Blake Butler on Fence Books and Haute Surveillance

by on Jun.02, 2013

Blake Butler has written a column for Vice Magazine about Fence Books (and the journal), “Fence has been Reconfiguring the Literary Landscape for 15 Years.” Fence has obviously been hugely influential to contemporary poetry over the past 10-15 years.

Since 1998, Fence magazine has been independently publishing a biannual journal of prose, poetry, art, and criticism; in 2001, they began publishing several lines of innovative, ambitious books. While most magazines (this one excluded, of course) and literary journals can be dry and tedious, each issue of Fence seems to raise its own benchmark. There’s always something in there to befuddle you, to challenge the idea of what could appear on paper, to make you wonder how or why a thing was made. Fence occupies a rare place in new language, and has charged itself with the noble “mission to encourage writing that might otherwise have difficulty being recognized because it doesn’t answer to either the mainstream or to recognizable modes of experimentation.” Editor Rebecca Wolff is unique in that she doesn’t aim to control or even codify the work the press presents: the work is the work, thank God, and understanding is a product of the experience of reading, rather than a kernel to be swallowed.

Red the full thing here.

Blake also wrote a recent Vice review of my new book Haute Surveillance:

There’s an ecstatic kind of media collision at work in the body of language produced by Swedish-born Johannes Göransson. Over the course of six books of his own, as well as translations of major Swedish authors like Aase Berg and Henry Parland, he has assembled an incredibly volatile and feverish vision, somewhere between Artaud and Lars Von Trier, though one more interested in the awkwardness and orchestration of the profane than simply milking it. His latest work, Haute Surveillance, may also be his most provocative. Here Johannes has assembled a feverish and explicit set of images and ideas revolving around power, fetish, porn, media, violence, translation, punishment, performance, and aesthetics. Taking its title from a Jean Genet play of the same name, it’s kind of like a novelization of a movie about the production of a play based on Abu Ghraib, though with way more starlets and cocaine and semen.

Read the whole thing here.

17 comments for this entry:
  1. adam s

    Seeing the word porn reminds me of what I don’t like that “everyone,” dear Barthes (love him: soooooooooooooooooooooooo smart) included, does: to dis porn, claim the erotic is what’s happening, that porn is flat, blah-blah-blah. Surely much porn achieves what much art does not: gets a physical, juicy, literally, reaction; problematics aside, how is that not hugely impressive? Surely a wet genital is a major response! Trying to claim straight up fucking, straight-up showing off of bodies, is not a major aesthetic achievement seems, to me, to most validly be stating that sex which is just sex–rather, getting juicy–is bad/gross/not rarefied enough, that something like juicy-phobic is the correct way. Has anyone ever gotten “truly turned on”–not counting cerebral/overtly linguistic excitement–by a poem round these parts? If so, which one? I think I might have hooked up with George Herbert–“The Collar,” fuck-yah, f’ng hot! Love III, so sexy!–in a dream! Hello leather/s and m poem! I wish there were more really sexy poems: Hopkins and his hardon for Harry the Ploughman etc.

  2. Johannes

    I’ve written a lot about this as you know: “porn” is now used as a put-down meaning lack of proper context, proper distance, and also if it affects the body it must be thoughtless. Ie low class, low art. / Johannes

  3. Johannes

    You should read our Action Books The Parapornographic Manifesto, which I have written about here too.

  4. Johannes

    I also find your description of this messiness a bit suspicious. You tend to champion a very moralistic idea of art and it seems now that the messy has become such a moral (but it still cannot handle hetero porn apparently, suggesting to me that its the same adam with a new inclusion of that traditionally morally suspect realm of the messy made moral). That is to say, how messy are u really willing to get? Carl michaels book actually deals with how quickly the pro and anti porn stances merge.
    Your argument also takes a strange turn in its dismissal of para – insufficiently physical makes it not moral?
    In contrast, Carl Michael runs a litetary/porn publishing house (vertigo) which has published stuff from de sade to dennis cooper and has written a lot in the porny realm. Some of it quite notorious. But read it and tell me what u think!

  5. adam s

    To not skip women: May Swenson’s “Blue,” also occurring as “A Trellis For R”–is I think the hottest 20th century poem, period; ok, MS’s The School Of My Desire” competes well!

  6. adam s

    LOL, for porn I mean Gay porn: I find hetero porn, largely, terrible/it never looks, to me, for the gal, consentuable. I guess my prior comments fail if by porn I mean gay porn as presumably that’s the really minor zone.

  7. adam s

    Is hetero porn different in Flavor when looked at globally? That produced in Boston not like, generally, that from Karachi and so forth? If Karachi had a gay porn demographic I’d be, maybe delightfully, surprised. If not, then every prior use of porn has been too parochial.

    Apologies for highjacking a perfectly lovely comment space. (writing essays would be so much fun if they could just be composed in blog-comment spaces!)

  8. adam s

    As obvious as it is, the way porn authorizes touching oneself is, I think, rather amazing/enriches via multi-dimensionality the aesthetic. Touch/texture is so difficult to address via art, as yah, the sculpture could have crenellations, but almost by definition a sculpture is to be seen, not caressed. A wish of mine is to touch a Rodin–get my fingers all over and in those amazing chisel marks.

    The para part of the porn raises red flags for me: hopefully I’m wrong, but when I see para, I tend to read that as, to a degree, intellectual sanitizing/working to, yet again, disavow plain old porn. The word manifesto, too, lol, makes me wanna walk up the other side of the street. For me, the manifesto is a most cerebral/disembodied genre–perhaps the, writing-wise, ultimate escape from vexation, fecal smears, burps, bloody bumps, viscera, serum, etc. Basically, I find dialectics, largely, to be a great way to get maximally gutty, and don’t associate dialectics and manifestos. I’m well aware that dialectics are tres uncool and seen by some as an avoidance of “real world” stenches, messes, etc.

  9. Johannes

    You should read the book before you start making these odd generalizations. Johannes

  10. adam s

    Totally confused what morality has to do with anything; I don’t like the term morality–for me ethics matter, but I don’t think morality and ethics are synonyms; morality strikes me as self/group interest, whereas ethics strikes me as imagining a generous, wildly diverse/inclusive network. The worst of the parochial versus the best of the cosmopolitan could be a way of terming it.

    I agree one can’t know a book prior to a look; but I do find the manifesto a genre I’m no fan of: declaring, for me, almost always has a clean quality–because of their often narrow focus, their excision of counterviews. What you describe, yummily, doesn’t even sound like how I conceptualize manifestos; your summary seems to have something like point/counterpoint which strikes me as rad–pleat and pleat, fold and unfold and refold; yay!

    I like the question of how messy will I go; it’s one where the minute I start to ponder, I wonder if, first off, mess is not a clear word; print, pages, binding etc, in a literal way writing strikes me as almost all material absence (even as the physical/material never goes away). I’m not sure I can ever imagine writing as porn; sexual and or genital content, for me, needn’t be interchangeable. I find, for example, your proems wonderfully polished/literary even if the subject is ostensibly not. Is gnarly Scalapino (lol perhaps all except Delay Rose) messy? Tender Buttons? Jackie Collins?

    Going back to morality charges, I really love Lara’s point that to state that one disavows having an ethics strikes her as strange/obfuscating.

    I am laughing/cringing to imagine tabulating my shifty reasoning: one minute excising, the other making a binary, the other breaking and so forth; thank heavens for loving sophistry.

  11. adam s

    The writing “messes” I do know are essays with a large percentage of misspelling, incorrect word choices (as in what’s written is not what’s intended), incorrect (as in not understanding, not clued-in abandonment) punctuation, etc. But I feel like mess may be a euphemism here for functionally illiterate if one counts the act of writing within the category of being, in the most basic sense, literate. Personally, I’m not sure I’m willing to require writing as a minimum requirement. I wonder if your fascination with the image is really prescient, as will image literacy be the necessity from heres on out? I feel like thesis driven academic writing is, for like at-least 50 percent of the USA populace–not sure enough for the globe–not necessary for living well. I love “old-school” analytic writing, so I don’t mean to imply there’s no value, only that I think the school system in America may be making a dated assumption of what constitutes necessary. My vote would be focusing on vocabulary!

  12. adam s

    I know there’s hetero porn I “can handle”–I’ve watched it with a fairly low degree of feeling cognitively exited; it’s not like the word fracking, which gives me metaphysical vertigo: why does a word almost sounding like an 80s cartoon character have to be the one for a scary, scarring practice–hydraulic fracturing is sooooooooo much better, and actually language I love. Honestly, it’s a matter of liking/not getting off–though I’m sure I could if I did a narrow scope looking. Mm, and of course plenty of porn (hetero and homo) may entail a single person scene. Is xtube and its ilk porn or is that a related but legitimately different phenomena?

  13. adam s

    Regarding “But read it and tell me what u think!”–a sentence I find delightful; do you mean other works of CM, or the Paraporn piece? If its the Action Books piece, I’ll order it soon. Too, is Marinneti’s futurist manifesto good/really engaging? Something I love about Montevidayo is how it can productively stress me; I imagine I’ve written poems in the last four or so years which have been spored by this city and which may not have emerged otherwise–I feel like here’s helped me get away from sound and into syntactic image complexes. I hope all’s well!

  14. adam s

    Oof–I’m shortcircuited: it’s similes that this cite has gotten me to use again is what I was not thinking but meaning to; the syntactic image strikes me as a fabulous hallmark of S Simond’s first book; would Action Yes maybe be interested in a joint review of that and Karen Volkman’s Nomina? Heck, not sure exactly what this place has done, but I’m glad.

  15. adam s

    And adjectives!

  16. Ginger

    : scratch my back & I’ll scratch yours

  17. Johannes

    No, write something interesting and I’ll scratch it…