Archive for May, 2012

Visionary Kitsch Pt. 2: Surrealism and its Queer Assemblages in Roberto Piva's Paranóia

by on May.16, 2012

[Here’s more of my essay on concretism, surrealism, and kitsch in the work of Roberto Piva, with translations at the bottom.  Surrealists, Brazilianists, and Deleuzians chime in por favor!]

The second edition of Piva's first book, feat. photographs by Wesley Duke Lee.

Inspired by Piva’s experiences as a young man in what would only later become one of the world’s most populous megalopolises, Paranóia catalogues the frenetic pulse of São Paulo through a lyric as collisive as Benjamin’s dream kitsch.  If Saul Friendlander describes kitsch paradoxically as “an antimodern face of modernity” to which we might oppose concretism’s ‘hidden face’ (as per Perloff), Paranóia could be said to deploy the characteristics of kitsch precisely in order to unravel narratives of progress (30).  By engaging the deterritorializing strategies of accumulation, repetition, citation, and imitation, Piva’s poetry rejects more than the critical distance championed by concretists in the service of supposedly authentic innovation.  Read as a Deleuzian enactment of sensation rather than a self-reflexive critique of signification, the text also defies the left-wing Marxist utopianism that originally undergirded the poetics of concretism and its offshoots in praxism and neoconcretism.

Piva’s speaker, incidentally, embodies just the Benjaminian flâneur whom Greenberg associates with surrealism, and whose aimless roaming would become increasingly hampered by São Paulo’s densification and modernization.  As Paranóia forebodingly registers a rapid urban growth and development that would continue throughout the 60’s well into the present, its apocalyptic and homoerotic poems constitute queer assemblages of affects—or intensities—whose becomings are nothing if not spatially and temporally unstable.  In so doing, Paranóia presents us with a visionary kitsch that collapses the demarcations of art/life and self/other as well as those of past, present, and future.  The ontological reorderings of kitsch in Piva’s poetry thus materialize as a “cacophony of informational flows, energetic intensities, bodies, and practices that undermine coherent identity” (Puar 222). (continue reading…)

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The Art of Blurry Bodies: Mikael Wiehe's "The Girl and the Raven"

by on May.15, 2012

So I’m writing this memoir which is about emigration but it’s also a critical book about aesthetics and it’s also about the body, especially the body under duress, coming apart, being tortured, and the aesthetics and erotics of such images.


My recent writing about Thåström and Imperiet obviously comes out of my writing of this memoir. And I’m going to be even more embarrassing today and write about one of my favorite songs from childhood, Mikael Wiehe’s “The Girl and the Raven” (1981).

I sat the other day and read my newspaper
a day like so many before.
And I thought about all the dreams I’ve dreamt
that have all ended one after the other.

Then I saw an image of a girl
with a bullet-wounded raven in her arms
she runs through the forest
as fast as she can

She runs with fluttering locks of hair
she runs on scrawny (“taniga”) legs
and she begs and pleads and she hopes and believes
that it’s not too late

The girls is so small and her hair is so light
and her cheeks are so flickering red
the raven is clumsy and cawing (“kraxande”) black
and in a moment it will be totally dead
(continue reading…)

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in pursuit of art’s big elephant (aase berg, theater, sarah kane, and art’s big elephants)

by on May.15, 2012

Hi. The following started out as a response to Johannes’s post “Take your goddamn class hatred and shove it up your ass”: DN attacks Johan Jönson. But mutated. Became big. An elephant.

“When I pulled the trigger I did not hear the bang or feel the kick – one never does when a shot goes home – but I heard the devilish roar of glee that went up from the crowd. In that instant, in too short a time, one would have thought, even for the bullet to get there, a mysterious, terrible change had come over the elephant.”

-George Orwell, Shooting An Elephant

“The elephant’s age had led to its adoption by our town a year earlier. When financial problems caused the little private zoo on the edge of town to close its doors, a wildlife dealer found places for other animals in the zoos throughout the country. But all the zoos had plenty of elephants, apparently, and not one of them was willing to take in a feeble old thing that looked as if it might die of a heart attack at any moment.”

-Haruki Murakami, The Elephant Vanishes


Some time ago I happened upon Aase Berg’s DN article “Hatet mot teatern gnager i mig” (“The/My hatred for theater nags in me”, nags or bites or tears) by chance, through a response to the article, by Leif Zern, also in DN: “Hatet håller teatern vid liv” (“the hatred keeps theater alive”). The soundbite being that Aase Berg, apparently, hates theater.

She writes, in the beginning of the article:

“This is probably not the right forum to write something like this, but OK: I don’t understand theater. Yes, it has happened that I have used the word “hate”. I have said exactly this in conversations with decently culture-interested people: “I hate theater.””

(Should note that in many instances “culture” is probably more accurately translated as “art”.)

Leif Zern, in turn, informs us that he’s not upset by the hatred, but surprised that a writer and literature critic seems unaware of the history of theater, which sets him up nicely to proceed to educate Berg, and anyone else reading in, about this history. There is a bit on Plato, some Euripides and Christianity in the middle ages, with the obligatory Strindberg thrown in. (continue reading…)

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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 (“” 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 that imagines the death of the prime minister:

can’t be helped.
really want. (continue reading…)

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Mom Day: A Double Encountering with Forslar Fett / Transfer Fat

by on May.13, 2012

A Double Encountering with Forslar Fett (trans.fer fat Johannes Gorranson from the Aase Berg)

by the Yeasty Beasts ( Feng Carrie Sun Lorig Chen)


-Hal (5)

In this rear-view, a conversation without facing, a pain cattle lorig and I, an immigratingrendel, will grind our “human cylindars” (a la Danielle Pafunda) up to the transfer fat and descriptfat will transfer through our fear, Hal living inside all of us, afraid shapes, fear being the first.
Hal: hal has a face that has been grim maced. he is a robot with a bruise drink. dashes grip to wire and dare god. dare god with fat.

7. Fordon: ForsakenHal the beginning of ignorant psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis be gan primordial stew died soon after flow fat.
7. Fordon: white machines have tender beast feet.  they further chest me. out through my back drops an idle paw, an idle jaw.

9. Unborn Fat: Not personification equal feeling the calm/caul what shapes us. Hal has no mother. My bellybutton has Hal.
9. Unborn Fat: dead lava. dead red tunnels filled with hares startling each other by slowly erupting quiver.

11. In the Hare Cosmos: Being born the ear of the Rabbit am always velve-teen and pray.
11. In the Hare Cosmos: a fish covered in lucky hare feet knocks into the water.

13. Let Time Rock: calm time is nutting but agriculture of skull shard.
13. Let Time Rock: the fat gets into the rocks. it swells into yeastie beasts.

i’m your mommal

(continue reading…)

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On Human Cylinders: The Pregnant Poet at

by on May.11, 2012

My essay from 2010’s American Poet is now up on The Academy of American Poets site. I talk about bodies, pregnancy, vulnerability, intimacy, nerves, shame, brutal lighting–my usual haunts. Via Dodie Bellamy (guest appearance by *Barf’s* Eileen Myles & piñata), Aase Berg, Maxine Chernoff, Tory Dent, Toi Derricotte, Lara Glenum, Susan Howe (Mary Rowlandson!), Hiromi Ito, Mina Loy, Marianne Moore, Alice Notley, D.A. Powell, Elaine Scarry (paired w/ Eugen Baer’s bizarre *Medical Semiotics*, I’ll never stop doing that!), Anne Sexton, Cathy Wagner, Rebecca Wolff (re: Not for Mothers Only), Rachel Zucker, etc.

Though pregnancy and motherhood are hardly synonymous (all modes of child-getting to become mother, all modes of identity in the wake of the body occupied), I think it’s been posted in time for the weekend. Happy Mama Day if it applies to you & yours in any fashion, Montevidayans! Happy Body Day is Everyday if you’ve got one! (Did anyone else read Hilary Mantel’s hospital Diary in the LRB?)

Here’s a bit of my essay where I survey some of our Action compadres:

Along with the image of the mother as empty vessel or compassionate servant, we find the gentle mother, the soft and nurturing hand, Mother Nature, the sheltering bosom. When a mother is cruel to a child, an innocent, a cute animal, the world turns inside out. In the popular imagination, mothers who commit acts of cruelty are “monsters.” Berg’s use of deer, foxes, squirrels, and guinea pigs, as Lara Glenum points out:

radically upends the notion that women…are free from sadistic compulsion and cruelty…The preoccupation…with all things cute, perhaps, speaks not to their attraction to things that mirror their own innocence but to things that mirror their own abjection and fear of further deformity; it reflects the degree to which they have already found themselves stripped of significant social agency.

Here are the adorable deformed animals in Berg’s “In the Heart of Guinea Pig Darkness”:

The gorge is swarming with guinea pigs. They crawl on each other like spiders…The guinea pigs are swarming and crawling around on the gigantic guinea-pig queen’s sensitive, swollen egg-white body. She gives birth and groans, she moans and bleeds. Everywhere the membranes, everywhere their bloated puff bellies. We run with the heart in the tunnel, you and I, while nervous systems break down behind us, while the amniotic fluid surges in the pumping, pulsing chasm.

Unsurprisingly, the spooky multiplicity of selves doesn’t disappear in the postpartum. Berg’s Transfer Fat fuses cute and massive animals in an effort to fathom the disturbingly illogical postpartum experience of being devoured by a darling creature:

the hare skindry the whale heavy of the bag’s fatmilk

Just as these humanoid animals disrupt our sense of body and boundary, the mangled and spliced language intensifies our sense of unheimlich.

Lara Glenum’s own Maximum Gaga takes on the pathology of heterosexual unions and their inevitable offspring with a ferocious grin:

Mino feeds at one end of me
The Normopath at the other…

I’m half-in
of my blubber suit

Two feeding tubes dangling from my chest…
The animals my skin could not contain
are clanging through the hospital.

In the portion of the book that reads as a play, “Meat Out of the Eater,” the character of Queen Naked Mole Rat is staged thusly:

[… The Queen sits on the couch, her ribcage cranked open to
display nine tea-cups dangling on hooks. In each tea-cup, baby rats are
continually born and tumble out of her body to scavenge on the floor.]

It is worth noting that in the real world of naked mole rats, a queen might have up to twenty-eight babies in a litter, and that one human baby can often feel like twenty-eight.

A new translation of Japanese radical feminist poet Ito Hiromi titled Killing Kanoko contains the poem by the same name, a blunt exploration of infanticide:

Kanoko eats my time
Kanoko pilfers my nutrients
Kanoko threatens my appetite
Kanoko pulls out my hair
Kanoko forces me to deal with all her shit
I want to get rid of Kanoko
I want to get rid of filthy little Kanoko
I want to get rid of or kill Kanoko who bites off my nipples
I want to get rid of or kill Kanoko
Before she spills my blood
I have committed infanticide

Ito’s other works, transgressive and shamanistic, explore the dark, absurd, and glorious potentials of the female body, its sexuality and reproduction, resituating these, as Jerome Rothenberg says “somewhere between bliss & nightmare.”

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Johan the Scrivener: Jiyoon Lee on the Pathologies of Johan Jönson

by on May.10, 2012

I have read Collobert Orbital (too bad I don’t have the book with me at this moment; I have to rely on my memory) & I am re-reading Bartleby the Scrivener by Melville. This post prompts me to think about the oppressive presence of operative system(s) in these two works: the power of Conveyor’s Belt/Production Line.
In Collobert Orbital, there are production lines that cannot be disobeyed, despite the fact that bodies are piling up in its production, filling up the space of the book. The production lines also embody themselves through the dash “—” which prompts the readers’ eyes to move along(along with the bodies, becoming part of the line-up); you can’t stop. you have to keep moving. to the future. to the production. What was really interesting about the dashes is that not only they are embodiment of the Conveyor’s Belt, the all-too-powerful production logic, they also seem to be NOISE that disrupts the smoothness of the poetry and language. (at this moment I also think of Juan Gelman’s slashes “/”, its physical presence on the page and the disruptive nature; Is it trauma that produces these un-readable, grammatical-system-defying-use of physical lines?) (continue reading…)

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"Take your goddamn class hatred and shove it up your ass": DN attacks Johan Jönson

by on May.10, 2012

It seems that the Swedish conservative press is increasingly assuming the culture-war tactics of US politics: going after artists and “the cultural elite” in order to smear the left as weirdos and fakers, and thus position themselves as the sensible middle ground. It happened before with this article accusing the art elite of being communists (just as the right is constantly attacking English Departments for being leftist), and it happened with the hysteria-mongering attacks on the anti-genital-mutilation cake performance. As in American instances, not only do these right-wing opinionators misread Art, they also misread history.

The other day, Dagens Nyheter (the equivalent of USA Today or something like that) published a really weird attack on Swedish poet Johan Jönson (whose book Collobert Orbital which I translated was published by Displaced Press a couple of years ago), accusing Johnson of re-igniting the “perverse temptations of massmurder.” It ends with the title of this post: “Take your goddamn class hatred and shove it up your ass.”
(continue reading…)

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The Spitter (or Snow White, by Camille Rose Garcia)

by on May.10, 2012

The Spitter (or, She Deserves It)

This Is What I Will Not Fucking Do

Goodbye All U Rodents

My Cunt Is Now In The Hands Of The Zombie Hoardes & Their Pop-up Pain Boutiques



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Visionary Kitsch: Concretism vs. Surrealism in Brazil

by on May.09, 2012

[Montevidayans, here is the beginning of an essay I wrote for skool that owes much to Johannes, Daniel Tiffany, and discussions about kitsch on this blog that I’ve only come to fully grasp recently.  The essay goes on to analyze Roberto Piva’s amazing Paranóia, which I plan to post more about later.]

Roberto Piva, "Beat-surrealist" shaman extraordinaire.

In light of the prominence of internationally recognized figures such as Octávio Paz, Pablo Neruda, César Vallejo, and Aimé Cesaire, it is undeniable that surrealism has long enjoyed a rich and fruitful trajectory in Latin American poetry written in Spanish, French, and even Vallejo’s native Quechua[1].  As soon as one turns to the literature of Portuguese-speaking Brazil, however, the influence of André Breton and countless writers and artists worldwide seems either lacking or, upon further consideration, mysteriously obfuscated.  Surrealism, if we are to believe the gatekeepers of Brazilian poetry, simply found little to no cultural relevance in South America’s largest and most populous nation.  According to concretist poet Haroldo de Campos, “South American Spanish poetry was very much influenced by Surrealism, whereas in Brazil [there is] no surrealism at all” (Jackson 175).  Beyond merely reflecting attitudes within national literary discourse, surrealism’s supposed insignificance in Brazil has also been invoked in recent discussions about American poetry and the international avant-garde.  In Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century, Marjorie Perloff attests to the irrelevance of the aesthetic among Brazilian literati when she quotes de Campos’ brother Augusto[2]:  “Brazil never had surrealism because the whole country is surrealist” (Perloff 67).

For Perloff and the de Campos brothers, incidentally, this would-be absence of an enduring and far-reaching aesthetic is hardly lamentable.  As a global manifestation of the avant-garde, surrealism proved to be “distraction rather than breakthrough” according to the Brazilian concretist poets (67).  Unlike concretism, which Perloff herself considers an “arrière-garde” movement that exemplifies Marx’s evocation of a “‘hidden face of modernity,’” surrealism purportedly failed to engage “the transformation of materiality itself” (53, 68).  Surrealists, in this sense, were misguided in their pretext of rupturing from tradition and aiming for novel artistic expression; their focus on dreams, fantasy, figurality, the unconscious, and political revolution led to innovation that was merely “thematic rather than formal or material” (83).  (continue reading…)

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The Embarrassment of Art: The Gurlesque, Thåström, Fröding, Aase Berg

by on May.08, 2012

Kim Göransson wrote an interesting comment to Feng’s post about Skin Horses:

Interestingly, I went looking for the book some odd years after having read it and couldn’t find it at first, because it had been tucked away in the Young Adult section. I wonder if this was an intended location, or if the gurlesque in general, with its fairy tale angst and glitter often finds itself in this kind of sub-category of “real” literature? Something we”re eventually suppose to grow out of?
I don’t know. The Metamorphosis would make good gurlesque.
I like the stein quote in that it suggests a purging of emotion by way of concrete imagery located in the “real” world but, by way of obsessive repetition, becomes fake, unreal, artificial.

I’m interested in this sense of embarrassment. Certainly I think there’s something insistently embarrassing about the gurlesque; but embarrassment is also the key way that Taste is established: it’s embarrassing to like works of art that are tasteless. That’s how anti-kitsch rhetoric works: liking kitsch not only shows that you have not become an adult, grown up, but also that you lack “class” in every sense of that word, you lack education. You haven’t learned not to take such pleasure in art: in the “too much” of art. You have not sworn off the pleasures of “too much” imagery, or the use of the word “I” etc.

This made me think about a post I wrote about Joakim Thåström (an embarrassing subject matter for me to write about! To keep writing about! I’m obsessed with my own childhood!) a while back:
(continue reading…)

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Love makes Real, Velve-teen Rabbits

by on May.07, 2012

Hi everyone, I haven’t posted in a long while because I have been feeling dead inside, but the conversation about Skin Horse and the Velveteen Rabbit, which I just read for the first time today, has made something come alive in me… or I should say, is helping me become Real.

This is more about the Velveteen Rabbit’s Skin Horse because my Skin Horse is still in the mail, on its way to me.

I’ve got a very soft spot for robots and puppets and all manner of the uncanny, almost-human, probably because I personally feel only almost-human most of the time, in terms of “legitimacy” or whatever it is that makes people inflated and not deflated. On the other hand, the monstrous and the rejected, while not quite human, are just as often, if not simultaneously, too human. They feel too much pain. Not enough thickness to the skin.

Re-quoting the Velveteen Rabbit from the comments:

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”


In order to be Real, one can’t be too fragile (break easily) or too offensive (sharp edges). Is the Young Girl a velveteen animal too fragile and offensive to be Real? I’m thinking about Kate Durbin’s performance as Girl, Kate Zambreno’s Green Girl, and the innumerable tumblr girls who bleed their wrists and glitter gifs.

The ever expanding period of pubescence (when will it end?) seems like a waiting-to-become… the offensive gaudiness of girl plus kitsch plus desire for love, “excessive beauty” that sheds, regenerates, and sheds is a continual skinning under the Gaze, some kind of Gaze which will not make her real, (because it is an objectifying or restrictive one), adult or patriarchal or tumblr-al, I don’t know.

“love might be real”

When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.
(continue reading…)

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Skinned Horses: The Ring, Olivia Cronk and Swedish Poetry

by on May.06, 2012

What lipstick lights.
Through a branch, one creeped to scream.
The pond was a bad window. A turkey frighted.
The ring pulsed maria
all over
a crystal ball flyer in my bag.
I thought I could find
some Boschists out back.

I couldn’t sleep last night so I took the opportunity to re-read Olivia Cronk’s absolutely stunning collection Skin Horse, and then I got back to it a little while ago when Joyelle took the demonic daughters to a birthday party. In light of my recent kvetchings about “context,” I started thinking about Skin Horse and connections to other books, and all my examples were Swedish. So I thought I would scribble down a few notes about that: How again context does not need to be something settling, lineage-making.

What I love about this book is this sense of a murder mystery hidden beneath layers and layers of textures (“crisp muslin,” “lace”) and media (corroded video, mirrors). A part of this textural/mediumistic ambience is the gaps and erasures in the text. Unlike so many erasures, here the gaps seem really important: as if the secret to the poems could be in those gaps. I really feel the gaps reading the text. These gaps may be erased to maintain the secret or from a sense of delapitation: the books seems to take place in an old house. There is something inherently anachronistic about the poems: the secrets but also the nearly Victorian sensibility.

A little how Anna Morgan appears like a Wisconsin Death Trip/Victorian era woman in the cursed video of The Ring (even though she’s from the late 1960s):

Another thing: Skin Horse is definitely not “elliptical” poem, it’s more like “riddle” poetry, with a big splash of horror (the grotesque tends to come in at the end an unravel the poem). If the “elliptical poets” strike me as largely an attempt to maintain Taste, this is poetry that embraces the kitsch of horror – if, as Daniel Tiffany put it in his forthcoming book Silver Proxy, you realize that kitsch means “excessive beauty.” It’s too much, Olivia!
(continue reading…)

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