Archive for October, 2012

"These books are bombs": Greenberg writes about Pageant, Percussion Grenade in APR

by on Oct.11, 2012

I forgot to mention that Arielle Greenberg has written a great piece about some “hybrid” books (not, however, of the “American Hybrid” kind), including Joyelle’s Percussion Grenade and my own Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate, in American Poetry Review.


… Where is the hybrid poetic lietreature that does this, that reaches an “ugly ecstastic” in a “constant state of tension” that “reconstitutes the public discourse”?… And this thrillingly, is what can be found in radical poet-scholar-publisher-translator Joyelle McSweeney’s latest book, Percussion Grenade, and in th elatest book by her life partner and fellow radical poet-scholar-publisher-translator Johannes Göransson, Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate… As the titles suggest, both of these books are bombs: explosive, violent, owing much to Surrealism (especially the Artaud kind) and Dadaism but propelling these movements forward, via catapult, into a very 21st century Theater of the Absurd…

She wishes we did more with pictures and such, but I am more interested in the “as if” quality of texts: texts that pretend to be things they are not (poems that pretend to be plays, plays that pretend to be poems, travesties that pretend to be nativity scenes, memoirs read as science fiction, words that pretend to be image, images that pretend to be hieroglyphs etc)… but that’s another post… Anyway, much love to Arielle.

2 Comments more...

Free Tilikum, or the Transfiguration of Amber Doll: Radical Passivity in Amber Hawk Swanson’s Doll projects

by on Oct.11, 2012


Others have adopted theories of radical passivity here previously; indeed, the blog is saturated in its submissions to art. These conceptions imbue passivity with agency – or rather, resist this passive/agentive binary altogether, instead recognizing the blurriness of boundaries between subject and object, agency and passivity, domination and submission, toward an aesthetics of mediumicity.

At SDS this year (the Society for Disability Studies conference), Eunjung Kim presented a fascinating paper on radical passivity in relation to sex dolls. The paper, “Why Do Dolls Die? The Power of Passivity and the Embodied Interplay Between Disability and Sex Dolls,” published here, poses a provocative intervention into philosophical debates over personhood recently agitated by Peter Singer’s argument for animal rights, which arrived, disappointingly, alongside a disavowal of the right to life/care of severely disabled (such as “totally unconscious”) humans. Sidestepping the problem of categorizing humanness, Kim turns instead to objects – in this case, sex dolls – with the aim of “undermining efforts to deny a being humanness on the basis of object-like status.” Reading sex dolls as an embodiment of disability in films like Lars and the Real Girl and Air Doll, she explores

how doll bodies make visible and enact passivity in its extreme form, thereby creating a condition for accommodation. The ethics of passivity is to recognize the unmodifiable aspect of object being that enables a subject to become an object to be acted upon, and to actualize the other within the self.  (95)

Lars and Bianca at dinner

Bianca, Lars’ RealDoll companion in Lars and the Real Girl, requires physical care and labor such as being bathed, dressed, and lifted into and out of her wheelchair (102). As those around her work to meet Bianca’s needs and fulfill her desires, they endow her with agentive properties. Bianca’s ability to communicate passively seems to extend offscreen as well – here’s Ryan Gosling in the film’s production notes: “Even when she’s not saying anything, she’s communicating everything. It was amazing to watch” (qtd. in Kim 102).

Dolls like Bianca, who seem to glow with a vital agency all the more powerful for being silent, produce a blurriness between subject and object, active and passive – a betweenness that ultimately proves too uncomfortable for their human companions. “Tellingly,” Kim writes, “their immobility, inaction, incommunicativeness, stupor, and catatonia pose such a dangerous challenge to the able-bodied, normative ontology that the dolls in the films must die” (100). Lars stages Bianca’s suicide by drowning and subsequent funeral, then goes on to pursue a “real” (human-human) relationship.


(continue reading…)

5 Comments :, , , , , , , , , more...

"A pile up of murmurings": A Few More Takes on Laura Mullen's Murmur

by on Oct.11, 2012

[I’ll just post one or two more excerpt from the grad student discussion of Laura Mullen’s Murmur]

Megan Komorowski:

Laura Mullen’s Murmur was a pile-up of murmurings (of course, it should) for me as well. The repetition of certain words and the text’s dense layout created a container of white noise. I do agree with Thade’s idea that these “murmurs” are competing voices… the speakers cannot override each other because they all have the same weight / airiness, the same weak / strong tones, etc. I also agree with the idea of “wound culture” at play here, as Mullen bandages fashion with domesticity, and an undercurrent of identity bubbles up. One of my favorite moments is in “Demonstrating Bodies,” where the pile-up of landscape is allegorical to identity. These are murmurs too.

1. One clutch purse of water-stained quilted green silk stitched with seed pearls, (continue reading…)

Comments Off on "A pile up of murmurings": A Few More Takes on Laura Mullen's Murmur more...

Featured suicide girl, Haruki Murakami, up for nobel

by on Oct.10, 2012

Since goth week always seem to correspond with Nobel week, and since Haruki Murakami is a bit of a front runner in both categories, I’m going to try to write a little about 1Q84, his massive three-part novel that I read this summer (the first two parts in Swedish, the last in English, strangely fitting, somehow, seeing as it is a novel of parallels worlds that remain quite similar.)

One thing that interests me about his writing is how, when I read most of his stuff a couple of years ago, it made me feel again like a teenager swallowing books. Not reading books as much as moving into books and living there for a while. And why that might be. It seems not incidental that his writing resonates with a lot of young people. In fact, I don’t think I’ve read a book of this size since I was 16 burning in the Spanish sun with a copy of The Brothers Karamazov (or maybe it was Stephen King’s IT).

One appealing aspect of his work, I think, and a potential answer, is its failure, its incompleteness, its fragmentation  For instance, there seems to always be sections in his longer novels where nothing happens. Where a character is just stuck and waiting it out. Not to give anything away, but one of the three books that make up 1Q84 is pretty much just one long wait. Then there is that exhausting part in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle where the main character descends into a well. (continue reading…)

2 Comments more...

"The murderer wanted to know the truth": Thade Correa and Beth Towle on Laura Mullen's Murmur

by on Oct.10, 2012

[More excerpts from my grad students’ discussion of Laura Mullen’s Murmur.]

Thade Correa:
This is great, Drew–thank you! I felt the same way about Murmur at first. I couldn’t “enter” the text (i.e., make some kind of coherent sense of objective ‘truth’ out of it) at first, but then I too relaxed, and suddenly realized that this is a pretty brilliant book.

What attracted me most at first were the simple, atmospheric descriptions of the sea and the beach on which the murder-mystery (or one of them) partially plays out. It made me think of what I love most about the best film-noir / detective / horror films: not the big reveal, not finally figuring out the mystery, but the atmospheric sense of mystery itself. (That’s what I love about Twin Peaks, and in general, about the rest of David Lynch’s work–the sense of indecipherability, the sense of something that lies beyond the clutches of “truth” multiplies rather than resolves itself the deeper you go into his work.) Finally, I understood that Mullen’s beach-side moments in the text were “clues” in themselves–the seaside beach is a “real”place that is endlessly mutable, constantly shifting, and thus “illegible” just as the personal, subjective experience of “truth” itself is.
(continue reading…)

3 Comments more...

"The sheer number of corpses which pile up": Drew Kalbach on Laura Mullen's Murmur

by on Oct.09, 2012

[Laura Mullen is coming to read at Notre Dame tomorrow (Oct 10). My workshop read her book Murmur his past week and discussed it on the class blog. There were lots of interesting takes, so I thought I would post a few of them to suggest readings of this fascinating book.]

In Murmur, voices compete. Like the title suggests, the speakers speak beneath their breath, in breathy whispers which are hard to hear. They are Laura Palmer wrapped in plastic and washed up on the beach trying to speak through old film footage, through her diary, through dreams. The voices begin to speak toward something coherent and abruptly stop: the end, the wound.

Mark Seltzer calls American culture a “wound culture.” (continue reading…)

1 Comment more...


by on Oct.09, 2012

I have a dirty secret that is literally dirty; it is surface, all substance, and maybe nothing substantive. It started when I was a toddler and my parents bought a massive abstract painting that hung in the living room of every house in which I lived until I hit double-digits, a bloodbath of teal and peach with pollock-style pitch splattered all over it. It was the first painting I ever saw, hated, and loved.

It started with Clement Greenberg and followed me around the Lower East Side when I moved to New York and spent mornings chainsmoking and writing poems on the walls of grocery stores with oil sticks when I had stayed up too late writing and woken up too early, everyone else in the apartment sprawled out on settees clutching copies of Baudrillard. Like most things that really happen to me, it sounds made-up, and overly romantic.


Recently I woke up in a bed and spent the morning looking at pictures of the light in Marseilles. Plus, my best friend just came back from Paris; she went to Gertrude Stein’s salon and was visited by Toklas’ ghost.  We spent her first day back in our own New York salons, exchanging new paintings, new poems, changed perspectives from a week of solitary cigarettes in different fall rain. When she came back it got dark too early for the first time and we went crepuscular in the pursuit of a new emotion.

Alice B’s ghost visits Stephanie Berger at 27 Rue de Fleures


Where is the Art of This Century?
(continue reading…)

Comments Off on WHERE IS THE ART OF THIS CENTURY? :, , , , , , , , more...

"Transfiguration" of Art: Some more thoughts about Bob Dylan and his new album

by on Oct.09, 2012

So I’m listening to Bob Dylan’s new album, Tempest, and that makes me want to add a few comments to my post from yesterday.

First of all, am I the only person who feels like they’ve heard these songs before? Not just because they evoke old-time music but because it might be the actual music he’s used to play his old 1960s hits. Dylan is famous for re-working his old songs in almost unrecognizeable arrangements. (Often people don’t know what song it is until he starts singing, and even then it might be hard to hear.)

He talks about this as well in his autobiography, Chronicles, remembering the moment when he came up with a kind of mathematical (occultly rewriting) formula for generating new song structures for his old songs. So if you haven’t been to a Dylan show, you might get a slow waltz version of “Maggie’s Farm” and a carnival version of “Love Minus Zero” or a swampy blues version of “Positively Fourth Street.”
(continue reading…)

3 Comments more...

The Transfiguration of Bob Dylan: Gothic Week Continues on Montevidayo

by on Oct.08, 2012

In my last post I made reference to the new Bob Dylan interview in Rolling Stone Magazine. It sounds like it would be boring; I picked it up in a coffee shop expecting to find more rehashings of him “going electric” etc. Instead Dylan takes the interviewer on a really out-there discussion of “transfigurations.” He tells the interviewer to read a book about a certain Robert Zimmerman, a leader of Hell’s Angels who died in a motorcycle accident in 1961, and suggests that this was part of his “transfiguration.”


Dylan: Yeah, poor Bobby. You know what this is called? It’s called transfiguration. Have you ever heard of it?
Interviewer: Yes.
Dylan: We” you’re looking at somebody.
I: That… has been transfigured?
Dylan: Yeah, absolutely. I’m not like you, am I? I’m not like him either. I’m not like too many others. I’m only like another person who’s been transfigured. How many people lie that or like me do you know?
I: By transfiguration, you mean it in the sense of being transformed? Or do you mean transmigration, when a soul passes into a different body?
Dylan: Transmigration is not what we are talking about. This is something else. I had a motorcycle accident in 1966. I already explained to you about th enew and old. Right? Now, you can put this together any way you want. You can work on it any way you want. Transfiguration: You can go and learn about it from the Catholic Church, you can learn about it in some old mystical books, but it’s a real concept. It’s happened throughout the ages. Nobody knowswho’s its’ happened to, or why. But you get real proof of it here and there. It’s not like something you can dream up and think… So when you ask some of your questions, you’re asking them to a person who’s long dead. You’re asking them to a person who doesn’t exist. …

Raphael’s “The Transfiguration”:

Comments Off on The Transfiguration of Bob Dylan: Gothic Week Continues on Montevidayo more...

The Manifestos of Roberto Piva, featuring "dethroned emperors, deaf nuns, lowborn thugs with hemorrhoids"

by on Oct.08, 2012

Nuns from Garbage’s forgotten gem “Push It”

A while back I posted parts of my essay about Roberto Piva, a magnificent Brazilian poet I turn to when I need a punch in the face.  Although there are no full-length collections of Piva’s work published in English yet, Chris Daniels has graciously translated several manifestos here.  Please sample two tantalizing morsels (written in the 60’s) below and then check out the rest.


The cardinal points of our elements are: betrayal, incomprehension of the utility of windowpanes, Totem’s rollercoaster violence, breaking with the labyrinth & nerves of the narrow beak of Logic, against your sugared ecstasy, you doglike beings who feel a need for infinity, we the short circuit, darkness & shock against your cute lyric message, against spangles for caracoles, against the vagina for the anus, against specters for phantasms, against stairways for railways, against Eliot for the Marquis de Sade, against polenta for ragu, we are perfectly schizophrenic, we know by our paranoia that we must draw away from the three-striped flag whose representatives are the poetry-embroiderers strewn all over the city.



Here we hurl ourselves into the attack on the immortal soul of cabinets. We’re looking for friends who aren’t serious: macumbeiros, trustworthy madmen, dethroned emperors, deaf nuns, lowborn thugs with hemorrhoids & all who loathe monochrome dreams of Arcadian poetry. We know very well that the tenderness of little ribbons is a protozoan luxury. Be violent as gastritis. Down with gilded butterflies. Behold the glittering contents of latrines.

Comments Off on The Manifestos of Roberto Piva, featuring "dethroned emperors, deaf nuns, lowborn thugs with hemorrhoids" more...

My Gothic Childhood: Some notes on emigration, immigration and Depeche Mode

by on Oct.05, 2012

Speaking of transfigurations… There’s an interview with Bob Dylan in a recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine where he talks about his experiences of “transfiguration,” how his own famed motorcycle accident in 1966 and the fatal accident of another “Robert Zimmerman,” president of the Hell’s Angels in 1961, and how he has ever since performed much like a dead person.

His description feels strangely perfect for how I have felt my whole adult life. I’ve been thinking about my own deathy ideas about immigration the past few weeks. Or I should say, I’ve been thinking about my ideas about emigration; or I’ve been thinking about my feelings about my emigration/immigration experience.

For a long time I only thought about my immigration experience. I’ve written about it too. How I came to the US and generated all of this extreme violence in the Minneapolis suburb I moved to. This has become a model for me of understanding my own (non-) identity, an embattled figure. But it’s kind of a static model. It’s a harsh but easy model to adopt.

The other day I was reading Banu Kapil’s Nightboat book Schizophrene. It’s a book that feels like a membrane permeated by both India and London, as if both were ghostly spheres, or as if the speaker was a kind of ghost moving through two separate spheres. That’s actually what made me go back into my own experiences of immigration, experiences that aren’t as easy or clean as the embattled immigrant model I’ve written about in the past. To try to invoke my decidedly gothic view of my life with all of its transfigurations.

Moving to the US when I was 13 totally destroyed me. But it wasn’t exactly the violence of my reception that destroyed me. If anything, that violence provided a myth I could use to understand things. What destroyed me most of all was the idea that I had been torn out of the life where I belonged, my life, and that everyone I knew, everything went on without me. That I had died. That I existed in some kind of sphere outside of life.

This feeling lasted for years. I remember listening to Depeche Mode’s 1987 record, Music for the Masses, and feeling an idiotic identification with this song:

On one level, this is a sex song, but now as then, it strikes me as much creepier (continue reading…)

1 Comment more...

The Zero Mouth: Dickinson, Bolaño, and Goth Reanimations

by on Oct.05, 2012

The Zeroes — taught us — Phosphorous —
We learned to like the Fire
By playing Glaciers — when a Boy —
And Tinder — guessed — by power
Of Opposite — to balance Odd —
If White — a Red — must be!
Paralysis — our Primer — dumb —
Unto Vitality!                                     [Dickinson 638]


Where do we find zeroes? At the bone, of course. Dickinson’s poem charts de- and re-composition, de- and re-animation of the corpse-body. Zero is the point of absolute reduction, and the tinderpoint at which an inconstant reanimation lights up, begins again, from ‘Paralysis’. A new kind of Vitality is finally inhabited—one mothlike, rushlike, inconsistent, Immortal rather than alive.


I thought about Dickinson’s zero when reading Lessing’s 1766 “Laocoon: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry.” Here I came across these two quotes (McCormick translation) which shed some light on Dickinson’s Zero:

“The wide-open mouth, aside from the fact that the rest of the face is thereby twisted and distorted in an unnatural and loathsome manner, becomes in painting a mere spot and in sculpture a cavity, with most repulsive effect.”


“Thus, if Laocoon sighs, the imagination can hear him cry out; but if he cries out, it can neither go one step higher nor one step lower than this representation without seeing him in a more tolerable and hence less interesting condition. One either hears him merely moaning or else sees him dead.”

The first passage affirms the visual ‘zero’ of suffering which for Dickinson is the one absolute or cardinal point in the topography of bodily existence; remember, “I like a look of agony/because I know it’s true”—as North is True, perhaps. The second passage introduces another relation. From every lack, an excessive quantity emanates. The viewer of ‘sighing’ Laocoon, that is, a Laocoon not at the very highest ‘zero’ of suffering, can still hear his uncanny cry issuing from this lack. On the other hand, were Laocoon (the emblem of classical thinking about human suffering) to occupy the ‘zero’ point, the viewer becomes both indifferent and a murderer; on hears him “merely moaning” or “sees him dead.” These two alternatives together are actually a frightening position; to study human suffering as coolly as Emily does, to learn from Zero how doubly penetrable the zero mouth is–i.e. into the ‘merely moaning’ or outwards into dead. It’s as if the senses of hearing and seeing become active here; to ‘hear him’ is to make him cry or moan; to ‘see him’ is to “see him dead”.  Confronted with a physical ‘zero’, that ‘spot’ or ‘cavity’, the viewer supplies the suffering or death which cannot fill the hole but constantly circles it.


One last connection: To Bolaño, of course! (continue reading…)

1 Comment more...

Confessionalism and Horse Fucking in the Necropastoral of Louise Glück, "Equus," and Enumclaw, Washington

by on Oct.04, 2012

For my third annual post on art and the animal, I’m going to explore the moist, shadowy field where two taboos collide.  Bestiality (actual and representational) and Confessionalism (poetic, Catholic, psychiatric, juridical) have been on my mind lately.

(continue reading…)

11 Comments more...