetishistic qualities, and the way he does it seems important: first he hides it in his pants and then he tears it up and flushes it down in the toilet, invoking sexuality and the body in the destruction. There is a strong physical relationship to style, art and the body (the skin, the hair, the pores, the odors, the excretions) throughout.

I’m reading an article by Bill Brown (famous for his “thing theory”), in which he talks about how so many theories of modernity and postmodernity (Marx. Baudrillard, Debord etc) argue that modernity involves a kind of dematerialization of the world; and how many theories of modern media suggests that it’s media (photography, film etc) that causes this dematerialization:

When critics view media as a threat to materiality, they generally mean that our human experience of materiality has been compromised, and they thus extend paradigmatic claims about modernity, which tend to retroproject some prelapsarian intimacy with the real.

Bill Brown’s answer to this tendency is not to embrace simulacra but to think about the “phenomenon of materiality, or the materiality-effect.”

Brown notes that money has tended to be associated with this loss of realness: the commmodification of the world makes it less real; money works like photography! (And together they make kitsch: reproduced, cheapened by commerce.)

Patti Smith is quite invested in images – not just in her songs but images of her and photographs (ones she takes herself, or photographs others take of her, including the famous Maplethorpe photo on the cover of Horses). Her own songs are in some sense incredibly original,but they are often versions of other songs (“Gloria” fore example) or cannibalizations of other songs (or poems), for example the famous “Land” in which she both enters into Rimbaud’s orbit and does the Watuzi:

Johnny is attacked in a corridor (allegory of media) and out of his wound seems to come this hallucinatory “horses horses horses” which inspires (Madonna: “you can dance/for inspiration”) a series of ghostdance melee: you do the twist, the watuzi, the freaky-deaky.

The wounds leak Art, or as Aase Berg writes in Dark Matter: “the adrenaline blooms”:

The Cursed Part

The adrenaline blooms. The planets drift in a stressed twitches across the sky. One joint is bent the wrong way and bursts.

He carries a seed out of the skin where it bursts. It gnaws and wants to grow like a stem from a sore. A hummingbird in my hair and a butterfly in my skin folds. And fat roses unfold in layers. Where Alexander ties my movement to the place. He remains, my flesh can grow, add joint to joint. My arm can grow out of his flesh and we move out of the bodies’ eachother. There grows two joint-plants out on either end of nature.

The tentacle city glitters in a chain of streetlights and flicker globes. Where pinheads jump around and pick sticky pionees. But Saskia in silk sinks down in the Ylajali River’s skin-blue whirls. The moraine eels suck on her inflated arteries. Moraine eels in a wreath of unmentionable water angles…

The poem compares two “natural” things – the body and flowers – but the comparison makes both seem artificial; the poem stresses the physicality of artifice (as in Plath’s “Fever 103”, where Chinese lanterns mix with flowers and the speaker’s feverish body).

(Apologies that I keep using Dark Matter for my examples; I’m just finishing up my final drafting of this manuscript, which has taken me years to translate so I’m deep in its vision.)

In Patti Smith’s “orbit,” the poseurish “image” becomes the source not just of artistic authenticity but also of adrenaline, of physical dancing. The clothes suggest an embodiedness of Art. Art as both physical and reproduced, both fake and real. Art is both artifice and very intimate – it surrounds us like clothes, it’s our very hairstyle, our bodies.

Picking up on another related thread, kitsch is supposed to be art that is too sensual, too immediate (according to Kant, Greenberg etc). At the same time, Kitsch is fake, reproduced, mediated. At the same time Shoklovsky’s modern art makes “the stone stony” through estrangement, it creates immediacy through mediation (stoniness as a kind of inherent transvesticism of nature).

I won’t have an epiphany. I won’t come back together. Or I’ll have a shoddy epiphany. A hit epiphany. A puke epiphany. A rotten orchid for an epiphany. A stunt epiphany on a motorcycle. I’ll wear Liz Taylor’s wig.



There’s a connection to Zurita here: how he mediates/artifices the violence of the Pinochet government onto his own cheek, which results in him becoming a female saint (Joan of Arc, as well as “Rachel” and “superstar of Chile”): violence becomes art, body becomes art.

5 comments for this entry:
  1. James Pate

    Great post, Johannes…

    The Bill Brown article sounds great: I completely agree with him on the issue of the rhetoric of dematerialization…

    I can’t read Jameson for the same reason, that constant nostalgia for “realness,” this implicit notion that underlying our cheap postmodern age is a historical truth that has been lost to us (as seen in his incredibly reductive reading of Ragtime – the novel as not having access to the more authentic modes of historical recollection).

    But contra to Brown, I’m all for simulacra. I don’t think it needs to be embraced, exactly. It already is. As Foucault argued, that arrow has already been shot toward us.

    And Patti Smith…yes! Horse changed my life when I first heard it as a pre-teen. It’s the musical equivalent of a warm spring day, and a true twin to Rimbaud’s Illuminations (not that Perloff would ever have it so)…

    “Some misplaced Joan of Arc” indeed!


  2. Lara Glenum

    Love this, Johannka.

  3. Kent Johnson

    May I share this here, the suggestive connection being that Patti Smith was very much a cultural rebel in early stages of her art, and Johannes’s post concerns “Modern Art” and ends with a mention of Zurita’s art-guerrilla interventions: This today on the institution critique actions at MoMA, very remisniscent of the Croatoan actions at the Poetry Foundation, featured here at Montevidayo. MoMA even stole the group’s banners, just like the PF stole the CPC’s banners. Only difference is that MoMA, at least, gave the banners back.


  4. James Pate

    Really interesting connection, Kent.

    Brings to my mind too Jack Smith’s various protests against museums, his reason being that he thought such aggressive institutionalization locked art up, away from the messy public with their questionable tastes…

    And talking about orbits: Jack Smith was at Frank O’Hara’s funeral, taking pictures, and also an early supporter of Patti Smith’s poetry career, lending her a space for one of her first public performances…

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