Archive for November, 2012

In Praise of Hate (for Alexander Cockburn 1941 – 2012)

by on Nov.30, 2012

 

Is your hate pure? 

— Alexander Cockburn

One of the common Republican refrains when it comes to raising tax rates for the super-wealthy — or as is currently the case, the possibility that the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent might expire — is that the desire to do so is based on class resentment, and only entitlement reform will bring about a truly sound financial future. Of course, the fact that the current tax policy has helped bring about inequalities not seen since the 1910s seems beside the point. For certain conservatives “the economy” is its own independent reality: if “the economy” is going strong (as measured by GDP and stocks and all those other elements neo-liberals are obsessed with), then it really doesn’t matter how many homeless we have, how many live under crushing debt, how many are trapped in shit jobs. By arguing that the economy is one set of numbers instead of another, we can have a perfectly healthy “economy” while also having an utterly barbaric one.

But I’m interested in this notion of resentment, this idea that the non-rich resent the wealthy. It’s an old idea that crystallized (as did so many of our current political views, both liberal and conservative) in England around the Victorian era. But instead of denying resentment, which is what the left and liberals tend to do, arguing, as Obama does, that it is really about fairness, I’ve often wondered why liberals and the left don’t embrace resentment. Why should resentment and anger and hate be so taboo? Love at times can be a tyrannical force; hate can sometimes be liberating and exhilarating.

At the end of Camus’ The Stranger, for example, Meursault hopes that when he is brought out for his execution the public will greet him with “cries of hate.” In those last lines of the novel (which is still one of my favorite books, though I read it for the first time more than twenty years ago), the narrator has embraced his strangeness, his isolation from others. With those closing words, he has made the hate of others into a badge of honor. And Jean Genet, only a few years later, would turn cries of hate into an emblem of negative sainthood, into trumpets heralding the sublime. And his characters understood how beautiful hate could be at certain moments too. As Divine says in Our Lady of the Flowers, “I hate them [pimps and gangsters], lovingly.” There is also the moment in The Thief’s Journal where he sees a woman he imagines to be his mother, and then imagines himself taking her hands into his own and vomiting into them.

On a more political level, I also think of the way FDR embraced hate in the famous speech where he said he knew that bankers hated him, and he welcomed that hatred. Despite all the warnings today about how politicians shouldn’t “go negative,” it should be remembered that FDR won that election by a landslide. Some might argue Roosevelt was only using rhetoric, and that he wasn’t as radical as those words would suggest, and that might be true: and yet can anyone even dimly imagine Clinton (either one) or Obama using such language?

When I was growing up, I certainly hated the avarice of the rich, a naked avarice that was celebrated by the President and the media. In the racially mixed neighborhood in Memphis where I grew up, crack was sold openly on certain corners, and people above the age of twenty-five or so would go inside their houses at dusk, since shootings were common. Some nights, police helicopters would circle, flying around like giant insects with a beaming, bright eye that shone a patch of light up and down the street and through the yards. And the streets themselves seemed populated by ghosts. The trash of Reagan’s America. There were the prostitutes, the so-called crack whores — usually young white women fresh from some small town in Mississippi or Arkansas — who walked around the streets in the afternoon. Their hair would be oily and they’d wear skimpy shorts and always seem to be holding a can of coke and a cigarette. There was the Vietnam vet who lived a few blocks away. He was a black man in his forties who got around in his makeshift wheel chair and would come up to our house some nights, asking for any canned food we might have on hand. He would sit on his porch alone most afternoons and glare at the traffic going by. There were the addicts who roamed around in the same clothes every day. And the young men not much older than myself who would disappear for weeks or months, spending time either in a hospital or prison.

 And during this time, which was also the time of Reagan and the time of the first Bush, I hated a great deal. I hated the gunshots, the helicopters. I hated it when friends who lived in the suburbs complained about how boring the suburbs were — I would have loved growing up someplace boring. I hated the news, because when it showed drive-bys, or talked about crack, it would be framed as if those things happened on another planet. And I hated the viciousness of American politics, a politics that I saw as being in literal war with not only the people in my neighborhood, who often looked as if they were staggering about in some collapsed State, but with myself, since I lived there. I hated the well-financed, the well-manicured, the well-connected. Hate kept me going.

Hate can lead to bitterness, small-minded obsessions, etc., but so can love. And hate can produce great Art. Baudelaire, Artaud, Faulkner, Plath, Godard, Bacon, Zulawski, Thek, Soyinka, and Carax. Their work at various points is powerfully lit up by hatred. It might be political or ontological or (as is often the case) both, but it’s there, a warm, dense force reaching outward.

Lastly, one of the things I admire about writers of the political grotesque (McSweeney, Goransson, Glenum, early Reines, Kilpatrick, and others) is their lack of fear in regards to hate. So much American poetry post-1950s has virtually outlawed hate. Or rather, anger and hate is allowed in slam poetry, but not in “literary” poetry, where such forces are often considered bad form. Tragedy is good. So is melancholy. So is a Marxist-Hegelian analysis of X and Y and Z, if you happen to be an experimental poet. But hate? One of the things the American poetry scene owes to poets like McSweeney and Goransson and Glenum is the way they have brought hate back to American poetry.

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"Loaded": Undead Romanticism

by on Nov.29, 2012

[I first wrote this as a response to Teemu’s post about Clark Ashton Smith, but since it’s pretty long I decided just to post it as a separate post.]

Teemu,
This is such a rich post… It seems to really speak to issues of kitsch and modernism in intriguing and new ways.

I love the idea of the heuristic imitation, a kind of anachronistic translation (of course translations are often anachronistic, as Benjamin makes clear in his famous essay). But I’m not so sure that he gets it all wrong so to speak. To some extent Smith is in fact doing what the Romantics and – as you note – Symbolists did. So much of that poetry is totally b-movie stuff (Keats and Baudelaire write about vampire women etc etc). And of course Poe is such an essential poet for both American and European symbolists. As Daniel Tiffany shows in his new book, the origins of kitsch has to do with the poetic, with romanticism, more than anything else.


(From our favorite blog, Runwayward)
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Book Reviews: Scanlon & Theis

by on Nov.27, 2012

Promising Young Women by Suzanne Scanlon (Dorothy, a publishing project). This book consist of a series of narrative fragments, somewhat like Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, and like the Johnson book it has one foot in the realm of short story and the other in the world of the novel. There is one character, named Lizzie, and we follow her through a shifting, non-chronological account of a time earlier in her life when she was so severely depressed she was institutionalized in the Rockland State Psychiatric Institute. Yet the book, despite the similarities with Jesus’ Son, is by no means a copy of that novel. (I’m not saying this as a criticism of Johnson, whose work I love, but as a criticism of the countless Johnson-like stories and books that came out after Jesus’ Son and that all too often felt like pale imitations of that earlier work.) The pieces that make up this book give a wonderful account of being young and creative and out-in-the-world for the first time, and, to me at least, the best parts are those that relate how Lizzie maneuvered through her world before and just after institutionalization. In “Mount St. Helens,” we get a glimpse of Lizzie as a young girl watching her mother slowly die in a hospital; in one of my favorite stories (or chapters), entitled “All That You Aren’t But Might Possibly Be,” we see Lizzie in the first weeks after being released from Rockland, trying out for a part in a play and getting hit by a car in the process; and in “Am I Blue?” we see the narrator in her dorm room calmly swallowing pill after pill, her tone no more emotional than if she were writing a term paper. In fact, “Am I Blue?” is the last story in the book, and the implication is that this is the suicide attempt that leads to Lizzie winding up in Rockland. Because it closes the novel, it gives the entire book a circular feel, as if time has secretly been tugging us backward through the narrative.

Another element I like about this book is how it openly wears its influences on its sleeve, and yet never in a coy, Gosh-I’m-smart manner. The moving ending is a clear reference to the famous ending in Woody Allen’s Manhattan, where Allen’s Isaac Davis talks about his list of favorite things while speaking into a tape recorder. In Scanlon’s scene, Lizzie and her friend Dread make a list of their own favorite things shortly after meeting each other in Los Angeles. The fact that Lizzie references Allen elsewhere suggests that she had internalized Allen’s film, or rather that she uses Allen’s narrative to frame her own narrative. Scanlon has Lizzie do the same with Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Illych in the chapter “The Other Story.” Here certain elements from the Russian novella (the syllogism on mortality, the black sack) are re-employed by Lizzie to speak about her mother’s death. But no grand statements about authorship, etc., seem to be implied. Rather, Scanlon’s use of Allen, Tolstoy, Plath and others, suggests that we all pick up narratives here and there, and that we use these narratives to create our own. Art is always infused with life, and vice versa. By having art intermingle with life so casually and subtly, Scanlon’s use of outside narratives (Allen’s, Tolstoy’s, etc.) is more subversive than those novels and stories that have their sources displayed with bright neon letters since those bright neon letters windup reinforcing the divide between art and life even as they claim to undermine it. Scanlon’s book takes place in a space that is already beyond the poles of authenticity and inauthenticity.

 

The June Cuckold by Catherine Theis (Convulsive Editions). If Greco-Roman statues could speak, I imagine they would talk like the characters in Theis’ new poem-play. The tone is stately and formal, and yet the poems are brimming with Nature and Art. Early in the play, we are told about a sprinkler snake “embedded in cream-drop white flowers,” and a coat of arms “imbued / with champagne bubbles, rosy circular reds, / bottom-lip pinks.” A few pages later, the central couple is described as being “perfumed in a wealth of orange blossom,” and one of the characters claims, “The only painting / I can look at for hours / is the sun.” As that last quote especially suggests, nature and art are often entwined in this book, with one seeming to spill out from the other. And the sun, as both Van Gogh and Bataille knew, is not only a figure for lucidity and reason, but also, when looked at too long, an image of the extinguishment of lucidity and reason. As one of the last lines in the book states, “We all live in furnaces of heat and light.”

As in Theis’ previous book, The Fraud of Good Sleep (Salt), the poems here have a very Nietzschean spirit. Too often Nietzsche is thought of as simply the philosopher of Dionysian impulses and Grecian fatalism, but what is often forgotten is that he was also the philosopher of lightness and dance, a philosopher who argued for “a mocking, light, fleeting, divinely untroubled, divinely artificial art, which, like a pure flame, licks unclouded skies.” Gravity is as much of a yoke as so-called “truth.” One of the many things I like about Theis’ work is that it isn’t grave and it doesn’t search for deep psychological and/or phenomenological truths.  As one character shouts, “gallivanting greens, wake up!” And yet this lightness doesn’t cancel out fatalism. As Samuel the husband says, “So begins a new affair: / Tragedy, Ecstasy, Doom, / which really is the project / from before the Before.” Fatalism doesn’t have to be a burden; as Nietzsche wrote, the “Greeks were superficial out of profundity.”

But as Greco-Roman and Mediterranean as these poems are, they’re never backward-looking. There’s nothing dusty or slavish to the past here. Rather, the classical world is dislodged and made new. The past becomes a way of de-familiarizing the future.

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Some Readings/Wmagazine is the New Family Bible (Weil, Sontag, Jacobs)

by on Nov.26, 2012

super linda

(Hi. wrote this some weeks back.)

Wmagazine is the New Family Bible

/a fairy tale

It was good timing that our New Yorker prescription ran out and not so long after the magazine W took its place and started circulation within our home (wife went on an obsessed internet survey-binge and amassed some free stuff: tea, soaps, lady things, Martha Stewart’s magazine and W). The first issue was some kind of super-size-me-up binder full of mid-evil pixiegoth housewifery, featuring among other awesome things, Super Linda.

O dread

Our daughter, at 5, now comes home from school, asks for a snack (“I just want candy”) and hangs out in the sun room, flipping through the magazine. One of the twins was reading it the other night while watching Jeopardy (or maybe it was The Rifleman). It should be said though (mom) that other than that first issue (which has mysteriously disappeared, boys will be boys will be girls etc.) there is not much in terms of visible nipple-crotch-ass nudity going on.

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"The Anxiety of Necromancy": Teemu Manninen on Clark Ashton Smith

by on Nov.26, 2012

[This post was written by Teemu Manninen. Teemu was born in 1977 and is a poet, a literary critic, an editor for the co-op publishing house Poesia, a translator of comic books and an all round cultural activist who in his spare time produces the annual Helsinki Poetics Conference. Here’s a gallery of art inspired by Smith’s work.]

The Anxiety of Necromancy

Clark Ashton Smith, “the Keats of California”, can, for a good reason, be called an impossible poet: he is one of the first, if not the only poet in the history of (at least Western) poetry to be able to write genre poetry — horror, fantasy, science fiction — that successfully integrates this low-brow, non-Canonical material in an intimate and internally logical way with the Great Tradition.

Born in 1893 in Long Valley, California, Smith was home-schooled. His family was poor, and so was Smith for most of his life. He started writing at the age of 11, and sold his first short stories to pulp magazines at the age of 17. When he was 19 years old, the decadent San Francisco poet George Sterling became his mentor (Sterling himself had been the pupil of the famous horror writer Ambrose Bierce).

Even though he was first and foremost a poet, Smith – who also worked as an illustrator and a sculptor – is better known for his connections with the weird fiction movement gathering around such pulp magazines as Weird Tales, Wonder Stories, and Amazing Stories. Among his fantasy cycles are the far future Earth stories situated on the continent of Zothique, and the stories about the medieval Averoigne. Smith also collaborated with R.E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft; among his lovecraftian inventions are the cursed book of Eidon and the frog god Tsathoggua.

But what was Smith like as a poet? In a word, supernatural: his subjects are the laments of necromancers and wizards, the wisps of lotus mists, dream visions, far stars and the horror of the gulfs between galaxies, the atmospheres of weird planets and the pale, demonic nymphs who inhabit them.

But for all his breathless invention it can, perhaps a little paradoxically, be said that there is nothing original in Smith’s poetry. His work is entirely composed of pastiche. What more, this pastiche itself is a product of a kind of misreading, a literal-mindedness which amounts to a historical nearsightedness. For Smith developed his own poetic style out of imitating — not directly, but “through” his own pulp and genre context — the poets of the French decadent movement and the early surrealism and fantasism of writers such as Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire, Isidore Ducasse, Théophile Gautier and Gérard de Nerval.

An illustrative example is provided by Smith’s sonnet “On Re-Reading Baudelaire”, which is of course itself a riff on Keat’s “On Reading Chapman’s Homer”: Continue reading “"The Anxiety of Necromancy": Teemu Manninen on Clark Ashton Smith” »

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Graffiti of the Pig Boy: Pichação and Hilda Hilst’s The Obscene Madame D

by on Nov.21, 2012

Before embarking on her pornographic trilogy (whose first book I’ve written about as “porn for children”), Hilda Hilst had to meet her calling.   She had to profane the sacred, tearing God out of a birdshit-ridden sky.  The result was The Obscene Madame Dher first work to appear in English via a unique partnership between Nightboat and the Rio-based A Bolha, and co-translators Nathanaël and Rachel Gontijo Araújo.

“What is obscene?” Hilst once asked in an interview.  “To this day nobody knows what’s obscene.  Obscenity, to me, is poverty, hunger, cruelty.  Our era is obscene.”  Hilst’s pronouncement finds resonance in the very mega city where she lived before secluding herself with nearly 100 dogs in a rural refuge known as Casa do Sol.  São Paulo, a city where wealth and destitution brutally clash, happens to be the birthplace of pichação—a practice of class warfare in which young, poor Brazilians scale and spray-paint the facades of monuments, chic high-rises, and government buildings.  As an NY Times article points out, pichação can be fatal.  While defacing structures, gang members not only risk falling to their deaths from dizzying heights but are prone to brawls with rival groups who are also vying for prized buildings.  The drama of these stakes is, to say the least, notable.  The pichador, you might say, is ready to die for his art-crime, itself a visionary execution at once urgent and extravagant.  Because it smears that which is exalted—literally staining upward mobility with the threat of precarity—his weapon bleeds out societal extremes with its own brand of crude, black scarring. Continue reading “Graffiti of the Pig Boy: Pichação and Hilda Hilst’s The Obscene Madame D” »

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CCM Fundraiser

by on Nov.20, 2012

The good people at Civil Coping Mechanisms, who are publishing my book The Fassbinder Diaries next year, have just kicked off a really intriguing fundraiser. Donors have the chance of recieving gifts of various mysterious types. My own gift will be a box filled with props from a ruined, acid-eaten silent film that might have begun production in Berlin in the 1920s and that was possibly completed in a New York basement in the early 60s. The title of the film is still being deciphered, though its origins are clearly in Pig Latin. The box might be a cigar box or a broken music box. The objects inside will include bits of the remaining script, misplaced postcards, spoons used in unspeakable silent-era games, and other props.

Other gifts include a KTBAFC (Keep This Bag Away From Children) grab bag from Andrew Worthington, and an autographed chapbook and custom-tailored poem from Ana Carrete.

If you like Montevidayo, you’ll like Civil Coping Mechanisms. It’s all part of the same nocturnal orbit.

 

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Plus de Panique! : On Drag as The Real, Fierce Potential Next in TJY, Paris is Burning, & Johannes Goransson

by on Nov.19, 2012

The Lit Diva Extraordinaire!

un: the threat of art/ la menace d’art

“[Threat’s] nature is open ended. It is not just that it is not; it is not in a way that is never over. We can never be done with it. […]There is always the nagging potential of the next after it being even worse and of a still worse next again after that. The uncertainty of the potential next is never consumed in any given event.”

This quote, from Brian Massumi’s “The Future Birth of the Affective Fact”, is embedded in an argument about the regime of ‘pre-emption’ that took hold of American governance during the Bush Administration; the inextinguishibility of threat prompts the perpetual generation of ‘preemption’, both noxious ‘homeland security’ practices and aggression abroad.  In Massumi’s argument, threat is distinctive for its unkillability, its anachronistic perma-futurity which is nevertheless linked to a ‘pre’.

However, re-reading Massumi’s article this morning, I was struck by how well it also described Art’s threat. Art is a threat, not a tool or fact; it’s a surplus; it’s hypothetical; it is figurative and literal threat;  it comes from the future to make things happen in the present; and it is ‘not’ in a way that is never over, because it is not alive. It does not marry, yet it proliferates. It is contagious. It generates nextness. It is the body of nextness. There is a ‘next’ and a ‘still worse next again after that’. No event can consume the uncertainty.

This is my favorite thing about Art! And Art’s threat is most clearly embodied in the practice of Drag. As Massumi notes later elsewhere in his essay, “The value of the alert is measured by its performance.” “Threat has no actual referent.” Instead, “It has a performantive threat value.”

In other words, threat pour la threat.

Or, as a footnote quotes a French headline, Plus de panique!

 

deux: the fierce and the real/le féroce et le réel

The performative nature of threat, its Edelmanian participation in a lineage-threatening alternate temporality, begins to make it, for me, synonymous with drag performance. There are many ways to contextualize and discuss drag, but two words which always come to mind are “fierceness” and “realness” . Fierceness already communicates Drag’s explicit threat; it is a weaponized aestheticism, an over-emphasis, an overtness that seizes attention and disrupts convention. Realness is Drag’s implicit threat; for realness also seizes attention and disrupts convention by revealing an array of would be ‘naturalized’ identities as assumed, performed, exterior rather than interior.

As Lee Edelman as made clear, there is a temporal (or rather anachronistic) dynamic to this performance; queerness disrupts patrilineal structures, which  both disrupts our sense of a  linear past with its biblical ‘begatness’ as well as the patriarchal future with its heterosexually reproducing sons and daughters. As such it undoes the temporal assumptions on which nationhood is also secured. This terroristic threat is embodied by the transvestite ‘terrorist’ in Patrick McCabe’s Breakfast on Pluto; once this glamorous victim of a nightclub bombing is discovered to be a transvestite, she becomes synonymous with the terrorist who planted the bomb.  More particularly, Drag disrupts conventional notions of ‘family time’. In Paris Is Burning, waves of ‘legendary children’ issue from dynastic houses;  yet the ‘houses’ find their ‘patrimony’(?) not in patriarchs but in the names of fashion brands and other fiercely glamorous sounding nominations, sometimes referencing the ‘house mother’: “House of LeBieja”,  ‘House of Ninja’, etc.  Moreover the nomination ‘Legendary Children’ itself embodies a pre-emptive threat: the children are already ‘legendary’—in the future we will look back on them as being legendary, but they also impossibly project their legendary status anachronistically in the present, through their performance; this is their threat, and their permanence.

 

trois: Legendary Children/les enfants légendaires

 

When we look at contemporary examples of the drag/threat aesthetic, we see this indexing of fierceness and realness to both childhood and threat.  Tim Jones-Yelvington’s visual aesthetic (as of present writing) enacts a fierce, glam futurity, with his weaponized cheekbones, bomb-blast hairdo, and laservision eyes.  I had the good fortune to be present at  Tim’s recent birthday festivities; in this performance TJY, Lit Diva Extraordinaire, takes control of her ‘genesis’, writing it over with festive tabloid hyperconfessionalism; narrativity’s lasciviousness detonates in the person of the Diva herself into a kind of pop-explosion which would blow apart the body of a suicide bomber, were she made of conventional ballistics. However, the impossible properties of the Diva’s threat body means that it is not ‘extinguished’ in its Art explosion; as a threat-body, it merely reconfigures itself.

The uncertainty of the potential next is never consumed in any given event.

Thinking about the Lit Diva Extraordinaire and her birthday bash also made me think of a recurring motif in Johannes Goransson’s work: “The Genius Child Orchestra”. Continue reading “Plus de Panique! : On Drag as The Real, Fierce Potential Next in TJY, Paris is Burning, & Johannes Goransson” »

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Notes from Korea: Jeongrye Choi

by on Nov.19, 2012

A while back I was in South Korea for a week as part of an international literary festival. It was a surprisingly intense experience for me, and as a result of this intensity – the art, the poets, the food, the Korean beer, the smell and, not the least, the jet-lag that kept me up all night – I was kind of undone and wrote notes for what I realize now is a book, blending such genres as Strindberg’s hilarious Occult Diary, 19th century travelogues, poetry, literary criticism and translation studies.

Anyway, I thought I would post some of the notes from the book as I sort through them. Many of them are embarrassing and personal, but I thought I could at least post perhaps the more constructive, less insane intries, such as this analysis of Jeongrye Choi’s book “The Smell” (Which can be found in Instances, trans by Brenda Hillman and Wayne De Fremery, Parlor Press 2010).

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Lisa A. Flowers on Kim Hyesoon

by on Nov.18, 2012

In a review in the Collagist, Lisa A. Flowers make a lot of perceptive comments about Kim Hyesoon’s All the Garbage of the World, Unite!, including its affinities to Suicide Club, David Lynch and Sylvia Plath:

Translated from the Korean by poet Don Mee Choi, (and perhaps gleaning some of its brilliantly effective childish cadences through loss in translation), Kim Hyesoon’s All the Garbage of the World, Unite! comes on like a menstrual-blood filled water balloon exploding in Roy Lichstenstein’s face. Combining the reproductive and bodily horrors of “Eraserhead” with a birds & bees educational filmstrip directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis, the second collection by the noted South Korean poet is a pop art nursery, a feminist Kindergarten avant-garde warzone where a shrapnel sheared-off leg with painted toenails is as apt to land beside you as an angry pink Fisher Price toy box spouting womanly fluids.

Read the whole thing here.

I’m really thrilled at all these reviews that are springing up about this awesome book. It seems the poetry world is really discovering her great work – for example, there was that reading with Seamus Heaney in London last summer, a reading in Paris and a forthcoming book in French translation, a Swedish anthology of world poets that included her and Hiromi Ito’s work, etc. For me, Kim Hyesoon’s work is one of the most important bodies of work from the past few decades, whether American or not.

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I am reading Compos(t) Mentis: a review

by on Nov.16, 2012

[ I am reading “A Carnal Shitstorm of Affections.” The cover looks like a tomato based stew and I want to eat it, but it is actually a petri dish with agar, festering with bacteria and fungus growing on and from Aaron App’s nail clippings, which nourish them, and I begin to eat it. Am I the agar, the nails, or the bacteria, or the microscope that is looking at it? Is the poetry the agar, the nails, or the bacteria, or the microscope or the person who put the nails in the agar or the person who clipped the nails, or the person who touches fingers beneath the nails and lies encrusted on the clippings? Reading this carnal shitstorm, I think about the way a poem is an ecosystem of dirt and cells and oil that smells kind of like cheese or butt crack. It is the exposure of a dark space between folds of a sensitive organ like the skin to air and light, the nasal and intellectual membranes of the perceiver. These lines grow as dense and complex as microbes on agar, via the fertile crescent of a moment as small, sad, and dirty as a nail clipping, the ungerminated seed that germinates the environment around it instead. I look closer and the microbes are actually a field of tiny cocks. I see that these cocks are infused by aesthetic philosophy and hip hop. I see that Nicki Minaj is bouncing and peeing with these cocks. I look closer and I see industry. I see tiny factories. I see that these factories are words. I see the failure that reflects the flaccid, diseased and swelling cocks of the industrialized world, of which I am a part of, through which I see and feel the tiny oars of App’s technically amazing poetic lines flick tiny crumbs from his navel, stinging my cornea. I feel and see that these flicked morsels are microscopic sympathetic somatic pains. There is vigor in how Apps’s agar medium bubbles forth helpless, nerve-filled tumors of language, a kind of tangle that I cannot describe but by being vulgarly infected by it. The math here is tender. Almost mushroom-like the toxic line decays the corpse of the body-politic and sprouts from it. Underneath the noise of decay there is silence. The sound of a void somewhere through this fluid-filled cancer, subjectivity fucking an O, another hole, which turns into itself, the Ape/App(s) which is a body of quotes grown from other bodies and chunks and proliferates. I am sad and ecstatic. Why am I thinking of the garden of Eden? It grows in you. Sometimes I am almost revolted but I feel infatuated, which becomes the same thing, guts and bubbles and waste. Now I know it is the same pain, I feel beauty. I am eating and drinking this shit in the storm and it eats me in everything. Light, feel-sight, “the liver a moth” and “at the base of the navel the whole irrational system blows

out into tubular microbes, not up.” ]

The above is an excessive blurb I wrote that was mostly not included in the marketing of Aaron App’s book, whose title was changed to Compos(t) Mentis to offer a more appropriately avant-garde texture. But it is still a lovely carnal shitstorm of affections. I have been trying to do a review of it for months now. It’s been festering in my body, and I have been feeling it in relationship to many other books/bodies and readings I’ve done. Now I will attempt to note some of the traces they leave in my water.


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On Loaded Guns 2: Emily Dickinson, Black Civil War soldiers, and Shane McCrae's Blood

by on Nov.16, 2012

I often make a plea here and in my classes for ‘occult reading practices’—reading practices that search out occult influences moving among texts, influences that work anachronistically or telepathically or across a medium of diabolical ‘sympathy’, influence itself as a kind of ectoplasm, an uncanny, distorting, magnetic and often duplicitous material. While I was reading Shane McCrae’s Blood (due out this Spring from Noemi Press; a sequence from this book is also available as “In Canaan”, a chapbook from Rescue Press), a second poem kept arising like a haint in my mind, so that I felt that Shane’s book and this phantom poem were tugging each other into spectral presence like linked emanations. That second poem was Emily Dickinson’s 754,  “My Life had stood–a Loaded gun–”. Dickinson’s poem lit up McCrae’s work with klieg lights, and McCrae’s poems reanimated Dickinson’s poem with an anachronistic power which, ironically, flooded the earlier poem both with the historical context of its composition during the Civil War and with the violence which preceded and followed it, all the violence of mankind spasming along axes of ferocious power.

“The history of blackness is testament to the fact that objects can and do resist,” writes Fred Moten in the introduction to his world-splitting work, In the Break.

Blackness, the extended movement of a specific upheaval, on ongoing irruption that anarranges every line—is a strain that pressures the assumption of the equivalence of personhood and subjectivity. While subjectivity is defined by the subject’s possession of itself and its objects, it is troubled by a dispossessive force objects exert such that the subject seems to be possessed—infused, deformed—by the object it possesses. […..] [Saidiya] Hartman shows how narrative always echoes and redoubles the dramatic interenactment of ‘contentment and abjection,’ and she explores the massive discours of the cut, of rememberment, and redress, that we always here in narratives where blackness marks simultaneously both the performance of object and performance of humanity.

As Moten’s introduction continues, he examines the “Aunt Hester” episode from Frederick Douglass’s Autobiography as a place in which the ‘shrieks’ of the slave’s body under torture stand in for the natal scene which would typically anchor an autobiography; under the derangement of history-as-violence, blackness comes into being as “an ongoing irruption that anarranges every line”—as violence converted into long, continuous, confounding, immortal shriek which passes from body to body.

Shane McCrae’s book begins in ambiguity and vertigo; its title ‘Blood’ could refer to the sureties of the bloodline which secures inheritence and generations, but in the context of this book, which records so intensely the repetitive violence by which black voices and bodies are stitched into historical time, recasts that blood as violence’s red body which pushes itself into the space of black bodies.  The book carries the dedication, “For my father, for his parents, for their parents,” a reverse-lineage which claims a multitude of referents working backwards in time, but its parallelism also has a kind of repetitiveness to it, as if the parents and fathers were repeating across time, coming back into present and future time.

In fact this is the thrust of McCrae’s book, providing lyric testimonies to the constitutive violence of periods of history which we must all too ruefully own as “American”—testimonies of rape, murder, kidnapping and imprisonment pre-Civil War, testimonies of Black soldiers made to fight during the Civil War, testimonies of lynchings and separations, and finally an intertemporal elegy that seems to yoke together and bring into immanence figures from no-one-specific-or-else-every time. In all these testimonies, McCrae’s use of short phrase and fragment, repetition of names, and plaintive shifts of address underscore the sameness and repetition of the dispossessions suffered by the speakers, the “strain”, “trouble”, deformation and damage undergone by these people forced to simultaneously undertake “the performance of object and the performance of humanity.”

The result of this unbearable doubleness (which adds up, simultaneously to more than two and less than zero) is that the black body becomes a medium into which violence can spasm and through which it can move. One poem, at the beginning of the book, voices a female slave’s desperation: Continue reading “On Loaded Guns 2: Emily Dickinson, Black Civil War soldiers, and Shane McCrae's Blood” »

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The Bad Foreigner/"The Melancholy Migrant"

by on Nov.16, 2012

I’ve often talked about the position of the foreigner. Recently I’ve been interested in homesickness, a condition that was increasingly pathologized in America in the 19th century – identified as a disease that troubled the image of the Good Immigrant who forges ahead without any memory of the past, maintaining the model of the self-sufficient, autonomous self. The homesick foreigner troubles this idea of Selfhood, holding on to stuff he/she should let go of.

A lot of my ideas are elaborated on by Sara Ahmed in her essay “Happy Objects.” Here’s an excerpt:

“The figure of the melancholic migrant is a familiar on in contemporary race politics. The melancholic migrant holds onto the unhappy objects of differences, such as the turban, or at least the memory of being teased about the turban, which ties it to a history of racism. Such differences become sore points or blockage points, where the smooth passage of communication stops. The melancholic migrant is the one who is not only stubbornly attached to difference, but who insists on speaking about racism, where such speech is heard as laboring over sore points. The duty of the migrant is to let go of the pain of racism by letting go of racism as a way of understanding that pain. The melancholic migrant’s fixation with injury is read not only as an obstacle to his or her own happiness, but also to the happiness of the generation to come, and to national happiness. This figure may even quickly convert in the national imaginary to what I have called the “could-be-terrorist” (Ahmed 2004). His anger, pain, and misery (all understood as forms of bad faith in so far as they won’t let go of something that is presumed to be already gone) become “our terror.”

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