"…overcrowding, doubling up, debility and damage": Vicuna, Asco, Ethnic Fan Fiction and Possession

by on Jan.04, 2013

I’m going to piggy-back on a few recent posts by myself and others.
Yesterday, Joyelle wrote the following about “The Black Art of Hilma af Klimt and Kim Hyesoon”:

“…and also of Kim Hyesoon’s entire ouevre, any poem, in which forms contain, die, give birth, give way to more forms, and the end of eternity can never be found. Creatures keep consuming each other, shitting, tearing, pushing through each other, and the significance of any given form or container is that it marks a boundary which can be pushed through, though one which always might reconstitute itself.”

A while back I wrote about Fan Fiction in similar terms:

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 difference between the “black art” of Kim Hyesoon and a vampire however might be the sense of the poet as a medium rather than a vampire, the art moves through the poet with much less of a conscious sucking of blood (and shitting out immortality?). A few years ago when Joyelle wrote about the art of Fi Jae Lee (KH’s daughter) as “body possessed by media,” she was already calling forth this occult dimension of art:

Can a body be possessed by media? It’s a trick (and tricky) question, since a medium, in the occult sense, is supposed to be possessed by others. If an entity can be possessed by a medium, or, worse, by media, it is then opened to all kinds of possession, penetration, contents it cannot contain, overcrowding, doubling up, debility and damage. Deformation and eclipses, ellipses, reemergence and reemergence.

But Joyelle also brought out a political/ethnic dimension:

The gist of these metaphors calls to mind the libels directed at immigrants by nativists in most parts of the world—that immigrants crowd the space, use up the resources, create waste, destroy property, crowd out the job market, live in crowded living spaces, over-impregnate, make loud music, cook loud food, dress provokingly, wear the wrong skin, crash the state or (in America) crash emergency rooms with their bodily catastrophes. Such licit fantasies reverse the actual power dynamic in which the established population holds final power over the immigrant’s body.

These threads came back to me when I watched the beautiful little film about ASCO that I posted yesterday, and the way that a large part of their ouevre was fake film stills, relics from some glamorous forgotten B-movie.

Part of what makes their fake movie still so interesting is of course the way photography works: As Michael North has argued in his book Camera Works (about Dadaism and photography and the readymade), the invention of photography paved the way to the ready-made because through photography everything is potentially Art. You just need to take a shot of it. But here, something more interesting happens (similar I think to the way Joseph Beuys used photographs) – not only is everything potentiall art, but everthing is already a movie, already art. The photographs don’t document life, they fan-fiction life so to speak…

NY Times wrote:

“Asco’s method was a kind of bombastic excess and elegant elusiveness that would have made Tristan Tzara proud, not to mention Cantinflas and Liberace. The Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight wrote that the group “brought Zurich Dada of the late-1910s to 1970s Los Angeles.” But it was a distinctly Chicano brand of Dada, by way of David Bowie and Frank Zappa, drag and Pachuco culture, telenovelas and oddball UHF television stations, and New Wave and silent movies.”

The excess here seems to be something like an excessive amount of influences – anachronistic, “oddball” and largely unfitting for a museum (until many years alter). There is too much stuff being hauled into the artwork and a lot of that stuff is not part of the official story of modern art – because it’s pop music, because it’s “drag”, because it’s chicano culture.


The result is again a kind of “glut” that cannot be made sense of by those two great currencies: lineage and “meaning.” As in Teemu’s post, there’s a sense of art as mistranslation, excessive translation, overcrowded translation. I have often commented on how when I translate it’s not a matter of getting close enough in my “reading” but of getting much too close, getting myopic, getting possessed by the text.

Finally, actually what made me think again about fan fiction was reading Cecilia Vicuna’s Spit Temple this morning which is also full of fan fiction aestehtics”

In high school we studied poetry from Spain’s Golden Age by Gongora and Garcilaso. The kids hated it. No one could understand anything. The teacher would read a poem out loud and ask: “What does it mean?” No one dared to answer, but I stood up and offered an interpretation based on what I couldn’t understand. After hearing me, the teacher said, “But you are creating a new poem.” Inside of those poems, I felt I was in an earthly paradise.

Here we can clearly see the political and ethnic dimensions of fan fiction, through which the imperial poets are turned into the poets of the Chilean girl, yes, but more interesting to me, how the inside/outside is overwhelmed. She is making a new poem from the “outside” of the “original” (what she doesn’t understand, a negative of the poem) but those creates a paradise “inside” it.

(There’s also a great piece about misreading a Joyce Mansour poem but I can’t find that right now.).

(Also, there is a sense of negative excess that for me rhymes with Lucas’s brilliant and moving recent post about the children pissing on matresses – even though Vicuna seems to have come from a quite privileged background, in difference to these orpans.)

3 comments for this entry:
  1. James Pate

    Really interesting post. The political and aesthetic seem completely tied together here: the idea of Art as everywhere, as already a movie waiting to be made is counter to the idea that reality is out there, and we need an art that will fit its shape. Art prior reality vs. reality prior Art.

    The pictures of Asco in this post are amazing. I think this also relates to the discussion here about poetry from the 70s and how it “matured.” There’s something wonderfully, provocatively immature about this kind of work, and it reminds me of Smith and Godard too (like the ending of Pierrot le fou): how the theatrical and ridiculous can be infused with the sublime.


  2. Johannes

    Interesting connection to the poetry and film. Sometimes it seems that the 1960s was this trauma that every part of society – incl art and poetry – has been trying to overcome ever since… Except a good trauma… Johannes

  3. adam strauss

    60s as era as recovering from trauma–interesting! Makes much sense to me, and also for me counterintuitive: I know at-least in some circles there’s a lot of longing–or at-least crucial, positive memories–for those days (which in many ways fully merit the moniker traumatic!); Guy Davenport: “the glorious sixties!” I’m virtually positive that’s not an exact quotation but I don ‘t have the interview in front of me. Too, I tend to read the term “post civil-rights era” as suggesting how too much has very cynically, disingenously been overcome.