Archive for April, 2012

A Thought About Reviews

by on Apr.20, 2012

Today I thought about this (and I’ve thought about this off and on for some time): what is the role of what one might call “artistic context” in reviews? Or blurbs for that matter. When I write them I tend to want to find connections between different writers and artists (hopefully across media, genres etc) because I am interested in seeing how different people work on concepts and ideas, and also because if the reader of the review likes one of the artists, they’re likely to want to search out the others. So for example in my last post I made a connection between Sara Tuss Efrik and Nathalie Djurberg.Or when I reviewed Kate Durbin’s Ravenous Audience for Raintaxi a while back, I referred to the gurlesque, Plath. Judy Grahn and the Rodarte designers.(Though it should be said that someone complained on facebook that I was being a snoozy academic pedant in the Durbin review.)

But it seems this is a no-no in a lot of reviewing and blurbing. Is this because that would mean that the writer was not absolutely original? In fact, I more often find reviews stating: this personal is absolutely original. It oftens seems almost defensive to me: here’s this wild book but don’t you try to expect anything more in this vein. It’s often about a daring writer/artist who explores aesthetic zones that are not usually represented in big presses, or university presses, or not reviewed. Often I come upon these statements of absolute originality for writers I like, and I think, “no actually I can think of a dozen people who are working a similar terrain.” That doesn’t mean that the person in question isn’t original or good; it just means that I can think of people who are similar.

Someone who does do quite a bit of contextual type of readings is Steve Burt (the elliptical poets, the new thing poets etc). Often I find those articles quite perceptive, and they are also articles that tend to generate discussion. My problem with his articles is that they sometimes claim to take into account everything, to capture all of poetry. In some sense that’s why I suppose they generate so much discussion (otherwise people might not care), but there’s also something stabilizing about it, and perhaps this is why people shy away from such readings. Certainly, Steve has received a lot of criticism for his articles.

But mostly this kind of approach seems to be used negatively: This is the heroic poet who is not writing poetry like that wave of soft surrealist (or something like that), read a blurb on a recent book (I liked the book, not the blurb). The genuine writer is one, the one who is part of a orbit of writers is just a follower, imitator, kitsch.

Anybody have any thoughts about this?

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Adventures with weird rabbits and dismemberments: Sara Tuss Efrik's deformation zone

by on Apr.19, 2012

I’ve posted a bit about Joyelle’s and my booklet, Deformation Zone, which Ugly Duckling published a couple of months ago. It’s partially about translation, but it’s also what happens to our other ideas about art when we change the way we think about translation. Obviously translation (and the dreaded “paraphrase”) is a very important part of how poetry is discussed in the US. It is afterall the most famous definition of poetry – poetry is that which is lost in translation. Translation produces kitsch – it’s exotic, it’s unreliable, it’s an attack on the lineages of the individual talents, it’s excess, it produces and reproduces like doll-factories, like Jack Smith photographs. Joyelle’s essay in the booklet asks why we can’t re-think translation as people use it in media theory, where it’s constantly and necessarily in use, and from there she goes on to talk about Matthew Barney and Fi-Jae Lee.

So I’d like to use the deformation zones as a way to talk about Sara Tuss Efrik, one of the most interesting young writers in Sweden. Efrik is a writer and performance artist (and sometime writer for Montevidayo and sometime editor of Action, Yes). Her first novel is getting published this fall. I first came in contact with her when she wrote a kind of review of my book Pilot. The review wasn’t exactly a review as an amazing poem/story in and of itself, a kind of rewriting of my poems that treats through a deformation zone. And since then I’ve read a lot of her writings, including the novel.

Efrik is involved in a performance group called Teater Mutation (Theater Mutation). Here’s a trailer for their piece “Styck Mord” (“Dismemberment”):

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Dream Pulitzer: Fiction Prize Still Up for Grabs

by on Apr.17, 2012

Ok, so the Pulitzer board couldn’t get it together and award a prize in Fiction. That means our Spectral Committee for Special Emergenc(i)es can put our queer shoulders to the wheel and award it to who/whatever we want. I already call Dennis Cooper and Zebra Katz feat. Njena Redfoxxx. So those three get the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Who/what else should get one? Please nominate away. Every nominee gets the prize.


For his beauty and awesomeness, Wendelinus Hamutenya, Mr. Gay Namibia, also receives the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this year.

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Emeli Theander

by on Apr.17, 2012

I’ve been super busy but I’ve been meaning to write some reviews of recent books, using the “deformation zone” as a model – and in particular sometime Montevidayoan Sara Tuss Efrik’s “automania” “To Chin-Chin and Grandmother’s Painting”:

To Chin-Chin and Grandmother’s Paintings

I am the Twin Girl who breeds new degenerate species. I happen to be the Siamese Girl who consists of different parts that come loose. The Puzzle Animals escape from me. I am the Twin Girl or the Siamese Girl. It is impossible to magnify me. I am two girls or many. I have been doubled in all eternity, been polished aglow. I have a necklace around my own throat. I am We…

I don’t really have time to write this post right now except to say that it’s a kind of writing through of one of Sara’s grandmother’s kitschy paintings and the “Chin Chin” paintings of the Berlin-based artist Emeli Theander. You can see more of the series here.

Here’s an example:

Lots of interesting stuff on her web site.

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by on Apr.16, 2012

Claude Cahun! (nee Lucy Renée Mathilde Schwob, 1894-1954)

“I Am In Training! Don’t Kiss Me!”

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Perilous Modernity: A Look at (Dan Hoy’s) Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

by on Apr.16, 2012

1. The Power Ballad of the Übermensch

2001: A Space Odyssey has been interpreted variously, but it’s obvious that Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra in an important intertext. Of course, Zarathustra poses its own difficulties if we wish to use it as any sort of clue to the film. While the philosophy in Zarathustra has been reduced to a simple formula (ape >> “man” >> Übermensch) – and the film certainly accommodates this codified reading – we simply cannot disregard the literary quirks of Nietzsche’s text. Any reading of Zarathustra must take into account its “modern blend of the sublime and the ridiculous” (to use the words of one of Nietzsche’s translators Walter Kaufmann) and Zarathustra’s proclivity to burst into song at any given moment.

Music plays an important role in Kubrick’s film, but then, so does interior design. In the middle section, Kubrick relies on the visual forms of modernism to underscore the pitiable state of “man.” Initially, we are invited by the lilting triple beat of “The Blue Danube” to marvel at the comfort, efficiency, and beauty of futurist space travel, but modernity’s liquid diet soon turns sour as secretive and overbearing regimes assert their influence and machines turn against the humans they’re supposed to protect.

In one version of the future, we might all become like these Russians: too modern.

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by on Apr.15, 2012

After a turn thru Bradley Soileau, Japanese Vogue, and trangender models (and a Nota Bene), it’s time for the playaz (specifically, Rick Day’s series, Players)! I like how these men look totally undone by their props. So much for the invisibility of the phallic order!

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Shame Is An Autoimmune Disorder

by on Apr.15, 2012


I’ve been thinking about Julie Carr’s lovely meditation at Poetry Foundation for National Poetry Month “Shame and the Shape of the I.” I’m missing the Shape of the ‘I’ conference that Julie and her colleague John-Michael Rivera are hosting in Boulder this weekend. It looks amazing, important, but I’m missing it because I’m too sick. When I called Friday morning to explain that I was too sick to participate, I burst into tears, which is something I rarely do in public and only in acute moments of shame. My baroque leaky-vessel impulses take over and it’s mascara to my chin. I’m surprised I don’t purposefully pee myself in some sort of Jacobean-drama-meets-early-Wes-Craven freak out. Maybe I’m just working up to it.

The conference organizers didn’t make me cry; that was my own doing. They were kind and understanding, and respectful. Sometimes people speak to those of us in what Susan Sontag calls “the kingdom of illness” as though we’re naughty children in need of indulgence. I’ve been called a delicate flower, no kidding. Perfectly thoughtful people might not get that bodies have different registers and reactions to sick, that some bodies have different stakes, and that some of us are more than willing (or all too often required) to work at the far end of our material limitations whenever it’s possible, so if we’re saying we can’t, we really can’t. Rarer times, like yesterday, people are aware and thoughtful. And that’s an immense relief.

In her Poetry Foundation post, Julie says:

[W]hen I think about shame, which Sedgwick called “the affect that most defines the space where a sense of self will develop,” I think how the need to protect the self (against attacks or rejections real or imagined) creates boundaries, helps us to distinguish (as Sedgwick puts it) between figure and ground.

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What Hannah Weiner Means to Me

by on Apr.14, 2012


Not too long ago, I woke up with a sentence in my head:

“Where is Art Going and Where has it Been?”

As a very conventionally educated poet and literary type, I had been ‘raised up’ to believe that artistic creation started and ended with the artist. What was in the classical period referred to as ‘the Muse’ was transformed in the Renaissance to ‘Genius’, the special property of an extraspecial individual. The invidual Genius owned his Genius. He was a master; he created masterpieces; he was surely not visited by lady spectres who planted ideas in his head (except metaphorically speaking, in order to shore up his role as the individual male inheritor of classical Greats). Genius was a sort of tautological current; it was God-given but thereafter was the personal property of the Genius.

Well, ok.  But somewhere in my 20s I realized that this personal-property-genius model was actually a way to set up an artistic 1% and conserve resources there. That is, if we allow that only individuals of Genius possess Genius, and there is naturally a limited amount of Genius in the world, and all the awards, lucky breaks, publictions, etc are awarded by merit, then they should go to those Geniuses, and too bad for the rest of us. Genius and native ‘Merit’ began to seem like codewords to me, or like a forcefield—if you subscribed to them, those notions blocked you from seeing the fact that the literary and art worlds are like any other institutions, based on certain people holding on to certain powers while hiding behind such supposedly great watchwords as ‘Tradition’, ‘Standards’, ‘Genius’.  Words like ‘Genius’, which themselves suggested private ownership of the indelible property of Art, actually were a way to control who controlled Art’s resources.

That’s why it’s been very important to me to discover artists like Hannah Weiner. I think Hannah Weiner was amazingly great in all respects. I love her voice (both on the page, in video, and in audio). I love her bonkers early work with its corny puns and its loopy generosity. In the early performance pieces she made herself a host for Art—she would host both the Coast Guard and the down town arty types to perform her Code Poems, or she would invite the public to her place of business (designing underwear) or sell hotdogs as an edible pun on her name. She would also host forms and genres and media—codes, flags, horns, lights, invitation cards, underwear, a vacuum, police tape, etc. At such events, her own person became a site where all these different groups and media made contact and relayed energies and transformed each other—dots and bars became light, words became hotdogs, concept became performance, charisma (her own) became conviviality (of the group). And she never took these events too seriously, even though what she hosted was the most vital Art process of all– she channeled the eternal force of Art into material and into human temporality, made Art arrive and perform. Art comes to a human address. (continue reading…)

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Aira Book Club Part 4: Baroque Folds/Gay Ghosts

by on Apr.13, 2012

I’m struck by how much Ghosts fits the description of the Baroque as per Deleuze’s The Fold, not least of all because of how the apartment building of the former finds an architectural equivalent in the allegorical baroque house of the latter text.  If Aira’s ghosts hang out on rooftops and invite suicides, Deleuze reserves the top floor of Leibniz’s Baroque structure strictly for the soul, leaving materiality below it in the first floor:

A “closed private room, decorated with a drapery diversified by folds” is thus elevated over “common rooms, with several small openings” symbolic of the five senses.  As perceptual faculties, these openings allow “a correspondence and even a communication between the two levels, between the two labyrinths, between the pleats of matter and the folds in the soul.”  Here Deleuze poses a question that we might also ask of the mediating intensities roused in Ghosts:  “A fold between the two folds?”  That is, what are the ghosts if not vehicles of pure sensation, the zone of inseparability that folds souls and bodies into each other, that makes death visible and otherwise perceivable to living humans:

Absorbed by the sight of the ghosts, Patri had come almost too close to the edge.  When she realized this, she took a step back.  She observed them in the half-light, although they were a little too high, relative to her line of sight, for her to study them in detail.  She could tell that they were the same as ever; what had changed was the light.  She had never seen them so late in the day, not in summer.  The unreal look they had in the saturated light of siesta-time, at once so shocking and so reassuring, like idiotic bobbing toys, had evaporated in the dramatic half-light of evening.  They rose up in front of her quite slowly; but, given her previous experiences, Patri had reason to believe that their slowness was swarming with a variety of otherworldly speeds.  Seen from a right distance, what seemed almost as slow as the movement of a clock’s hand could turn out to be something more than mere high velocity; it could be the very flow of light or vision. (continue reading…)

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by on Apr.13, 2012

[Part of this post has been removed.]

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by on Apr.12, 2012

We’ve swerved from Bradley Soileau to Japanese Vogue–and now to the world’s top two transgender models, Lea T and Andrei Pejic!

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by on Apr.11, 2012

We started out the week with Bradley Soileau, and now we’re slithering along to a recent edition of Japanese VOGUE:

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