Author Archive

"Uncontrollable Leakage" v. "Hygienic Barrier"

by on Aug.13, 2013

In recent essays posted at Harriet, the Poetry Foundation blog, Johannes discusses art and violence in ways that interest me for a variety of reasons as a writer who was once able to write fiction and poetry; also in my present incarnation as “crime writer”; also in my capacity as publisher of at least a few violent books — notably Johannes’s and Joyelle’s work, of course, along with Gordon Massman and Kim Gek Lin Short (to say nothing of Tarpaulin Sky magazine’s past contributors and editors, Rebecca Brown, Blake Butler, Selah Saterstrom, et al). I have a lot of things to say in response to Johannes’s essays, but am a terribly slow writer: with any luck, I’ll add a “part two” to this post in the next week or so.

Johannes notes that many poets are “hesitant about involving art and violence. If they do engage with violence, poets tend to seek to create a distance from the violence, erecting a hygienic barrier between the art and the violence.” This “hygienic barrier” may be found not only in work that seeks to avoid violence, but in the critique of work that employs violence. This “critical distance” appears “the hallmark of most academic writing about poetry for quite some time (and especially the kind of “experimental poetry” favored in the academy).” Johannes also discusses, by contrast, the unfiltered, unprocessed, experience of the “murderous impact” of violent art — i.e, the experience of violence before “learning to appreciate the artwork, before gaining that distance from the music that is the most intense.” This, writes Johannes, is the “best example of how art affects me.”[1]

I am reminded of a chapter in Selah Saterstrom’s novel, The Meat & Spirit Plan: “And Suddenly I Thought: This Is What It Means to Make a Movie in Sweden,” in which a young woman from the U.S. (the South), who is narrator and protagonist, receives a grant for promising ex-reform-school girls, allowing her to study abroad in Scotland. After shacking up with a local ex-con, she spends much of her free time making a study of meat — standing before the butcher at the open-air market, or sitting in the museum before Rembrandt’s “Slaughtered Ox,” when she is not incapacitated from inexplicable and excruciating illness. (continue reading…)

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West Memphis, Witch Hunters, and the Cult of the Violent Femme

by on Mar.24, 2013

Rather than rehashing issues of exculpatory evidence and procedural travesties in the still-unsolved triple-child-homicide and triple-wrongful-conviction that is the case of of West Memphis Three Six, Joyelle’s and Johannes’s recent essays chart some interesting new territory — see “Metallica, The West Memphis Three, and the Narcissism of the Law” and “‘Paradise Lost’: Violent Femmes, Hysterical Masculinity and the Threat of Art (pt 1).” In a future post, I’d like to engage Joyelle’s observations — specifically “Art’s occult movements, its paradoxically linked power and obscurity,” and the ability of Narrative to “exercise a ‘real’ force” not only on the historical record but on the bodies of its “characters” — via an examination of the power of Magic(k)al Narratives, in the absence of inculpatory evidence, to secure from spell-bound juries what Marianne Moore might have called “real convictions for imaginary crimes.”[1] The following touches on those ideas, but only in my attempt to discuss the “strange sexuality” that Johannes sees in the West Memphis case, as well his notion of “the threat of Violent Femme,” both of which I examine in the context of the imagined sexual violence in the case as well as Prosecutors’ (conjoined-) twin obsessions with inversions of religious rites and perversions of sexuality — obsessions that are by no means limited to the not-so-metaphorical witch trial in West Memphis, of course, but that enjoy a history of at least a couple thousand years even in the narrow context of persecution / prosecution.

I should also note that Joyelle and Johannes both tend to write from the perspective of discussing Art / Literature, while I am presently doomed to see everything in terms of the plodding banality of crime; the only Art I discuss anymore, or so it seems, being the aforementioned Prosecutorial Magic, and the only “literature” the most depressing collection of nonfiction tomes on crime, particularly sex crimes, as well as (or, rather, including) our species’ long history of persecuting those among us whom we believe are “beyond redemption,” etc.


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