On Murdering the Prime Minister: A Few More Thoughts About Johan Jönson, Reinfeldt and Bataille

by on May.14, 2012

I wanted to add a few comments to my own initial post about Johan Jönson’s “class hatred” and to Jiyoon’s comparison of Jönson and Bartleby the Scrivener.

One of main arguments of Liljestrand’s attack is that Jönson replicates in some way Leon Larsson’s heated Marxist rhetoric from the beginning of the 20th century, but as Liljestrand also notes there’s a big difference: While Larsson’s lyric seems a part of a revolution, Jönson’s poetry is most definitely defeated. Johan’s speaker is largely impotent, powerless. The flows of capital moves through his permeable body (“with.away.in” is the title of Jönson’s most recent book). His very physical body is coming apart (his penis is “herpes-bubbling”). The whole anxiety that Liljestrand ascribes to Jönson – that he’s part of a current version of the moment that generated all kinds of revolutions and military oppressions is thus undermined.

As Jiyoon notes, Jönson’s poetry is not an instrument, it’s something more like Bartleby the Scrivener in its refusal to participate. But that’s not all that different from Larsson: whose revolutionary fervor Liljestrand interprets as pathological (he’s a pyromaniac, not a true revolutionary). Larsson’s poems precisely did not cause any class warfare, something Liljestrand finds redeeming about him (Larsson grew up and worked more constructively toward a wonderful future.)

In difference to Bartleby, Jönson’s speaker does have to do the work. And does work. Carrying shit out of an old person’s home for example (in Collobert Orbital). So, he does to what he’s supposed to, but what this generates is a kind of hatred. And it’s this combination of unconstructive hatred that Liljestrand objects to the most. He wants to classify it as a destructive, bomb-throwing hatred because Johan imagines killing the prime minister; he can make sense of the hatred if he can classify it as old-fashion “class hatred” (and thus incriminate leftist politics). But as in Edelman’s “No Future,” this is the jouissance of not-future-thinking, the death drive that is not put to work for a better tomorrow. And it’s this uselessness of Jönson’s poetry that seems to scare Liljebrand the most.

Here’s the bit of med.bort.in that imagines the death of the prime minister:

can’t be helped.
really want.
Reinfeld. Borg.
Bildt. Björklund.
Olofsson. Littorin. (especially now.
when the sobbing horn-dog.
who blames his children.
and who just supported the forced-labor line.
for everyone. without exception.
collected a grotesquely large severance payment.)
all of those.
names. will be exchanged.
will be killed. in some way.
i want to experience. the flash-like feeling.
of satisfied revenge.
of first-class entertainment. despite.
the fatal counterproductivity.
i want to see it. experience it. the invisible bullet.
from a totally unexpected direction. in a live broadcast.
how the skull. is smashed. apart. kind of explodes.
form within. and then. the surprised.
slightly sorrowful expression.
Reinfeldt’s normal expression.
slightly sorrowful. at the same time in some way sympathetic.
and undeniably superior. but now.
completely irreversibly. and.
then the crowd’s screaming. of horror.
and delight. and pleasure.
the same as when.
Palme was killed. when.
any undeniably incarnated
Leviathanian prince figure at all.
is dissolved or falls.

To reduce this piece to class-hatred is pretty reductive. It is both impossible and inevitable that these people are killed “in some way.” It’s “counterproductive” and necessary. It’s not clear where the bullet comes from, or who fires it (the head seems to “kind of explode” as if the bullet came from within). The key is that Jönson wants to “experience” it. He wants to see it on a live broadcast – ie not in person, he wants to see it *as art*. This is art: how the authoritative body comes apart, how the prince is sacrificed.

In this sacrifical sense, this poem strikes me as Bataillean: bodies are sacrificed, torn apart to wreck our sense of autonomy, our sense of being our own bodies, complete in ourselves. Unlike the rightwing ministers who want to enforce “labor” – utilitarian principles – Jönson promotes an idea of sacrifice and art, the body coming apart, unproductive violence.

Bataille argues that literature “has received sacrifice as a legacy: at the start, this longing to lose, to lose ourselves and to look death in the face, found in the ritual of sacrifice a satisfaction it still gets from the reading of novels… In a sense, sacrifice was a novel, a fictional tale illustrated in a bloody manner. A sacrifice is no less fictional than a novel; it is not a truly dangerous, or culpable, killing; it is not a crime but rather the enactment of one; it is a game.” That is to say, Jönson’s assassination fantasy is both real and unreal – it’s art.

And here I think of the death-drops again:

Jönson’s hatred/jouissance is magnificent! It goes everywhere: not just against the prime minister and upper class people, but against himself and his own family and the entire city of Stockholm. His hatred is amazingly mobile. His hatred is art. An aggressively impotent art, an physical body shot through by media, by flows of capital. It’s a world penetrated by violence. It is not a world saved by violence (as in Larsson’s fantasy).

It’s notable that Liljestrand picks the moment about smearing a “herpes-bubbling cock” on the upper class family’s towels, “also the children’s” as a key moment, because I think he’s right. This is a key moment. Jönson’s speaker does not “reproduce” (though elsewhere in the poem he does have literal children, but I’m talking metaphorically here) but smears disease on another family’s towels. He does not have sperm, he has “herpes” “bubbling” out of his penis.

Again Jönson makes me think about Lee Edelman’s “No Future”: he’s the no-future figure who threatens reproduction, who does not want to reproduce, does not believe in the future. And his hatred – which refuses these things – takes him into a realm of jouissance… Or as I described it elsewhere, a “creepy uncle.” (Perhaps this is why people like to compare his writing to “death metal.”) But it doesn’t have the liberatory/redemptive feeling that “jouissance” often has: his poetry is relentless and fascinating but it will not save us. Too often “jouissance” is used as a synonym for pleasure – but it’s not pleasure, not about the “wonders of the body”, it’s a kind of pleasure that can’t be separate from pain and horror.

And it makes me think about what Danielle wrote at Poets.Org the other day about Mina Loy:

As Loy does, many of the poets here make a whole out of oppositions and fragments, wonder why giving life doesn’t result in death, speak both inside and beyond the body, double bodies, cross supposedly impermeable boundaries, elucidate by excess, rupture syntax, and hijack diction.

Every review of Johan’s work mentions that it’s “exhausting.” In part that’s because the new book is 1243 pages. But, as I wrote a while back, in difference to Kenny Goldsmith nice clean “thinkership”, Johan’s book demands to be READ. It demands a tortured readership. It demands that you enter into its magnificent zone of hatred. It’s not about distancing or anti-absorption; not about keeping a safe distance.

You have to read this damned book.

And it’s exhausting.

But not as exhausting as it must have been to write it!

Here’s a section I think from “After Work Schedule” his second most recent book (a mere 800 pages if I remember correctly) where he reads about the difference between the dead and the living. Often in Jönson’s work, the narrator seems undead, zombie-like. The body is broken down, the actions of the body are broken down. Everything become mechanized, undead, repetitive.

This physical exhaustion of the writing/read is also what the books are about. In some ways we could see it as “termite art” that eats its way through source text after source text with no regard to harmony and overall “message.” But again, “termite” art seems too American, too heroic, too oppositional: Jönson seems compelled by his hatred, by capitalism, by the flows of media to keep writing.

Like with Kim (see comment to previous post) when I read Liljestrand’s attack, one word that stuck out to me was the word “pose.” Johan supposedly engaged in a “chic leftist pose.” This book which is so exhausting and physical, written by a guy who’s been writing these “bricks” for twenty years is somehow engaged in a “pose,” a word I associate with static, with artifice, with striking a pose for the camera. And perhaps this is where the article makes perfect sense to me: how you can take the termite-like energies of such an authorship and turn it into a pose. I think he’s saying: It’s Art, not proper politics. Johan’s entire body is Art, is “excess, rupture.”

4 comments for this entry:
  1. adam strauss

    I havn’t read this work, and it seems the critique being responded to doesn’t touch this and, of course, I have no idea what’s going on in these pages but: is there any “old” people are gross pieces of ugly shit vibe going on? I’m guessing no but if there were that seems to me more notable than being disatisfied one ain’t the “real revolution.” I love the way it’s common to cite the word revolution like it’s a cool dynamic and not utterly friggin’ singeing/scary when they do occur. I mean I admire many revolutions but it’s very much a distanced take; as much as they may create solidarity, it seems one cld feel freaked and alienated too! Not a lovely soul loaf moment but rather when, to crib from JM’s delicious Whitman tweaking, the soul is in “lock and load” mode.

  2. Johannes

    I should have made clear: those names are the names of the conservative prime minister and members of his cabinet. It is interesting to view this as Whitmanesque in some way, but definitely a Whitman on political violence.


  3. Michael Peverett

    Semi-coincidentally, I and Google Translate have just cooked up a crude version of the pig-farming episode in JJ’s Restaktivitet (2007) that reinforces some of the things you say about his writing: penetrated by violence, physical exhaustion, defeatism.


  4. Johannes

    thats an amazing sequencesuggesting kind of a tie to ariana reines’ the cow. johannnes