Archive for January, 2013

"Paradise Lost": Violent Femmes, Hysterical Masculinity and the Threat of Art (pt 1)

by on Jan.31, 2013

The other day, Mary Austin Speaker facebook-ed a link to a powerful essay by Rebecca Solnit (is this the same person who wrote that excellent book on Muybridge the other year?) about masculinity and violence. In it she she lists a lot of instances of male-female violence (rapes, murders, torn eyelashes). I am interested in the way “masculinity” is and is not represented or even equated with violence, whether violence makes masculinity appear, or if masculinity is a form of violence, or if violence is somehow a natural effect of masculinity, or the idea that men are somehow violent.

I am also interested in how these concerns play out in poetry, that most femmy of arenas, a place populated by some pretty unmacho men (not counting Charles Olson). I’m interested in particular in how it pertains some recent topics of discussion on this blog: the often sensationalistically violent Sylvia Plath, but more interestingly perhaps, our discussion of Larry Levis and his “maturing” away from violent slapstick bodies (which often deal with rape and sexual violence) into a poetics of near-paralysis, recollection, mourning and interiority. Does this “mature” Levis become more or less masculine because it’s less violent? Is the Plath- and translation-influenced “hysterical masculinity” of the early Levis too masculine or actually not masculine at all?
(continue reading…)

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In Defense of Extreme Difference: Some Thoughts on Peripheries, Cannibalism, La Pocha Nostra, and the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics’ 8th Encuentro

by on Jan.28, 2013

Last week I had the privilege of attending an artistic/activist/academic conference I didn’t know could exist in the hyper-fragmented world we live in.  Unlike most conferences I’ve attended, the Hemispheric Institute’s eight-day smorgasbord here in São Paulo invigorated as much as it exhausted me.  Beyond lectures and roundtables, the conference also offered teach-ins and work groups in addition to the intense schedule of the performances themselves.  Actually, in my work group we even created our own performances.  For me the conference was an experience in “extreme culture”—a term used by Guillermo Gómez-Peña, one of the artists who epitomizes the border-defying, periphery-prizing spirit of the Hemi (as it is affectionately called).  I think poets of the Montevidayan variety, in particular, stake a claim in the extremities and peripheries being celebrated at the Hemi Encuentro.  It’s one of those art spaces where people constantly use the word “poetics” without ever mentioning poets or poetry.

Maybe &Now would be US poetry’s equivalent to the Hemi Encuentro, except without what I consider to be one of the latter’s extreme aspects:  its ambitiously politicized continental scope, as reflected in how much the event tends to provincialize the US.  While the talks were translated from or into Portuguese, Spanish, and English, the performances conducted in Portuguese or Spanish were left untranslated.  My work group, where I talked about horse bestiality as an expression of gender, was in Portuguese.  This marginalization of the lingua franca, I think, partly reflects a commitment to countering US-American hegemony.  People at the conference were very conscious about the imposition of the term “performance” as a US-American export.

Yet, I think the inherent radicalness of much contemporary performance art—or arte accíon as some Latin Americans call it—provides organic reasons for the Hemi’s decentering of the US.  Such an anti-colonial impulse, I’d argue, is vital to the making of provocative art, or art that resists being boxed in and made legible as mere representation, seeking a process and practice-based disorientation of bodies instead of the identity politics being viciously co-opted by the state/market (see Craig Santos Perez on the White House’s selection of inaugural poet Richard Blanco). (continue reading…)

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Tales from the Crypt by Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle (pt 1)

by on Jan.27, 2013

“I’m sick & tired of all this bullshit . . .” (Grace Jones)

Initiating a series of short reports (sound of gunfire, off in the distance) showcasing damned books: turgid, sordid, morbid, doomed anomalies of anomie dear to my black heart. While books neglected in the discourse may often disappear, these select texts are so maladroit, maleficent, and malodorous that, were they better known today, they would soon be Disappeared!

Luv & Kix,
The Crypt-Keeper.

Let’s Get this Party Started
All quotes—Lou Andreas Salomé.

Ms. Lou Andreas Salomé—who knew/blew? Nietzsche, Rilke and Freud, apparently wrote some kind of film script (1922) called The Devil and his Grandmother, in which Satan’s marriage offer to one rotting dead girl gets hexed by his fiery Granny. I crap you nope. Googamoogah’s mother’s mom shits a live baby into the corpse’s lap, countering Death with anal birth.

Satan then screens his movie, (continue reading…)

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Joyelle's "Future of American Poetry" vs the "Glut"/"Too Much" Discussion

by on Jan.27, 2013

I was thinking – as I often do – about the role of “glut” in contemporary (and modern) discussions about poetry; how it serves as a threat do the “future” of poetry in so much rhetoric.

The Poetry Foundation for example always uses it for self-serving means: THere’s all this “glut” of poetry, all this noise, only we know the best stuff. And of course Kenny Goldsmith’s rhetoric is similar. I remember when Steve Burt proposed that there was “too much” poetry and internet writing etc for him to keep up, that it was threatening his professional career (writing papers etc); Kenny Goldsmith replied that he didn’t need to read it all, afterall his “conceptual” poetry served as a filter or “managment” against this noise, i.e. he was Canonical, no reason for Burt to lose track of his academic career by reading internet-infesting Montevidayo….

Well, I think it’s interesting that in many ways Joyelle prompted this discussion of “too much” with her manifesto-ish piece “The “Future” of “American” Poetry – which she delivered on a Rain Taxi panel with Burt.

So I thought I would link to that talk here.

It’s interesting to read the following against Goldsmith’s/Poetry Foundation’s constant dismissal of the “glut”:

8. Poetry’s present tense rejects the future in favour of an inflorating and decaying omnipresence, festive and overblown as a funeral garland, flimsy and odiforous, generating excess without the orderliness of generations. It rejects genre. It rejects “a” language. Rejects form for formlessness. It doesn’t exist in one state, but is always making corrupt copies of itself. “Too many books are being written, too many books are being published by ‘inconsequential’ presses, there’s no way to know what to read anymore, people are publishing too young, it’s immature, it’s unmemorable, the Internet is run amok with bad writing and half formed opinions, there’s no way to get a comprehensive picture”. Exactly. You just have to wade through the plague ground of the present, give up and lie down in it, as the floodwaters rise from the reversed drains, sewage-riven, bearing tissue and garbage, the present tense resembles you in all its spumey and spectacolor 3-D.

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Metallica, The West Memphis Three, and the Narcissism of the Law

by on Jan.25, 2013

In the past week I’ve huddled in a freezing apartment before my laptop and watched the entire Paradise Lost trilogy  as it recounts the nauseating saga of the West Memphis Three, railroaded as teens for the vicious murder and mutilation of three eight-year-olds, a crime supposedly prompted by their supposedly Satanist taste in books, clothes, music, handwriting and hairstyles. Since I am hearing impaired and the DVDs have no captions, my attempt to force my neurons to process the dialogue added a layer of obscurity and stress to the proceedings which amplified the competing layers of obscurity and stress which are the raw material of this ongoing multidecade saga.

west memphis


As a mere viewer of these films, I am not an expert on this topic like my friend Christian Peet (see his Supplicium blog), but I am an artist with an interest in Art’s occult movements, its paradoxically linked power and obscurity. The three films themselves, of course, are Art– they are documentaries made by the filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofksy, and therefor compositions, carefully edited, composed, re-edited, condensed, revised, and, always, set to music. As twenty years of legal time condenses to nine or so hours of film-time, we are watching a medium which at once condenses, reanimates, and disorients time, remaking the flesh and hairlines and clothing of both the main protagonists and the minor characters with as relentless and as ludicrous a sense of aplomb. Art touches every aspect of this story, adds and strips away years before our eyes, drives apparent ‘facts’ together and strips them apart. Art is lucidity, instrumentality. The only things which do not change visibly are, interestingly, still photographs– mug shots, school portraits, crime scene photos. Yet different affects and interpretations gather and drain from these still photos, so even they become penetrated by the obscure power of emotion, narrative, and Art.

Across the three films, Art is most lucidly and obscurely embodied by the Metallica soundtrack. Striking aerial footage of the highways frames the films and is frequently returned to throughout the films; this aerial viewpoint and the Metallica instrumental become synonymous, as is evident even in the trailer, here:

As I watched the films, for hour after hour, hunched over with my back cramping and my ears to the tinny laptop speakers, trying to force sound into my cerebellum,  I was so struck by the Metallica riff, which, higher pitched than the mostly male-spoken dialogue, slipped its wire into my brain with no problem at all. As it floated so lucidly, with so much interest in the proceedings, the music itself began to seem more and more sentient. It is up in the air, it occupies a position normally awarded to God or a movie camera. The more time I spent with its synesthetically aerial view of the music, the more and less I ‘understood’ about the saga; I slowly came to recognize that what I was seeing was not just rural highways, truckstops, a large drainage pond illustrating a remote rural community, but the dumping ground where the three victims’  bodies would be found. Dreadfully familiar to me,  I felt claimed by the dark and dreadful knowledge of the film itself. This dumping site would then become a kind of retroactive stage whereupon all kinds of fantasies would be scripted and enacted by the prosecution and played out again and again on the stage of the courtroom. As I continued through the hours of documentary, my body buckled and froze up as I struggled to hear, and I found myself more and more in the physical position of the defendants in their uncomfortable wooden chairs sitting through hours and hours of rancid testimony. Only when I heard the Metallica was I allowed to float lucidly free, high above West Memphis, Arkansas.

As the trilogy continues, the soundtrack has other roles– sometimes it plays as the camera barrels along an interstate to a new setting, as if enacting the camera’s insistence on driving the narrative to a new stage, only to double back to older footage, arrive at a new setback or be locked outside of courtrooms. At other times it moves through the underbrush as the crime scene is revisited. It marks where the camera is moving, but at the same time it is takes on and sheds anguish, the fluid that is running along side, through, on top of the documentary just as it runs along side, through, on top of each version of the narrative presented by this sad epic’s inmates. This is thought-provoking in the sense that Metallica is both at the inception of this story– part of the dark aesthetic tastes of which the original case against Echols is built– and threaded throughout it, as the emblem of the ‘celebrity interest’ that allowed supporters and resources to flow to the story, funding new and comprehensive forensic research which would lead to the West Memphis Three’s release.

The real and unreal effects of the Metallica soundtrack– and/or  Art itself– are strikingly (and paradoxically) bio-identical with each other. That is, the soundtrack, as the camera’s audible trace, shows Art’s instrumentality in shaping this story. We are not watching ‘facts’  but a narrative, a shaped version of events, a synthetic counter story to the prosecution’s official narrative. This constructed narrative, as the three films unfold, eventually exercises a ‘real’ force, winning support and resources that brings about the triumph of the West Memphis Three’s narrative of railroading. Art bought real time for the condemned Damien Echols, and eventually bought him back his life.

On the other hand, Art changed fantasy into reality; the ‘Satanic Panic’ of the townspeople and prosecutors became true; their supposed fears of the rape, mutilation, torture, cannibalism of young boys at the hand of Satanists were inverted, amplified and applied to the young bodies of the West Memphis Three themselves. Across the films, various participants call for the three young men to be raped in prison, have their faces bitten off, be tortured forever, shot up, etc. The justice system worked its Satanism on the phantasmatic and real bodies of these three young men; perhaps then Satanism is the phantasmatic double of the law itself, which is why the Law in this period is so interested in Satanism. Rather than Echols or other teenagers, it is the Law’s fatal narcissism which attracts it to Satanism; it is the Law which is prompted by narcissism to study it, to learn its lingo,  to wear its executioner’s clothes, to enact its supposed rituals of dungeons, violation, torture, and murder. It is the Law that wants to reflect on itself, to declare itself incontrovertible, its decisions final and its hairstyle permanent and correct (this, it would seem, is the meaning of the wigs worn in British legal proceedings). But as is evident by the irrationality of the Alford plea which eventually won the Three’s freedom by allowing them to plead guilty and proclaim their innocence in the same breath, the hair of the Law is not gleaming but thinning, its flesh wasting and jowling, its hands tremoring, its power arbitrary, now sinking, now swollen, a corpse which nonetheless raises itself from its reflecting pool to express its vanity and rage.




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"That is not your mother but her body": The Corpse Aesthetics of Plath, Hughes and Murder Mysteries

by on Jan.22, 2013

PlathForever-2012-single-duo-v1I was reading Ted Hughes’ poem “The Dogs Are Eating Your Mother” this morning and I started thinking about the Corpse as an icon of art, art’s violence, and the unsettling itneriority-less-ness of the image. This is of course made really obvious in Plath’s own work. “Arrival of the Bee Box” with its horror and fascination with the locked up foreign (African, Roman) mob which she plans to let out to let it devour her is a kind of model for art’s affect (it swarms, it bites, it kills)[1]. “Fever 103” is in many ways about that state of being enswarmed – she becomes artificial (acetylene virgin, a flickering Japanese lantern, ie kitsch). And most famously the kitsch-crowded (atrocity kitsch, freakshow kitsch, shell kitsch) “Lady Lazarus” where she is displayed for the “peanut crunching crowd,” a swarming entity whose “crunching” for me always felt like a “bone-crunching” (ie they’re eating the speaker).

This crunching and devouring of the corpse leads me to think about Ted Hughes’ poem about Plath, “The Dogs are Eating Your Mother”:

The Dogs Are Eating Your Mother
by Ted Hughes

That is not your mother but her body.
She leaped from our window
And fell there. Those are not dogs
That seem to be dogs
Pulling at her. Remember the lean hound
Running up the lane holding high
The dangling raw windpipe and lungs
Of a fox? Now see who
Will drop on all fours at the end of the street
And come romping towards your mother,
Pulling her remains, with their lips
Lifted like a dog’s lips
Into new positions. Protect her (continue reading…)

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"The voice can develop in any direction": David Applegate on Sounds, Performance and Poetry

by on Jan.21, 2013

[This was written by frequent Montevidayo-commentator David Applegate.]

“The voice can develop in any direction”

As an undergraduate studying poetry in New York City, I once had the opportunity to see an acapella performance by Mike Patton (the vocalist of Mr. Bungle, Fantômas, and countless other projects) and Rahzel, a virtuoso beat-boxer. The venue was a large music hall, the concert attended by several hundred people. The tools of the performers were minimal, Rahzel and Patton each had a microphone and Patton also wielded what appeared to be a micro-cassette recorder. The range and expressivity of the sounds the two men were able to achieve using only their voices stunned me; their tools and the tools of the poet at a reading were startlingly similar. Yet the poetry readings I was then regularly attending lacked the electric energy (not to mention the sizable audience) of this performance. Why?

I spoke with a professor about what I had seen and heard, wondering if the performing poet might benefit from some new tactics. By abandoning performances which focused strictly on the recital of a text, couldn’t a poet expand the range of expression in her work through the distortion and manipulation of the voice? The professor was skeptical. Tampering with the poet’s voice would be tantamount to destroying the singular vision and purposeful expression supposedly inherent to the work of poetry. I thought I’d give it a try.
(continue reading…)

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This Is the Source of All the Perfection of the Whole World: Isaac Newton & Jon Leon

by on Jan.19, 2013

Armani Gere SunglassesIsaacnewton

Isaac Newton writing on alchemy is like Jon Leon writing on the female image. I discovered this after reading James’ post yesterday and then paging through The Alchemy Reader from Cambridge University a few hours later. I’ve read Newton’s boringly fascinating work on Biblical prophecy but don’t remember him hitting the same kind of tonal impossibility he hits here, though I probably just missed it. I haven’t read his more well-known science writing. Regardless, in his writing on alchemy, at least, he creates a web of artfully banal tropes & action in order to pierce it with the crystal blue image of infinity. And he does it with a gesture that is both kidding and completely serious. This is perhaps the prototypical alchemical operation, or philosopher’s stone, and it’s also Leon’s modus operandi: somewhere beyond irony.

From The Commentary on the Emerald Tablet, Newton’s thoughts on the best known work attributed to Hermes Trismegistus:

This is the source of all the perfection of the whole world. The force and efficacy of it is entire and perfect if, through decoction to redness and multiplication and fermentation, it be turned into fixed earth. Thus it ought first to be cleansed by separating the elements sweetly and gradually, without violence, and by making the whole material ascend into heaven through sublimation and then through a reiteration of the sublimation making it descent into earth: by that method it acquires the penetrating force of spirit and the fixed force of body. Thus will you have the glory of the whole world and all obscurities and all need and grief will flee from you.

From Leon’s collection Right Now the Music & the Life Rule: (continue reading…)

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Hoy & Leon: Glory Hole & The Hot Tub

by on Jan.18, 2013

images-1The Hot Tub by Jon Leon and Glory Hole by Dan Hoy. (Mal-o-mar). I got this book right at a time when I was moving across half the country. I read it, liked it a hell of a lot, but then misplaced it during the move, and only came upon it again recently. Hence, the lateness of this review — three years late, actually. But during these three years, I’ve kept thinking of this book. When I’d read a Brett Easton Ellis novel (Leon in particular writes from Ellis country), when I’d listen to certain punk or hip-hop songs (Hoy’s narrator seems capable of going into either of these genres)…such things would bring the book to mind.

First, for anyone who hasn’t read the book, I should mention that the book aspect of this book is a Pop art project. The book is small, about the size of a compact disk case, and glossy white, with an illustration of a steak on the Glory Hole side of the book, and an image of fire and water on The Hot Tub side. Two purple pages separate the two texts. And the two books are printed so that what is right side up while reading one book is upside down while reading the other. If books continue to exist as material objects in the next few years, they’ll be like this: the design will be such that you’ll want to hold it in your hands, you’ll want to see it on your table.
(continue reading…)

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The Actuary – New Literary Blog

by on Jan.18, 2013

Check out some of the articles up on The Actuary, for example Thade Correa’s essay on Gennady Aygi, or Beth Towle’s article on working class aesthetics.

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“James Pate Should Be Famous” (Pt 1) – On Fan Fictions, Fake Fame and Atmospheric Aesthetics

by on Jan.18, 2013

A while back, Gene Tanta set up a facebook page called “James Pate Should Be Famous.” The page makes a very startling point: I think Gene and I are the only members of the group.

The only reason Gene and I know James’s work is that we somehow ended up in MFA school together in the late 90s (three strange people – the Swede, the Romanian and the guy who grew up in a crack neighborhood in Memphis). This facebook page sets up an alternative world in which James Pate is famous.
In that it’s a bit like the ASCO “No Movies” I’ve talked about quite a bit on this blog. ASCO, a group of Chicano artists from East LA, made “promotional stills” from movies that did not exist, imagining an alternative world in which they would have the movie and power to actually make movies, rather than just stills. ASCO should be famous.


(As Joyelle just put it this morning , “Montevidayo is our “no movie”.” IE, it imagines a fake academic/poetic world which is the way we want it to be. )

I love how Asco’s “no movies” stills create rather than a definite (prize winning, famous) film, an indistinct atmosphere, a glamorous and violent ambience that has no limits. I often recount how when I watched Twin Peaks over a couple of weeks – several episodes a day – one summer in the late 90s, all the flaws in the plot made it all seem like “fan fiction,” and I when I started to dream about Laura Palmer, the dreams seemed as legitimate as the actual episodes – that’s the space I feel Asco dwells in.

They even made “no movie” still from a fake award ceremony….
In the book accompanying the recent exhibition, “Elite of the Obscure” (I guess they finally became famous!), one writer quotes Jean Paul Sartre’s Nausea to define “asco” (which mean nausea):

“The Nausea is not inside me: I feel it out here in the wall, in the suspenders, everywhere around me. It makes itself one with the café, I am the one who is within it.”

(continue reading…)

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by on Jan.18, 2013

I. Preamble


This past Monday, I painted my nails with four different kinds of sheer pink glitter. On Saturday, I had been called baroque. Recently I have been going out more and more often in my petticoats, some of which are borrowed.



I am twenty-four years old. I have degrees and a job and an apartment. I have never learned to grocery shop. Almost two years ago I stood in my kitchen covered in facepaint and wearing my Swarovski-encrusted riding helmet from my teenage years, at a loss; a camera was on. I didn’t know how to look at it. My roommate’s parents kept us well-stocked in arbitrary necessities. In the cabinets, we had many canisters of sugar.

i. Memorandum

In living, one seeks the “sweet spot” – the punctum. At this moment the body becomes a gel in which the “I” is suspended, separate. The self perceives itself as parts of a sum of parts; a granular agent of decay.

This is not what one remembers. When I say “remember” I mean the body re-feels a traumatic moment. Every remembered moment is a trauma because the act requires a severing.


So Barthes’ camera is surgical. Photographic saturation of the eye triggers a phenomenological flattening of the substance which acts. (continue reading…)


"It's All Dada" or "Dada, by way of David Bowie and Frank Zappa, drag and Pachuco culture": Immigrant Aesthetics, Authenticity Kitsch and ASCO

by on Jan.17, 2013

A while back I wrote about homesickness and immigration. I thought I would add a few more words about it. On one had the immigrant is a really heroic figure in both American culture. America loves the story of the strong immigrant who forges ahead and makes a new life for himself, forgetting about his old world life. He maintains his wholeness (and I’m using the male pronoun because this figure is very much identified as masculine).

The flipside of this coin is the bad immigrant, the immigrant who suffers from homesickness, who cannot forget about his home and family. This is the weak, sentimental immigrant, the feminine immigrant who becomes torn, loses his wholeness. As Susan Matt shows in her book Homesickness, such feelings were increasingly pathologized in the 19th century as part of American nation-building. We needed our citizens to be whole, to belong fully to America.

I am thinking about how this dilemma and how it pertains to ethnic writing. Immigrant cultures tend, strangely, to produce conservative art. In part “conservative” as in trying to “conserve” their heritage. If you go to Swedish-American cultural events you’re more likely to encounter Maypoles and Dala horse (ethnic trinketry in other words) than avant-garde poetry (even though, as I hope I’ve shown over the past ten years, there’s a lot of amazing poetry and art being conducted by Swedish artists and writers). In other words, ethnic kitsch.

But is this conservatism an act of sentimentality? And is it an attempt to remain whole or an inability to sever ties with the past? Or is it an easy way of making the past past? To make relics out of one’s home.

“The urge to collect objects, for individuals as well as societies, is a sign of impending death. One finds this need acutely manifested during preparalytic periods. There is also the mania for collecting – in neurology, “collectionism.” – Paul Morand, 1929

“Kitsch is dead from the moment it is born” – Celeste Olalquiaga


In poetry it seems that a lot of immigrant and ethnic poetry seems very much focused on the kind of aesthetic of “personal narrative” that was invented in the 1970s – as we talked about in the Larry Levis discussions a while back – to “mature” the immature, translation-based aesthetics of the late 60s and early 70s.

And on the other hand, I know of so many “experimental” writers who dismiss “identity art” as the worst, most regressive kind of art.

This may all seem pretty odd because modernism and the avant-garde is so largely predicated on the immigrant experience. You have Shklovsky’s famous idea of art as an “estrangement” (“ostranenie”) device that in essence suggests that art makes us feel like strangers in the world, makes the world fresh to us by making us into foreigners. This kind of thinking goes back to the same German Romantics on whose work Walter Benjamin famously drew in making his evocative claims about translation. And you have someone like Brecht and his “defamiliarization” devices meant to push us out of the ideologically saturated space of our homeland to view it at a critical distance.
(continue reading…)

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