Archive for August, 2012

Danielle Pafunda on Dracula

by on Aug.03, 2012

We’ve been talking quite a bit about horror movies and Dracula recently, so it’s fitting that Danielle talks about Dracula in a splendid interview about her new book Man Hater with Andy Fitch:

I love teaching Dracula, when you get all the students in a room and talk about it, and try to piece together what Dracula is from this wild, contradictory set of characteristics. He becomes a lizard or wolf or man in a straw boater. This shape-shifting draws us into the vampire myth. But something really interesting about vampire mythology is that it’s all about siring. Here we have a body, coded male, that gives birth on its own, right? This male vampire will bite somebody’s neck, feed them blood, and suddenly you’ve got a new vampire. Its body morphs in ways that traditionally female bodies have. It performs tasks coded feminine. If we look at the evolutional of the Byronic vampire, up to the Edward Cullen kind of vampire, these are complicated developments in which he’s simultaneously a grotesque body then a static, granite, beautiful, unaging body. In those mythologies the male body takes on aspects of the female body, appropriating them, while the female gets cut out of the process. I had gotten this grant to do vampire research, and bought all of the Angel series. At one point in Angel a vampire gets knocked up and has a baby and sacrifices herself for the baby to survive. And I was pregnant when watching this, freaky in all sorts of ways. But I became interested in how the sexiness of vampires (particularly the contemporary vampire) cuts out motherhood, which then gets reintroduced by shows like this. Or by Stephanie Meyer creating this really gruesome, out-of-hand book for the Twilight series. Bella’s going to give birth to this monster baby that rips apart her placenta and almost kills her. In very strange ways these mythic, mutable vampire bodies connect with the mother-body, which always had been a site of the monstrous and grotesque. As I worked with Mommy V, I wondered, what if she controls this morphing? What woman will she choose to be? Which body will she wear? We both have some agency over this, as women, and lack a lot of agency in it. When we’re talking about things like, even fashion or makeup, or how much control you have over shape and size of your body, or what happens when another human might grow in there, there are ways in which we exercise agency; there are ways in which we reify a lot of things that harm us. Still sometimes you can use that agency to subvert a bit. And she’s not supposed to be any more consistent than any of us. Sometimes she’ll behave in ways that don’t seem particularly feminist. Other times she’s a badass feminist warrior.

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What is a "hipster aesthetic"?

by on Aug.02, 2012

One piece of rhetoric that pops up a lot (I’ve written about it in the past) is the “hipster” charge. The other day someone referred to “hipster shock poetry” as being the opposite of honest, sincere poetry for example. One of my problems with this charge is that it is seldom if ever elaborated on. What does it mean? Who is a hipster poet?

The other day I read this post by Sean Bishop (via big, which is one of the first times I’ve actually seen someone venture to expand on what the hipster charge entails and identify who it applies to:

#8: Fence Books. At the risk of alienating myself from this press entirely, the way I feel about Fence’s cover designs is roughly the way I feel about many of the poets they publish: they remain on the vanguard of a hipster aesthetic, but in a way that will probably seem quaint in five or six years—the press seems doomed to re-design and re-brand on a very fast cycle… they’ll continue to be successful, I think, and to stay on the vanguard, but only as long as they can maintain the energy of reinvention. Like Black Ocean and Octopus, most recently Fence has favored loud, two-or-three-color covers, and like Octopus sometimes I think their type choices are unfortunate. For instance, I do like Joyelle McSweeney, and I’m excited to read her new book, but that titling and those graffitiesque drips remind me a bit too much of Urban Outfitters.

I’m glad Bishop actually bothered to define this charge a bit.

In this blog post, and in many other instances, it does seem to have to do with “vanguardism”. That is to say, it’s not “avant-garde,” in the sense of the established, sanctioned “Official Experimental Verse Culture” (ie language poetry and its descendants); that is to say, it does not aim to be of the future, to be important, to make literary history; it is not invested in reproducing itself. It’s a counterfeit avant-gardism (perhaps Rather it is of its moment for a brief time (5 or 6 years) and is “doomed” to become quaint, to become kitsch.

And as we know from Daniel Tiffany’s writing on kitsch, kitsch is “excessively beautiful.” Charges of “hipster” poetry tends to imply a sense of excess; and excess suggests lack of Taste. Someone with Taste knows when to stop, how to moderate, how to contain “beauty.” The “hipster” lets the art become excessive, lets art become “graffitiesque” (ie when art takes over the space of the everyday).

Part of this excess seems to be that that the hipster – as in other hipster discourses – allows the art to take over their entire life; they become too concerned with how they look for example, what their beards look like. It’s like art takes over their entire life. I think we see this in this particular post with the reference to Urban Outfitters: poetry has become too much like clothes. It is not deep,important poetry, but frivolous poetry, poetry like clothing. Perhaps the kind of clothing with a book by Pierre Reverdy in its pocket (instead of a heart beating in the body). The UO-reference also seems to connote a kind of luxury, which in turn is often used to connote wastefulness, a choice of art over “real life.”

One interesting part about Bishop’s article is that it’s fundamentally tasteless because it’s about judging the books by its covers – ie it’s already a kind of “hipster” rhetoric! In other words, Bishop cares too much about the surface, treats poetry too much like clothing. And it’s perhaps out of sensing this dichotomy that Bishop takes on the tone of a superior judge and arbiter of Taste: and as a judge, it seems he finds fault with just about all the presses he also likes. By judging the covers, he is essentially dooming himself to a tasteless hipster-pose, and must therefore criticize all the designs in order to maintain his own position as a Man of Taste, as opposed to a Hipster of Excess.

One last thing. I wonder: Is it Fence people talk about when they talk about “hipster” poetry? If so, all of the poets or some of the poets? “Hipster” is one of those terms like “surrealism” that tends to be trotted out again and again, but seldom defined. So that’s what I’m getting at here.

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Nathalie Djurberg's Parade

by on Aug.01, 2012

Thomas Micchelli has an interesting essay about Nathalie Djurberg’s exhibit “The Parade,” now up at the New Museum in NYC:

Surrealism, like “dreamlike,” has become a meaningless catchall for anything transgressive or eerie. True surrealism, however, is shocking in its familiarity — the obsessions and cruelties played out in Djurberg’s films are the cravings we necessarily but too often unsuccessfully repress in order to carry on with our alleged civilization. The only difference between us and the images of Djurberg’s “Parade” is that they are closer to the mud than we prefer to believe we are. Their transgression is in their distillation of the everyday.

I wrote the post “Necropastoral Parades” about the show after I saw it in Mpls a while back:

As in Joyelle’s necropastoral, it seems the plague is a subtext: art running like Artaud’s subterrenean plague. In the most upsetting piece, the one in which the “sons” torture their purple mother, the sons are wearing plague masks, but it doesn’t protect them against art – and it certainly doesn’t protect their mother… This art plague animates the entire collection into a spasmy, jerky “parade” that ultimately leads to the grotesque, materially occult moment of the last video, where the white man seems both corpse and patient, ravished or saved by the bird of paradise.

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Leong on Gherasim Luca

by on Aug.01, 2012

Michael Leong has written a terrific article about Romanian-born surrealist Gherasim Luca. Here’s the beginning:

Considered through Deleuze and Guattari’s somewhat idiosyncratic interpretive lenses, Ghérasim Luca is a minor writer — minor in the sense that he relentlessly pushes language toward its limits, that he deterritorializes it, that he transmutes it from a mere instrument of representation into an extreme style of intensities. This is to say that Luca should not be deemed “minor” in any canonical sense — quite the opposite in fact — for within Deleuze and Guattari’s system of thought, to be called minor is an honorific of the highest order. This is also to say that Luca should be recognized, once and for all, as a figure on par with the other so-called “minor” auteurs within Deleuze and Guattari’s pantheon: Kafka, Beckett, Joyce, Pasolini, and Godard (see, for example, A Thousand Plateaus and Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature). In Two Regimes of Madness, Deleuze has claimed in no uncertain terms, “[o]ur greatest poet in French is Gherasim Luca — of course, he is from Romania. Luca knows how to stammer not just words, but language itself; he invented it.” In a U.S. context, Luca remains obscure. He was, for example, recently featured in the laconically titled blog Writers No One Reads. And while seven impressive poems from Hero-Limit (translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain) appeared in Poetry International 15/16 (2010), a journal based at San Diego State University, his name was deemed not enough of a selling point to make the issue’s front cover (which lists 29 other contributing writers from America and abroad). Now that several of Luca’s key texts — The Passive Vampire, Inventor of Love, and Self-Shadowing Prey — are available in English, it is time that we begin to appreciate his accomplishments as one of the most brilliant and provocative poet-theorists of the European avant-garde.

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Pillars of Truth

by on Aug.01, 2012

The web site Big Other asked me to write about 50 Pillars of Greatness, so I wrote something that may have 50 titles in it or maybe more or less (I kind of ran out of steam after a few…). Anyway, here’s an excerpt:


I think of going to a performance by “Blackie,” an improvisational band, in the basement of the Speedboat Gallery in St Paul with a friend. There were more people in the band than in the audience. We sat on a flea-ridden couch. The many instruments made a ruckus and a man dressed up as a typical all-American boy in drag (baseball hat, preppy clothes) yelled “We’re in Spokane! We’re in Spokane” and filmed himself while writhing around on the ground. It was like watchng someone masturbating in a hotel room: I felt filthy with Art. Afterwards my friend and I got in the bathtub, as if to get rid of the filth. After a while I realized that the water had gotten cold because I saw my friend shivering, he had goose-skin. Art is like sperm, as Artaud realized a long time ago, in the greatest poetry for the 20th century: “Sperm is not urination but a being who always toward a being advances to toerrfy it with itself.” Or: (continue reading…)

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