by Johannes Goransson on Sep.04, 2012
The thing about all this talk about hipsters and/or kitsch is that it’s about art: all poetry can be kitsch (and is according to many people) and all poetry-writers can be viewed as hipsters. I’m not interested in pro- or anti-kitsch poetry, or anti-hipster or pro-hipster poetry. I am interested in dealing with kitsch in a way that doesn’t fall back on these binaries but I also don’t want to move beyond them (to some pleasant world of American Hybrid or whatever), I don’t want to remove this trouble, this anxiety that is part of Art; an anxiety about looking, about uselessness, about excess, about Art’s occult powers and its drug-like “influence” that may ruin our identities as good, stable, progressive subjects with agency. As I noted in my last post I want the forms to rub up against each other, to chafe, to spasm. I want that excessive “foreign body lodged in the overall system of art” to continue to friction in the “system,” to turn it into a horror movie, a B-movie, a “phantom pregnancy,” a spasming necropastoral, a “parapornography.”
One genre that is often compared or made synonymous with kitsch is pornography: Like kitsch it’s too much about affect, too much about effects, too immediate, not properly mediated etc. And most of all, it’s got the “frenzy of the visual.” I think maybe porn can be a way of thinking about kitsch. Or vice versa.
Just yesterday I read Carl Michael Edenborg’s “Manifesto of Parapornography.” I should mention that C-M runs the important Swedish press Vertigo, which publishes de Sade and Apollinaire as well as contemporary writers like Nikanor Teratologen and Dennis Cooper and Samuel Delaney. He was also once a member of the same Surrealist Group of Stockholm that Aase Berg used to be part of). In this manifesto Edenborg argues is a move away from the rhetoric of both “pro-pornography” and “anti-pornography,” the two prevalent stances on pornography in our “post-pornography” society.
Edenborg argues against the system underlying both anti- and pro-pornography:
According to both, pornography is devoted to men’s fantasies of omnipotence, of a limitless access to and power over women, to never having to take no for an answer. Over and over again, it reassures men that they are phallic. Men will not accept that the very fact that they require this reassurement shows that they are already castrated, because that would subvert their pleasure. Women, on the other hand, are expected to react in the opposite way to pornography: with loathing and disgust.
According to Edenborg: While the pro and the anti depend on uncovering/defending a secret/truth/genitals/interiority, parapornography rejects this model and instead creates something that Edenborg compares to “quantum mechanics”: it can “extract endless excitment from the same skin flap” and “the mucous membranes are prismatic.” Instead of exteriority/interiority we get an undulating figure that admits poisons, a necropastoral pornography of the “spasming membrane” (Joyelle’s quote). This is Edenborg’s list of qualities of Parapornography:
The infinity of revealing
The exploded affection theory
The critical will to power
The violent pollution
Protesology and displacement
One of my favorite part of the essay is when he discovers parapornography by going to a pornographic theater is Stockholm:
Before I began interesting myself in the history of pornography, I went occasionally to the movie theater Fenix on Drottninggatan in Stockholm. Most people went there to fondle themselves or be caressed by others. I went there because the place itself excited me.
Fenix was the last of Stockholm’s porn cinemas, housed in one of the oldest of the city’s operating movie theaters, built during World War I and in use ever since. When it finally closed down in the mid 1990’s and was converted into a makeup store, no one protested.
The salon was slim, with a aisle in the middle and with red vinyl seats. To the left of the screen hung a big, yellow clock, probably to assist guests who went there during lunch break keeping time. It was very dark.
Since Fenix showed only 35-millimeter celluloid films, all the movies were from the 1970s or early 1980s. The range, therefore, wasn’t marked by the new, less expensive porn films that dominated after the video and cable television revolution.
What did I experience? The first few minutes inside the theater was filled with a mixture of nervousness and excitement. The first images of bodily curves, undulating skin, sex organs that open and swell, and flows of liquids, the sounds of sighs and moans, all this made me determinately horny. This mechanical excitement is a good starting point, do not think otherwise.
After around five or ten minutes my reactions changed. There is a common idea that obscene works are boring. Pornography is monotonous. And indeed: the highly recognizable, repetitive images of traditional sexual actions soon failed to maintain my agitation. I basically only had one choice: to reach orgasm, or to drop the lust.
But this dropping-of-the-lust had its value. After, say, five minutes, the blood receded and the brain was no longer focused on traditional forms of lust. At that moment it was essential not to yawn and leave. On the contrary, right out of this bodily disappointment an entrance to another world opened up, an inhuman world determined by a non-Euclidean anatomy whose gravitational pull is poetry. I was no longer a desiring soul in an excited body, but was scattered in a multitude of erogenous sensibilities beyond the mind/body-dualism.
The moving images of bodies that rubbed against bodies broke away from the the games of identification and projection and moved into a new productivity. It was no longer his penis, her vagina, his sperm, her sighs, her breast, his buttocks. There were anemones, surfaces without inside, uneven condensations of information and time. They could be likened to abstract painting, but rather than abstract images they should be called surreal: they were more real than the homogeneous phantasms that usually accompanies the bloating of the sexual organs, the materials of pornography.
This part interests me for a number of reasons. First there is the importance of a kind of anachronistic atmosphere: he is excited by the atmosphere of the place as much as by the movies shown there, and that atmosphere is of an anachronistic movie theater, a place that is about to (or, from the point of view of the moment of writing the manifesto, has already been) torn down, and the movies are of an outdated media, an outdated style, a style that in that sense already foreground its medium and its style. Pornography is of course the genre where everything has to be removed; style is, as Whitman noted, a kind of veil over the true energy; and to bring it back to my last post about kitsch, Wordsworth rejected “poetic diction” precisely because it gets in the way with its “gross” “stimulants.” Pornography is of course in itself the most “gross stimulant” of any genre (the “frenzy of the visible” is the title of a famous book on porn).
There is at the heart (or undulation I should say) of Edenborg’s argument a sense of DECAY as being an important part of art, like Joyelle’s necropastoral, it’s a necrotic view of art. But it’s not decay into nothingness, but a decay into an atmosphere where the inside/outside of the “human” disappears, where we enter into a kind of “surrealist” zone where the body itself becomes much more mobile.
Edenborg’s reaction here reminds me a bit of something I wrote a while back: how a lot of “shocking poetry” which people love to say is not shocking is not interesting for its shock, but its post-shock-ness. I’m really interested what happens to the “shocking” images once they are no longer used for shock, when the shock decays; they become a bit like bodies that are no longer pornography; they become art, kitsch, inorganic, undulating.
And also, this undulating surface where genitals and various organs appear to be interchangeable remind me of fellow former member of the Stockholm Surrealist Group, Aase Berg’s Dark Matter (maybe because I’ve spent the last year translating it). This is from “Ampules from the Lust Garden of Suffering”:
We have to get into the plant in order to release the paroxysm. The hybrid’s soft gland-growth has grown an Indonesian jungle tree on the inside of the woman’s body cocoon. Deaf Saskia will cleave the crowds in dresses made from a carefully selected satin. Then she’ll be the optical illusion that will carry our red heat above the cities where the war is blossoming. Out of the core the velvet butterflies explode strewing contact across Kermadec and Ylajali.
That is what I think when the keel strokes across the deep grave’s ruin palace and colonies of moray eels and corals. Out of the gland-darkness rise the fumes of burnt vanilla and molten ambergris; purple acorn bolts and pulsars throb wildly against the machine’s bottom mill.
In Berg’s book, the body becomes a plant, oceanic, outer space, diseased, feverish, on drugs, hallucinating moving through these very spaces, spaces that invoke modern catastrophes, sci-fi, orientalism, horror movies and, yes, porn. It’s a kind of sci-fi parapornographic landscape.
This reminds me of the essay I wrote on the Gurlesque quite a while ago, where I talked about Dark Matter and some other contemporary writing (Chelsea Minnis, Dodie Bellamy, Lara Glenum etc) using Sontag’s description of Jack Smith’s Flaming Creature to suggest the way bodies become artistic zones where genitals become interchangeable.
Edenborg’s manifesto is not a simple new binary between para and post pornography. Some of the most interesting “parapornographic” texts are texts that start out as “anti-pornographic”. For example, he talks about Andrea Dworking, the supposed anti-pornographer, as a para-pornographer:
The one who strongest articulated and became a symbol of the antipornography movement’s rhetoric, programs, practice and feeling was Andrea Dworkin. But she can also be viewed as a parapornographic pioneer.
In 1979, Dworkin’s epochal book Pornography: Men Possessing Women was published. It devotes a chapter to the Marquis de Sade. Dworkin tells how she spent months of her life with a deep reading of the 18th century libertine’s texts and details the shocking effect. She represents herself as a martyr who voluntarily exposes herself to pornographic violence in order to help freeing women from it.
Dworkin portrays Sade as a misogynist, a women-torturing, women-killing criminal. She chooses not to focus on the male victims in his books or on the fact that anal sex with men was a fundamental part of his sex life. But despite the simplifications there is a remarkable similarity between her and Sade’s view of sexuality: both of them associate it with cruelty and pain.
By seriously accepting pornography’s darkest possibilities, Andrea Dworkin avoided the humanist blunder of postpornography: instead, she moved the pornographic dialectics a few points ahead, and by both affirming and denying the violence of pornography she reached new intensities. This is most obvious in her most widely read novel, Ice and Fire of 1986, with its depictions of young women’s drug use, whoring and partying in the 1960s New York. Dworkin understood pornography better than most pornographers and postpornographers. Her antipornographic furies, the agitated, violent rhetoric in her speeches and texts, points to parapornography. In this she has a relative in Valerie Solanas, whose SCUM Manifesto – through its hyperbolas, its exploded affection theory, its obsession with the mixture of mechanical and organic, its violent obscenity and pollution – is clearly parapornographic.
One of the most provoking aspects of the radical feminist antipornography movement is that its discourses do not always make a distinction between signified and signifier. In the early 1990’s, a house wall in Stockholm bore the graffiti “Porn is murder.” This is an example of how the difference between image and object can be removed. The drawing of a child who is being raped is seen as an abuse of real children; the massacred, ketchup-covered rubber doll in the splatter film Snuff actually is a murdered woman; the victims in Sade’s literary fantasies are abused and dead, and therefore these texts are a genuine cause of further rape and murder and ultimately to the destruction of all women.
In the pamphlet Letter From a War Zone (1987), Andrea Dworkin attacks those who claim that murders taking place in the movies should be seen as fictional, and she weighs what she sees as real murder against the refined abstractions of the freedom of expression, ” … dismemberment of the snuff film, the knife that cut men in pieces – those were only words. [—] We learned that the civil rights people didn’t give a damn about us, please: a woman is murdered, the murder is filmed in order to produce an orgasm, it’s only words, and they did not even care about it …
This part ties into something very near and dear to Montevidayo: discussion about art’s relationship to violence. I’ve noticed that a lot of people who want to dismiss Montevidayo seem troubled by our discussions of violence, and more particularly how we don’t “mediate” the violence, don’t favor a model of art as something that makes sense or critiques the violence, but instead draw connections between violence and art. These critics claim this is not moral, or not “complex,” or just plain gaudy and tasteless. It’s a “gross stimulant.” It’s “too much.” By which they mean, it’s tasteless.
By which they mean it’s immoral. By which they mean it’s a swan. Poisoned. Thrashing around in a trash can. Or my best friend in his crash. His bald head. His regurgitated stamen. Around my neck. In the painted garden where the hares are all shot. And bleeding. Tattoos. On my torso. Which is made of stuff. From the beauty parlour where the mob wives get their hair done. Up into beehives. Full of black bodies that clamber to get out. Ad speak a furious Latin.
Let me know what you think, pornographers and beehivistes!
(And here is Montevidayoan Sara Tuss Efrik’s trailer for her new book, Mumieland, which I found through Edenborg’s facebook page:)