"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.]

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)

It seems as if a key part of your argument is that through a kind of translation, Smith ultra-literalizes Baudelaire’s “symbolism” into a space where language and place become an over-saturated (“loaded”) space. I wonder if that’s not always a risk in symbolist and Romantic poetry – I think for example about the way Keats’ over-uses consonance and synesthesia, often at the moment of sensual delight (wine, nymphs, viewless wings of poesy etc); Keats goes for over-saturation. And that may be why he was initially rejected as a novice. This “loaded” aesthetic lacks critical distance in its literalism. (Though it seems to me that symbols lend themselves to a literalization. Just like how allegories become totally decadent when the key to the meaning is thrown away, or at least delayed. Maybe the meaning is always delayed. Maybe this opens up for occult readings.)

(1903 cover to Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mal)

You can see this ultra-literalization in the figure of the dandy, who becomes such a threatening figure to folks because the clothes suggest a rejection of transcendence, symbolism. This is almost always a sign of kitsch, of bad taste. As Tiffany also shows, kitsch is not about a lack but about “excessive beauty.” It’s bad taste not to be able to restrain one self, not to be able to abstract (make symbolic) the loaded garden. The artfulness is not redeemed. Willa Cather’s Paul is beauty unredeemed; he has to be made a criminal and killed.

As is obvious from my own writing and blogging and translating, this is the “ore” of aesthetics I’m most interested in (after all I’ve spent years translating lovecraft-afficionado aase berg’s Lovecrafty sci-fi Aniara-fan-fiction Mörk materia) and I know the same is true of you.

(And I think Geoffrey is correct to see Jon Leon’s embrace of 80s music video aesthetics as something like Dandyism. There is no “critique,” ie the contemporary idea of transcendence in experimental poetry, but instead “style”.)

I see this vein continue throughout twentieth century, perhaps especially in Scandinavian poetry. In Kim’s last post, he talked about Lindegren’s disease-glamour, and in the comment section I mentioned 1950s poet Paul Anderson who has all these poems about warriors and centaurs and tentacles written while high on amphetamines, and Martinsson’s Aniara, and more recently Johannes Helden’s sci fi books and of course Berg’s b-movie fantasias, and in Denmark, Michael Strunge’s 1980s sci-fi-symbolist homages to Joy Division etc.

(from Jack Smith’s Normal Love)

In America, one can also see it in Kenneth Anger’s porny LA occultism or in Jack Smith’s ornate orientalist trash. Or in the ornate violence and degenerate mermaids of the gurlesque. Or in Dennis Cooper’s new novel, The Marbled Swarm, where the fancy prose, as Nabokov suggested a long time ago, is the sign of a truly perverse killer. Or the very poetic but horror-movie-inspired fashion of the Rodarte sisters, Joyelle’s MIA-meets-Tennyson chant “Avarice Reverie,” and James Pate’s necroglamorous costume dramas.

OK, at this point I’m just listing stuff, loading the post with stuff…

4 comments for this entry:
  1. Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle

    “Proud to Be a Part of this Number” (Jim Morrison)

    Johannes, I am devouring Cooper’s Marbled Swarm! His word choice is as baroque as Gongora, or Alfred Jarry: distancing us by (Kantian) perverse laminations from that first natural term he might have used, were he not morbidly driven. His will to kill targets not EMO tweens and Flatsos, but our native tongue itself. Interviewed, Cooper refers to Robbe Grillet, more for the chateau’s architecture than (la langue) language. Hell, I’d say Swarm is pure Maldoror! For we know Ducasse re-wrote the entire final version, ramping every human term up from tooth to fang.

    Thanks so—
    Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle

  2. Johannes

    Yes, the prose is pretty much the opposite of Robbe-Grillet, but it might be the film, Last Year at Marienbad, with its ornate, decadent architecture and furnishing, which of course takes over the movie completely.


  3. Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle

    Dandy in the Underworld (T Rex)

    Our picture of the dandy may fuse with the flaneur due to Benjamin’s predominance in our past projections, yet the flaneur acts, “As little as possible” (Polanski:Chinatown). The dandy was a look. Consider Baudelaire cloaked in Bible black, mourning his revoked fortune, as shot by Nadar. What then of his modish rooms which he previously re-silked weekly? Haut glass at Hotel Pinal, for which he paid quite dearly, scratched blank with his penknife to obscure that prized, yet morosely “natural” river view? (Was this that same penknife B. drove through his breast at some dinner out, cry of love to Jeanne Duval?)

    I stray; get carried away. I keep a drawing of Balzac with Theophile Gautier. Huge, like Wilde, Balzac was all cost. Gold pommel cudgel. 100’s of doeskin gloves. Hatters and his Cabriolet. Succe$$ful, yes, in life as both writer and celeb still he had tunnels dug beneath his road to outfox dunning tailors.

    Concoctions, confections: it’s Gautier out-did Dali. He swans bee-waist in corset sash, hat flat as Sterling’s platters. Knock kneed Rod Stewart’s sneaks & tights, poorly pushing 50. No! Prada’s got nothing on G. His shoes alone resemble blind deep-sea crush-proof fishes, phosphenes, pencil spot Ion lamps shimmering from spines. So our poet’s vaunted brainpan fogs with “the vapors”, waxwings, veils. *

    The English peacock decidedly was male. Brummel created basic black but wore out servants daily by discarding neckties incorrectly tied. Lords lent their wives to cover gaming debt . . .

    I refer you to my item Dead Can Dance, Decadence and Post-Mortemism in Montevidayo’s archive.

    These dudes (in Bowie’s sense) were not fops. Nancy-boy Edouard Manet bent his sword dueling with a critic who’d dissed him. Byron, hamstrung by his clubfoot of course became a boxer.

    I’ve seen Marc Bolan’s (T Rex) grave, Golder’s Green, London. He’s buried with Bram Stoker, Sigmund Freud, and The Who’s drummer Keith Moon. Nearby, Freud’s consulting couch, like the Alamo in Texas, sags naggingly small. John Keats’ whole house is tiny.

    Visitors Advisory. Everything’s sold but the chamber pot: true as well of Balzac’s home in Paris.

    *Yale recently released A Selected Poems of T. Gautier. (Sadly their translations are forced rhyme.) Hugo, Balzac, Baudelaire crowned him Prince of Poets. Me? He’s a widdle drippy.

    Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle

  4. Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle

    Lapidary. G C-H