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.

!) Slime Dynamics: Ben Woodard argues that time and slime is the dark vitalism or force that drives all activity/life. I see in his attention to slime a little bit of kinship with Black Ecology, which views nature as a network in which all objects have agential roles, not just humans. Slime Dynamics looks at the slimy basis of life, the way that it is entwined with decay, bacteria, microbes and fungi, these being the movers and the horrible universal infection, unseen but all-permeating beneath all life, (whatever that may be). I see slime dynamics in poetry such as Apps’ particularly when grammar and syntax break down as if cracked by decay, slime molds being the miraculous swarm made up of individuals, as the body is a swarm made up of innumerable other swarms of infection. What does time have to do with the poetry? I remember hearing Aaron say that instead of focusing on the foot that does not step in the same river twice (time = change), we should focus on the pebble underneath, the crushed dirt clod, the bodies underneath the clod, the blood that runs in it the tiny life that germinates in it, the unsaid history. Time stops, runs back on itself. The difference between Apps’s ethics and slime dynamics / dark vitalism is that App’s does not believe that one can transcend the social, no matter how posthuman.  Apps: “Everything is run through with infection, bacteria, and microbes. Smegma. Poetry should be especially aware of this bodily extension. Every subjectivity that perceives is phallic and diseased…” (7).

@) “Every subjectivity that perceives is phallic and diseased.” Aaron’s poetics is a poethics that smashes. There is no body uninfected by oppressive systems, conscious or not. He pushes our noses into our own shit. The shit that piles at our feet as we are blown back by the airy lines of history. Pooping angels. The digestive ecologies barely bordering on pathology allow the body to pass gas and waste. Ideological ecologies do the same (Racism, sexism and classism are infections and miasmas permeating us and not us, the air between us). So Compost Mentis is not an argument about the division between soul and body or its rupture. In fact it is an explosion of both, while knowing that there is no thinking outside the body, without the body. “Ensoulment” (a word I read on Elaine Castillo’s blog and that I have come to love) is a fold in the flesh, the darkness in it, the unseen machine materialized by slimy bodies. Totally porous, we are already open to the terror of the world which folds into our contours and content. “When I say lyric, I mean the I that is not I. I mean I take the complex I and put it in a single limb or single stone that rattles in a biological tumbler” (12).

#) Yet moments of collectivity, which I interpret as both being-in-multitude and being-multiple, are ephemeral: “The body seeps thoughts on plastic, petroleum, petri discs and watches them grow. Receives feedback from other subjects in fleeting moments. The body then notices all the trash, waste and pain this process caused others. The beyond the poem. The thing the body pushes into the act of writing, spitting on the filled page. The refuse of the short reaching dark-elsewhere. / But that realization is fleeting, the bodies in these poems feel helpless. The bodies howl through all the holes in their bodies” (21). Being numerous oscillates between one, the navel, and many, the dissipation of ego. I see in the lines a self-critique of poetic practice. I also see an analogous loop in any perception of others, any trying to interact as bodies embedded in already corrupted, slimy (figurative and not) systems. The poem acts as a membrane or a placenta (see Sarah Fox’s posts on placental economy) that sustains a symbiotic relationship that then immediately slips into parasitism. The body is not just meat. The body is bacteria and language, capital and power, affect and effect. But all of these things collapse into the form of a digestive tract in process and decay within a world.

$) Thom Donovan’s essay on somatic poetics talks about the body as a form (coextensive with content, becoming, written). It begins with an epigraph quote from Eleni Stecopulos: “I dreamt we were susceptive to language / that care might be agency’s complement / and form never more than condition / passing as body…” These poetries encourage me to think about ways in which we can reconfigure the ways we conceive of communities. How can we level hierarchies to exist with one another, when we are composites of such infections and conditions? “The poems contained are a splatter of my body that is infected with cheap academic “complexity,” racism, patriarchy and consumerist wastefulness. I jiggles its fleshy war-nodes. They break into a thousand thousand perceiving sexes [ . . . ] The field writhes into itself and, in turn, upholds the tower. I writes a poem to turn the tower into the shadows in the grass that are filled with sexing worm tongues.”

%) If we could shadow each other’s shadows and worm into each other’s perceiving sexes.

&) “The darkness, the darkness” (70) as an inversion of the horror in the Heart of Darkness, this poetry is darkness within and without, as the subject is implicated in the systemic horror all around us. The dark tentacle in the poem that reaches out to the dark tentacle in you. From inside to inside, bleeding form to bleeding form. The poems between the reflexive prose-blocks are where affective flashes collide, vulnerably, democratically extending their sense-tongues to you, an invitation to deep touch, to love, to “fuck-hands.”

*) I <3 this book.

PS the cover has great Christmas colors! Just a gift idea.

1 comment for this entry:
  1. Johannes

    This is my blurb of the book:

    “If angels represent the human idea of frictionless communication between souls, the ‘fuckscapes’ of Aaron Apps’s ranty, violent first book COMPOS(T) MENTIS suggests communication as beastly, ‘extra-somatic,’ ‘liquid infection.’ Instead of the perfect, clean medium of the angels, Apps wants his medium to be ‘dripping filth.’ Instead of the ideal of private interiority, Apps’s book pushes his poetry as a form of violence to the self, constantly brutalizing and opening up bodies with cuts and liquids. Even beauty is rubbed, ripped open and made to ‘bleed ink.’ Apps is not looking for angels, he is becoming a goat.”—Johannes Göransson