It's too much… (pt 2): Zambreno, Glut, Theatricality, Lolita and Fan Fiction

by on Dec.11, 2012

I haven’t read Kate Zambreno’s Heroines, but I’ve read excerpts from it and I’ve read her blog and other things she’s written, so forgive me if I start to babble about something I might be getting totally wrong; but Megan’s review really made me think about a few things we’ve been talking about on this blog lately (and not so lately): the “glut” of poetry (there’s too much, there’s no proper hierarchy etc), Teemu’s analysis of Clark Ashton Smith’s flawed “translations” of Baudelaire and the French 19th century, and James Pate’s recent defense of operatic theatricality (versus the pervasive critiques of the authentic/inauthentic, the truly great vs the counterfeiter).

What became apparent to me from reading Megan’s review is this crucial notion, the “vampirism” or “cannibalism” or “channeling” of art: it’s art that makes more art, that feeds off other art to make it immortal, to pass on fluids from one art to the next artwork. The class critique of Zambreno’s book might be most of all interesting in that it echoes Marx’s famous gothic metaphor of capital as a vampire on the working class.

And this for me ties into all the anxious attacks on “the hipster,” that glamorous figure of art that somehow stands in for all kinds of excess, luxury etc. Without ascribing motives to various critiques of Zambreno’s work, isn’t it true that all the cases of vampirism she cites in fact echo her own fan-girl vampiring of certain literary figures. In this sense in her scholarship she performs as vampire, that necroglamorous figure of art standing in as another kind of “hipster” figure, a representative of Art as Luxury, and Privilege. It is the hipster-scholar-artist-art-lover’s privilege to be useless, vampirical, inseminating and inseminated, not dutifully redeeming our society’s ills, as being privileged just to be itself, a blood-sucker.

Lets not forget that Andy Warhol was nicknamed Drella (Dracula + Cinderella):

“soft surrealism”: it produces a tasteless excess.

What I take from Teemu’s post (among other things) is the sense of a certain kind of “translation” as a model of influence. Smith’s translations of Baudelaire are flawed because he literalizes Baudelaire’s imagery, ruining the symbolism, losing the “tenor” so to speak of the images. Like I said in my initial response, it seems to me that this is always the danger of Symbolism: it becomes about clothing instead of meaning. And it seems this has something to do with the nature of “allegory” as well.

Another word for this model of influence might be “fan fiction.” I haven’t read too much in this genre but it seems really awesome, prone to reading erotic and forbidden encounters into the texts (often of nerdy shows like Star Trek or Dr Who, often remade as erotic by women or gay people; a couple of years ago, a person at the Notre Dame workshops at the South Bend homeless shelter had a breathless and mind-blowing story about fucking Dr Spock from Star Trek). But it seems what fan fiction does is alter the harmonious “whole” of the original, taking spaces and moods and pulling new matter out of those openings.

Fan Fiction makes “too much,” an excess that might – as in this case – ruin the completeness of the “original” the way a translation scandalizes the original. Of course one of the key reasons that people object to translation is that it makes for “too much”: too many poems, too many interpretation of too many foreigners, who create too many lineages (easy lineages like Silliman’s patriarchal New American Poets vs Quietists break down). This is what fan fictions do too, what “too much” gluttiness does too: the center cannot hold! (How many times have that phrase been reappropriated so that it now reads as an emptied out kitsch-clothing!)


In my own life I think of Twin Peaks, which I’ve attempted to rewrite over and over. I watched that show on VHS in the late 90s during a summer break from MFA school, watching with my girlfriend sometimes 3-4 episodes per day, becoming totally saturated with Twin-Peak-ness. I constantly had dreams about the show that seemed as real as the actual episodes – they were fan fictions. One night my girlfriend woke me in the middle of the night with a horrific expression on her face, gasping (very House-of-Usher-ly) “Who killed Lara Palmer?” before collapsing back into sleep. Next morning she didn’t remember it at all.

One of the amazing things about Twin Peaks is that it seemed to be a fan fiction of itself: constantly finding strange but not entirely convincing openings in itself out of which new plot twists appeared. For example, how Maddy the Cousin is a plot twist that seems born out of the riddle in the red room dream, as if the story tries to find the answer to that red room riddle, the heart of the series, a site of art’s own duplicity, a kind of beauty-kitsch-trauma that keeps rewriting itself. And of course Lynch has returned to that red room over and over in subsequent movies, even casting the little man as a giant in Mullholland Drive.

But it’s wrong to thing of Lynch as going back to a Meaning or Symbol: I think it’s a return to an atmosphere, kitschy interior decorating, STYLE.

And of course that red room was a fan fiction to begin with, reaching back to the intoxicating/kitschy beauty of the corridors in Kubrikc’s The Shining and its rooms with double-girls and ghost-channelings and backwards talk (“redrum”).

Two of the best books I’ve read over the past 5-10 years are Sara Stridsberg’s Darling River and Sara Tuss Efrik’s Mumieland. Stridsberg’s book is a fan fiction of sorts of Nabokov’s Lolita (which of course is the greatest fan fictiton of all, drawing from Poe but also a German Nazi writer who lived next door to Nabokov in Berlin); it’s a book full of various kinds of Lolitas and what holds them together is the motif of a girl riding in her daddy’s car through various dreamscapes (burning forests etc) and the girl is progressively physically degenerating in some kind of disease and/or childbirth. Efrik’s book takes this daddy-and-daughter-in-car theme and explodes it: they go everywhere and fuck tons of people in tons of ways, living in all kinds of squalor. But it’s also incredibly beautiful.

Apparently one criticism of Kate Zambreno’s new book is that it doesn’t pay attention to race and class, instead focusing so much on a certain group of economically fairly well-off women in marriages. That seems like an important thing to consider, but it seems to miss a key component of Kate’s work: the sense in which she’s constantly involved in a kind of fan-fictioneering of certain “heroines”. It seems she’s very fascinated with certain women in large part by “misreading” them (in Teemu’s sense), drawing on their hairstyles and clothing etc, drawn to their theatricality – missing their supposed “meaning” in the Literary Tradition. By “vampire-ing” them she in fact makes them powerful, makes them live again. The radical act might be this gothic translation, not a standard critique of exclusion etc.

I’m drawing this from Kate’s blog and those very personal yet theatrical blog entries, which generated a wonderful site of “glut” – or “gluttony” (ie cannibalism) – of poetry, for which we now blame the Internet (but as Mike Chasar points out in his discussion with Jed Rasula, this glut has been with us since the masses started to read and write and make scrap books).

In that sense, Kate’s work is more of a “fan fiction” (it’s called “Heroines” for christsake! What could be more fan-fiction-y title!); something more like Kate Durbin’s various Gaga projects.

Or we might draw the connection back again to Montevidayo and pretty much all of Joyelle’s essays, essays that enter into not the author, but the texts. One of the things that are so amazing about Joyelle’s work is that the essays are almost always exponentially longer than the original work she’s analyzing. In her book she has a 40-50 page essay about “Lala Curo” (which is a fairly short story of a few pages). (Of course this would not be possible about “2666”!).

Criticism as fan fiction.

This is of course channeling, vampiring, the opposite of the model presented by Kenny Goldsmith – he claims “Uncreative Writing” as the antidote to the too-much-ness “glut” of “Creative Writing”; he told Steve Burt that he didn’t need to worry about the “glut” of poetry because “Conceptual Writing” made sense of all this information as a kind of filter – ie Conceputal Writing is Canonical Writing, and it’s not “creative” writing – no need to worry about the kitsch of poetry – both the kitschiness of the “too much” reproduced quality or the kitschiness of the “poetic diction” of poetry, the “hand” of poetry so to speak (Keats’ “this living [zombie] hand”).

Or Jack Smith’s fan fiction of Maria Mantez. Or Joseph Cornell’s fan fiction of various movie stars of the silent era. Or Max Ernst’s fan fiction of certain Victorian picture books. Etc.

I’m running out of steam here but I want to finally make a final turn to engage with the kitschiness of vampires, the kitsch of art. In Celeste Olalquiaga’s book, The Artificial Kingdom, she talks about the “wunderkammer” (hello Joseph Cornell) and how it used to tie together all kind of marvels not by what we now would call strictly scientific basis but instead by a sense of “wonder” – a sense that art crossed all kinds of species lines etc. No wonder that this became one of the models of kitsch.

No, I want to make one final turn and that’s to James Pate’s post from a couple of days ago, defending the theatrical against charges of inauthenticity, a charge that could be leveled against every work of art:

Personas, floating operas, scrims hanging in condemned theaters, black velvet paintings, Gilgamesh and Enkidu as Laurel and Hardy, or two Francis Bacon wrestlers, or the Usher siblings, the fictionalized account, the way all accounts are fictionalized accounts, the mask behind the face, Hegel’s night behind the human eye, a night without breadth or depth, without ground or sky, morality as aesthetics and aesthetics as morality, Caravaggio’s saints with dirt on the bottom of their feet, Caravaggio’s Bacchus leaning back on a filthy 16th century pillow: that’s what interests me more than any claim for an authentic voice, more than any search for the so-called truth.

What the Eliotic Canonizers of this world (whether Poetry Foundation or Ron Silliman or whoever) fear is this “glut” of theatricality because it’s too hard to control, to create a center out of, to create the authentic, the taste that will “last” into “immortality.” It’s a “glut” of dressing up: of wearing one’s influences rather than making a nice orderly symbolic system out of them.

It’s too much. It’s atrocious.

In the face of this, I am excited by critical approaches like Zambreno’s, which seek to be insightful while not reducing or tidying up either the text or the enthusiasm which brings readers and critics to obsess over texts and authors in the first place.

This is what I admire about Kate’s approach: that she approaches certain literary phenomenon with the zeal and energy of the fan writing fan fiction, ‘vampirising’ these figures but also re-inflating them with unholy immortality in the bloodiness of her new accounts. This is a model of art and scholarship I can get behind– inflated bloodlines, asterisms of bruises, burnt out corpuscles and stars.

21 comments for this entry:
  1. James Pate

    Great post, Johannes. Back in the 80s, I used to read this book series called “Choose your own adventure” — as you read it, you made choices that had you leap to this page or that page. Jack Smith and Warhol and many of the other artists you mention here have a “make your own reality” approach.

    And this is political too. Both the left and the right are hung up on foundations, on bedrock truths. The question shouldn’t be what are the truths (about human nature and the true notion of justice and so on) that will lead to a better society. Rather, reality should be seen as a toy. Or a stage. Or a film that hasn’t been written yet, though all the props are scattered around.


  2. Joyelle McSweeney

    I really feel like gender performance is given but unmarked term of scholarly and critical writing– the acolyte, the correcting ‘daddy’, the know-it-all up-and-comer, the hatchetman, the cooly snide, the bored don, the superior humanist, the Next Big Thing– these are all paternalist (male) tropes that are performed in the pages of conventional review rags all the time. The fangirl or fanboie scholar performs the gender of criticism palpably, and with a difference– over performs, you might say.

  3. James Pate

    Really interesting point, Joyelle. I like the way you give the various strategies masks. I think one of the undercurrents of a surprising amount of many of these masks in scholarly writing (as awkward as that metaphor is) is the Moralist. So often, it seems like one mask is reprimanding a previous mask for some moral failing, with some sort of moral Good shining off in the distance, a bright Platonic Form. As if criticism was primarily an instrument leading us to moral perfection. A very linear notion of criticism, to say the least. This even happens sometimes in “deconstructive” critical writings, which is especially weird, since deconstruction is so focused on undermining linearity and Forms.


  4. Matt Miller

    I’m wondering who this group is that is claiming there is “too much” contemporary poetry. I recall Johannes citing Stephen Burt, but I cannot recall any other concrete examples of established critics/poets arguing that lots of people writing poetry is a bad thing. I guess I can recall grumblings of this sort on a few individuals blogs, but that’s about it.

    Is the “too much” thinking synonymous with the MFA haters? Is your target older established poets, a faction of the previous generational milieu of poet-critics?

    As far as mainstream academia goes, it seems to me that larger response is complete apathy and obliviousness. Only a few peer-reviewed academic journals publish criticism about poetry at all, let alone contemporary poetry. Look at the list of talks at MLA for the last several years, and aside from the year that Perloff emceed, there is a rather depressing lack of poetry (and even that year, there was this whole “poetry in the age of cultural studies” vibe). I believe last year in Seattle the panel I was on was the only one addressing living poets. (I might be wrong about this, but it was certainly one of a very small number.)

    I don’t really see an oppressive bastion of would-be taste-makers stuck on this argument of “too much.” I do see an oblivious bastion of potential taste-makers (Profs) who increasingly treat poetry as a dead art.

  5. Johannes

    I cant agree with you here. In the past ive given tons of instances of this rhetoric. Just google it. The perloff article that the chasar rasula discussion responded to begins with this rhetoric, citing a rasula article. Kenny Goldsmiths triumphalist rhetoric is all about how there is too much creative writing that the best response is to be uncreative. Etc


  6. Johannes

    But yes its often connected to anti mfa rhetoric.


  7. Beth T.

    I am really fascinated by the concept of criticism as fan-fiction, that it contains a too-muchness that possibly overwrites the object itself, and that this overwriting isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As an avid fan-fiction reader who loves the ways the genre does really interesting things with gender and narrative constructs, I see fan-fiction as one of the great contemporary critiques of both art and society. It’s interesting because it’s coming from what we so often consider the lowest critics – teenagers, lonely moms, etc. I like to think there’s not a glut of poetry happening for the same reason: some of the most interesting critiques offered about art/society/etc often come from the people who are most obscured by it, pushed to the boundaries and shouting from the sidelines. Essentially, fan-fiction writers and glutonous poets are the 12th man.

  8. Johannes

    Good points Beth. I guess that’s why my model “fan-fiction-eer” remains that homeless woman rewriting Star Trek. But I also had a really great student a few years ago who was “famous” in fan fiction circles for her writing of some now-defunct sci-fi show that only lasted a couple of seasons… Johannes

  9. Matt Miller

    I was sincere about my question, and Googling it didn’t help much. But at your suggestion, I did just go back and reread that Perloff article. If you are presenting her as an example of someone complaining that there is too much poetry, then I think you are off on this one at least. She is not complaining about too much poetry. Rather, she is complaining about too much uniformity in current poetry–an argument with which I should think you would agree:

    “What makes Rasula’s cautionary tale so sobering is that the sheer number of poets now plying their craft inevitably ensures moderation and safety. The national (or even transnational) demand for a certain kind of prize-winning, “well-crafted” poem—a poem that the New Yorker would see fit to print and that would help its author get one of the “good jobs” advertised by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs—has produced an extraordinary uniformity.” Overall, that seems pretty reasonable. I do in fact see many, many poems that fit her description, and they mostly suck. To me this seems like a statement against “moderation and safety,” not the reality of many poets.

    What I sense in this article is not an example of the rhetoric of “too much.” Consider statements like this one: “At this point, the lack of consensus about the poetry of the postwar decades has led not, as one might have hoped, to a cheerful pluralism animated by noisy critical debate about the nature of lyric, but to the curious closure exemplified by the Dove anthology.”

    She is arguing against the closure of the Dove anthology, not a cultural profusion of poets. Her phrasing, “as one might have hoped, to a cheerful pluralism,” seems to indicate the opposite of what I thought you were accusing her of–a dislike of the profusion of poetry based on a desire to master the field.

    Perloff has said some stupid shit in the past, but her review of the Dove anthology strikes me as one of her better moments. And in the end, even if I often disagree with her, I would rather have more of what Perloff offers than what most critics offer about poetry, which is silence.

  10. Johannes


    I’ve read a lot of books by Perloff and I share your admiration for her devotion to poetry (and I also find Dove’s anthology breathlessly bad, and I also think there’s a whole lot of really terrible poetry). But I do have some serious disagreements with her – about the poetry she champions/disparages, but also the methods she uses. Her stance tends to be very High Modernist – dismissing “surrealism” as tasteless kitsch for example (as I’ve documented on this blog, surrealism has come to mean more or less kitsch). It’s a prestige-based model of literature.

    I would also say this that a lot of the “too much” rhetoric are in the background of Perloff’s argument, but it’s made explicit a lot of the time, but mostly it’s explicit not in articles or essays (or as in Steve Burt’s blog post which I wrote about at the time and now people are talkign about on Boston Review) but in conversations and gossip and taste-making in offices and cafes and at conferences.

    It’s a point that is seldom developed into an “argument” in an official paper (though it is sometimes). I’ve heard this argument repeatedly made as a jokey aside in conference talks, job talks, yes, but more often in conversations with people. And seriously a lot of “consensus” in poetry takes place precisely in the small-talk that is not open to wider discussions. I’m really surprised that you have never heard this meme. I find it startling. Keep your ears open and you will hear it.

    When Joyelle and I started Action Books that’s what everybody told us – “… there’s already too much bla bla… but also will you please publish me, I deserve to be one of the few…”

    Also, as you can perhaps tell, I think this idea of a “glut” is actually not something people want to do something about – it’s actually necessary for a certain aesthetic model. Our current system needs the “glut” so to speak in order to define the prestigious few. What i want to do is rethink the way we think about the glut, I think that will lead to a more interesting way of reading and writing.


  11. Gene Tanta

    Being an aesthete or a fan or a religious person is just fine. No one gets hurt, right? Unless we think about the way in which these rituals of being get institutionalized and coded into law and into human bodies. What happens when we aestheticize the grotesque? Does it not carry the same peril of fascism against which Benjamin warns: do not aestheticize politics, but rather politicize aesthetics.

    What happens when we compress the difference between the good and the beautiful? How is this great artistic freedom intended or received by variously empowered makers and readers? If the goal is to redirect power away from the canon and toward the cheerful (or not so cheerful pluralism) than I agree. However, if being-in-no-difference means pretending we live outside of history, then I must extend my resistance and question, if questioning can even exist after the death of difference.

    I’m talking about the vanity and validity of difference. Without difference between form and content (don’t have a heart attack, James ;-)), we are all aesthetes going the bidding of whatever ideological paradigm rules the current zeitgeist. Without difference, we have no way to know material history or no way to do analysis (without difference, into what component parts would we break anything?). Let me head off the obvious retort by pointing out that this dualistic, Aristotlian way of thinking begs the critical deconstructive question: what do we do without essential difference (when difference is _only_ in the hearing and not in the being of a word)? Do we need a fundamental scene, a bedrock foundation of being in order to have differences between things like aesthetics and ethics? Or can we construct such difference socially in time (dialectically, as it were) without a fixed condition of existence beneath our feet and beyond the linguistic hail?

    Joyelle brings up a fine point: fan lit performs a kind of default gendered rhetorical locus. Still, though, the reach of this gendered voice is colored by the reception of its intention. This matters less because of the relativism and subjectivity attending to reception implies, though we should keep such things in mind, and more because of the effect of the gendered tongue on the un-gendered (default male) ear. In other words, How effectively do feminist performatives protest patriarchal performatives?

  12. Johannes

    I don’t think anybody is aestheticzing the grotesque. The grotesque is an aesthetic concept. It very specifically refers back to some wall decorations found in rooms beneath Rome. But it was also always political: it was attacked by the Church for being anti-God.

    I absolutely disagree with Benjamin’s famous statement. I think aesthetics are already political (in a bunch of different ways) and politics are aesthetic (in a bunch of different ways, not the least Ronald Reagan riding into the white house on his bone-white horse).

    THis doesn’t mean that the grotesque or the aesthetic is necessarily “good” in some simple or easily emancipatory way. The anti-abortion movement for example is a grotesque aesthetic, one I am very interested in (I have performances that take place at abortion protests), but I’m obviously totally opposed to both their ends and their means. But I’m not even sure I’m “opposed” to them because it suggest an easy division; we have much more in common than that. The most interesting thing I’ve read in this regard might be Mbebe’s discussion of the grotesque connection between protestors and dictators (often great fans of the grotesque) in Africa.

    People get hurt by/for aesthetics all the time. Why don’t you spray paint Guiliani’s house and see what happens? Aesthetics is constantly the site of policing and punishment. It’s also the site of discussion/policing about luxury, the body, the foreign (which is to say it’s about capitalism, globalism).

    I think your thinking is political as well in the way it makes the aesthetic supplementary, a luxury, vulnerable to whatever dominant zeitgest rules. Your discussions of “effectivity” and “no one gets hurt in art” to me suggests a politics I totally disagree with, one in which “aesthetic” is something suspect because of its vulnerability. I believe in those damned sissies and their poppy-colored lanterns!


  13. James Pate


    Good points. I’ve never really agreed with Benjamin in this regard. After all, communism is incredibly aestheticized too. You should know better than anyone, considering Ramona’s studies of Romanian kitsch. I think everything is already in the aesthetic realm, and there can’t be a politics without rhetoric, images, fashions, certain types of gestures. And yes, this goes back to the form/content question. I just don’t believe there is any Platonic content hanging out somewhere over and above us.

    Anyway, I know we disagree here, but so be it. Hope you all are having a good time in Bucharest. Watch out for street dogs.


  14. Matt Miller

    Oh sure, I’ve heard people complain or express exasperation over drinks, etc. that there is too much bad poetry out there. Hell, I’ve done it too. I generally take these kind of statements to be general kvetching, not sincere criticism so much as exasperation at the gazillion submissions one has to read for this or that contest or this or that job posting.

    I think I must have misunderstood you, thinking you were aiming to identify something more oppressive and ideologically suspect. I can see how some of the MFA hating might fit this bill.

    By the way, I remember your intense Twin Peaks phase. I watched that same set of VHS tapes, I believe.

  15. Gene Tanta


    All’s well here. Street dogs don’t bite; they shiver.

    Of course communism, Stalin’s moustache and Regan’s wink are aesthetic. As I recall Benjamin wasn’t arguing that politics doesn’t have an aesthetic aspect (this is far too simple of a reading of his own moustache). He was talking about what one aught to do, confronted with the occasion of doing: radicalize beauty, don’t put markup on politics.

    Contrary to how you’ve always categorized me, I don’t believe in an ideal forms dimension either … I do however like to push deconstruction to where it is faced with its own binaries. If everything is art, how can we know it?

    Give my best to Carry and the girls,

  16. Gene Tanta


    I agree with many of the things you say but I’ll ignore those. I’ll just point to where I may disagree for the sake of discussion.

    When you (or Kim Hyesoon) represent the body in distress or under violent duress, do you consider that this might be received as an act of mediation? Regarding the pain of others (first by the writer as the first reader and later by other readers) seems like a site of many kinds of contestation (as you suggest). One of the kinds of contestation using the body, as site of mimetic disgust and hurt, is the haggling over who has the right to represent whom and to what degree of accuracy it is achieved.

    If it’s useful my question would be, how might a poet represent horror and disgust and the grossness of man’s inhumanity to man without doing the additional violence of misrepresenting that which ought to be represented fairly and accurately.

    One of the main questions for any student of the avant-garde and 20th century language philosophy has to be this: in a unitary world where life is art, is there room for ethics? (Of course art and ethics can overlap, but they are not synonymous.)


  17. James Pate

    Gene, yes, I know you like to always defend the supposed common sense view of things (of course, there’s a difference between content/form, of course ethics are more foundational than aesthetics) but I couldn’t disagree more, as you know.

    First, a big problem: you state that “if it’s useful my question would be, how might a poet represent horror and disgust and the grossness of man’s inhumanity to man without doing the additional violence of misrepresenting that which ought to be represented fairly and accurately.”

    You have this very conservative/classical notion that reality is simply out there waiting for us to “represent” it (and to do so “accurately”). Reality isn’t out there. Reality is a constant construction, a constant creation. And there are no “accuracy” gods out there nodding approval or disapproval about our representations (I don’t believe art and language is representational, but I won’t even go into that). Facts do exist, of course. I’m writing at a table. I’m sitting in a chair. But even these are human products with human names. There is no third person omniscient point of view out there for us to “represent” “accurately.”

    As for ethics and art: you have the view that runs from Plato to Kant and beyond, to what I would call the current “common sense” view of Very Serious People (to use Krugman’s phrase), and which is dominant in our culture. Art is window dressing, and ethics are the meat and potatoes. There are laws, there are duties, there are ethical imperatives, we simply have to discover them. And this is in harmony with “reality”: nature has purpose, and so do we, through reason, which Nature (or God, in Kant) has given us.

    But there’s the counter-tradition of the Epicureans and Hume and Nietzsche and early Sartre and later Foucault. Basically, it’s the skeptical turn. There are no metaphysical mandates for us to behave a certain way, no Aristotlean/Kantian teleological dictates claiming that we are designed with reason, therefore we must use reason to think through a proper moral framework for ourselves and those around us.

    As Hume says, you cannot derive an ‘ougt’ from an ‘is.’ If we take out the teleological design element, the world does not give us any clues about how we should live. Or as Sartre argues, and he’s very close to Foucault here, we simply show up, we were not designed with purpose, therefore we have to choice but to come up with purposes of our own. And we can’t rely on “human nature” or “reality” or some noumenal insurance policy to create our ethics for us.

    And Foucault takes this to the furthest extreme. With no foundations, our lives become creations. As he said near the end of his life, why shouldn’t a human life be considered a work of art? Without foundations, there is no other choice. Our ethics become our art and our art our ethics (and no, not art representing reality “accurately,” that tired old vision, but art as the make-up of reality).

    And this goes to the content /form issue for obvious reasons. I don’t have a “window picture” view of reality. You do. That really is what it comes down to.

    Anyway, there is really no point debating this (and we’ve been debating this for years, as you well know!) This isn’t about rationality, it’s about belief. And I just don’t believe in the reality you believe in.


  18. Johannes


    I think art is a kind of violence. As such it “mediumizes”. Among others, the writer and reader.

    I tend not to think of art as “mimetic” exactly, but rather as a medium, something that channels and connects and disrupts. It doesn’t seem as placid/clear as your model of “regarding the pain of others.” I feel pain, I’m pretty sure Kim Hyesoon feels pain.

    Because I don’t see art/mimesis in such cut and dry terms, it’s hard for me to establish what would be “fair and accurate.” Who decides? Fox News?

    I’m sure there are ethics in my poetry and the poetry I like, though I tend not to be concerned with it because discussions of ethics so often leads to a “culture of redemption” discussion where art makes up for the misdeeds of history.

    And so often ethics rhetoric tends to be used police and moderate poetry and art. You never hear people say about dull art, is this fair and accurate? It’s always art that seems to be “too much” where people feel the need to say, hey there’s too much going on here, is this fair and balanced? Do you have a license for that jouissance?


  19. Megan Milks

    this notion of criticism as fan fiction reminds me of pomo litcrit essays by larry mccaffery and others (can’t think of names at the moment) – calling this approach critifiction – mccaffery analyzing kathy acker by taking on her style, for instance, or introducing her as a character in a pulp fiction (as he does in the intro to the Avant-pop anthology – or somewhere, that book’s in my office). when mccaffery came to UIC a couple years ago this fan-fiction-y approach was pooh-poohed as ‘boosterism’ by um, someone — i.e. not real criticism.

    on another note: oh hey, my new chapbook TWINS (out now on Birds of Lace!) is straight up fan fiction – in which i — AND YOU (whoa) — become the sweet valley twins. some early readers told me it wasn’t parodic enough and they were right – it’s not parody at all! i <3 elizabeth and jessica: .

  20. Johannes

    Funny, I’ll have to check out all of this. But I like that it’s not parodic; parody is a kind of comforting distance.


  21. kim

    Just a brief aside re: Lynch’s doll houses. It’s interesting perhaps, or at least I think so, that in both Mullholland Drive and Inland Empire (maybe just more explicitly than in earlier movies) the characters are themselves actors which sort of empties them of inferiority. In Mullholland Drive for instance I love that scene where whats-her-face reads against an older man for a part, a scene which stands out as being extremely “realist” but which is in fact a script-reading, not even the real deal, but an audition. Or the scene in INland where Laura Dern is making a heartfelt confession and it turns out she’s just reading a scene for the movie, which is in itself a remake of an adaptation of an old folk-tale! It doesn’t make the confession any less ‘heartfelt’. I think insisting on some kind of coherent correlation between content and expression is what’s ‘dangerous’ because it disqualifies.

    I can’t bear to watch how this shooting is doing the rounds in the news because I feel it is a narrative that (the length of which depends on size and proximity of disaster) is the same narrative that always happens: feeling ever slowly toward “closure”, “redemption”, something “good” coming out of it, etc. A kind of erasure realism. Oh well… brief aside..

    Great post!